Category: Equal Rights/Equity

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 .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Workers Call for City Council Summit on Discrimination in Hiring on City Projects

Community meeting at the San Antonio Senior Center in the Fruitvale District to dis- cuss racial disparities in hiring African American workers and contractors on City of Oakland building projects, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. Photo by Ken Epstein

 

By Ken Epstein

African American contractors and construction workers  are opposing a proposal that has been presented to the City Council requiring that all jobs on city projects should be awarded to building trades unions that discriminate against Black workers.

“It’s a pure power play right now,” said one speaker, who is a member of four unions.  “The (unions) are not designed to grow their membership. They are only designed to make the strong stronger.  If anything, the unions are a detriment to anyone starting off (in construction).”

In response to charges that unions want to control the hiring on all city projects while excluding African American members, the City Council had previously asked the building trades to submit reports on the race and gender of their membership.

So far, only six of 28 union locals have submitted that information, according to city staff.

Reports by construction workers on the job indicate that African Americans are denied membership in almost all of these unions, while Latinos only find work in the laborers’ and to some extent in the carpenters’ unions. The higher paid trades, such as electricians, plumbers   and heavy equipment operators are almost all white.

Speakers at the Monday meeting, where Councilmembers Noel Gallo, District 5; and Loren Taylor, District 6, were in attendance, want the City Council to hear their concerns, not to be steamrolled by powerful interests into an agreement without a full discussion of the issues.

They are asking the council to hold a work session or a community summit rather than voting on the labor proposal at a council meeting, where speakers would only receive one minute to talk, and important issues about persistent discrimination in the building trades might be buried.

The meeting was the third and final community engagement session called by the City Council to examine ways to mitigate inequities in a potential Project Labor Agreement, backed by local building trade unions and their supporters, requiring developers on city projects to exclusively hire union workers for labor, while non-union contractors would be limited in their use of their non-union workers for projects that are built on city-owned land and or involve city funding.

Speakers also expressed concern that the building trades only sent people to the first community meeting several weeks ago at Castlemont High School but did not come back to second or third meetings, apparently not interested in engaging with Black Oaklanders about the issues they are raising.

Published Aug. 22, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Chesa Boudin Runs for SF District Attorney

 

East Bay Civil Rights attorney Pamela Price introduces Chesa Boudin, who is running for district attorney of San Francisco, at a fundraiser in Oakland June 23. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Running for San Francisco District Attorney to challenge the system of mass incar­ceration, SF Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin has gained the backing of civil rights attorney Pamela Price and other East Bay progres­sives.

“The system is broken,” Boudin said, speaking at a fun­draiser in Oakland on Sunday, June 23. ” If we can’t do bet­ter in San Francisco, in the Bay Area, where can we do better?”

Hosting the fundraiser were Price; civil rights icon Howard Moore Jr; Fania Davis, a lead­ing national voice on restor­ative justice; Allyssa Victory, Shirley Golub, Royl Roberts and Sheryl Walton. Boudin’s San Francisco endorsements include former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, Democratic Party Chair David Cam­pos and Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Aaron Peskin and San­dra Fewer.

Boudin has served as Depu­ty Public Defender since 2015, handling over 300 felony cas­es. He is running against Suzy Loftus, Nancy Tung, and Leif Dautch – who hope to suc­ceed eight-year incumbent DA George Gascón, who is not running for reelection. The election takes place on Nov. 5.

A graduate of Yale Law School, Boudin earned a mas­ters’ degree in public policy and is a Rhodes Scholar. His campaign emphasizes that he knows “firsthand the de­structive impacts of mass in­carceration.” He was only 14 months old when his parents were incarcerated for driving the getaway car “in a robbery that tragically took the lives of three men.” His mother served 22 years, and his father may never get out.

Introducing Boudin at the fundraiser, Price said, “When I heard about this young man, I did my research. I was blown away immediately. We have a real warrior among us. We have someone who has over­come obstacles, whose life, profession and whose spirit epitomizes what we need in our district attorney.”

