By Thomas Ultican / Tultican
These are interesting times in Oakland, California. The public-school system is again teetering on the edge of financial collapse. The Destroy Public Education (DPE) movement has succeeded in privatizing more than a quarter of the district and has fomented financial turmoil. Concurrently, a dynamic young woman, Kyla Johnson-Trammell, has been selected as the new Superintendent of Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). On that news, Oakland Magazine’s headline blared, “Finally Some Stability.”
Mike Hutchinson, an education activist from Oakland, told Capital & Main that districts like OUSD are being used as a kind of policy Petri dish by charter supporters. It is how they are refining takeover strategies outlined for Los Angeles by the Broad charter expansion plan.
In the Capital & Main article author Bill Raden quoted Hutchinson,
‘“A lot of these policies were first tried out in Oakland,’ he said. ‘If you go back and look at the Eli Broad handbook on school closures, a lot of the source information that they used for that report is from Oakland. Because they used Oakland to experiment for a lot of these things.”’
It was Oakland’s famous mayor, Democrat Jerry Brown along with fellow Democrat Don Perata, who ignited the destroy public education (DPE) movement in Oakland.
Creating Economic Chaos to Privatize Schools
By 2003, OUSD Superintendent, Dennis Chaconas, succeeded in significantly improving many facets of the school district. Academic performance on state testing was up. The long overdue 24% pay raises that he and the board gave teachers in 2000 had halted the debilitatingly high teacher turnover rates.
However, as New York Times’s Dean Murphy reported:
“That Mr. Chaconas made enemies during his tenure as superintendent is not in dispute. Though he attended Oakland schools and taught here as well, from the very beginning he was considered a political outsider. The school board gave him the job in 2000 over the objection of Mayor Jerry Brown, who has made school reform a pillar of his term and who had pushed a City Hall official for the superintendent’s post.
“Mr. Chaconas acknowledges that as he focused on academics he paid too little attention to finances. Not enough money was allocated to pay for the raises for teachers, and the district did not count on a drop in state money because of its declining enrollment. Those and other problems went undetected, officials said, because of antiquated computer and bookkeeping systems.” (emphasis added)
Ken Epstein of Oakland Crossings noted,
“At the time, State Schools’ Supt. O’Connell [Democrat] and influential State Senator Don Perata [Democrat] were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt.”
“OUSD had adequate money on hand in a construction fund that could have temporarily paid off the shortfall, but the state would not allow Oakland to tap into that fund, though the practice was allowed in other districts.”
“The loan from the state was spent by the state – with no outside oversight. The state administrator, a trainee of the Broad Foundation, spent the money as he saw fit.”
“No audits were conducted for six years.”
It appears Chaconas realized that the OUSD accounting system was dated and needed modernizing. The conservative publication EducationNext said that in 2003 “New software, installed so that the school district could better understand its finances, had uncovered a $40 million deficit from the previous year.”
Like the Republican politicians in Detroit, Democratic politicians in California pushed OUSD into financial disarray. And like Detroit, Oakland’s financial issues were driven by declining enrollment stemming from the same drivers; privatization, gentrification and suburban development.
One of the new privatized schools undermining OUSD’s financial health was founded by Mayor Jerry Brown. It is called the Oakland Military Institute (OMI). The OMI website relates this telling history:
“OMI was founded in 2001 after a hard-fought two-year campaign led by then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. Governor Gray Davis [Democrat] helped secure the charter after local school boards rejected it. It was the first charter ever sponsored by the state, the first public military school and the first school sponsored by the National Guard.”
The elitist push to place military schools and no excuses charter schools like the KIPP franchise in minority neighborhoods is propelled by bigotry. The elites are implicitly saying “those people’s kids are not raised right and must be fixed.”
Politically and financially weak neighborhoods are easy targets for plunder.
Plenty of Sellouts Willing to Carry Billionaire Water
Since California took over OUSD, the district superintendent position has been a revolving door. The Black Organizing Project, took a strong position on the recent OUSD superintendent search. Attributing even greater significance to this latest selection because of the instability in the office of superintendent, they noted:
“… 9 superintendents in the last 16 years. …. It means for the last 16 years OUSD has not had a dedicated superintendent who is truly invested in the improvement and empowerment of Oakland youth, or creating healthy, supportive school climates.”
