Even Bloomberg-backed Candidates know that Bloomberg has no place in Oakland school board elections

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.

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First #SayNOtoGO, then vote YES on Y!

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. 

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What Can We Expect from the GO-Endorsed School Board Candidates? More of the Same!

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.

Before Superintendent Wilson made it out of town, reports surfaced that OUSD had a $30 million deficit (comparable to the debt that resulted in the state takeover of the district in 2003) despite having $136 million in additional annual revenue since 2012. As The San Francisco Chronicle put it, “It’s as if the district has loaded up the shopping cart with costly commitments and proposed programs, but is now standing at the cash register with an empty wallet and a nearly maxed-out credit card. If it wants what’s in the cart, it’s going to have to figure out what bills will go unpaid.” 

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. 

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Show Me The Money!

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
Director London playing Angry Birds on her phone during a Board Meeting in April, 2017

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.

High-Priced Consultants

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.

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What’s so bad about Bloomberg, anyway?

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 continues to defend  his implementation of the racist and unconstitutional “Stop and Frisk” policy which disproportionately targeted Black and Latino men. 
  • He referred to domestic violence and child abuse as “quality of life” crimes
  • 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.

It is with this frame that he decides where to spend his money: “If anything, the main difference between Bloomberg and Trump is that the former has spent far more of his immense personal fortune to boost corporate “education reform” and local candidates driving this agenda.” Michael Bloomberg’s decision to support GO Public Schools and their chosen candidates is not simply the kindly act of a billionaire that happens to like charter schools. It is, like with his failed presidential bid, the deliberate and intentional buying of legislators who will implement the policies he backs. So what are they?

  • 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!

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Here we GO again! Billionaire Bloomberg dumps half a million dollars in Oakland School Board Elections

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.”

Vote with Oakland Teachers Guide

Oakland Rising Action 2020 Voter Guide

Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club Endorsements

Alameda County Democratic Party Endorsements

Is this who should be shaping the strategic future of our schools?

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.

DSC_1271

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:

  • Refining communications
  • 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:

chang redone final

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:

  1. Tommy Chang is a graduate of the Broad Academy,¹ class of 2014-15 (just a year after former OUSD Superintendent Antwan Wilson).
  2. He is also a member of Chiefs for Change, class of 2016 (again, just a year after former Superintendent Wilson) – Chiefs for Change was founded by Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Educational Excellence – with board member Betsy DeVos.
  3. Dr Chang recently became affiliated with Great Public Schools Now, an organization funded by Eli Broad with the mission of doubling the number of charter schools in LAUSD. 
  4. Dr Chang was the Regional Director for Advocacy and Policy for the California Charter School Association in Southern California before being hand picked by the new Los Angeles Unified School District (“LAUSD”) Superintendent John Deasy (a fellow Broad Academy graduate) to act as his Chief of Staff. Superintendent Deasy was forced to resign in disgrace, followed soon after by the resignation or demotion of most of the high ranking senior staff he had appointed, including Dr. Chang.
  5. 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.
  6. 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
  7. 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.
  8. 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.” 
  9. 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.”
  10. 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.

 

New report reveals that many of the nation’s charter schools are double dipping in public coronavirus aid

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 15, 2020

CONTACT: Jamie Horwitz 202-549-4921, jhdcpr@starpower.net

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.”

The New York Times cites the Oakland study in a story today, “Charter Schools, Some With Billionaire Benefactors, Tap Coronavirus Relief,” that finds further examples of double dipping by charter schools all across the nation and documents how the charter school industry has sought federal dollars intended for private business’ struggling due to the pandemic.

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.

Why is the OUSD Board planning to give a sweetheart 40 year lease to a large charter chain essentially rent free, giving up more than $17 million in unrestricted general fund revenue that our students desperately need?

oh yes its free

Earlier this month, our Oakland Unified School District (“OUSD”) Board voted to cut nearly $20 million from next year’s unrestricted general fund budget, eliminating restorative justice programs, foster youth case managers, shuttering libraries and laying off more than 100 people.¹ The Board is also moving forward with plans to close up to 24 schools as part of the Blueprint “Portfolio Plan” pushed by GO Public Schools (“GO”)², while at the same time using the 7-11 committee to declare some properties as “surplus” in an effort to generate unrestricted general fund revenues. So why is OUSD forgoing more than $17 million in funds which could be used to provide critically needed services to students?

