Earlier this week, Director Gary Yee hosted a District 4 community engagement meeting to discuss OUSD’s Citywide Plan to close, merge or otherwise change up to 24 OUSD schools over the next few years. It’s about time. Public outcry at the lack of genuine community engagement has pushed OUSD to take the very minimal step of requiring each school board member to host one or more meetings in their district before rolling out Cohort 3 decisions on which schools will face closure, merger or other changes next.1
What was shocking about this engagement was that Director Yee was joined by a consultant who until recently was a senior staff member of GO Public Schools, the Super PAC which spent nearly $150,000 of billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s money (yes, THAT Michael Bloomberg) to buy Yee’s seat on the school board last year, outspending his opposition by 250%.2
According to correspondence obtained from the district, Director Yee sought OUSD funds to pay Mirella Rangel to facilitate his district 4 engagement via an email exchange with OUSD Director of Innovation Yvette Renteria:
Ms Renteria responded with the following:
Ms Renteria makes clear that there is no OUSD budget for this facilitation and that OUSD can only “provide some money to Mirella” by eliminating one or more future engagements, because the funds for childcare, translation and food would be diverted to pay for Ms Rangel. In other words, payment for this facilitation could only come at the expense of engagement with communities whose school is targeted for possible catastrophic changes including closure of their neighborhood school.
This is exactly why having out of town billionaires financing the election of our “democratically” elected school board is such a problem. Instead of being focused on what is best for our families, our board members instead are subject to political manipulation by individuals and organizations that got them elected in the first place. GO has spent more than $830,000 in big money contributions, largely from billionaires and the California Charter School Association, to ensure the election of this school board which the 2019 Grand Jury report found “has failed in its responsibilities to serve the students of Oakland.”3 GO isn’t just really bad at selecting school board members to finance – they are choosing exactly the members they need to execute the policies their funders demand, policies which undermine our public schools and our teachers and lead inevitably to the privatization of our public system.
GO Public Schools, and particularly Ms Rangel as the leader of GO’s 1Oakland campaign, is the architect of OUSD’s portfolio policy, adopted by the OUSD board as Board Policy 6006 “Community of Schools” policy. Not coincidentally, Director James Harris put forth BP 6006, originally identified as the “Quality Schools Portfolio Policy”, just six days after GO went live with their “System of Schools” 1Oakland initiative last year. Director Harris even changed the name of the policy to the “System of Schools” policy to coincide with the GO language.4 To be clear: Rangel’s work resulted in this policy, which mandates OUSD close district schools.
Three months after leaving GO5, Ms Rangel set up a consultant group called “Colibrí Collective” with Maddie Orenstein6, and in September sought a lucrative contract with OUSD which would have paid a total of $54,500 over 6 weeks to Colibri – that’s $1200 per day — including $190/hour for Ms Rangel’s work alone. This work involved the following components:
- Healing Current Communities of Cohort 2 (including Sankofa/Kaiser and Frick/SOL), including developing a “communications and messaging plan for Colibri and connection to GO” – clearly they anticipate that this proposed contract will be a public relations nightmare;
- Identify leaders and community in Cohort 2 who “should participate in the restorative conversations” – not everyone gets to be engaged;
- Facilitate restorative conversations regarding Cohort 2, again not with everyone impacted but with hand selected “subsets of the community” and “key” community leaders; and
- “Establish opportunities for larger communities outside of core design team to provide input and guidance” – in other words, make space for GO and billionaire funded privatization organizations to guide the process.
We do not know if OUSD staff ultimately accepted this offer, emails from Rangel ask to affirm that they have a “green light” to begin, but the district’s response to our Public Records Act request did not include responses from district staff.7 However, to find they did would reveal an outrageous conflict in having the architect of the Citywide plan — which has caused such harm to public school students and communities — also being the person hired to heal those same communities.
Ms Rangel apparently then also turned to Director Yee, elected last year with GO’s money, to intervene with the district on her behalf.
When Ms Rangel showed up to facilitate a meeting seeking input from parents and teachers about the Citywide Plan, she was closing the circle on her work with GO and the System of Schools 1Oakland initiative: ensuring that public schools are closed and those facilities are then made available to charter schools in the “portfolio” of Oakland publicly funded schools. Ms Rangel, and OUSD, know that hiring GO directly is not possible – the public outcry would be immense. By calling in a favor from Director Yee, GO and Ms Rangel are continuing to push their own self-serving brand of disaster capitalism – actively undermine public schools, to then swoop in with their market based solutions that they have given us no choice but to accept.
1. It is important to note that this is also not meaningful community engagement, but is more an opportunity to say there is meaningful engagement, as there is no indication that the “engagement” will result in any changes to the Citywide plan.
2. Data from Open Oakland: Yee spending + GO spending = $185,199; Doutherd spending + OEA/CTA spending = $75,978.
5. Rangel announced her departure from GO on April 3, 2019
6. Orenstein is a former employee of Leadership Public Schools, where Yee’s long-time partner was – until earlier this year – the Superintendent.
7. A Public Records Act request for that information is pending.