Last spring, as part of its Covid-19 planning, OUSD announced that it would be installing temporary outdoor classrooms at every elementary school to enable students to learn outside where the risk of transmission of the virus is much lower. Along with upgrading ventilation systems, this was a key strategy for a safe return to school. This presentation from April 28th makes clear that ALL elementary schools were to receive these Outdoor Learning Spaces by the end of July, 2021.
Now, just two weeks before school is due to start on August 9th, as the delta variant is causing a spike in cases and parent and educator apprehension about returning to school is rising, we have learned that 20 schools still have not received their Outdoor Learning Spaces. Although staff has stated they are expected in the “next few weeks”, we are concerned that they will not be available for back to school on August 9th. Given that August weather is often sunny and hot, as well as the rise in cases in Alameda County and the greater risk of transmission with indoor contact, those Outdoor Learning Spaces are critical for student safety and comfort on day one.
OUSD prioritized schools serving white and affluent students while leaving our most vulnerable students without the outdoor classrooms needed for a safe return to school
97% of white OUSD elementary students attend schools that already have the outdoor classrooms in place, despite making up just 11% of our student population. Even more troubling is that students in East and West Oakland were left out of the original distribution, areas that historically have had the highest case rates and are likely to again as cases surge. While schools in the hills, North Oakland and around the lake already have those outdoor classrooms ready for day one, the mostly Black and Brown families in most of the East and all of the West are poised to start school in a few weeks without shaded outdoor spaces for children to learn more safely. This is not equity, nor is it good public health policy. It violates OUSD’s Reparations for Black students and Equity Policies, and it is simply unacceptable. OUSD needs to remedy this IMMEDIATELY, provide Outdoor Learning pods for all schools in Oakland, and to do it by the first day of school.
When systems and structures are built on white supremacy, we must act with intention to dismantle those structures. We understand that OUSD staff intended to provide shade structures first for those schools with higher enrollment and a higher intent to return last spring, which were largely the more affluent, whiter schools. Given the structural racism that underlies both of those conditions, any outcomes based on them were by definition inequitable and racist. This was a predictable outcome that OUSD should have avoided, but because we are a district steeped in white supremacy and anti-Black and Brown racism, we did not.
On top of the prioritization of white and affluent families in the rollout, OUSD has provided almost all of the most affluent hills schools with not one but two of the pods, while providing a single pod to most other sites, regardless of number of students enrolled or the concentration of Covid cases in the community. OUSD must provide a minimum of two pods to EVERY elementary site, and especially to those communities with high case incidence and limited community resources to privately fund shade structures and outdoor learning equipment.
Certainly, the failure to provide these Outdoor Learning Spaces to the remaining 20 schools, and the some 6500 non-white students that attend them, by August 9th will simply compound these inequities at a time when we need to be reassuring families that it is safe for their children to be back in school. Knowing that children can be learning outdoors, in shaded classroom pods, will help to ease parent concerns about whether it is safe to return to school. OUSD must do better, examining every decision for white supremacy bias and centering racial justice and equity every single time. They must act NOW to prevent further harm.
CONTACT THE SUPERINTENDENT AND BOARD MEMBERS TODAY!
Please take a minute to email Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and your school board director to demand that the remaining 20 schools receive their Outdoor Learning Spaces before August 9th, and that all schools be given two pods if they don’t already have them.
In 2020, families, teachers and grassroots organizations came together and won 3 of the 4 open School Board seats, and last night we had our first real evidence of how important local elections are, with the passage of the Enrollment Stabilization policy by a narrow margin1. This policy will do the following:
Support schools with marketing and outreach, including a district level designated employee and possible stipends for parents at low income schools;
Allow school sites to create their own enrollment stabilization plan;
Encourage school board members to celebrate and support their district schools;
Direct the superintendent and staff to encourage parents from charter or private schools that are closing to enroll in OUSD;
Make the enrollment process more accessible in a variety of ways; and
Prohibit the use of OUSD resources to market or support competing schools such as charter or private schools. OUSD will no longer share the School Finder tool with charter schools, nor will they be listed on our enrollment map, the enrollment office will not offer competing school information to families, competing schools cannot come to district enrollment fairs, etc.
This policy eliminates the shared enrollment information system created by former Superintendent Antwan Wilson, with funding from local privatization organizations GO Public Schools (which also funds school board elections through its SuperPAC) and Educate78. In 2015, Superintendent Wilson asked the OUSD school board to adopt a “common enrollment” system where district and charter schools would be included together in one electronic enrollment platform. Parents United worked with parents and teachers to push back on the proposal, which is part of the “Portfolio Playbook” used to undermine public schools nationwide. Parents and teachers held house parties with school board members and ran a public information campaign, and ultimately the Board did not approve Common Enrollment in Oakland. Although Superintendent Wilson lost the common enrollment fight, he effectively backdoored the policy into existence by unilaterally including charters side by side with district schools in our school enrollment guide and electronic finder tool. The adoption of this Enrollment Stabilization policy last night undoes the harm of common enrollment and is one of the reasons why school board elections are so critical to the success of neighborhood public schools that serve all students.
ALL of the comments against the policy change last night were couched in the incorrect assumption that only charter schools are quality schools. The data shows that is not true, but more importantly it exposes the lie that we are just one happy district/charter “community of schools” and that families are making individual decisions based on what is best for their child — coming in and out of the district and charter systems as needed. The truth is, charter schools generally market themselves as being better than district schools and when it comes time to move from one grade span to another, this narrative of “district schools are bad” means only 9% of charter students enroll in a district school for the next grade level2.
