Education in Oakland

Archive for February, 2009

The Union Answers O’Connell

Posted by novometro on February 27, 2009

The following letter is from Betty Olson-Jones, the boss of the Oakland Education Association.

February 27, 2009

Superintendent O’Connell,

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!

Betty Olson-Jones
President, Oakland Education Association


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O’Connell Wants $500,000 from OUSD for Charter Schools

Posted by novometro on February 24, 2009

At the beginning of February, Jack O’Connell sent Vince Matthews a letter telling him to “apportion to each charter school $60 per enrolled student” as a means of addressing the inequity stemming from the fact that Oakland charter schools “have not been formal beneficiaries of revenues from the district’s parcel tax or other local discretionary funds.” The State Superintendent of Public Instruction adds that this puts “[charter schools] at a disadvantage vis a vis their peer schools.”

Given that there are 8,000 charter school students in Oakland, and the final bill for this “one-time only adjustment” will come to nearly $500,000, the school board is pissed, and voted last week to hire a lawyer to fight the request.

O’Connell says that he will pursue a longer term plan to address the inequity.

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It’s Off

Posted by novometro on February 23, 2009

It seems that no one in Oakland education circles thought that pitting two hotheaded firebrands against each other in a charter school debate was going to do much good for either side. Chris Dobbins says that he got calls from every ideological corner of the city asking him to cancel the debate between charter school founder Ben Chavis, and Shanta Driver, who was slated to argue that charter schools are nothing more than a latter day Jim Crow system. Dobbins decided to heed their advice, and has said he will assemble a new panel.

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It’s On

Posted by novometro on February 17, 2009

The mistrust with which the extreme poles of the charter school debate regard one another has little do with reality. Corporations are not starting charter schools to enslave a population of poor black and brown youth while simultaneously opening a new revenue stream. Tenured teachers in traditional public schools aren’t defending business as usual just so they can keep showing movies in English class.

Broadcasting these extreme positions does nothing to improve the quality of teaching in Oakland, so don’t expect an upcoming smackdown between two local education ideologues to be particularly illuminating. It will, however, be entertaining as hell.

Next week, mild-mannered and always-amiable school board member Chris Dobbins is moderating a “debate” titled “Charter Schools: A Step Forward or Backward for Public Education.” Below is the press release with all the details.

A debate between opponents and advocates of charter schools is scheduled to take place Thursday, February 26th, at 5:00 PM in the OUSD Administration Building, Hunter Hall. In Oakland, and nationally, the growth of charter schools has been one of the most hotly contested changes in the educational system over the past ten years.

Arguing that charter schools are part of a new Jim Crow system of education that forces an increasing number of black and Latino students into separate, inferior schools will be Shanta Driver and Yvette Felarca, representatives of the civil rights group Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (BAMN).

Arguing that charter schools provide students with an education to enhance their academic skills  in order to compete and be productive members of society will be Ben Chavis, founder of the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, and Janet Roberts, current Principal of the American Indian Charter School.

Oakland Unified School Board Director Chris Dobbins will be moderating the event. Hunter Hall is located at 1025 2nd Avenue, near Laney College. The public is invited to attend and will have ample opportunities to pose questions to the speakers in what is sure to be a hotly contested debate.

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