In 2003, the state of California took over OUSD and installed Randolph Ward, a recent graduate of the Broad Academy, as superintendent.
The Broad Academy is an unaccredited administration training program for school leaders run by the Broad Foundation. Reporting in 2016, the New York Times Motoko Rich said, “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.”
Broad’s theory is that public school administrators and elected school boards lack the financial background to run large organizations. Rich’s Times article explained, ‘“The new academy,’ he said, would ‘dramatically change this equation’ by seeking candidates in educational circles as well as recruiting from corporate backgrounds and the military, introducing management concepts borrowed from business.”
Chief school administrators trained at the Broad academy have a record of district disruption and fiscal mismanagement. John Deasy from the Broad class of 2006 was a disaster in LA. Jean-Claude Brizard from the Broad class of 2007 lasted just 17 months in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported, “The board gave Brizard low marks for the way he communicates and runs the district.” There is a long list of Broad-trained failures and these harm people’s children.
Motoko Rich reported “During his time here, Mr. Ward opened two dozen small schools but also closed 14 schools. New charter schools were also opening, cutting into enrollment at district schools.” When Ward arrived in Oakland there were 15 charter schools and when he left for San Diego three years later there were 28 charter schools.
Ward moved on to become the superintendent of San Diego County Schools. Wards tenure in San Diego did not end well. The San Diego Reader reported, “Six months after San Diego County Office of Education superintendent Randolph Ward resigned amid allegations of fraud and mismanagement, turmoil at the office continues.”
Ward was succeeded in Oakland by his Broad Academy classmate, Kimberly A. Statham. Statham was elevated to superintendent for the remainder of the school year. She resigned at the end of the 2006-2007 school year to go to work for the new Superintendent of the Washington DC schools, Michelle Rhee.
Statham had come to Oakland from Baltimore with some baggage. The Baltimore Sun series “Where Are They Now,” announced, “Today’s installment features Kimberly A. Statham, the former chief academic officer for Howard County Schools who resigned following allegations of a grade-changing scandal involving her daughter.”
In Washington DC, Statham was actually hired by Deborah A. Gist. Gist said she was aware of the grade-changing scandal. The Sun article shared, ‘“We discussed it really briefly,’ Gist said. ‘It seems clear that it was an unfortunate situation, and that Kimberly had done the right thing, and that she did not do anything that would concern me at all.”’
Today, Statham is the Deputy Superintendent of Montgomery County public schools and her friend Gist is the Broad-trained administrator tormenting Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Statham was followed in Oakland by a third straight Broad graduate, Vincent Mathews a 2006 Broad graduate along with classmate John Deasy. Matthews oversaw district operations as state administrator from 2007 to 2009. By the time Mathews departed there were 32 district charters and one county authorized charter for a total of 33 charters.
The San Francisco Examiner reports that in 2001, Mathews was the principal of the for-profit Edison School in San Francisco where he was accused of falsifying grades and pushing out low performing black students.
Mathews was the last state-appointed superintendent in Oakland. He left Oakland in 2009 to be an Area Superintendent for San Diego Unified School District. Today, he is the superintendent of schools in San Francisco.
It was five years before the OUSD board – influenced significantly by big money – hired another Broad graduate, Antwan Wilson; class of 2014. Wilson came to Oakland from Denver where he served under Broad class of 2009 graduate Tom Boasberg.
After two and a half years on the job, Wilson left Oakland to be superintendent of schools in the nation’s capital. Soon after Wilson left Oakland, huge budget problems were discovered causing the school board to immediately order more than $15 million in mid-year budget cuts. When Wilson left there were 40 charter schools serving more than 25% of the students.
In an article detailing some of the mismanagement and greed in Oakland, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reported:
“Wilson brought in dozens of executive staff members from outside the Oakland district, creating new positions and departments that were not budgeted, and paying more than was customary in the district, …. In 2013, before Wilson arrived in Oakland, only four administrators earned more than $200,000; two years later, at least 26 did, ….”
