Tag Archives: Jerry Brown

Manufactured Education Crisis Engenders Violence

18 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/17/2019

On October 23, the regularly scheduled Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) board meeting descended into chaos accompanied by violent reaction from school police. One parent received a broken rib; two elementary school teachers reported severe bruising and a small mother suffered two torn ligaments and a meniscus tear. They were protesting the closing of Kaiser elementary school which is the result of a manufactured crisis beyond the control of the local school board. Billionaire “philanthropists” and the state of California created and exacerbated Oakland’s chronic budget issues.

Today’s budget problems stem back to the state assuming control of OUSD in 2003. Ken Epstein of Oakland Crossings described the situation when the state installed an administrator. “At the time, State Schools’ Supt. O’Connell [Democrat] and influential State Senator Don Perata [Democrat] were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt.”

The Alameda County Office of Education and the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), a state-funded nonprofit that advises districts on financial matters, both played a large role in pushing OUSD into receivership (2003-2009) and forcing the district to take a $100 million state loan. OUSD did not ask for the loan. They had enough money in construction funds to cover the shortfall if the state would approve borrowing from that fund. The state had given other districts this kind of permission but refused it to Oakland.

Kathy Murphy reported in the 2009 East Bay Times, “Six years after the largest state loan ever made to a California school district, the Oakland school district is emerging from state receivership $89 million in debt.” After six years of state administration, the budget deficit grew from $37 million to $89 million.

O’Connell Selects Eli Broad’s Trainee as Administrator

In 2002, the multi-billionaire Eli Broad (rhythms with toad) decided to establish his own training academy for school administrators. With no background in education or experience other than attending public school in Detroit, Broad was so rich he could just do it. He did not believe schools had an education problem; he believed they had a management problem. It was his theory that large urban school districts did not need education leadership – consultants can be hired for that – they needed business management leadership.

One of the key management ideas taught at the Broad Academy is “right-sizing.” It is probably in the Broad School Closure Handbook; Closing Schools as a Means for Addressing Budgetary Challenges that the first use of the terminology “right sizing” is applied to a school district. Now this Broad construct has slipped into common usage by Oakland’s political and administrative leaders.

Another key component undermining OUSD was the state’s Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT). In 1991, new California, Governor Pete Wilson, signed the team into law. FCMAT (pronounced “fick-mat”) is a state sponsored non-profit located in Kearn County. It is supposed to help school districts identify and solve fiscal problems. However, FCMAT has developed a reputation as a neoliberal organization that has a racial bias against schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods. An Oakland school leader admitted they felt FCMAT was biased against Oakland.

When OUSD discovered its budget shortfall in 2003, FCMAT started pushing for a state takeover and Oakland Mayor, Jerry Brown, seemed to welcome it. Majority reports that when OUSD proposed covering the shortfall with construction funds,

“Tom Henry, the CEO of California’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Team (FCMAT) opposed this plan, and Mayor Brown questioned it heavily. (During a state takeover, FCMAT would be responsible for monitoring the school district’s financial progress.) Phone records later obtained by the Oakland Tribune revealed over 40 phone calls on key dates between Brown, Henry, and Randolph Ward, who would end up in charge of OUSD when it was placed under state control, in the two months before the state takeover.”

A California central coast politician named Jack O’Connell was elected California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2002. He selected Randolph Ward, a Broad Academy graduate, to be Oakland’s state administrator. When O’Connell ran for state superintendent, his largest campaign donors had been Netflix CEO Reed Hastings ($250,000), venture capitalist John Doerr ($205,000), and Eli Broad ($100,000). Brown described the state takeover as a “total win” for Oakland.

The Broadies of Oakland

2003-2017 Broad Academy Graduates and Superintendents of OUSD

Broad Academy graduates are often disparagingly called Broadies.

The OUSD information officer in 2003 was Ken Epstein. He recounts a little of what it was like when Ward became the administrator:

“I remember a school board meeting where Ward and the board were on stage. Each item on the agenda was read aloud, and Ward would say, “passed.” Then the next item was read. In less than an hour, the agenda was completed. At that point, Ward said, “Meeting adjourned” and walked out of the board room and turned out the lights, leaving board members sitting in the dark.”

When Ward arrived in Oakland, the district was in the midst of implementing the Bill Gates sponsored small school initiative which is still causing problems. The recently closed Roots that caused so much discontent in January was one of the Gates small schools. Ward opened 24 of them (250-500 students) which in practice meant taking an existing facility and dividing it into two to five schools. He closed fourteen regularly sized schools.

Upon Ward’s arrival in Oakland there were 15 charter schools and when he left for San Diego three years later there were 28 charter schools.

