Ben Visnick led the Oakland teachers union for six years before Betty Olson-Jones succeeded him in 2006, after the near-strike of that year. I began covering the schools beat in the Olson-Jones era, so I haven’t interacted much with Visnick, who is reputed to have a more confrontational style.
But now he’s back — and ready to take a seat at the other side of the table. He spoke several times at Wednesday’s school board meeting, which happened to be located in his district (4), at Laurel Elementary. He is challenging two-term incumbent Gary Yee.
He has some bold ideas, too, from taxing individual Oakland residents who make more than $106,800 to consolidating the Emery and Piedmont school districts into Oakland Unified.
In a recent campaign statement, he writes: “The property tax base in Piedmont and the sales tax base in Emeryville combined with the state and federal funds generated by Oakland USD are a perfect fit to create a more economically and racially integrated school district.”
Visnick is also calling for “a simple ongoing tax on every airline ticket and shipping container that enters port property.” And instead of raising teacher salaries through a parcel tax, he wants to tax people who make more than $106,800.
He thinks the city’s professional sports teams should step up, too, promising that he ”will demand that Oakland’s three major league sports teams do more to fund Oakland Unified’s health services, PE programs and competitive OAL sports leagues.”
Visnick teaches history and driver’s ed at Oakland High School. He has a fifth-grade son at Redwood Heights Elementary, and his wife, Helen, is a counselor at Skyline High. He has said that if he wins the election, which I’m told will likely be in November, he will leave his teaching job to avoid a conflict of interest.