Category: Labor

Parents, Teachers Shut Down School Board Meeting, Protesting School Closures, Arrests

Protest at school board Wednesday evening. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

In ongoing protests, parents and teachers, including members of the Oakland Not for Sale (ONFS) coalition, shut down the school board meeting Wednesday, Nov. 14 . At one point over 200 people in the audience stood and turned their backs to the school board chanting, “No school closures, Oakland is not for sale.” Unable to continue its business, the school board moved the meeting to a private room elsewhere in the building.

A number of Oaklanders had come to the meeting in solidarity with the parents and teachers who were arrested and injured by school police at the Oct. 23 school board meeting. Before Wednesday meeting began, the Black Organizing Project (BOP) held a rally calling for defunding and dissolving the school district’s in-house police department.

Speakers at rally and school board meeting on Wednesday, November 13:

  • www.facebook.com/oaklandnotforsale/videos/576221736447010/
  • www.facebook.com/OaklandEA/videos/828526894231337/
  • www.facebook.com/OaklandEA/videos/953670491686847/

Teachers’ Union Says School District Not Honoring Labor Agreement Reached in Strike

School closures, health care coverage, student support staff are key issues

Oakland teachers went on strike against the Oakland Unified School District for seven days in February. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA) , is calling on Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell “to immediately reverse decisions” that violate terms of the school district’s contract with teachers,  including provisions that were ratified as part of the settlement of the seven-day teachers’ strike earlier this year.

“Rank and file members are concerned that they’re not respecting our contract,” said Brian Crowell, teacher and secretary of the OEA Grievance Committee.

Brian Crowell

“We’re not talking about a grievance here or there,” he said. “We’re talking about broad violations of the contract, our fundamental collective bargaining agreement.”

Crowell said that union members are now facing “retaliation and bullying by administrators,” which he believes reflects the district’s disrespect for educators.

Although the strike is over, Crowell said that the union is continuing to organize, fighting for its members and in the interests of the community. “Our loyalty is to the students and the community. That is our primary concern,” said Crowell, adding that another major union concern is school closures.

“That was a big issue during the strike and has not been resolved. There is a disputed question whether that is a (legitimate) area of bargaining, but it is something that has a huge impact on working conditions.”

The school board has voted to close or merge several schools in 2019 and is expected to close more school sites from a list of 24 over next several years.

“School closures disproportionately harm Black and Brown students,” said the OEA in a petition it is circulating to union members. “OUSD has shown no evidence that (closures) improve learning or save money…Reinvest in our public schools, (don’t) close them,” the petition said.

The document also claims that the district withheld “$9 million from the employee healthcare fund, despite a signed settlement agreement reached in September 2018.”

The petition warned that without these payments, the fund will become “insolvent within a year” and force employees to begin to make “dramatic out-of-pocket” payments for their individual health plans.

For many years, healthcare coverage has been provided 100 percent as part of the union contract, but according to Crowell the agreement signed by the union and the district last year said that effective July 1, the district would pay $2.25 million annually until the final payment is made by June 30, 2024.

“July 1 came, and the district didn’t do it,” he said, pointing out that this issue not only effects teachers but also other school employee unions, including United Administrators of Oakland Schools (UAOS), SEIU 1021, AFSCME Local 257, as well as teamsters, building trades and others.

The OEA petition also focuses on the district’s failure to hire staff to support student learning – including newcomer teachers, speech pathologists and school psychologists – which was part of the agreement that ended the teachers’ strike in February.

In addition, the petition claims that OUSD “refused to honor our personal leave contact language.” Under the contract, teachers are entitled to five days a year of personal leave, which automatically converts to sick leave if unused. When an employee retires, accumulated sick leaves can be added to total length of service to increase pension benefits.

The district is failing to convert unused personal leave to sick leave, Crowell said.

