Update: Tony Smith and AIMS

At 6 p.m. tonight, the OUSD board is expected to speak publicly for the first time about the resignation of schools superintendent Tony Smith last week. There is nothing on the agenda but the board will say a few words and maybe we should expect some public comment.

In the meantime, at 5 p.m., AIPCS teachers will be “laying all details on the table” about efforts to oust AIMS board members Jean Martinez and Nedir Bey.  The teachers have invited parents and the public tonight (at the AIPCS II campus, 171 12th St.) to hear why the two should leave the board — as of tomorrow, Thursday. I can’t get to the rally tonight because of a breaking story and the OUSD board meeting at 6 p.m.

“Our goal is to inform the public, and put pressure on Dr. Jean Martinez and Nedir Bey to resign,” an AIMS teacher wrote in an email about their efforts.

Bey and Martinez are allies of former AIMS Director Ben Chavis, accused of fraud by state auditors. The OUSD board yanked the schools’ charter on March 20.

As long as Martinez and Bey are on the board, the thinking goes, Chavis is not far behind pulling the puppet strings. And as long as that’s the case, AIMS doesn’t stand a chance of keeping its charter. The teachers and other board members blame Bey and Martinez for standing in the way of hiring an outside consultant to get the AIMS finances in order. It was one of the key requirements of the OUSD board and may have cost them the charter.

“In order to bring Chavis down and hold him accountable for his actions we need to remove these two members from our school board,” the teacher wrote.

If the Alameda County Board of Education declines to overturn the OUSD revocation, AIMS can go to the state. That will be playing out in the coming months. But about a 1,000 pupils, their parents and teachers might not know the fate of the charter until summer break.

Bey is the “spiritually adopted” son of Your Black Muslim Baker founder Yusuf Bey. In 1994 Bey (Nedir) was charged with abducting and torturing a man who ran afoul of the bakery. He pleaded no contest to a felony charge of false imprisonment. He launched a failed health care company with more than $1 million in city money he never repaid. He also received public financing for a 2002 run for City Council. He was once a school site council leader at Fruitvale Elementary School. He used his birth name Victor Foster in documents filed to open a public charter school in West Oakland that he later withdrew. BART awarded him a contract for lighting work but had to reverse the decision because Bey had none of the required licensing and bonding.

But I am curious about business and other ties he and Martinez have to Chavis and I’m betting there are some of you who know a bit more.




Lawsuit to halt closure of Santa Fe

Just before the Oakland school board agreed to lease Santa Fe Elementary School to Emery Unified for $500,000 a year (for three years), the law firm Siegel & Yee filed a lawsuit to keep it open.

The plaintiffs plan to ask the Alameda County Superior Court for an injunction. If it goes through, this will be the second of the five planned closures that have not gone according to plan (See: Lazear Elementary. Its charter conversion hearing is scheduled for April 25).

Here’s the news release from Michael Siegel:


Decision to Close Santa Fe Elementary School is Racially Discriminatory, a Waste a Public Resources, and in Violation of the California Environmental Quality Act, Plaintiffs Say Continue Reading


School finance in CA: Will it take a lawsuit (or two) to fix it?

Most people I’ve spoken to about California’s school finance system, regardless of their political views, seem to agree that it’s a mess. The researchers on the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence described it as “the most complex in the country, lacking an underlying rationale and transparency,” inequitable, inefficient, unpredictable, unstable and inadequate.

Mike Kirst, the Stanford University education professor emeritus I interviewed today, said he wouldn’t even call it a system. He did call it “an accretion of incremental actions that don’t fit together and that make no sense.”

Will the courts finally force the deadlocked state Legislature to overhaul the complex, arcane formulas that dictate how California allocates money to its schools (and how much)? The nonprofit Public Advocates law firm hopes so. It filed suit today in Alameda Superior Court on behalf of a coalition of advocacy groups, students and parents, saying the status quo denies students the right to a meaningful education. (They also released a video to explain and promote the plaintiff’s case.)

The suit is very similar to an Alameda Superior Court case filed in May by the California PTA, California School Boards Association and an Alameda High School student, Maya Robles-Wong. Continue Reading


OUSD settles fraud case against law firm

Tribune file photo

The legal dispute between the Oakland school district and the Bryant & Brown law firm is over.

I’m still waiting to hear how much money OUSD paid in legal expenses to pursue this case in federal court. What I do know is that the district won $325,000 from Bryant & Brown. The settlement, which was entered last month, did not include any admission of wrongdoing.


OUSD vs. O’Connell

DIY court research, anyone? If you want to see the documents for yourself, just click here, then click on the “Case Summary” link and enter this case number: RG09440971

Update: A judge denied the Oakland school district’s request to order a temporary halt to the transfer of funds to charter schools. One reason? The school board might not have the legal authority to file such a lawsuit, since it doesn’t have all of its governing powers back.

The scoop: The Oakland school district has filed suit against State Schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell Continue Reading


Racketeering in OUSD?

I admit it: The more I learn about the Bryant & Brown law firm controversy, the more confused I become.

As I reported in today’s Trib, the Oakland school district filed a federal lawuit against the small Oakland law firm (pictured here), alleging racketeering, fraud, theft of public funds — you name it.

What I didn’t realize until recently was that Deb Cooksey — who led the Bryant & Brown investigation for OUSD until she resigned (her last day was Friday) — was once a close friend of Meredith Brown and Guy Bryant. Continue Reading


Judge puts the brakes on Algebra I plan

California’s bold new algebra plan has a new variable.

Today, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang ruled that the state board of education would have to temporarily delay the eighth-grade Algebra I testing requirement that it approved in July. (You know, the one that Schwarzenegger pushed for in the 11th hour, over State Superintendent Jack O’Connell’s strong objections?)

The ruling was made in response to a lawsuit to stop the new requirement. It was filed in September by the California School Boards Association and the Association of California School Administrators.

Chang has ordered the state board to hold off any any decisions on the algebra test until a court hearing on Dec. 19. Continue Reading


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


SF federal court: Intern teachers can be deemed “highly qualified”

When it comes to filling teaching vacancies, the Oakland school district relies heavily on “interns,” college graduates who are still working to complete their certification. About 40 percent of new OUSD hires in recent years fall into this category; they come through “alternate route” programs such as Teach for America and Oakland Teaching Fellows.

Andy Kwok, the teacher we’ve been following at EXCEL High School, is one of them. He majored in biology, the subject he teaches, but jumped straight into the classroom after a short summer preparation program. He took education classes at night.

Kwok and other intern teachers are considered “highly qualified” by the U.S. Department of Education. But Public Advocates, a civil rights law firm, challenged that definition in a lawsuit last year. They argued it violates the spirit of the No Child Left Behind law, and that it lets school systems get away with hiring less experienced teachers. Continue Reading