Sports4Kids spat raises larger questions: What is “necessary” for schools, and who gets to say?

Sports4Kids at Manzanita Community School/Tribune file photo

From a lively, uh, discussion tonight between Oakland school board member Alice Spearman and Chief Academic Officer Brad Stam about Sports4Kids (now Playworks) emerged the beginnings of a philosophical debate about what is “necessary” for Oakland schools in the context of severe and ongoing budget cuts.

Earlier in the evening, the board had discussed the superintendent’s proposed priorities — a set of goals that will theoretically help the board and staff know where to cut $27 million-plus from next year’s budget.

Spearman had also singled out, from a long list of vendors, a few Sports4Kids contracts with individual schools. What she didn’t realize was that in June, before the school district emerged (mostly) from state control, State Administrator Vince Matthews approved a $727,500 master contract with the organization, which runs games and activities at 25 elementary schools in the mornings, after school and at recess.

According to Cindy Wilson, Playworks’ communications director, the organization charges each school a flat fee of $23,500. Since the number of participating Oakland schools went from 40 to 25 this year, Playworks will receive $587,500, less than the total amount allowed under the master contract.

(Side note: An old Sports4Kids Web page lists Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith as a member of its East Bay Advisory Council, but Wilson said Smith is no longer on the council.)

Back to the Sports4Kids Showdown…

Spearman asks Stam several times why each school can’t have its staff supervise recess. She asks whether Sports4Kids is “feel-good” or “necessary.”

“It is necessary,” Stam says, his voice rising as he cites the national childhood obesity epidemic and the importance of physical activity and structured play.

Spearman cuts him off. “I know a waste of money when I see a waste of money,” she says. (Spearman later described herself as “a big girl” and told Stam that she took offense at “that obesity comment.”)

David Kakishiba jumps in with a different answer to Spearman’s question: “Is it necessary? No.”

Jody London calls the program “invaluable,” and says “you can’t really put a price tag on it” (although it does, in fact, come with a price tag).

Finally, Gary Yee takes the question of necessity to the philosophical level, where it remained until we members of the public left for the night. “I think this is a very important and profound question,” he says, adding that the board should be able to track each expenditure back to the district’s priority sheet and measure its effectiveness.

As Yee noted, Oakland’s school-based budgeting system makes such decisions doubly complicated. As of now, each principal gets to choose the services — such as Sports4Kids/Playworks — that he or she thinks is best for the kids at that school, or whether to hire a staff person to do the job.

So, let’s say, hypothetically, the board wants to cut the budget by increasing class size or ending the Sports4Kids contract. How can it effect such changes with a decentralized budgeting system? Should the board just stay out of these decisions and let the leadership of each school decide?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Susan

    The board cannot stay out of these desicions because ultimately, they will be responsible for them, at least that is what should happen.

    OUSD has such a high rate of leader (site and district) leadership, that site decisions are risky at this time. One leader may say Sports 4 kids one year, make a decision, leave and then what if the new leader believes its unnecessary- reading may be more important? How will they be accountable t decisions made by another?

    What OUSD is grappling with is similar to China- how can a centrally minded economical standpoint (communism in China) transition into a market based system (capitalism) and yet still remain steady in the overall values of their system?

    Gary Yee is right- it is a much deeper question than just line itemizing a budget. OUSD has to discuss this internally and a fiscal crisis such as the current one, offers a prime opportunity to ponder and deconstruct such a philosophical question.

  • Oakland Teacher

    As an aside, the Sports for Kids coach at my school was asking all staff at the school earlier this year to sign on to a list “to find out more information about the program.” It seemed clear that he had somehow been coerced to do that, saying that he needed to get 20 signatures/addresses. As expected, when my envelope from the organization arrived, it was a solicitation for money, asking for between a $15 to $150 donation.

    I signed on the list because he was so insistent, but I really resent being solicited by an organization while at work. It is pretty outrageous that they are soliciting classified (and certificated) staff, especially when you consider our salaries.

  • TheTruthHurts

    What is the most effective way to spend our resources to improve outcomes for students. That’s my only question. Answer that and OUSD can deal with these questions about contractors or Sports4Kids, etc.

