Category: Community

State Control Over the Oakland Unified School District, Neoliberalism, Austerity, School Closures and the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT)

Oakland’s state overseers (L to R): California Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Nick Schweizer, Trustee Chris Learned, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine and Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Karen Monroe speak at Board of Education about what the state is demanding from the school district, Oct. 24, 2018. Photo by Alyson Stamos/Oakland North.

By Ken Epstein

The following  report is an outline used by the author in a presentation hosted by Oakland Post Community Assembly and parent and teacher organizers on School Closures and the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team(FCMAT), Sunday, Nov. 3 at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, 410 14th St. in Oakland.  

I. My Personal Experience with FCMAT

  • I discovered the existence of the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) back in 2003 when the state fired Supt. of Schools Dennis Chaconas, suspended the power of the Board of Education and appointed a state receiver, Randolph Ward, to unilaterally run the school district.
  • Over the years, I have come to see FCMAT as a tool for enforcing austerity in California Public Schools, something like a local version of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whose neoliberal policies recently sparked rebellions in Chile, Ecuador, Haiti and other countries around the world.
  • But back in 2003, I was working in the public information office of the school district. I lasted about a year until I was fired for not working out a viable strategy for convincing families and the public to accept the closing of schools.
  • State Receiver Randy Ward was a trainee of billionaire school privatizer Eli Broad’s superintendent academy, a three-month program designed to create school CEOs who were committed to corporate practices and privatization.
  • Broad, a Democrat with close ties to then State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson (2011-2019), was allowed to use Oakland as a guinea pig/pilot program. He sent Oakland numerous “broadies,” Broad trainees or fellows, to staff senior executive positions.
  • What did receivership mean? An indicative example: I remember a school board meeting where Ward and the board were on stage. Each item on the agenda was read aloud, and Ward would say, “passed.” Then the next item was read.
  • In less than an hour, the agenda was completed. At that point, Ward said, “Meeting adjourned” and walked out of the board room and turned out the lights, leaving board members sitting in the dark.
  • Under FCMAT’s leadership, word around the district was the school district would be drastically downsized, “small enough to hold in your hands,” something like 36 schools, compared to the over 90 school sites the district had at the time.
  • Nothing was said about saving money or making the district more efficient. FCMAT’s message was that there was a ratio of the square-footage of classroom space to numbers of students. Under that ratio, the school district should have less than 50 schools, according to FCMAT (that would be 36 less than the 86 schools the district has now).
  • At a cabinet meeting of the district’s top staff, which I attended (as public information officer), Ward asked an accountant (a Broad fellow) to determine how much money would be saved by closing schools. She came back about 3 weeks later, having determined that no money would be saved by closing schools.
  • Ward told her, “Then go back and figure out another reason for closing schools.” They didn’t come up with anything but continued to say that closing schools would save money.

 

 

Some of the officials involved in the 2003 takeover of Oakland schools:(Clockwise from top): Sheila Jordan, Randolph Ward, Don Perata, Jerry Brown.

II Background of FCMAT

  • It is a QUANGO, a Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organization, which Wikipedia defines as “arm-length bodies funded by government departments but not run by them. … (pointing out that) “If they fail, the fault is theirs, rather than the government departments.”  A QUANGO is A neo-liberal form of organization that has grown a lot since the 1980s and is fairly common in the UK and Ireland.
  • FCMAT was created by Assembly Bill (AB) 1200 in 1991. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools office was selected as the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT. In other words, FCMAT is based in Kern County, an area of the state that is notoriously known for police violence and racism.
  • State appropriation for FCMAT in 2018-19 was about $6.3 million, plus the fees school districts are required to pay for the “aid” provided by FCMAT staff. This past school year, the district paid FCMAT and the county $1.4 million to oversee OUSD.

Striking teachers take over the ground floor of the State Building in Oakland, Thursday, Feb . 28. Photo courtesy of https://boingboing.net

III FCMAT/State Control in Oakland

  • FCMAT was riding high in OUSD during state receivership (2003-2009). In 2009, the receiver was withdrawn (partly due to pressure from then Mayor Ron Dellums and then state Assemblymember Sandré Swanson). Butthe district was left with a state trustee, with the power to nullify any district decision with budget implications. The trustees and receivers were paid out of the OUSD budget. The district has never been free from state control since 2003.
  • According to the district on its website, “(Since 2008) OUSD began operating with two governing boards responsible for policy – the state Department of Education and the locally elected Oakland Board of Education.”
  • Rather than serving as independent outside evaluators, FCMAT and the state forced Oakland to accept a $100 million bailout loan (on about a $37 million debt). The district loan payments are $6 million a year until 2026. The $100 million loan was spent unilaterally by the state Receiver Ward with no input from the community.
  • The state trustee was in place when pro-charter school and pro-privatization Supt. Antwan Wilson (2014-2017), another Broad Academy trainee, went on a wild spending spree, exhausting the district’s reserves and depleting its financial resources. Neither the trustee, FCMAT or the County Office of Education intervened, tried to halt the misspending or even said a word of criticism of the misspending after the fact.
  • As the district entered a new financial crisis in 2018 after the departure of Antwan Wilson, the state passed AB 1840, which gives FCMAT, along with the Alameda County Office of Education, the power to require the district to close and sell or lease school property and to cut as much as $30 million or more from the district’s operating budget.
  • It is important to note that AB 1840, which was backed by then Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators who represent Oakland, was written in part of FCMAT.

