Why is OUSD providing Marketing help to Vincent Academy to Stem the Tide of its Declining Enrollment?

WHY IS OUSD PROVIDING MARKETING SUPPORT TO A WEST OAKLAND CHARTER SCHOOL WHEN OUSD SCHOOLS ARE STRUGGLING FOR ENROLLMENT_Last night at the inaugural meeting of the OUSD Board Charters Committee, Director of Enrollment and Charter Schools¹ Sonali Murarka announced the first group of four OUSD-appointed charter board members selected pursuant to Board Resolution  18-0559 adopted November 14, 2018. The resolution was a response to allegations of embezzlement and wrongdoing at BayTech charter which had been renewed for 5 years shortly before scandal became public, and was intended to ensure that OUSD had early notice of significant concerns at OUSD-authorized charters.  One of the four charter schools selected for this first group of appointed board members is BayTech, as well as the Oakland Military Institute, North Oakland Community Charter School and Vincent Academy, all of which are struggling academically and organizationally in different ways. The Office of Charter Schools used a program called “Board on Track” to assess existing board capacity and areas needing support to determine who among the charter board applicants would have expertise in the areas most needed to improve the governance of the charter schools. 

Ms Murarka nominated Edward Huang to sit on the board of an elementary charter program in West Oakland, Vincent Academy. Ms Murarka described Mr Huang as the “Director of Growth and Expansion” at an education technology company with experience in brand building, marketing and fundraising.  For Vincent Academy, the Board on Track assessment determined that Vincent lacked marketing and fundraising expertise. In other words, OUSD is choosing their selected oversight board member specifically to bring his marketing and brand building expertise to help Vincent Academy market itself to Oakland families in hopes of building its enrollment, something which will likely come at the expense of the enrollment at the nearby OUSD public schools over which our OUSD board has direct control², especially its West Oakland neighbors Hoover, MLK and Prescott elementaries. This is absolutely outrageous and the OUSD Board should demand that another candidate for that position is put in place instead. 

To be clear, Vincent Academy needs help in other areas besides marketing. Vincent has had steadily declining enrollment over the last few years, down 25% since 2015.³ And while we do not believe test scores to be a great indicator of the quality of a school, the charter schools rely on them as the primary measure of success; Vincent Academy’s test scores in both math and english are the lowest of all elementary schools in West Oakland, and further, they have decreased by an average of 25% over the last five years, including a 36% decrease in math. Instead of appointing someone who might help those test scores improve, OUSD’s Charter Office has decided to help prop up Vincent’s declining enrollment with a marketing expert to help them better market their school (and fund raise to cover the cost). 

OUSD schools don’t have a marketing department to help them – especially not those schools in West Oakland. Why on earth would OUSD give a charter school access to that which our own schools do not have? It’s not about the “quality” of the school – if measured by the test scores that the charter industry likes to focus on. It is to help them with their declining enrollment³. That is NOT what our district should be in the business of supporting.

Please call or email the charter office and board members (see contact information below) and demand that they immediately withdraw Mr Huang’s name from consideration for appointment to the Vincent Board and instead appoint a board member who will perform the accountability function that Board Resolution 18-0559 envisioned without harm to the OUSD schools over which our board has direct control. 

Director of Enrollment and Charter Schools:  Sonali.Murarka@ousd.org or 510-879-1677
OUSD Board of Directors:
Jody.London@ousd.org or 510-879-2161
Aimee.Eng@ousd.org or 510-879-2162
Jumoke.HintonHodge@ousd.org or 510-879-2163
Gary.Yee@ousd.org or 510-879-2164
Roseann.Torres@ousd.org or 510-879-2165
Shanthi.Gonzales@ousd.org or 510-879-2166
James.Harris@ousd.org or 510-879-2167
¹The positions of the Director of the Charter School Office and the Executive Director of OUSD Enrollment were consolidated into one position in August, 2019. The inherent conflict of interest in this move is outrageous, and will be addressed later in a separate blog post.
²Interestingly, the chairman of the OUSD Board Charters Committee is James Harris, and he owns his own brand development and marketing company – perhaps he should be bringing that expertise to the OUSD board, because OUSD public schools, over which this board actually has control, could definitely use some marketing help.
³According to OUSD records, Vincent Academy’s enrollment is down 25% over the last few years, from a height of 288 in 2016-17 to 217 in September 2019. https://dashboards.ousd.org/views/Enrollment/Historic?%3Aembed=y&%3AshowShareOptions=true&%3Adisplay_count=no&%3AshowVizHome=no&%3Arender=false#7

Last week, while the crowd shouted “No School Closures” in the La Escuelita Great Room, the OUSD School Board was upstairs expressing majority support to close 10-15 schools next year.