    Here’s what I think a blind person could see:

    * OUSD cannot indefinitely recruit, retain and MOTIVATE a quality staff that feels underappreciated and disrespected
    * OUSD and the whole country are cutting back and probably will be for 2-3 more years
    * OUSD needs to provide supports outside/inside the classroom to have any chance of addressing the challenges students face
    * OUSD has a system that tears itself apart instead of builds itself up

    I hope we open our eyes and get on with the task at hand.

  • UnionSupporter-But

    Classroom teachers in Elementary School have a state-mandated curriculum of 200 minutes of PE every 10 school days (which is 20 minutes a day). Teachers need to be teaching PE which would also help with the obesity problem. Since we have so many teachers on this list, how do you incorporate your 200 minutes of PE?

  • Jim Mordecai

    #4 UnionSupporter–ButSays:

    When I was an OUSD classroom teacher I was asked at the beginning of the year to fill out a card showing how I planned instructional minutes for the various subjects including Physical Education.

    Have principals stopped requesting that card?

    And, of course a teacher could plan their program to have P.E. daily for 20 minutes or any combination of skipping days and having more minutes for extended time on other days and conform to the Ed Code required 200 minutes every 10 days.

    Concern about obesity might indicate some type of daily activity for all students that is not physical education. Then the question is what do you take away so that there is time for physical activity as opposed to physical education. Or, if you add on 20 minutes to the day, how will that be supervised and paid?

    Jim Mordecai

  • Nextset

    An observation – concern about obesity presupposes one is concerned about the fate of the public school children in the first place.

    As things go on just watch how all the “concern” plays out.

    Richmond School District High Schools for example. Is there concern to train these kids not to be a victim? If we can’t get them through HS without having them get themselves gang raped (+ Herpes, HIV, Swine Flu, Dental Carries, etc) – does anybody care that we’re also not training them to avoid getting fat and diabetic??

    Well trained children wear better. They don’t get run over by others – or get fat, addicted, or diseased. Our public school kids do not last as well as they used to. Especially the black and brown kids. We are not even trying to train them well. And as the money runs out, well…

    Brave New World

  • Jim Mordecai

    The Sports4Kids money is taken from a variety of places at each school site’s budget. Much of the over $800,000 comes from what use to be categorical money or money designated for a purpose.

    Last night much of the category of library money was use for a site to pay the $23,500 for Sports4Kids.

    I thought there was an excellent point made about site based budgeting that in an unstable personnel district such as Oakland the principal that makes site decisions is not necessary the principal that has to live with say a Sports4Kids decision because she or he has moved on and the budget was set up the year before.

    The Board has already made the decision to budget $800,000 on Sports4Kids (most spent in the Bay Area and twice the amount San Francisco spends).

    Last night the Board was approving the site spending the contracted money. I am not sure that if the Board majority voted not to spend the money on Sports4Kids that the Board’s vote mattered because the contract for the $800,000 has already been signed by the Superintendent and approved by Board action.

    The contracts that the Board has approved, and continues to approve, tie the Board’s hands to respond to the need to make budget cuts. Board does not seem to have the capacity to stop signing contracts for budget decisions made this year.

    And, the Board has also made Teach for America multi-year type commitments in approving contract s that further tie the Board’s hands in responding to the current budget crisis.

    Whether you agree with Board Member Spearman that Sports4Kids is a priority, you certainly can understand her frustration in not being able to vote down a program she feels is not necessary.

    Jim Mordecai

  • UnionSupporter-But

    Jim: I have seen some creative ways of using PE with math or language arts. One teacher was having kids work in teams hopping on one foot and counting first by 2s then, then 3s for example. He explained that this is multiplication 2 X 1st hop = 2, 2 X 2nd hop = 4 and so on. Also tossing bean bags to a partner while saying a word that started with the SH sound. Or playing partner tag and when tagged spelling one of the spelling words. It can be done – IF YOU HAVE THE DESIRE AND CREATIVITY.