That is not an accident. The charter industry guides students and families to choose another charter school for middle or high school rather than exploring public school options. Charter schools want access to the district’s enrollment system (particularly at the elementary level), but they don’t otherwise support the public school system. They blur the lines between public schools and “tuition free public charter schools” when it suits them, but every single commenter against the Enrollment Stabilization policy accused OUSD of trying to “hide” the quality options (or charter schools) and force families to choose substandard (or district) schools. Truth is, families will still be able to get the information they need to enroll their student in either a district school or a charter school as they choose, and the charter school industry will still repeat the lie that charter schools are inherently better than district schools. The big difference in enrollment will be at the elementary level, and that is why the charter school industry and privatization organizations are so upset about the loss of Common Enrollment in Oakland.
The policy passed 4/28/2021 by a margin of 4 ayes (Directors Gonzales, Davis, Williams, Hutchinson), 1 nay (Director Thompson) and 3 abstentions (Student Director Ramos and Directors Eng and Yee)
In the recent “Fighting for our Futures: Youth Candidate Forum” one of the Bloomberg/GO endorsed candidates made some interesting comments which deserve sunshine. As our readers are aware by now, GO and aligned PACs have completely thwarted democracy by spending nearly two million dollars buying school board seats over the last 8 years. For a complete discussion of that, please read our earlier post entitled “Show me the Money.”
In the forum, the student leaders asked the question “What is your position on billionaires like Mike Bloomberg being invested in this election?” This was the GO endorsed candidate’s initial response:
“In terms of the billionaire money and Michael Bloomberg, when you look at what he’s done, and this is not to defend him, but this is to say there’s been an incidence where he helped with the soda tax, we’re looking at Florida right now and he’s helping us turn Florida around so that Trump doesn’t get elected…. So I think there is some, my assumption is that the money that is coming in, I like to believe that it is going for good.”
This is super problematic, and completely predictable because that is the same talking point pushed by supporters of the billionaire-funded Political Action Committees (PACs) supporting the GO candidates. Billionaires often use their money to buy goodwill – think the Sacklers who have made billions from pushing Oxycontin and are now required to pay $3 billion to the victims of their misleading and deadly actions. Museums that have benefitted from the “philanthropy” of the Sacklers are now rejecting their money in response to public outcry.
Former Mayor Bloomberg has his own shameful history, as brilliantly laid out by then Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren in a February debate. After comparing Bloomberg to Donald Trump for denigrating women with terms like “horse faced lesbian” and “fat broads” Senator Warren went on:
Warren went on to eviscerate his record on his less-than-transparent tax returns; on harassing women; on the racist legacies of his stop-and-frisk policing program in New York; and on redlining poor neighborhoods… Warren returned to the topic of Bloomberg having requested female employees to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) relating to sexual harassment and gender discrimination in his company’s workplace.
This GO-backed candidate attempted to excuse all that (while saying he was not defending him) by pointing to the Oakland Soda Tax which Bloomberg heavily supported as a “good thing” that might outweigh his racist and sexist policies and the undermining of New York City’s public schools. In reality, the soda tax deserves more of our scrutiny in that it doesn’t actually address systemic problems, as explained by an OUSD parent and Early Childhood Policy expert on facebook:
Privatization is part of the school to prison pipeline. Testing is part of the school to prison pipeline (created by eugenicists) Period. Political education, deep analysis and real praxis are critical because people will have you believing taxing soda is the answer instead of making healthy food and HEALTH CARE accessible universally. It will have you believing dismantling civil service unions, or any true political power communities leverage and letting the “market” decide who has education access means “quality schools”. It will have you de-crying homelessness and supporting candidates that criminalize poverty.
It is actually very simple.
After attempting to rehabilitate the Bloomberg money and pretend that doing some “good” can somehow excuse decades of harm caused to Black and Brown communities by Bloomberg’s racist policies, the GO-funded candidate went on to acknowledge that having billionaire money warping school board elections is probably not a good idea, and suggested that he was a victim of the system GO has created: “However, there is way too much money in this race on all sides, this is something that should be democratic, this should be something that everyone should have access to” (emphasis added).
This is not an “on all sides” problem: since the 2012 election when GO spent its first billionaire dollars to buy school board seats, GO and the aligned PACs have spent almost $2 million to date, more than 6 times more than OEA has spent in the same time frame. The teachers union, funded by hard-working educators, not billionaires, has been forced to increase their spending to even minimally offset the harm caused by GO.
If GO candidates are truly concerned about the impact of the massive, out-of-town Billionaire spending in Oakland’s school board races, they would have publicly denounced it long ago. In fact, they welcome it, as evidenced by this same candidate acknowledging back in August that he wanted and needed that money to win, when he said of GO: “I can’t run without [their] kind of money.” The failure of the billionaire-backed candidates to denounce this spending, to demand that GO and other Super PACs stop spending on their behalf, speaks volumes.
Vote for the candidates NOT endorsed by the GO PAC – parents, teachers and involved community members who are deeply invested in our public school system and in improving the education for the vulnerable students in Oakland.
Parents United has long been critical of the way that our Billionaire Bought Board has misspent Measure J dollars. Passed in 2012, Measure J provided $475 million in taxpayer money to improve OUSD school facilities. Coincidentally (or not), 2012 was also the first time GO Public Schools used its Political Action Committee (PAC) to funnel billionaire money into our previously low key school board races. We have previously posted on how that turned out.
As bad as this GO-bought board has been at managing the OUSD budget, they have been even more irresponsible about managing these bond funds. The Alameda Grand Jury in 2019 was very critical of the spending priorities and failed stewardship of taxpayer dollars:
Of the $475 million in Measure J, about one-third of those dollars went to pay for mistakes and cost overruns created by delays from shoddy contracting practices and the reprioritization of projects multiple times by this GO-bought board. One of those enormous reprioritizations happened after the Administration building at 1025 2nd Avenue was flooded in 2013. Here is a timeline of what this GO-backed school board did:
This timeline is a perfect distillation of the wasteful, ineffective and inappropriate governance of the hand-picked, Billionaire Backed, GO-chosen School Board, at a huge cost to Oakland’s children who so desperately need those facility upgrades.