“We know that our criminal justice system has been com­pletely corrupted by injustice and racism,” she continued. “(The system) is upheld and sustained by people who prac­tice it and are committed to its perpetuation… Chesa is in so many ways our greatest hope.”

In his remarks, Boudin called for an end to criminal justice practices that are insti­tutionalized but have clearly failed.

“We know that we have 25 percent of the world’s prison population in the U.S., and 2.2 million people are behind bars on any single day,” he said.

“We’re promised equal jus­tice under the law, but instead we have discriminatory money bail,” he said. “We believe in treating the mentally ill and the drug addicted, but instead this system puts them in solitary confinement.”

Boudin’s program includes creation of a “Wrongful Con­viction Unit,” would decide whether to reopen the investi­gation of certain cases, elimi­nating cash bail, effectively prosecuting police misconduct and refocusing resources to work on serious and violent felonies.

“(Change) has to start with people who understand how profoundly broken the system is, not just because they read it in a book but because they ex­perienced it,” he said.

For more information about Chesa Boudin’s campaign, go to www.chesaboudin.com/

Published July 3, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

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

Opinion: We Need to Stand for Leonard Powell

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

Leonard Powell stands on the front porch of his home.

By Gene Turitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gene Turitz is a member of Friends of Adeline.

Published January 20, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

“Restore Our Rights” – End Disenfranchisement of Californians with Felony Convictions

 

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) is hosting a panel discussion and strategy session to build on recent victories in Florida and Louisiana—on felony disen­franchisement, jury service, running for political office, and other rights that need re­stored in California, Thursday, Jan. 17, Booth Auditorium, UC Berkeley School of Law, 2745 Bancroft Ave. in Berkeley.

Speakers will include:

Desmond Meade, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), who spearheaded the campaign to pass Amendment 4 that restored the rights of 1.4 million Floridians with felony convictions on Jan. 8, 2019.

Norris Henderson, Voice of the Experienced—New Or­leans (VOTE-NOLA), who campaigned to successfully pass Amendment 2, requir­ing Louisiana juries to have unanimous verdicts. Current­ly, Oregon is the only state in the U.S. with Jim Crow non-unanimous jury verdicts.

Taina Vargas-Edmond, Ini­tiate Justice, who is campaign­ing to restore voting rights for all Californians, regardless of conviction or incarceration status.

Dauras Cyprian, All of Us or None, who is leading AOU­ON’s “Let Me Vote” campaign, currently on parole and thus in­eligible to vote.

The discussion will be mod­erated by Aminah Elster, who after spending over 15 years incarcerated in California pris­ons, is currently on parole and thus ineligible to vote. Aminah is the 2018 Elder Freeman Poli­cy Fellow and a current student at UC Berkeley.

The event will be Live Streamed at www.facebook.com/AOUON/

For more information, con­tact AOUON Senior Organizer Dauras Cyprian at daurus@ prisonerswithchildren.org or (415) 625-7051.

Published January 13, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Opinion: We Must Reduce Gentrification in Our Classrooms

The lack of teachers of color, particularly Black and Latino, is undermining the education
of students in our schools, says Alexandra Mejia.

By Alexandra Mejia

Gentrification of Oakland leaves many of us with empty pockets and anxiety about a rent increase, but have we ever thought about gentrification af­fecting more than just where we live?

As families and educators, we are facing gentrification in our classrooms. Students are being referred to special edu­cation classes, missing out on class lectures, and being put in situations where they are at risk of dropping out.

There is a disconnect between our highly diverse youth and the teachers who educate them. One issue many students face is the educators’ idea of “safety.”

Because frequently teachers are not from Oakland commu­nities or similar communities, they struggle to connect with students who have been shaped by the communities in which they live.

These new white educators do not comprehend the every­day struggles and traumatic situations that the students of Oakland may face. These teach­ers are caught off guard by the culture shock they have been hired into, and they may adopt a narrative that their students make them feel unsafe or en­dangered.