  • ebayc staff

    sprts4kids is a great program. it teaches the kids to stay healthy and keep active. it also teaches the students a positive way to interact with other students. i am on the school grounds 5 days a week and for more that 5 hours a day. our coaches are wonderful and attentive. and they teach our kids discipline as well as teamwork

  • http://www.playworks.org Cindy Wilson

    Sports4Kids, now Playworks, has been operated in Oakland public schools for more than a dozen years. We work exclusively with low-income schools and are the only organization in the country to provide FULL-TIME play and physical activity support. While recess is the cornerstone of the program, our coaches also work with teachers to run class game times, run junior coach programs to teach youth leadership, provide homework and physical activity support through our afterschool programs and run youth development sports leagues, serving many children who may otherwise not have the means or resources to participate in organized sports.

    Each year we survey staff and teachers in all of the schools that we serve. Here is what the teachers and staff in Oakland and our East Bay schools say about our program impacts:

    • 75% said that bullying at recess has decreased.
    • 52% of staff said that more students have on-task behavior in the classroom.
    • 56% of staff said that the transition time from recess to classroom instruction has decreased.
    • 63% of staff report fewer conflicts during class
    • 83% report that more students are physically active during recess
    • 97% said they want Sports4Kids in their school next year.

    Many teachers also reported recovering up to 18 minutes per day of time formerly lost to resolving playground conflicts. This adds up to about 36 HOURS of regained instruction time per year, PER CLASSROOM.

    Each school invests $23,500 to have the full-time program on their campus. Playworks fundraises the other $30,000+ it costs to implement the program at each school.

    At a time when we are looking at how to support education and improve learning, Playworks provides and invaluable service that the staff, students and teachers support. I encourage you to learn more about this program and how we are helping schools in Oakland and across the country maximize learning and create a more positive school climate.

  • Charley Cowens

    I’m sorry I’m a little dense about your site-based budgeting system. How could the District even make a specific monetary commitment (the “master contract”) to a group providing discretionary site-level services under a site-based management system in the first place. From what I remember of the OUSD system a few years ago, categorical money was still decided centrally, so I could see them saying $X of a PE-related categorical will be spent on (well-connected) group A’s program B. If not enough sites sign-up, group A still gets paid (contract), but it looks bad (and is bad) to the public and any auditor for that categorical.

    I still like the idea of site-based budgeting, but part of the point of it would be for the Board not to be second-guessing sites. So, in order for it to work at all, the Board needs to use a higher threshold for intervening in site decisions and no master contracts like this. If that can’t be done then the site-based budgeting system needs to be revisited.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Although not perfect, Sports4Kids/Playworks is, in my opinion, a good program.

    One issue is about priorities. Should there not be money for libraries, senior citizen classes, etc. in a time of continuing budget cutting. Another aspect of priorities is from which bucket to fund $700,000 for the program. I would prefer Title I rather than libraries as I believe all kids need libraries. This program is often posed as targeting Title I kids. I happen to think all students would benefit yet understand there is not enough money to stretch to encompass all students in the District.

    If the program becomes a Title I program, then there would be someone responsible for the program across the District and not the situation whereby a principal is stuck for a program he did not want. And, if all Title I students might benefit, then the program would not be subject to the whim of the principal of each school site.

    Perhaps school sites that are not Title I would be able to raise the true cost of the program to hire a similar program to improve their school’s climate and the program would be available to all schools that are interested.

    The decentralized RBB site based control of the budget is valued by many but is not, in my opinion, the best model for implementing this program.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Katy Murphy

    Charlie: It’s confusing, but here’s how I understand it:

    The district last year tried out this master contract/MOU concept to make the processing of contracts more efficient. In essence, individual schools still choose from a list of vendors — provided they have enough money in their budgets — but the master contract sets a cap. Anything over that cap needs special board approval.

    In the case of Sports4Kids/Playworks, the cap was well over $700,000, but Oakland schools only purchased a combined amount of $587,500, according to the Playworks communications director.

  • cranky teacher

    Was Ms. Spearman being serious at taking offense at Stam raising the obesity epidemic?!

    I hope that was a joke on her part. Sheesh.

    The data on obese kids is IN.

