Former teachers union prez to run for Oakland school board

Ben Visnick/Tribune file photo from 2006Ben 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.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Oakland Teacher

    Lord help us.

  • Harold

    i can hear all the “money” laughing in Piedmont. Nice idea though. Ben, stay in the classroom.

  • Nextset

    This “candidate” sounds like a typical collectivist/marxist. Let Oakland elect him, he will be as laughable in office as out. He has no power to touch Piedmont now, and he won’t have any as a OUSD school board member if he is elected.

    His hilarious talk of a city income tax is the sort that appeals to stupid people. Stupid Philadelphia (black?) city council voted for a city income tax (a payroll tax) and destroyed their corporate presences nearly overnight – the large businesses moved en masse to the nearby (white) suburbs such as Blue Bell PA etc and wrecked the economy of the city which now has empty office buildings and closed restaurants and services downtown. Only a Marxist would dream that he can get more revenue with a local income tax. Marxism in US cities is a death spiral.

    In short, this candidate is a typical reflection of a Marxist electorate that cannot create wealth or prosperity only destroy it. The Oakland libs are living off the (Republican) City planning and infrastructure while cresting nothing new for the future. They’ve destroyed a good school system, destroyed neighborhoods, run off industry and eliminated the productive people from residence/business in Oakland while attracting criminals and welfare parasites.

    The town is quite ready for Mexican occupation as Los Angeles is done. The Mexican Gangs are already moving in, they will make quick work of the black gangs, and their politicians will lifewise overcome the black politicians (as they have in LA).

    Brave New World.

  • http://yahoo.com teacherspet

    Even though he’ll never win, it’s sad news for eveyone that Ben Visnick chooses to interject himself into OUSD politics yet again.

  • TheTruthHurts

    There is so to say, I won’t say anything. Only that I’m grabbing my popcorn and settling in for the ‘fun’.

  • maestra

    I really do not understand why Nextset must add commens about black people – such as “stupid Philadelphia (black?) city council…” I don’t care what race he or she is, it’s unnecessary.

  • Another O-Town Teacher

    Ben Visnick was one of the worst OEA presidents ever. Nearly five weeks of strike in 1996 didn’t result in many gains for teachers, and caused divisions, some of which haven’t healed to this day.

    When he went to head to head with Randy Ward, we only narrowly averted a second strike, and most of us cringed to watch the news each night as these two buffoons battled it out; with the result being one of the very worst contracts EVER.

    Do not vote for this man. A terrible OEA president; he has nothing to bring to the Board and will only throw fuel on the fire.

  • Nextset

    Seriously, a school board member has to set policy for the district to live within the revenue/budget the state allots. The school board is generally not able to do much to increase revenue. When you take that job you know you are merely a steward.

    If you really want to play money games you need to run for state legislature or federal congress. A school board job is relatively thankless and relatively powerless. The action is in Sacramento.

    The Community Colleges are in trouble also. They are completely unable to control their income, having to live off what Sacramento allows them. When college enrollment is up as it is now the extra students do not bring in funding to pay the extra costs. Our local district can’t even raise money with the parking fees to cover needed additional parking or the maintenance for what they do have. It seems that the state requires fee waivers (including parking) for the “indigent” so the increased numbers are not bringing in the additional revenue to service them. Only solution to keep from crashing is to dump classes, layoff staff and turn away students to get the census down to what the budget might handle.

    I would prefer local powers to include the ability to price the college services and tuition/fees. When the demand is there, the schools should be able to put on the classes if the students are willing to pay the incremental costs of the classes that would otherwise have been eliminated. Now there is no choice. In CA the local boards are mere stewards with (very) limited powers. Big Brother runs it all – into the ground.

    Decentralization is the way.

    But Piedmont doesn’t seem to have problems.

  • Anders

    Let’s force the sports franchises to get involved? You mean the ones that want to move away anyway?
    That’s one interesting incentive to keep them isn’t it?

  • Cranky Teacher

    This isn’t really big news.

    Here’s some news: OEA just approved a one-day strike for March 24.

  • Side Convo

    Really? Strike? Can you give us more details, Cranky and/or Katy? Any idea how the OEA will communicate with its members about this?

