Category: Education/Schools/Youth

After six parents and teachers were arrested by school police, opponents of school closures continue meeting in the boardroom. The school board had moved its meeting upstairs to a private room, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Alan Pursell/Facebook.

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), responding to ongoing parent and teacher protests against school closings at school board meetings , moved this week’s Board of Education meeting to a private “committee room” and plan to continue to meet in private at future meetings.

“Only individuals who are presenting on specific agenda items and members of the media, except those participating in a disruption, shall be allowed to be present in the Committee Room,” according to a statement that was part of the official agenda for the Wednesday, Nov. 6 board meeting. “Members of the public will be able to make public comment and observe the meeting in the Great Room (at 1050 Second Ave.) via two-way video and audio communication,” the statement said.

In response to questions from the Oakland Post, district spokesman John Sasaki said that future board meetings will continue to be held in private.

“We hope to get back to the normal functioning of our Board meetings as soon as possible. The meetings are being evaluated on a case by case basis,” he said.

Several former board members reacted in dismay at the board’s decision to remove the public from official deliberations, which they consider a violation of the state’s open meeting law, the Brown Act.

Sylvester Hodges, who served 12 years on the board including serving as Board President, said, “That’s not a public meeting. The Brown Act doesn’t allow that. That’s a private meeting because they’re restricting people from being in the room where they are deliberating. Their action says they don’t want to see the public and hear their reactions; they want to do what they want to do without hearing from the people.

Civil Rights Attorney Dan Siegel, who served on the school board and at a different time worked as the school district legal counsel, also accused the board of violating stating law.

“It’s not even close to legal. It’s absurd. This school board is out of  control. They’re completely clueless about what is going on in OUSD. They’re presiding over the destruction  of the district, and nobody (in charge)  seems to give a damn.”

Siegel, who is representing the parents and teachers who were arrested and injured at a recent school board meeting, says he has been involved in the schools since the 1980s. Although there have been many protests over the years, he has never seen anything like the actions of the current school board, including the use of school police and security guards to arrest and injure parents at a recent board meeting

“I’ve never seen cops beat up people at a school board meeting before. This is a new thing,” he said.

Explaining the district’s rationale for closing board meetings, Sasaki said the district is acting in “accordance” with the Brown Act.

“The protestors have said they plan to try shutting down our meetings going forward,” Sasaki said. “They did that at three successive meetings and one joint City/OUSD meeting. At the last meeting which they tried to shut down, they were openly talking about doing the same thing at the next meeting. The bottom line is our Board of Education needs to meet in order to conduct the District’s business, and we can’t have that process disrupted.”

Published November 8, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Post Salon Backs Call on State Officials to Investigate and Remove FCMAT

Panelists at the Sunday, Nov. 3 Post Salon were former Roots Academy teacher Quinn Ranahan, Kaiser Elementary Parent Cherise Gash, Howard Elementary teacher Yael Friedman, Oakland teachers’ union Executive Boardmember Kampala Taiz-Rancifer, former school Boardmember Sylvester Hodges and Post reporter Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Post Community Assembly, along with parents and teachers in the Oakland Not For Sale (ONFS) coalition, hosted a community discussion last Sunday aimed at opposing the school closures, austerity, and privatization that are threatening the future of Oakland public schools.

The gathering focused on ways to stop the closing of Oakland schools, carried out by the district under the guidance of a non-elected state-funded agency, the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT).

Post Salon, Nov. 3, 2019.

Attendees praised the Salon for providing rarely discussed information about the power and operation of FCMAT which began pressing the district to close schools at the time when the State took all power away from local residents in 2003  Then state administrator Randy Ward, working in tandem with FCMAT, asked an aide to find out how much money it would save to close schools. The aide returned a few days later with the information that closing schools does not save money, and Ward responded, “Then go back and find another reason for closing schools.”

The state-appointed FCMAT has continued to dominate school district decisions because of the unnecessarily large debt imposed on the district in 2003. FCMAT has at various times become the overseer to nine school districts. In every case, these districts were disproportionately Black and Latino, compared to the rest of the state.

OUSD has already closed 18 schools since the state took over in 2003, and 14 of those buildings have been taken over by charters. All of those schools served predominantly flatlands students. Other schools have lost classroom space as they have been forced to “co-locate” charters on their campuses.