Now, this same board has put a new $735 million Facilities Bond on the 2020 ballot as Measure Y. One of the major projects on the list for Measure Y is McClymonds High School. This historic west Oakland high school has recently had problems with lead in the drinking water and TCE in the groundwater, things that could have and should have been dealt with before, and which certainly would have been addressed had McClymonds not been pushed off the project list.
Given all of that, why vote Yes on Y? The Grand Jury identified multiple areas for improved operations in the Facilities Department which are now being implemented. After many years of failing to convene a Facilities committee of the school board, that committee is now meeting each month to provide transparency and to ensure that the new board, accountable to the families and students, not to GO, fully understands how the money is being spent and projects are proceeding. The Citizens Bond Oversight Committee has been given additional authorities to provide better oversight before decisions are made. They have the tools needed to fix the issues with past bonds. We must do our part to support the children of Oakland.
FIRST, we must elect a responsive, transparent and locally-accountable school board who will provide appropriate oversight, make decisions and stick to them, demand staff follow best practices, and ensure the timely completion of projects at the agreed upon costs. We must reject the Billionaire-funded GO candidates who will, like the previous GO-bought boards, carry out the Billionaire/GO agenda instead of doing what is best for the students of Oakland.
THEN, because we are rejecting the failed policies of GO and its billionaire backers, we can (and should!) vote YES on Measure Y to ensure that our children have safe, healthy and inviting facilities in which to thrive.
We have run a series of posts about how GO Public Schools and their billionaire benefactors including Michael Bloomberg have flooded our local school elections with so much cash that grassroots candidate voices are completely drowned out. The billionaire backed PAC spending is twice as much as the spending of all of the candidates who have run since 2012 and the teachers’ union contributions combined. This year alone, contributions include $500,000 from Bloomberg, $37,500 from Billionaire Arthur Rock, and most recently $75,000 from Oil and Gas Billionaire Stacy Schusterman from Tulsa, Oklahoma (whose family money was recently rejected by the Biden-Harris campaign as being contrary to their values).
It is hard to quantify the breadth and scope of the ways that this GO-bought Board has utterly failed in its responsibilities to the children of Oakland. Don’t take our word for it, the Alameda County Grand Jury was very clear in its 2018-19 report:
In our last post, we laid out some of the absolutely shameful ways that the GO backed board misspent General Fund revenues that should have gone directly to services to our students with greatest need. Despite these failings, GO doubled down on its candidates in 2016 and got them re-elected for four more years. Let’s now take a broader look at the impact of GO’s political spending in OUSD and what it will mean for the future if we let GO buy the four seats up this year.
Superintendent Wilson Quits Mid-Year as $30 million Budget Deficit is Made Public
Just weeks after the 2016 election, GO-backed Superintendent Antwan Wilson announced that he was leaving Oakland to take a job in Washington D.C., not at the end of the school year, but right in the middle. GO was quick to praise Superintendent Wilson for his “hard work”, stating that “he has left a strong foundation for the District to maintain the progress that it’s making.” GO-backed board member James Harris called his departure “a loss” and Director London, also backed by GO, blamed the OUSD community for creating a “challenging” environment by fighting for children and against the GO/Bloomberg agenda that Superintendent Wilson was pushing. As explained by former school board member David Kakishiba, the GO-backed School Board chose the “allure of a rising national leader” over the children of Oakland, because that is the model that GO and its funders demand of their supported candidates.
Once again, it was the debt to students that went unpaid. School site budgets were frozen, meaning: no school supplies, no field trips, cuts to student centered programs for special education students and laying off employees who work with young people. This was followed by an additional $17 million in cuts to schools and student services for the 2017-18 school year. But this GO-bought board was not finished yet.
The Cuts Kept Coming, Despite up to $200 Million in New Revenues
In October, 2017, the largely unapologetic GO-bought Board declared the need for $15 million in mid-year cuts, after $32 million in cuts since January. The GO-backed board ultimately voted to cut $9 million in December, effective immediately. That meant that programs and services that had already been budgeted for had to be immediately terminated. Students once again paid the price. High School students testified at a November 27, 2017 board meeting that they felt that under resourced schools like Castlemont and Fremont “don’t matter” to the GO-backed board, while parents felt their children’s education “slipping away”.
Then the GO-bought Board Gave Itself a Raise!
In a shocking “let them eat cake” moment, a majority of the GO-backed board voted to give themselves a raise less than a month after having laid off employees right before Christmas, and cutting 9 million from school sites and services. At this point, OUSD was benefitting from $165 million in new state revenue, funding OUSD received for the high number of students with significant identified needs under the Local Control Funding Formula. Due to its massive overspending and misprioritization of those revenues, the GO-supported board had now cut nearly $50 million from schools and services. In what felt very much like a “screw you” to students, they declared that they deserved recognition for their “hard work” and many hours of overtime they were forced to put in to clean up the fiscal mess that they themselves had created. This was truly a low point in this board’s commitment to OUSD students.
The GO-controlled board has continued to cut spending in the 2018-19 ($10 million), 2019-20 ($20.2 million) and 2020-21 ($20 million) budgets, while acknowledging that they were at times “not confident in [the] accuracy” of those budgets. Students were once again left behind when the GO Board cut the Supper Program that our most vulnerable students depend on, and students were forced to go to the City Council to get reinstated. Oakland’s most vulnerable students were likewise completely disregarded when the GO-backed board cut Foster Youth Case Managers and Restorative Justice Practitioners, in addition to across-the-board cuts of 50% to schools site base budgets, plus an inequitable “Equity Formula” that was intended to soften the blow of cuts to high-needs schools, but excluded all schools serving a majority Black student population.
