A fond farewell

Reporters change beats all the time. We’re not in the habit of telling our readers goodbye unless we’re leaving the paper, and maybe not even then.

But given all the time we’ve spent together on this forum – me writing about Oakland school news and you telling me what I missed and what I should look into (or debating something different altogether) – this feels different.

I’m going to be covering colleges and universities for the Tribune and its sister papers now, working mostly out of a newsroom in Hayward with other East Bay reporters who cover issues for the whole news group. I’m excited about the challenge. Who knows, I could end up writing about students I met when they were angsty teens, haunting the hallways of McClymonds High or Oakland Tech — or returning to those high schools to write stories about college.

I hope you stay in touch and send me your story ideas.

I’ve known about this for awhile, but have waited to tell you until I knew who would be replacing me. I’m afraid I don’t have an easy answer. The newspaper has been trying to fill the position, but so far has been unable to do so.

After all of the time we’ve all spent on this blog, I’m hoping it can survive until someone can take it on on a more regular basis. Another metro reporter plans to attend school board meetings and post occasionally. Maybe, if any of you are inspired, you could contribute.

This is hard for me to tell you; I know how important schools coverage is, especially to Oaklanders. My editor has set up an email for news tips and blog submissions: oaklandschools@bayareanewsgroup.com.

If you are interested in posting regularly, please let us know.

Thanks for reading, and for making the blog so lively and interesting. I’ll miss answering your questions, absorbing your insights and reflections, and, most of all, imploring you and “Nextset” to be civil to one another.


OUSD board stands firm on American Indian charter school recommendation

The Oakland school board voted 6-1 last night to issue a “notice of intent to revoke” the charters for three schools run by American Indian Model Schools: American Indian Public Charter School (6-8), American Indian Public Charter School II (K-8) and American Indian Public High School.

The next hearing will be Feb. 13. The final decision comes in March, possibly on March 20.

The OUSD board members — with the exception of Chris Dobbins, who cast the dissenting vote — made it clear they didn’t want to hear defenses or excuses. They said they wanted better accounting controls and governance practices — and assurances that the organization’s founder, Ben Chavis, and his wife, Marsha Amador, would be separated from all aspects of managing the organization and its finances.

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Closure threat is mounting for Oakland’s American Indian charter schools

2012 file photo of Ben Chavis by D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group

The American Indian Model Schools organization, whose governing board was accused last year of allowing its founder, Ben Chavis, and wife to funnel millions of tax dollars into their own companies and pockets, has failed to make the necessary fixes and should be shut down at the end of the school year, Oakland school district administration has concluded.

In a letter to families, written in English and in Chinese, Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith has this to say:

The students, teachers, school-site staff, and families deserve recognition for their considerable work and for their outstanding academic achievements. We are committed to ensuring that every child in Oakland has access to a high quality public school in their neighborhood and that they are on a clear path to a successful future. You have found this in the schools you are in now. I will work with you to ensure that your children continue to benefit from a school community that is similar to where they are and that they continue on the pathway to success they are currently on.

However, due to many serious legal issues, I am recommending to the governing board of OUSD that they approve a notice to revoke the charter of American Indian Model Schools. Those responsible for the governance and management of the charter organization have broken the law, a conclusion reached after investigations by three separate government agencies. Continue Reading


OUSD headquarters is out of commission, indefinitely

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group

It’s not looking good at 1025 Second Avenue, a week after a major flood in the four-story building.

A letter from Oakland school district spokesman Troy Flint this evening said the “initial assessment phase” will last eight to 10 weeks.

Wondering where to go? He lays it all out: Continue Reading


Online education: a leg up for high school kids?

photo by Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group

I’ve been at San Jose State today, learning about an online education experiment that could affect high school and college students – and would-be college students – alike.

The latest idea is to offer three entry-level or remedial courses online, for CSU credit, at $150 each. San Jose State professors created the course using the platform of a Palo Alto-based online education startup, Udacity.

The pilot will start with just 300 students – 150 from San Jose State and another 150 from community colleges and the two high schools Gov. Jerry Brown started when he was the mayor of Oakland — Oakland Military Institute and Oakland School for the Arts.

If the experiment works – and, as Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun acknowledges, it might not — the courses might be available to students throughout the U.S. as soon as this summer.

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Jerry Brown’s budget proposal for CA schools

AP Photo by Rich Pedroncelli

Today, the governor unveiled his first budget proposal for the 2013-14 fiscal year. The plan would increase K-12 spending levels by $2.7 billion next year.

It would also, as expected, overhaul the funding formula for school districts.

Brown’s proposed funding formula would lift a number of spending restrictions that have long been in place for specific programs, instead granting school boards the latitude to allocate the funds where they see fit.

And here’s the biggest change: Brown’s proposal would give a base amount to school districts for each student — roughly $6,700 per pupil, on average. Then it would give districts an additional 35 percent to educate every child who is low-income, an English learner or in foster care, according to Nick Schweizer, of the Department of Finance.

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Flood shuts down OUSD headquarters

Well, 2013 is not off to the best start for the OUSD administration. Here’s a slightly modified report I just filed:

A flood — apparently caused by a tap left on overnight — shut down the Oakland school district’s four-story administrative headquarters today. The roughly 150 employees who report there will have to work elsewhere for the rest of the week, and Wednesday’s school board meeting will be held at the newly rebuilt La Escuelita Elementary School across the street.

The problem appears to have started in the custodian’s closet, gushing three gallons of water a minute overnight until the swampy mess was discovered at 6 a.m. Tuesday, said OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint.

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In 2013, another proposal to change California’s education funding formula

Next week, when he lays out his 2013-14 budget proposal Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to introduce a new version of an old idea: a simplified funding model for California school districts.

The so-called “weighted student formula” Brown proposed last year and then dropped would have given districts a base amount of money for each student — $5,421, on average (it varies by grade) — and an additional 20 percent for English learners and low-income students. It also would have permanently lifted restrictions on seven more of the state’s special-purpose grants, including economic impact aid and K-3 class size reduction, leaving districts to spend it however they wish. (In 2009, California did the same thing with about 40 such pots of money, including adult education, which has since been dramatically cut back in many districts, including Oakland Unified.)

The Legislative Analyst’s Office suggested some changes, but said it was a “positive first step.”

In a story my colleague Theresa Harrington wrote today, School Services of California CEO Ron Bennett said the proposal’s introduction last year was “an absolute disaster,” with critics saying the new formula would hurt districts with few disadvantaged students.

Of course, we don’t yet know the details of the 2013 proposal, but it’s expected to be conceptually similar. What are your thoughts about it?