Last Wednesday, after members of the public shut down the public school board meeting with their chanting of “NO SCHOOL CLOSURES,” and the school board moved their Picture3meeting upstairs to a room with no members of the public in attendance, the board had a four hour discussion about a proposed $21 million budget reduction that ended with 4 of 7 members of the board expressing an willingness to closing between 10 and 15 OUSD schools at the end of this school year. They may vote on these closures in the next month.

WE WILL REPEAT: without a single member of the public in attendance, the OUSD school board discussed a plan to vote next month to close between 10 and 15 public schools as part of the budget reduction process. The school board is loving these disruptions, as they are now free to move forward with their school closure plans in their “secure location” without interruption and without anyone watching what they are doing.

Here’s what we missed: multiple members of the board are pushing the Superintendent to “rip off the band-aid” and abandon the incremental Blueprint for Quality Schools approach to school closures – allowing schools  a planning year to prepare – and instead close 10 to 15 schools effective next year as a cost cutting measure (don’t believe us? watch our grainy video clips here).1 This approach was fully supported by Directors London, Hinton-Hodge and Harris, and Director Yee with the condition that staff could show the board that these closures will have a real impact on OUSD’s finances. This board majority of four members have now instructed the Superintendent to assess the cost savings provided by firing principals and attendance clerks and custodians who become superfluous at the 10 to 15 closed schools, and if it saves enough money, they will vote to tear off that band-aid and just like that, it will be done.

Just a year ago, our teachers were on strike, supported by 95% of OUSD students and their families.  The overwhelming success of that strike resulted in the Board adopting Picture2Resolution 1819-0718  mandating a full planning year for all school closures and such changes – a promise to fully engage the community prior to any of the massive changes now being contemplated by the Board. Closing 10 to 15 schools effective in August is not just another broken promise to our community, it is a violation of the agreement that they made with our teachers in order to end the strike, and contrary to their own policy.

This idea to close such a large number of schools at once is certainly is no surprise to the staff who have been considering it at least since November, 2019. In a document recently obtained by Parents United through a California Public Records Act request, members of the Senior Leadership Team were considering three possible timelines for school closures, two of which have the board voting on all 5 cohorts of closures by November, 2020:

Picture1

That November, 2020 date is interesting – a decision to shove through school closures with a compliant board BEFORE 4 OF THE BOARD MEMBERS step down at the end of the year. As the staff document says, “it will perhaps be portrayed as a political move to take a vote right after the election before the old board members are out.”

While this information has not been disclosed to the OUSD public, charter schools apparently are already in on it – at a Facilities Committee meeting of Oakland charter school Francophone the day before the OUSD school board had this discussion, the Francophone Principal told his board that the “blueprint process will be finished before a new school board comes in” after the November, 2020 election..

So OUSD leadership has been secretly planning to accelerate the blueprint process to ensure that Jody London, Jumoke Hinton Hodge and James Harris, who have all said that they are not running again for school board, could vote to close up to 15 additional schools before a new school board — one possibly elected specifically to advocate against racist school closures which disproportionately harm black and brown communities — comes into power. And now the Board is putting that plan in motion, and seeking to accelerate it even further to save some money in next year’s budget.

You might have missed that amid the chants of “no school closures.”

 

Footnotes:

  1. The grainy video clips are because the full board meeting video was not immediately uploaded to OUSD’s webpage. The full video is available now here, and this discussion begins at about 4:07:20.

Who is Being Hurt by Co-locations? Our Most Vulnerable Students.

Two years ago, we dug into the data for two co-located high schools in East Oakland to see who those schools, located on the same campus, were serving, and the results were startling. The two school populations were not even close to similar, despite, in theory, drawing from the same pool of students. If charter schools accept public money, shouldn’t they be serving all kids?

Serve all kids logo

Last year, we looked at all the schools that were offered to charter schools for co-locations to see which schools are targeted, and it was clear: OUSD schools with high populations of Black students and English Learners, vulnerable Special Education and Unhoused students, and low income students. These co-locations pushed students from classrooms into closets and disrupted the learning of OUSD students.