This past school year, the district closed Roots International Academy and recently decided to close Kaiser Elementary and Oakland SOL. The district has committed to closing more schools over the next four years. There are 24 schools on the list of threatened sites, though OUSD has not revealed how many of them will be actually closed.

“The purpose of this salon is not to have an organized gripe session, a place to vent, but rather to take these concerns and convert them to a plan of action and a commitment to action,” said Oakland Post publisher Paul Cobb, who moderated the panel and the discussion that followed. . “The most important thing is that we need a community response and a political organizing response to put pressure for change,” he said.

Among the proposals raised by various individual participants was running a slate next year of four school board candidates who are committed to fighting for the community.   Others proposed a recall of school board members. And others planned to set up a meeting with Oakland’s state legislators and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to discuss the unfair aspects of Oakland’s debt and FCMAT’s actions.

Parents and teachers who are members of Oakland Not for Sale asked for the community to attend the next school board meeting to protest school closures and school board violence, Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 4:30 p.m. at La Escuelita Elementary at 1050 Second Ave. This meeting will give the community a chance to show that the community is not intimidated by the district’s use of police.

The first of the six panelists was Cherisse Gash, a parent from Kaiser Elementary, who said she attended Kaiser as a child and chose Kaiser for her child. “Without fail, the school did exactly did what they were supposed to do for my son. They loved him. They made sure he felt encouraged as a student.”

“We are going to fight for our schools,” she said. “We need board members that support students first.”

Another speaker was Roots teacher Quinn Ranahan, who fought to save her school. “It was a really beautiful place. I loved my kids. There was something that was really magical happening there.”

Central office administrators showed up last December to notify the school community that Roots would close in June. Ignoring its own community engagement policies, the board also ignored the hundreds of parents, teachers and students who protested at school board meetings voting on Jan. 28 to close the school.

Many Roots students were moved to schools that are slated to close next year. “Our kids will again be in an unstable environment,” Ranahan said.

Howard Elementary teacher Yael Friedman talked about how Francophone Charter had taken over part of her school.    Under the co-location policy, it was given seven of the 16 classrooms at the school, forcing the Howard to move its reading intervention class to a closet.She said the teachers went to the school board meeting and showed them photos of the class being taught in the closet. “They said ‘Oh my goodness’ but then they said  there was nothing they could do.”

While Howard is told it is losing classrooms because it is under-enrolled, parents report they try to enroll their children at Howard and are told by the district that there is no room, said Friedman.

Representing the Oakland Education Association (OEA) was Executive Board Member Kampala Taiz-Rancifer.

“OUSD has a long legacy of closing schools, primarily in Black and Brown and communities,” she said. “They’ve been intentionally defunding our schools. We’re going to need a new school board, and) we’re trying to figure out right now how to stop these really racist practices.”

Sylvester Hodges was President of the School Board during an earlier era, when the Board prevented State take-over.  He said “You have to follow the money,” to see who will make money off school closures –  the charter schools that want the campuses and the developers property to build upscale condominiums. The attack on public schools was well planned, he said. “They have supplied the district with all the necessary ingredients to ignore us, and do what they want. They have already sold themselves out.”

This reporter spoke about the role of FCMAT, which he observed while a school district employee during the state takeover in 2003 and later as a reporter.

With FCMAT in charge, along with State Receiver Randy Ward, the word around the district was that OUSD would be drastically downsized, “small enough to hold in your hands,” cutting something like 36 schools, compared to the over 90 school sites the district had at the time.

The salon adjourned after unanimously agreeing to work on various actions, including a meeting with state elected officials.

Published November 7, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

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 .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mayor Created Oakland Promise by Approving Resolution While City Council Was on Summer Break

City Attorney memorandum says city rules “prohibit the mayor from approving ordinances during council’s annual recess”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

By Ken Epstein

Local residents who follow city government might well wonder why Oakland City Council members allowed Mayor Libby Schaaf to set up her signature multi-million dollar college scholarship program, Oakland Promise, placing complete control of the program in the hands of the mayor with a minimum of oversight or transparency.

The short answer: they didn’t.

Oakland Promise was created and approved by Mayor Schaaf on the Mayor’s Summer Recess Agenda on Aug. 25, 2015. In other words, while the council was on its annual summer recess, the Mayor’s Office single handedly approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the East Bay College Fund (EBCF), which went into effect in September 2015, bypassing public input and council approval.