  • Oakland Dad

    It’s all great to sit here and talk theory about what works for our schools, but in the end we need to pay attention to what the people who actually work there think. We need to trust our teachers and principals to make decisions that are best for learning in their schools. After all, they’re the ones who deal with it every day. I hope I am misreading Mr. Mordecai’s implication the Sports4kids is being forced on the schools. This is a very popular program that is working.

    I don’t think anyone would argue that $24K is a bargain for schools to get a fulltime person and some afterschool prorams. It’s cheap if you look at it from an investment standpoint. And about the kids … in too many parts of Oakland, school is sometimes the only place whey they can be safe abnd play. If we want a good future for Oakland, we’ve got to keep our kids active and healthy in all areas. Kids need support outside of the classroom to have a balanced and healthy life. It is shortsighted and priviledged to think otherwise. The program is a bargain.

  • TheTruthHurts

    While I agree with the basics of what Oakland Dad (#15) is saying, eventually we will have to realize that something “good” is going to get cut too. I know many people believe there is plenty of fluff to cut, but at my company, the cuts of the last two years hurt and were to good people doing good work. Why would OUSD be any different? Something has to give. Denial will not help.

  • Jim Mordecai

    The Sports4Kids/Playworks is a popular program with a lot of support. But, there were other expenditures for programs with less support that passed last night under the consent agenda.

    09-2700 Professional Services contract – Philip Williams – Edna Brewer Middle School OE-11
    Ratification by the Board of Education of a Professional Services Contract between District and Philip Williams, Oakland, CA, for the latter to provide 700 hours of computer and software support including initial set up, maintenance and scheduled upgrades of instructional computers and software; advice on the configuration of “teacher” computers, laptops, projection and printing capability,and backup strategies for student work; assistance in troubleshooting implementation issues with all software packages and applicaitons, at Edna
    Brewer Middle School, for the period August 31, 2009 through June 30, 2010, in an amount not to exceed $35,000.00. Resource Code – 1100-210, 0089-210
    Funding Source: Lottery & Measure G Attachments: Document(s) Legislative History 10/19/2009 Recommended
    Favorably Teaching and Learning Committee

    I question the use of Measure G money for this program because it is not what the voters were told they were voting on. It is not about retaining teachers, keeping libraries open or assisting kids to apply for college. The Teaching and Learning Committee provided no oversight and ignored the fact Measure G was never passed with the intent of supporting the maintenace of computers. There is a citizens’ oversight committee for Measure G but the money is being spent before they meet.

    This situation is reflective of a problem with site-based decision making. The parcel tax Measure G money was suppose to be used for restricted purposes, but the District Trustees treat the money as unrestricted in support of site-based decision making.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Steven Weinberg

    I don’t know any of the details about the Brewer contract for computer support, but I do know from my experience at another middle school that computer support problems were a frustration for many teachers, and when we had funds available to provide more computer support teachers could do a better job, and that led to a higher level of teacher retention.

  • arismom

    Considering the disturbing ganga rape at Richmond High School, we must discuss cuts that will not eliminate vitals services such as academic programs and school safety.

    While I do agree that obesity is a major problem in America, violnece in schools are a major issue here in the east bay area and Oakland.

    Some of the revenues listed on Mr. Hal’s review are from a myriad of sources such as grants, contracts, etc. having served as a Deputy Dirctor for a non profit I am also aware that execs often steal from Peter to pay Paul (its a matter of non profit survival!)

    There are decisions that must be made to control waste in OUSD. Move monies around to priorities in these times of economic dire straits.

    For example, using Mr. Hal’s presentation, why should the Charter schools office a total budget of(resticted and unrestricted)$760,852 dollars with only 5 employees? If you divide the total by the employees that comes out to be $152,120.40 per employee. On the other hand, OUSD Police get $5,104,232; divided by 90 employees comes out to be $56,713.88 per employee.

    The police get a 1/3 of what charter schools get per capita-Does this make any sense?

    Now I know there are different revenue streams and expenditures not detailed in the plan, but what matters more in these times?

    As a parent to 3 OUSD students, I could care less about a charter bureacracy at the cenrtal office and worry that my daughter or any student at Oakland High will not fall victim to incidents such as Richmond’s.

