Category: Education/Schools/Youth

State Representatives – FCMAT and the County – Drive Budget Cuts, Not the Teachers Strike

Oakland teachers recent seven-day strike challenged the school board’s decision to close schools and slash educational programs. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

A new report from the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) indicates that the State of California, represented by FCMAT and the Alameda County Superintendent of Education, is requiring the school district to make budget cuts of jobs and programs totaling about $30 million this year, regardless of  any costs generated by increased salaries for teachers and other school employees.

The district administration and much of the school board blame the new teachers contract for the cuts they are making, but they are silent about pressure the district faces from FCMAT and the County Superintendent.

FCMAT, which is an independent nonprofit funded by the state, works in schools districts throughout California enforcing financial accountability, meaning that the agency requires local educators to adopt difficult austerity measures, such as school closures and cuts to educational programs.

FCMAT is sometimes referred to as a QUANGO, a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization, which Wikipedia defines as “a hybrid form of organization with elements of both non-government organizations (NGOs) and public sector bodies … at least partly controlled and/or financed by government bodies.”

Working together, FCMAT and Alameda County Office of Education are supervising OUSD under the terms of AB 1840, which “provides for several changes in the oversight of fiscally distressed districts and sets forth specific requirements for the Oakland Unified School District in exchange for providing financial resources under certain circumstances.”

Backed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, the Democratic Legislature passed AB 1840 on Aug. 31, and the law became effective on Sept.17, 2018. FCMAT played a role in drafting the legislation.

FCMAT’s 267-page report on the Oakland Unified School District, issued March 1, did not deal with the impact of the teachers’ strike settlement, which was settled too late to be  included in the report’s findings.

The report quoted a Sept. 6, 2018 letter to OUSD from the County Office of Education,  which said the district’s solvency was “largely dependent on the District’s ability to implement approximately $30 million of ongoing reductions in 2018-19.”

The purpose of extra state funding connected to AB 1840 is to give the district three years to make layoffs, school closures  and large cuts to central office administration and school sites. The money is not intended to help avoid any cuts but to give OUSD some time and space to make the cuts the state expects, making the reductions in three steps rather than diving head first of the cliff all at once.

According to the FCMAT report, AB 1840 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.”

Under the guidance of FCMAT since 2003, the district has closed 18 schools since 2004, 14 of which have become charter schools.  FCMAT has long been adamant about the need for OUSD to close schools.

While FCMAT admits school closings do not save money, selling or leasing schools can generate income. The district is in the process of setting up a “7-11 committee,” which is a process required by the state for local districts that want to sell public property.

The supervision provided by FCMAT and the county looks at the district’s financial condition as a given,  which  only can be improved with budget cuts – not a something for which FCMAT and the county bear any responsibility (going back to 2003). Ignored is the possibility of increased state support for urban school districts or changing state laws to restrict the drain of charter schools on public education dollars.

Looking favorably at the district’s “Citywide Plan,” authorized last June, ” FCMAT notes that “the first strategy under this plan is to implement the Blueprint for Quality Schools action plan to identify four cohorts of school 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.”

Detailing a timeline of district budget cuts, FCMAT also noted that the Board of Education unanimously voted on Aug. 8 to “consider and implement budget reductions,” including 234 FTE Certificated positions and 104 FTE Classified, Management and Confidential positions for approximately $26.4 million to be identified on or before Feb. 28, 2019, books and supplies of $400,000 and $3.5 million services and operating expenses.”

On Sept. 12, the school board adopted a resolution endorsing the closing of schools.

On Jan. 28, the board approved a plan to close Roots International Academy and disperse its students. The campus would be given to Coliseum College Preparatory Academy (CCPA), which currently shares the site with Roots.

On Feb. 19, “the district board received feedback from staff and stakeholders about the restorative justice program, which was recommended at the Feb. 6, 2019 meeting to be eliminated.”

