Fact check about charter schools

Last week, you may have been handed a flyer against Measure N, the Outstanding Teachers for All Oakland Students parcel tax.

I saw it, too, and the wording of one anti-N argument caught my eye:

Measure N takes 15% off the top for elite private charter schools. This shortchanges the remaining 37,000 district students. It invites even more charters to Oakland to grab a greater share of Oakland’s public money.

The thing is, charters are public schools. Yes, they are run independently of the school district, and the public funds that they receive go straight to the school, rather than through central administrative offices. Some critics argue that charters function somewhat like private schools. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are public.

I brought the wording to the attention of Betty Olson-Jones, the president of the Oakland teacher’s union, who helped draft the flyer in question. She acknowledged the error, and said she didn’t know how it happened. She said it was supposed to say “privatized.” A later version of the document reflected that change.

“I don’t know how that slipped through, because we know they’re not private schools,” she said.

The average voter, however, may not.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Jim Mordecai


    Good catch Katy because charter schools are not private schools. Misstating the facts in a flyer in opposition to Measure N is not acceptable. I am glad that OEA President Betty Olson-Jones has corrected the misstatement.

    However, charter schools are not just public schools end of story. They are also corporate schools and their charter is between both the public school district that authorizes them and the charter school that take out papers making the school a corporation. Oakland schools that are not charter schools have not taken out corporation papers.

    Misleading the voters by a misleading title should also not be acceptable. As a supporter of No on Measure N, I would have been pleased if your reporter sharp eye also caught the misinformation contained in the title of Measure N? Many voters on reading their voter pamphlet and seeing the title “The Outstanding Teachers for all Oakland Students” might incorrectly think all the ten year $1.8 million parcel tax money is for teacher salaries end of story.

    The fact is that Jack O’Connell’s ten years, $18 million, Oakland charter school tax is to be sent to charter schools for charter school programs and not allocated for teacher salaries.

    Neither fish, nor fowl, charter schools are not what the public thinks of as a public school. They are public schools in that they receive public school funding but their governance does not have the same requirements and democratic oversight as public schools and it is perfectly legal for charter school governance structure to leave the public behind and have no local representation on their governing board.

    If Oakland is an example of the average charter school authorizer, oversight of the average charter school is inadequate as Oakland has flunked the last three audits by the State Controller in management and oversight of its charter schools.

    Considering our Country’s present focus on lack of oversight of Wall Street, the voters of Oakland might want to consider not voting for Measure N, and an $18 million charter school tax with public regulation as inadequate as Wall Street.

    My understanding is that the idea of an Oakland parcel tax started with Jack O’Connell’s office looking to pay down Oakland’s State loan. However, with the economic crisis at the State level, and not wanting a strike action derailing his ambition to be Governor, the combination teacher pay raise and charter school tax was conceived and placed on the ballot this summer with such speed that Jack O’Connell’s press agent was still following the original script and telling reports that the parcel tax was to pay down Oakland’s State debt weeks after Oakland’s State Administrator had sent the parcel tax to the county and county officials had placed Measure K on the November ballot.

    Jim Mordecai

  • TheTruthHurts

    Oakland as a community needs to decide if they want charter schools. If they decide they do, they need to ensure those schools are funded. What opponents correctly recognize is the growth of charters siphon off students that make running the larger district harder to do. Someone somewhere will need to address that tension if we are to find a sustainable solution.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Defeat of Measure N would show in some peoples’ minds that the Oakland community does not want to support charter schools with its taxes.

    But, such a defeat might only mean that the Oakland Community didn’t support this particular charter school tax. The terms of Measure N says for ten years 15% of the tax revenues shall go to “support successful charter school programs.” And, without guidelines defining successful charter school programs, it is up to a committee to decide which charter school program gets a share of Measure N’s $18 million of Oakland property owner’s taxes over the next ten years. Measure N’s lack of clearly in stating what the charter schools will use Measure N money might be an explanation for Oakland voters turning down Measure N that is independent of the Oakland Community’s feeling about charter schools.

    My explanations above will be moot if the voters pass Measure N. But, will not be moot is the harm Jack O’Connell’s $18 million charter school tax will do to the finances of the Oakland Public Schools.

    Jim Mordecai

  • http://www.myschool.org/oaklandcharters Denis

    The California Charter Schools Association supports Measure N because it increases all public school teachers’ salaries in Oakland and provides a modest 15% allocation to public charter schools, an amount that reflects the percentage of current public school students served by Oakland’s charter schools.

