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.