Jerry Brown writes families, plugs charter school

jerrybrownresize.jpgJerry Brown might have returned to state politics, but he is still the #1 booster of the Oakland charter school he started as mayor. 

Using his personal stationery with the California state seal and his title, the attorney general sent a recruitment letter to local families last month on behalf of the Oakland School for the Arts.

Someone who received the letter sent a copy to us and asked if political officials were allowed to use their titles to promote a personal (though not necessarily financial) interest.

I called the California Fair Political Practices Commission. For questions regarding the use of political titles, seals and/or resources, commission spokesman Roman Porter told me, “I would typically refer folks to the attorney general’s office.”


Not surprisingly, Gareth Lacy, a spokesman at the attorney general’s office, said Brown had every right to help recruit students for the charter school.

“It is acceptable for Jerry Brown to send out mail on personal letterhead,” Lacy said, adding, “The bottom line is that he thinks the Oakland School for the Arts is a great school and it’s helping to revitalize downtown Oakland.”

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Ann

    When Jerry Brown was running for Mayor the first time, he told me he thought “our children are institutionalized enough” and that home-schooling was a great idea. When the fiscal crisis broke, while concerned parents, educators and community members tried to avert a disaster, Mayor Brown was nowhere to be seen. When my daughter was nearing high-school age, we kept getting letters from him about the Military Academy. Now it’s the Arts School. Never has Jerry Brown had anything remotely like a coherent educational plan, and this is just the latest flash in the short-attention-span pan. I’m not knocking the Arts School – I don’t know enough about it to comment one way or the other – but I do know that the children of Oakland deserve better than this disorganized, half-baked approach.

  • jerry brown

    Ann seems to miss the point. The Oakland schools are under the total control of a separately
    elected board that fights against any outside involvement from the mayor’s office. I worked hard to get bond issues and tax over-rides passed for the school district. Now the state has taken control because of the school board’s mismanagement. Charter schools are a choice that parents can try. They offer diversity and creativity. I started two that have now been going for six and five years respectively. Both have sent significant numbers of students to the finest colleges in the country. Tell me what other mayors have done in the field of education.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Currently charter schools are a choice that parents can experiment with and they offer many things; some of those things are not so good for parents, children, or the taxpayers as the scandal associated with Oakland’s Uprep has demonstrated. Charter schools with poor oversight offer opportunity for the unscrupulous to swindle the public of its educational dollars.

    “By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press Writer

    Tuesday, September 4, 2007

    (09-04) 18:49 PDT San Bernardino, Calif. (AP) —

    The founder of one of California’s largest charter school networks was
    indicted Tuesday on 113 felony counts and accused of siphoning millions
    in public school funds, prosecutors said.

    C. Steven Cox, founder of the now-defunct California Charter Academy,
    was indicted on 56 counts of misappropriation of public funds and 56
    counts of grand theft, said Michael Fermin, a supervising deputy
    district attorney. Cox was also accused of failing to file a state tax
    return, he said.

    The grand jury also indicted Tad Theron Honeycutt, a Hesperia city
    councilman, on 15 counts of misappropriation of funds, 15 counts of
    grand theft, three counts of failure to file a state tax return and one
    count of filing a false tax return.

    They are accused of transferring more than $5 million in charter school
    funds to the network’s private management firm to cover expenses, Fermin

    The point that Jerry Brown misses it that the opportunity his resources provide for two
    schools could not be provided for all Oakland schools without raising taxes. Instead of
    trying to raise all boats in Oakland, Jerry Brown’s educational strategy was to abandoned the the more than 100 public schools to focus on lifting up two charter schools.

    Perhaps it can be said about Jerry Brown that when it came to public education no other
    large city mayor in their term did so much for so few.

    Now as Attorney General his office is faced with prosecution of charter school swindlers.
    Does his commitment to the charter school movement disqualify Attorney General
    Jerry Brown from wholehearted prosecution of these charter school swindlers?

