The following letter is from Betty Olson-Jones, the boss of the Oakland Education Association.
February 27, 2009
Allow me to congratulate and thank you, on behalf of the nearly 3,000 teachers of the Oakland Education Association, for finally removing the last vestige of doubt about who you really are: a lobbyist for charter schools and an open apologist and beneficiary of so-called education philanthropists like Eli Broad. Your February 3 directive to State Administrator Vincent Matthews to transfer nearly $500,000 from the Oakland Unified School District’s general fund directly to the coffers of 32 charter schools is nothing but a naked money and power grab, the latest in a series of outrages perpetrated on our community on behalf of your benefactors. But by doing so, you have made our job of educating and organizing the community that much easier because now it’s abundantly clear that the Emperor has no clothes!
Your claim that this is a question of equity is particularly Orwellian and disturbing. In fact, your performance over the past 5 ½ years as de facto dictator of the Oakland Unified School District makes a mockery of the concept of equity. From the time of the original takeover in 2003, you and your three Broad-trained minions have presided over a series of actions and so-called “reforms” that have left our community torn and destabilized, with schools in primarily poor, African-American and Latino neighborhoods especially hard-hit by school closures, reconstitutions, and charter expansion. You tried to sell District property to pay off a debt that was forced on OUSD by you and Don Perata. You have left our children saddled with a debt nearly twice the size of the alleged deficit that led to the original takeover. Under your reign:
• Charter schools have proliferated, draining students from traditional schools. Charters are publicly funded yet privately run entities that choose to opt out of the traditional school network, are de facto free to pick and choose their students, and have caused much of the declining enrollment in OUSD. A demographic report by Urban Strategies (June 2007) states, “…between 2000 and 2004, 37 percent of the District’s enrollment loss was due to the growth of charter enrollments, and between 2004 and 2006, the percentage grew to 58.” Oakland’s 32 charter schools enroll 16% of OUSD’s students (7,845 kids), one of the highest percentages in the country. What is equitable about turning our District over to charter school operators while draining our most needy schools of resources?
• Approximately 40 OUSD schools have been closed, and most have been reopened as new, different schools. This has been tremendously destabilizing to the mostly poor, African-American and Latino communities impacted by the closures, reopenings, and further closures.
• Students in traditional District schools bear the brunt of debt repayment, because charter schools are exempt from repayment of the state loan! And yet charters are the beneficiaries of a host of funds, from the ADA they receive for each student to large donations – both in cash and in services – from foundations. A few examples: in 2007 the Wal-Mart Foundation donated $230,000 EACH to four charter schools in Oakland. That translates to an additional $2300/pupil at American Indian Public High School, and $7667/pupil at Oakland Charter High! Jerry Brown’s Oakland Military Institute received $500,000 from the Port of Oakland, and his Oakland School of the Arts is housed in the renovated Fox Theater.
And yet you propose to transfer $60/pupil to all charter school students! Your talk of equity is a smokescreen for your real intention, which is to further destabilize the financial situation in the OUSD, continue to punish traditional schools by accusing them of failing and yet making it even more difficult for them to secure the resources they desperately need, and reward quasi-private charters who are exempt from democratic control.
As our democratically-elected School Board prepares to resume control of OUSD, this is a slap in the face. Like your failed attempt to sell off District land in 2007, and your equally ill-fated Measure N parcel tax last November, this is yet another example of your arrogant disregard for the teachers, parents, students, and the elected School Board of Oakland. You didn’t win a 15% handout to charters through the ballot box, so you think you can stage a stealth transfer of funds? Do you really think you can once again dictate to this community while you attempt to placate your charter school friends? Not on our watch! We will not submit to taxation without representation!
Of course, none of this was an accident. A September 2007 report produced by the Center for Education Reform (“National Model or Temporary Opportunity: The Oakland Education Reform Story”) states that “A group of Oakland small school creators, activists, technocrats, and philanthropists decided that the conditions were indeed ripe to try something big.” They had been waiting for access to a “politics free zone.” Once the state, under your leadership, obtained control of the district, you saw your opportunity to attempt to remake OUSD according to the wishes of your benefactors, chief among them Eli Broad. (An Oakland Tribune article of August, 2003 states, “O’Connell is a major recipient of Broad campaign contributions.”) Billionaire Eli Broad happens to think schools should be run like businesses, that teachers unions stand in the way, and that charters are the solution, as publicly funded but privately-run entities.
But you are sorely mistaken. You have greatly underestimated the power of our community and you stand exposed. Should you have any further political aspirations, you needn’t look to Oakland. We will work hard to expose your real intentions to others, including the other District employee unions, the Alameda Labor Council, and CTA.
It is time to return full local control immediately, including finances, to our democratically-elected School Board!
It is time to cancel the state debt as repayment for all the damage that has been done to our School District under your watch!
President, Oakland Education Association