Wilson pushed hard to create a unified enrollment system in Oakland, which is the big goal of charter school advocates. It gives them an appearance of legitimacy and opens up more sales opportunities. Motoko Rich reported, “Mr. Wilson says that a single application form, where parents rank their choices among all schools and students are assigned through a computer algorithm, will reduce the ability of well-connected parents to place their children in the most desirable schools and force charters to be more open about how they admit students.” (emphasis added)
Wilson has already resigned in disgrace from his Washington DC position. The Washington Times notice of his demise led with “D.C. Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson resigned Tuesday amid a scandal over receiving preferential treatment in the transfer of his daughter to a school outside her district in violation of a policy he had written himself.”
The DPE Strategy of Leveraging National Dollars and Local Dollars to Privatize Schools
Recently deceased T. Gary Rogers was the chairman and CEO of Oakland-based Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Inc., for 30 years. He also served as a former chairman of Safeway Inc., the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and Levi Strauss & Co. The Roger Family Foundation he started with his wife Kathleen is a key local organizer pushing the Billionaire agenda of privatizing schools and promoting children being educated at computer screens. The foundation states:
“Today, Oakland’s local education ecosystem is in a much better place. The local charter sector continues to thrive, …. Agents for change have also taken root and sprouted. GO Public Schools Oakland, for example, has grown in its role in organizing, mobilizing, advocating, and engaging the community in local education governance and policy. …. The emergence of both the Oakland Public Education Fund (Ed Fund) and Educate78 have also added strong leadership and expanded the capacity of the local education ecosystem. The Oakland Ed Fund has emerged as the city’s trusted, go-to fiscal partner and funder convener, incubating nearly every significant education reform initiative supporting Oakland’s PK-12 system, including the Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenge in Oakland initiative.”
Education Cities, the soon to be replaced national organization for destroying public education, lists as its partner in Oakland, Go Public Schools Oakland. Go is a 501 C3 charity that funnels money to charter school incubation and other needs. Great Oakland Public Schools is Go’s dark money organization that takes advantage federal tax code 501c4 to funnel unattributed money into mainly school board elections.
The Rogers Foundation describes Education 78,
“Founded in 2015 as a spinoff from the NewSchools Venture Fund, Educate78 exists to ensure that every student, in all 78 square miles of Oakland, has access to world-class public schools. Educate 78 serves as a critical partner through their informed giving for quality schools development and in operating a school design lab, which provides tools, technical assistance, training, and coaching to both new charter school developers as well as district redesign teams.”
The Ed Fund is a big 501 C3 foundation that that takes in large amounts of cash from mainly bay area billionaires and foundations then makes the money available to the privatization agenda. The Next Generation Learning Challenge is a Bill Gates sponsored initiative to promote the sale of technology into public education. It specifically promotes “blended learning” and “personalized learning.”
Many charter schools in Oakland are using children as guinea pigs for computer-based learning strategies like “personalized learning,” which is truly an Orwellian moniker. The following chart lists foundation spending on this agenda (mostly in Oakland) in 2013.
There is a New Sheriff in Town
A constant theme promoted by the DPE movement is “every student deserves a high-quality school.” When you hear a billionaire or one of his minions say this, you and your community are targeted and you’re about to be fleeced.
The United States developed a unique education system that was the envy of the world and the great foundation upon which our democratic experiment in self-governance was established. Over two centuries, we developed a system in which every community had a high-quality public school.
These schools had professionals who earned their positions by completing training at accredited institutions. Government rules and oversight ensured that school facilities were safe, and the background of all educators was investigated. In urban areas like Oakland, there was a professionally run public school in every neighborhood.
Could it have been improved? Of course, and that is exactly what was happening before the deceitful attack on public education and teachers.
Oakland Magazine reported,
“After a superintendent brought in from the outside left the Oakland Unified School District in debt and disarray, a coalition of angry parents, teachers, and community organizers demanded that the school board appoint an executive with strong local ties. This spring, the board responded by hiring Kyla Johnson-Trammell as the district’s new schools’ chief. She officially took command of the 37,000-student district on July 1.”
“Johnson-Trammell initially was not even one of the four finalists for the superintendent’s job, according to a coalition of interest groups that claims credit for raising such a ruckus that the Oakland school board changed gears and tapped Johnson-Trammell for the job.”
This is a good sign. The billionaires were not able to pick another Broadie because the community was done with being abused. I hope the Oakland community rallies around this bright young woman, Kyla Johnson-Trammel, and shows the rest of California how to defeat the DPE movement. Let us once again have a professionally managed quality public school in every Oakland neighborhood.