Published March 15, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Legislature Should Cancel the School District’s $40 Million Debt, Says Senator Skinner

Oaklanders visit the offices of Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks and Bob Bonta seeking forgiveness of financial debt to OUSD. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

A growing number of Oaklanders—joined by Senator Nancy Skinner—are calling on the State of California to cancel the balance of the $100 million loan that the state forced on the Oakland Unified School District in 2003 and then spent through a state receiver, with no democratic input from the local community.

The district still owes somewhat less than $40 million on the loan, making annual payments of $6 million a year until 2026.

Speaking at a meeting last week of the Wellstone Democratic Club, Senator Nancy Skinner said she would support a measure to forgive the remainder of the district’s state debt. “I support eliminating that debt, especially given that it (was spent) under state receivership (when) there were five different superintendents, all appointed by the state. They racked up a huge debt, and then Oakland was supposed to pay it back at 8 percent (interest)—that’s usury,” said Skinner.

Over 1,500 people have signed a petition calling on Oakland’s local representatives to work to abolish the debt.

“We call on the OUSD administration along with California politicians Gavin Newsom, Rob Bonta, Nancy Skinner, and Tony Thurmond to take immediate steps toward waiving/abolishing OUSD’s debt and fully fund OEA’s reasonable contract proposal,” the petition said, which is available at Change.org at https://bit.ly/2VCKz1W.

Supporting the community demand, Council President Rebecca Kaplan wrote a letter on Feb. 14 to Gov. Gavin Newsom: “In light of an estimated $21.5 billion surplus in the State budget, … relief from the repayment process would afford OUSD the opportunity to truly create a culture of long-term solvency,” wrote Kaplan.

A group of OUSD principals recently sent a delegation to Sacramento asking the legislators to support Oakland’s demand for loan forgiveness.

In interviews with the Oakland Post this week, Assemblymember Bonta said he has supported loan forgiveness for six years and he will continue to do so. However, he has not introduced a bill because it would be unlikely to gain support in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

“There is no appetite in Sacramento for that, even though we have a new governor,” he said.

Politics is the art of the of the possible, he continued. “We tried numerous times for debt forgiveness, but it was not possible.”

Bonta said the best bet for OUSD to restore its financial wellbeing is through AB 1840 – to take the money authorized law and adopt austerity measures that will stabilize the district’s finances. He said 1840 does not require closing schools and selling school property but allows the district to cut central office overspending and sell school property to build affordable housing, a “win-win for everybody.”

He did not comment on how the law is being applied in real life by the district leadership and state representatives, including the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), which are guiding the cuts: closing 24 schools, including closing Roots International Academy and dispersing its students, as well as cutting Restorative Justice and other programs designed to develop student leadership and laying off over 100 non-teaching employees.

Agreeing that debt forgiveness faces serious opposition, School Board President Aimee Eng said, “The board and the district have sought support for loan deferral and relief, on and off for years.

“There has been no indication (as recently as conservations last week with State Supt. Of Instruction Tony Thurmond) that there is any appetite (in the Legislature) for forgiving all outstanding debt by districts statewide.”

By the Oakland Post’s deadline, Supt. Thurmond did not reply to a request for comment.

Posted March 8, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Teachers Declare Victory, Fight Continues Against Budget Cuts and School Closings

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

By Ken Epstein

Oakland teachers and students went back to school this week after union members voted Sunday afternoon to end their strike, deciding that they had won as much as they could in the seven-day  walkout and expressing determination to continue to fight the school district’s budget cuts, school closures, the sell-off of public school property and merging of school functions with the charter school industry.

The vote in favor of the new contract, which expires at the end of June 2021, demonstrated both the confidence of teachers in their recently elected union leadership and the growing consciousness and commitment of the teachers to continue the fight over the issues raised during the strike.

Large numbers of teachers voted against the agreement, an expression of their willingness to continue the strike, and many spoke out on social media about their fury at what they see as the Board of Education’s and district administration’s  continuing betrayal of the needs of teachers and students.