  • Katy Murphy

    Yes, the OEA has set March 24 as the date for a one-day strike (the one that the membership already authorized) — if the union is strike-legal by that time, and if a settlement isn’t reached beforehand.

    The rep council voted on it last night, but the union hasn’t put anything out, apparently since the fact-finding report isn’t completed.

    I’ll have more on that today.

  • Max Allstadt

    I completely support absorbing Piedmont into OUSD. It’s the right thing to do. But at the same time, how the hell could it actually be made to happen in reality? Seems somewhat delusional, even if it is completely morally correct.

  • oak261

    Regarding absorbing Piedmont USD: Are you kidding?!? I’m curious, what’s the legal basis for this takeover?

    30% of 9th graders in Oakland go to private school instead of OUSD. What makes Ben & company think Piedmonters wouldn’t send many more kids to private school if they felt they weren’t being served in their public schools? And how much more diverse would the big happy merged district district look after that?


    OUSD parent.

  • CarolineSF

    I think Nextset accidentally posted his response on a different thread. His response points out that Piedmonters don’t want their kids going to school with Oakland public school kids. Which is undoubtedly true, undoubtedly ugly and will make the Piedmonters squirm – as it should.

  • Union Supporter But…

    What if Piedmont would merge into the Oakland School district ONLY IF their school board were the one to survive or have the greatest number of seats?

    What if it was Piedmont’s curriculum and standards that were used? Meaning that ALL students who were not working at grade level in Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies and foreign language WERE REQUIRED TO TAKE 10 WEEKS OF SUMMER SCHOOL and parents were held accountable for making sure the students attended?

    What if parents who got their children to school late or whose children were not in school a minimum of 175 days per school year on time and did not have a doctor’s note were prosecuted for truency through the social services and court system?

    Would you then want to merge Oakland and Piedmont?

  • Nextset

    CarolineSF: Here’s some news. Piedmont parents and people like them are not going to hide their disaffection for OUSD students and it’s standards. Not at all. Many of the readership here are probably used to a PC world where never is heard a discouraging word. That world is gone when you cross the upper class directly on their core interests.

    Piedmont families are there because of that school system. They will not have any association with OUSD students or their ilk. They don’t even play in the sports leagues with such students. It doesn’t even have to go to notions of superiority, that’s not the point. The two classes of people are different – the duller Piedmont Students would run academic rings around the bright OUSD students. Compare the performance of PUSD Continuation Schools to the OUSD advanced students.

    OUSD students who try sneaking into PHS stand out and drop out because they can’t survive the higher standards. Never the twain shall meet.

    PUSD is a segregated school system – by design. And it is going to stay that way. If you go there you have to fit in.

    brave New World.

  • maestra

    My question still stands about the need to disparage black people in your posts, Nextset. I agree with you on Piedmont. I just think that you lose credibility by arbitrarily making racial judgments.

    and before someone tells me, “But, he’s black” – I don’t care. Why is it acceptable for a black person to make generalized disparaging comments about other black people? It’s not even relevant.

  • Nextset

    Maestra: That’s your problem here, you think it’s all about black folks. Re-read my posts. What you don’t perceive is that in this Brave New World people are segregating themselves by class. Piedmont used to be white. Now Asians and Jews dominate and the Whites are hanging on (to power?) for dear life. The children of Piedmont from the 1950s often cannot afford the place now. The new Piedmont population have one thing in common, black or white or asian or Jew or Arab. They are hypercompetitive. They are quite ruthless. They raise their children to be more so. Above all they fear their children becoming downwardly mobile. Some of them are only a divorce away from Oakland Tech.

    In the ’50s and ’60s Piedmont had blue collar people, and middle managers. Not any more. In order to afford those prices – even for a house without a view of the bay – you need huge earning power. Over time – the Brave New World – the population has shifted to more and more competitive. That means very sharp elbows.

    They would be in open contempt of the typical OUSD student, would laugh at them. They’d reduce the Oakland Students of all colors to roadkill. Regardless of the color of the PUSD students and the OUSD students. Generations of self made millionaires do this. And that’s what Piedmont features. Even the strivers there, and the women who married rich, distain the lower class. Mixing that with OUSD would be like the movie “Halls Of Anger” in reverse. And you would find such people can play very rough. And they only respect someone who can match them at their best.

