Tag Archives: Oakland Unified School District

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

Oakland is California’s Destroy Public Education Petri Dish

28 Mar

By T. Ultican 3/28/2018

These are interesting times in Oakland, California. The public-school system is again teetering on the edge of financial collapse. The Destroy Public Education (DPE) movement has succeeded in privatizing more than a quarter of the district and has fomented financial turmoil. Concurrently, a dynamic young woman, Kyla Johnson-Trammell, has been selected as the new Superintendent of Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). On that news, Oakland Magazine’s headline blared, “Finally Some Stability.”

Mike Hutchinson, an education activist from Oakland, told Capital & Main, that districts like OUSD are being used as a kind of policy Petri dish by charter supporters. It is how they are refining takeover strategies outlined for Los Angeles by the Broad charter expansion plan.

In the Capital & Main article author Bill Raden quoted Hutchinson,

‘“A lot of these policies were first tried out in Oakland,’ he said. ‘If you go back and look at the Eli Broad handbook on school closures, a lot of the source information that they used for that report is from Oakland. Because they used Oakland to experiment for a lot of these things.”’

It was Oakland’s famous mayor, Democrat Jerry Brown along with fellow Democrat Don Perata, who ignited the destroy public education (DPE) movement in Oakland.

Creating Economic Chaos to Privatize Schools

By 2003, OUSD Superintendent, Dennis Chaconas, succeeded in significantly improving many facets of the school district. Academic performance on state testing was up. The long overdue 24% pay raises that he and the board gave teachers in 2000 had halted the debilitatingly high teacher turnover rates.

However, as New York Times’s Dean Murphy reported:

“That Mr. Chaconas made enemies during his tenure as superintendent is not in dispute. Though he attended Oakland schools and taught here as well, from the very beginning he was considered a political outsider. The school board gave him the job in 2000 over the objection of Mayor Jerry Brown, who has made school reform a pillar of his term and who had pushed a City Hall official for the superintendent’s post.

“Mr. Chaconas acknowledges that as he focused on academics he paid too little attention to finances. Not enough money was allocated to pay for the raises for teachers, and the district did not count on a drop in state money because of its declining enrollment. Those and other problems went undetected, officials said, because of antiquated computer and bookkeeping systems.(emphasis added)

Ken Epstein of Oakland Crossings noted,

“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.”

“OUSD had adequate money on hand in a construction fund that could have temporarily paid off the shortfall, but the state would not allow Oakland to tap into that fund, though the practice was allowed in other districts.”

 “The loan from the state was spent by the state – with no outside oversight. The state administrator, a trainee of the Broad Foundation, spent the money as he saw fit.”

 “No audits were conducted for six years.”

It appears Chaconas realized that the OUSD accounting system was dated and needed modernizing. The conservative publication EducationNext said that in 2003 “New software, installed so that the school district could better understand its finances, had uncovered a $40 million deficit from the previous year.

Like the Republican politicians in Detroit, Democratic politicians in California pushed OUSD into financial disarray. And like Detroit, Oakland’s financial issues were driven by declining enrollment stemming from the same drivers; school privatization, gentrification and suburban development.

One of the new privatized schools undermining OUSD’s financial health was founded by Mayor Jerry Brown. It is called the Oakland Military Institute (OMI). The OMI web-site relates this telling history:

“OMI was founded in 2001 after a hard-fought two-year campaign led by then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. Governor Gray Davis [Democrat] helped secure the charter after local school boards rejected it. It was the first charter ever sponsored by the state, the first public military school and the first school sponsored by the National Guard.”

The elitist push to place military schools and no excuses charter schools like the KIPP franchise in minority neighborhoods is propelled by bigotry. The elites are implicitly saying “those people’s kids are not raised right and must be fixed.”

Politically and financially weak neighborhoods are easy targets for plunder.

Plenty of Uncle Tom’s and Stepin Fetchit’s to Carry the Billionaire’s Water

The Broadies of Oakland

Oakland School Superintendents Trained at the Unaccredited Broad Academy, Pictures from Broad Academy Bios

Since California took over OUSD, the district superintendent position has been a revolving door. The Black Organizing Project, took a strong position on the recent OUSD superintendent search. Attributing even greater significance to this latest selection because of the instability in the office of superintendent, they noted:

“… 9 superintendents in the last 16 years. …. It means for the last 16 years OUSD has not had a dedicated superintendent who is truly invested in the improvement and empowerment of Oakland youth, or creating healthy, supportive school climates.”