  • Jim Mordecai


    Isn’t it nice that the California Charter School Association wants to increasing Oakland Public School teachers salaries. And, isn’t nice that the California Charter School association wants only a modest 15% charter school property tax.

    But, it must be not nice but confusing for charter school teachers to see its association lobbying for money for public school teacher pay raises but supporting Measure N sending money to successful charter school programs and not to charter school teachers.

    Ironic that California Charter School Association favors public school teachers over its own teachers.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Nick

    Public school teachers are public school teachers, whether they teach at a charter public school or a district public one.

    The real question is: why wouldn’t the California Charter Schools Association support raises for ALL public school teachers?

    Charter and district teachers hold the same California teaching credentials. Some charter teachers have moved to district schools, and many district teachers have moved to charter schools.

    Most importantly, they are all trying to teach Oakland students, inspiring them to grade level and beyond, to college and beyond. They enjoy the same challenge of teaching standards, and preparing their students to take state tests.

    Like many others, the California Charter Schools Association is concerned about the undemocratic way Measure N appeared on the ballot. It is concerned that 15% of the proceeds of Measure N will go to charter school teachers, when 19% of Oakland public school students are served by charter schools.

    But at the end of the day, this parcel tax will get teachers higher pay. That means fewer teachers will be forced to move, or to commute outside to get the higher pay they deserve. That is why the California Charter Schools Association supports Measure N.

  • http://flboondoggle.wordpress.com/ Travis Pillow

    One reason man people confuse private schools and charter schools is that not all students have access to charter schools. Waiting lists are long, ad the schools divert resources from public schools while only serving a fraction of students.

    If charter schools were ever to start serving a majority, there wouldn’t be enough money to go around.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Fruitvale Res:

    Perhaps you will find a parent of a student attending an Oakland public school, or an Oakland public corporate charter school, that will say No to Measure N because they want the public’s parcel tax money to go to teachers instead of taking 15% away from teachers and sending $18 million to the few charter school programs that are successful while the other charter schools receive nothing.

    The wording of Measure N is such that even charter school teachers at successful charter school may not get any of that 15%, $18 million parcel tax money and no money for charter school teachers?

    That might strike some flatland parents as a poorly constructed Measure N with corporate charter school administrations deciding how the $18 million will be spent.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Katy Murphy

    “Fruitvale Res” posted this comment earlier under a few different entries, and I mistakenly deleted it from this one, thinking it was an accidental duplicate. Here it is:

    “Searching for Compromises That Support Oakland Students

    I firmly believe that we must step back and look through one lens; will Measure N benefit Oakland public school students?

    Suspending any biases – the answer about Measure N would be yes and it is not a complicated dissection. The two key questions are:

    1. Does OUSD need to pay teachers more to be locally competitive?
    The answer is yes. There is a substantial gap between OUSD and other bay area school districts. Teachers directly impact student academic growth and in an age of limited resources, they should be the targeted recipients. We cannot let the good be victim to the perfect (or fair) – simply pay teachers more.

    2. Should charter schools be included in any district measure?
    This answer is not as clear. If you want all Oakland public school students to benefit from the parcel tax power of the district – then yes. If you feel that no charter school is deserving of anything – then no.
    What is hard to argue is that charter schools exist for a reason – and it is not because of some vast conspiracy. Charter schools exist because Oakland parents as a whole are not satisfied. There is no blame here – everyone in education is overworked and underpaid – but the reality is that parents want a better product and many (not all) charter schools meet that parent driven need.

    Now when we include our biases we end up making decisions that hurt our ability to serve Oakland students. This pushes us to the ultimate question; does our inherent disagreement with this measure justify hurting Oakland students?

    Real talk time – I for one would like to find one parent of a flatland student who would oppose this measure. Their voice is the one that matters here – not the cacophony of the ideologues.”

  • Sharon

    Can one of you tell me if charter schools only hire non-union teachers? I am under this impression. How do the benefits for teachers at charter schools compare to the benefits of teachers in traditional/regular public schools?

    Years ago I worked as an RN in Utah. No union for nurses existed there and we were all quite naïve. When I moved to California I finally found out what being protected from the demands of employers meant.