It is now Prop 39 season again, and like last year and the year before, charter schools who are or will be co-located with District schools do not serve the same student populations as the host district school. Comparing the data from OUSD schools to the charters reveals a stark pattern: charter schools serve far fewer in virtually every category of underserved student population group:

Stats

Just as when we compared the two co-located schools in East Oakland, the results are clear, and extremely concerning. Charter schools in Oakland, at least those in District facilities, are excluding certain students in ways that concentrate need in co-located district schools. At the most extreme, the population differences can be jaw-dropping. Brookfield serves 19% more special education students than Francophone, and likely a far greater percentage of moderate to severe disabilities. A recent report of special education in OUSD and other California Districts makes that clear:

State of denial about impairment differences
\https://www.cta.org/stateofdenial

 

It is not just special education students that will be impacted by this co-location. According to District 7 Director James Harris, 40% of Brookfield’s children are experiencing housing insecurity. These children need the “underutilized” space for community services, not displacement by the far more affluent and privileged Francophone families. 

None of the potentially/already co-located charter schools are listed as serving foster youth, and only half of them have any unhoused students. At Castlemont, 13.3% of students were experiencing housing insecurity in 2018-19, and it is likely higher today.  Yet the long co-located LPS only shows 1.86% of students as unhoused, a truly heartbreaking 11.44% discrepancy. These two schools have been co-located for more than 15 years, yet Castlemont’s student population is one third African American and two-thirds Latino compared to 90% Latino for LPS, while Castlemont serves English Learners at a rate of 2 to 1 over LPS. Castlemont serves more Special Education students and Foster Youth than LPS. After 15 years in the same community, it is clear who is being chosen, and who is not. 

Charter schools like to refer to themselves as “Public Charter Schools” because they want us to believe that they are a public good in the same way our district schools are. The truth is, they are not serving all kids, and although they take public money, they are not public schools. The charter schools being offered space are on average whiter and more affluent than the District schools they are to occupy. They contribute to the pushout of African American students that is happening across our city. They do not serve foster youth, homeless students, English Learners or differently-abled students in large numbers, while District schools are serving all kids, regardless of need. The spaces that are being offered up as “underutilized” are in fact critical for educating kids in those district schools. I hope that the charter schools which have been offered space at our schools, charter schools which we know are NOT including all children, will not compound the inequities that failure to serve creates by taking away learning spaces 

charters choose disabilities lose

from district kids.

Vote for Angela Normand, Not the Billionaires

On March 3rd, voters in Alameda County Board of Education Trustee Area 2, which represents Alameda and parts of Oakland (much of East Oakland and parts of Fruitvale, Chinatown, Downtown, and West Oakland) will have an important choice to make: to vote for the billionaire-backed status-quo or for real change for our students.

IMG_4497
Angela Normand is a 13-year award-winning special education teacher.

The candidate for change is Angela Normand, a 13-year award-winning teacher of the year in Brentwood Unified School District who was born in East Oakland and now lives in Alameda. Angela is a retired Marine, a leader in her school district and her union, and a special education teacher who has a real foundation in service and has learned, through experience, how to fight for students.

Last February, when the whole Oakland community together stood on picket lines and marched through the streets to demand smaller class sizes, more supports for their students, and an end to the teacher retention crisis in Oakland, Angela stood by their side. As an advocate for students, those issues are her issues. This year, while the Alameda community is working to pass Measure A to keep experienced educators in their schools, Angela has been knocking on doors with them. As an educator and community member, those are also her issues.

Alameda County students in county, district and charter schools deserve an unapologetic advocate and experienced educator on the Alameda County Board of Education – someone who will represent all public school students and families, and not outside billionaires. That candidate for change is Angela Normand. Angela is endorsed by the Alameda County Democratic party, the Alameda Labor Council, the Oakland Education Association, the Alameda Education Association, Assembly Member Rob Bonta, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, State Senator Nancy Skinner, the Wellstone Democratic Club, East Bay Young Democrats, the Green party, and the Stonewall Democratic Club, among many others.

Angela is running against an incumbent who is backed by outside billionaires with their own agenda – to undermine and privatize our public school system. When Angela’s opponent was first elected to this position in 2016, over 90 percent of her campaign funding, totaling over $21,000, came from the charter school lobby — the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) — which also spent an additional $8,200 to support her through an independent expenditure (IE).

