A cautionary tale: San Diego, on brink of insolvency, looks at Oakland school takeover

Former OUSD State Administrator Randolph Ward in 2006

Keegan Kyle, a reporter at Voice of San Diego, offers his readers a look at what’s happened in Oakland’s public schools since the 2003 state takeover. It’s interesting to note that Randy Ward, OUSD’s first state-appointed administrator (pictured above, in 2006), is the superintendent of the San Diego County Office of Education, which oversees the finances of local districts.

What would you add to this history of OUSD’s state takeover?

P.S. I posted the story on my Facebook page last night, so you’re welcome to comment there, too. I’m trying to get (less anonymous) discussions going there, too, and might start a Facebook group pretty soon.

You can find me at Facebook.com/katyEmurphy. (Don’t forget the middle initial!)


An Oakland teacher’s thoughts on “consolidation” — and what to call it, instead

David Braden, a technology prep teacher and Bay Area Writing Project consultant teacher at Oakland’s Bella Vista Elementary School, wrote this essay after learning two of his colleagues would be moved, or “consolidated,” to different schools next week — in mid-October. I wrote about the issue too, in this story. – Katy

The Merriam Webster app on my Droid tells me the word “consolidate” has three different meanings: 1) to join together into one whole, 2) to make firm or secure or 3) to form into a compact mass. I looked it up because today our principal informed us that our school would be consolidated.

Leaving the third definition aside for a moment, it sounds like a pretty good thing. Unity, firmness, security are all admirable qualities that would be welcome in any environment, but especially an elementary school. A staff that is united around discipline with consistent rules and consequences gives students a sense of security. If a staff unites around a clear curriculum, then students will have a firm grasp of what they need to know before graduating to the next level of schooling.

These qualities also describe what we want for our students. Continue Reading


An unwanted fresh start, midyear

Staff Photojournalist

Today, I wrote about the practice of moving teachers from school to school, weeks into the school year, to balance the budget. It’s happening to five Oakland teachers this year, including Breianna Davis, shown above with her kindergarten students at Carl B. Munck Elementary School. Next week, she’ll be at another school, and her 22 students will be divided among the remaining kindergarten and first-grade teachers at Munck.

Three other elementary schools will undergo a similar adjustment: Bella Vista (which is losing two teachers), Laurel and Community United. All but one are kindergarten teachers.

According to Brigitte Marshall, the district’s new director of HR, the original list of consolidations was at least three times as long. Troy Flint, the district spokesman, said 400 fewer students enrolled than expected (and 28 fewer at Munck), creating a $1.4 million deficit. As I’ve written before, many families don’t show up on the first day — or even the first week — of school, which makes it hard to make staffing changes early in the school year. They rely on a count taken on Day 20, which is in late September.

But I imagine such explanations make little sense to the teachers and families making this kind of adjustment on the eighth week of school.

Stay tuned for a guest blog post from a teacher at Bella Vista.


No plans Saturday night?

Staff Photojournalist

Saturday is the second annual Uptown Oakland Block Party and school fundraiser. It’s from 5 to 8 p.m.

Organizers aim to raise $60,000 for five Oakland schools (including two that are slated for closure): Manzanita SEED, Cleveland, Piedmont Avenue, Lakeview and Thurgood Marshall. Last year, they raised $13,000 for another group of schools.

Thirty-dollar tickets are available online through the end of the day. It will get you a cocktail along with your donation. (If you don’t have time to get your ticket in advance, you can buy one for $40 at Luka’s Taproom & Lounge on Broadway and Grand.)

See the Facebook post here.

Participating venues (subject to change): Ozumo, Pican, Era Art Bar, Luka’s Taproom & Lounge, Farley’s, Vo’s, 3000 Broadway, Shashamane, Inkwell, Somar, Dogwood, and Make Westing.


Oakland schools under “possible closure consideration”

The Oakland school district administration has posted the names of schools that could be considered for closure in 2012 under the criteria the school board approved last month. It will be discussed — but not voted on — at tonight’s 6 p.m. special school board study session.