The GO-funded board nonetheless continued to invest in high-priced consultants, including a Financial Consultant at $32,000 per month and wasting $2.3 million on a contract to prepare a Facilities Master Plan that was never completed. This GO-backed board then hired ANOTHER consultant on April 10, 2019 to finish the work at a cost of $300,000, which was increased to $423,000 several months later in order to complete the plan and an additional $200,000 after that to “reconcile the data” and “close out” the Facilities Master Plan.
There are countless more examples of the misplaced priorities of this GO-financed board, which has consistently prioritized GO-backed policies over the Black, Brown and low-income students in the schools they were elected to support. The families and teachers of Oakland know that this GO-bought board is not interested in supporting our community schools and our students. You don’t have to take our word for it. OUSD recently polled likely voters in Oakland and asked them how they felt that the OUSD School Board, elected with millions in Billionaire funding, was doing its job, and an astonishingly low 14% of the respondents had a favorable opinion of the Oakland Unified School Board. Even worse for GO – over the period that GO and its friends have spent $1.4 million to stack the board with Directors on board the Bloomberg/GO gravy train, the favorable opinion of the OUSD board has gone down 21%.
The Children of Oakland deserve better, and it is time for a change. GO has been buying the school board through the last 4 elections, enough is enough. Don’t be distracted by the glossy mailers with promises of change. GO has had its chance. Flip that mailer, read the fine print, and vote for candidates supported by Oakland’s teachers and parents, NOT Michael Bloomberg.
We have run a series of posts about how GO Public Schools and its billionaire benefactor Michael Bloomberg have flooded our local school elections with so much cash that grassroots candidate voices are completely drowned out. We’ve shown this graphic before, but it is important, so we are going to post it again – the billionaire backed Political Action Committees (“PACs) spent twice as much as the combined spending by all the candidates and the teachers’ union.
In 2016, after participating in two election cycles where GO-endorsed candidates took all but one seat on the 7-member school board, former chair of the GO Public School Advocates Board, David Stein, said that GO was “gratified to see those endorsements being justified,” judged on their records in office. So let’s look at those records to see what they are so proud of, and judge for ourselves whether the Bloomberg/GO agenda is good for Oakland kids.
It’s All About The Money
Explaining why GO decided to spend an unprecedented amount of money in the 2012 election, Jessica Stewart, then managing director, made it clear: “The school board is really important in Oakland. They control a $600 million budget…” We have talked a lot in this series about the Billionaire money coming into GO, now let’s focus on WHY that money comes into Oakland – it’s all about the Revenue, and who controls how it is spent.
2012 was the perfect time to set up a PAC to funnel outside Billionaire money into local school board races, because with the passage of Proposition 30, school districts like Oakland Unified (“OUSD”), which has a large population of low income students and English Learners, would receive a huge increase in new funding in the coming years. Jonathan Klein, founder of the Oakland Ed Fund and GO Public Schools surely understood the import of that, and how useful it would be to have indebted board members controlling all of that new money pouring in from the state.
And pour in it did. In the 2012-13 school year, OUSD had general fund revenues totalling $398,764,546. By 2016, that number had grown to $535,902,226, an increase of $137 million. Last year, it reached $593,031,562, an increase of nearly $200 million more in yearly revenue than 2012, when GO suddenly jumped into the school board races.
So what did this GO-backed Board do with all that money?
Hired the Highest-Paid Superintendent in the Bay Area
The most significant, and harmful, thing that this GO-bought board did was hiring a high-priced Superintendent imported from Denver, Antwan Wilson. Mr Wilson was a first-time superintendent, yet he garnered the highest salary of any school superintendent in the Bay Area, and the fourth highest in the state at $400,000 per year.
The GO-backed board hired Antwan Wilson despite community calls for an Oakland-rooted Superintendent, and despite internal concerns that Superintendent Wilson viewed the Oakland job as a stepping stone to bigger things. In a rare look into the deliberative process, long-time OUSD board member David Kakishiba, who was the Board President in 2014 when Mr. Wilson was hired (and who decided not to run for re-election that same year), provided his insight into what motivated the GO-bought board’s choice:
He arrived with much fanfare from local leaders and GO’s CEO Jonathan Klein, who escorted him around to meet business leaders and political forces in Oakland. In the end, as predicted, Wilson stayed in Oakland for just 2 ½ years before leaving mid-year for Washington, D.C., where he was fired just one year later. We have since learned that he received significantly more than $400,000 per year. In the end, Superintendent Wilson, much lauded by GO and all of its chosen board members, was paid $1,350,028 for 31 months of work, approximately $44,000 per month. By comparison, a starting teacher in OUSD makes just slightly more than that for the entire year.
Bloated Central Office Staff
Mr Wilson did not come to Oakland alone. In all, the GO-backed board hired and paid to move 11 different high-priced employees from out of town, including Mr Wilson, for a total cost of $200,000 in moving expenses. These employees largely had even shorter tenures than did Superintendent Wilson – less than two years. All of this helped to fuel the explosive growth in what OUSD paid to its senior central office staff, an astonishing increase in just 2 years of 566% for employees earning more than $200,000 per year.