IV. What they said in their own words

  • In October 2018, there was a rare joint public appearance at a local school board meeting the officials who are now in charge of the Oakland schools, including: FCMAT CEO Michael Fine, OUSD’s state-appointed Trustee Chris Learned and Alameda County Supt. of Schools Karen Monroe.
  • Speaking bluntly, FCMAT CEO Fine told the district it has no choice but to make budget cuts and close schools.
  • “If you failed at this, the county superintendent would come in and govern the district. The county superintendent already has the authority to do that, if you don’t do what’s right, to impose a functioning budget on you.”
  • We do this every day, guide districts through this every day. It is ultimately less painful to make your decisions early as possible. Cutting three dollars today rather than a dollar today, a dollar tomorrow and a dollar (later) …allows the district to get to its new norm much quicker,” he said
  • Fine said the school district has “struggled for many years” to close schools, based on a formula for the appropriate number of students for the square footage of classroom space. (While the district has already closed 18 schools, 14 of which have become charters, there are many more to close, according to Fine).
  • He pointed to Fresno as a positive example, which has similar number of students and has 50 schools.
  • He spoke about AB 1840, a law that gives the state and FCMAT more power over OUSD, and gives the district a little money in exchange for closing schools and cutting programs.
  • “That is one of the specific conditions in AB 1840,” he said. “1840 says that we are going to partner with you so that you can implement these plans in a timely fashion and buy a little bit of time, and it’s just a little bit to time, so you can incorporate good decisions.”
  • According to a FCMAT report issued in March, AB1840 provides for activities that “may include but are not limited to … adoption and implementation of necessary budgetary solutions, including the consolidation of school sites …and sale or lease of surplus property.”
  • According to FCMAT, “AB 1840 shifts the former state-centric system (of control) . Several duties formerly assigned to the State Supt of Public Instruction are now assigned to the county superintendent with the concurrence of the State Supt. and the president of the State Board of Education.”
  • While saying the district’s sole responsibility is to “close the gap” and end its “deficit,” Fine admitted closing schools does not save. money “When everything is said and done the actual dollar savings are relatively small – you don’t see the savings.”
  • Fine said that over the course of 27 years he has had a lot of experience closing schools. “I’ve had to close some…lease some… sell some and exchange some for other properties. It’s a long and difficult process,” he said.
  • He also emphasized the importance of budget cuts. “You’ve made a very public commitment to a set of reduction that total about $30 million. If you stop at $15 million, you do not achieve the benchmark … It is your job to figure out the details.”
  • The recent FCMAT report looks favorably on the district’s “Citywide Plan,” saying “the first strategy under the plan is to implement the Blueprint for Quality Schools action plan to identify four cohorts of schools changes….As a part of this plan the district will identify on a citywide map the school sites that will be closing or merging with a nearby site.”

V. Nine districts that have been taken over by the state since 1990, mostly majority Black and Latino students

  • West Contra Costa Unified School District (formerly Richmond Unified). Taken over in 1990 and paid off its loan in 2012.
  • Coachella Valley Unified, taken over in 1993 and paid off its loan in 2011.
  • Compton Unified, taken over in 1993, paid off loan in 2003.
  • The Emery Unified School District, taken over in 2001 and paid off loan in 2011.
  •   West Fresno Elementary School District, taken over in 2003,  paid off loan in 2010.
  • Oakland Unified taken over in 2003. Final payoff is scheduled for June 2026.
  • Vallejo Unified taken over in 2004, and payoff date is scheduled for 2024.
  • South Monterey County Joint Union High School district taken over in 2009 and payoff is scheduled for 2028.
  • Inglewood Unified was taken over in 2012. Payoff is scheduled for 2033.

VI Bibliography/Further Reading

Oakland teachers on strike February 2019. Photo by Ken Epstein .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oakland Teachers take on The State

(L to R): California Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Nick Schweizer, Trustee Chris Learned, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine and Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Karen Monroe speak at Board of Education about what the state is demanding from the school district, Oct. 24, 2018. Photo by Alyson Stamos/Oakland North.

Standing behind the scenes of the battle between Oakland’s school district and its 3,000 teachers are State representatives controlling the district and enforcing drastic budget cuts.

 

By Ken Epstein

The officials who control the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) on behalf of the State of California mostly operate behind the scenes, meeting in private with school board members and district staff.

