Category: School closures

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

School Board Moves Meetings to Private Room, Excluding Public

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

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published November 8, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

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

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

By Ken Epstein

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

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

Post Salon, Nov. 3, 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published November 7, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

School Board Votes to Close Kaiser Elementary School

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

 

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published September 12, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

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

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

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published September 5, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

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

Ben “Coach” Tapscott

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School District Prepares for Second Round of School Closures

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

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

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published June 28, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

School District Dismantles Oversight of Low-Income Student Programs

Photo courtesy of the Oakland Unified School District.

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published April 26, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Who Controls the Fate of Oakland Schools?

In the years-long power struggle between the State and OUSD, the State has now gained more authority, raising questions about who controls the fate of Oakland schools.

Teachers say they will strike again if the County Office of Education blocks their contract for an 11% raise over four years.

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) now appears to be under a modified form of direct state control, according to some observers.

But the school district and its state overseers disagree, saying that was is occuring at the moment is just temporary “intensive support” for a financially ill institution.

Johnson-Trammell recently entered into an agreement with the overseers that represent the state—the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE), which is working collaboratively with a state-funded nonprofit, the Fiscal Crisis Management & and Assistance Team (FCMAT, pronounced FICKMAT)—to give the county office extensive authority over the district’s finances and to provide oversight and training.

Now in her second year as superintendent, Johnson-Trammell is struggling to overcome financial and organizational difficulties that she has inherited and which have plagued the district for years.

The district’s financial mess has not been solved by county oversight and FCMAT intervention, going back to 2003. An immediate and potentially explosive issue related to local control of the district is whether the County will allow the OUSD Board of Education to ratify the contract that Oakland teachers won in a sevenday strike that ended Feb. 28.

According to the district and the county, the district sent its financial analysis of the contract settlement to the county office on April 10, which will make its ruling within 10 business days.

The board is scheduled to vote on ratification at its April 24 meeting. The teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association, issued a statement this week saying they would strike again if the settlement is not honored. “Teachers, parents and students shut down OUSD for seven days demanding the schools we deserve, and that’s exactly what we’ll do again if ACOE prevents OUSD from implementing our agreement,” the statement said.

In addition to the almost two-month delay in approving the teachers’ contract, there are several other indications that the school district has significantly lost control of its finances. One is that Johnson-Trammell made the “intensive support” arrangement with the county office without seeking school board approval.

“The arrangement does not require school board approval since it was jointly established by Johnson-Trammell and (County Supt.) Monroe, a district spokesman said,” reads an EdSource article.

Agreeing, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine told the Oakland Post, “This is by mutual agreement, and no legislative or state authority is needed. OUSD’s board involvement depends on their own board policies as to the authority of the superintendent to enter into an arrangement with another governmental agency.”

However, under the state Education Code, the school board has fiduciary responsibility for the district, a duty the board cannot abandon or surrender unless the state puts the district into receivership through AB 1200 and removes that responsibility, according to some observers.

Further, while the district and the county say that the county’s intervention is designed to train and upgrade the district’s financial staff, much of that staff has been removed or have had their jobs eliminated.

Without its own financial staff, the district may be dependent on the county both for determining its finances and evaluating its fiscal stability. The district no longer has a controller, and the position of OUSD Chief Business Officer Marcus Battle was eliminated last week. Ofelia Roxas, chief financial officer, is working part time at OUSD and part time at the county office.

Her duties include “working closely with the county at their office and serving as a liaison with OUSD to ensure accurate and timely financial reporting,” said Johnson Trammell. Without 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.

Meanwhile, positions of 11 OUSD financial analysts have been eliminated, and the eight staff of the OUSD Dept. of State and Federal Programs are losing their jobs. The department is responsible for monitoring a number of programs, including those that serve low-income students.

From 2003 to 2009, under the state receivership law, AB 1200 a state-appointed receiver unilaterally ran the school district, while the superintendent was fired, and the authority of the school board dissolved until the state was forced to partially return local control, due to pressure from then Mayor Ron Dellums and Assemblyman Sandré Swanson.

In a presentation to the school board in October 2018, Fine, FCMAT CEO, said the state Legislature is no longer comfortable with direct state receivership. State intervention is now “county centric” rather than “state centric,” meaning that the state representative is now County Supt. L. Karen Monroe and the Alameda County Office of Education, he said.

Fine said in a press release that “’intervention costs (in Oakland) would include at least 11 county employees or contractors, providing 17,800 hours of support through 2021 at a cost (to the district) of $3.4 million.”

What the county is doing has nothing to do with state receivership, said Fine.

“(It’s) nothing close. The district does not qualify for state receivership. Intensive intervention with instructional programs is commonplace in California,” he said.

Agreeing with Fine were representatives of the county office and the State Dept. of Education. According to Michelle Smith McDonald of the county office, “This is not intensive financial support.” “The intensive support and technical assistance plan initiated by superintendents Monroe and Johnson-Trammell does not alter OUSD’s local control,” she said.

“This is plan is related to the administration and operations of staff, which is completely within the authority of the district Superintendent,” she said. “The plan is intended to provide capacitybuilding, training and technical assistance with procedures and practices. It is not a plan that impacts OUSD Board’s governance.”

Jonathan Mendick, information officer for California Department of Education, told the Post that the “Education Code authorizes county superintendents to send fiscal experts into a district to provide support.I think this is a more informal, short-term arrangement where district leadership asked the county to support and improve their fiscal operations.”

According to the district, financial services will be streamlined and made more efficient, not eliminated. However, the new organizational plan is not completed yet.

Published April 12, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post