The contract was passed Sunday in two parts. The first part, which dealt mostly with a 3 percent retroactive bonus for 2017-18, was approved by a vote of 64 percent yes, 36 percent no.

The second agreement, including salary increases for 2018-19 and 2020-21, was approved by 58 percent yes vote to 42 percent no.

Over the life of the contract, the union won a 11 percent salary increase plus a 3 percent bonus, considerably more than what the school district was offering pre-strike –

only 7 percent over four years, and a 1.5 percent bonus, according to the union. The full settlement is available at https://oaklandea.org/updates/

At a press conference Friday announcing the proposed settlement, Oakland Education Association (OEA) President Keith Brown said, “Educators – supported by parents, supported by labor, supported by the community – prevailed. Our power in the streets prevailed. Our love for our students …. and our determination for a better future for the students of Oakland prevailed.”

“Through the power of the strike, the people of Oakland have spoken,” Brown said. “We outlined a very clear choice during the strike: either you are on the side of the students, parents and community who want to improve education for our students, or you are on the side of the wealthy who seek to privatize education and close schools and take away needed resources from our students.”

“More people are standing on the side of the students because of the power of the strike, which is the righteous side.”

One of the most outstanding achievements of the strike was the overwhelming citywide and Bay Area-wide support for the teachers. Almost all parents kept their children home during the strike, costing the district over $1 million a day in lost funding. Faith leaders, students groups, community groups and other unions backed the strike, providing food and organizing strike solidarity schools, and many workers and parents joined the picket lines and mass marches.

Another important feature of the strike movement, which may impact future local battles over public education, was the massive enthusiastic and militant participation of teachers, picketing, marching  and taking over the ground floor of the State Building in downtown Oakland.

Watching teachers dancing, chanting, singing strike songs, boldly defiant and community loving, Oaklanders witnessed a new generation of grassroots teacher leaders being born.

Immune to the street enthusiasm, the Oakland school board is holding to its support for austerity. On the first day back to school on Monday, the school board held a hurried meeting to authorize $20.2 million in deep budget cuts that were demanded by their state overseers: the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) and County Supt. of Education Karen Monroe.

Over 100 classified (non-teaching) employees are losing their jobs including secretaries, computer technicians and school security officers. Board members also voted to cut the Restorative Justice program, Asian Pacific Islander Student Achievement program and five foster case manager positions.

Hundreds of angry students packed the school board meeting fighting to save these programs and are talking about a student strike.

These cuts are part of a series of budget reductions and school closures that are being required by the state over the next several years.  Several board members blamed teacher salary increases for the need to slash the budget,  though state and county representatives have been pushing for the cuts openly at least since last year, regardless of an improved teacher contract.

In moving ahead with their austerity plan, the board and the administration are relying on their interpretation of AB 1840, which was passed last year with the backing of former Gov. Jerry Brown, who has never been a friend of public education in Oakland, going back to when he was the city’s mayor.

Under the terms of AB 1840, the district will receive a little extra funding, and in exchange OUSD will make drastic cuts to educational programs and close and sell or lease schools over the next few years.

The law seems to follow the spirit of recommendations made in reports produced by a pro-privatization research group, Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), which calls for districts to adopt a series of actions “to address financial challenges, including closing underutilized schools, selling unneeded property … reforming pension agreements, and ending unfunded salary commitments”

The CRPE backs “district-charter-state grand bargains,” whereby the state would give funding to entice districts to “work in partnership with charters… or give charter schools access to buildings as part of a broader deal to stabilize district finances.”

Published March 7, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

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

Oakland Teachers Shut It Down

Teachers say: ‘Get up. Get down. Oakland is a union town!’

Oakland teachers on strike. Photo by Ken Epstein .

By Ken Epstein

Oakland teachers went on strike Thursday, Feb. 21 smaller class sizes, more support for students, a 12 percent wage increase and to halt to destructive school closures

 “Bargaining with the district has not — in two years — produced an agreement that will pay teachers enough to allow them to stay in Oakland or make class sizes more conducive to teaching and learning or provide our students with the supports they need to thrive,” OEA President Keith Brown said, speaking last Saturday at a press conference announcing the strike.