In 2003, the state of California took over OUSD and installed Randolph Ward, a recent graduate of the Broad academy, as superintendent.

The Broad Academy is an unaccredited administration training program for school leaders run by the Broad Foundation. Reporting in 2016, the New York Times Motoko Rich said, “His foundation has pumped $144 million into charter schools across the country, is embroiled in a battle to expand the number of charters in his home city and has issued a handbook on how to close troubled public schools.

Broad’s theory is that public school administrators and elected school boards lack the financial background to run large organizations. Rich’s Times article explained, ‘“The new academy,’ he said, would ‘dramatically change this equation’ by seeking candidates in educational circles as well as recruiting from corporate backgrounds and the military, introducing management concepts borrowed from business.

Chief school administrators trained at the Broad academy have a record of district disruption and fiscal mismanagement. John Deasy from the Broad class of 2006 was a disaster in LA. Jean-Claude Brizard from the Broad class of 2007 lasted just 17 months in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported, “The board gave Brizard low marks for the way he communicates and runs the district.” There is a long list of Broad trained failures and these harm people’s children.

Motoko Rich reportedDuring his time here, Mr. Ward opened two dozen small schools but also closed 14 schools. New charter schools were also opening, cutting into enrollment at district schools.” When Ward arrived in Oakland there were 15 charter schools and when he left for San Diego three years later there were 28 charter schools.

Ward moved on to become the superintendent of San Diego County Schools. Wards tenure in San Diego did not end well. The San Diego Reader reported, “Six months after San Diego County Office of Education superintendent Randolph Ward resigned amid allegations of fraud and mismanagement, turmoil at the office continues.

Ward was succeeded in Oakland by his Broad Academy classmate, Kimberly A. Statham. Statham was elevated to superintendent for the remainder of the school year. She resigned at the end of the 2006-2007 school year to go to work for the new Superintendent of the Washington DC schools, Michelle Rhee.

Statham had come to Oakland from Baltimore with some baggage. The Baltimore Sun series “Where are They Now,”  announced, “Today’s installment features Kimberly A. Statham, the former chief academic officer for Howard County Schools who resigned following allegations of a grade changing scandal involving her daughter.

In Washington DC, Statham was actually hired by Deborah A. Gist. Gist said she was aware of the grade changing scandal. The sun article shared, ‘“We discussed it really briefly,’ Gist said. ‘It seems clear that it was an unfortunate situation, and that Kimberly had done the right thing, and that she did not do anything that would concern me at all.”’

Today, Statham is the Deputy Superintendent of Montgomery County public schools and her friend Gist is the Broad trained administrator tormenting Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Statham was followed in Oakland by a third straight Broad graduate, Vincent Mathews a 2006 Broad graduate along with classmate John Deasy. Matthews oversaw district operations as state administrator from 2007 to 2009. By the time Mathews departed there were 32 district charters and one county authorized charter for a total of 33 charters.

The San Francisco Examiner reports that in 2001, Mathews was the principal of the for profit Edison School in San Francisco where he was accused of falsifying grades and pushing out low performing black students.

Mathews was the last state appointed superintendent in Oakland. He left Oakland in 2009 to be an Area Superintendent for San Diego Unified School District. Today, he is the superintendent of schools in San Francisco.

It was five years before the OUSD board – influenced significantly by big money – hired another Broad graduate, Antwan Wilson; class of 2014. Wilson came to Oakland from Denver where he served under Broad class of 2009 graduate Tom Boasberg.

After two and a half years on the job, Wilson left Oakland to be superintendent of schools in the nation’s capital. Soon after Wilson left Oakland, huge budget problems were discovered causing the school board to immediately order more than $15 million in mid-year budget cuts. When Wilson left there were 40 charter schools serving more than 25% of the students.

In an article detailing some of the mismanagement and greed in Oakland, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reported:

“Wilson brought in dozens of executive staff members from outside the Oakland district, creating new positions and departments that were not budgeted, and paying more than was customary in the district, …. In 2013, before Wilson arrived in Oakland, only four administrators earned more than $200,000; two years later, at least 26 did, ….”

Wilson pushed hard to create a unified enrollment system in Oakland, which is the big goal of charter school advocates. It gives them an appearance of legitimacy and opens up more sales opportunities. Motoko Rich reported, “Mr. Wilson says that a single application form, where parents rank their choices among all schools and students are assigned through a computer algorithm, will reduce the ability of well-connected parents to place their children in the most desirable schools and force charters to be more open about how they admit students.” (emphasis added)

Wilson has already resigned in disgrace from his Washington DC position. The Washington Times notice of his demise led with “D.C. Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson resigned Tuesday amid a scandal over receiving preferential treatment in the transfer of his daughter to a school outside her district in violation of a policy he had written himself.