But this week, the overseers came out publicly in defense of the state’s austerity program for OUSD, as they sought to counter the enormous resistance of striking Oakland teachers, backed by the solid support of students, parents, community, churches and city leaders, fighting for higher teacher salaries, more counselors and nurses, smaller class sizes and a halt to school closures.

​“Under my authority as the Fiscal Oversight Trustee for OUSD, I will stay and/or rescind any agreement that would put the District in financial distress. A 12 percent salary increase would do just that. What the District has on the table now is what the District can afford,” said (State) Fiscal Oversight Trustee Chris Learned in a press statement released by OUSD last Sunday.

Striking teachers march through Oakland streets

Where did the trustee come from, and where did he get the authority to say what he said?

A little history: while OUSD was under receivership (2003-2009), the district was not allowed to hire a superintendent, and the power of the board was suspended. The district did eventually hire a superintendent, and restore the school board. However, what came next was not local control, but modified state control.

“(Since 2008), OUSD began operating with two governing boards responsible for policy—the state Department of Education and the locally elected Oakland Board of Education,” according to the district’s website. A state trustee was appointed with power to nullify district financial decisions.

Rather than serving as an independent outside evaluator, the state forced a $100 million bailout loan on the district in 2003 and spent the money with no local input—a debt which costs OUSD $6 million a year until 2026. The state was in control while a spending spree during the administration of pro-privatization Supt. Antwan Wilson almost bankrupted the district.

Picket sign at teacher protest

The reality of the state’s current authority over Oakland schools, going back to 2003, was presented last October during a rare joint public appearance at a school board meeting of the officials who are in charge of Oakland schools: California Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Nick Schweizer, Trustee Chris Learned, Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) CEO Michael Fine, and Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Karen Monroe.

The officials came to Oakland to explain the meaning of AB 1840, a new law backed by then Gov. Jerry Brown that would give more power to FCMAT (pronounced FICK-MAT) and Alameda County. They spoke about collaboration and teamwork, while demanding Oakland close schools and cut $30 million from its operating budget.

FCMAT is an independent nonprofit based in Bakersfield, funded by the State and representing the State’s authority in districts throughout California. FCMAT was directly involved in the passage of AB 1840.

Speaking bluntly, FCMAT CEO Fine said the district has no choice but to make budget cuts and close schools.

“If you failed at this, the county superintendent would come in and govern the district,” Fine said. ”The county supt. already has the authority that, if you don’t do what’s right, to impose a functioning budget on you.”

“We do this every day, guide districts through this every day. It is ultimately less painful to make your decisions as early as possible,” he said. “Cutting three dollars today rather than a dollar today, a dollar tomorrow and a dollar (later)…allows the district to get to its new norm much quicker.”

Fine said that the school district has “struggled for many years” to close schools, based on a formula for  the appropriate number of students for the square footage of classroom space.

“That is one of the specific conditions in 1840,” he said. “1840 says that we are going to partner with you so that you can implement these plans in a timely fashion and buy a little bit of time, and it is just a little bit of time, so you can incorporate good decisions.”

While saying the district’s sole responsibility is to “close the gap” and end its “deficit,” Fine admitted closing schools does not save money. “When everything is said and done, the actual dollar savings are relatively small—you don’t see the savings,” he said.

Fine said that over the course of 27 years, he has had a lot of experience closing schools. “I’ve had to close some….lease some…sell some and exchange some for other properties. It’s a long and difficult process,” he said.

He also emphasized the importance of the budget cuts. “You’ve made a very public commitment to a set of reductions that total about $30 million….If you stop at $15 million, you do not achieve the benchmark…It is your job to figure out the details.”

County Supt. of Schools Monroe explained that under the implementation of AB 1840, she is working closely with FCMAT. Trustee Chris Learned now reports to her office, rather than the state.

Calling the budget cuts a team effort with the district, she  explained that her office—the Alameda County Office of Education—and FCMAT will “confer and agree on the operating deficit and the next steps that are part of the legislation.

“If we see that those budget balancing strategies are not being implemented, then we will have to impose strategies,” she said.

In the midst of the ongoing Oakland teachers strike, following on the heels of the successful strike of Los Angeles teachers, new opportunities are now opening up to change the state’s long-term policies of underfunding public education and enforcing austerity on individual school districts.

One sign of that movement occurred Monday when State Supt. of Instruction Tony Thurmond intervened in the Oakland strike, joining teachers and district representatives at the bargaining table in an attempt to close the deep divisions between the parties.

Further, as community awareness grows about the role of the state in this strike, many are looking to the local state legislative delegation—Senator Nancy Skinner and Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Buffy Wicks—to muster support in Sacramento for a more positive direction, one that embraces the needs of Oakland teachers, students and community.