Our students face every day issues that these new, naïve teachers are not prepared to ad­dress, and so they simply teach to the small portion that they feel comfortable with and deem the rest as low-performing.

These “low performing” stu­dents are taken out of class to re­ceive some sort of punishment, referred to special education classes for behavior problems, or even expelled.

Thus, students are placed on a path that leads to the teachers’ self-fulfilling prophecy. They believe that because everyone thinks they are “bad” and, that is what they must become.

Frequently these new teach­ers give up and resign, begin­ning a new cycle of inexperi­enced, ill prepared teachers. Education becomes associated with institutionalized oppres­sion and students reject the school system that treats them like outsiders in their own com­munities.

There is an immediate need to hire teachers devoid of the systematic biases that target our students of color.

So why is this influx of white middle class educators such a trend? It is easy to assume that there are just simply not enough teachers coming out of the Oak­land community, but that as­sumption is entirely false.

The reality is that there are teachers who are shaped by these types of communities who are exploding with pas­sion about teaching the youth that they see themselves in, but simply struggle to survive eco­nomically as a teacher.

After four years of racking up student debt to earn a bachelor’s degree, prospective teachers must partake in an intensive credential program that requires them to volunteer themselves for a year of free teaching and pay hundreds of dollars to pass a series of tests in order to gain their credential.

Then, when hired on as teachers, they are barely mak­ing enough money to pay their rent. Many teachers face the choice to either sacrifice finan­cial stability, or sacrifice having a career where they can shape and educate youth in an effec­tive way.

If we begin to support and value effective teachers, we will see a change in the community. The city of Oakland would ben­efit immensely by hiring teach­ers in their own communities as educators, but what steps must be taken to make this possible?

The students of Holy Names University propose that afford­able housing for public school teachers from the Oakland community would lead to an in­crease in student performance, a greater teacher retention rate, strengthening of the Oakland community and an overall more productive, welcoming school environment.

Alexandra Mejia is an Oakland resident preparing to be a teacher and a graduate student at Holy Names University.

Published January 12, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

New Year, New Leadership, New Oakland?

 Rebecca Kaplan unanimously elected City Council President

Oakland swears in new City Council members (L to R): Nikki Fortunato Bas, District 2; Sheng Thao, Disrict 4: and Loren Taylor, District 6. Photo by Howard Dyckoff.

By Ken Epstein

Oakland honored its newly elected city leaders this week at a swearing-in ceremony held in the City Council Chambers of Oakland City Hall.

Sworn in were Mayor Libby Schaaf, who elected to a second term: Nikki For­tunato Bas, the city’s first Filipina-American council member, representing Dis­trict 2. Sheng Thao, the first Hmong-American council member in the state of Cali­fornia, representing District 4; and Loren Taylor, a third generation Oakland resident, representing District 6.

Making the increased strength of local progres­sives, Councilmember-at- Large Rebecca Kaplan was unanimously elected council president by her colleagues. , The council’s most powerful position, the president pre­sides over City Council meet­ings, influences the council’s agenda and makes appoint­ments to council committees and some outside agencies.

Newly Elected Council President Rebecca Kaplan (left) stands with Cat Brooks, a progressive runner-up in the Oakland mayoral race and co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project. Photo by Howard Dyckoff.

Kaplan, the first openly LGBT+ Council President in Oakland’s history, distanced herself from some of the city government’s past practices, pledging that her leadership would be based on a commit­ment to social justice, inclu­sivity and working closely in coalition with the local com­munity.

“We must acknowledge injustice and prejudice exist and we need leaders to assure we work together to move our city forward,” Kaplan said in a prepared statement.

“I believe in giving all Councilmembers the oppor­tunity to affect change, and all council members will have an opportunity to chair a commit­tee.,” she said. “I look forward to working together in coalition with community to advance Oakland’s vital needs.”

