The Big Freeze in Oakland schools

portable heater. Image from comedy_nose on flickr.com/creativecommonsThe news report this morning was about shivering students at Frick Middle School.

But the Oakland school district’s temperature problems are much broader and more chronic. About 65 OUSD schools and offices reported heat outages this week, after returning from Thanksgiving break on Monday. More than half of the problems had yet to be fully resolved as of this afternoon, according to this district log.

In some cases, the outages were confined to the school library, a portable classroom, or the main office; in others, most or all of the school was cold — except for classrooms with portable heaters.

It’s not an unprecedented problem in Oakland, either.

“The reality is, we’ve got an old infrastructure,” said Tim White, the district’s assistant superintendent of facilities.

The district has 500 acres and 3,000 classrooms, White added, and facilities staff has been cut back significantly. There are now just five heating technicians. White said one solution is to have the heating techs train custodians to help with heating outages.

OUSD has received a considerable amount of facilities bond money in recent years. I wonder how many ancient heating systems have been upgraded with those funds. I’ve requested that information, and I’ll let you know what I find out.

Katy Murphy

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

  • FormerOaklandEducator

    Thank you for bringing attention to this, and doing a much better job than the SF Chronicle who reported it was only a problem at Frick.

  • Another Oakland Teacher

    I have taught in Oakland for 20 years at several different schools. And every year this is a problem; at every school at which I have ever taught I bet Tony Smith’s office is not freezing, nor those of any of the board members or highly placed administrators. So, sadly, this is not news, but business as usual.

    My classrooms freeze in the winter and swelter on the warmer days of the fall and spring. The district has been informed many times. Nothing changes. You would think they would see winter coming, but they don’t. What else is new?

  • harlemmoon

    Where is the outrage?
    You never hear about this type of problem in neighboring school districts. How should we interpret that?

  • Sue

    Some districts don’t air their dirty laundry in public – that’s one possible interpretation, anyway.

    Funny thing is, this whole discussion has brought back memories from the mid-70’s when my high school (in CA, but not Bay Area) brought in the first two security guards on the campus – before that, it was up to teachers and administration to supervise.

  • Nextset

    This issue is similar to the dirty bathroom syndrome.

    It reflects on what the district really thinks of their “students”.

    It is not going to happen in white/jewish districts.

    Because if it did there would be firings in administration as a reprisal for not taking appropriate care of the students, who are valued in those schools.

  • 4thgradeousdteacher

    To “Nextset”: When you say “It is not going to happen” in white districts you say some truth, but to add in “jewish,” you’re just venting racist and divisive ideas. That’s just helping to make sure nothing gets done. We need to unite to demand something is done to show respect for all our children and staff.

    Let’s focus on the real issue here. The issue is that the district doesn’t seem to really care about kids!

    They have plenty of money for outside contractors for certain of their priorities but when it comes to the comfort of children and teachers, they can’t go out and hire enough people to take care of the problems! Why not? and as Katy Murphy mentioned where’s the facilities bond money?

    Bill Gates, where’s your money?

  • Nextset


    Get Real.

    The Jewish students are as different from the White Students as the Black Students. Have you seen the scoring averages? Not to mention the occupational, income, migration and other data?

    You might want to read Thomas Sowell’s “Ethnic America” – but there are similar research writings about the “differences”.

    Your inability to take poeple as they are and understand what you are working with is typical of “Educators”. You piously claim you have no idea why we are experiencing all these issues in education and society – when any educated operson has been exposed to the research and actuarials.

    You like to assume it’s “racist” when someone else notes biodiversity – because that’s what you want to do and it makes you feel good or superior. Have at it, you are not the center of the world.

    Some of us have to live with the differences – watch people we are involved with live the differences.

    And for the record I’ve been involved with Jewish families as friends and associates since before I was born. It’s not at all apple pie and ice cream for them – there are distinctive problems that go with their advantages. That’s what different is all about. Advantages and Disadvantages. Blacks have them too, ditto Asians.

    Jewish disadvantages in the USA typically no longer include hanging around in ghetto public schools.

    But once upon a time it did. You probably don’t remember those days.

    And another thing – “divisive” is a key code word for liberal loonies. Don’t think for a minute your cant is pursuasive to anyone not like yourself.