In response to questions from the Oakland Post, district spokesperson John Sasaki said, “First and foremost, no fund is going insolvent (or even could go insolvent). This isn’t possible as the District pays its share of healthcare costs from the General Fund. Pursuant to existing agreements, we are working with all of our union partners to resolve outstanding issues related to potential healthcare set-asides by the District. We are committed to honoring our labor agreements, and addressing any concerns with interpretation, audit findings or hiring by working with OEA.”

Speaking to the school board Wednesday evening about the teachers’ union concerns, OEA President Keith Brown said, “The district is not respecting the agreement you made to hire more psychologists. You’re not respecting the agreement you made with us to hire more speech therapists (and) more newcomer staff. You are not respecting the agreement you made with us regarding our health care.

“I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.”

Published November 15, 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 .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernie Sanders Stands With Oakland City Workers

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders meets with members of the unions fighting for a new contract with the City of Oakland, August 201. Photo courtesy of IFPTE Local 21.

By Post Staff

 

Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted his support for City of Oakland workers last weekend, supporting union negotiations and calling on Oakland City administration to fill over 600 unfilled city jobs.

Senator Sanders met with some Oakland city workers in late August to learn about their efforts to improve public services amidst an under-staffing crisis.

Actor Danny Glover Joins Kaiser Permanente Workers to Protest as Strike Nears

Hospital workers block street on Labor Day,, Sept.2., at Kaiser headquarters in Oakland, protesting as strike against Kaiser Permanente nears. Photo courtesy of Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions.

By Post staff

 Actor Danny Glover joined thousands of workers, patients, clergy, elected leaders and community allies Monday, Sept. 2 to protest against Kaiser Permanente’s labor practices at the healthcare company’s headquarters in Oakland, as 80,000 Kaiser workers nationwide are set to strike in early October.

Following a short rally, workers marched to the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, 3600 Broadway in Oakland, where 70 of them engaged in civil disobedience by blocking an intersection near the facility.

“On the one day meant to recognize working people, it’s a shame that Kaiser Permanente is attacking the same employees who made it successful in the first place,” said Isis Acevedo, a schedule maintenance clerk at Kaiser Permanente in South San Francisco. “We reject what Kaiser has become, and instead urge the corporation to join us in the fight to provide quality patient care and protect good, middle-class jobs that America needs.”

Labor Day protest in Oakland. Photo courtesy of Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions.

Similar Labor Day protests of Kaiser Permanente workers were held in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Denver and Portland, Ore., where thousands more combined demonstrated against what they are calling Kaiser’s “failure to bargain in good faith.”

While Kaiser Permanente is a “non-profit,” it has reported profits of $11 billion since Jan. 1, 2017, including $5.2 billion just in the first half of 2019. In addition, it has more than $37 billion in reserves and pays at least 36 executives more than $1 million annually, led by CEO Bernard Tyson and his $16 million-a-year compensation.

The strike would begin in early October and affect more than 80,000 Kaiser Permanente employees nationwide, of which 66,000 are based in California. It would be the largest walkout since 185,000 Teamsters went on strike at United Parcel Service in 1997.

In December 2018, the National Labor Relations Board charged Kaiser Permanente with failing to bargain in good faith.

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions comprises unions in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Their national contract with Kaiser Permanente expired Sept. 30, 2018.

Kaiser Permanente workers are bargaining to:

  • Restore a true worker-management partnership, and have Kaiser bargain in good faith;
  • Ensure safe staffing and compassionate use of technology;
  • Build the workforce of the future to deal with major projected shortages of licensed and accredited staff in the coming years; and
  • Protect middle-class jobs with wages and benefits that can support families.

Published September 4, 2019, courtesy of the Post News Group

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

$44.4 More Million for Homeless

Affordable housing, parks, illegal dumping, potholes are top priorities

Clockwise from top, Councilmembers Loren Taylor, Nikki Fortunato Bas,Rebecca Kaplan, Sheng Thao, who introduced the budget that the Council passed on June 24.