Published March 1, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Commentary: Data Points and Dollar Signs: Roots, School Closure, and the New “Demand Rate” Metric

Roots International Academy in East Oaklad

By Jane Nylund

 Ultimately, the growth of charters will be fundamentally constrained as long as districts fail to consolidate or close under-enrolled district schools. Serious attention needs to go into developing a strategy that requires or incentivizes these actions and provides political backing to district and board officials who are trying to make these adjustments.”   

So, in order to follow the direction of CRPE, the district must close and consolidate schools to make room for charter schools. Because of the predictable, crushing loss of revenue, the district is now trying to find ways of generating new revenue. Like clawing back students from charters into district schools.

Hence the proposed closure of ROOTS. In my opinion, ROOTS is also being thrown under the bus to satisfy the requirements of both FCMAT and the terms of AB1840. The students are in danger of losing their school because of political theater. Closing the school won’t save money, won’t improve student outcomes, and won’t create more “opportunity.”

But it will disrupt the education of a student population (ELL/newcomers) that has been extraordinarily communicative as to why their children need and deserve a neighborhood school like ROOTS that supports their unique needs.

That word “opportunity” has been tossed around lately as a silver lining to the ROOTS closure. It has morphed into the concept that some schools have “opportunity” and some don’t. Really? ALL Oakland schools have opportunity. Every single one.

The question is whether the adults in the room have the courage to admit to the students and parents at ROOTS that they aren’t worthy of the district’s attention or finances; that splitting up their population and scattering them like leaves is in the best interest of the community.

History of ROOTS and the Small Schools Initiative

Both ROOTS and CCPA were part of OUSD’s Small School Initiative. It was a huge redesign experiment on our kids, and I want to emphasize the “experiment” part.

The experiment allowed Bill Gates to use our kids as lab rats, collect some data, with the idea that we would learn some really cool stuff about how schools should work and create a lot of new schools.Even though the educators already knew how existing schools should work because, well, they actually do the work. At the school.

Inevitably, part of the experiment would involve merging/expanding the smalls schools that were deemed “successes” and closing the ones that “failed.”

Fast forward, and a lot can change. Neighborhoods, economics, demographics, political climate. Both ROOTS and CCPA are now coexisting, until…the powers that be decide to close ROOTS, supposedly to save money, manage our “portfolio”, and generate some additional revenue. What’s the fun of having a portfolio district if you can’t actually close schools and massage data? (Remember, data points and dollar signs, that’s the theme).

There are rumblings about test scores compared to CCPA, and that CCPA should expand because it has higher test scores. Meaning what?

Meaning not much. Difference in test scores between schools is generally correlated with several factors: ELL, SPED, wealth, demographics, and test prep. In addition, the populations are self-selected at both schools.  The student populations are NOT THE SAME, and therefore you can’t make any meaningful comparisons regarding test scores (as proxy for learning) when comparing the two schools, or any two (or more) schools for that matter.

Just for starters, ROOTS has nearly half of their students classified as ELL, compared to CCPA which has about one-third. In addition, CCPA received more funding than ROOTS (could be because of the grade makeup), and ROOTS has more inexperienced teachers. In 2016-17, nearly all of the teachers at ROOTS had 1-2 years’ experience. All of these factors can affect outcomes, so it is simply not a fair comparison and should not be the justification for school closure.

The Demand Rate

So, what other metric can the district use to support school closure? The latest weapon in the privatization tool box is something called the demand rate.

The district invented a way to quantify “demand” for a school. It’s a way to manufacture a metric that stands as a proxy for “quality”, but is actually disguised as nothing more than a way to judge a beauty contest; a way to show which schools are more popular, but not necessarily better for certain populations with unique needs, such as ELL (newcomers) and SPED. Oddly enough, the district does not include second or third choice in the demand model. Only first choice.

The district doesn’t consider second or third place worthy of inclusion in the demand calculation. Only winners and losers. And in this case, the loser is ROOTS, and the parents and students who chose it. According to the district, they chose the wrong school. This is not how school choice is supposed to work, but no one should be surprised by this. Nothing about school choice is working the way it was supposed to because the entire concept has been hijacked by billionaires who know what’s best. For them and their kids.

The demand rate will never qualify the reason behind the enrollment at school sites, and this is one of its greatest flaws. This metric will no doubt be used as a tool to justify school closure, not just for ROOTS, but for other district schools. Corporations and billionaires who support the portfolio model believe that schools should be run like businesses (data points and dollar signs). Data can then be manipulated in all kinds of ways to justify school closures.

Finally, the closure of ROOTS is one more way of showing disrespect for the parents and students who chose the school. They are being told that they have better opportunity elsewhere, but not at CCPA (CCPA has indicated it doesn’t want to enroll the ROOTS students). Encoded in this decision is that neighborhood schools aren’t that important.

That having a school within a safe walking distance isn’t important. That having peer, community, and ELL support isn’t important. That it’s better to get into your car (or a bus) and drive across town (assuming you have that luxury) to a different school environment (but not CCPA) because someone who doesn’t even know you or your child’s needs think that’s best. Because of test scores.