Aspire Public schools is a  national charter school chain which operates 7 schools here in Oakland. When Golden Gate Elementary was closed by OUSD in June, 2005 for “underenrollment,” the campus was immediately taken over by Aspire Berkley Maynard t, and they have had a series of multi-year leases for the campus ever since. In the most recent lease, which expires on June 30, 2022, ASPIRE is paying up to $456,000 per year to use the facility. In addition, ASPIRE is responsible for performing upgrades to the site, including boiler and thermostat repair, fire system upgrades, bathrooms, water and plumbing replacement, exterior resurfacing, roof and window repair or replacement and removal of the old kindergarten playground equipment. This work was to be paid for by Aspire, with $1.5 million chipped in by OUSD via “rent credits” that are spread out over the life of the lease Under this lease, if continued, Aspire would pay OUSD a net amount of $17,618,997 over the forty year term of the lease.

Now, OUSD is proposing to offer to the charter chain a 40 year lease³ for a total lease payments of approximately $2.3 million, more than $17 million less than the current lease rate over the term of the lease! $17 million in UNRESTRICTED GENERAL FUND REVENUE that could provide years of critical services to OUSD students. This is simply unconscionable and must be rejected by the board.

There is a real question as to whether Aspire should be given a long term lease at all. OUSD staff recently gave Aspire Berkley Maynard an equity score of 2 out of 5, noting that it serves fewer low income, special education and English learners than OUSD schools – which begs the question why OUSD is planning to reward Aspire for not serving all kids with this extraordinary lease term. At the very least, OUSD should include in the lease a set of expectations and penalties for failing to serve high need students.

Aspire plans to “modernize” the property to “offer pride to the students, parents, faculty and staff” of its school – and they want OUSD to pay for it!

On May 24, 2017, the OUSD Board agreed to allow Aspire to seek “Prop 51” funds⁴ to modernize the Golden Gate campus “at no cost to the District.” no cost

Since that time, Aspire has had $900,000 in rent credits to make improvements and upgrades to the site, but is now seeking up to an additional $20 million in Prop 51 funds to make bigger improvements for their own students who will occupy the school for the next 40 years.  This includes some of the same items they were already allowed $900,000 in rent credits for, plus ADA upgrades, repaving the parking lot and playground, upgrading Information Technology and plumbing systems and installing a new playground.

In the first fifteen years of the lease, Aspire will pay OUSD about $40,000 per year to use the facility, one tenth of what they would be paying under the existing lease, after the rent credits are used up. OUSD staff claims that this is necessary because Aspire will be making payments on the loan at the same time⁶. Yet even after the loan will be paid off (30 years)⁷, Aspire will only be paying $130,000 per year, some $350,000 less than they would be under the existing lease, and less than half of what we would be entitled to collect under the bare minimum Prop 39 rate – which is structured, in theory – based on the actual facilities costs⁸.

In addition, Aspire is a large charter chain with substantial “philanthropic” resources which could and should be tapped to cover the cost of this upgrade. According to the Aspire website, they have the following “generous” donors:

aspire donors
From the Aspire Public Schools website: https://aspirepublicschools.org/support/

Why are OUSD students being forced to pay for the upgrades to the Aspire charter chain campus when Aspire has such incredible wealth available to it?

OUSD Claims that we should pay for these upgrades because ultimately the property will revert to us forty years in the future – as a 40 year old building!

When OUSD gave Aspire permission to seek out the Prop 51 funds, it was clear that it would be Aspire’s responsibility to pay for them – “at no cost to the District.” Now Aspire and OUSD staff claim that this obscenely low facilities use fee is appropriate because OUSD will maintain ownership of the facility, and in 40 years we will benefit from the increased value of the property. The problem with that argument, however, is that at the end of the lease (whether in 40 or more years, if extended) OUSD will end up with an outdated building that it has already determined it does not need⁹.

The “useful” life for a school building is between 30 and 40 years, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics¹⁰. New playground structures last 15 to 20 years. A roof might last 40 or 50 years. If Aspire upgrades and modernizes the facility in 2025, by the time OUSD gets it back, the “upgrades” will be 35 years old! This is exactly why our Board told Aspire in 2017 that any facilities upgrades will be “at no cost to the District.” These upgrades do not substantially increase the value of the property at the end of the lease term – they add value at the time and in the 20 to 30 years after they are made, time in which only Aspire will benefit from those improvements! It makes no sense for OUSD students to be paying for them by OUSD failing to charge a reasonable facilities fee throughout the term of the lease¹¹.