By Post Staff

In an unusual unanimous vote, the Oakland City Council passed the Oakland Together budget that included $44.4 million in amendments to the administration’s original proposal, focusing city investments on the homeless crisis, affordable housing, maintaining local parks and tackling illegal blight remediation.

The Oakland Together budget, approved on June 24, also restored cuts to Parks Maintenance positions and increased funding around police accountability and workforce development.

The budget was introduced by Council President Rebecca Kaplan together with Council­members Nikki Fortunato Bas, Loren Taylor, and Sheng Thao.

“I want to thank my colleagues for working hard to provide for the needs of our community,” said Council President Kaplan. “A special thank you to Councilmembers Thao, Bas and Taylor for serving on the budget team, and to Councilmembers McElhaney and Kalb for their thoughtful amendments. And to Vice Mayor Reid and Councilmem­ber Gallo for their successful advocacy for pro-active illegal dumping removal and cracking down on people who trash Oakland. “Although we made significant progress, there is still critical work to do including valuing working people and increasing funding for workforce development.”

One key inclusion for police reform was funding to study the CAHOOTS model of sending EMT and mental health workers to respond to appropriate 911 calls reducing the need for police to intervene in an individual experiencing a mental health crisis.

For housing and unsheltered neighbors there is funding for mobile showers and restrooms, a navigation center, a tiny house village project and additional safe parking sites.

The Oakland Together bud­get adds funding for food se­curity and healthy options by adding funding to Meals on Wheels and the Alameda Food Bank and piloting a healthy food conversion program in corner stores in East and West Oakland.

To alleviate blight and il­legal dumping, the Council added a fourth illegal dump­ing crew, additional cameras and enforcement measures, and an educational outreach program to assure that people know Oakland is not the place to dump their trash; and assist homeowners and other small property owners in adding an Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) or other projects to their properties, the budget adds evening hours at the per­mit desks for planning/build­ing.

The budget amendments se­cured funding for workforce development programs, and the council still needs to assure the programs are fully funded and working to help unem­ployed and underemployed community members get the training they need to secure living wage jobs, said Kaplan. Employment in the Black com­munity is much higher than their unemployed white coun­terparts, and a thriving work­force development program that focuses on equity is a solid step to balance the inequity, she said.

There is also the issue of impact fees. It is important to have transparency around funds paid to the city for the benefit of community.

Finally, city staff gave much in the downturn, some even count among Oakland’s working homeless. It’s time to thank them for making the sac­rifices the city needed and re­ward them with a contract that shows that residents value the work they do every day to keep the city running efficiently and effectively, said Kaplan.

Published Jul 3, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Council Adopts Kaplan’s $3.2 Billion Budget

Bas wins $12 million for Community Land Trust affordable housing fund

 

Hundreds of supporters of the City Council’s modifications to Mayor Schaaf’s proposed budget filled City Hall during the council’s budget deliberations over the past month. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Voting Tuesday night, the Oakland City Council adopted a two-year, $3.2 billion budget, partially resolving the ongoing political fight with Mayor Libby Schaaf’s administration over how much of the city’s income will be directed toward services for residents  and wages for the city workers who deliver many of those services.

The new budget, named the “Oakland Together” budget, directs $87 million to priorities identified by council members and supported by community members and groups, including the ReFund Coalition, which represents a number of community organizations and city worker unions.

Rebecca Kaplan

Council President Rebecca Kaplan, who had faced attacks from Mayor Libby Schaaf and the media for her leadership in producing the Oakland Together budget, told the Oakland Post she was pleased with what was in the new spending package but that several key issues were still unresolved.

“Even though many, many great items were  included in the budget we passed (Tuesday) night, I’m not celebrating yet because we are still working to finish up some very important final items, specifically, resolving the (funding) situation with our workforce development funding and issues of our own city workers.”