    In Utah, we were expected to work any shift on any day that was dictated, and the shift differential ($) was negligible. Compliance was the norm and if you wanted employment there was no other option. In California, conditions for nurses had been negotiated with the hospital management so nurses would be treated fairly. Decent shift differentials had been negotiated as well (night shifts are a hardship for most and have also been linked to cancer). This experience is how I learned the importance of unions.

    Charter schools are known for creating their own rules, right? For instance, I can see that hiring young teachers would appeal to charter schools because they have the energy and eagerness to work themselves to the bone. They would also be immature and reluctant to complain. Young teachers wouldn’t be thinking much about the un-sustainability of their intense level of output over the course of a career; coping with work over the long haul (i.e. one’s lifetime) isn’t yet on their minds. Employees who can’t visualize themselves growing older and who haven’t yet started their families wouldn’t have retirement benefits and decent insurance coverage on their brains, either. Why be concerned about union protections?

    Isn’t the expansion of charter schools a way to reduce the strength of unions? I often read comments suggesting that poor student achievement is because of lousy teachers and that teachers’ unions are why those bad teachers are kept employed. This has never made sense to me.

    From my experience in OUSD, the reason for poor employees staying for years is that administrators may, or may not, be willing to properly supervise and then process them. My daughters have had 80 teachers over the past 16 years and only a few have been true duds. When parents are vigilant, when the administration does what it is supposed to do, and when everyone takes the time to build the case by documenting the problems, the bad teachers usually get booted out by due process.

    By the way, of all the teachers we’ve experienced, some of the novice teachers were fine and others were terrible. Most of the older teachers have been solid. We’ve had a few older teacher duds (including one at a hills elementary), but a number of the OUSD teachers we’ve experienced have been excellent. They deserve to be more generously rewarded for their work, but I’m not voting for Measure N.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Fruitvale Res:

    Don’t read on as I am one of the voices that don’t matter. I believe corporate charter schools are wasteful of the public’s money and lack oversight.

    My bias aside, I agree that Oakland teachers must be better paid to be competitive but disagree that Measure N will make Oakland teachers competitive as competitive as surrounding districts. San Francisco raised more money when it passed its parcel tax and provided 3% of its parcel tax money to its charter schools while Oakland provided 15%.

    And, when San Francisco wrote its parcel tax, San Francisco designated that its 3% parcel tax money for corporate charter schools could only be used for teacher raises. San Francisco avoided sending millions to just a few charter school administrations, as would happen under the language of Oakland’s Measure N.

    How will Oakland be as competitive as San Francisco if it raises less money per its population and gives more away to its corporate charter schools?

    What you are proposing Fruitvale Res is that Oakland voters ignore $18 million being sent to a few high scoring charter schools, which may well never reach a single charter school teacher, to provide money for OUSD teachers’ pay raise.

    And, what you are ignoring is that this $18 million dollars will be a lure for opening more and more charter schools in Oakland with over 15% of its student population already enrolled in charter schools.

    Also, when does $18 million dollars bring? It will bring to Oakland inspired con artists that on seeing the money Oakland provides will seek to game the system.

    So how is throwing $18 million to a select few corporate charter school administrations, ignoring future impact on the OUSD budget of $18 million corporate charter school incentive, and underfunding the effort to make Oakland teachers’ pay more competitive by skimming 15% for a few selected corporate charter schools, serve Oakland’s children?

    Perhaps there are residents from the Fruitvale flatland that would rather vote No on $18 million dollar flawed Measure N while being prepared to vote on a better parcel tax without so many flaws.

    At lease the teachers of Oakland will be able to count on Fruitvale Res vote for the next parcel tax that will follow the defeat of Measure N because Fruitale Res is rightfully concerned with the differences in pay in Oakland and surrounding districts.

    Oakland Tribune, Oakland education unions, City Council, and the Oakland Chamber of Commerce oppose Measure N. And, Measure was so badly written that it brought all these different forces together in opposition.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Jim Mordecai


    The over 30 corporate charter schools in Oakland are non-union.

    However, these charter schools could become part of a union if the corporate charter school teachers in each school wanted to become part of a union.

    In ten years of Oakland corporate charter schools none of the charter schools has become unionized and I think there must be difficulties in organizing such schools or surely some would have taken such a step by now.

    One of the problems with charter schools is that the turn-over in personnel is so high it is a difficult population to unionize.

    Maybe someone else has a view as to why not one of the Oakland charter schools has become unionized.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Fruitvale Res

    Jim –

    I think I understand your point, but the different frames you use to shape reader opinion is a bit disingenuous and factually unsupported.