    But to respond to some of your comments about disparaging black people – telling the truth about the stats and numbers of that group or any other group is not disparaging – it’s just truth. Nobody cares if somebody is sensitive and doesn’t want to hear facts. It’s not all about you.

  • maestra

    defensive much? you don’t make sense – I’m done reading this blog because your comments are consistently troll-like, rude for no reason, and insensitive for the purpose of being insensitive. It’s a waste of my time.

    Katy, I’ve enjoyed your blog but it’s been months now that I can’t stand Nextset’s comments, so I’m sorry to say that you’ve lost a reader.

  • Katy Murphy

    I’m so sorry to hear that. I appreciate the contributions you’ve made to the blog, and remember: If you miss us (or most of us), you’re always welcome to come back!

  • Jose


    You are telling it like it is to you. I repect that about you.


    It’s too bad that you have a problem reading someone’s perspective that is different than yours. I wish you the best of luck in communicating with those who share only your perspective. That is what makes this site great. We can have different views. Not like Cuba!

  • Nextset

    Hmmm… I wonder how Maestra would fare at a competitive professional school?

    I’m really sorry that she choses to react the way she did and I hope/think that she will reconsider. But if she goes, there will be others arriving. Maybe I was shrill on this thread. My own ax to grind is that it is hard going up against the best competition that the State of CA has. You run into that in UC Berkeley’s competitive schools – the Business School, not sociology, and in Medical, Dental, Law schools, etc. Perhaps I will in the future mention some of the more interesting things I saw there involving the Affirmative Action students. Had friends in Standford. Horror stories there also. Mixing competitive and uncompetitive student groups results and a very bad situation. Students do better when well matched to their programs.

    People who want to debate policy in managing the student population of an urban public system such as OUSD often have no clue what life is like in the real world where people compete with one another for positions. They expect that everybody else has to like them, tolerate them, and play nice. Which is why they want the OUSD teaching staff to like the kids (no matter what), tolerate just about any performance from the kids, and not flunk, expel or call the cops on the kids no matter what. So kids who could have been made competitive get ruined.

    Some people like this person perhaps, when confronted with anybody – even a blogger like me – that doesn’t sugarcoat a situation, react emotionally. Not a competitive feature. Not everybody is.

    Our thread was the proposition that OUSD somehow forcibly absorb Piedmont Schools with it’s money and physical plants and better students. That is an absurd fantasy. Even if the state legislature were to force something against the wishes of the other District – the students would not mesh. There are reasons the districts are apart. More to the point, Piedmont is changing over the last 20 years demographically. It is becoming even more competitive and less welcoming of “diversity”. Poor whites are no longer in the mix. The “numbers” of Piedmont are a polar opposite of OUSD. The two groups of students have nothing in common.

    I will remember Maestra and try to tone this down in the future. I continue to rail against urban education in hopes something will change the direction we are on wherein urban students are no longer learning how to make entry level into industry, military or higher education. I still worry the rate of decline of the skills of the young adults I see in the courts is growing. The scope of the social problems I see is growing. Poor people I worked with in 1970 were not this diseased, injured and disfunctional. I don’t even think they had such rotting teeth in 1970.

    Brave New World.


  • AC Mom


    Maestra’s comments affected me too. Nextset, what is often frustrating about your statements, particularly about the intellectual abilities of Black and Latino/a students, is that they are often stated in such absolute terms. So, it should be no surprise to you, or anyone else, that a person would take issue with such generalities. Next, your quoting of data derived from Murray/Hernstein’s work or the like (for me at least) is quite problematic. Even if one were to assume that the data that Murray/Hernstein used were flawed, or the conclusions that they drew were not based upon “researcher bias”, why would any self-identified Black man such as you want to perpetuate the idea that persons of African descent are less intelligent than other ethnic groups, and that condition is largely unchangeable? From your comments, you seem well established in your career in the legal profession…so such beliefs may not impact your personally, but what about people beyond you (family, extended family, friends, etc.)? I am younger than you, but I was raised with the belief that you have to be “twice as good to do half as much”, and I am (my husband too) passing that on to my kids. But, I think that it is counterproductive to reinforce such ideas as they have negative effects on the “brights” and the “dulls”, as such statements make it easier to discriminate against Blacks. Urban education is in crisis, but I just don’t understand the efficacy of using data that effectively writes these students off. In the end, I hope that you stay around Nextset, and Maestra comes back…No matter how uncomfortable the comments may be.