In a legal opinion requested by Council President Rebecca Kaplan, City Attorney Barbara Parker wrote a memorandum last week, saying that the City Council Rules of Procedure 21 “prohibits the mayor from approving ordinances during the council’s annual recess.”

In response to Parker’s opinion, City Council President Kaplan wrote in an email, “There was no funding or urgent need to bring (the MOU) as a recess action. So, it was hidden from the public without a valid reason for doing so. The 2015 recess action clearly contains legislative action, which is prohibited.”

The 2015 MOU authorizes the Mayor’s Office to appoint one voting member of the EBCF Board of Directors and members of the Oakland Promise Advisory Committee. In addition, “The Mayor’s office will provide communication support, marketing collateral, engagement opportunities and support for promotion and collaborate on annual fundraising events for Oakland Promise,” according to the MOU.

The City of Oakland from 2016-2018 gave $1.15 million to Oakland Promise’s Kindergarten to College Program. In addition, Oakland Promise received 11th floor City Hall office space, as well as “desktop computers, phone and internet service for approximately five Oakland Promise staff,” according to an administrative report to the city/school district Education Partnership Committee.

Until recently David Silver, Special Assistant to the Mayor III, served as the head of Oakland Promise. While receiving no salary from Oakland Promise, Silver’s city salary in 2018 was $261,961.45, salary plus benefits.

In her cover memo to the August 2015 M.O.U., Mayor Schaaf wrote that the MOU “has no cost implications to the City of Oakland,” though that does not appear to be the case.

Council President Kaplan, following up on the issue after it was raised by community activist Gene Hazzard, requested an opinion from City Attorney Parker about the legality of the mayor’s decision to approve the MOU without going to the City Council.

The City Attorney on Sept. 11 wrote that Rule 21 of the Council’s Rules of Procedure that the mayor may make decisions “during the annual recess except for those matters specifically set forth herein.”

Restrictions on the mayor’s authority to bypass the City Council:

  • “Rule 21 prohibits the mayor from approving ordinances during the council’s annual recess.”
  • The mayor must “set for reasons in the agenda reports and resolutions why approval cannot be deferred for council approval after the recess.”
  • The Mayor cannot “appropriate funds without prior council authorization and approval.”
  • The Council “is required to approve by ordinance any lease with rent at below fair market value. “

“The (City Attorney’s) legal memo says that anything that requires legislative action —  like renting space in city hall for free or changing how board members get appointed by moving the power out of the hands of the council and into the hands of the mayor — cannot be done by recess action,” Kaplan wrote in an email on Wednesday.

In July, the Oakland Promise appears to have merged with the EBCF. The governing board of the EBCF voted to convert their nonprofit to Oakland Promise, filing with the Secretary of State,  according to newly hired  Oakland Promise CEO Mialisa Bonta, president of the Alameda Unified School Board and wife of Assemblyman Rob Bonta.

“Functionally, that means that Oakland Promise has the EIN (nonprofit tax IRS tax identification number) of the East Bay College Fund,” she said.

Oakland Post Questions to Mayor Schaaf’s office were unanswered by press time.

In reply to an Oakland Post email, the City Attorney’s office said that Parker’s legal memo was written about the rules governing mayoral recess decisions in the current year, not about what Mayor Schaaf did in 2015.

“The City Attorney’s memo was written in response to a Councilmember’s request to explain the current rules of procedure regarding the mayor’s recess authority. It does not address or make a determination regarding whether any particular action was, or was not, in compliance with the rules. We will review the 2015 action and the rules that were in place at the time,” said Alex Katz,  Barbra Parker’s representative.

For Gene Hazzard’s website, including his blog, go to www.cleanoakland.com

Published September 21, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

School Board Votes to Close Kaiser Elementary School

Teachers, students and parents speak at standing-room only Oakland Board of Education meeting, Wednesday, Sept. 11. (Photo courtesy of Chastity Garcia, Facebook)

 

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Oakland Board of Education voted this week to close Kaiser Elementary School and move as many of the school’s staff and families as the district can to Sankofa Academy.

Facing an angry standing-room only crowd of parents, students and teachers who booed their decision, the board voted 5-2 in favor of the “merger” of the two schools. Supporting the motion were James Harris, Gary Yee, Jumoke Hinton Hodge, Jody London and Aimee Eng. Roseann Torres and Shanthi Gonzales opposed the decision. The meeting did not end until 1:30 a.m.

