Students and Staff Say Laney College Threatened by Proposed Ballpark

Front row: part-time instructor Evan DeGennaro, student Lauren Jelks.
Top row (l to r): student John Reimann, librarian Evelyn Lord, student Aisha Jordan, student Dejon Gill, librarian Phillippa Caldeira, instructor Kimberly King, student Joseph Chen, library staff and alumni Michael Wright. Photo by Ken Epstein.

Ken Epstein

A number of students, instructors and employees at Laney College in Oakland are organizing to take a stand against the proposed A’s stadium in downtown Oakland. While many are themselves A’s fans, they are worried that the crowd-filled stadium and exploding property values that accompany the development would spell the end of their unique and beloved college as well as historic Chinatown and downtown neighborhoods.

“I know the opportunities this development affords to people, but I don’t know how you mitigate the noise and the crowds of people who come in for a live game or concert,” said Michael Wright, a library employee and Laney alumni, who is a member of the campus group opposed to the A’s downtown project, the Laney Land for Students Coalition.

“They have corporate, big business interests. Their interests and their wants will supersede the college,” said Wright.

“A lot of people, 68 games a year, monster truck rallies and concerts, these are the disruptions across the street from the college we are talking about,” added student Dejon Gill

The group is part of the Stay the Right Way coalition, which is opposing the project, and is allied with the Oakland Chinatown Coalition, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and other organizations.
In interviews with the Post, students and staff discussed what they believe is at stake.

They began meeting in September after reports appeared in the media about the proposed project, though it was not until Sept. 12 that the A’s organization formally sent a proposal to Peralta.

The A’s proposal may be called a stadium project, say members of the Laney group, but in reality, the plan is considerably more than that. It’s about real estate development and speculative land investment.

“This is real estate gold we’re sitting on. They are appealing to a certain class of people. It is the 1 percent. They want single white people who have the money who pay to play and live in these overly expensive units,” said Laney librarian Phillippa Caldeira.

A resolution opposing the stadium, pointing to the project’s connection to real estate development, was by the Laney Faculty Senate.

“A ballpark adjacent to Laney College would further drive intense, high-speed development, gentrification and displacement in the neighborhoods surrounding the college, including historic Chinatown, West Oakland and Eastlake, and would be devastating to the low-income, vulnerable communities we serve,” it read.

The A’s want to put their ballpark on the site of the Peralta Community College District headquarters at E. 8th Street and 5th Avenue, across the street from Laney College and next door to Oakland Chinatown.
Peralta’s administration is adamant that no decision for or against the project has been made and that the communitywide discussion has just begun. Ultimately, the Peralta board will decide.

John Reimann, a student, retired carpenter and former officer Carpenters Local 713, said he had done research on John Fisher, majority owner of the Oakland A’s, and found out that Fisher is not a friend of public education.

Fisher, son of the owners of The Gap, chairs the board of the KIPP Foundation, which is dedicated to training teachers for the KIPP charter school network. He also co-chairs the Charter School Growth Fund and is a real estate investor and hotel owner.

The students say they are fighting for Laney because it is a special place that provides a unique and nurturing environment for students. The college, founded in 1953, serves 10,000 students, predominately first generation, low-income and students of color and is the flagship of the Peralta district’s four colleges.

“A lot of our students have families, have children, have full-time jobs,” said Aisha Jordan, who serves on Laney’s student government.

“The attitude of our staff (is supportive). This is really an awesome school.”

Student Dejon Gill agreed:

“The community college is the place where returning students of a certain age can bring their life experiences. The sense of community is very special here at Laney,” he said.

“A lot of our students live in a disruptive environment,” said Laney instructor Kimberly King. “They need a safe place, a calm place where they can go.”

Published October 30, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

A’s Stadium Proposal “Is a Once in a Lifetime Opportunity,” Say Fans and Local Businesses

Carl Chan

By Ken Epstein

Supporters are mobilizing to support the latest proposal to keep the Oakland A’s from moving out of Oakland –  to build a 35,000-seat stadium next to Laney College and Lake Merritt that would transform both the immediate area and all of downtown Oakland.

The A’s corporation is seeking to purchase the property currently occupied by the Peralta Community College District headquarters, and the company appears willing to negotiate a number of community benefits to sweeten the deal.