In a statement to the Post, Mayor Schaaf said, “I’m grateful our City Council kept the administration’s proposal as the framework for the budget it unanimously adopted last night. The last-minute augmentations still warrant close review, yet I’m pleased the Council’s unified action will allow us to make unprecedented investments in homelessness and affordable housing and to start a historic road-paving plan on July 1.”

The City Council’s changes in the Schaaf administration budget included:

• A study of Cahoots, a program that would utilize mental  health workers to respond to mental health crises instead of police;

• Remove the Mayor’s proposal to cut parks maintenance workers, which would have primarily impacted parks in flatland neighborhoods;

• Conduct an audit of the Oakland Police Department, which would examine police overtime costs;

• Substantial increase of homeless services;

• Some additional funding for the Private Industry Council and other workforce development;

• East Oakland healthy corner store conversions;

• Public bathrooms;

• Evening hours for permits at Planning and Building so small property owners can get timely approval of projects.

Nikki Fortunato Bas

Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas said in a statement that she was pleased the council passed her proposal, the Preservation of Affordable Housing Fund (PAHF), to allocate $12 million to create a municipal fund for community land trusts and limited equity housing cooperatives to take housing off of the speculative market by acquiring and preserving rental properties with 25 or fewer units.

“This fund is a bold investment in a visionary solution that…puts (properties) permanently in the hands of Oaklanders,” said Fortunato Bas, who developed the proposal with local grassroots organizations Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action and Oakland Community Land Trust (OakCLT).

She emphasized that the new budget also includes programs to address Oakland’s housing, displacement, and homelessness crises, including hiring a mobile outreach team and full-time administrator focused on homelessness, creating homeless navigation centers, and expanding direct legal and emergency rent assistance for tenants.

“Our longtime neighbors are being pushed out while thousands of luxury housing units are being developed. This budget is a huge systemic opportunity to fix a crisis that is everywhere we look and only getting worse,” said Fortunato Bas. “We can’t solve it by tinkering at the margins, dedicating resources only a fraction the size of the challenges we face.”

Carroll Fife, director of Oakland ACCE and part  of the Refund Oakland Community and Labor Coalition, told the Post that the coalition had realized many of the demands they had sought to achieve this year, “from funds for affordable housing and anti-displacement to additional resources to address the city’s illegal dumping epidemic.”

However, she said “There is a great deal of work to do. One budget cycle will not rectify the years of disinvestment that have impacted our most disenfranchised residents.”

Fife also called on people to support city workers in their fight for a pay raise and the filling of vacant jobs. “Vacancies in Housing and Community Development, Public Works and the Sewer department, to name a few, have direct and immediate repercussions on the entire city,” she said.

Former mayoral candidate Cat Brooks told the Post, “This is the most progressive budget Oakland has ever passed. It’s a big step in the right direction.”

But “It still does not go far enough in terms of divesting some monies from the bloated police budget and redirecting those dollars to critical needs for Oakland that actually keep us safe,” she said.

Published June 28, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

State Overseers Say They Have Not Yet Approved Oakland Teachers’ Contract

District has $72 million in unspent funds for low-income and special needs students

Oakland teachers’ strike last month fought for a living wage for educators and an end to austerity budgets crippling public education. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District’s overseers –  the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) and the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE), which for practical purposes  are running the district for the state, have  indicated that they have not yet approved the contract that came out of the  teachers strike.

The strike was settled on Feb. 28 with a three-year contact that gives teachers an 11 percent wage increase. The agreement was reached after a seven-days strike with the active intervention of State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

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.

“This still isn’t a done deal. The school board cannot give final approval to the contract unless the (financial) oversight trustee, Christopher Learned, and Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Karen Monroe, determine the district can afford it — not just now but also in years to come,” according to a column in the Mercury News.

According to an OUSD spokesperson, “Financial information relating to the tentative agreement will be submitted to Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) next week. We anticipate that the Board of Education will vote on the tentative agreement at its April 24 meeting after the county has reviewed the financial information.”