“The only option that Oakland teachers, parents and students have left to win the schools Oakland students truly deserve, and to take control of our school district back from the control of billionaire campaign donors, is for the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association to go on strike,” Brown said.

The teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA), can legally strike any time after a neutral state-appointed fact-finder issued a report on Friday, Feb. 15.  The report, which is nonbinding, does not go far enough, according to the union.

While the factfinder proposes a 6 percent raise, Oakland educators are seeking 12 percent over three years to help halt what they are calling a “teacher retention crisis.” The report also supports hiring more counselors and reducing the student-to-counselor ratio from 600:1 to 500, while OEA had sought a 250:1 ratio.

“There is only one party in our bargaining with Oakland Unified School District that is pushing to improve our public schools for 36,000 Oakland students, and that is the Oakland Education Association,” said Brown. “It is time for the Oakland school board and our superintendent to make a choice – are they on the side of the billionaires who fund their campaigns and are pushing for more draconian budget cuts and school closures that will further hurt our kids, or are they on the side of teachers, students, and parents fighting for the schools Oakland students deserve?”

Responding to the strike threat, OUSD issued a statement over the weekend. District Communications Director John Sasaki said, “We want it to be clear, the district has been and continues to be prepared with comprehensive solutions to address all issues and to reach an agreement,” the statement said. “Furthermore, we believe the recommendations in the report provide ideas that will facilitate the parties reaching a fair contract and avoiding the harm a strike would cause our school communities.”

OUSD is also saying that all schools will be open during the strike.

“Qualified OUSD central office employees and screened temporary teachers will join school principals and site staff to supervise, care for and educate OUSD students.

Striking teachers march through Oakland streets

In an open letter to Oakland teachers, parents and students last Friday, Brown criticized school board members who were backed by billionaires for pushing a competition-based “portfolio” model for Oakland that “has led to a patchwork of privatization, school closures, and unimproved student outcomes in districts like New Orleans, Newark and Detroit.”

The fact-finder’s report is posted on the union’s website: www.oaklandea.org. The full and comprehensive OEA presentation to the fact-finder – titled “Remedying Educational Malpractice,” with extensive data supporting the union’s positions – is also posted on the website.

Oakland educators have been working without a contract since July 2017 and are the lowest-paid in Alameda County.

The news conference announcing the strike can be viewed art https://www.facebook.com/OaklandEA/

Published February 24 2019, courtesy of the Oakland  Post

State Pushes School District to Shut Schools, Sell “Surplus” Property

Parents and community meeting rally against school closings in Oakland Friday Feb. 15 at Roots International Academy in East Oakland. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

Parents at targeted schools are beginning to come together to demand the school district and the state halt the proposed closing of as many as 24 Oakland schools in the next few years.

The first speaker at a rally last Friday on a cold and blustery morning in front of one of the targeted schools, Roots International Academy, was Tamella Jackson, educator and parent at Kaiser Elementary School, which is on the school board’s closure list.

“Something that I can’t get out of my mind (is the saying), ‘If you stand for nothing, you fall for anything.’ We’re not falling – we’re standing for equality. We are standing for our city. We’re standing for our kids,” she said.

“Closing schools displaces (students) and causes family strains so parents can’t take of their kids. We’re slowly understanding and letting more and more people know that this system is set up to fail us,” Jackson said.

“None of us here are going to stand for letting you displace us or choose which teachers you want and what type of schools (we will have),” she said. “I’m speaking directly to the State of California.  Give us our damn schools back.”

Roots parent leader Ady Rios has been active in the fight to save her son’s school since December when the district first announced that Roots would close in June.

“We’re here to fight for our kids. We’re here to keep our schools open,” she said.  “We know that another 23 schools will be going through this. We’re not going to let them take those schools.  We’re going to fight. This is just the beginning.”

