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.”