    Can anyone justify this? Shift monies to where it counts!

  • arismom

    sorry- alot of typos!
    Katy-you need a spell check tool for us word perfect dependents!!

  • Concerned Parent

    It sounds like people have no idea what sports4kids is about. I thought the whole idea was to help develop the children. That program does so much more than physical activity. Kids become more well rounded, better classmates, leaders, and students. To the question about staff leading recess, that’s what was happening before sports4kids showed up, & it wasn’t working. I know we are looking to cut corners, but these are not the corners to cut. Child development is essential, and sports4kids in on the front line. Principals & teachers know what their schools need and decide whether to have sports4kids return every year. Last thing, how could anyone deny the obesity problem in America? That was just about the most unreasonable thing I’ve ever heard.

  • arismom


    Why was I censored? I was not disrespectful in my comment regarding the budget. Is it because I used charter schools in my analogy? Or made references to Richomond high’s tragedy.

    But that okay though- censure is also a high form of compliment!

  • Katy Murphy

    To avoid spam, I have to approve the first comment of first-time participants (or those using a new screen name or e-mail address, or people who include three or more links).

    I was out at a school this morning, so just got to the blog.

  • Oakland Dad

    I hope that OUSD is looking at Title I funds to see what programs they can move under them so that they have the money to pay for other programs from discretionary budgets. If sports4kids is not a title 1 program, it probably should be. Is anyone talking to the district officer in charge of that funding? Is there more budget available with the new round of recovery act funds? and if so, shouldn’t we be looking at that funding for programs like Sports4kids that work in some of our neediest schools? Who is following up with the district? Seems that would sure benefit a lot more kids and schools…

    Anything that helps wtih the school climate helps ALL the kids at the school. When kids are active and engaged, it’s a lot easier for teachers to teach. And if we can find funding for sports4Kids and more programs like that, then we can put discretionary funds into other areas and enrichments that may not qualify for Title I.

  • Nextset

    Reading my earlier post might give the impression I don’t support Physical Ed. I think PE is even more important to the public schools than the private schools. PE should have an equal footing with academics and should trump advanced academics in public schools.

    One of the things we can look at when we contemplate the fate of the products of the public schools is the mortality tables. I didn’t see this chart myself but I was informed once that CA Youth Authority did a study of released criminal children and saw that a very high percentage (50%?) were dead by age 30. That does sound too high to be real – I hope… And the causes of death were varied.

    When you are lower class you start work earlier than the higher classes and you work with your hands and your back. You also have a shorter work career because your body gives out from use. PE can make a difference on what the kids have to make a living with. Including trying to train the black (girls??) students to avoid contracting metabolic syndrome by age 18. The physical damage/health-collapse of ghetto dwellers is strikingly different than the population of Malibu. The education & activity component of PE if they actually get the attention and class time can give kids the tools to mitigate the poor odds they are facing (and the Mexican Indians are a whole different chapter of risk and mitigation of risk).

    We are not raising ghetto kids to be Drs and Lawyers – those candidates should transfer out. We are – if we are lucky – raising ghetto dwellers to be employable blue collar and technical workers for the most part (not welfare queens, addicts and prison inmates). PE is more important to their health and socialization than college prep and if we have to get rid of one program altogether in the ghetto schools it should be college prep.

    And I think the depression we are heading into may just force that choice on the schools.

  • Ms. J.

    Well, at least it’s good news that Spearman knows a waste of money when she sees one. Maybe she could do something about the $2 million we’re paying someone to ‘teach’ us the 7 point lesson plan this year…

    Whether or not Sports 4 Kids is a necessary program is a hard point to decide, and given the budget issues it may prove to be too expensive. But I take offense at the idea that it is a waste of money. As a teacher in OUSD for over nine years, the first of which were spent in a school without S4K and the last of which have been spent in schools with S4K, I can attest to the success of the program in making recesses more harmonious; in creating student leaders; and in teaching kids not only games but skills. I LOVE Sports 4 Kids and think Spearman’s comment was ignorant.

  • Jim Mordecai

    An issue with Sports4Kids is not that it is a waste of money, but how is it funded.