Teacher education professor Kitty Kelly Epstein said she was inspired by the commitment and perseverance of Roots parents and teachers “to fight with the school board to show them that their assessment of their school is totally wrong.”

The board justifies its decision based on “bogus” numbers, she said, racially biased test scores that do not prove what they claim to prove, and assertions that closing schools save money, which has been shown to be false in urban school districts across the country.

The district claims it would save a small amount of money – $325,00 – by closing Roots, a neighborhood school at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard, currently serving 309 students.

But in a report issued last Friday to the state-appointed fact finder, OUSD wrote that “the district’s attempts to close schools have been difficult and have not led to significant reductions in cost over time.”

When OUSD officials realized that this statement was included in the report, they asked everyone in the room to rip that page out of their binders and return it to the district.

Meanwhile, the school district is moving ahead with plans to lease school property to charter schools for as long as 40 years and has set up a surplus property committee to sell public school parcels to developers and charters.

The pressure to dispose of public property district comes directly from the state and raises the question of what state legislators are doing to defend the existence of public education in Oakland and other urban districts.

According to community members speaking at Friday’s rally, Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Buffy Wicks and State Senator Nancy Skinner have a responsibility to intervene against school closings and the selling and leasing of public-school land,

A state law passed last year, AB 1840, encourages the dismantling of Oakland’s public-school system.

According to the law, OUSD can get a loan from the state if it “sell(s’) or lease(s) surplus real property… owned by the school district and uses the proceeds from the sale or lease to service, reduce, or retire the debt on the emergency apportionment loan, or for capital improvements.”

The state law also hands over significant decision-making control over school district finances to the Alameda County Office of Education and the state-funded nonprofit agency, the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT).

The law said the district is required, “in collaboration with and with the concurrence of the Alameda County Superintendent of Schools and the … Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, to take certain actions by March 1, 2019 regarding its financial plans and school district construction plans.”

Though the wording of AB 1840 says the district “may” sell school property, rather than “shall” school property, the state’s overseers at FCMAT and the County Office of Education have made it clear that they expect the district to close schools and sell the property.

Published February 20, 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

Sick Outs and Solidarity Schools: Oakland Teachers Prepare for Possible Strike

Oakland teachers hold one-day walkout and picket school district headquarters. Photo courtesy of KQED.

 

By Zack Haber

Pressure is mounting as Oakland teachers and their supporters push for decreased class sizes, a 12 percent pay increase for educators, the hiring of more counselors, and for the district to cancel plans to close up to 24 schools in the next few years.

After teachers have worked for over a year and a half without a contract with the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), a vote to strike has been scheduled from Jan. 29 – Feb. 1 for all 3000 members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) union.

While the OEA is leading negotiations and strike preparations, school-based coalitions of teachers are also taking action. Teachers have begun holding one-day sick-outs and marches to the district headquarters at 11th Street and Broadway in downtown Oakland.

One group, the Wildcat Underground, made up of Oakland High School teachers, has called for and participated in two sickouts.

“The sick outs are our way of flexing. We’re showing that teachers are ready to strike, that we’re organized and mobilized,”said Oakland High School teacher Alex Webster Guiney.

The momentum behind sick outs is growing. While the vast majority of those who participated in the first sick out in December were teachers from Oakland High School, many teachers from at least nine different schools, including Skyline and Fremont High Schools, called in sick and participated in the second sick out.

On the morning of the second sick out, at 8 am, several hundred community members joined an Oakland teachers’ protest, meeting in front of Oakland Technical High School and marching – while chanting and carrying signs – about two and a half miles to OUSD’s headquarters.

In an email to OUSD staff, superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said the district was disappointed in the sick out actions. Since OEA did not officially sanction the sick outs, Trammell characterized them as “unauthorized.”

After the Wildcat Underground led action, OEA president Keith Brown and vice presidents Ismael Armendariz and Chaz Garcia wrote a letter to the district sympathizing with the sick out teachers.