Epstein related a story from attending a district leader’s cabinet meeting when Ward asked a Broad trained accountant to get numbers on how much money would be saved by closing a school. Three weeks later the accountant said no savings and Ward responded, “Then go back and figure out another reason for closing schools.”

Kimberly Statham who was a classmate of Ward’s at the Broad Academy took his place in 2006. The following year a third Broad Graduate, Vincent Mathews took her place.

After a short period of no Broadie in the superintendent’s seat, Antwan Wilson was hired in 2014. Shortly after that, the New York Times reported that the Broad Foundation had granted the district $6 million for staff development and other programs over the last decade. The Broad Center also subsidized the salaries of at least 10 ex-business managers who moved into administrative jobs at the district office.

Kyla Johnson-Trammell, an Oakland resident and educator with OUSD, was named to replace Antwan Wilson in 2017. When he exited to lead Washington DC’s schools, Wilson left a mess in Oakland. Mother Jones magazine said Wilson saddled the district with a $30 million deficit. The article continued, “A state financial risk report from August 2017 concluded that Oakland Unified, under Wilson, had ‘lost control of its spending, allowing school sites and departments to ignore and override board policies by spending beyond their budgets.”’

The preponderance of the problems in OUSD are related to the state takeover, FCMAT and the leadership provided by Broad Academy graduates.

School Board Under Attack from All Sides

A March Oakland Post article says,

“A new report from the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) indicates that the State of California, represented by FCMAT and the Alameda County Superintendent of Education, is requiring the school district to make budget cuts of jobs and programs totaling about $30 million this year, regardless of any costs generated by increased salaries for teachers and other school employees.”

The Alameda Civil Grand Jury says the district has run a debt of $20 to $30 million for the past fifteen years. It states, “School occupancy must be assessed and painful decisions made regarding closure and consolidation as soon as possible.”

In 2018, the Alameda County Office of Education rejected OUSD’s three-year budget plan saying it did not adequately address needed budget reductions; prompting school activist Ahsan Nilofer to ask, “What will FCMAT and the County Office consider to be an adequate plan?”

Another drag on the district’s finances is this past school year; the district had to pay FCMAT and the county $1.4 million for their services.

At the same time the coalition “Oakland Not for Sale” demands:

  1. “Stop School Closures”
  2. “End the School to Prison Pipeline”
  3. “Stop the charter school takeover”
  4. “Let the people see the money”

This is the organization that led the demonstration at the board meeting in October that ended in violence and chaos.

Mike Hutchinson of the Oakland Public Education Network says that OUSD ended the 2018-2019 school year with a $21 million surplus not a deficit. He also has announced that he will be running for the district-5 board seat in 2020.

A board member explained that $4 million of that claimed surplus comes from the board purposely underestimating title 1 and title 4 money from the Department of Education because they did not trust the actions of the Trump administration. The rest of the money is thought to be in restricted funds that can only be spent of designated categories.

The board was forced to adopt the 2019-2020 budget without good numbers to rely upon. An EdSource article relates that “Board member Shanthi Gonzales said staff didn’t give the board enough details about department budgets, school budgets or even how many employees the district has, what they do and how much they earn.” However, the district’s state trustee said district operations would come to “a screeching halt” if the board didn’t meet its June 30 budget approval deadline.

In addition to all of these problems, billionaires and their school privatization organizations are attempting to purchase the school board. In Oakland the on the ground political organization leading the privatization agenda is GO Public Schools.

Go Political Spending Chart

Funding to GO Public School Independent Expenditures Effort

School Board Winners Finance Chart

Winning OUSD Board Member Campaign Support

In the 2018 election, Gary Yee was the recipient of almost $146,000 in independent expenditure support from mostly billionaires working to privatize public schools in Oakland. His victory makes him the third member of the seven seat board to owe their election to GO Public Schools.

FCMAT from the state of California, the Alameda County Office of Education and the Alameda County Grand Jury are all ordering the OUSD school board to make budget cuts and close schools. At the same time residents of the city don’t want to hear about schools being closed and with reason do not believe the state and county budget analysis. Unfortunately, the only place they can express their outrage is at the local school board. However, there are some really good people on this board who are being put through a ringer by forces beyond their control. No matter what they do, it is loudly criticized and they are personally demonized as selling out the city.

The fundamental problem is Oakland has a dual education system with 37,000 students in public schools and 15,000 in charter schools. It costs more to operate two systems. Every school district in California that has more than 10% of their students in charter schools has severe financial problems. Oakland has the largest percentage of charter school students in the state with 29% so financial issues should be the expectation.

This is an education crisis that was manufactured by the super wealthy and implemented by neoliberal politicians.

