Oakland’s chilly classrooms

UPDATE: Craig Gordon says the heat is back on in his classroom.

thermometerIt’s cold outside — and, for a number of Oakland kids and teachers, it’s cold inside, too.

As the frost advisory continues, some Oakland schools or classrooms are without heat. “My kids are sitting here with blue lips, shivering, freezing,” said Corrin Haskell, a fourth-grade teacher at Brookfield Elementary School.

Craig Gordon, a teacher at Paul Robeson High School (Fremont campus) in East Oakland, sent me some photos of his room, including one of a student warming his hands over an LED projector.

“Don’t be fooled by the toasty 58 degrees showing on my thermometer,” he wrote. “My room is several degrees warmer than most, because I have lots of windows collecting southern and western rays.”


Tim White, OUSD’s assistant superintendent of facilities, said about a dozen schools have reported problems with their heating systems. White said his five heating technicians are running from school to school to make repairs, which sometimes require two visits to fix.

“The staff is very aware that these are priority issues,” White said.

Does your school have heating issues? What are you and your students doing to stay warm?

projector heat

Katy Murphy

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

  • harlemmoon

    Lemme see: Forecast calls for freezing temps and no one thought to test the heating systems to make certain they’d work? Oh, that’s right. This is OUSD. You have to complain and whine. And only then will you get the help you need. Maybe.

  • Oakland mom

    At our school, we’ve been waiting since the start of the school year to get the heating fixed. We’ve had parents who were tired of waiting and offered to work on fixing the heat themselves, only to be told no– it would upset the union. I’m sickened that my child has to wear a hat, coat, and gloves to be warm in the school building.

  • Katy Murphy

    Oakland Mom – Which school is this?

  • S.D. Waxman

    I am a teaching colleague of Craig Gordon’s at Paul Robeson H.S. My classroom has a northern exposure and it never warmed up all day. I held one of my classes outside in the courtyard because it was warmer in the sun than in my classroom. Later classes had to suffer indoors because the sky had clouded over.

    Our lead custodian told me late in the afternoon that our “new” system fails repeatedly while the old systems are more stable (once repaired). When I left at 5:30, my jacket and muffler were still on since morning. I usually wear a short sleeve knit shirt in my classroom. Today even my heavy long sleeve shirt, wool scarf, lined jacket, gloves and hat were not enough to fight off the cold.

  • Sara

    I work at Montera and there hasn’t been any heat in the classrooms either.

  • Gail

    For what it’s worth–just talked to my daughter, who teaches in San Francisco; her classroom is freezing too.

  • Chris G.

    Its winter-get over it! How do other countries who whoop our tails do it?

    America- nothing too good for the ungrateful complainers of public ed.

  • Katy Murphy

    Although I was originally told there were heating problems reported at about a dozen Oakland schools, it was closer to two dozen by the end of the day.

  • harlemmoon

    This is an outrage. Each of those children and the staff deserves to work/learn in a fully functioning building. That is part of the district’s contract with the public.
    When we can’t even get the darn heating right, how the heck can we “Expect Success”?

  • Caroline

    Just for the record: 2 winters ago my son and classmates took the SAT on a Saturday at Riordan HS in San Francisco, a parochial boys’ school. It was during a cold snap, and the heating wasn’t working. My son thrives in cold, so he was fine with this — but one of his classmates requested a retake because her hands were numb throughout the test — I didn’t find out if her request was granted.

  • seenitbefore

    we’re still cold at Claremont….. no heat in my classroom or some others.

  • harlemmoon

    The new spending plan put forth by the vaunted Tony Smith calls for a $1 million cut in facilities upkeep. Translation: It’s going to be a long winter. Wear a coat: It’s going to be darn cold in those classrooms.

  • Oakland Educator

    There is at least one building at Montera that has not had heat in 3 years despite multiple requests. I realize there are only 5 heat shop techs, but let’s do the math: 100 school sites / 5 techs = 20 sites per tech. Let’s say every single site has an issue and it takes a whole week to fix each site; they could fix all the sites in one school year and still have 18 weeks left to spare.

  • David

    @Oakland Educator – that makes too much sense for downtown 😉

  • Oakland Eduactor

    There are at least 3 classrooms at Glenview that are consistently 85-90 degrees. Dollars of heat are flying out of the full banks of windows left open daily to lower the temperature to 85 degrees. This is a longstanding problem of 3 years duration. A heat shop tech showed up a month ago and said he would be back in a week. Did I mention he never returned. Where is the oversight????

  • OE

    This is why it is such an outrage that the district would ask for takebacks from teacher compensation or refuse a cost-of-living adjustment after no increases for 8 years. The teachers are continuing to do amazing work despite illegal conditions (see the Williams Act!), and the district is grossly mismanaging funds through blatant apathy, incompetence, and inefficiency. I have heard veteran union leaders say they would take a pay cut if the district had already trimmed and streamlined everything, but OUSD hasn’t turned the heat on yet is still illegally using Measure E funds to pay outside consultants.