Finally, the district did put a price tag on all the disruption and displacement for those families. $81K. That’s all the immediate savings they project the first year for closing ROOTS. If any ROOTS students decide to move, leave the district and/or attend a charter, that’s $8-10K per student. Gone. You do the math. Pitiful.

There happen to be two charter schools right down the street from ROOTS, Aspire and Aurum. Maybe the parents will just decide their student needs to stay in the neighborhood, so they will go to those schools by default. If CCPA won’t enroll them, there aren’t any other neighborhood middle schools left, except for charter schools.

Finally, OUSD has a duty to engage with these parents/students/caregivers openly and honestly, and that isn’t happening. The district has no business closing the school,or any other school, if they aren’t even willing to publicly articulate the reason for the closure (data points and dollar signs).

Parents and students deserve that much. Better yet, leave ROOTS open and get them the support they need. The ROOTS community has exhibited far more courage, honesty, and integrity through this challenging time, and they deserve the same in return.

See: www.crpe.org/sites/default/files/crpe-slowdown-bay-area-charter-school-growth.pdf

Posted at Oakland Crossings, January 23, 2019

Opinion: We Need to Stand for Leonard Powell

 Court Hearing Jan. 29 for Veteran Fighting to Keep City from Taking His Home

Leonard Powell stands on the front porch of his home.

By Gene Turitz

Mr. Leonard Powell is going to Alameda County Superior Court on Tuesday, Jan. 29 to fight to  keep the home where he and his family have lived for over 40 years, which is being taken by the City of Berkeley.

The hearing will be held at 10:30 a.m. at the superior court at 24405 Amador St. in Hayward.

The court has ordered the receiver, Gerard Keener, and the City of Berkeley to provide the documents to Mr. Powell that show how the cost for bringing his house up to code  increased from between $150,000 and $200,000 to over $700,000, which he is now being forced to pay.

We still do not know who in the City of Berkeley decided to go after Mr. Powell by “Red Tagging” his home.  Was it the Police who wanted to “punish” a member of Mr. Powell’s family?  Was it the inspection services, which were responding to concerns over Mr. Powell’s well-being?

While we have been asking these questions, the City of Berkeley, whose assistant City Attorney is appearing in court with the receiver, claims that the city is really not involved in this situation.

While the City of Berkeley and its City Council express concerns about its low and extremely low-income residents, the actions of the city administration speak differently.

Walking around South Berkeley we can see multi-unit buildings posted with signs saying that buildings are not earth-quake safe.  While a program has been in effect since about 2005 to have these “Soft-Story” buildings brought up to code, landlords are still collecting rents from the tenants living in unsafe conditions.

Have any of these properties been assigned “receivers”?  Have any of these property owners paid huge amounts to get their property back?  Who in the City of Berkeley makes the decisions to protect the owners of these properties rather than ensuring the safety of the residents?

Can the City Council explain how a home, lived in by a low-income resident in South Berkeley for over 40 years now, through actions carried out by the City, becomes a place where only a high-income person can live?

This must be the same City Council that approves the construction of buildings that will only house people from high-income backgrounds or who are earning high incomes.

Join us in asking the City Council these questions.  Write to your councilmember about Mr. Powell and what the City of Berkeley is doing to him.  Write to ask what affect the housing policies of the City will have on those of us whose lives and families are here?  Ask why the only people for whom they seem to have concerns are the profit-making developers of high cost, market rate units.

Get together with Friends of Adeline to talk about these questions and to stand with Mr. Powell and other families being forced out of our community.  Meet with us on Saturday, Jan. 26, 11 a.m.-1p.m., at Harriet Tubman Terrace Apartments, 2870 Adeline St., Berkeley (between Oregon and Russell streets) .

Attend the court hearing Tuesday, Jan. 29 in Hayward.

Contact the Friends of Adeline at (510) 338-7843 or friendsofadeline@gmail.com

Gene Turitz is a member of Friends of Adeline.

Published January 20, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Oakland May Name Road in Honor of Oscar Grant

Community leaders join together to endorse naming road next to the Fruitvale BART station as “Oscar Grant Way.” Shown (L to R) are: BART Board President Bevan Dufty, BART Director Lateefah Simon, Oscar Grant’s aunt Bernice Johnson, Council President Rebecca Kaplan, Oscar Grant’s mother Wanda Johnson and Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson. Photo by Gene Hazzard.

 

By Post Staff

The Oakland City Coun­cil’s Life Enrichment Com­mittee passed a resolution this week to name the un­named road adjacent to the West side of the Fruitvale BART Station between 33rd to 35th Avenues as “Oscar Grant Way.”

The resolution was in­troduced last year by Coun­cilmember Desley Brooks in one of her last official acts and co-authored by Council President Rebecca Kaplan. At the Tuesday meeting, Councilmembers Loren Taylor and Lynette McElhaney were added as co-sponsors of the resolu­tion, which will be heard at the council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

It was determined the street was on BART prop­erty, and, BART Board Presi­dent Bevan Dufty and BART Director Lateefah Simon spoke at the committee meeting in fa­vor of the resolution.