    If you are a 4th grade teacher you do not live in the real world. Too bad, So sad. In good times you would work till retirement without having to change. Historic bad times are likely coming. You might want to read “The Great Depression, A Diary” by Benjamin Roth – a Jewish Lawyer in Ohio at the time. It’s one of the best on the ground narratives of what it’s like during a depression. It’s only partially instructive for us because of the societal changes nowadays. Our experiences are certain to be more like the aftermath of Katrina.

    I do agree with your comment that the district doesn’t care about the kids. I would further add you really don’t either, you only think you do. You are acting out a role you have accepted for yourself, and are willfully blind as to how your students are going to end up (if they are urban black students). You are in education for the money and you will fiddle while Rome burns for the paycheck.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that I suspect many “educators” actually know better – but will see this to the end anyway.

    So the schools are freezing – yes, and there are a LOT more dangerous failings going on also. And there is no move to fix any of it – just do enough to stay out of Katy’s paper.

    They do not value the “students”, only the paychecks. You’re just coal miners and the students are the coal.

    Not the way it used to be prior to the civil rights movement. It was at that point that the masquerade began.

    Brave New World.

  • JR

    I have to agree when someone is right and Nextset is right up to a point, but there are many teachers that actually care well beyond a paycheck. I agree the education system is built to be a jobs bank, but there are many people within it that care and do amazing work. So lets not get carried away with extreme thinking. As far as biology goes, the non-educated and under educated always outnumber and outbreed the well to do. Getting a good quality education is too difficult for most. Some people had benefit from familial wealth, and pretty much purchased degrees, and there were some who had benefit from affirmative action and received grades and degrees that in reality they did not merit. This is life and crap happens(everyone take a gander at the article about the court system and pensions and see why we are going broke).

  • Batman

    “Nextset” uses a scientific term, bio-diversity, to try to dignify her/his unscientific and discredited idea, that the differences in performance and behavior between different groups, i.e., whites and blacks and whatever, are mainly due to some inherent and biological traits rather than socio-economic class and experience.

    I believe that it’s mainly about family income, spending per student, number of books in the home, committment to equality, things like that that make the difference. And white families (a category which usually includes jewish families) have typically and historically been allowed to have more of these advantages, which is why the “white” schools have heat and well-endowed PTAs and music classes.

    All of us, whites, jews, asians, etc. need to think of assuring equality for each other a lot more.

    But the comments of “Nextset” has us looking in the wrong place for solutions, blaming students and teachers (“coal miners”) for failure, or success, and pointing at a group, jews, who as individuals,like any of us, are responsible for winking at inequality, but as a group–and a small group–have relatively little to do with the situation. If there were no jews in Oakland would we have equality in the schools and employment between Oakland and Orinda?

    Would we have heat?

  • Nextset


    The difference among other things involves brain processing speeds – cognitive skills. The scoring stats on the various ethnic groups are way too old and way too documented to pretend they don’t exist. This is not up for debate any more. You believe what you want. Everybody else is busy placing their bets with their feet.

    No we don’t have to “assure equality”. People are different. You can debate why, and how long the current differences will persist (or get worse). No amount of pious hand wringing is going to force people to be the same. They are not the same and people sure don’t want to be the same. People like to be themselves. It’s basic. And much of the differences you are born with. Deal with it. Maybe it’s time to really push breat feeding and prenatal/postnatal child nutrition. Whatever it is, these physical differences appear to be measurable and fixed when comparing people in large groups. You have no basis for saying you are going to make an given 8 year old a genius by your classroom training. It doesn’t work that way.

    What you are doing with your “equality” nonsense is fiddling while Rome burns. As if the music will extinguish a growing fire. This is not a benign thing. It is wrong to do. Your duty to your students is to get the very best outcome for them, not to tell them lies to make yourself feel better.

    Refusing to deal with bio-diversity and pretending – for the sake of discussion – that “white” and “jewish” are the same is destructive. Peddle that around the country and get laughed at. “White families” does not include Jewish families as both groups will pointedly inform you. The differences go as far as medical profiles. And behaviorial and psych issues also. It is said that having an average IQ one standard deviation above the “white” norm does have little side effects such as higher anxiety, etc. In any event we can all read the stats on the ratio of retarded vs the ratio of super brights for both groups. Or just look at the Nobel Prizes in Lab Sciences.

    Maybe you are young. Maybe you just didn’t read much in college other than liberal political tracts.

