Tax dollars well spent?

A Tribune article in February 2004 reported that then-school board member Dan Siegel and others in the school district opposed Measure E, a renewal of the Measure B parcel tax with a rate hike. The story was written in the midst of a fiscal crisis and general upheaval, and opponents said they doubted the money would be handled properly.

Now that property owners might see a permanent renewal of that renewal after February’s election, how responsibly do you believe the money was spent? Here is a summary of how the district spent nearly $20 million in parcel tax funds during the 2006-07 school year:

Program                                                                      Expenditure

Class Size Reduction………………………………………………$4,996,032

Art………………………………………………………………………$549,635 Continue Reading


Oakland’s charter school boom continues

The California Charter Schools Association reports today that California leads the nation in the number of new charter school openings — 89 brand new schools, for a total of 686 statewide.

Oakland came in second only to Los Angeles in the number of new schools. Six new public, independently run charters opened in the city this fall.

As the number of charters grow — and in light of the governance problems and allegations of fraud that came to light this summer at the since-closed Uprep — the Oakland school district seems to be taking a hard look at its authorization and oversight practices.

Tonight, the state administrator considers major changes to the district’s charter school policies. Continue Reading


On the agenda: parcel tax, finances (no treats)

While kids are out trick-or-treating tomorrow night, the school board will be in session.  I guess we’ll all be leaving bowls of candy on the front porch.

The big ticket item on the agenda is a parcel tax election on Feb. 5, 2008. Measure B, the parcel tax passed in March 2004, expires June 30, 2009. The renewal measure would make it a permanent tax. I believe the document says the rate is now $195 per parcel.

How do you think a permanent parcel tax will go over in Oakland?

Other agenda items: Continue Reading


Special education: Another form of segregation?

cmorier.jpgI’ve received some strong and varied responses today about the story in today’s Tribune about an Asperger’s student, Corinne Morier, who was not permitted to enroll in the selective advanced drama course at Skyline High School, despite receiving `A’s in beginning drama.  

I decided to publicize the conflict because it touches on important and complicated questions of access and equity in public schools. 

As I gathered information for the story, more questions came to mind:  

How are kids with disabilities — particularly those with conditions more noticeable than Asperger’s — integrated with their non-disabled peers at school? 

How often do children with mental retardation, for example, take mainstream electives, and what kind of support do the general education teachers need — and receive — to teach these students? Continue Reading


Is science evaporating from California’s schools?

In most of the elementary classrooms in California – 80 percent – science is taught for less than an hour a week, researchers from UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science found in a study released yesterday. The researchers found that 16 percent of teachers said they spent no time at all on science.

Here is the article the Tribune published on the subject. It looks like the YouTube video was created by someone at the Lawrence Hall of Science.


Oakland High School has a principal again

ohigh.jpgMary Scott is finishing up her second week as principal of Oakland High. The former Skyline assistant principal and teacher replaces Clement Mok, who left unexpectedly over the summer. She was chosen by a panel of parents and staff through an intensive process involving role plays and interviews.

“They want open dialogue,” Scott said of the staff and parents. “They want to be able to communicate issues and have a sense they’re being heard. They also want someone they could trust to run the school.”

Here is the internal e-mail from the state administrator introducing Scott:   Continue Reading


Board’s first post-takeover committee meets tonight

Starting today, the Oakland school system should have some extra checks and balances in place as it works to regain its financial footing, more than four years after the state takeover.

A new audit committee meets at 6 p.m. tonight to hash out its rules and regulations, meeting dates and the scope of work. Board President David Kakishiba said the group might have some say about who the district hires to be its internal auditor, a position that has been left vacant for some time.

“It’s a different set of eyes on our financial condition, and I think the district should benefit from that,” he said.

The committee has seven members — three from the school board and four others: Continue Reading


Cleveland grows PTA, adds playground amenities

clevelandplay3.JPGCleveland Elementary School has made significant gains this year in a very important subject: recess.

The 325-student school near Lake Merritt has just installed a new play structure. The costly project was funded by the PTA, the school site council and a $50,000 grant from City Councilwoman Pat Kernighan.

Here’s another interesting fact about Cleveland: Its PTA is booming. Bonnie Gannon, the PTA secretary, says membership went from 75 last year to 135 this year. If my junior high math serves me right — thanks, Mrs. Novicki — that amounts to an 80 percent increase.

This seems to be part of a larger trend unfolding in pockets of the city. I’ve written about other increasingly active parent groups at Peralta, Glenview and Edna Brewer, and I’m sure there are plenty of other examples (hint, hint).

Photo courtesy of Sarah Stephens


The political travails of the homecoming monarchy

crown.jpgEXCEL High School’s would-be dukes and duchesses, princesses and kings displayed a remarkable level of courage and poise this afternoon during a homecoming assembly.

In my day, candidates for the homecoming court would simply be nominated and photographed. There was some low budget campaigning, but a nominee’s reputation and popularity would usually speak for itself in the voting booth.

By contrast, EXCEL’s aspiring royalty had to address an auditorium filled with their peers about their school involvement, leadership qualities and ideas for improving the school (The vague, appealing quality of some of the pitches — such as “changing the rules” — calls to mind the rhetoric of the presidential candidates).

Somehow, they made it through their speeches despite running commentary and, occasionally, outright booing from the peanut gallery — most likely, from the friends of the competition.

Running for a real political office, years down the road, might seem like a breeze in comparison.

Image from Skibriye’s Web site at flickr.com


Sewage in the yard, schooling as usual

In the Tribune’s “My First Year” blog, a new elementary school teacher in East Oakland’s Arroyo Viejo neighborhood shares her dismay at the handling of a sewer line break at her flatlands school.

Had human waste spewed into the play yard of a predominately middle class school, she speculated, the parents and students would surely have been notified of the incident — and of the health hazards —  and class would have been canceled for the day.

“Did our school get closed? No. Were parents informed about the accident? Only if they asked. Continue Reading