$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

Chesa Boudin Runs for SF District Attorney

 

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

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published July 3, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

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

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

Schaaf Administration Accused of ‘Hamstringing’ Police Commission

Members of the Oakland Police Commission seek the City Council’s help to overcome obstacles that are keeping the commission from getting off the ground, speaking at Tuesday’s council meeting. Shown (L to R): Commission Vice Chair Ginale Harris, Commissioner Jose Dorado and Commission Chair Regina Jackson. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

Members of the Oakland Police Commission seek the City Council’s help to overcome obstacles that are keeping the commission from getting off the ground, speaking at Tuesday’s council meeting. Shown (L to R): Commission Vice Chair Ginale Harris, Commissioner Jose Dorado and Commission Chair Regina Jackson. Photo by Ken Epstein

Members and supporters of the voter-created Oakland Police Commission went to City Council this week to seek support to end city administrators’ continuous foot dragging and blocking the commission from doing its job to provide independent oversight of the Oakland Police Department.

Reaffirming the need for an independent police commission, Council President Rebecca Kaplan and a majority of council members voted at Tuesday night’s meeting to require the City Administrator to hire commission staff, including an Inspector General, that are independent of the city administration.

City Attorney Barbara Parker and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth, who reports to Mayor Libby Schaaf, are taking the position that the council resolution is illegal, violating the City Charter, and the administration does not have to implement it.

The Police Commission was created in November 2016 by Measure LL, an amendment to the Oakland City Charter that was passed with the backing of 83 percent of the voters. The commission is made up of seven regular and two alternate members, who are all Oakland residents and serve in a volunteer capacity.

“It’s not enough that the community called for this in great, great numbers. But we have been hamstrung in every way possible. Talk about tools, talk about staff, we have none of them,” said Regina Jackson, chair of the commission, speaking at the council meeting.

“The City Administrator didn’t follow the vote or the direction of the City Council. The City Administrator acted as if the vote never happened,” said Jackson.

“The problem is that we’re here to do a job in a volunteer capacity. We’re spending hours upon hours. And everywhere we turn we’re stopped. It’s blatant obstructionism.”

Police Commissioner Edwin Prather asked the council to support the commission so that it could start doing its work, speaking at the April 9 Public Safety Committee meeting, a video of which was played at the council meeting.

“We are behind the eight ball – all the time … Whatever you can do to get us the help we need would be greatly appreciated,” he said.

He said that when he took the position on the commission 16 months ago, “I knew that getting the police department to accept oversight where none previously existed was going to be a difficult thing.

“(But) I don’t think I understood that there were going to be forces in the city that were going to be dilatory and obstructive towards our progress.”

The only position created so far has been an administrative analyst, but that person works in the City Administrator’s office and has been told not to attend Police Commission meetings, according to police commissioners speaking at the council meeting.

The central issue at the meeting was the refusal of City Administrator Landreth and City Attorney Parker to allow the police commission to create a staff job position for an Inspector General who would be supervised by the commission and not by the City Administrator.

Councilmembers voted 5-0 to back a resolution reaffirming a vote last year that required the City Administrator to create the independent Inspector General position that would report to the Police Commission. The resolution was submitted by Councilmembers Kaplan, Noel Gallo and Nikki Fortunato Bas.  Also backing the resolution were Councilmembers Sheng Thao and Loren Taylor. Dan Kalb abstained.

“There is no question that Oakland residents value the necessity of having a civilian police commission, and one of the first steps to ensure an effective oversight body meant hiring an Inspector General whose duties including conducting audits, review policing practices and procedures,” said Kaplan.

Over Landreth’s and Parker’s objections, the council last July passed an ordinance requiring all staff hired for the commission to be independent of the city administration. Such independence would be necessary for the commission to avoid undue influence by the Oakland Police Department chain of command, which includes the City Administrator as the supervisor of the Chief of Police, according to council members.

Landreth and Parker have taken the position that the ordinance violates the part of the City Charter, which says all staff are hired and supervised by the City Administrator.  Because they view the ordinance as illegal, they argue they do not have to implement it.

According to Karen Getman, an outside attorney brought in by City Attorney Parker to give a legal opinion on the matter, “The City Administrator is not bound by the council’s direction in that regard.”

“The City Administrator gets to make her own decision about whether something is or isn’t consistent with the charter. The council cannot tell her she has to violate the charter,” said Getman.

In a memo that the City Attorney distributed to the council, Getman argued that the councilmembers who supported the resolution in favor of the independent police commission could be criminally charged and face “forfeiture of office upon conviction.”

Underscoring the significance of the conflict between the council and the city administration over creating the Inspector General position, Police Commissioner Prather in his remarks to the Public Safety Committee said:

“This is a power grab, plain and simple…It is very clear that the City Administrator does not want this position to report to the Police Commission.”

Kaplan said she hoped the differences over the City Charter could be worked out in order for police commission to move forward. However, she indicated that the council may have to seek outside legal representation.

Published May 3, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Rep. Maxine Waters’ Delegation Visits Haiti to Investigate Reports of Terrorism

Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ delegation to Haiti visits the hospital under construction at the University of the Foundation of Dr. Aristide in Tabarre, Haiti. Shown are ( L to R): Danny Glover; Mildred Trouillot-Aristide (wife of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, former påresident of Haiti; Walter Riley; Congresswoman Waters; and medical school doctor. Photo courtesy of Walter Riley.