Paying to Meet at City Hall
In an incredibly arrogant vanity move, the hand-picked GO school board, led by former GO PAC member and OUSD Board President James Harris, voted in September, 2016 to move their regular bi-monthly meetings from the OUSD La Escuelita school auditorium (which was adjacent to the KDOL television studio responsible for the recording and broadcasting of school board meetings) to the main City Council chambers downtown at City Hall. The contract cost was a “not to exceed” cost of $117,738, but informal discussion with district officials indicate that the cost was significantly higher, perhaps twice as much. Some of the costs identified by OUSD legal counsel included:
Paying the City of Oakland for custodial services for the use of the historic City Council chambers
Additional personnel and support for KDOL staff to move, set up and break down video broadcast and recording equipment for each meeting
Added police services mandated by the City including metal detectors and bag searches
Parking at $3 per car per member of the public
The City Hall chambers were downtown and not easily accessible to teachers and families. KDOL staff spent many hours each meeting setting up and taking down its video equipment to broadcast remotely instead of simply using the OUSD control room at La Escuelita. The City Council chambers were small and the crowds were large, so that many people were not able to access the meeting directly. In the end the GO-bought Board held just ten meetings at City Hall, abruptly ending after Director Jody London was caught (by a child sitting in the balcony of the Council Chamber) playing a video game on her phone instead of participating in the meeting – something the child knew was not what she was supposed to be doing – necessitating an apology of sorts from Director London and soon thereafter an end to the City Hall meetings. The GO-bought board has steadfastly refused to answer any questions about the actual costs of the unnecessary move to City Hall, or the decision to move back to the La Escuelita auditorium, despite many requests to do so.
In another example of the excessive spending of this GO-supported board, beginning in February, 2015 OUSD paid $30,000 per month to consultant Lance Jackson to oversee the construction projects that Mr Jackson’s firm SGI had been hired to supervise, a clear conflict of interest. This after the OUSD facilities manager had resigned in protest over the mismanagement of construction projects being implemented by the Superintendent and the board. Despite assuring the public that a permanent OUSD Facilities director would be hired by June, the position wasn’t even advertised until the fall of 2015 and the new permanent hire was finally made in May, 2016.
This over-reliance on high priced consultants was a feature and not a bug of the GO-backed board. A review of the spending in the Consultants category demonstrates that beginning in 2013-14 (the first year the GO-backed board took control) spending on consultants regularly exceeded the amount budgeted, and ultimately quadrupled in amount. This outsourcing and privatization of services by the GO-bought board gobbled up much-needed resources from students.
At the same time the consultant costs were exploding, spending for Books and Supplies was cut in half while revenues from the state were rising significantly. The GO-backed board was not “putting students at the center” of anything that they did.
Misplaced Priorities, or Part of the Plan?
These are the misplaced priorities of this GO-backed board that were consistently called out by parents, teachers and community members, who were dismissed and debased by GO’s elected candidates. These concerns were also confirmed by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team: “FCMAT has identified leadership breakdown at the Governing Board and Superintendent level, including the board’s inadequate attention to signs of fiscal distress” through the 2016-17 school year. This criticism of the School Board was echoed by the Alameda County Grand Jury:
Ironically, one of the excessive consultant contracts that the GO-backed board entered into was with Educational Resource Strategies (“ERS”) – a $600,000 contract approved 6/10/15 to prepare a report diagnosing the “misalignment of resources” in OUSD. ERS identified some of these very problems and concluded in its June 2016 report that OUSD spent fewer dollars on student services “which can be explained by higher spending on OUSD’s central office.”
So in 2016, while OUSD received a hundred million dollars more in revenue than in 2012, very little of that new money was actually reaching students. By the summer of 2016, it was clear that GO’s hand-picked school board members were not fiscally responsible, yet GO, with an aligned PAC created by the California Charter Schools Association, spent $750,000 to re-elect most1 of their candidates, with major funding by wealthy individuals from across the country, including a $300,000 contribution by Michael Bloomberg. GO advocated for its endorsed candidates, saying that “it is imperative that we continue and accelerate the improvements made for our children,” touting former GO Board Member and sitting school board President James Harris’ “exceptional” leadership. It is clear from the list of mis-spending above that whatever it was that GO was asking of its board members, it was not to do what is best for kids.
1GO did not re-endorse Director Roseann Torres, who had been openly critical of GO’s policies, and despite their best efforts, and more than $120,000 in spending against her and a sleazy attack ad, Director Torres won reelection.
Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is dumping huge political money into Oakland’s school board races to retain control of a school board that has largely failed to serve Oakland students. So why is that such a bad thing?
On Friday, we laid out how spending by Bloomberg and other billionaires has historically choked our local democratic process with hundreds of thousands of dollars that local candidates, even those with support from unions, cannot hope to match. Since 2012 when GO Public Schools first set up their Political Action Committee (“PAC”) Families and Educators for Public Education, $1.4 million in billionaire spending has completely swamped our school board elections, subverting our local democratic process and leaving our students without advocates invested in their success.
It seems like ages ago, but it was just this past March when this same Michael Bloomberg spent a billion dollars in 100 days in a failed attempt to buy the US Presidency. That was about twice as much as Hillary Clinton spent over two years of campaigning in 2016 and was appalling to most Americans who understand the corrupting influence of billionaire and corporate wealth in our elections. In short, as succinctly and accurately described by Teen Vogue political editor Lucy Diavolo, “it is bad for our democracy.”
The ability to drop unlimited funds into elections is basically anti-democratic. The fact that we are talking about Michael Bloomberg makes it that much worse.
If you watched the first debate that Mayor Bloomberg qualified for, you know that he was absolutely decimated by Senator Elizabeth Warren. After comparing him to Donald Trump for denigrating women with terms like “horse faced lesbian” and “fat broads” she went on:
And she wasn’t done there. Warren went on to eviscerate his record on his less-than-transparent tax returns; on harassing women; on the racist legacies of his stop-and-frisk policing program in New York; and on redlining poor neighborhoods… Warren returned to the topic of Bloomberg having requested female employees to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) relating to sexual harassment and gender discrimination in his company’s workplace.
If you didn’t see it live, do yourself a favor and watch it.