CCSA got their money’s worth. Far from an independent voice on the County Board of Education, from the incumbent’s first board meeting in July 2016 until today, she has voted on charter school issues 24 times1, and voted with the charter school industry on 23 of those votes.2 Here are two of these votes that were particularly troubling:

  • In December 2019, Yu Ming charter school — a school that is authorized by the Alameda County Board of Education and located in North Oakland — came before the board with a request to nearly triple its size. Yu Ming has been repeatedly Picture1chastised by the county board for its long exclusionary history of failing to enroll a student body reflective of Oakland’s children. Oakland public education advocates opposed the expansion, citing the school’s significant under-enrollment of African-American and Latino students, English-language learners, and students with disabilities. The Board of Education voted almost unanimously to reject the expansion, with the incumbent as one of only two votes for expansion, completely disregarding the charter school’s failure to serve all students.
  • In February 2013, Latitude charter school came to the Alameda County Board on appeal after the Oakland school board denied their petition because, in part, the
    rHWBVnjGSLUlqAG-800x450-noPad
    Fremont High School students in OUSD opposed the Latitude petition

    proposed charter was merely a duplication of an existing program at OUSD’s Fremont High School, into which OUSD has recently made more than $150 million in facility investments. The OUSD board had multiple reasons to deny, as the district was already struggling under a $57 million annual cost of the previous unchecked growth of charter schools, and the charter school chain proposing Latitude was financially struggling to keep one of its other schools open. Parents, educators and students in Oakland organized strong opposition to this petition, including OUSD students who asked County Board members not undermine their schools. The incumbent was one of only two votes that ignored the community’s concerns and supported the charter school lobby’s position, voting for the school.

Charter school appeals are certainly not the only issues that come before the Alameda County Board of Education, but they are the reason why billionaires like the Walton Family (heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune), Netflix CEO (and financier of anti-choice lawmakers) Reed Hastings, Gap co-founder (and Dark Money donor) Doris Fisher, and the California charter school lobby are innundating Area 2 voters with mail, social media ads, and canvassers to re-elect their incumbent. However, as Oakland teachers taught us last year, BILLIONAIRES CAN’T TEACH OUR KIDS! Let’s unite with parents, families and educators to stop them. Vote for Angela Normand on March 3. 

Copy of Copy of Copy of Angela Normand blue back

Angela’s website is: http://www.AngelaNormand.com

Angela’s Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/AngelaNormand4ACBOE/

 

1 Appeals, material revisions (requests to expand, change enrollment requirements, change facilities, and other), and renewals
2  Review of Alameda County Board of Education meeting minutes, July 2016 to Present. The incumbent voted against the appeal for Hayward Collegiate Charter School on September 11, 2018. It is not entirely clear why the incumbent opposed the petition, but based on her comments during the public hearing, she seemed to be concerned about how the school would achieve the necessary enrollment to meet its financial obligations and be successful. This was not a concern raised by ACOE staff, or other trustees, and makes us wonder whether her concerns were shaped by the impact the opening of a new school would have on other charter schools in Hayward. However, we are counting this as a vote against the charter lobby’s wishes because the CCSA spoke in support of the petition.

 

Children Should be Learning in Classrooms, Not Closets.

What makes a good school? Lots of different things, of course, but there are some basics that most people would agree are needed: a well-equipped and safe facility, good teachers, a broad and engaging curriculum that includes not just reading, history, math and science, but also the arts and music, and a warm and welcoming environment. This is true no matter what kind of school we are talking about – private, public or charter. Of course we expect those things in private school, because you are paying for them. But what about in charter schools which are privately managed but paid for with public money. What do charter operators think is a baseline for their school?

A review of the Proposition 39¹ (“Prop 39”) Facilities Request Forms can help us answer this question. Charter schools that wish to occupy district school space must file a Prop 39 request by November 1st, and in Oakland Unified School District (“OUSD”) they are asked to indicate any “unique facilities-related requests based on the school’s educational programming”. Charter schools have responded with a laundry list of things that they expect for their students, and most end with the boiler plate language that “If the comparison schools have any other regular teaching space, specialized classroom space or non-teaching space not identified here, the Charter School expects that the District will provide it with a reasonably equivalent allocation” – basically, if district schools get a particular kind of space, charters want it too, even if it isn’t something they need for their program.²

Here’s what Oakland charter schools said they need from OUSD for next year: 

Capture

Let’s be clear – this is not an unreasonable list – there are a few pie in the sky ideas, but most of us would agree that the items on the list are not just “wish list” luxuries but absolute necessities. 

The problem is, of course, that our OUSD schools do not even have some of the most basic things on the list, and when a charter school asks for space in a District school, OUSD forces them to have even less. Here’s how.  

Proposition 39 and its regulations say that IF a charter school requests space in a district facility, the District MUST provide it. It does not say exactly where³, but it does require the district to compile a list of comparison district schools⁴, figure out how much space they are actually using per student, and offer the same amount for the “in  district” students⁵ of the charter school. In other words, charter schools are allocated space based on the way OUSD schools are actually used.