 

By Ken Epstein

Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ delegation to Haiti visits the hospital under construction at the University of the Foundation of Dr. Aristide in Tabarre, Haiti. Shown are ( L to R): Danny Glover; Mildred Trouillot-Aristide (wife of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, former påresident of Haiti; Walter Riley; Congresswoman Waters; and medical school doctor. Photo courtesy of Walter Riley.

Amid news of continuing atrocities against the civilian population, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and a delegation of activists – including actor and producer Danny Glover and Oakland civil rights attorney Walter Riley – visited Haiti last week on a mission to investigate conditions on the ground in the country and report back to the American public about a Human Rights emergency that remains underreported in the mainstream media.

According to a report in the Miami Herald, “In recent months, gangs have been terrorizing the population, accused of massacring and raping poor Haitians and turning parts of the country (including the La Saline neighborhood of Port-au-Prince into no-go zones.”

As late as last week, there were reports that terrorist groups in La Saline set fire to homes. Hundreds of people have been killed recently in targeted killings.

“When we learned about houses being burned down, and the killings that took place, we were appalled and shocked. We listened directly to some of the relatives of victims and victims tell us about that,” said Waters during a press conference at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport prior to leaving Haiti last Wednesday evening, the Miami Herald reported.

Besides Rep. Waters (CA-43), Glover and attorney Riley, the delegation included social Justice activist Pierre Labossiere, human rights lawyer Brian Concannon and radio journalist Margaret Prescod. Prescod filed filmed reports from the “no go zones”.

Following a massacre in La Saline last November, a group of 104 members of the House of Representatives called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month to conduct an independent investigation of the extrajudicial killings allegations of human-rights violations by the Haitian National Police Force; U.S. taxpayers dollars should not go to human rights violators.

“We have eyewitness reports and other evidence that these are not gangs, a name that implies that they are independent of the government. These terrorists, in fact, are part of militias that have been hired to terrorize people and are associated with the Haitian Police Department,” said Riley. “It is a policy of the Haitian government and backed by the U.S. government,”  he said.

“The attacks on people in La Saline started as retaliation to demonstrations calling for Pres. Jovenel Moïse to resign over stolen billions of Petro Caribe money from Venezuela and systemic corruption in failed governance,” he said. “We have testimony of witnesses in the area and from human rights organizations about the brutality, the crimes against humanity.”

Among the atrocities, rape, people have been burned alive, dismembered and fed to pigs, said Riley.

Protesters across Haiti vowed to continue their fight for government accountability even in the face of the brutality, he said. “They have a proud sense of their history.”

Published May 2, 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

 

Oakland Leaders Celebrate César Chávez’s Legacy

District 2 Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas honors leaders of Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA) as part of Oakland City Council’s commemoration Tuesday evening of the legacy of César Chávez. Photo by Ken Epstein.

In celebration of the legacy César Chávez, the Oakland City Council this week recognized local community leaders  who represent that legacy “through their leadership and community service.”

Honored by Councilmember Dan Kalb were Jane García, chief executive officer, and Dr. Christina X. Chávez-Johnson, MD, at La Clínica de la Raza. César Chávez was Dr. Chavez-Johnson’s great uncle.

“Founded in 1971, La Clínica de La Raza provides community-based primary healthcare services, designed and delivered in a manner which appropriately addresses the cultural and linguistic needs of a diverse array of people from Latino, Asian, African and other heritages,”  according to La Clínica’s website.

Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas honored the Oakland-based organization, (MUA), a membership organization that promotes social and economic justice for immigrant women. MUA works to  implement the Domestic Workers Bill of rights, supports victims of domestic violence and fights for sanctuary and to end family separation.

René Quiñonez, recognized by Councilmember Sheng Thao (front right), is owner of the Movement Ink apparel store.

René Quiñonez, recognized by Councilmember Sheng Thao, is owner of the Movement Ink apparel store. One of his recent projects was making the T-shirts for the Oakland teachers’ strike.

District 5 Councilmember Noel Gallo honored Chris Iglesias and the Fruitvale District-based organization he leads, the Unity Council.  Gallo recognized Iglesias for his “commitment to low-income and immigrant families” and tireless effort to implement “a social equity agenda.”

Gary Jimenez, vice president of politics at SEIU Local 1021, was recognized by Councilmember-at-Large

Gary Jimenez, vice president of politics at SEIU Local 1021, was recognized by Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan.

Rebecca Kaplan. Jimenez, a custodian at Fremont Unified School District, has served as a labor and community leader in Oakland for more than 20 years.  Kaplan said that Jimenez has a “proven track record of … advocating for those whose voices are so often unheard.”

The Mayor’s Office honored Gema Quetzal Cardenas, an Oakland high school student and former student member of the Oakland Board of Education, was appointed by then Gov. Jerry Brown to serve on the state Board of Education for the 2018-2019 school year.

District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor recognized Fremont High School Assistant Principal Nidya Baez.

 

District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor recognized Fremont High School Assistant Principal Nidya Baez, herself a graduate of Fremont High and currently a District 6 resident. “I knew I wanted to work alongside my community by helping to increase youth voice and leadership since I was 16 years old,” she said.

District 7Councilmember Loren Taylor honored Zeydi Gutierrez, who works at AB&I Foundry in Oakland.

 

Published April 4 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post