“When we tell our members to ‘let the process work,’ they look at us like we’re fools,” the letter stated. “I can’t blame them. They’re being priced out of their apartments when negotiations seem to go nowhere.”

OEA and individual teachers are working to set up solidarity schools, also called strike schools.

“Strike schools are places in the community that are holding space for people to send their children during the exact same hours that schools are open,” said Fremont High School teacher Kehinde Shalter, who thinks it’s important to provide parents safe educational places to leave their children while parents work.

Salter’s been working to secure spaces for these schools. The East Bay Youth Center, Peralta College, and the main and MLK branches of the Oakland public library have already agreed to host students during the strike.

Coliseum College Preparatory Academy (CCPA) teacher Becca Rozo-Marsh wants help from community volunteers at solidarity schools so more teachers can spend their time on the picket line. She’s been happy at the response she’s gotten so far as she’s reached out to parents and activists.

“We’ve had an outpouring of support from community members, and our role has been to bring those resources together and coordinate them,” she said.

Published January 22, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Parents Ask: “Who’s Behind Roots School Closure?”

“Who are really the key players here. It appears board members don’t have any control,” said a Roots parent

Roots International Academy parent leaders Sylvia Ornelas and Adelaida B Rios, with teacher Quinn Ranahan and a contingent of Roots students at the march and rally for public education in Oakland, Saturday, Jan. 12. Photo by Mona Lisa Treviño.

 

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District is moving full throttle with the closing of Roots International Academy, even though the proposal has not yet been approved by the Board of Education and though the district so far has not determined how much money closing the school would save, if any.

Nor does the district provide answers why the up to 24 schools that are being considered for closure are in flatland East Oakland and West Oakland neighborhoods. None of those affected are Oakland’s 44 charter schools or schools that serve more affluent students.

Studies about the wave of closures across the country, which have hit predominately Black and Latino schools, indicate that school districts save no money and that the long-lasting effects are detrimental to the education of students who are displaced as well as those who attend the receiving schools.

A big question about the closing of Roots, located at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland, is one about democracy: Who made the decision to close the school if it is not the elected school board.

School district officials say that the decision to close the school in June means they have to move ahead quickly, so Roots students will have other schools to attend in the fall. The board is scheduled to discuss the issue on Jan. 23 and make the final decision Jan .28 at a special meeting.

According to OUSD spokesman John Sasaki, “Staff is making a recommendation, and the school board will make the final decision.”

However, the administration  seems to have been decided the issue without waiting for the board to act on its recommendation. Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell met with the Roots community in December, the week before the holiday break, to notify teachers and parents that their school would close.

The district is already starting to counsel students and parents about other schools in East Oakland they can attend next year instead of Roots. No decision has been announced about paying for bus transportation for the families.

And CCPA (Coliseum College Prep Academy), the more favored public school that shares the campus with Roots, called a meeting this week about what to do with all the extra classroom space once Roots shuts down.

“Parents are invited to give input about CCPA’s expansion plan. Roots is scheduled to close next year, and CCPA is planning to grow to serve more students in the community,” according to a CCPA newsletter. The CCPA administration told parents the school is not willing to take more than about a half dozen current Roots students.

“What’s the real deal? Who made the decision? Asked Sylvia Ornelas, a parent leader at Roots.

“We’re not getting any answers,” she said.  “Who are really the key players here? It appears the board members don’t have any control.”

The Oakland Post this week filed a Public Records Act (PRA) Request with the district asking for communications related to Roots and other school closings.

In addition to communications and reports by district officials, the PRA requested said, “The documents should include exchanges with the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), the Alameda County Office of Education, Oakland’s state-appointed trustee, representatives of the State Department of Education and atate legislators and representatives of GO Public School, Educate78, New Schools Venture Fund and the California Charter School Association.”

Asked why the district objects to sending current Roots students to CCPA, which would minimize disruption of the tightknit Roots school community, District spokesman Sasaki emphasized that the merging of the two adjacent schools would have a harmful impact on students.