Prop 39 is silent, however, on how the district decides which schools to offer up to charter schools for occupation (by themselves) or co-location (with an existing district school)⁶. So rather than figuring out HOW a district school is using its specific space in service of students, OUSD has come up with a formula for how much space ANY district school is entitled to. They call it an “Estimate of Underutilization” formula and it goes like this:

  • One regular teaching station (600+ square foot classroom) for each 24/26/30 kids projected to enroll in the following year, depending on grade level;
  • A classroom for each Special Education Special Day Class (“SDC”) at the school
  • A classroom for each Preschool class at the school
  • A classroom for each Newcomer Program classroom at the school⁷
  • Any classrooms needed to fulfill A-G requirements (at the high school level only)
  • 1 “Flex” Space for every 8/10 regular classrooms allotted, depending on grade level, with a minimum of 2

That’s it. No allocation for Special Education Inclusion specialists or reading or math intervention. No allocation for mental health needs or restorative justice. No allocation for art or music. No allocation for afterschool programs or parent spaces to allow community building or continuing education courses. In other words, none of the specialized spaces that make a Community School. OUSD takes the total number of classrooms, subtracts all of the above, and whatever is leftover is underutilized space.

What it translates to in practice is that students — usually in schools with a high concentration of Black and Brown students, Newcomer, English learners, unsheltered and Special Education students — are being displaced to make room for a charter school which likely does not serve the same high needs population⁸ (although they still want a share of that space). It means services like reading intervention and mental health counseling are moved into closets or noisy rooms behind the cafeteria. It means Special Education students receive pull-out services in cramped and distracting shared offices. It means teachers have nowhere to eat their lunch or collaborate with colleagues⁹.

classrooms not closets IG (1) crop

So what if we apply the OUSD formula to the space given to charter schools? How does that impact the laundry list of things they need to operate their program? We thought it would be interesting to take a look, so we dug into the request from one school which is already occupying the entirety of an OUSD Facility to see how much space they would be allowed under the OUSD Estimated Underutilization Formula and compare it to their list.

Per the school’s Facilities Request form for 2020-21 school year (filed by November 1, 2019) Achieve School, one of seven schools¹⁰ run by Education For Change (“EFC”), Oakland’s largest Charter chain, identifies the following list of site specific needs for their school:

EFC Achieve space needed (6)

In its Prop 39 request, EFC Achieve estimates an “in district” student population next year of 606 students in Transitional Kindergarten (TK) through fifth grade and  2 special day classes. If EFC Achieve were a district school, that would translate to the following, under OUSD’s formula:

  • 25 regular teaching stations (which is what they asked for);
  • 2 classrooms for their SDC program
  • No specialized preschool classrooms¹¹
  • No specialized Newcomer classrooms
  • No classrooms needed to fulfill A-G requirements (because they are not a high school)
  • 4 Flex spaces: 1 for every 8 regular classrooms allotted, which in this case is 25 regular classrooms (as OUSD always rounds up).

So under the OUSD scenario, EFC Achieve is entitled to a total of 31 classrooms at the school, far less than what EFC Achieve says it needs to help children learn. This is what they identified as needing to support their program:

  • 25 classrooms for teaching stations (general education)
  • 2 SDCs 
  • 14 Flex spaces
    • 1 Restorative/Newcomer/PE Planning shared
    • 1 Mental Health space
    • 1 Intervention classroom
    • 2 dedicated science classrooms
    • 2 dedicated art classrooms
    • 1 instructional coach/intervention space
    • 1 health clinic
    • 2 Early childhood/after school classrooms
    • 1 Food bank/storage room
    • 1 staff lounge
    • 1 parent resource room

Obviously, the difference is in the Flex space allotment. Under the OUSD formula, EFC Achieve is entitled to 4 flex spaces based on a ratio of 1 flex room to every 8 general education classrooms. Under the EFC Achieve request, they are asking for 1 flex room to every 2 general education classrooms, four times more than what OUSD schools are allowed for their students! EFC Achieve occupies the entirety of the school, all of which they claim they need for their program, and have 10 Flex Spaces more than they would be entitled to at the site if they were an OUSD school. 

EFC Achieve has what they need to operate their program because they are given space based on “comparison schools”  and because they have the whole campus to themselves. An OUSD school subject to co-location with a charter school can be forced to give up what they need for their children under OUSD’s “underutilization” formula. Co-located OUSD schools are forced to give up art, science and music rooms. Children who need intervention, mental health and special education services are learning in closets, hallways and crowded shared offices, and that isn’t right. It is time for OUSD to stop using a formula to determine which schools to offer up for co-location, but instead, like they do when deciding how much space to give to charter schools under Prop 39, look at how schools are actually and reasonably used in service of children, especially high need students. OUSD must stop displacing vulnerable children from classrooms into closets.