“I want to thank Desley Brooks for putting in an effort to put this in today,” said Oscar Grant’s relative, Ceogus “Un­cle Bobby” Cephus Johnson.

“For 10 years I have been saying it is because of the com­munity and political figures and clergy and activists in the streets that prayed with and for us and speaking on behalf of us for Oscar’s name to never be forgotten. Thank you. We will do what we’ve got to do to name this street,” he said.

Said Oscar Grant’s mother Wanda Johnson, “I would first like to thank God and to the BART Directors for carrying this forward. I am so grateful today that you all see that Os­car’s life lost was not in vain.”

“His death has sparked a movement. One of the atone­ments is for BART to name the street after my son, Oscar Grant. Thank you for seeing this injustice and not ignoring it but acting,” she said.

Council President Kaplan said, “We are here…to honor a life that was tragically cut short at the Fruitvale BART station. The activism of the family and the community sparked an international move­ment. We need to honor the life of Oscar Grant, the activism his death has sparked, and we need to continue to fight for a world where Black men and boys are not targets of these types of killings.”

Said BART Board President Dufty: “I want to thank Oscar’s mother for working with me. I want to apologize to the com­munity, and to take account­ability for the delays that have occurred in naming this road. I am 100 percent in support and am committed to working with my colleague Lateefah Simon to correct this at the upcoming BART Board meeting on Feb. 14.”

In her remarks, Simon said, “We are 10 years too late. I apologize to the community. The BART Board will move mountains to name this street after Oscar Grant. We will or­ganize like Oscar’s mother has organized internationally. We will do this. We have no choice.”

Oscar Grant III was a 22-year-old African-American man who was fatally shot in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009 by BART Po­lice Officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland.

Responding to reports of a fight on a crowded Bay Area Rapid Transit train returning from San Francisco, BART Police officers detained Grant and several other passengers on the platform at the Fruitvale BART Station. Two officers, including Mehserle, forced the unarmed Grant to lie face down on the platform.

Mehserle drew his pistol and shot Grant in the back. Grant was rushed to Highland Hospi­tal in Oakland and pronounced dead later that day.

The events were captured on multiple official and pri­vate digital video and private­ly-owned cell phone cameras and went viral. Huge protests against police actions took place in the following days.

Published January 18, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Memorial for Street Academy Principal Patricia “Ms. Pat” Williams Myrick

As the school’s leader, she helped raise generations of students for 40 years

Patricia Williams Myrick (right) and her daughter Kelly Mayes in 1976.

A memorial will be held for former Oakland Academy Principal  Patricia “Ms. Pat” Williams Myrick, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Bakewell Hall, 525 29th St. in Oakland.

A resident of Richmond, CA, she died on Dec. 19 at the age of 80.

Ms. Pat was born on Sept. 8, 1938. Always a nurturer, she was the oldest of nine siblings and eight cousins (her mother’s twin sister’s children). She took care of all 16 siblings and cousins and took that job seriously.

She watched over of all of her cousins.  She also had an uncle Bob who had children, and she watched over everybody.  As she matured, she continued to help everyone when needed. Her upbringing shaped her into the woman she became

After graduating from Des Moines Technical High School in 1957, she moved to the Bay Area in 1966 and received her AA in Business in 1976. She worked at UC Berkeley for a number of years. Then she became employed by The Bay Area Urban League, the first fiscal agent for the Oakland Emiliano Zapata Street Academy, an Oakland public alternative high school, located at 417 29th St. in Oakland.

Her journey with Street Academy lasted 40 years, and  she retired as the school’s administrator.

She is survived by her only daughter Kelly (White) Mayes of Richmond; 3 granddaughters, Meichele Kacee Mayes-Blackwell, Tiani Powers and Genai Powers, plus 4 great-granddaughters, Chazae, Chalynn, Avri and Chazity.

Ms. Pat was preceded in death by siblings, Lance White, Verdo White, Margo White and Terrie White. She is survived by her brothers Ricardo White and Antonio White of El Cerrito; two sisters, Brenda Rakestraw of Oceanside, CA; Veronica Carr of New Mexico; and a host of nieces and nephews.

Published January 17, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Health Advocate Margaret Gordon Receives West Oakland Health Trailblazer Award

Margaret Gordon

West Oakland Health is honoring Margaret Gordon, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), with a West Oakland Health Trailblazer Award for her work as a “forward thinker in the field of health care.”

“The purpose of the …Trailblazer Award is to recognize and honor an individual who has demonstrated innovation, creativity and overcoming obstacles to meet the challenges of health care delivery in education, clinical service, public policy or community service,” according to the award letter sent to Gordon.

