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Big money flowing into Oakland school board races

Staff Photojournalist
Photo by Laura A. Oda/Staff

As we reported today, this Oakland school board election is a departure from past cycles — and not just because every race is contested.

The teachers union revived its political action committee after 20 years, throwing its weight behind Thearse Pecot (District 1), Richard Fuentes (District 3), and Mike Hutchinson (District 5).

But the $20,000 the Oakland Education Association PAC expects to spend on those candidates is dwarfed by that of another new PAC, for Great Oakland Public Schools. It had raised more than $123,000 as of Sept. 30.

About 80 percent of that sum came from two people: Former Dreyers CEO Gary Rogers, whose son Brian ran for school board in 2008 against Jody London (District 1), and Arthur Rock, a well-known venture capitalist based in San Francisco.

Rock gave $49,000 and Rogers gave $49,900 to support GO’s picks: Jumoke Hinton Hodge (District 3), Rosie Torres (District 5), and James Harris (District 7). GO has not endorsed either candidate in District 1.

The Rogers Family Foundation is clearly invested in Oakland’s education system — it’s given grants to district and charter schools, and it provided the seed money to start GO in the first place. But why would someone from San Francisco pour money into an Oakland school board race?

GO says Rock, who has supported (on a smaller scale) some of the group’s other initiatives, was inspired by all of the energy in the campaign. Rock wouldn’t give an explanation, saying in an emailed response that his contribution “speaks for itself.”

I talked to David Kakishiba about this yesterday. He’s on the OUSD board, but not up for re-election, so I wanted to get his thoughts. He said he welcomed the infusion of attention and money, saying school board races had been neglected for far too long. Do you agree?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Doug Appel

    Dear Laurel District

    You are quite right the Mr. Rogers has given generously to many institutions in Oakland. I commend him for his generosity. However, he also has clear political views that are reflected in his (and his wife’s) large contributions to Republican Party causes. You can find this information on Open Secrets.com or other campaign finance websites. The Republican Party has clear views on expanding the privatization of public education. In addition, the Rogers Family Foundation has given to the Koch Brothers affiliated American’s for Prosperity and the vehemently anti-union Pacific Legal Foundation. This is from their 2008 IRS Form 990, the most recent I was able to find. This is not a conspiracy–it’s a set of facts.

  • Nontcair

    The Republicans support private schools — for their *own* kids. They would like to see financially struggling private schools — at the margin, the ones accessible to the middle class — ruined by making them dependent upon tax dollars (ie “vouchers”).

    The Republicans certainly do not favor 100% privatization. The Republicans never talk about *elimination* of the public (taxpayer funded) school system, not even in their country club lounges.

    The Republicans are strong supporters of charter schools — alternative forms of PUBLIC (taxpayer supported) education. As usual, they want more tax dollars flowing *their* way — in this case, into the hands of GOP donors who wish to operator them, at the expense of public unions.

    Despite what the DEMs want you to believe, the Republicans are actually strong spporters of traditional, brick-&-mortar public schools. Many of their reliable donors are school service providers of one sort or another who have been leeching off the system for *decades*.

    Elimination of public funding for education would severely reduce the REPUBLICAN’s oxygen supply.

  • Nontcair

    Would you please direct me to the statute which mandates state matching funds?

    I don’t see how it could be constitutional for voters in one special taxing district — big *or* small — to basically impose a tax increase on the rest of the state.

    Otherwise, I very much enjoyed the video, especially the constant references to “The Beast”.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/2012/02/three-handy-pages-with-facts-about.html Sharon

    Andy Smarick, a Republican who served in the White House and in the Department of Education under President George W. Bush, and who also works for right-wing think tanks (American Enterprise Institute, Fordham Institute), is bluntly proposing the demolition of urban public school districts. In his vision, privately-operated charter schools replace ALL the urban public schools which now exist and a “new citywide education authority” manages this ‘portfolio’ of schools.
    http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-daily/flypaper/2012/chartering-the-future.html

    Smarick’s proposed scenario is the end game for the neo-liberal, free market logic for public ed. Privatization of urban school districts via charter schools has absolutely nothing to do with helping children from low SES families climb higher on the social ladder, or to improve their life situation in any other way. But charter schools have everything to do with being THE method to gradually transfer an asset traditionally held by the public (a civic-minded, city-owned, locally-controlled public school system) into private hands (for the benefit of real estate acquisition, cronyism, profiteering, etc.). This article lays out some of the who’s and why’s:
    http://www.alternet.org/education/education-profiteering-wall-streets-next-big-thing?paging=off

    Here’s how it works. Phase One is to get an initial charter school law passed. Almost all states now have a charter school law. The original law starts things gently by placing a cap on the number of schools that can open (This is what is going on in Washington; the Big Money pushing it does not care that voters have have rejected this same proposal three times.) During this campaign, pro-charter forces try to convince voters that charter schools will be a good thing because they’ll “help” the traditional schools in some way (sharing innovation, competition, etc.). After several years, the pro-charter forces launch Phase Two. This is when they rally to have the original charter law amended. Amendments lift caps, extend the number and power of the authorizing entities, loosen restrictions on facility accessibility, etc. This phase is what Big Money is currently paying for in Georgia.

    Academic studies have NEVER consistently shown that charter schools do better than traditional public schools. That’s why Big Money has stepped in to fund biased studies, charter advocacy (incl. bus rides and t-shirts), pro-charter propaganda (“Won’t Back Down,” “Waiting for Superman,” etc. ), lobbying public officials (Michelle Rhee’s organization, etc.), etc. The way the laws are written institutionalize inadequate oversight and the near-impossibility to close the schools (e.g. the many years of corruption allowed to go on at AIPCS). As the charter school presence continuously expands within the urban district, pre-existing schools wither away, eventually killing off the raison d’être for a school district in the city. A few charter schools seem innocent enough, but with unrestrained expansion and very few closures, they are just the bellwether of Smarick’s right-wing, neo-liberal vision.