Her priorities include reor­ganizing council meetings so community members do not have to wait until past mid­night talk about major issues, strengthening the city’s com­mitment to providing afford­able housing and to responding more effectively to homeless­ness and displacement of resi­dents, as well as providing ac­cess to job training and taking aggressive steps to reduce il­legal dumping.

In her remarks after she was sworn-in, Councilmember Bas said laid out an agenda focused on “equity, inclusion and community participa­tion.”

“More and more (working and middle class families) are feeling left out, feeling the impact of gentrification, rac­ism and income inequality,” she said. “Decisions (will) not made for you but with you. These are all problems that we can solve together.”

“We want developers and corporation that are part of our city but not to tear our city apart,” said Bas, emphasizing that the Black community is “disproportionately impacted by homelessness, joblessness and over-policing.”

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees, said, thanked Councilmember Ka­plan for hiring her as an intern as later as a staff member and her family and the community for backing her.

“I want to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice, because I understand what that looks like,” she said. “I under­stand what it looks like to have to work multiple different jobs just to make rent.”

Acknowledging the efforts of outgoing District 6 Council­member Desley Brooks, Tay­lor said:

“I look forward to serving and delivering greater eco­nomic opportunity, especially for those who have been left out, underserved and under­represented in our communi­ty. We are fully committed to stopping the pushing out and pricing out of the residents of our city.”

Mayor Schaaf, celebrating her 20 years in city govern­ment, said her priorities re­main the same.

She said, “We are ready to bring even more dramat­ic changes in the next four years,” including “an even greater reduction” in homi­cides and violence, support for her favored nonprofit – Oak­land Promise, road repair “in the neighborhoods,” as well as building more units of housing and increasing ways to make “headway on homelessness.”

The council elected District 7 Councilmember Larry Reid to serve as vice mayor and Dis­trict 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb as mayor pro tem. Reid (a reappointment) and Taylor were picked to represent the city on the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority board of commissioners.

Published January 10, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

2019 Oakland Women’s March, Saturday, Jan. 19

2018 Women’s March in Oakland

 

The Women’s March Oakland 2019 will flood the streets with a wave of women and their allies from the East Bay and beyond, joining more than 130 chapters across the country in hosting rallies on the anniversary of the historic Women’s March.

The march will be begin at 10 a.m. with a rally at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater, followed by a march down 14th Street to Frank Ogawa (Oscar Grant) Plaza. Lake Merritt is the BART station closest to the march’s starting point.

At this nonpartisan, peaceful event on the Saturday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the march organizers proclaim their commitment, in Scott King’s words, to “create new homes, new communities, new cities, a new nation. Yea, a new world, which we desperately need!”

The 2019 march is co-hosted by Women’s March Oakland, Black Women Organized for Political Action, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center.

Speakers at the event will include Alicia Garza, Arushi Avachat, Rep. Barbara Lee, Hai Yan Wu, Kimberly Ellis, Nikki Fortunato Bas and Stacey Milbern.

The following are guidelines for participants:

  • We will not use violence (physical or verbal) towards any person.
  • We will not destroy or damage property.
  • We will promote a tone of respect, honesty, transparency and accountability in our actions.
  • We will not carry anything that can be construed as a weapon, nor possess (or consume) any alcohol or drugs.
  • We are nonpartisan and will use Women’s March Oakland primarily to express our support for women’s rights and human rights in our communities and the country.
  • We will all hold each other accountable to respecting these agreements.

For more information, go to https://womensmarchoakland.org/

Published January 9, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

School District Wants to Close Roots International Academy This School Year

Holiday Robocall upsets parents and teachers at East Oakland middle school

Roots International Academy football team. Roots is a neighborhood middle school located at the old campus of Havenscourt Middle School at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard.

B Ken Epstein

As students and teachers were celebrating and preparing for the holiday winter break, officials of the Oakland Unified School District held a meeting at Roots International Academy to tell families and teachers that their school will be closed at the end of the current school year.