The final decision will be made by the elected Peralta Board of Trustees.

Backers of the deal include many A’s fans and supporters of what is often called the “growth coalition,” regional alliances that exist in most metropolitan areas, composed of real estate developers, contractors, financiers, many local politicians and construction unions.

Andreas Cluver

One A’s fan who spoke at the Oct. 10 Peralta board meeting was Jennifer Medeiros, who has lived in Oakland for 19 years. She calls herself a “passionate A’s fan”

“I’ve been involved in efforts to try to keep the team in Oakland since 2001,” she said. “This is the first time I believe the Athletics are truly committed to Oakland and working with the community to build a premier experience for the fans and to be a model of collaboration between public and private entities.”

Andreas Cluver, secretary-treasurer of the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council told board members he believes a deal can be negotiated that is a “win-win” for the Oakland community and the A’s.

“We have been partnering and talking with them, and they are fully committed to having strong local hire provisions for not only Oakland residents but for residents of the impacted area,” Cluver said. “We think that spirit will carry into the discussions around community benefits, benefits for the community college and benefits for Oakland residents.”

Carl Chan, who has worked in Oakland Chinatown for 40 years, is a member of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and the Oakland Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council NCPC).

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” for Oakland and the Chinatown community, he said.

“I want to embrace the potential improvements: public safety, business opportunities, jobs and resources to improve our community, especially workforce housing,” he said.

“I’m not here to support a ballpark, but I’m here to support a project with ballpark that will benefit the city,” he said, emphasizing that there will be many obstacles to overcome, including traffic congestion in the area.

Jose Macias, a member  of the family that owns La Estrellita Restaurant at 446 E. 12th St. in Oakland, said the ballpark would be a shot in the arm for local business.

“(Like) many merchants, we feel this would be a great thing. We could have more foot traffic, revitalize our area…(bringing) safety, which is much needed,” said Macias.

“Remember, the A’s are family, really family,” he added.

Another speaker was a fan named John who moved away from Oakland 32 years ago but comes back 40 times a year for A’s games.

“In San Jose, people ask me if I feel safe going to Oakland at night,” he said.

“I say yes I do. And that’s because there is a major league baseball stadium there. There’s a police presence there. There’s security there. I feel safe,” he said. “I know if there was a stadium built (downtown), that would improve this area, along with all the jobs and opportunities like that.”

Published October 30, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Debate Brewing Over Closing Public Schools in Oakland

Among the speakers at the discussion/debate on school closures, held at Holy Names University, were (L to R) Dr. Kimberly Mayfield Lynch (moderator), Celetta Hunter and Monica Thomas. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is once again considering closing schools, which is sometimes described directly as “rightsizing” the district or indirectly as part of reform plans to “reconfigure” or “redesign” the district’s “portfolio” of school sites.

While no schools have been slated so far for closure and no decisions have been made, OUSD has formed a Blueprint for Quality Schools – with a 55-member community advisory group. According to the district website, “The Blueprint for Quality Schools is a plan with long lasting impact to meet the changing facility, program and educational needs of the district.”

The advisory group is supposed to submit a report to the board at the beginning of next year.

OUSD has been under pressure to close schools since 2003 when it went bankrupt and was taken over by the state.  State Trustee Randy Ward closed 14 schools, and five were closed under the administration of former Superintendent Tony Smith.

At the time of the state takeover, the rationale was based on state guidelines for an acceptable ratio of square footage of public school space and numbers of students, according to state-imposed managers of the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT).

At present, Oakland has 86 district schools and 44 charter schools. In addition, a number charter schools are submitting applications to open next year.

During the current budget crisis, the school board invited FCMAT to look at the district’s financial condition and make recommendations for improvement.

Among other suggestions, FCMAT advised closing schools, telling the board it would be “amazed” by how much money the district would save.

Within a context of deep concern for the future of Oakland schools, parents and members of the education community held a debate/discussion about the potential of closing schools, Tuesday evening at Holy Names University, sponsored jointly by the Board of Education Member Shanthi Gonzales and the Education Department at Holy Names.

Questions included whether school closings saved money or were ever academically justifiable, how to reduce the negative impacts of closing schools and whether school closings connected to redesign or reconfiguration of OUSD could lead to higher quality schools.