The Kaiser closure was a continuation of OUSD’s “right-sizing” policy to close or merge 24 or more schools in the next few years. According to district leaders, right-sizing the district will free up resources and staff that will lead to more high quality and equitable programs at the schools that remain open.

Kaiser Elementary is a high performing small school in the affluent Hiller Highlands neighborhood. Sankofa Academy, a low-enrollment school in the flatlands of North Oakland, has struggled for years as a result of the district’s failure to keep its promises to the community of increased resources and the disruption of continually shifting reform efforts.

Opponents of school closures and privatization argue that an unstated 20-year policy of disrupting and closing schools that serve African American and Latino students, led by the school board and administration, has undermined public education in Oakland and is putting public school property on the block for sale or lease to charter schools.

In a statement released this week, Oakland Education Association (OEA) President Keith Brown blasted OUSD’s repeated references to budget deficits as a false justification for closing schools.

“Three months ago, Oakland Unified projected a $19 million year-end deficit. In a revision to be presented to the school board this week, it has now become a $21 million surplus,” Brown said.

“OUSD (has) claimed to be in a fiscal crisis, using it to justify school closures, hardball negotiations with teachers, classified employee layoffs, cuts to important students’ services, and more recently withholding payments to the employee healthcare fund.”

“Now, as then, OUSD has zero budget credibility.”

Published September 12, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Community Raises Questions Over City Funds, Staff Given to Mayor Schaaf’s Favored Education Nonprofit

Assata Olugbala

By Ken Epstein
Questions are being raised by members of the community whether city staff, funds and resources have been improperly utilized to support Oakland Promise, an education nonprofit that has been widely touted by Libby Schaaf as her greatest accomplishment while mayor of Oakland.

A number of these issues have been have raised at public meetings by community activists Gene Hazzard, Assata Olugbala and others.  Based on these concerns and information, City Council President Rebecca Kaplan requested on Aug. 26 that City Auditor Courtney Ruby audit the Mayor Office’s support for Oakland Promise.

David Silver

“Since it’s the auditor who has the legal authority to investigate those issues, I’ve forwarded the information to her, so we and the public can learn what happened to the public funds,” Kaplan told the Oakland Post.

One question has to do with do with role of Mayor Schaaf’s education czar, David Silver, whose official title is Special Assistant to the Mayor III.  In this capacity, according to the website Transparent California, his city salary for 2018 was $173,627.18 plus $88,334.27 in benefits for a total of $261,961.45.

Gene Hazzard

Yet in addition to working for the Mayor’s Office, Silver has served as staff of Oakland Promise. In an email response to a request for information from the Oakland Post, Oakland Promise reported on Aug. 29, 2018 that Silver was a member of the nonprofit’s staff.

In the 2018 Oakland Promise Annual Report, he was listed a member of Oakland Promise’s “Operations Team.”

In response to questions this week from the Post, Oakland Promise told the Post in an email that Silver received no salary, payment or other benefits for his work at the nonprofit, beyond the salary he earned working for the city.

“Prior to July 1, 2019, while Oakland Promise was a city-driven initiative and a project of the Oakland Public Education Fund, David Silver, in his role as Director of Education for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, worked with City staff, OUSD, the East Bay College Fund, and the Ed Fund to help coordinate the activities of the Oakland Promise to ensure that they served the City’s goals,” according to Maggie Croushore, a member of the Oakland Promise Operations Team and also “Communications & Partnerships, Education, Office of Mayor Libby Schaaf.”

“As of July 1, 2019, as an independent 501c3, Oakland Promise has hired a CEO, Mia Bonta, to set the strategic direction and lead Oakland Promise, reporting to a governing board of the nonprofit organization,” wrote Croushore in an email to the Post on Wednesday.

Asked about Silver’s work schedule, how his work time was separated between his city-paid duties and Oakland Promise responsibilities, Croushore replied:

“This question regarding Mr. Silver’s schedule is best directed to the Mayor’s office or to David Silver directly, as he does not have scheduled hours at Oakland Promise. David Silver serves as a non-voting member of the governing board.”

Silver did not respond to the Oakland Post’s emailed questions.

However, a recent report from the administration on Oakland Promise, presented to the Education Partnership Committee, referred to David Silver’s responsibilities for the nonprofit.

“The Mayor’s Director of Education funded by the city for 2017-2018 and 2018-2019” had decision-making authority on the Oakland Promise, until the hiring of CEO Mia Bonta in July.