  • Nextset

    AC Moms: I hear you..

    Blacks are what they are. We are enormously skilled and not, depending on the person and the particular talent. We are not known for group advantages in several things. In point of fact our problem areas as a group involving crime and obesity are not the same as the group averages for the Poles or numerous other groups. The sooner we deal with the differences and make the most of life the better for us.

    The problem that I get to see over and over is (often younger) blacks who could have become so much more than they are who are in bad (life threatening sometimes) trouble because their public schooling taught them indiscipline as well as poor penmanship, illiteracy or what have you.

    And believe me, what has happened to urban black public school students is a product of white liberals, now continued by black liberals who’ve been given AA/PC jobs to finish things off. Segregated black public schools in the 1950s and early 1960s never produced such awful behavior and performance.

    On the other hand we are doing the same thing to poor whites although the damage isn’t taking the same way.

    As far as your statement that I believe blacks are less intelligent… Well the group averages are notorious by all measures across the 20th century and continuing to today. Yes. Blacks on average do not score as well as Asians. Do you want to be Asian? I don’t. Asians out score whites also. Do they want to be Asian? Poor Asians ourscore rich whites on the average. I don’t see the uproar except the whites imposing Asian caps on the enrollment at Lowell High School (and the UC School of Engineering?).

    We are wasting our time here. If you can’t see what is right before your face, I can. I am not going to bet on the Poles winning the Olympic track meet. People are different and so are the groups. The ratios of the skills are different. And it’s obvious even without the research.

    Public schools do not add IQ to their students. They train what is there. Our public schools are very careful not to do much of anything for the black students preferring to give them a lot of rope and easy A’s. The white kids are treated differently. People care if they try to act a fool.

    That has always infuriated me. As well as praise for nothing.

    And that is how it is. I don’t expect the bolg to run to any position I take or have, I’m just one person. If we blog “Why don’t we…” or “How could they…” without any consideration to my position I might contribute. My detractors should address these issues at least as a check on their own enthusiasm for merging Piedmont Schools with Oakland (As if that will ever happen).

    Maestra is unused to debate and public discourse. She and others like her believe they should never be confronted directly with un-PC points of view. Such people are shocked, shocked.. that I even exist. There problem is also that people like me will normally never speak to them. Here on the blog they do get to hear how I think. They sure don’t have to agree with me, I could be wrong about any number of things.

  • AC Mom


    Trust me, I am not shocked that you exist. One relative gave me an autographed Alan Keys book!

    Besides, the comments of you Cranky, Caroline, OakTeach, Gordon, Jim, TheThrutHurts, etc.are always interesting, whether I agree or not.

    -AC Mom

  • Nextset

    Ihaven’t read anything by Alan Keys. Thomas Sowell, yes. I particularly liked Sowell’s “Ethnic America”.

  • Fancy Nancy

    Ben Visnick is a big fat bully who is out-of-his mind. He just wants to fight someone under-handed through public humiliation and embarassment as he has done with anyone who exposes the truth about his “dossier” record-keeping on anyone who doesn’t agree with his marxist-leftist-and out-dated hippy ideas that are no longer good for the children or people of this community. Last, he is stupid and insulting to think he represents the majority of anyone even within the Laurel boundaries.

    Anyone can read about his unethical practices in an official capacity at the PERB website re: the School Psycologists and the 1996 Strike:


    Last, he has an ungly, vicious tongue and way of behaving, especially beating up and prempting people his irrational, narcisistic personality-disordered brain perceives (or misperceives) who he has irreparably harmed behind the scenes.

    Please encourage all to obstain from watching any derogatory, nasty humiliations that are nothing other than hate that comes from his ugly personality.

    God Help Us All.

  • harlemmoon

    Terribly interesting to read the bitter words from teachers concerning Visnick. Why, it was just four years ago that teachers steadfastly lined up behind the man they called their leader – but today refer to him as a bully and buffoon.

    Hmmm. Guess it really is a brave new world.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Fancy Nancy, you don’t sound all that restrained yourself…