ELEMENTARY schools “identified for possible closure consideration”: Burckhalter, Kaiser, Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park, Santa Fe, Sobrante Park

MIDDLE schools: Claremont, Frick

HIGH schools: the document lists the seven schools that are already being consolidated into two schools on the Fremont and Castlemont campuses.

The document emphasizes that the list is “not a recommendation at this time.” The board is not slated to make a decision on school closures until late October. Also: Although Frick and Claremont are highlighted in yellow on Slide #9, another slide (#12) suggested no middle schools in OUSD would be closed next year. I’m sure the discrepancy will be discussed tonight.

It’s clear from the list (and further study of the criteria) that the dominant factors in this system are Continue Reading


School closures on the horizon in Oakland

Oakland school district officials have said for years that the district runs too many schools — 101 for 38,000 students.

Superintendent Tony Smith has been judicious with his use of the `C’ word, though he’s blamed some of the district’s financial challenges — and its relatively low teacher pay — on the number of schools in the district.

Now, his staff have come up with a complex ranking system (link below) for choosing which schools to close or merge. The school board votes on the criteria tomorrow, during its 5 p.m. meeting. The closure list would be announced at the end of October, according to GO Public schools. It’s unclear from the presentation how many there would be, but I’ll let you know when I find out.

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Paper galore at Lakeview Elementary School

Lake Merritt Breakfast Club supply donation

Lakeview Elementary School should not run out of copy paper this year. Today, the charitable arm of the 78-year-old Lake Merritt Breakfast Club dropped off $2,000 worth of school supplies at Lakeview. According to the breakfast club, the savings will help Lakeview pay for someone to look after the kids at lunchtime — the kind of position that many schools have been forced to cut (or fundraise to keep).

Know of other school supply donations and drives? Tell us about them.


Oakland Fine Arts Summer School: Your (parcel) tax dollars at work

So often these days, I find myself writing about the end of things. But city’s fine arts summer school — free for any child who lives in Oakland — has weathered the downturn and years of budget cuts. Why? Measure G, a $195 school parcel tax that voters renewed (and made permanent) in February 2008, in part, to support fine arts in schools.

The program moved this year from Glenview Elementary to the Fruitvale-area campus of Think College Now and International Community School. This summer, it has more than 300 kids from public and private schools. I visited with photographer Laura Oda. You can find the story here.


The future of school counseling in California

Staff Photojournalist

When Skyline High School’s 1,900 students return to school in the fall, they’ll have to see someone else besides a counselor for scheduling, college advising, scholarships, or any of the other things that once brought them into the counselor’s office. Faced with a tough budget decision, Skyline’s principal decided to do away with the entire counseling staff.

Some of Oakland’s small schools have long functioned without school counselors, but this fall, as many as six schools — including Skyline — could be counselor-less for the first time. (OUSD staff wouldn’t give me the names, saying it wasn’t final, but I know the Frick Middle School counselor was laid off, and Betty Olson-Jones, the OEA president, said Westlake might also be without any counselors next year.)

I checked to see what was happening in other districts and wrote a story about the issue. You can find it here.

What do you consider to be the most vital roles of a school counselor? I’ve heard some say that they are regularly given test proctoring and other administrative tasks (as administrators, too, have been cut). In light of the enormous student-counselor ratios in California (810 to 1 in 2009-10), how would you change their job description to make the most of their training, expertise and time? Should they be programming students into courses, for example?


The skinny on OUSD’s leaner-than-lean budget

The Oakland school district on Wednesday night unanimously passed a budget for the upcoming school year — a conservative plan that included deep cuts and extra cash reserves to help cushion the district against the state’s volatile funding stream.

The school district’s total budget for 2011-12 is projected to be $472.8 million, down from $650.5 million in 2010-11. More than three-quarters of the decline — $136 million of the $178 million drop — is construction related. That’s because the district has used much of its voter-approved bond money. So (Can you tell where this is going?) board members are already talking about asking Oakland taxpayers to support another levy, possibly next year.

The school district’s general fund is smaller, too, without federal stimulus funds to mitigate years of state cutbacks: $376 million, down from $412 million in 2010-11.

Continue Reading