Justin Berton, a spokesperson for the mayor, did not respond the Post’s questions but instead praised the work of the nonprofit.

“The Oakland Promise was created by the City of Oakland in partnership with Oakland Unified School District and community partners to dramatically increase the number of Oakland public school students who go to college or trade programs with scholarships, mentors, and the life-skills to end the pattern of generational poverty and institutionalized racism,” he said.

In her letter to the City Auditor, Kaplan said that from 2016-2018, she heard allegations that Mayor Schaaf had ordered that city hall facilities “be given, free of charge, to the Oakland Promise without going through (the) legally-mandated process for use of public facilities.”

Kaplan said she had requested a list of organizations that had been given space in City Hall, but that list did not include Oakland Promise.

Kaplan also pointed out that the administration’s report to the Education Partnership Committee said the City of Oakland from 2016-2018 gave $1.15 million to Oakland Promise’s Kindergarten to College Program and 11th floor City Hall office space, as well as “desktop computers, phone and internet service for approximately five Oakland Promise staff.”

While many people are enthusiastic about the nonprofit if it lives up to its promises for students, several people are  requesting a public  accounting of how Oakland Promise has spent the public money it has collected and to make sure the money it actually being spent the way it claims.

At press time, the City Auditor’s Office had not replied  to the Oakland Post’s questions.

For Gene Hazzard’s website, including his blog, go to www.cleanoakland.com

Published September 6, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Parents Push Back Against School District Plan to Close and Merge Schools

Kaiser Elementary School parents meet with school district administrator about school closing, Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Running into a wall of outrage from school families and community groups, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) administration and the Oakland Board of Education are struggling to come up with a coherent rationale and reasonable plans to close Oakland neighborhood schools that they hope Oaklanders would be willing to accept.

OUSD is  currently operating under the supervision and fiscal austerity regime imposed by the State of California’s  local representatives – the Alameda County Office of Education and the state-funded Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) – which are demanding that the district close 24 or more schools in the next few years, which variously has been called right-sizing, merging, relocating or consolidating.

None of the euphemisms for school closing seem to have gained much credibility from parent groups that are fighting to keep from losing their established school communities or face major upheavals  as they move to new schools or try to adapt to new groups of students and teachers on their campuses with what they fear will be  inadequate planning, lack of resources and little to no school community input.

In past presentations to the board and press interviews, FCMAT has said the district has too many schools and cannot afford to operate them, while acknowledging that school closures do not save money.

This year, the administration, under Cohort 2 plans, is urging the school board to close the Henry J. Kaiser campus and merge the school’s students, families and teachers with Sankofa Academy in North Oakland.

Variations of the plan, backed by individual school board members, would merge Kaiser and Sankofa with Peralta Elementary School or Santa Fe Elementary (which is presently closed but temporarily serving the Glenview Elementary community, while their campus is being rebuilt).

The Cohort 2 plan also calls to expand Melrose Leadership Academy and move Oakland SOL, which are outgrowing their campuses. Impacted schools could be Sherman Elementary, Frick Middle School and Maxwell Park.

The district says the merging and closing of schools will free up resources and funds, according to the OUSD Blueprint for Quality Schools Action Plan, is to create “high quality and sustainable schools in every neighborhood,” particularly in flatland schools that have been historically under-resourced and have faced institutionalized disparities.

Speaking at last week’s board meeting, Kaiser parents pleaded with the board not to close their school.

In a Facebook post, the Kaiser advocacy Committee urged  the pubic to attend last week’s school board meeting to “make your voice heard and stand with us as we advocate that the board do right by Oakland children and put a stop to all school closures and consolidations.”

Facing criticisms as a privileged hill school, Kaiser parents emphasized the school’s diversity, high test scores and significantly increasing test scores for African American students.

Kaiser’s student population, which is fairly stable at 268 students, is 21 percent African American, 16 percent Latino and 36 percent white. A majority of the students come from outside the school’s neighborhood attendance area.

If the school were closed, students in the Kaiser attendance area would be eligible to attend Chabot Elementary, where 3.9 percent of the students are African American. Students from outside the Kaiser attendance area would go to Sankofa or could apply to another school in the district.

Parents from Sankofa told the school board that they are open to merging with any other school at their campus, as long as they receive resources and support from the district.

Over the course of a number of years and different superintendents, according to parents and district administrators, many promises were made to Sankofa, including active support, new programs and other resources. But the promises were never kept, and existing resources continued to dry up.