The announcement on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 18 – only four days before the start of the holidays – was delivered by Supt. Kyla Johnson Trammell, a team of central

Roots is a neighborhood middle school at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland. The school shares a campus with a much better funded sixth through 12th-grade school, Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA), which make may take over the entire site if Roots closes.

The district’s decision, re­peated in a robocall to the entire school community on Friday – the last school day of the year, was blunt. The school will be closed and the students dispersed to other schools throughout the district. Students were promised an “opportunity ticket,” a pledge they would be able to enroll at a higher preforming school else­where in the district.

Without waiting for Roots or public input, the Board of Edu­cation is scheduled to start the process of closing the school at its first meeting after the win­ter break on Wednesday, Jan. 9, making the final decision on Jan. 23.

The large turnout at Tuesday’s meeting was surprising, accord­ing to people at the school. More than 100 parents, students and teachers took time from their holiday preparations to come to the meeting to speak out against the district’s rushed decision.

Reacting with surprise and anger, speakers expressed their concern that the district was making the decision without consulting them. They said the district is disrupting their children’s education and destroying their school community.

The district bears responsibility for neglecting and under-funding Roots for years, as well as frequently disrupting the school by chang­ing principals and removing staff and teachers, they said.

“They told the staff and community (at the Tuesday meeting) … that they would displace our neighborhood kids to schools that are not in their community,” said Roots teacher Quinn Ranahan in a Facebook post.

“The district told us that community voice(s) would not have anything to do with their choice as to whether to close a neigh­borhood public school,” Ranahan said. “School Board Rep. Shanthi Gonzales verbally committed to closing Roots without reason.”

“OUSD, how can you close a school you never fully funded?” she asked.

Silvia Ornelas, an eighth-grade parent who is active at the school, asked why the district is not answering the school community’s questions.

Roots parent Silvia Ornelas plays the robocall she received from the school district announcing that her child’s school would be closed in June. To view  a video of Ornelas playing the robo-message, go to www.facebook.com/pelesmom/videos/10218240051741630/UzpfSTY2ODI3ODMxNzoxMDE1NjI1MTU5MDg2ODMxOA/

“Why are they targeting Roots so quickly? What’s the rush?” Asked Ornelas.

“We’re trying to get the answers for our community,” she said. “People are devastated, parents and students alike. It’s heartbreak­ing. There are no clear answers.”

“Our kids need a one-on-one connection with adults,” she said. “They need to know they have somebody they can talk to. At Roots they have it. If they go to a bigger school, many of them will fall through the cracks.”

In statement to the Post, district spokesman John Sasaki said, “The plan is to absorb many students into the adjacent Coliseum College Prep Academy. All other students will receive an opportunity ticket which will give them priority placement to a higher performing mid­dle school.”

The Oakland Post has heard from staff that only a handful of stu­dents will be able to transfer to CCPA. The district so far not ex­plained whether the “Opportunity Ticket” amounts to more than a vague promise, which “higher preforming” schools students will be made available or why Roots cannot be merged with CCPA.

Last year, Roots had 309 students, 29 percent African American and 60 percent Latino, according to state statistics. The student popu­lation may have fallen last school year after an infestation of rats or mice led parents to pull 40 to 60 children from the school.

Megan Bumpus, a member of the Oakland Teachers Association (OEA) executive board, questioned why the district is ignoring its own community engagement plan for closing up to 24 schools in the next few years.

“Getting a robocall at the start of winter break announcing that your child’s school is closing is not community engagement,” Bum­pus said.

“Saying that there’s a three-year Blueprint process with a Board vote but then officially announcing that a school is closing in a few months without following the plan creates mistrust in a system de­signed to fail students of color in targeted neighborhoods,” she said.

The Roots community is are asking for people to attend the school board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 5:30 p.m., at La Escuelita Edu­cation Center, 1050 2nd Ave. in Oakland.

Published December 29, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post