It is incredibly offensive that at the same time that our school board is slashing the budgets of school sites by half and eliminating critical student services, they are considering offering a sweetheart deal to a huge charter chain which results in the loss of $400,000 per year to OUSD kids. This school should not even be considered as a candidate for a long term lease given their poor record of serving vulnerable students. If the board ignores its own policy and moves forward with this long term lease, the board must ensure that it is, in fact, “no cost to the District” by charging a reasonable facilities use fee for the entire lease term.

footnotes:

  1. The one thing the board did NOT agree to do was to eliminate the OUSD Police, something that the Black Organizing Project and the community have been advocating for years. https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2020/03/04/oakland-school-board-votes-not-to-eliminate-school-police-despite-heated-meeting/
  2. Read more about this here: https://ousdparentsunited.wordpress.com/2019/06/30/alameda-county-grand-jury-slams-the-ousd-school-board/
  3. The lease consists of a 15 year initial term and two unilaterally executable options of 15 and 10 years, for a total of 40 years.
  4. Prop 51, the California School Facilities Program, provides funds for modernization of school properties through a combination of grants (which do not need to be repaid) and loans
  5. Even the existing lease is a bargain – if Aspire were to rent the same space on the open market they could expect to pay more than $2.5 million per year instead of under $450,000.
  6. Interestingly, the low rent begins immediately, even though the Aspire staff admitted recently that they will not immediately begin loan repayment.
  7. Aspire says that it needs a minimum 40 year lease in order to qualify for a 30 year loan repayment.
  8. Director Gonzales has expressed concern that OUSD might be on the hook for loan repayment in the event that Aspire closes the school and walks away from the loan – after not receiving rent, OUSD could possibly have to pay off a loan for a school that they say they don’t actually need.
  9. If student populations change over the next 40 years, this campus will not be available for growth, so OUSD will have to repurpose or construct other buildings to house any increased enrollment.
  10. https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/frss/publications/1999048/
  11. Another issue with the lease as written is that it does not increase the facilities fee in the event that Aspire decides not to seek the entire $10 million loan

 

OUSD’s new “Equity Index” Excludes Black Students

equity-lensAt tonight’s special meeting, the OUSD board will be voting to cut $21 million from next year’s budget, including 50% in inequitable “across the board” cuts to all schools regardless of the school’s ability to absorb those losses. In addition, OUSD has changed the way it allocates the concentration dollars which go to our highest need students, creating an “Equity Index” to allocate those dollars. In order to qualify for these dollars, you must meet a minimum on the index. While we believe the Equity Index was an attempt to address some problems with the former “Z score” analysis, the impact of this new Equity Index is that it excludes every single school with a majority black student population.  The loss of between $25,000 and $100,000 per school on top of the across the board 50% cuts is simply devastating for those schools. The board must restore those funds to these majority African American schools and reverse the anti-black impact of this inequitable “Equity Index.”

Parents United has sent the below letter to the OUSD Board. The meeting is Wednesday, March 4th at 5:30 at La Escuelita, 1050 Second Avenue.

 

Dear Board Directors,

The Superintendent and her staff are presenting budget reductions to you for approval tonight which include an “across the board” 50% reduction in discretionary funding plus a new “Equity Index” for the distribution of Local Control Funding Formula (“LCFF”) concentration dollars which unfairly eliminates supports for our black students in OUSD. These cuts reflect an institutional bias against low income and African-American students in our district and must be rejected¹.

In 2016 this Board adopted Board Policy (“BP”) 5032 which states “The Governing Board seeks to understand and to interrupt patterns of institutional bias at all levels of the organization, whether conscious or unconscious, that results in predictably lower academic achievement most notably for students of color.” This Equity Policy was a recognition that we as a district have an obligation to center the needs of students of color, including and perhaps especially for our African American students who are subject to the particularly virulent anti-black racism that exists in this country. This Board has repeatedly instructed staff to apply an “equity lens” to budget reductions, recognizing that across the board budget reductions hurt some schools more than others, where more affluent, often white parents simply fund-raise or donate the difference. 