    Ms. Murphy, shed some more light on where the money is going, such as the infamous $87 million. How do Oakland taxpayers feel about their extra property taxes, promised to go directly to classrooms, going to private corporations like Kagan and Si Swun? Do they realize that untenured teachers fail to get their contracts renewed for asking this question openly or asking for basic needs like heat?

    OUSD cultivates a sense of emergency (Oh my gosh, parents, we’re in a recession and have to cut $1 million from facilities upkeep!) to obscure the logical solutions they don’t want to take due to conflict of interest (Take away $1 million from consultants instead) or inexcusable waste of time and resources (All of the heat in the district could have been fixed in 20 weeks 3 years ago).

  • David

    I would like to second that request to Katy. If only part of the above is true – people need to be held accountable.

  • Nancy
  • Nancy
  • Nancy

    When the bulldozers start demolishing downtown, I hope to have enough bricks to throw alongside all of them, for the past 16 years…

    “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou, 4 April 1928

  • gcg

    I would like to “third” that request by OE. Let’s try to trace the money trail from Measure E’s revenue to outside consultants, where I suspect it found its way. If OUSD redirected this money, it does not bode well for voter confidence in future ballot measures (nor does it bode well for school heating systems).

  • Gordon Danning

    On a postive note: For YEARS, Oakland High School had serious heating and cooling problems; sometimes my classroom was freezing, and sometimes the temperature was in the high 80s (and I have no window to open). However, 2 summers ago a new HVAC system was installed (using Measure E funds, I beleive), and now things are much better.

    Also, it has been my experience that kids learn just fine in the cold; heat is a bigger problem, since it is enervating.

    Finally, some perspective on the “outside consultant” controversy: some constultants are very valuable (eg: Mark Forget, Jane Schaffer), and some are awful (eg: College Board social studies inservices). So lets not lump them all together as “money wasted.”

  • Nate D

    Thanks for bringing the frigid educational climate to our attention Katy, but as Oakland Educator pointed out, what would be even better would be some light shone on OUSD budget allocations.

  • gcg


    I’m glad Oakland High School has an HVAC system, but there is an awful lot of counter-testimony here that surely indicates a problem.

    Whether brand consulting firms like Si Swun and Kagan are any good or not is one thing (I’m convinced they are not), but when the OUSD pays the state millions of dollars in fines because they have not limited 45% of their budget to “administrative costs” (which happened 2006-7 and 2007-8), then you have to wonder whether the district prioritizes the schools under their watch or their own bureaucracy.

    The point is: OUSD administrators are mismanaging money, at best; reserving it for their own pockets, at worst.

  • Gordon Danning


    Come on — is there ANY evidence that OUSD adminstrators are stealing money? All I see here is: 1) complaints about heating at several schools; and 2) observations that Measure E was passed to help solve those problems. No one has bothered to look at how much Measure E money has been spent, how much is left, etc, etc, etc. In fact, I just looked at the Measure E description, which says that the money is “primarily to be used to attract and retain qualified teachers; maintain elective courses for students to qualify for college admission; purchase text books and materials; maintain libraries, music and arts programs; maintain reduced class sizes; and continue after school academic programs.” http://www.smartvoter.org/2004/03/02/ca/alm/meas/E/ So, what does heating have to do with any of that?

  • M. West

    As an Oakland taxpayer, I would like to see investigative reporting–not simply summary of the superintendent’s statements–into how the district is allocating money

  • gcg


    The larger point is that money managed by OUSD adminstrators–whether from Measure E or other sources, whether directed toward retaining quality teachers or maintaining basic amenities in school buildings–is, at best, mismanaged, as proven by the millions of dollars of fines the school district has had to pay to the state over the past two years because the OUSD administration would rather violate the 45% administrative limit than avoid those fines, thus wasting a large percentage of the school budget just to buttress nebulous adminstrative costs that, in any case, go beyond the limit mandated by the state.

    So it has everything to do with heating, as well as the other matters you foreground in Measure E’s description, all of which are sadly neglected.

    I’m saying that there should be total transparency regarding this problem, and then you would be happily relieved from the complaints of Oakland parents like me (who, I’m sure, the OUSD also finds to be excessively suspicious and irritable). The OUSD needs to come forward and prove that they have been spending the money properly. This is the best means to stem rumors. Otherwise, there can be nothing but doubt about this process; thus I recommend–along with others in this thread–that Katy take some time to look into this systemic problem.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for the suggestions, Gcg and others. I’m in the midst of looking into the audit findings on administrative expenditures, and will keep you informed.

  • gcg

    Thanks for your response, Katy!