    Your opposition against a measure because it is poorly written and incorporates charter schools is justified in your schema. As a result it delays ANY additional monies for OUSD teachers. It postpones the next measure to an off cycle election that will include fewer voters and be inherently less democratic and more driven by special interests. The result of which will be completely unknown. Making that choice as a voter is both calculated and justified. Just not a risk I would take.

    My concerns are:

    1. The consummate conjoining of “corporate” and “charter.”
    Charter schools in Oakland are incorporated non-profits. If this is where you are pulling corporate from that is a stretch. Most importantly, every charter school in the state of California is held accountable by a elected officials. That is right – the school, county, or state boards of education hold the fate of every charter school in their hands. If you don’t like their decisions vote accordingly.

    2. Veiled assumptions absent of data
    Your last post to Sharon mentions that no charter in Oakland is unionized because of high “turn-over.” Maybe Katy can compose a story that includes both comparative turn-over data and first person accounts as to why no school has unionized. Charter schools within the state have unionized, read about Green Dot Schools in Los Angeles for more information.

    However, what is most important is this measure. The choices are rather simple, guarantee less funding by voting no. Or accept the imperfect because the overall impact is good. I will take that risk because I do not feel confident about the political landscape on year from now with the following lingering questions:
    * Who will be the electorate next year in an off cycle election? Wouldn’t be easier to leverage a 34% opposition?
    * Will the new school board have the necessary momentum to create the inertia to approve a new Measure?
    * Where will the economy be in a year and how will that influence voting?

  • Jim Mordecai

    Fruitvale Res:

    First, my impression is that someone that writes about how I “frame” my argument and the quality of democracy in off year elections and uses phrase such as “veiled assumptions absent of data, is not Joe the Plumber from the Fruitvale flatlands of Oakland.

    Now there are about 34 corporate charter schools in Oakland and there are no charter schools that have not taken out papers of incorporation. I assume that all charter schools in California take out corporation papers.

    Your point that there must be distinction made between for-profit and non-profit corporations means little to me as I am aware that administrations of non-profits can become very wealthy. Also, the important point about charter schools being corporations is that they are not subject to the same rules of oversight that are public schools. It is public schools that we know verses the corporate charter schools that most of the public does not known. Supporters of corporate charter schools would have the public believe that there is no difference and their mantra is charter schools are public schools and my mantra is that charter schools are corporate public schools.

    As for your take the money now even if Measure N is flawed argument, I would say it is an issue of short term gain for long term (ten years) undermining of the budget of the Oakland public schools. The impact is clearly that $18 million dollars will attract more charter school operators. It is the morally low road for teachers to take money that will mean larger class sizes and more school closures. It is not easy for teachers and their union leadership to reject revenue increase but it is righteous for them to vote No on Measure N.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Fruitvale Res

    Impressions aside – your arguments reveal that you must not consider charter schools as part of educating Oakland youth. Every charter school must have articles of incorporation and bylaws to operate. Therefore, simply opening a charter school places one within your “corporate” status. Back to my original post…

    I am searching for anyone willing to compromise to serve and support kids. Not meet the interests of charter schools, or school district officials, “corporate” interests, or union platforms.

    Is more money in the system (admittedly targeted at teachers and a pro-rata share to charter schools) good for kids?

    Or are willing to say no on principle in hopes that the political landscape will improve next year and produce a more perfect measure?

    I for one emphatically vote yes for Measure N because there is a continuing educational crisis in Oakland. I am flabbergasted that we who serve Oakland youth would willingly deny additional resources to advance their efforts. The children of Oakland deserve better from us.

    I am trying to imagine how I would explain the failure of this measure to my students. I have yet to think of a response that would satisfy their inquiry. In the end -this is a measure for kids, not adults. A vote yes is a vote for kids.

  • 1day at a time

    The more I learn about this measure N failure, the more I understand how a few powerful people have had a death grip on Oakland’s education structure – and will do anything to keep the power.

    it was actually argued that passing N would mean school closures, more charters, etc.

    So special interest groups (unions) fought to defeat it. Everything they feared would happen, still happened – except their members didn’t get the increased salary the measure would have provided.

    tired of seeing people divide and conquer. charter school argument is red herring. Real issue is can kids do better academically.

    Given the pay, work environment, and community condition do the citizens of Oakland have a right to expect better learning in the schools?