At present, Sankofa has 189 students, 71 percent African American, 11 percent Latino and 3 percent white.

Speakers at the board meeting from Oakland SOL, Frick Middle and Melrose Leadership Academy told the board they needed more time to make sure the moves at their campuses would strengthen, not undermine their schools.  Rather than the board adopting a timeline that institutes changes next school year, they asked board members to give them an additional year to develop collaborative relationships with their newly merged school communities.

Most of the school board members who spoke supported the closure of the Kaiser site but had differing ideas about combining the Kaiser, Santa Fe, Peralta and Sankofa school communities.   However, breaking with the board’s approach, Boardmember Rosie Torres sharply criticized the plan.

She said the district’s promises of supporting the schools – “the ideas, the dreams and pipelines – are not realistic in my view” because OUSD does not have sufficient central office staff to do the work.

When the district closed Roots Academy in June, it promised the school community resources. “(But) we barely offered Roots boxes, when we told them (they would receive) counseling and help transitioning. We’re not doing it right. Let’s not pretend we’re going to do it any better next time.”

She criticized the superintendent’s and staff’s timeline as unrealistic.

Interrupting Torres, School Boardmember Gary Yee accused her of disrespecting the superintendent. “I find that offensive,” he said.  Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell told Torres said the board member should not disrespect her staff.

The board is scheduled to vote on the Cohort 2 mergers and closures at its Wednesday, Sept. 11 meeting.

Published September 5, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

District Is Dismantling West Oakland Public Schools ‘Piece by Piece,’ Says Coach Tapscott

Ben “Coach” Tapscott

By Ken Epstein

The future of West Oakland Middle School (WOMS) – the only middle school in the area and the only school that feeds directly into McClymonds High School – is in jeopardy since the Board of Education approved the co-location of a new charter middle school at the site next year, says public school advocate Ben “Coach” Tapscott.

“They are dismantling the schools in West Oakland piece by piece,” said Tapscott, a leader of the New McClymonds Committee.

“That’s the plan we’ve been fighting since 2011,” he said, pointing out that the district has already placed three charter schools in West Oakland and closed six public schools.

WOMS currently serves about 200 students at 991 14th St. The Alameda County Board of Education, acting this past year over the objections of students, community members and members of the Oakland school board, approved the new charter middle school, Envision Academy of Arts & Technology.

The charter middle school will be an expansion of Envision, which already operates a high school at 1515 Webster St. in downtown Oakland.   

As part of the district’s interpretation of the state-mandated Prop. 39 process, it gave the upper floor of the WOMS campus to the new charter, which opens in the fall.

WOMS only has space for about 50 new 6th graders each year. As a result, as many as 300 graduates of West Oakland elementary schools must travel out of the area to attend middle schools in other parts of the city, said Tapscott.

The placement of the new charter middle on the campus could limit the possibility of WOMS to expand in the future, he said.

If West Oakland had a middle school that served all of its elementary graduates, the enrollment at McClymonds would probably jump to about 600 students, said Tapscott.

The district currently has 44 charter schools and 86 public schools, an extended process that has meant eliminating many schools serving Black and Latino students throughout Oakland, he said.

Tapscott also sees a pattern of closing schools that serve Black and Latino students in West Oakland, making way for gentrification. Over past six years, he said, the district has closed six public schools in West Oakland: Cole, Marcus Foster Middle, Marcus Foster Elementary, Hoover Middle, Lowell Middle School and Lafayette. Other nearby schools that closed were Santa Fe Elementary and Sankofa Middle.

Opposing the opening of the new charter, Tapscott says he and others are “going to make it as clear as we can that Envision is not welcome in West Oakland.”

He said they will begin organizing community meetings, the first of which will be held Saturday, July 20, 10 a.m. to noon, at the West Oakland Public Library at 1801 Adeline St.

“We’re asking all public school supporters to attend,” he said.

School District Prepares for Second Round of School Closures

The district also is beginning the process of selling or leasing school properties.

Megan Bumpus speaks on bullhorn during this year’s Oakland teachers strike. Photo courtesy of Megan Bumpus.

By Ken Epstein

The Board of Education is moving ahead with a second set of school closures, mergers and consolidations,  called “Cohort 2,”which is scheduled to be approved in August.