Instead of applying that “equity lens” to the cuts in discretionary funding, the staff has instead chosen to apply an across the board 50% reduction in this funding for every school, regardless of the ability to make up for that loss. This hardship is compounded because OUSD over-enrolls wealthier, whiter schools, contributing to declining enrollment at primarily low-income, non-white schools. For instance, Peralta elementary last year had 319 students which, according to the Jacobs report, was 139% of its capacity.  In other words, they were 40% above the building capacity. Yet Peralta’s projected enrollment increase for next year is 35 students MORE than this year, which will put it at 149% capacity and will contribute to declining enrollment at another school, which will then receive even less discretionary funding to meet student needs.

We are pleased to see that the Superintendent recognizes this problem and is proposing to cap enrollment at schools to ensure that students and funding are distributed more fairly.  Nonetheless, this does not undo the harm done by across the board cuts, and you should reject them and direct staff to apply an equity lens to these cuts immediately².

Applying an “Equity Index” to cuts makes sense, but the index must be calculated in a way that does not disproportionately harm African-American/Black students in this district. OUSD receives “Concentration” dollars from the state specifically for our “unduplicated³” low-income students, english learners and foster youth and is intended to provide targeted supports to students who need them most. OUSD developed a “Z score” to distribute those concentration dollars, taking into account various environmental factors that impact learning such as neighborhood crime and access to fresh foods, but which was centered on where the school was, not where the child lived. In an effort to change that focus, OUSD has for next year introduced an “Equity Index” which has the impact not of creating equity across the entirety of our district, but just shuffles funds from one group of high need student to another. As discussed above, that is not Equity.

More importantly, however, in reclassifying how concentration dollars are allocated, OUSD is discriminating against majority black schools and disproportionately harming the black students in those schools. The Equity Index is derived by using the DUPLICATED⁴ counts of LCFF categorized students (low-income, english learners and foster youth) plus some additional factors such as chronic absence and reading scores. Under this new Equity index, not a single school with more than a 50% Black student population makes the cut for ANY funding. The design of the index, while attempting to solve one problem, inadvertently creates another one. 

The harm to some black schools is catastrophic. Prescott School and McClymonds High School, both in West Oakland, each received $100,000 in concentration dollars this year and will receive $0 next year. For Prescott, coupled with the 50% cut to discretionary dollars, that means $981 fewer LCFF funds per pupil for next year, a nearly insurmountable loss.  Overall, the impact of the school site cuts hits majority black schools hard: an average of $272 per student lost in overall LCFF funding (discretionary, supplemental and concentration). Compare that with the loss felt by primarily white schools – just $70 per student. This is NOT EQUITY!

It is time for our district to live up to the ideals of its own Equity Policy and interrupt the pattern of anti-black racism that OUSD has engaged in forever. This should be a major focus of work going forward, but right now the district must:

  1. Eliminate the 50% across the board budget cuts and use an equity formula soften the blow of those cuts to schools that can least afford it;
  2. Revise the Equity Index to more accurately reflect an equitable allocation based on need that does not disproportionately harm black students; and 
  3. Restore the concentration dollars cut from schools with more than 50% black students⁵ for next year to allow for the development of a better system of allocation and to prevent disproportionate racialized impact on black students.

Parents United for Public Schools

1 Parents United does not concede that ANY cuts to school site are necessary or prudent, and is not endorsing the making of these cuts. This board has not shown any willingness, however, to stop cuts to schools and so arguing that you do so seems futile. Given the board’s willingness to make cuts to school sites, these cuts MUST be done in a way that does the least harm to the most marginalized students.
2 President London recently argued that more affluent, whiter schools are hurt more by these across the board cuts to discretionary funding because they receive less supplemental and no concentration dollars. This misses the point – the reason that these schools receive less of those LCFF targeted dollars is because they have fewer students requiring the targeted services. The funds that their PTA’s raise generally go to pay for “extras” like art and music, not the kinds of academic and emotional supports funded by LCFF supplemental and concentration dollars.
“Unduplicated” means that a student is only counted once, even if they fit multiple categories.
4 Meaning that a child who is an english learner, a foster youth and low income is counted three times, whereas one who is not an english learner is counted just twice.
 5 McClymonds, Prescott, Parker and West Oakland Middle School totaling $275,000