    As far as your last point – the reason we have “inequality” as you put it in the black schools is largely government imposed diseugenics in the black population combined with government schools that very calculatingly make the black population more disfunctional during the crucial years. They cannot recover from this.

    The Catholic Church set up schools in the East Bay that took black students during the black migration to the Bay Area circa WWII. Their students were not taught indicipline, and made the jump from the unskilled labor of previous generations to civil service and skill labor employment while also largely avoiding the lead poisoning and prison experience that is relatively common now. Those school always had money problems but the bathrooms were clean and the heat was managed (if not turned up very high). They valued their students, got them placed in higher education and employment. The competitive black public schools like Dunbar High did the same, carefully placing their graduates in colleges and trades. It’s not like this today.

    This thread is on the failed maintenance in the (ghetto) public schools – the heat in this instance. My point is that it is another in an unbroken line of examples of the low valuation of the students and families who attend these “schools”. And it is one of the visible signs, many are not as visible but just as dangerous.

    The tax base of CA is fleeing. I see local businesses retracting and leaving. I believe the boomers will flee California and retire elsewhere, Texas appears to be gaining steam as well as the Pacific Northwest. The problem is soon enough going to be much more than unheated ghetto classrooms. Black students who are not prepared for the Brave New World are going to be far more uncomfortable 5 years from now than 5 years ago. If they can’t mainstream they will essentially be left to die in their own zip code. The welfare state cannot last. The point of the Brave New World is segregation, with like staying with like. Because they all want it. Because the groups no longer need each other or have anything in common. Different Schools, Language & Mores in a way radically more extreme than post WWII America. If you could believe that would happen.

    Families who have their kids in these unheated classrooms need to get a clue and put them in a good charter school that will have them.

    While we are on the topic of “equality” – the best you can do is identify the minority students that do have the best aptitude – and they will be extremely few compared to the ratio found in the same group size of – German Jewish (for example) students – and bring those students forward with education to support that aptitude. We do not do that currently. A bright black or brown child stays stuck in ghetto U alaong with the dulls.

    And there is a price to pay for moving these candidates up. They will be leaving behind their own family members as well as all their neighbors. That will create social problems, in some cases insurmountable problems. So maybe you just can’t do this. Oprah tried it with her African girl finishing school. As far as I’ve heard it was a social disaster.

    So much for smart people throwing a lot of money around.

    My final point in this. The freezing classrooms is just a warning for what we all know. These public ghetto “schools” are untenable – at least if you want a real school. If you are putting bastard children in to bide time until until prison & welfare, I suppose it doesn’t matter. If the children in question are important to you, you have to permanently remove them and send them to a real school.

    Stop trying to get OUSD to change. That is not what they are in business for. They are here for pacification. With forced “equality” you get pacification. And Black English.

    Brave New World.

  • Nextset

    About the Oakland Catholic Schools. The black students were not picked up on the way to stations of the cross and enrolled in the school. Their parents – even the single working mothers, correctly saw that the Catholic Education was a way up the social ladder.

    Black Strivers dumped the black churches as a way of connecting to the more politically active & success oriented Catholic Church – and the democratic party coalition that took over CA and most of the major USA cities post WWII – Irish/Italian and other European Ethnic coalitions. You might think it was only certain families that got onboard – no, there were also working single mothers enrolling their kids and the Catholics took a number of them in the flats of Oakland. St Columba’s and other schools & churches.

    So it’s not just a matter of “rich” intact families making the jump. It is a matter of smarter ambitious people and thier kids. They were (mostly) all poor in those days.

    Exactly like now and the charter schools.

    It’s all history repeating I suppose. And the African Immigrants are leading the charge also. Smarter, you know.

  • Steven Weinberg

    For those in Oakland interested in Eli Broad, the billionaire who, through his connections with State Superintendent Jack O’Connell, made sure that all the state administrators when the state ran our schools were graduates of his superintendent training program, there is an interesting article in the Dec. 6 New Yorker about his efforts to dominate art museums in Los Angeles. The final paragraph contains this sentence: “His Instinct for getting the greatest return on his philanthropic dollars–not only in person aggrandizement but in the freedom to do as he pleases in public institutions–has shadowed what would otherwise be an unmitigated civic good.” I’m not sure many of us in Oakland would credit Eli with much civic good, but the part about his wanting to do as he pleases in public institutions rings true.