“Merging the two schools was not an option as that would have been too disruptive for all the students, families and staff,” he said

Presumably, displacing Roots families to schools around East Oakland – Elmhurst Community, Greenleaf, Madison Park Upper and Urban Promise Academy, according to the district – would not disrupt the educational stability of those schools or the displaced students.

Sasaki said the reason for closing Roots has to do with saving money and efficiency:

“All the changes the district is look at are aimed at making the district function more efficiently with better schools while saving money. The changes for Roots have to do with declining enrollment and problems with staff retention.”

However, Sasaki says the district still not know how much will be saved by closing the school.

“The district is still working to determine what the savings will be  with the closure of Roots,” according to KQED, citing an email from Sasaki.

In a strong statement of support for Roots, Oakland Education Association (OEA) President Keith Brown said:

“Our association firmly believes that every student deserves a quality public education. So, we are dismayed by discussion of school closures and consolidations,  particularly in Black and Brown neighborhoods. We should be building up our community schools, not shutting them down.”

Published January 19, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Teachers Demand State Increase School Funding

“The state owes OUSD – I stand in solidarity with you,” said Senator Nancy Skinner

East Bay teachers and supporters march through the streets of Oakland, Jan. 12. Shown are California Teachers Association Secretary Treasurer David Goldberg (third from left) and Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown (fourth from left). Photo by Amir Saadi.

 

By Zack Haber

As Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) teachers prepare for a possible strike, many teachers, students, and community members are showing support for their demand to increase public education funding.

On Saturday, Jan. 12, several thousand East Bay teachers and their supporters gathered at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater and marched to Oakland City Hall for a “Rally to Fund Public Education Now,” organized by the Oakland Education Association (OEA).

Many in the enthusiastic crowd wore #RedforEd t-shirts and carried signs reading, “Fight for the Schools Students Deserve” and “Ready to Strike.”

At Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall, musicians showed support by playing brass instruments and drums while union leaders and educators led chants such as “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Where did all the teachers go?” – addressing OEA’s concern that because OUSD teachers are paid so much less than neighboring districts, between 20-25 percent of Oakland teachers leave every year.

“We’re fighting for essential resources for our students, smaller class size, investment in student supports, and we’re fighting for a living wage to keep good teachers in Oakland,” OEA president Keith Brown, a Bret Harte Middle School teacher.

Brown said OUSD would be able to raise teacher salaries if the district cuts its spending on central office administrators and outside consultants, and stops handing over students, state funding and school sites to charter schools. He also called on the state to increase funding for the long term health of public education.

“We want to have a competitive salary so people stop leaving the district,” said physical education teacher Toussaint Stewart, who added that positive long term relationships with teachers are crucial for young people.

“It’s traumatizing for our kids when so many of their teachers leave,” he said.

The City Hall rally was organized by The East Bay Coalition for Public Education, which called for increased funding for all East Bay schools with a special focus on Oakland, and was supported by over a dozen local teachers unions.

Speakers also spoke out against OUSD’s proposal to cut 24 schools. Teachers and parents from Roots International Academy in East Oakland have been pushing for a dialogue with Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammel and the school board since December, when Trammel announced that Roots was closing.

The Roots’ speakers said their school needs increased funding, not closure. They want the district to strengthen their neighborhood school, not scatter students and families to other schools throughout East Oakland.

One of the speakers was David Goldberg, Secretary Treasurer of the California Teachers Association, who flew up from Los Angeles to show solidarity.

He said the teachers’ fight for better salaries and the students’ fight for a better education are inseparable.

“Our struggle for dignity for our teachers has to be connected to our struggle for social justice for our students,” said Goldberg.

In her remarks, East Bay Senator Nancy Skinner said the state has contributed to the financial difficulties OUSD is currently facing, including the state takeover in 2003.

“The state owes OUSD,” said Skinner. “I stand in solidarity with you.

Published January 18, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post