    As I posted before, it would seem like S4K reported positives would mean that it should be funded out of Title I money and not taking money from libraries, etc.

    What is a waste of money is subjective and depends mightily on who is receiving the service. Last Board meeting the Principal of Dewey received $40,000 service contract for BAYcys to continue to coach her. She found the coaching of such benefit she wanted it to continue.

    As a taxpayer of Oakland’s parcel tax Measure E, and now Measure G, $35,000 for the Dewey coaching contract is seen by me as a waste of money because the voters never were told that principal coaching was one of the purposes the money was going to be spent.

    The Measure G oversight committee has not met as yet, but the District is letting contracts spending the Oakland property owner’s money raised by Measure G.

    Here is supporting document from $40,000 contract:
    Subject Professional Services Contract – Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools
    (BayCES) – Dewey Academy
    Action Requested Ratification of Professional Services Contract between Oakland Unified School District and Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools (BayCES). Services to be primarily provided to Dewey Academy for the period of October 15, 2009 through June 30, 2010.
    Background Dewey Academy has invested in creating school structures that support the development of staff leadership capacity and professional learning communities for all staff. Principal Hattie Tate has expressed a desire for continued coaching support from BayCES to fully and successfully implement these structures.
    Attachments + Professional Services Contract including scope of work
    + Fingerprint/Background Check Certification
    + 1nsurance Certification
    + TB screening documentation
    + Statement of qualifications
    Discussion BayCES will provide coaching and technical assistance to the Principal and
    Lea/PD Team around Instructional Leadership. BayCES will also coach 3-4
    Equity-Centered Professional Learning Communities to focus on improving
    instruction through differentiation and data-based inquiry and deepening and
    sustaining a culturally competent school culture.
    Recommendation Ratification of Professional Services Contract between Oakland Unified School
    District and Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools (BayCES). Services to be
    primarily provided to Dewey Academy for the period of October 15, 2009
    through June 30, 2010. .
    Fiscal Impact Funding source: General Purpose; Measure G not to exceed $40,000.00

    Jim Mordecai

  • Oakland Dad

    USD should be going back to the budget drawing board and looking at how it can fund programs from Title I money and other budgets that support them. The schools and our kids need everything we can squeeze from any budget we can find. Programs like Sports4Kids, Peaceful Warriors and others help schools create a better environment where kids can learn, which is what schools are supposed to do.

    As I understand it, the use of these funds is at the discretion of the Title I officer interpreting it. When schools are consistently reporting the type of improvements they need to support the teachers and students, then it would seem a good use of Title I funds. Google “school climate and Title I” for some information. It’s pretty complex, but looking at the ARRA definition, there is specific money set aside for school climate, and a lot of great programs would qualify. As a community, we should be demanding the district look at how to creatively fund programs that work.

    And as a school board, we should be listening to the teachers about what they think works for the schools. The main problem the meeting revealed was that the school board members don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to line items on a budget. If you’re going to single out a program as a “waste,” than you should probably inform the discussion based on feedback that proves that it is. Clearly from the discussions here they got the wrong one. But clearly from the discussion, there are some things they got right. I just urge the Board to do its homework. The price otherwise is too high.

    Mr. Mordecai (or anyone), can you help here? Can anyone figure out how to allocate Title I funds to programs that deserve them so that other discretionary funds go to the programs that deserve them? OUSD needs all the help we can give it!!

  • AC Mom

    To UnionSupporter-But in response to #8…

    With all due respect, the strategies that you describe are not a substitute for high quality PE. Physical activity and play are important parts of a child’s healthy development. I have no issue with S4Ks or any other like program, my only hope is that all schools are able to provide such activities to their students. I know that something has to get cut, but the CDE’s PE requirements and what is considered compliance is mediocre.

    Oakland Dad:

    If you are the parent of an OUSD student, I would strongly encourage you to join your school’s School Site Council (SSC) if you have not done so already. By participating in the SSC you can play a role in determining how Title 1 and other categorical funds that your school may receive are spent. If those funds are insufficient, then you can do what other motivated parents have done…fundraise for the PTA!