  • ChocolateSebastian

    How’s the heat at Crocker where Superintendent Smith’s child and Mr. Chatmon’s children are enrolled? Walk your rhetoric and open Crocker, Hillcrest and all the Hills schools to a lottery!

    At the Marcus Foster site, which houses classrooms for severely handicapped students, children were wrapped in blankets in their wheelchairs because the heat has been off for the entire week.

  • A M Adams

    The log states that the heating issue at Yuk Yau CDC has been resolved. We still have no heat in the building.

  • Harold

    comment #13 is “out-of-line”. Can we be civil and keep the private lives, of public people, out of the debate?

  • Nextset

    I disagree with Harold. Where the children of policy makers at OUSD attend school is relevant for this thread of poor maintenance at other OUSD schools.

    It’s not a transgression of privacy to mention it. It’s not like Chocolate Sebastian even mentioned the children’s names, ages, SS#, etc.

    It’s a big issue that the policy makers run the schools one way, or take policy positions on such things as diversity and such, then live their own lives (family too) is a way indicating a less than complete devotion to these principles.

    At least it’s fair game for discussion.

    The major issue of this thread is why are these things happening. My answer of course is that this and a lot more are happening because black children are not valued because the liberals know (or believe) they are heading to a certain fate anyway so why fight with them to avoid it.

    I’m the one saying yes, “we” should fight with them (ghetto students and their parent) to get better outcomes for the black and brown students. And by “fighting with” I mean forcing the kiddies to “act white” for awhile whether they like it or not. Of course this would be considered revolutionary now. Not in 1960 it wouldn’t. Does this have anything to do with maintaining clean bathrooms and adequate heat in the classrooms? It seems like it does to me. When the schools get away with letting things go (Black English, etc..) it’s a short drop to letting everything go (the heat, etc).

    It sounds like OUSD is letting everything go. At least in certain schools.

    Which is why it’s interesting which schools the children of the “educators” attend, and relevant to this debate.

  • JR

    What school the policy makers children attend couldn’t be more relevant than it is now. What you are beginning to see is the accelerated stratification of society.(a little OT) What is disturbing is that public tax money has been confiscated to create a wealthy(out of touch) elite class funded entirely on the taxpayers backs. Public sector finances have gone from living wage to fair compensation and now its about obscene wealth. I find nothing obscene about wealth created in the private sector where the free market governs, but in the public sector it is a different matter entirely.

  • gee yu

    ChocolateSebastian thank for telling it like it is…why did’t the new director of PEC.. get these kids help sounds like she just like the one that just left……
    Nextset if a teacher complaints about the poor conditions at their school like: rats, cockroches(roosevelt jr)mice, ants to their admin theteachers are told we’ll look into it and walk away…….channel 4 had a story about it too maybe workers need to be hired back instead of being cut razor thinnnnnn

  • ChocolateSebastian

    I did not intend to be uncivil in post #13. It is important to note that both Superintendent Smith and Mr Chatmon repeatedly talk about their children attending OUSD schools in public forums to demonstrate their integration and investment in Oakland. They both also present themselves as reformers dedicated to closing the achievement gap, yet their children are benefiting from the class and income gap in the District. Mr Smith’s policy’s indicate that he believes ineffective teachers are one of the primary causes of the achievement gap – so take all the “effective ” teachers from the Hills schools and reassign them to raise scores in the low achieving schools in the flats.
    Open up the Hills schools to a full lottery process. Walk your rhetoric!

  • Harold

    @nextset – instead of “acting white” how about: reclaiming your academic prowess? The algebra/geometry used to build those pyramids in Cairo, didn’t come from Europe!

  • Oakland Teacher

    fyi #13- there are no classrooms at the Marcus Foster Site. It is used for offices for Programs for Exceptional Children. It used to be a middle school a long time ago, but no students have had classrooms there for many years.

  • ChocolateSebastian

    Oakland Teacher, that is not corrrect. The Special Education TAP program is there. That is an SDC classroom. The workability programs/classrooms for severely handicapped students are located there also.

  • CAteacher

    As a CA teacher for the last three decades having taught in LA and the Bay Area, I have never had a classroom with adequate heating/cooling. However, every single administrator I’ve ever worked for, from principal to superintendent, has enjoyed seasonally appropriate conditions in nicely appointed, clean offices. I will say that I have never worked anywhere but “inner city” schools with “diverse” populations.