The DPE Strategy of Leveraging National Dollars with Local Dollars to Privatize Schools

Recently deceased T. Gary Rogers was the chairman and CEO of Oakland-based Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Inc., for 30 years. He also served as a former chairman of Safeway Inc., the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and Levi Strauss & Co. The Roger Family Foundation he started with his wife Kathleen is a key local organizer pushing the Billionaire agenda of privatizing schools and promoting children being educated at computer screens. The foundation states:

“Today, Oakland’s local education ecosystem is in a much better place. The local charter sector continues to thrive, …. Agents for change have also taken root and sprouted. GO Public Schools Oakland, for example, has grown in its role in organizing, mobilizing, advocating, and engaging the community in local education governance and policy. …. The emergence of both the Oakland Public Education Fund (Ed Fund) and Educate78 have also added strong leadership and expanded the capacity of the local education ecosystem. The Oakland Ed Fund has emerged as the city’s trusted, go-to fiscal partner and funder convener, incubating nearly every significant education reform initiative supporting Oakland’s PK-12 system, including the Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenge in Oakland initiative.”

Education Cities, the soon to be replaced national organization for destroying public education, lists as its partner in Oakland, Go Public Schools Oakland. Go is a 501 C3 charity that funnels money to charter school incubation and other needs. Great Oakland Public Schools is Go’s dark money organization that takes advantage federal tax code 501c4 to funnel unattributed money into mainly school board elections.

The Rogers Foundation describes Education 78,

“Founded in 2015 as a spinoff from the NewSchools Venture Fund, Educate78 exists to ensure that every student, in all 78 square miles of Oakland, has access to world-class public schools. Educate 78 serves as a critical partner through their informed giving for quality schools development and in operating a school design lab, which provides tools, technical assistance, training, and coaching to both new charter school developers as well as district redesign teams.” 

The Ed Fund is a big 501 C3 foundation that that takes in large amounts of cash from mainly bay area billionaires and foundations then makes the money available to the privatization agenda. The Next Generation Learning Challenge is a Bill Gates sponsored initiative to promote the sale of technology into public education. It specifically promotes “blended learning” and “personalized learning.”

Many charter schools in Oakland are using children as guinea pigs for computer based learning strategies like “personalized learning,” which is truly an Orwellian moniker. The following chart lists foundation spending on this agenda (mostly in Oakland) in 2013.

2013 Sending to Promote Technoloty

Foundation spending on “Personalized” and “Blended” leaning in 2013

There is a New Sheriff in Town

A constant theme promoted by the DPE movement is “every student deserves a high-quality school.” When you hear a billionaire or one of his minions say this, you and your community are targets and your about to be fleeced.

The United States developed a unique education system that was the envy of the world and the great foundation upon which our democratic experiment in self-governance was established. Over two centuries, we developed a system in which every community had a public school.

These schools had professionals who earned their positions by completing training at accredited institutions. Government rules and oversight insured that school facilities were safe, and the background of all educators was investigated. In urban areas like Oakland there was a professionally run public school in every neighborhood.

Could it have been improved? Of course, and that is exactly what was happening before the last two decades of deceitful attacks on public education and professional educators.

Kyla Johnson-Trammell Photo

Johnson-Trammell has overseen OUSD since July 1, 2017

Oakland magazine reported,

“After a superintendent brought in from the outside left the Oakland Unified School District in debt and disarray, a coalition of angry parents, teachers, and community organizers demanded that the school board appoint an executive with strong local ties. This spring, the board responded by hiring Kyla Johnson-Trammell as the district’s new schools’ chief. She officially took command of the 37,000-student district on July 1.”

 “Johnson-Trammell initially was not even one of the four finalists for the superintendent’s job, according to a coalition of interest groups that claims credit for raising such a ruckus that the Oakland school board changed gears and tapped Johnson-Trammell for the job.”

This is good sign. The billionaires were not able to pick another Broadie because the community was done with being abused. I hope the Oakland community rallies around this bright young woman, Kyla Johnson-Trammel, and shows the rest of California how to defeat the DPE movement. Let us once again have a professionally managed quality public school in every Oakland neighborhood.