The five panel speakers included Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein, a professor at Holy Names, also opposed schools.

 “A national study found that there are no benefits to school closure,” she said. “It not only does not benefit students academically, it doesn’t save money.”

 Closure costs more than it save because of the expenses of moving people and equipment to new schools, maintaining closed buildings and remodeling buildings where students are moved, as well as the lost income when students leave the district, she said.

In districts across the country, closure disproportionately impact Black students and teachers, she said.

Monica Thomas, a former OUSD principal and currently a district network superintendent, talked about the redesign of a school that led to higher quality program and was not disruptive to parents and students.

She was involved in 2005 in the redesign of Whittier Elementary School, which became Greeenleaf.

The reconfiguration was “totally community led …  steeped in what the parents, teachers and students wanted. It took an entire year,” said Thomas.

Kristin Zimmerman, a parent and member of the Blueprint for Change Advisory group, said that school redesign must make spaces for all of our children. “It is not just facilities, it’s about what’s best for our students.”

“We have ae to push vision and values to the center. If we don’t do it that way, we’re using a wrecking ball.

She said she was a parent at Tilden School, “which was great and then it closed” in 2010.

“Tilden was actually a model for other schools,” she said. “We erased what we had with the expediency of trying to save money.”

Cintya Molina, a parent who works in the OUSD community engagement department, says any changes in the district should not be rushed.

“There needs to be time for the process to unfold,” she said.

She was also concerned about the impact of lack of stability on “children who get moved a lot.”

“People do not know what it’s like not to have friends, not be rooted. They don’t know what it feels like,” she said.

Panelist Celetta Hunter, a teacher and alum of Castlemont High School, opposed closing schools.

“We get reconfigured and reconfigured. What we have are the same things over and over again” she said.

Those are things we need to look at when you talk about reconfiguration and closure: what is it going to do to that community?”

 “This may be beneficial for a small percentage of African American families, but there is a large percentage that will not benefit.  And they get lost,” said Hunter.

Published October 29, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Racial Profiling of African American Motorists Persists in Oakland

 

By Ken Epstein

 

Racial profiling of African American motorists persists in Oakland despite the years of data-filled reports the Oakland Police Department (OPD) has been required to collect and the adoption of reforms suggested last year by Stanford researchers.

In a report on “Racial Inequities in Traffic Enforcement, Fees and Fines” to the City Council’s public Safety Committee Oct. 10, Deputy Police Chief Leronne Armstrong discussed the impact of federal court-mandated reforms on the persistent pattern of Black drivers being stopped by police or stopped and issued citations, far in excess of the percentage of the African American population in Oakland.

“We have seen the number of stops come down, (but) we have not seen a decrease in disparity as of yet,” said Armstrong.

The report found that in 2016, OPD conducted 25,355 traffic stops, of whom 15,082 or 62 percent were African Americans.  Of those African Americans who were stopped, 5,818 or 39 percent received a citation.
Conversely, 61 percent of the motorists were stopped but not cited.

Latino motorists were 5,365 or 21 percent of the drivers who were stopped.  Of those, 2,895 or 54 percent were cited.Whites, by contrast, had low numbers of traffic stops – 2,645 or 10 percent of the total stops, of whom 1,574 or 60 percent received citations.

Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan (left) and Desley Brooks

2010 Census data indicates that 27.3 percent of the city’s population is Black, 25.4 percent Latino and 25.9 percent White.

Councilmember Desley Brooks and Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan raised serious concerns about the failure of OPD to make a dent in racial disparities.

“The report leads us to believe that data, data, data and more data will not solve this problem because we already have enough data to sink a ship,” said Councilmember Brooks, who chairs the Public Safety Committee.

“None of this has moved the needle,” she continued. “I’d like to focus the attention away from numbers to solutions… We’ve been studying this for at least 15 years now. We need to start getting to some real change.”

At issue is not only the excessive numbers of tickets that are issued but also the huge numbers of people who are stopped, she said.

“There is a problem when Africans American have 15,000 stops and only 5,000 were given citations. Something is wrong with that equation,” Brooks said.

“It is Latinos and African Americans who are most heavily impacted by this issue,” she said.  People who potentially haven’t violated the law at all were stopped, and that’s problematic.”