The plan,  called the “Blueprint for Quality Schools Update,” was presented to the community at the June 19 school board meeting by Supt. Kyla Johnson Trammell and Yvette Renteria, Deputy Chief of Innovation, who promoted the district’s decision to reduce the number of Oakland schools as a way to save money and improve the quality of the remaining schools.

Opposing the administrators’ approach were Oakland Education Association (OEA) members who participated  in the district’s Ad Hoc Committee on school closure, which was established to provide community involvement in the process.

OEA members on the committee criticized the district for lack of transparency and engagement with the community, saying that except for the teacher union representatives on the committee, all of the 15-20 participants in the closed-door meetings were selected by the district.

The OEA teachers’ counter report,  presented at the board meeting by OEA member and Reach Academy teacher Megan Bumpus, said there is no evidence or research from the wave of school closures across the country that indicates that shutting down public schools saves money or improves the remaining schools and particularly harms Black and Brown students, who overwhelmingly are those who are most impacted.

Asked by the Oakland Post for a list of school closings for next year that are scheduled to be approved in a little over a month, the district produced  a PowerPoint slide called “Cohort 2 Scenarios,” which indicated it was “applying recommendations from the Ad Hoc Committee” but was more murky than transparent about what the district is planning to do.

Listed on the PowerPoint slide were possible mergers of Kaiser Elementary School with Sankofa on the Sankofa campus, which might also include Peralta and the “soon-to-be-vacant” Santa Fe Elementary.  Also mentioned were a merger of Manzanita SEED, Manzanita Community School, Oakland SOL and Fruitvale Elementary, which might be redesigned. A proposed expansion of Melrose Leadership Academy and a new location for Oakland SOL “may impact nearby schools,” the slide said.

The goal of these changes, according to the administrators’ presentation, is to “concentrate resources in fewer schools,” based on the idea that “with fewer schools, central office supports and services will be more efficient and leaner.”

According to the plan, the campuses of schools that will be closed can be leased or sold to generate income. With more money and fewer schools, the plan says optimistically, the district will recruit and retain better school leaders. In addition, “larger schools provide opportunities for teachers to collaborate and support one another.”

The OEA  teachers’ rebuttal was blunt. “If the goal is saving money, closing schools won’t do that. If the goal is expanding access to quality schools, closing school won’t do it,” the report said.

“As the district has been unable to provide any research-based rational for closing, consolidating or merging schools…OEA members of the Ad Hoc Committee could not participate in the misleading survey the district staff used to develop the committee’s recommendations or sign onto (those) recommendations,” said Bumpus, speaking at the board meeting.

When OEA members pressed administrator Renteria about how much money the district saved when it closed five schools in 2011-2012, she replied “We don’t have information on what money was saved,” the report said.

“Fourteen of the 18 OUSD schools closed since 2002 now house charter schools, which we know are leeching $57 million annually from students in Oakland,” Bumpus said, citing the OEA report.

“Given the realities of the OUSD’s highly class- and race-segregated schools and an enrollment process that disproportionately concentrates need, it is no mistake that schools targeted for closure and consolidation have student populations in which African American, Latinx, special education students and students with trauma are highly represented,” she said, adding that 17 of the 18 schools closed since 2001 were majority African American.

Looking at the closure of Cohort 1 school Roots International Academy, a neighborhood middle school in East Oakland, Bumpus said teachers “rebuke  the district for the irreparable harm done to the Roots community in this past school year” and called on the district to “take the path of improvement,” rather than the path of closures.

The district’s 7-11 Committee, charged with approving “surplus properties for sale or lease, was scheduled Wednesday evening to be approved by the school board to begin considering the sale or lease of “First Phase Properties.”

The four vacant properties are: Edward Shands Adult School, Tilden CDC, Piedmont CDC, Webster CDC and Sankofa CDC.

The district currently has 86 schools. The Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT),  a state-funded nonprofit that has been driving school closures in Oakland since 2003, has said publicly that the district should not have more than about 50 schools.

The full report on school closings by OEA members is available at http://bit.ly/OEAAdHocReport

Published June 28, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

School District Dismantles Oversight of Low-Income Student Programs

Photo courtesy of the Oakland Unified School District.

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District is dismantling its Department of State & Federal Programs—eliminating all eight staff positions—leading some of the department’s staff to question how the district will continue to meet the legal requirements to receive restricted funding that supports the educational needs of low-income and English Learner students.

