Oaklanders: Do you support the strike? The contract imposition?

Teachers make picket signs Thursday for strike. Photo by Ray Chavez/Tribune staff

At a news conference yesterday morning, Gary Yee placed the teacher contract imposition in the context of the district’s painful takeover history, Tony Smith said he wanted to start over and OEA executive director Ward Rountree said that was a terrible way to do it. (You can find a story about the whole situation here.)

We posted reader polls on the strike and the contract imposition, if you care to vote. Oh, and the Tribune ran an editorial saying raises for teachers would be “nice,” but that the district can’t afford them.

At the news conference yesterday, I asked Continue Reading


Contract, imposed

It was unanimous. All seven members of the Oakland school board voted to immediately implement a contract for teachers — the same offer, made in December, that the union membership rejected.

Much of the audience cleared out soon after the vote — including me, because the district’s wireless Internet access was down, so I had to run home and send the story before my 9:15 deadline. But as I headed for the door, I heard Superintendent Tony Smith talking about new beginnings and pay increases for teachers. I stopped and pulled out my laptop again. Here’s what I was able to get down: Continue Reading


Federal dollars, struggling schools and Oakland Unified’s dilemma

Oakland has the chance to infuse five of its schools with an unspecified amount of federal money.

The thing is, the grant in question has some serious strings attached. It would require these five schools (well, four of them, since Explore Middle School is closing anyway) to make major changes — and to make them in a hurry, before the start of the upcoming school year.

At 8 a.m. tomorrow, Superintendent Tony Smith will make an announcement about the district’s plan and take questions at a town hall meeting in the Elmhurst auditorium (1800 98th Avenue). Continue Reading


Can OUSD ditch its old rep and galvanize the support it needs?

The Bellevue Club on Lake Merritt has an old school, old Oakland sort of feel. But tonight, the future of the city’s schools — the city’s young residents, really — was discussed in its ornate rooms.

The event opened with a reception fundraiser for the Oakland Schools Foundation and remarks about the organization’s changes: its new name, its planned expansion, and its new director, Dan Quigley, former PG&E director of charitable giving.

Holly Babe Faust, the outgoing director of OSF, said the organization was optimistic about its relationship with the school district, which she predicted would become “broader, deeper, more interesting.”  She might be right; OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith made the keynote speech, after all.

Continue Reading


Outsourcing and the future of Oakland Unified’s “service economy”

school board

The Oakland school board spent more than two hours last night discussing its priorities and ideas for improving the local schools, especially those serving low-income children, while cutting $27 million or more from next year’s budget.

They covered a lot of ground, from teacher quality (Hodge) and support and the need for more academic rigor in some of the district’s high schools (Spearman) to the possibility of using existing parcel tax money to boost the salaries of teachers who are in their first five or 10 years at OUSD (Kakishiba), to the pros and cons of outsourcing school services, rather than providing them in-house (Yee, Spearman). Continue Reading


Oakland’s new Tonys and the city-schools divide

At an Oakland school board meeting last night, while Jody London spoke of the need to strengthen ties with the city, it was announced that the new schools chief, Tony Smith, would join the city’s even newer police chief, Anthony Batts, and Mayor Dellums at a town hall meeting Monday night at Prescott school in West Oakland.

Given the number of shootings — fatal and non-fatal — that Oakland public schoolchildren have suffered since August, and the tragic death of 11-year-old Alana Williams, who was struck by a car Oct. 16 while she was in a crosswalk right by her school, it seemed like a good start.

Smith speaks often about the need for everyone to come together to solve Oakland’s seemingly intractable problems, including the perils facing children and families in some neighborhoods. So who better to work with — at least, outside of the district — than Batts?

Maybe that will eventually come to pass.  Continue Reading


Sports4Kids spat raises larger questions: What is “necessary” for schools, and who gets to say?

Sports4Kids at Manzanita Community School/Tribune file photo

From a lively, uh, discussion tonight between Oakland school board member Alice Spearman and Chief Academic Officer Brad Stam about Sports4Kids (now Playworks) emerged the beginnings of a philosophical debate about what is “necessary” for Oakland schools in the context of severe and ongoing budget cuts.

Earlier in the evening, the board had discussed the superintendent’s proposed priorities — a set of goals that will theoretically help the board and staff know where to cut $27 million-plus from next year’s budget.

Spearman had also singled out, from a long list of vendors, a few Sports4Kids contracts with individual schools. What she didn’t realize was that in June, before the school district emerged (mostly) from state control, State Administrator Vince Matthews approved a $727,500 master contract with the organization, which runs games and activities at 25 elementary schools in the mornings, after school and at recess.

According to Cindy Wilson, Playworks’ communications director, the organization charges each school a flat fee of $23,500. Since the number of participating Oakland schools went from 40 to 25 this year, Playworks will receive $587,500, less than the total amount allowed under the master contract.

(Side note: An old Sports4Kids Web page lists Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith Continue Reading


Smith: the $27m cut is only the beginning

Very soon, the Oakland school district’s superintendent and board will have to figure out where to cut $27 million from a $250 million pot of general purpose funds.

But the challenge won’t stop there, Superintendent Tony Smith said last night. Smith said he expected the district will have to cut $80 to $100 million in the next three or four years as the state budget crisis continues.

“This is not about holding our breath. This is not simply about doing business as usual, and feeling like we can get through this and hang on,” Smith said. He added, “In these conditions you can either turn away from each other, hold on tight to what you have and defend it, or we can figure out how to work together and be a community.”

Smith made those remarks at a special board meeting last night in which CFO Vernon Hal walked the school board members (and interested members of the public) through the district’s complex budget. I wasn’t able to make it in person, but I watched the video. Here are some highlights: Continue Reading


Oakland schools chief lays out priorities

“Mandatory extended student learning” (after school, Saturdays and during the summer), improved working conditions and support for teachers, college prep courses for all students, and violence reduction efforts are among the proposed strategic priorities outlined in this document, which will be discussed at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

The 5 p.m. meeting will be held in the multipurpose room at Chabot Elementary School in North Oakland, 6686 Chabot Road (off College Avenue in Rockridge), instead of at the usual spot. 

Also on the agenda is the timeline for budget cuts and potential school closures. Three other big issues the board will address in the near future are: Continue Reading