Thanks in good part to Senator Warren’s takedown of Bloomberg, he never gained traction in the Presidential primary and was forced to drop out. Parents United believes that we need to follow Senator Warren’s lead and reject Michael Bloomberg and his billions, call out his racist policies, sexist business practices and arrogant disdain for those furthest from opportunity — we must reject his attempt to buy our school board once again.
This is who GO and a former head of an Oakland charter school chain solicited money from for their Super PACs to ensure that Bloomberg approved candidates win a seat on the school board of a district that is 89% students of color, 72% low income, 33% English learners. The man who is effectively deciding who sits on the Oakland Unified School Board has a long history of racist housing, policing and workplace policies that harm Black and Brown Americans and women. Here is the record of the man who is buying continued control of the Oakland school board:
Former Mayor Bloomberg blamed the 2008 housing crisis on the end of “redlining”, a racist policy intended to limit the ability of Black Americans to own homes.
He vetoed a bill which required hospitals to make emergency contraception available to rape victims
He dismissed claims of workplace sexual harassment as just women who “didn’t like a joke I told” and also forced employees to sign restrictive non-disclosure agreements
Bloomberg has a troubling history with education policy as well. As Mayor of New York City, he wrested control of the city’s public school system from the democratically elected board. Described as pushing policies virtually indistinguishable from the Trump/DeVos administration, Bloomberg is a “fervent backer of privatizing and dismantling public schools”, closing schools in low-income communities of color and entrenching segregation in New York City’s public schools.
Closing public schools while expanding charter schools, destabilizing low-income communities of color, displacing families and accelerating gentrification in their neighborhoods
Actively promoting an “excessive” high stakes testing routine, despite overwhelming evidence that it does not improve outcomes for students
Tying teacher pay to those high stakes tests that do not improve outcomes for students
Doubling class sizes by firing half of the teachers, a move he said would be “a good deal for students,” despite all evidence to the contrary
Implementing an inequitable test-based admissions policy for gifted and talented programs that resulted in a huge disparity in the availability of those programs between schools serving white and affluent families versus those in lower income and communities of color
Consolidating mayoral control over the public school system, limiting the democratically elected school boards and public participation so that Bloomberg became, in essence, accountable to no one.
Michael Bloomberg’s education policies and massive political contributions are not driven by a deep commitment to equity for low-income and students of color. They come from a deep disdain for democracy, educators and the innate right of students to learn. In Oakland, 6 of our 7 school board members were already elected by Bloomberg. He has shown us who he is, he knows who GO is, now we need to show him who we are: a community fighting for our students who are furthest from opportunity by supporting strong community schools and ending racist school closures that harm the majority of our students: Black, Brown, Low-Income and all Amazing!
This November four seats on the Oakland Unified School Board (“OUSD”) will be on the ballot, and with the retirement of each of the incumbents in those districts, we have the opportunity to transform our dysfunctional district leadership at a time when it is critically needed. After many years of fiscal mismanagement, top-heavy leadership, disrespect for teachers and disregard for our most vulnerable students, this election could not be more important. Which is why it is so unsurprising that out of town Billionaires are pumping more money into local special interest Political Action Committees (“PAC’s”) — doubling down on their history of buying school board races in Oakland.
Here we go again! Billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (yes, THAT Michael Bloomberg, the one that tried to buy the Presidency a few months ago) has now dumped $500,000 into two Oakland PACs who are supporting the same slate of candidates, Families and Educators for Public Education sponsored by GO Public Schools Advocates, and a new PAC recently set up by the former Executive Director of a local charter school chain called Power2Families. San Francisco billionaire and huge Teach for America supporter Arthur Rock has also chipped in his own $37,500.
Unfortunately for Oakland, this is nothing new. Michael Bloomberg has been the largest contributor in Oakland School Board elections since 2016. In just three election cycles, he has personally dropped nearly a million dollars into races that used to be funded with, at most $12,000 each.
In the 2016 campaign, in addition to the Bloomberg/GO PAC spending, the California Charter Schools Association (“CCSA”) Super PAC “Parent Teacher Alliance1” also spent huge sums during the Oakland school board campaign.
This massive spending changed the way that school board races are run. Instead of having several grassroots candidates talking directly to voters and attending public forums, suddenly voters were flooded with glossy mailers and television advertising, something that small grassroots candidates can not hope to match. Our local electoral process was completely warped by this extensive big money spending.
GO likes to frame itself as a grassroots organization, but most of the spending comes from Billionaire and Millionaire contributors, far removed from the students and families in Oakland’s public schools. Thus far, just 2% of the contributions to the two local super PACs have come from small donors.
Since 2012, GO has spent $920,645 to ensure its preferred candidates were elected, and historically they have been incredibly successful: 6 of the 7 sitting board members were GO candidates.
Has all that Billionaire Bloomberg/GO spending resulted in good outcomes for students or our district? Clearly not. Overspending, mismanagement, infighting and a blatant hostility to parents and teachers is what we have gotten for all this money. In fact, in the years since GO has been buying elections, the “favorable” opinion of the Oakland Unified School Board has gone down 21%, according to a 2020 OUSD poll. This GO/Bloomberg hand-picked, high-priced school board’s favorability now stands at 14%.
It is time to change this pattern of Billionaire/GO spending on candidates that are more concerned with pushing “shiny new thing” policies than with the success and support of students. OUSD students face many challenges, especially during this pandemic. 72% of students qualify as low income. 15% are students with disabilities. 88% students of color. Nearly 1000 unhoused students and another 250 foster youth. 33% of students are English Learners including a large population of Newcomer students and an astonishing 679 unaccompanied Immigrant Youth. These students deserve a school board that is laser focused on providing them the tools and supports needed to thrive.