“OUSD is removing the systematic checks and balances in place needed to ensure State and Federal funds are both allocated and used according to state and federal mandates,” according to a recent internal “Memorandum of Impact” produced by State and Federal staff and submitted to Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell and other senior district leaders.

The memo, obtained by the Oakland Post, cited the district’s one-paragraph rationale for the layoffs in a document called “Reallocation Impact Analysis,” which said that the budget office can handle the work and that State and Federal is less important now because funding has shifted to new programs.

“There are fewer responsibilities…Monitoring of compliance will be shifted to budget teams,” the district report said.

In response, the 13-page memo said, “The rationale lacks coherence, logical arguments and complete sentences, and highlights the absence of thoughtful reasoning; and ultimately a cavalier decision that can cost the district millions.”

“The lack of transparency and accountability by those who made the decision to dismantle State and Federal makes it difficult to speculate about the rationale or if the impact is truly understood,” the memo said.

The memo also raised concerns about the loss of “institutional knowledge.”

“Without individuals (who) have the knowledge to lead OUSD through audits…, there is a great potential for financial liability,” it said.

Responding to the Post’s questions, the district said it is “redesigning” the department as part of its efforts to “streamline” central office functions but is not eliminating oversight of state and federal funding.

Funds that State and Federal oversees total about $22 million, including:

  • Title I ($17.6 mil), programs serving low-income students
  • Title II ($2 mil), provides low-income and minority students access to effective teachers
  • Title III ($2.4 mil), offers supplementary services to English Learner students.

The memo also said that State and Federal, like other OUSD departments, for years has had to perform its duties without adequate staff and revolving leadership.

“Constant change in leadership and understaffing of State and Federal has resulted in department instability leading to fragmented policies and procedures not uniformly implemented. For the first time in years, State and Federal currently has adequate staffing with a leader capable of creating and sustaining meaningful change for the department,” the memo said.

According to the memo, cutting six of the eight people in the department (as was originally proposed) would save the district only $21,739 in General Purpose funds and “does not substantially further the aim towards reducing debt and (enhancing) fiscal vitality.”

“The flippant assertion that State and Federal’s ‘work’ will go to budget (staff) demonstrates the lack of understanding of the scope and extent of the department’s responsibilities and the specialized knowledge required to perform such functions,” the memo said.

Oakland’s eight-person department is comparable in size to those in similar districts, Fresno, San Francisco and Stockton, according to the memo.

The memo provided examples of the department’s work and how much money it has saved the district.

Among its duties, the department makes sure students receive “mandated minimum instructional time.” This year, the department “mitigated” a $1.2 million negative finding from 2017-18, reducing the amount that had to be repaid from General Purpose funds to $350,000 and saving the district $850,000.

The department “assists and defends” school sites during audits. In a recent audit, the district was facing a negative finding of $3.3 million. Due to the work of State and Federal, according to the memo, the the district only paid back $539,758, saving $2.7 million.

The department manages funding to 15 private schools, which are “entitled to receive equitable services” for students who qualify for the funding.

State and Federal also “trains and assists all OUSD sites” to establish legally compliant School Site Councils, which are responsible for approving Title I budgets.

“Without State and Federal, sites will be fully exposed,” the memo said.

The “misuse and mismanagement of State and Federal funds” can also result in criminal investigations, which could lead to fines or prison terms, according to the memo, which mentioned a 2012 FBI investigation of an “OUSD employee regarding dubious use of funds and disbursements,” without elaborating further.

In response to questions from the Oakland Post, Michael Fine, CEO of the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), which collaborates with the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) to oversee the school district, defended the district decision.

He said that the numbers of State and Federal Programs in recent years have fallen from 72 to 14-16. “Consolidating financial management and monitoring for these programs with our similar financial management and monitoring activities makes a lot of sense,” he said.

He said FCMAT was not involved in decisions to cut staff. “FCMAT has not been involved in any budget reduction decisions or recommendations,” he said. “We do have the task, along with ACOE, to evaluate the approved reductions for reasonableness, and we are doing that.”

“Districts are moving to managing their total resources together and not separating out by funding agency,” he said. “This practice provides for a dramatic improvement in resource management of the overall instructional programs…”

In a response to Post questions, district spokesman John Sasaki said, “OUSD is well aware of the problems that could arise if we don’t administer and oversee our state and federal programs and dollars properly. We would never shirk that responsibility.”

Sasaki said central office redesign is still a work in progress and not yet ready to be made public

Published April 26, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post