Category: Labor

$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

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

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

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted March 8, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

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

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

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published March 7, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Oakland Teachers take on The State

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

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

 

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

Striking teachers march through Oakland streets

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

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

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

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

Picket sign at teacher protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published March 1, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Oakland Teachers Shut It Down

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

Oakland teachers on strike. Photo by Ken Epstein .

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Striking teachers march through Oakland streets

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

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

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

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

Published February 24 2019, courtesy of the Oakland  Post

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

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

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published February 20, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

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

Roots International Academy in East Oaklad

By Jane Nylund

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of ROOTS and the Small Schools Initiative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Demand Rate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted at Oakland Crossings, January 23, 2019