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Gunshot fired in middle school classroom

No one was hurt when a gun went off yesterday at Cole Middle School, hitting an old fashioned radiator and breaking into pieces.

But I can’t imagine what must be going through the minds of parents, teachers and students, knowing what could have happened.

The 13-year-old student accused of bringing the loaded weapon to school is in juvenile hall. Troy Flint, the OUSD spokesman, said it wasn’t yet clear how or why the shot was fired. Continue Reading

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Skyline students find a human skeleton

While cutting through a canyon near Skyline High School, some teenagers stumbled upon a human skeleton and a makeshift shelter.

Troy Flint, spokesman for the Oakland school district, said the students apparently collected the bones last week, on their way home from Saturday school, and that they brought them Friday to the principal’s office at Skyline, where Oakland police officers later identified them as human remains (A police sergeant told our crime reporter that he thought the kids found the bones today, but that he wasn’t certain).

Investigators say it appears that Continue Reading

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OUSD police chief cusses out Trib videographer

TUESDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office is not going to file criminal charges against Tyska.
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The school district’s police chief, Art Michel, has returned the videotape he confiscated from Tribune photographer Jane Tyska last Friday. Michel accused Tyska of hitting his patrol car with her elbow — and, later, of trying to incite a riot — while she was filming a student demonstration.

Warning: Some of the language in this clip is not exactly family-friendly.

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Students skip school, protest immigration raids

Hundreds of high school students from Oakland and Richmond flooded BART stations today while trying to get to a big immigration protest in San Francisco, causing BART service to be delayed.

Tribune photographer Jane Tyska, who took this photo in East Oakland’s Fruitvale district, was later detained by school district police while trying to film the demonstration with a video camera. OUSD Police Chief Art Michel reported that Tyska Continue Reading

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More allegations, more documents

Today, I lugged a tall stack of papers out of 1025 Second Avenue. In response to a public records request, the school district released hundreds of documents related to its investigation of payments to the Bryant & Brown law firm (most of which came from construction bond money, for work with facilities projects).

Among them was a letter written by Deborah Cooksey, the district’s general counsel, to Meredith Brown, of Bryant & Brown. It accuses the firm of a number of things, including:

  • charging OUSD multiple times for the same work ($50,929)
  • mismanaging a “routine” case with an electrical company by taking it to court, rather than negotiating — and losing ($722,268)
  • copying and pasting City of Piedmont forms, making minor changes for a Waste Management contract, and billing OUSD $51,000 for the drafting work
  • refusing to cooperate with the General Counsel’s office

Cooksey also writes that Brown tried to get school board president David Kakishiba to call off the investigation, and that she contacted Gary Yee as well. Continue Reading

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Cash desensitization

In the last few weeks, our national discourse has been about billions — and even trillions — of dollars.

In the Oakland school district, much of the money talk hovers in the millions, or the multi-millions: the $100 million dollar emergency loan, the $20 million cuts to schools, the $435 million facilities bond.

That’s why yesterday, when I spoke with the lawyer representing Bryant & Brown and he told me that the firm had received an extra $22,000 because of duplicate bills sent to OUSD in 2007 and 2008, I understood how he could say that while it shouldn’t have happened, “In the total scheme of things, it’s relatively unimportant.”

Continue Reading

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Your bond money at work, paying lawyers

In 2006, Oakland voters passed a $435 million tax levy that would allow the district to refurbish its crumbling schools. Did you know that more than $1 million of that money has gone to a two-partner law firm, even though OUSD has its own lawyers?

In 2006-07 alone, local attorneys Bryant & Brown took in $846,900 in bond money to handle construction contracts, litigation and facilities-use plans, according to school board documents (just type the firm’s name in the search box) — plus $200,000 from the district’s general fund that was apparently furnished by an East Coast developer that was trying to negotiate a deal on a prime piece of district property.

Well, they do call themselves a “boutique law firm.”

In any case, the Oakland school district’s general counsel is investigating Bryant & Brown’s contracts and invoices, and the district has asked the Alameda County District Attorney’s office to review them as well. If the firm was, in fact, overpaid (and it’s possible that the total payments to Bryant & Brown were much larger than $1 million), the probe will look into how it happened and who was responsible.

“This is an extremely serious matter that we should not take lightly,” Noel Gallo said. “We need a full, complete investigation from the top down.” He added: “All those involved need to be terminated.”

Troy Flint, the district’s spokesman, said no personnel actions have been taken, but that the initial inquiry found “irregularities” in the firm’s invoices. Continue Reading

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“Everybody in the district had me in jail”

Norris Cooper, a custodian at Webster Academy, tells us about the humiliation he experienced last week when he was detained by police at school in a burglary investigation that led to the arrests of three other janitors. Cooper has not been implicated. -Katy

I was taking out the garbage at Webster Academy Sept. 8 when a police officer approached and asked if I were Norris Cooper. He said that there was a problem here, and that I knew about the problem, was a part of the problem, or could help them solve the problem.

I asked what the problem was, and he said it was computer theft. He then told me to step around the corner of the building and asked, “Where are the computers?” When I said that I knew nothing about the computers, he said that my fellow co-workers were “singing on me like birds.” Then he walked away as another officer approached. This second officer asked if I were on probation, if I had any outstanding warrants, and when was the last time I had been arrested. I told him that I was not on probation, had no warrants, and had never been arrested. He then said I was going to spend a long time in Santa Rita. I told him that I would not be spending any time in Santa Rita, and he walked away.

A third officer then approached and asked if I were Norris Cooper. He asked if I had any Oakland Unified property in my house, and I told him that I didn’t. He asked if he could see for himself, and I told him that he could if he had a search warrant. He wanted to know why would he need a search warrant if I had nothing to hide. Eventually, I agreed to sign a consent form to allow them to search my house.

That afternoon, I was placed into a squad car — in front of the school, with teachers, parents, administrators, and students Continue Reading

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More on the custodians in custody

(New information has come to light! See the update below.)

Just last September, Sylvester Jack Lawson was one of 70-some Oakland school district employees who received an Expect Success award, honored for “for exemplifying the highest commitment to the success of our students and our district.”

Today, the 52-year-old Oakland High School custodian, who’s been a district employee for 15 years, stands accused of stealing district property, and even taking a kid’s lost wallet. He was formally charged today, and appears in court tomorrow.

Then there’s Kenneth Wayne Hill, 43, a janitor at Webster Academy in East Oakland. He had a 2005 felony conviction (smuggling Continue Reading

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Busted: Three custodians with stolen property

Three janitors suspected of stealing computers and other electronic equipment from Oakland schools have been arrested on suspicion of possessing stolen property.

Police arrested the first employee Saturday, and the other two today, during an investigation of two burglaries that occurred last week – one Sept. 2 at the district’s human resources department, and the other Sept. 3 at Webster Academy in East Oakland, in which 22 brand new computers were swiped.

District spokesman Troy Flint said he could not release the names of the arrested employees because the district didn’t want to appear that they were holding the suspects up for public humiliation. While that rationale strikes me as odd — it is a matter of public record, after all — what can I do? It’s contract negotiation season. (Our police reporter is working on it…)

Flint said investigators found a large amount of stolen property – computers, VCRs, DVDs, among other electronics – in the suspects’ possession and believe that “it might be part of a larger pattern of theft.” Continue Reading