    I suspect that a good number of the people who support this current ed reform juggernaut have no idea about from where it originally came, or how deep it goes.

  • Ms. J.

    Thank you, Sharon. Horrifying. And quite clear.

  • Observer

    #55 Thank you for your clarity.

    Can you please address the systematic dumping of students by the Charters back to the public only after the finances have come their way? My experience for the last 7 years in OUSD is, sometime after the fourth week of school or so, we get anywhere from one to 7 kids from the charters (and eventually some from privates)most of them needing an IEP. My understanding is that the by the 20th day, budgets are set on site based on enrollment and the budget does not change no matter what if enrollment increases or decreases.

  • J.R.

    Non,
    A little too much legalese, but I believe the pertinent information begins in #16312. Perhaps Nextset will verify, but I see no more than 80 cents on the dollar of matching(I could be mistaken though).

  • J.R.

    This is horrifying, and it has been going on for decades without the benefit of widespread academic achievement, too much reliance on remedial education, and low graduation rates( even though the exit exam is eigth grade level.

    http://www.calwatchdog.com/2012/09/24/what-school-bonds-pay-for-from-san-diego-to-burlingame-the-crime-is-whats-legal/

  • J.R.

    This current system big government education juggernaut has been fleecing taxpayers for decades(taking large sums of money while performing at mediocre levels or worse. 400 million dollar budgets annually(billions in LAUSD)the majority of which is compensation and benefits(past and present)and what do we have to show for it(past and present)? Don’t take youe eye off the ball taxpayers, keep an eye on your wallets and watch them all.

  • Lake Educator

    A few points on this lengthy discussion.

    1. GO is a community-based group that has organized a significant volunteer effort for this election. Contributions have been made by more than 200 individuals and GO is averaging 50-70 people a week who are volunteering their time to call and walk districts. This is about creating a more informed electorate in an often ignored election.

    2. GO is not pro or anti charter. GO is pro strong outcomes for kids. The charter vs. district debate is pitting people who care about many of the same issues against each other. Kids deserve better than what we currently give them, especially our kids of color. Period. If our district were really focused on meeting the needs of kids, many things about the way our schools are run would change. That does not mean that charters are the answer – they come with other issues. But we cannot be afraid of competition. We must do better than we are.

  • Nontcair

    #54 wrote: transfer an asset traditionally held by the public (a civic-minded, city-owned, locally-controlled public school system) into private hands (for the benefit of real estate acquisition, cronyism, profiteering, etc.).

    You and your comrades, who long have had a free hand to craft public education in your own left wing socialist images now object when right wing socialists want to craft it in *theirs*.

    How pathetic!

    Taxpayers are sick and tired of watching you big government advocates fight over our money.

    We’re sick and tired of you Hegelians arguing over whose form of socialism is better.

    We just want to be LEFT ALONE.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Lake Educator:

    If you are not anti-charter then you are not pro public education as charters grow privatization of the management of public schools.

    My concern about GO is the money behind GO being the Roger Family Dryers fortune. Brian Rogers has two charter schools. Since two $49,000 checks by T Gary Rogers and Arthur Rock make up almost $100,000 of the GO PAC, my point is if you follow the money you got to be thinking that GO is charter school friendly.

    When S.F. Venture Capitalist Arthur Rock was asked about his motivation in contributing to Oakland GO PAC he answered that his donation speaks for itself. I take that to mean he believes in reforming public education as a concept as there appears no other link to Oakland Public Schools. Certainly a capitalist would tend to like the idea of charter schools as a reform of public education.

    The bottom line is that about 70% of GO PAC money belongs to the two donations of Mr. Rogers and Mr. Rock. Oakland is not Mr.Rocks neighborhood but it is Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. Although most do not live or travel in Mr. Rogers’ world of the 1%, many find his wealth attractive and seek the trickle down political dollars.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Nontcair

    If you are not anti-charter then you are not pro public education

    IOW, if you are not anti-fascism then you are not pro totalitarian socialism.

  • Mary

    I am a lifelong democrat and I phone banked at GO recently. I am so happy that the school board races are finally getting the attention they deserve, and that all board races are contested. That is the way democracy is supposed to work. Public education reform is one of the few places where democrats and republicans actually can find some common ground. I’m not worried about the candidates GO endorsed. I’ve met all of them, and I think they will all be independent, thoughtful school board members. Serving on the School Board is a hard, thankless job. I’m glad that Oakland is developing more civic infrastructure to surface and support good candidates…and if some rich republicans had something to do with that…then we are all in their debt.

  • Nontcair

    Re: #57, I searched the Ed Code. I couldn’t find anything specifically about matching funds for bonds. Who knows? It could be buried within the state financial code; I looked there, too.

    FYI, I did see some totally unconstitutional regulations dating back to the school-construction boom of the 1950′s, a time when CA had a part-time legislature, related to a state education *bureaucracy* being delegated the power to make construction-related appropriations during the 1.5 years or so when the legislature was adjourned.

    It’s a shame that the “Part-Time Legislature” petition didn’t collect enough signatures to make the ballot this year. It deserves our support.

  • J.R.

    Non,
    I am still looking myself, but I guess that is one of the purposes of legislation:

    To relieve the working people of their money and ensure that no one really knows where the money went or how much.

    No wonder so many politicians have lived their entire adult lives at the public trough, it pays well and it’s secure(as long as their are boards, commissions and or city,county,state and or federal posts. I doubt that many if not most of these people have ever actually worked an honest day in their lives in the private sector.