 

Afterword about revising prop 13

Footnotes
1. Proposition 39 is codified as Ed. Code, § 47614 et seq.
2. Two-thirds of charter schools operating within Oakland either own their own facility or lease one from someone other than OUSD. 12 charters occupy by themselves the campuses of former OUSD schools
3.  Prop 39 only requires that the offered space be “near” where the charter school requests
4.  In the neighborhood where the charter students live, not necessarily where the school will be located.
5.  For charter schools with a significant population of students who do not live in Oakland, this means any non-Oakland students are crowded into just the classrooms assigned for Oakland resident kids, unless the District agrees to allocate them additional space, which the district can charge them for at market rate (but does not always do so – a blog post for another day).
6.  The District could also co-locate a charter school at another charter school using a district facility, but that does not generally happen, at least in recent years in Oakland.
7.  OUSD has a significant “Newcomer” population of students, and has a robust Newcomer program at multiple sites in addition to general Newcomer supports at all schools. Most if not all charter schools do not have a large enough population of newcomers to have these specialized classes.
8.  Parents United looked into these disparities last year; for deeper detail on disparities in special education, see State of Denial
9.  A charter parent recently argued that co-located charter school students are forced to receive small group help in the hallways because they also do not have enough room, and that is true. But at that school 35% of the students do not live in Oakland, and so the charter was cramming 35% more students into the allocated space. We are not arguing that Prop 39 works well for co-located charter schools, it doesn’t. It just hurts district students more.
10.  One of the seven schools, EPIC middle school, closed unexpectedly last fall and it is unclear if they are still a functioning charter school
11.  East Bay Agency for Children located onsite does offer early childhood services to children 0 to 5 not enrolled in preschool, but not a traditional preschool program such as OUSD identifies in its formula

 

 

DO ME A FAVOR: Serious ethical concerns raised by Yee’s choice of facilitators

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

78305693_2418067181624757_9165701745739825152_o
Former GO Public Schools employee, Mirella Rangel, facilitates OUSD Director Gary Yee’s District 4 community engagement meeting. (Photo from OPED)

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:

l
Ms Renteria responded with the following:

k
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.

m

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.

z
Click to watch video of Director Yee’s closing remarks with former GO Public Schools employee Mirella Rangel facilitating (Video from The Oakland Public Education Network – OPEN)

___________________________________________

Citations:
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.
3. Finding 19-15
4. More on this topic
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.

 

The Alameda County Grand Jury Report Slams the OUSD School Board, But When Will GO Public Schools Take Responsibility?

The Alameda County Grand Jury issued its report last week detailing multiple failures of OUSD and laying the blame squarely on the elected School Board (1):

Finding1

The entire report is available online here. The report is not perfect, and it comes as no surprise as it confirms exactly what parents and teachers have been saying for years. Nonetheless, it is eye-opening in its detail of misspending and misdeeds, and we encourage everyone in OUSD to read it.

The report confirms everything that our Oakland teachers said when they were forced to strike to get a new contract: OUSD spends far more on administrators and consultants and far less on teachers and students than other districts (2).

blog2

The grand jury details many questionable fiscal and management practices, including:

  • Misprioritizing spending toward non-classroom staff and activities rather than classroom needs, including teachers
  • Failure to follow best practices in developing and sticking to budgets
  • A broken organizational culture of favoritism, nepotism and non-transparency
  • Poor stewardship of bond projects resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns, stalled projects and legal settlements and the misuse of funds on things like rent at the downtown Administrative offices
  • Failure to competitively bid contracts
  • General lack of urgency or understanding by the Board of the scope and importance of problems.

None of this comes as a surprise to parents and teachers because we have seen it and complained about it for years, but our concerns have fallen on the board’s deaf ears. WD0hId0mV4AAUCG1.jpg largee have had mid-year cuts, elimination of key student supports like the supper program and foster youth case managers, and mass layoffs of the classified staff that work in our schools, directly with kids. Yet, the grand jury found that OUSD spends $95 million more than the average of the 36 other Bay Area districts per year on everything EXCEPT the classroom (3).

Why is this GO Public Schools’ Responsibility? 