Kaplan, who had requested OPD produce the report on inequities in traffic enforcement, said she was concerned about the economic impact of the fines on Oaklanders.

“African Americans are continuing to be subjected to disproportionate stops,” she said. “And while the report says Oakland is not receiving a large amount of the resulting fines, those people are still being subjected to huge amounts of resulting fines.

“The people who have to pay the fines are still suffering due to Oakland’s conduct.”

To reduce racial profiling, OPD has an ongoing collaboration with Stanford University researcher, which produced a report, “Strategies for Change – Research Initiatives and Recommendations to Improve Police-Community Relations in Oakland, Calif.”

The report, issued in June 2016, made 50 recommendations, 23 of which have been already implemented. All 50 are expected to be implemented by February 2018.

One of the changes is requiring officers to conduct stops based on “intelligence,” which means they should state a reason, have information, before conducting a stop.

“We want them to conduct stops based on intelligence,” said Deputy Chief Armstrong.

Before the reform was instituted, only 2 percent of traffic stops were based on intelligence. Now about 25 percent are, he said.

Mayor Libby Schaaf responded to a request for comment from the Oakland Post,

“I’m proud that the Oakland Police Department is the first department to allow a university to do a deep analysis of traffic stop data and our officers’ body-worn camera footage to help rebuild the community trust necessary to make Oakland a truly safe city,” said Mayor Schaaf. “I am committed to ending racial disparities in policing, and our partnership with Stanford is helping us get there.”

Published October 21, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Schaaf’s Homeless Plan Challenged: Is Her 17K Plan Pie in the Sky?

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

By Ken Epstein

As homelessness continues to surge in Oakland, pressure is increasing on the city and the mayor to address the crisis in deeds as well as words. A few days ago, Mayor Libby Schaaf was challenged by James Vann of the Homeless Action Group when she emailed an open letter to the public saying she is passionate about dealing with homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.

The letter, distributed on Oct. 12, was headlined with her photograph and a quote: “We need all hands on deck to end homelessness and fight this affordability crisis.”

James Vann

 

“This is the issue that keeps me up at night,” she wrote. “We have an immediate plan, as well as a long-term strategy.”

Responding to the mayor, Vann sent out an email the same day. “Mayor Schaaf loves to present positive upbeat messages. However, public pronouncements do not always align with the facts on the ground,” he said.

“The city’s commitment to solving the homeless problem is sadly lacking.”

A local survey of homelessness, conducted in January, found that Oakland’s homeless population grew by 25 percent in the past two years, officially at 2,761 people living in encampments or in shelters and transitional housing.

Countywide, the homeless population has increased 39 percent since 2015 – from 4,040 to 5,629.  Nearly 70 percent of the homeless in the county were living in vehicles or on the streets.

In her open letter, Mayor Schaaf said, “The City Council has approved three sites to set up Tuff Shed shelters that will move people off the sidewalks and into safety and services. Once an encampment is moved to one of these sites, we will clean that sidewalk and prohibit any encampments from returning.”

She continued: “Our goal is to open our first Tuff Shed site before the rainy season. Each location will shelter up to 40 people in Tuff Shed structures for up to six months – then they’ll move into a rapid-housing facility.

“We’re reducing impacts and health risks of encampments by offering regular cleanings, hand washing stations, portable toilets, and trash service.”

Vann responded, “The final budget as approved by City Council includes funds for only one “safe haven site” for 40 persons –  not three sites.  The only “new” fund(ing) provided in the budget is $300,000 for one year (undesignated), and $450,000 each year for two years, which will support only one 40-person ‘safe haven site.’”

Conversely, Human Services Department staff estimates that actual costs for the city-provided site will exceed $1,000,000. he said.

“Also, the budget amount does not include the cost of the projected Tuff Sheds, estimated at $3,300 each, and no shower or laundry facilities are provided for” said Vann.

“Staff projects that the undesignated $300,000 amount in the budget is needed for administration and other costs.”

Mayor Schaaf also praised the city’s long-term housing plans:

“We’re implementing the ‘17K/17K Housing Plan’ developed by the Oakland Housing Cabinet  that will protect 17,000 Oakland households from displacement and build 17,000 new units of housing within eight years – with at least 28 percent of those units affordable-to-low to extremely-low income residents,” she said.