  • http://ibabuzz.com?education Steve Weinberg

    Mayor Brown fails to mention in his posting that the voters gave him the power to select some members for the Oakland School Board. One of the members he selected was his personal accountant, Harold Pendergass. Mr. Pendergrass was on the Board when some of the fiscal problems that led to the state takeover took place. I do not remember him issuing any warnings about potential problems. When the Uprep problems arose this summer, I was interested to see that Mr. Pendergrass was on the Board of that school also, and again never saw a problem coming. I also remember when one of Mr. Brown’s appointees had to resign, Mr. Brown showed so little interest in the powers the voters had granted him that he waited months to pick a replacement. It would be interesting to know the total cost to taxpayers (local, state, and federal) for Mr. Brown’s two charters.

  • jerry brown

    Again the anti-charter school bias comes out. The voters of Oakland approved a two year experiement that allowed 3 mayoral appontees to the school board. None of the appointees had to resign nor were any my “personal accountant.” One of them did repeatedly warn the board that it was overspending. All three were isolated and attacked by the same political forces that helped drive the district into bakruptcy. I am proud that the number of charter schools went from three to 23 during my eight years as mayor. Are all them great schools. No. Far from it. But many of them are doing very good work and and all are meeting the needs of the families that choose them. The competition between indpendent charter school and the central district is healthy. The essence of democracy is freedom and choice. That is what our state school laws provide. Some will fail. That is inherent in a system that allows citizens to create their own learning environments.

  • Caroline

    I have to object to disparaging a legitimate opinion as a “bias.” In my case, I started out viewing charter schools as promising, but the more I learned, the more I came to oppose them. So is that a “bias?”

    I have a web page describing the problems with charter schools, in case anyone wants to learn more:


    And I also frequently blog about them:


    …including the Oakland School for the Arts:


  • jerry brown

    Alright, let’s not call it a bias but a rather fixed opinion. The fact is that charter schools are new alternative for families. Unlike the centralized school district, subject to thousands of laws and regulations, these educational environments are the product a small group of people visioning their own approach to learning. Although there are thousands of rules governing these schools too, they are few in number than the school districts. Also, the small number of people in charge makes for a more human scale. I readily asknowledge that failure will occur but that is a small price to pay for creative possibility. In any event, education belongs to the family and each one should have the widest possible choices open to them. This is the rationale for charter schools. My hope is that schools throughout the state will benefit from the innovation and the competition.

  • http://ibabuzz.com?education Steve Weinberg

    Mr. Brown says he hopes that all the schools in the state will benefit from the innovation and competition provided by charter schools. I just reread the letter he sent to Oakland parents about the Oakland School for the Arts. If that school is so successful, why is it still in need of students a few weeks before school begins, and what effect will Mr. Brown’s recruiting of new students at this time have on the public schools which have been staffed based on those students attending there?
    I have never seen any benefit for any non-charter school from the competition with charter schools. What I have seen are some charters that attract are top students, leaving the regular schools without the proficient students so badly needed under No Child Left Behind. I have seen charters that take in all students, promising to do educational wonders, and then sending the most needy students back after a year or two of woefully inadequate education, with incomplete records and transcripts.
    Now three requests for information:
    1. Mr. Brown says that none of his school board appointees had to resign. I am almost sure I remember 4 different people holding those 3 seats, and one of them being forced to resign by either ill health or a change of employment. My internet searches have been futile. Does someone else remember?
    2. Katy, last year I remember reading about a billboard controversy and an advertising company offering to devote a percentage of the profits from selling ads on a giant billboard to the Oakland School for the Arts in exchange for the right to erect that billboard. Did that ever happen?
    3. Several years ago I read an article saying that the Oakland School for the Arts student body was comprised of about 50% of students who lived outside of Oakland, and that only about half of the students who did live in Oakland came from Oakland Public Schools. What are the current figures, if anyone knows?