GO Public Schools Advocates (“GO”) has changed the local electoral landscape in Oakland since 2012 by flooding school board races with billionaire-contributed dollars (4), resulting in the election of 6 of our current 7 sitting board members (5). Over the last 4 electoral cycles, GO’s inappropriately named “Families and Educators for Public Education” has raised more than a million dollars from large donors including the California Charter School Association Advocates (“CCSAA”), NYC billionaire and former mayor Michael Bloomberg, San Francisco venture capitalist Arthur Rock and the Rogers family, former owners of Dreyer’s Ice Cream (6).

GO Super Pac major donors

Total contributed since 2012

Michael Bloomberg

$420,000

Rogers Family

$195,700

Arthur Rock

$147,000

CCSAA

$151,745

In total, close to 90% of all of GO’s Super Pac contributions came from large donors, which is what makes its name, “Families and Educators for Public Education” so particularly inapt. GO then spent nearly $850,000 to stack the board with their candidates.

For example, GO co-founder and District 7 Director James Harris was endorsed twice by GO, on whose behalf it spent more than $210,000 to get him elected and then re-elected (7). Mr Harris was quickly elevated to board leadership, spending 1 year as Vice President and 3 years as President, a time during which many of the irregularities and misspending outlined in the report occurred. As President, Director Harris worked closely with then superintendent Antwan Wilson to push GO’s Portfolio District agenda “1Oakland” that was formally adopted last year as Board Policy 6006.

Central to the Portfolio agenda is the closure of underfunded public schools as “underperforming” and the opening of charter schools, like trading stocks in a portfolio (8). Rather than strengthening and stabilizing public schools, the Portfolio Model/BP 6006, aka the Citywide Plan, is intended to create chaos through “churn”. That has been GO’s long game in underwriting school board candidates – and the grand jury report demonstrates that they have been extremely successful, using their candidates to undermine the fiscal and academic stability of OUSD schools with the aim of closing them, a process which we know is already underway. 11 charter schools have opened in Oakland since 2012, and up to 24 district schools are slated to close in the coming years. GO has gotten its money’s worth.

We must hold our OUSD Board and District officials responsible for their “astonishing” failure to do what is right for our children. We must also be very clear that by interfering in our local electoral process, GO and its billionaire backers have undermined our democracy and our public school system, and they will attempt to do it again in 2020. It is up to us to stop them.

______________________________________________

Footnotes:

(1) http://grandjury.acgov.org/grandjury-assets/docs/2018-2019/OUSD%20Broken%20Culture.FR-2.pdf page 48

(2) Ibid, page 36

(3) Grand Jury Report page 34

(4) Excellent reporting by Darwin Bond Graham  lays it out: https://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/how-a-handful-of-pro-charter-billionaires-flooded-oaklands-school-board-elections-with-big-time-cash/Content?oid=5016336

(5) Roseann Torres, who was championed by GO in 2012, fell out of favor with them by refusing to vote in lockstep with their privatization agenda, and was fiercely and viciously opposed by GO in 2016 where they spent more than $120,000 to attempt to defeat her re-election. They were not successful.

(6) Dreyer’s Ice cream was sold by the Rogers family to Nestle for $3.2 billion in 2002

(7) In contrast, the teachers’ union (OEA) spent less than $6000 on Director Harris’ opponents.

(8) https://nepc.colorado.edu/sites/default/files/PB-UrbanDecent-Saltman.pdf page 13


 

Public Schools Should Serve All Kids. Period.

Last year, we dug into the data for two co-located high schools in East Oakland to see who those schools, located on the same campus, were serving, and the results were startling. The two school populations were not even close to similar, despite, in theory, drawing from the same pool of students. If charter schools accept public money, shouldn’t they be serving all kids?

pasted image 0

We are once again in Prop 39 season, when OUSD offers up “underutilized” classrooms at district schools to charters for co-location on the OUSD campus. This year, 9 schools have been given final offers of space, and although not all are likely to take the offers, some will and that will mean disruption to the OUSD students on those campuses. In one Los Angeles community, the potential co-location of the Ganas charter has resulted in a heated battle as district parents fight to stop the disruption and inequities caused when a charter school crowds onto their campus.

In Oakland, the communities of impacted schools like Hoover, Bret Harte and West Oakland Middle School are organizing to show charter schools that the “underutilized space” that the charter would be co-opting houses vital services, and that the disruption caused by co-location is not welcome.