Vann’s reply:

“The mayor’s ‘17K/17K’ plan is words on paper. A concrete plan for how to accomplish that goal, though dubious, is still awaited.”

Published October 20, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

School District Will Cut Additional $14.2 Million – A Total of $46.7 Million Since January

Courtesy of CBS.

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) released a report this week announcing plans to cut an additional $14.2 million in spending to guarantee the district remains solvent in the current school year. With this new round of cuts – on top of the $32.5 million already cut since former Supt. Antwan Wilson left at the end of January – the district will be trimming a total $46.7 million from its budget.

In comparison, OUSD faced a deficit of $37 million in 2003 when the state forced the district into receivership, requiring it to accept a $100 million loan and appointing a trustee with the powers of both the school board and superintendent.

Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell says she will propose a plan for implementing the cuts at the Oct. 25 school board meeting.

Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell

“Our goal is to stay as far away from the classroom as possible,” she said. “But we cannot guarantee that there will not be an impact.”

Johnson-Trammell responded to rumors about budget freezes at school sites.

“Food, out of state travel and conferences are the only freezes at this time,” she said, adding that there is already a hiring freeze on new central office staff.  The plan is to always have communication,” she said.

Additional cuts were necessary because the district discovered $6.2 in unaccounted expenses since the 2017-2018 budget was adopted in June, eroding the financial cushion necessary to ensure solvency, according to the report.

The unaccounted expenses included $1 million for unanticipated special education transportation costs, $700,000 for Beginning Teacher Support, $1.1 million in Human Resources contracts and school staffing errors and $420,000 for a teachers’ union arbitration decision.

The district also decided it needed additional funds for budget projections that were too low for teacher long-term substitutes ($339,474), temporary staffing ($300,000) and non-teacher long-term substitutes ($220,000).
On the positive side, OUSD enrollment increased 549 students above what was projected in the adopted budget, meaning an additional income of $3.1 million from the state.

Of the $14.2 million in cuts, the district will use $1.2 to restore the 2 percent minimum state-required financial reserve and $13 million as a cushion to absorb unforeseen expenditures “or adjustments to existing projections,” the report said.

In a video report to the community posted this week on the school district’s website (www.ousd.org), Supt. Johnson-Trammell discussed the district’s financial condition.

Emphasizing transparency, she said, “I am committed to being clear about where we stand with our finances,” she said.

“OUSD continues to face a challenging budget situation,” she said. “Last year we made difficult budget decisions to ensure we avoided staff receivership. However, more work remains to ensure we regain our financial health. “

Published October 14, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Fans, Neighbors Differ Over Proposed A’s Stadium

A packed Peralta board meeting opened discussion Tuesday evening on proposed A’s ballpark project next to Lake Merritt. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Meetings of Peralta Community College District’s Board of Trustees are generally sparsely attended, but this week an overflow crowd filled seats and folding chairs and stood along the walls at the district headquarters near Laney College to speak out for and against the 35,000-seat stadium that the Oakland A’s want to build on the site.

At one point during the meeting on Tuesday evening, opponents of the stadium began chanting, “Ain’t no power like the power of the people because the power of the people don’t stop!” A’s supporters tried to drown them out with “Let’s go, Oakland!” – a chant that is popular at A’s games.

Supporters of building the A’s stadium in downtown Oakland on 8th Street and 5th Avenue next to Laney College and Chinatown included A’s fans from Oakland and around the Bay Area, business owners who argued that the increased foot traffic and development would be a shot in the arm for the downtown economy, building trades unions, the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and the African American Chamber of Commerce.

Opponents included senior citizens, high school students, organized by groups in the Oakland Chinatown Coalition, students and instructors in the Save Laney Land for Students Coalition, members of Eastlake United for Justice, 5th Avenue Waterfront Community Alliance, Coalition of Advocates for Lake Merritt and Causa Justa; Just Cause.

They say they want the team to stay in Oakland but not at Lake Merritt, where the stadium and associated development projects would swamp low-income neighborhoods, jeopardize the future of Laney College and destroy natural habitats.

The administration and board of Peralta are planning for an inclusive process to discuss the proposal, which the A’s organization initially sent to Peralta on Sept. 12.