The ACOE, FCMAT and district leaders are already gearing up to eliminate more educational programs and close schools, while blaming teachers for the budget cuts. Yet, they are silent about the finding in the latest interim budget report, which indicates that OUSD has left unspent $72 million in restricted funds though the school year is almost over.

Restricted funding– unlike general purpose funds – can only be spent in specific ways, such as educational support for low-income, special education and Native American students.

Meanwhile, outside financial control over Oakland Unified is solidifying  as part of the district’s Fiscal Vitality Plan, according to OUSD Supt. Kyla Johnson Trammell in an email letter to principals and administrators, dated March 22.

The OUSD’s Intensive Assistance and Support Initiative “involves ACOE deploying a team of experienced school fiscal professionals to collaborate directly with OUSD staff, to provide training, monitoring, and implementation of processes and protocols in the following areas of OUSD fiscal operations: budget, accounts payable, payroll and purchasing,”  according to the superintendent’s letter.

The implementation of this plan, which is already underway,  means the reorganization of the district’s financial staff and integration of the district’s financial office with the county’s.

The position of OUSD Chief Business Officer Marcus Battle will be eliminated, effective April 5.

Ofelia Roxas, chief financial officer, will be working part time at OUSD and part time at the county office. Her duties will include  “working closely with the county at their office and serving as a liaison with OUSD to ensure accurate and timely financial reporting,” said Supt. Johnson Trammell.

Without a full-time top manager, the day-to-day management of the OUSD fiscal team will be conducted by Gina Murphy-Garrett, senior executive director,  budget, according to the superintendent.

At the same time, the positions of 11 OUSD financial analysts have been eliminated. Oakland’s State and Federal Office, which is responsible for monitoring spending in programs for low-income and special education students, is also being shut down.

The controller’s position has also been eliminated.

While the state overseers are seen as saviors by some, others say they are in Oakland to enforce austerity, shutting down school programs and creating consultant positions and contracts for outside experts.

FCMAT and the county, working with State Receiver Randy Ward, directly ran the district  without local control from 2003-2009. During that time, they spent a $100 million state loan that was forced on the district and neither produced the organizational efficiency nor the fiscal solvency they had promised.

After the end of state receivership in 2009, a state-appointed trustee continued to oversee the district’s finances,  along with the Alameda County Office of Education.

During the years 2014-2017 when pro-privatization Supt. Antwan Wilson ran the district, money was spent without regard for fiscal controls.  The numbers of central office administrators and their salaries grew unchecked by budget limits.

During that time,  the county and the state were silent. The state trustee had no complaints.

Supt. Wilson, a graduate of pro-charter billionaire Eli Broad’s superintendent training academy, was backed enthusiastically by GO Public Schools and other Oakland-based pro-charter organizations.

When a huge budget shortfall began to surface in late 2016,  Wilson quickly found a new job and left the state.  The district was left to clean up the wreckage, but the county and state overseers said nothing, never publicly accepting their failure to live up to their legal responsibility to hold Supt. Wilson’s administration accountable.

Asked for a response from the school district, Spokesperson Valerie Goode said, “Our central office is undergoing a substantial reorganization, requiring that existing departments and positions undergo evaluation for potential reorganization or elimination. These re-organizational efforts are taking place to improve efficiencies and reduce costs.”

At press time, the district still had not responded to questions about the $72 million in unspent restricted funds.

Published March 29, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

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

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

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to the FCMAT report, AB 1840 provides for activities that “may include but are not limited to … adoption and implementation of necessary budgetary solutions, including the consolidation of school sites….(and) sale or lease of surplus property.”

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

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

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

Looking favorably at the district’s “Citywide Plan,” authorized last June, ” FCMAT notes that “the first strategy under this plan is to implement the Blueprint for Quality Schools action plan to identify four cohorts of school changes….As a part of this plan, the district will identify on a citywide map the school sites that will be closing or merging with a nearby site.”

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

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

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

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

Published March 15, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post