  • Ann

    Mr. Brown expresses strong support for charter schools and disagrees with those who have what he calls a “fixed opinion” against them. So let’s ask the obvious question: Does Mr. Brown have a “fixed opinion” against those public schools that are not charters? You know, the regular public schools? Everything that I’ve ever heard from him would indicate this. It’s all well and good to support schools that are indivdual learning environments created by individual citizens, but not at the cost of a coherent plan for education that encompasses the entire system, and not at the cost of taking from Oakland’s needy public school students in the name of creative experimentation.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Ex-Mayor Brown is right that charter schools are a choice for families but not a new choice having been around for more than a decade. Charter school success has been mixed in terms of high stakes test scores. And, the growing understanding of the lack of oversight that has allowed the charter schools to scam the system and cost the taxpayers millions cries out for better oversight of charter schools.

    The price of that oversight means more and more public school dollars diverted from the underfunded public school budget to pay for more and more regulation of charter schools.

    At some point the question has to be asked is the taxpayer willing to pay for an extra charter school system in order to provide parents with a greater amount of school choice?

    I am not so much biased against charter schools as I don’t believe it is good public policy to create a parallel system that doesn’t make economic sense. Ex-mayor Brown thinks charter schools are a good idea because they provide choice and promote competition. But, he never mentions the success of the charter school lobby in getting passed legislation that is biased against local school board’s deciding whether to say yes or no on charter schools. These pro charter school growth policies reduce competition that the Ex-mayor praises in the abstract. These pro-charter school laws mean a local school district such as Oakland, a declining enrollment District, cannot defend itself against the growth of charter school undermining its school budget. The charter school laws allow only narrow reasons for school boards declining a petition. And, if a petition is declined, like Ex-Mayor Brown, the petitioner has two more levels of appeals to get approval for a charter school.

    Most recently the charter school lobby has gotten passed legislation that requires a local district to house charter schools in their district. This requirement extends to charter schools created by either the County or the State Board of Education. Clearly the charter school movement has given choice to parents at the expense of local school districts loss of control over their budget and the planning of the location of school facilities. Parent choice is pitted against local control and local control is loosing.

    Finally, parent choice comes at the expense of the taxpayer of state and local taxes that have no choice in paying for cost of an addition education system of charter schools that are poorly regulated, and operate in semi-darkness out of the view of the general public.

    Yet, the added on charter school system has not proven to be consistently superior to the traditional public school system but only proven itself more expensive. One of the success stories in Oakland was the KIPP middle school that left the Oakland public schools system for more money claiming it could not continue to operate on the same financial diet provided in the Oakland public schools. KIPP could not afford to operate its model of education as a public school.

    Ex-mayor Brown has raised money for his two charter schools, money I would assume that the 150 Oakland public schools would like to have had access to. An enriched charter school would of course be an alternative for a parent, but a few enriched schools is not an alternative for all parents and leaves the vast majority behind in schools poorer and drained of its financial and intellectual resources.

  • alison

    One of the major problems in education is that it is so politicized. There are “good” schools, charter and traditional public schools; as well as “poor” charter and traditional public schools. There needs to be more education for parents about what quality schooling is so that they are equipped to advocate for and support their children, regardless of which venue they choose for educating their children. We should examine more closely what is working and is not working in schools. What lessons can we learn from schools (charter, small, traditional) that is working and how to we build on those lessons.

    Oakland has spent too much time and money on wide scale experimentation with very little result for children and their families. The beneficiaries of this experimentation have been organizations that have been created or expanded. If we were to compare this to the district’s central office administration, the adminstration of the educational enterprise would be much greater today than years ago. I’m not advocating for centralization, but because we now have a more free-market educational system; more attention needs to be given to educating parents about what a quality education really is and this should not be done by biased community groups, educational management organizations, or the Attorney General who play favorites.

  • Rhonda

    Alison you are right on. Let’s see if the education decision makers will work towards your suggestion of educating parents in a non-bias way, so parents can make the decisions about what education environment will work best for their child. And while educating these parents about their choices in education environments, all education environments should be equally educating, not some educating, some mis-educating, some sub-educating, and some just holding pins until the young person is of age. Parents should know what real education is, then then they can ask the question, What are the indicators that Oakland School for the Arts is educating? And I’m not talking about high test scores, API, AYP, not a PI school, etc.