Twitter: @tultican

Governor “Charter School”

8 Jun

I recently commented on a Diane Ravitch post writing, “I love Governor ‘Moon-beam’; I detest Governor ‘Charter-School;’” referring to Governor of California, Jerry Brown.

Ed Source recently reported:

“Brown started two charter schools in Oakland when he was mayor of the city, and has fought, through vetoes, attempts to encroach on their independence or dilute protections in the state’s charter school enabling law. This year, he vetoed AB 787, which would have banned for-profit charters, which operate primarily online charter schools. Brown said proponents failed to make a case for the bill, and the bill’s ambiguous wording could have been interpreted to restrict the ability of nonprofit charter schools to continue using for-profit vendors.”

Two consistent features of modern education governance are that politicians and business men who have power enforce their own particular biases even though lacking both educational experience and knowledge. The second feature is education policy is NOT based on research. As Anthony Cody describes, “Sadly, Lubienski, Debray, and Scott discovered that ‘research played virtually no part in decision making for policymakers, despite their frequent rhetorical embrace of the value of research.’”

Governor Brown (in the face of mounting evidence) is more concerned about the future of the charter industry than he is about fraud and the diminution of public schools. He obviously believes that public schools are failing and that privatized schools are the path to better education. Neo-liberal philosophy increasingly embraced by the Democratic party postulates that “private business will always outperform government institutions.”

Is it Cyber-Charter or Cyber-Fraud?

The private businesses being protected by Brown, cyber-schools, are increasingly seen as extremely poor quality and more fraud than education alternative. In February Steven Rosenfeld reported, “For the second time in three months, the Walton Family Foundation—which has spent more than $1 billion to create a quarter of the nation’s 6,700 public charter schools—has announced that all online public school instruction, via cyber charter schools, is a colossal disaster for most K-12 students.”

Steven Singer an education commentator and activist from Pennsylvania stated it succinctly, “If you’re a parent, you’d literally be better off having your child skip school altogether than sending her to a cyber charter. LITERALLY! But if you’re an investor, online charters are like a free money machine. Just press the button and print however much cash you want!”

The nation’s largest cyber-charter chain is Michael Milken’s K-12 Inc. (remember his junk bond fraud conviction) The state legislation, AB 787, that Brown vetoed was inspired by the suspicious activities of California Virtual Academy and its contracted management organization K-12 Inc.

Since California Virtual Academy is a non-profit it is supposed to operate independently from its contracted management company, K-12 Inc. In a series of articles focused of the failure of California’s on-line charter schools, Jesse Califati at the San Jose Mercury News described:

“According to the nonprofit’s application for tax-exempt status, California Virtual Academy at San Mateo has a board of directors whose members should be willing to cut ties with the company if they feel the school is getting a raw deal. Indeed, the application specifies that all agreements between K12 and the school are the result of ‘arm’s-length’ negotiations.

“But a review of minutes from the 2014-15 school year’s board meetings and records of the board’s relationship to administrators hand-picked by K12 suggest the board has little or no independence from the company. A K12 employee led the board meetings, and all 35 resolutions she encouraged the board to endorse won unanimous approval.

“The board’s open public meetings are held during the workday in a conference room or around an administrator’s desk in the Daly City-based Jefferson Elementary School District, which authorized the academy’s charter. And board members rarely attend the meetings in person. They usually just call in from home.

“All told, the board spent an average of 13 minutes in each meeting.”

 In another piece Califati recounted:

 “Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education, worked for K12 as a consultant before Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to the post in 2011. In March 2015, the board voted against shuttering a school run by the company that California Department of Education staff said should close because it was in financial disarray, marking the only time such a recommendation has been ignored.”

Privatized Systems Are Unstable and Increase Costs

The well-known education commentator Peter Greene states:

“Charters close because charter schools are businesses, and businesses close when it is not financially viable for them to stay open.

“The free market will never work for a national education system. Never. Never ever.

“A business operating in a free market will only stay in business as long as it is economically viable to do so. And it will never be economically viable to provide a service to every single customer in the country.”

 Center for Media and Democracy “has calculated, nearly 2,500 charter schools have shuttered between 2001 and 2013, affecting 288,000 American children enrolled in primary and secondary schools, and the failure rate for charter schools is much higher than for traditional public schools.”

In addition to the unstable nature of free market charter schools, it is not possible to run a public education system and a privatized education system for the same amount of money as just a public system. In order to maintain the same level of support to classrooms and satisfy the quest for public school choice, it will require taxes to be increased to finance the dual system.

MGT Consulting conducted a research study of the charter school costs to Los Angeles Unified School Districts (LAUSD). In addition to the over $500 million dollars in lost revenue from students leaving the system, LAUSD incurred almost $100 million dollars in un-recouped administrative costs to oversee the charter schools. The school district has more than 40 people assigned to state mandated charter school oversight responsibilities.