  • OE

    Check out Form CEA, Unaudited Actuals: $16.2 million fine paid to the state in 06-07, $1.65 million in 07-08. According to a letter from the Alameda County Superintendent on 10/8/09, the district’s projected spending on classroom compensation for the year was only 45.51%, almost 10% less than the mandated minimum. If 5% under the minimum cost us $16.2 million, I shudder to think…

    Also look at how they divide up payment for Si Swun math among four budget categories (2 district, 2 site) so it looks like a minimal expenditure but actually costs more than the average teacher salary PER SITE.

    And then there’s the Williams Act, mandating safe classroom conditions and basic supplies. Some classrooms without heat have been that way for 5+ years. Space heaters have caused building fires, not to mention the huge energy and money suck they represent. Other classrooms are sweltering and letting heat and money out open windows, yet Tony Smith sent out a letter to all staff about how everyone had to take vacation during the 2-week student holiday to save electricity and help the budget.

  • Jim Mordecai


    I think you have a misunderstanding of the Ed Code regarding Form CEA. The 55% ratio of classroom cost (mostly teachers and instructional assistances) to the total budget (a few items excluded) has to be enforced by the County Superintendent. The County Superintendent may act in March 2010 for last school year (08-09). Even if money is withheld by the County, it will be available the next school year for teacher and instructional assistant raises. However, the County Superintendent has never enforced the 55% rule although records show clearly that the District has frequently not met the 55% ratio. But, again the law says “may” enforce.

    One thought would be if the money were withheld in March, then the withheld money would be an incentive to settle union contracts in September 2010 and make the money available.

    I have not read the law on CEA recently but that is my recollection.

    There is another law enforced by the State that requires the District to have a maximum ratio of 100 to 8 teachers to administrators and there is a fine if the ratio is exceeded. The last state audit 06-07 fined the District about $1.3 million for not meeting that law’s ratio. I think the District is still appealing that fine. I don’t know if the District has paid this fine in years past, but that would be interesting to know. Of course the District was for six years under State Administration and the State didn’t have to collect a fine if it didn’t want to collect it.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Gordon Danning


    Transparency is great, but isnt all the data available online? But my broader objection is the assumption here that, if heat isn’t working, the District MUST be incompetent, or someone MUST be stealing. For example, just because the District isnt spending 55% on classroom salaries does NOT mean that they are spending 45%+ on “nebulous administrative costs” — the 55% is solely meant for teacher and aide salaries and “health and welfare benefits.” See Cal.Ed Code secs 41372 and 41011. So, the remaining 45% includes books, school site administrative and classified staff, supplies, teacher training, computers, etc, etc, etc. So, we should all be open to the possibility that the district is making a good faith effort to spend money in a manner that most inures to the benefit of the students. Then we can focus THAT discussion, rather than on simply trying to point fingers.

  • Jim Mordecai


    I disagree that fingers shouldn’t be pointed. My concern is that there are not enough fingers being pointed. And, when problems are pointed out, they are not addressed. This is a value situation. The current Smith Administration has yet to demonstrate it is responsive to finger pointing. And, there is little evidence that the School Board holds the Smith Administration accountable when fingers are pointed.

    Perhaps the current administration will continue the practice of paying a fine for exceeding administrator ratio of 8 to 100. But, the Board must be held accountable for that policy. Unfortunately, the Board’s Aspen Group training inhibits public accountability. The Aspen Group trained the Board to have as a prime value avoiding micro-managing the District. Thus, if Superintendent Smith’s administration feels that test scores are raised by exceeding the 8 to 100 ratio the Board will remain silent on the policy because they are focused on giving the Smith Administration sovereignty over the small things and keeping track of the Superintendent’s negotiated bench marks that are mostly test score based.

    I don’t buy that undemocratic approach and feel the Board must answer the question of why the District is exceeding the maximum ratio of administrators to teachers? The Board is democratically elected and should be responsive and accountable to the public’s concerns. The School Board is not a corporate board and should not act like one. When the electorate doesn’t like the Board members’ position on this issue (or many other issues), they should not re-elect them. The Aspen Group’s approach conflicts with the democratic ideal of elected representatives representing the public on its concerns. A democratic approach does not allow for filtering public issues into micro and macro. School Board members are to represent its district and raising test scores should not be an excuse for avoiding that responsibility.

    While I agree that the 55% ratio does not mean that the other 45% is being spent on unworthy purposes, the point of the law is to provide a minimum allocation of resources to the classroom. And, most other District’s, it is my understanding, have no problem in meeting the minimum requirement of the law.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Williams Act

    Whether or not it’s better to be too cold than too hot, not having heat is illegal.

    If your classroom still doesn’t have heat (or locking windows, enough textbooks, etc.), the Education Equity Project will submit a Williams Complaint on your behalf, pro bono:


    You don’t have to include your name if you’re worried about retaliation (although that’s clearly illegal), and the site has to resolve the problem within 30 days.

    Make a list of every room at your site with a problem and submit the list as a group.