We have all been reminded lately of the need to protect our democracy with the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In her dissent to the Citizens United decision, she made clear her belief that our democracy should not be for sale. Huge influx of billionaire money gained at the expense of the middle class, working poor and most vulnerable should not determine the outcome of our elections.
Reject the Bloomberg/GO agenda hidden behind the glossy mailers, extensive polling and television advertising. For every mailer you get, flip it over and read the fine print – look for the “Paid for by” disclosure. Say NO to BLOOMBERG and the super PACs he funds. Say NO to these billionaire funded attempts to thwart democracy. Read the fine print, and vote for a locally-supported candidate who will actually put Black, Brown and all vulnerable students at the center.
1No relationship to The Parent Teacher Association, or “PTA” that we find in our public schools. In fact, the PTA organization accused the CCSA of deliberately attempting to mislead voters into thinking their PAC was related to their organization, threatening legal action and demanding that they Cease and Desist their “false advertising and deceptive practices.”
IT IS TIME for Superintendent Johnson-Trammell to live up to her stated values of TRANSPARENT AND HONEST COMMUNICATION and explain HOW relying on a consultant who is named as a defendant in an alleged immigration controversy, was accused by Black students of ignoring their concerns about racial harassment and of referring students to police for minor infractions, and has a billionaire-backed agenda, is putting students at the center of our Sanctuary District. At a time when OUSD is declaring #BlackLivesMatter and we are on the verge of getting police OUT of our schools, having Dr. Tommy Chang shape our strategic plan for the next three years is totally inappropriate.
When Superintendent Antwan Wilson resigned and the full scope of the trauma caused by his mismanagement and overspending became clear, Parents United believed that we had a “unique opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past, and select a new leader who is committed to making a difference in our students’ lives and who will stay in Oakland long enough to see those changes through.” In the 16 years leading up to that point, OUSD had a revolving door of 9 superintendents, half of which were Broad Academy Graduates, a billionaire-funded institution where churn and burn is a prominent feature. Administrative salaries in OUSD ballooned while students suffered, and the Oakland community demanded a change: a local superintendent who is invested in Oakland and not beholden to billionaire special interests.
The Black Organizing Project (“BOP”) made clear that OUSD needed to divest from the Broad Academy:
The Broad Urban Superintendents Academy is financed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.5 Eli is a billionaire real estate developer from Los Angeles who has ambitions to completely “remake” public education. According to an article by the New York Times “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.”6 The corporate interests and consistent ties with OUSD is a cause for concern. Are corporate billionaires, who are interested in how to expand their capital, really concerned about the education of underserved Black and Brown students? The answer is simple. No! We do not need anymore superintendents with corporate connections and affiliations. Oakland students do not need corporate candidates, with corporate aspirations to lead their school district. We need educators and leaders who are truly invested in the success of Oakland students. We need the community. (bolded emphasis added).
The mandate was clear. Center our most vulnerable students. Be inclusive of student and parent voices. Be transparent. Reject the misguided policies of previous administrations which undermined our public schools and failed our students.
OUSD has too many consultants – according to the Alameda County Grand Jury three times the state average. You would expect, then, that the administration, and the Board of Education, would scrutinize potential consultants to ensure that they are qualified, necessary and in keeping with the values of our district. So WHY has OUSD hired a consultant who was forced to resign from his last Superintendent job just one week after being accused of disclosing student discipline records to local police and ICE, allegedly resulting in at least one student deportation? OUSD is a Sanctuary District [at least regarding immigration – as Black students, BOP, and others have rightfully pointed out in recent weeks, OUSD is not a sanctuary from police terror for our students], and our students deserve to have that value reflected in the people that are hired to shape and execute district policy.
Buried in the consent agenda for the board meeting on November 13, 2019 was a no-bid contract with Tommy Chang of Chula Vista to provide “support for strategic planning.” The board approved 6 to 0 (with one absence) the consent agenda after retreating to a private room upstairs while the community protested the board’s lack of transparency and responsiveness to their concerns. There was no discussion, no questions by board members, just one vote on all 67 items in the consent agenda.
According to the contract attached to the agenda, Tommy Chang is tasked with:
Publishing an updated Strategic Plan
Participating in Senior Leadership Team meetings and decision making
Making recommendations for potential organizational redesign
Driving and refining the Superintendent’s work plan
The “Specific Outcomes” for this contract are identified as follows: “These contractor services will result in a new district strategic plan; augmented and enhanced strategic communications to transparently and effectively engage and communicate with stakeholders about district priorities and direction; increased central office leadership capacity; and recommendations and plans for continued movement toward coherent and effective central office.” The contract is to run from November 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020 for a total amount of $78,000.00.
However, according to documents received pursuant to a Public Records Request Dr. Chang’s work was already underway on September 5th, 2019, some two months prior to the date of the contract approved by the board. According to that email (which you can read in its entirety below) Superintendent Johnson-Trammell is “working closely” with this consultant to “reshape” the Superintendent’s work plan, provide communication strategy and support the Superintendent in the development of a new 5 year Strategic Plan.
Email obtained via a Public Records Act Request from OUSD:
The Superintendent provided a partial introduction to this consultant, Dr. Tommy Chang, in the above letter to her Senior Leadership Team, but she left out key details which should be noted:
Dr Chang was indeed the Superintendent of Boston Public Schools (“BPS”), but he himself was forced to resign halfway through his contract just one week after being named in a lawsuit alleging that BPS had provided student information to ICE – the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency – which allegedly resulted in at least one student being deported to El Salvador and threatened hundreds more. Superintendent Johnson-Trammell claims that Dr Chang “shares our collective values” – but documents recently obtained in Boston show that Dr Chang allowed “a greater cooperation between BPS and ICE than Chang had previously admitted” which is most certainly not in line with OUSD’s Sanctuary Policy. The lawsuit is still pending, and Dr Chang has denied any wrongdoing, but it is an affront to our students, and our district’s stated values, that the person who is acting as a shadow Superintendent shaping the future of our Sanctuary District is possibly connected to Trump’s abhorrent anti-immigrant policies.