A researcher at Columbia University Teachers College, Jason B. Cook looked into local community cost effects spurred by charter school competition. Among the discoveries he documents:

“A key finding of this study is that charter competition also decreases the TPSD [Traditional Public School District] revenues raised through property taxes by depressing appraised district-level residential property values.  I also find that charter competition causes districts to spend less on instructional and other current expenditures and spend more on new construction capital outlays. This reallocation is more than a simple proportional change. A one percentage point increase in charter competition increases the overall amount that TPSDs spend on capital outlays by 7.3 percent.”

 “Successful Charters” Have Glaring Flaws

The KIPP charter chain has approximately 100 schools and is widely considered to be a charter school success story. Center for Media and Democracy looked at their tax records from 2013 and saw these highlights:

“KIPP received more than $18 million in grants from American tax dollars and more than $43 million from other sources, primarily other foundations;

“KIPP spent nearly $14 million on compensation, including more than $1.2 million on nine executives who received six-figure salaries, and nearly $2 million more on retirement and other benefits;

“KIPP also spent over $416,000 on advertising and a whopping $4.8 million on travel; it paid more than $1.2 to the Walt Disney World Swan and Resort;

“It also paid $1.2 million to Mathematica for its data analysis; that’s the firm that was used to try to rebut concerns about KIPP’s performance and attrition rates.”

Mary Ann Zehr wrote about a Western Michigan study of KIPP for Education Week:

“KIPP charter middle schools enroll a significantly higher proportion of African-American students than the local school districts they draw from, but 40 percent of the black males they enroll leave between grades 6 and 8, says a new nationwide study by researchers at Western Michigan University.

 “’The dropout rate for African-American males is really shocking,’ said Gary J. Miron, a professor of evaluation, measurement, and research at the university, in Kalamazoo, and the lead researcher for the study. “Kipp is doing a great job of educating students who persist, but not all who come.”

In a related story the headline on Mike Klonsky’s latest post says, “Chicago neighborhood schools, not charters, [are] the driving force behind rising grad rates.” Based on findings by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research, Mike continues, “Well, it’s that time of year when the media spotlight is on all the privately-run charter schools that supposedly enroll 100% of their students in a college program. Of course they fail to mention they mean 100% of the 25% or fewer that make it from freshman year to the graduation ceremony.”

If the charter school generated dropout students are not misplaced by the dual system like the thousands of unaccounted for students in New Orleans, it is the public schools which must take them in.

It’s Not About Children; It’s About the Benjamin’s

Charter schools were originally considered an experiment. After a quarter of a century of doing considerable harm to local communities, and showing no unambiguously documented education successes (not even matching public school performance on testing), common sense dictates that we end this experiment. Unfortunately, charter schools have become an industry and feckless organizations like the California Charter School Association (CCSA) are spending millions of dollars to privatize public schools.

During the run-up to the recent California primary (June 7), it was an unpleasant surprise to learn that CCSA was spending $300,000 where I live on the four San Diego County Board of Education seats that were on the ballot. Diane Ravitch shared how much money the national charter industry was spending in California; posting on her widely followed blog, “There you have it: with all the issues facing the state, one-third of the $28 million spent by outside groups on state races is coming from charter advocates.” Charter schools have become an industrial complex. It is not about improved schools or choice; it’s only about the money.

Caprice Young was the first president of the California Charter Schools Association. Today she is leading the Magnolia Public Schools, a California Charter School chain that is known to be part of the controversial Turkish Imam, Fethullah Güllen’s charter school empire. The Los Angeles based education activist Robert D. Skeels posted:

“Magnolia, its parent Pacifica Institute, and their cult leader Fethullah Gülen are all high profile Armenian Genocide deniers. To make matters worse, their entire public relations campaign is paid for with money that is supposed to be used in classrooms. Magnolia enlisted the help of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) for this Gülen misinformation campaign, and CCSA’s “CEO” Jed Wallace is quoted in the press release in which misrepresentations about both Magnolia’s connections to the Gülen Network, and their audit results appear.

“The CCSA is currently attacking an Armenian candidate running for California Assembly, spending obscene amounts of money. That the CCSA, Jed Wallace, and Caprice Young are simultaneously attacking Armenian candidates for office, while working hand-in-hand with organizations that actively deny the Armenian Genocide is highly disconcerting.”

Last night (June 7) I heard Donald Trump call America’s schools “failed.” That must be the same lie that Governor “Charter-School” believes. America’s public schools are amazing. Even after two decades of denigration and slander by elites, our public schools are still the foremost education system in the world. Don’t allow greed and foolishness to destroy this bedrock of American democracy.