“The board has not had any time (so far) to consider this issue,” said Peralta Chancellor Dr. Jowel Laguerre.

Sharon Cornu, a consultant who is working with Peralta to lead the community discussion, emphasized that the process is just beginning. “Let’s begin with where we are today,” she said. “There is no commitment, there is no decision, and there is no deal. “

“We’re here to start the process of community benefits and engagement so the trustees can make a decision in the best interests of the Peralta Colleges’ community,” she said.

Speakers in favor of the proposal included Carl Chan of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.

“This is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said, arguing that the stadium would be good for public safety, jobs, business opportunities and workforce housing.

Alice Lai-Bitker, business owner and former county supervisor, said, “I’m really optimistic about the A’s proposal. I am hoping it will benefit Laney students and businesses and residents nearby in Chinatown and Eastlake. ”

Among the speakers opposed to the stadium was Jing Jing He, who said Chinatown residents, including senior citizens, came to Tuesday’s meeting to “fight for the life of their community.”

“The A’s team has tried to leave Oakland in the past few years,” she said. “They only stayed because San Jose denied their move, and now they say they’re all for Oakland.”

Focusing on environmental impacts, Cindy Margulis, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, said, “We understand the A’s want to be downtown, but this particular site is a catastrophe for the (wildlife) refuge at Lake Merritt.”

James Vann, a member of the Stay the Right Way Coalition, said the project would not be good for Oakland.  “The impacts are monumental. There will never be a way to mitigate the impacts on the channel, on traffic, on the neighborhoods, on freeways, on the college.”

Alvina Wong of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) handed the board a petition opposing the project signed by 1,700 Chinatown residents.

“We’re here, and we’re living here every single day. We don’t get a choice to go somewhere else,” she said. Local residents would be crowded by tens of thousands of A’s fans “who are coming here for one single purpose,”

While her organization has brought people to the meeting and hired translators, the A’s corporation has not done anything yet to reach out to the community.

“I don’t know how we can keep trusting this process,” said Wong.

Published October 13, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

 

Forum at Holy Names Will Discuss Impact of Possible School Closings

Protest in 2012 against closing Lakeview Elementary School across the street from Lake Merritt. Site is now used for district offices and a charter school. Photo courtesy of indybay.org

By Post Staff

School Board Director Shanthi Gonzales and members of the Holy Names University Education Department are co-hosting a forum on school closings Tuesday, Oct. 24, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.  in the Bay Vista Room at Holy Names University, 3500 Mountain Blvd. in Oakland.

The event is free and open to the public.

Panelists will share research on the impact of school closures, including research on whether or not school closures actually save money.

Protest against closing Lakeview School in Oakland 2012. Photo courtesy of Oakland North.

Panelists will also share experiences about previous closures in Oakland and discuss whether or not closures and reconfiguration can improve access to quality education.

The panel will be moderated by Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, chair of the Education Department at Holy Names.

Panelists will include parent Cintya Molina, a former principal and current OUSD network officer and professor Kitty Kelly Epstein.

The event will be organized to allow for the audience to ask questions and engage in discussion

Boardmember Gonzales said she hopes to learn a lot from the forum and discussion. Some of her questions are:

“If the board decides to close schools again, are there mistakes can we avoid repeating? And was there anything that worked, and OUSD was able to mitigate the impact on students?”

She continued:

“Closing a school is a traumatic experience for students and staff, and not a step that can be taken lightly.

“I am specifically interested in learning what the research says about whether school closures can be used to improve student achievement by moving students to other schools.”.

To RSVP for the event, go to www.eventbrite.com/e/dialogue-on-school-closings-tickets-38801909556

Congress of Neighborhoods Seeks Community Power in East Oakland Flatlands

Esther Goolsby of Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) spoke last Saturday at the first community assembly of the Congress of East Oakland Neighborhoods. Photo by Ken Epstein

 

By Ken Epstein

Hundreds of local residents packed into an elementary school gymnasium last Saturday to attend the kickoff gathering of the East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods taking the first steps to bring together the kind of flatland coalition that can force public officials to take the needs of their communities seriously.

The meeting, held at International Community Schools at 2825 International Blvd., was organized by some of the strongest community-based organizations in East Oakland: Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Just Cause: Causa Justa, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, EBAYC and Oakland Community Organizations (OCO).