Dr. Chang has also been criticized for ignoring the concerns of Black students at the elite Boston Latin School, an exclusive “exam” school (meaning you must pass an academic test to attend) with an African American population of just 8% in a district that is 35% Black. Dr Chang stood behind the Principal of Boston Latin who Black students accused of ignoring threats of lynching and racial harrassment which resulted in an investigation by the United States Department of Justice. Dr Chang “cavalierly” refused to reopen an investigation and was not responsive to the concerns of the Black community.
In addition, Boston Public Schools under Dr Chang’s leadership routinely forwarded school police reports on students to the Boston Police Department for petty incidents including spray-painting graffiti and multiple times where students were stopped and frisked for weapons, but none were found. This kind of over-policing of our students is something that students, parents and the Black Organizing Project have been concerned about for years.
Parents also accused Superintendent Chang of undermining the needs of students of color, saying that: “choosing to cut $32 million from a budget that serves mostly students of color is institutional racism” and would “widen, rather than close, the achievement gap.”
Further, he was criticized for not restoring $5 million previously cut to special education for children with autism, emotional impairments and other disabilities. All of this in a budget that Dr Chang said represented the district’s values of “equity, coherence and innovation.”
Dr Chang’s leadership and administrative capabilities were also questioned. After his abrupt departure from Boston, a city official stated that: ““The superintendent had an inability to communicate effectively with families in the district and with his own team,” said Annissa Essaibi-George, a city councilor who heads the education committee and who formerly taught in the city schools. “He wasn’t able to motivate individuals to get the job done” (emphasis added). Concerns about a lack of transparency were also raised. This is who the Superintendent has chosen to mentor her in a time of upheaval and distress in our district, when families and teachers are crying out for transparent and effective communication about school closures: a man who was forced out of his last district because of a lack of transparency and an inability to communicate with families or motivate staff, as well as a history of uncertain leadership.
So, assuming that we actually need ANOTHER consultant to guide us, is Dr Chang the right person for the job? The answer is a resounding “hell no”. The fact that Dr Chang is credibly accused of providing student incident reports to ICE, putting students at risk of deportation is enough reason to disqualify him. That he has a history of mistrust and over-policing in the African American community is enough. That he was forced to resign and described as “unable to communicate” effectively, not just with families but with members of his own team, and “wasn’t able to motivate people” makes him absolutely unqualified to “coach key leadership members” and bring about “organizational coherence”. That he is a Broad Academy trained disgraced former superintendent is enough. Dr Chang does not represent our values of sanctuary and equity, and he lacks the skills needed to undo years of dysfunction that have led us to this place. Dr. Chang should not be visioning the future of OUSD.
1. The Broad Academy is funded by real estate billionaire Eli Broad to train superintendents how to run a public school system just like a business, with burn and churn being a prominent feature.
Joint Study by In the Public Interest and Parents United for Public Schools shows that in Oakland, Calif. alone 30 charter schools received nearly $19 million in federal PPP dollars meant for those in need, despite unchanged state public education funding.
OAKLAND – A new report released today shows that millions of dollars in federal relief funds intended for those in need have been siphoned off by public charter schools that have suffered no loss in state education funding while thousands of small businesses remain shuttered and their employees go without work due to the pandemic.
The report focuses on 43 charter schools located in Oakland where 70 percent of the publicly-funded but privately-managed charter schools within the boundaries of the Oakland Unified School District applied for and received federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) awards established by the federal CARES Act. Traditional public schools in Oakland and elsewhere are not eligible for PPP funding. The report, entitled Are Oakland Charter Schools Double Dipping?, was conducted by the Oakland-based Parents United for Public Schools and the non-profit research and policy center In the Public Interest.
The findings are significant because California’s open meetings laws require board meetings and the minutes of charter schools to be made public.. In most of the country, charter school finances are less transparent, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury has refused to release the names of recipients of PPP awards. The United States has 7,000 charter schools.
“This report shows the need for more oversight and transparency in the charter school sector,” said Clare Crawford, senior policy advisor with In the Public Interest. “It’s not right for charters to act like a business on Monday and a public school on Tuesday. Having it both ways leads to double dipping and unethical raids on the public till. We deserve to have the full picture on how precious public dollars are being spent, especially now, during this time of need,” she said. “Every local public official and reporter should be asking if their charters took PPP money and how much.”
Some key elements of the Parents United for Public Schools/ In the Public Interest report include:
Oakland charter schools have received a total of at least $18,909,300 in forgivable loans from the PPP.
Thirty charter schools have received PPP loans despite having no loss in public education funding.
Charter schools that received both PPP loans and CARES Act education relief funding received an average of $2,000 more per student than either Oakland Unifed School District public schools or charter schools that did not.
“It’s really concerning that so many charter schools are choosing to take these funds from local small businesses that employ Oakland families. If charter schools receive funds as a ‘public school,’ they should not then be eligible for small business loans intended to help keep families from being laid off,” said Kim Davis, a parent and co-founder of Parents United for Public Schools.
Charter schools are considered public schools under California law, as they are in many other states, yet they are also incorporated as nonprofit organizations. This has allowed them to access both public school funding and aid intended to support maintaining employment at small businesses and nonprofits.
Parents United for Public Schools is an independent, parent-led organization focused on building a strong parent voice on behalf of Oakland’s public schools. In the Public Interest is a nonprofit research and policy center that studies public goods and advocates for building popular support for public institutions that work for all of us.