Colocation Inequities

So once again, let’s look at who charter schools are, and are not, serving in Oakland when they are on the same campus. OUSD currently has 6 campuses where a charter school is co-located with a district school, and 8 which have been offered to charter schools for colocation next year. Comparing the data from all 14 OUSD schools to the charters reveals a stark pattern: in every category of underserved student population, the district schools serve far more students on average in each group:

table colocations

Just as when we compared the two co-located schools in East Oakland, the results are clear, and extremely concerning. Charter schools in Oakland, at least those in District facilities, are excluding certain students in ways that concentrate need in the co-located or soon-to-be co-located district schools. At the most extreme, the population differences can be jaw-dropping. Bret Harte serves 17% more special education students than American Indian, with 11 special education teachers, a broad spectrum of need including some who require constant medical care, not to mention the 265 newcomer students in two programs. The “underutilized space” at Bret Harte provides places to meet the needs of those students and more.

Equally problematic is the “othering” of students that often accompanies co-locations, and that is particularly true when the difference is economic. At Frick Impact Academy, 93% of students qualify for Free or Reduced Price Lunch. The potentially co-located charter Urban Montessori has just 28% of students in that group, a jaw dropping 65% discrepancy. The socio-economic differences, especially at the middle school age level, can cause social and emotional harm to public school students who might see themselves as less than the more affluent charter school students.

Serve all kids logo

Charter schools like to refer to themselves as “Public Charter Schools” because they want us to believe that they are a public good in the same way our district schools are. The truth is, they are not serving all kids, and although they take public money, they are not public schools. District schools are serving all kids, regardless of need, and the spaces that are being offered up as “underutilized” are in fact critical for educating kids in those district schools. We hope that the charter schools which have been offered space at our schools, charter schools which we know are NOT including all children, will not compound the inequities that creates by taking away learning spaces from district kids.

Notes:
  1. The Lakeview campus also has a charter, but it shares space with administrative offices and is not included here.
  2. Some charters were made multi-site offers and all of those schools were included. Some were offered space at campuses which no longer house OUSD students, and they were not included as the focus of this post is co-located schools.
  3. This study was limited to the two largest demographic groups in OUSD, African American and Latino.
  4. To be clear, OUSD is not doing enough for the students they serve, and we will continue to push the District to do better for all kids.

Tell Jody London to choose: Oakland families, or the billionaire privatizers?

frank ogawa plaza day 1photo credit: Joe Brusky

It is hard to find anybody in Oakland who isn’t standing firmly behind our teachers’ demands for a living wage, smaller class sizes, and more counselors and nurses. Tens of thousands of Oaklanders have joined picket lines, rallied downtown, and marched through the streets for the schools Oakland students deserve.

However, one person we haven’t heard from is District 1 Board Director Jody London.

In fact, the community’s support for OEA’s demands are totally contrary to Director London’s support for a plan to close Kaiser Elementary School and 23 other Oakland schools – most of which are in Black and Brown communities – and which history demonstrates will result in even more charter schools – which already cost OUSD $57 million per year!jody london

As our school board member, we need to know which side Jody London is on. Parents, students and teachers, or the billionaires pushing to close and privatize our schools? It is time that Oakland teachers and students came back to their classrooms, and the sooner that Jody London takes a firm position in support of our teachers, the sooner that will happen.

Call Director London (510-879-2161), comment on her Facebook page, and email her (jody.london@ousd.org)  to ask her to immediately take a firm public position in support of our teachers and help get our students back in school. The community has spoken, now it is Jody London’s turn.

 

Tell Gary Yee to Pick a Side: Oakland Families or Billionaires?

52020608_10106072766025268_5900489752724897792_o(1)Oakland is standing firmly behind our teachers, with 95% of teachers on strike, and only an estimated 3% of Oakland families sending their kids to school.

However, while all of Oakland is in the streets, District 4 Board member Gary Yee is sitting on the sidelines.

Maybe this isn’t surprising, because he was elected with nearly $150,000 from GO Public Schools’ Super PAC, with backing from billionaire (and privatization supporter) Michael Bloomberg.Gary-Yee

As our school board member, we need to know which side Gary Yee is on: the side of parents, students and teachers, or the side of the billionaires? It is time that Oakland teachers and students come back to their classrooms, and the sooner that Gary Yee takes a firm position in support of our teachers, the sooner this strike will end.

Call (510) 290-2801, email (gary.yee@ousd.org), and post on the Facebook page of Director Yee, and tell him that he must IMMEDIATELY take a firm public position in support of OEA’s demands for a living wage, smaller class sizes, more supports for students and an end to their plan to close up to 24 schools in Black and Latinx communities.

Enough is enough. It is time for OUSD to settle this contract now and stop starving our public schools.