The main purpose of Saturday’s meeting was to create a common vision for going forward.  To develop this vision, participants attended one of nine workshops: fair share of city services, including ending illegal dumping; homelessness, displacement and affordable housing; community peace and safety; holding elected officials accountable; creating a clean healthy environment; jobs, including jobs for youth and the formerly incarcerated; quality education; big development projects, such as the A´s stadium; and immigration.

Leading the meeting were representatives of East Oakland neighborhoods San Antonio, Fruitvale, Elmhurst and Sobrante Park.

In an interview with the Oakland Post, Vernetta Woods, a leader of Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) who lives in District 7, says she believes the event will build more unity and a more powerful voice for East Oakland residents.

For her, the main issue is education, the failure of the Oakland public schools.

“We’re coming. People power is here,” she said.  “We need thousands to come together on this thing, not just one race or one organization. If that happens, we can make changes.”

Teresa Salazar, a leader of Just Cause: Causa Justa who has lived in the San Antonio area for 23 years, explained the different organizations that are working together are creating a “stronger power.”

“Rent is increasing. Is that the New Oakland – a lot of people living under the bridge?”  She asked.

“At International (Boulevard) and 15th (Avenue), there is a lot of prostitution – Is that the New Oakland?

“No, Oakland needs a big change,” said Salazar. “Everybody needs to participate, to organize for change, for there to be a New Oakland.”

The Congress of Neighborhoods plans to release its “East Oakland Community Agenda” Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 5:30 p.m. outside City Hall.

For more information, email Nehanda Imara at nehanda@eastoaklandbhc.org or Alba Hernandez at alba@oaklandcommunity.org

Published October 8, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

School District Avoids State Takeover with Two-Year $32 Million Budget Cuts

Parents at Manzanita SEED protested last Monday against consolidations – involuntary transfer of teachers. Photo courtesy of Sita Davis’ Facebook page.

By Ken Epstein

 

The Oakland Unified School District’s budget is balanced but fragile, and the consequences of the spending cuts are just beginning to be felt.

The district cut $15.2 million from its budget last school year and adopted a budget this year with $17.3 million in cuts, a total of $32.5 million, according to the district.

Even relatively small over-expenditures could lead to state receivership. That would mean the superintendent would be fired, and the powers of the board would be dissolved, which is what happened in 2003.

During that time, the state-appointed overseer, working with the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT, which is pronounced fick-mat), dissolved all board committees, including the Budget and Finance Committee, and closed schools without board or public input.

Teacher salary increases were out of the question.

Currently, both the district´s advisory state trustee and FCMAT representatives have spoken to the board, using virtually the same words, “If you can’t make the cuts, the state will come in and make them for you.”

Only a little over a month into the school year, schools are feeling the impact.  The district is “consolidating” or involuntarily transferring teachers from schools where student enrollment is less than what was projected to other schools that need additional teachers.

The board and administration are facing protests, including at Manzanita Community School, an elementary school at 25th Avenue and E. 27th Street. Parents, staff and students are angry over the loss of their teachers and the disruption of their schools.

In addition, the district is under strong state pressure to close schools, similar to what happened in 2003. Board members are expected to consider school closures in coming months, to be potentially implemented as soon as next school year.

While FCMAT representatives tell the board they will be “amazed” how much money OUSD saves by closing schools, a number of national reports indicate that shutting schools does not produce the desired cost savings and also damages the education of students at both the schools that are closed and those that receive the transferred students.

In California, state law requires the district to turn over its closed to schools to charter school organizations if they want them. As a result, schools that are closed one year could reopen as charters the following year, possibly enrolling a number of the students from the public schools that closed.

According to activists, under these conditions, school closings would in effect be a transfer of public property to privately run charter organizations and decline in the numbers of students  – not a road to renewed financial health but to  permanent damage to public education in Oakland.

The board only recently re-instituted the Budget and Finance Committee that had been dissolved under state receivership.

Though the challenges are daunting, community members and OUSD staff are heartened by the school board’s decision to hire Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, an Oakland native who has nearly two decades of experience, believes in Oakland and its schools and has a track record of transparent decision making and respectful relations with the community.

Published October 7, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post