Gordon will receive the award at West Oakland Health’s 50th Anniversary Gala Celebration Saturday, Feb. 16 at the Marriott Hotel, 1001 Broadway in Oakland.

Gordon co-founded WOEIP in 2003 to fight to clean up air quality in West Oakland, classified as a major “toxic hotspot.” The community is located next door the Port of Oakland, a hub for ships and diesel trucking, which produces 90 times more diesel emission participates per day compared to the state of California.

Up until the founding of WOEIP, the voices of West Oakland residents were entirely absent from the Port of Oakland’s governing process.

“I was the first member of the impacted community in over 80 years to meet at a table with Port of Oakland executives,” said Gordon said in an interview with Breathe California – California Golden Gate Public Health Partnership.

Since the launch of WOEIP, the Port of Oakland has reduced its emissions by 70 percent, and Gordon has been a principle catalyst.

West Oakland Health is a nonprofit community health center with four sites providing primary care, women, children, and infant care, behavioral health, substance abuse recovery services and an oral health program to residents of West, North and East Oakland, Emeryville and Southwest Berkeley.

Published December 6, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Oakland Race & Equity Dept. Report Calls for End to Systemic Racial Disparities

Affordable housing protest at Oakland City Hall

City Councilmembers  this week took the “first step” to implement the “2018 Oakland Equity Indicators Report,” a recent study that provides data on racial disparities experienced by African Americans and Latinos in nearly all areas of life in Oakland, including housing, health, public safety and education.

Darlene Flynn

The report, a joint project of the Resilient Oakland Office and the city’s Department of Race and Equity, was released in July. The plan now calls for the council and city departments to begin to examine policies and programs “through intentional focus on race and ethnic disparities and their root causes,” said Darlene Flynn, director of the Department of Race & Equity, speaking at Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Life Enrichment Committee.

The report was funded by a $140,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation,

The ultimate goal is “fairness,” which means that “identity—such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation or expression—has no detrimental effect on the distribution of resources, opportunities and outcomes for our city’s residents,” according to the report to the council submitted by Flynn.

The report will be updated each year, “measuring how much we have changed (in terms of) what our outcomes are,” because “if we keep doing things the same way we are doing them, we will keep getting the same outcomes,” Flynn said.

The report looked at Oaklanders’ quality of life based on 72 indicators in six areas: economy, education, public health, housing, public safety and neighborhood and civic life.

On a scale of 1 to 100, the report gave the city an overall average score of 33.5. The number 1 represents the highest possible inequity, while 100 represents the highest possible equity.

“This is not good news. It should also not be surprising news for people who are paying to attention to how people’s lives are going in (Oakland),” Flynn said.

“This (report) shows that race does matter. Every area that we looked showed some level of disparity by race and usually quite a bit of disparity,” she said.
One indicator, “Oakland Poverty Rate by Race/Ethnicity,” shows that 26.1 percent of African Americans live at or below the poverty line, while only 8.4 percent of whites are classified as poor.

In other words, “African Americans are three times more likely to live in poverty than whites,” she said.

In addition, one of five Latinos, 21.9 percent, live in poverty. Overall, the poverty rate in Oakland is 17 percent.

This pattern can be seen in nearly all of the 72 indicators: African Americans are the most “negatively impacted,” followed by Latinos, she said.

On 12 indicators, the city received a 1.0, the lowest possible score:

  • Education – student suspensions
  • Education – teaching staff representative of the student body
  • Public Health – child asthma emergency department visits
  • Public Health – substance abuse emergency department visits
  • Housing – homelessness
  • Public safety – adult felony arrests
  • Public safety – jail incarceration
  • Public safety – prison incarceration,
  • Public safety – use of force
  • Public safety – homicides
  • Public safety – juvenile felony arrests
  • Neighborhood and Civil Life – pedestrian safety

The five highest scoring indicators:

  • Equal Access Accommodations (language access) – 100
  • Adopt-a-Drain – 80
  • Homeownership with mortgage – 78
  • Life expectancy – 77
  • Labor force participation – 72
  • Participation in workforce development – 72

A high score does not necessarily mean that an outcome is good, but that is it more equal across different groups of residents.

Flynn, who has headed the Department of Race and Equity since it was formed two years ago through the efforts of Councilmember Desley Brooks, was cautiously optimistic about what the work around the new equity report can achieve.

“This is just the first step, not the end of the story,” said Flynn, pointing out that government played a role in creating the systemic inequities that exist, and it can play a role in reversing them. “I have some level of optimism that with public will, with leadership support, with changes in strategy, we can make a difference,” she said. “By leading with race, we can make a difference.”

To read the report, go to www.ca.gov/projects/oakland-equity-indicators

Published November 15, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Report: Oakland Can House 2,000 Homeless People in 6 Months “If Political Will Exists”

Real number of homeless in Oakland is over 9,000

A number of Oakland groups released a “Community-Based Oakland Plan to House the Unhoused” at a press conference Monday at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle in downtown Oakland. Among the speakers were Needa B of The Village, Margaretta Lin of the Dellums Institute for Social Justice and Candice Elder of the East Oakland Collective. Photo by Amir Saadiq.

The Housing and Dignity Project released a report this week showing that solutions to housing Oakland’s unhoused residents are available, if the political will exists.

A collaboration between The Village, the East Oakland Collective, and the Dellums Institute for Social Justice,  The Housing and Dignity Project’s report, “Housing Oakland’s Unhoused Report,” is available on the Dellums Institute’s website, http://dellumsinstitute.org/community-justice-data/.

It is the perfect response to the recently released UN Report that called out only two cities in the US for human rights violations of the homeless–Oakland and San Francisco.

As the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, decried in the recent special report, “The world has come to accept the unacceptable.”  With escalating income inequality and “systemic exclusion” of the poor, nearly one in four of the world’s urban population lives in informal settlements or encampments—883 million people.

These intolerable conditions exist not only in Mumbai, but shockingly, in US cities like Oakland and San Francisco.

With Oakland’s out of control housing market and 75 percent increase in median rents since 2014, escalating numbers of Oakland’s working poor have lost their homes.

Said Needa Bee, leader of The Village, “It took the United Nations to validate what unhoused people have been saying.  Instead of working with us, the City of Oakland has bulldozed community housing, denied its residents struggling to survive access to basic rights to water and sanitation, evicted encampments, and criminalized the homeless.”

Spurred by the City of Oakland’s failure to adequately house over 9,000 unhoused Oakland residents (a more accurate number according to the Alameda County Healthcare for the Homeless Program research), the Housing and Dignity Project recently convened unhoused residents to design strategies that can provide immediate and long-term housing solutions.

“Unhoused residents who have been the most impacted by Oakland’s insane housing crisis know what solutions look like.  The problem is that few people are willing to listen,” said Candice Elder, leader of the East Oakland Collective.

The “Housing Oakland’s Unhoused Plan” harnesses alternative building solutions and community ingenuity with available public land that could provide over 7,000 new housing units for the unhoused.

As former Oakland Deputy City Administrator and co-architect of the Plan, Margaretta Lin, said, “I was at the City of Oakland during the Great Recession and witnessed firsthand the power of government to solve big problems.  We need government to unleash their full powers to partner with unhoused residents and reverse Oakland’s current course.  Systemic exclusion and human rights violations are happening on our collective watch.”

The report identified short term emergency solutions implementable within six months including:

  • Housing 1,200 people in tiny home villages for up to $7,500 per unit;
  • Housing 800 people in mobile homes for up to $35,000 per unit;
  • Utilize 50 parcels of available public land in Oakland that could produce 7,300 housing units.

These scalable solutions could immediately house 2,000 people for about $23 million, less than the cost to build one 40-unit building. In addition, the Housing and Dignity Project has identified city, county, and state available funds for their plan.

Published November 2, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Opinion: “Oakland’s Democracy Is Strengthened by the Re-Election of Councilmember Desley Brooks,” Says Sandré Swanson

Desley Brooks and Sandré Swanson

I was born in the City of Oakland and have devoted my life to public service. I proudly represented the city of Oakland as our California State Assemblymember, Deputy Mayor of Oakland, the Chief of staff for Congresswoman Barbara Lee and a senior advisor to former Congressman Ron Dellums.

The Citizens of Oakland elect their Councilmembers by districts to ensure that their vote determines who will speak for and represent our community. I endorse and support Councilmember Desley Brooks because she has been a clear and effective voice for her district and the underrepresented in our city.

In my career, I have had the honor of meeting many dedicated public servants, and I have seen the challenge and negative effect of big money campaigns to oppose those dedicated public servants.

The people of Oakland’s District 6 should send a clear and strong message that Oakland’s democracy is strengthened by the re-election of Councilmember Desley Brooks, an independent and uncompromising voice for her district.

For the past 16 years, Councilmember Desley Brooks has had a successful record for Oakland. Desley Brooks’ mission to bring representation for historically underrepresented groups and Oakland’s diverse communities into City Hall is her record of service:

  • As rents have skyrocketed, she has passed renter’s protection ordinances and advocated for affordable housing for all.
  • As police accountability and violence has challenged safety in our community, she pushed for an independent police review commission.
  • She stood up for immigrant rights and strengthened Oakland’s Sanctuary City ordinance and opposed illegal ICE raids.
  • To fight joblessness and homelessness, she has set up job training programs that build bridges into the middle class for Oakland’s residents.
  • To make sure Oakland is a fair, equitable place for all, she led the fight to establish the Department of Race and Equity, ensuring that City policies don’t discriminate against minorities and women.

Desley Brooks has worked tirelessly for the communities she represents, and that’s why she has earned the support of her constituents, City workers, firefighters, religious leaders, and others.

It’s why she has earned my support, and it’s why she deserves yours.

Published October 27, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post