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Big money flowing into Oakland school board races

Staff Photojournalist
Photo by Laura A. Oda/Staff

As we reported today, this Oakland school board election is a departure from past cycles — and not just because every race is contested.

The teachers union revived its political action committee after 20 years, throwing its weight behind Thearse Pecot (District 1), Richard Fuentes (District 3), and Mike Hutchinson (District 5).

But the $20,000 the Oakland Education Association PAC expects to spend on those candidates is dwarfed by that of another new PAC, for Great Oakland Public Schools. It had raised more than $123,000 as of Sept. 30.

About 80 percent of that sum came from two people: Former Dreyers CEO Gary Rogers, whose son Brian ran for school board in 2008 against Jody London (District 1), and Arthur Rock, a well-known venture capitalist based in San Francisco.

Rock gave $49,000 and Rogers gave $49,900 to support GO’s picks: Jumoke Hinton Hodge (District 3), Rosie Torres (District 5), and James Harris (District 7). GO has not endorsed either candidate in District 1.

The Rogers Family Foundation is clearly invested in Oakland’s education system — it’s given grants to district and charter schools, and it provided the seed money to start GO in the first place. But why would someone from San Francisco pour money into an Oakland school board race?

GO says Rock, who has supported (on a smaller scale) some of the group’s other initiatives, was inspired by all of the energy in the campaign. Rock wouldn’t give an explanation, saying in an emailed response that his contribution “speaks for itself.”

I talked to David Kakishiba about this yesterday. He’s on the OUSD board, but not up for re-election, so I wanted to get his thoughts. He said he welcomed the infusion of attention and money, saying school board races had been neglected for far too long. Do you agree?

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API and NCLB, all over again

Today was Test Score Day, which meant staring at numbers for hours — and, in my case, unwittingly informing a school principal that her award-winning school had fallen into Program Improvement.  (Not the worst news I’ve ever delivered, but still.)

Want to see the latest API scores? My colleague Danny Willis created an interactive database, and you can find my story on NCLB here. You might be surprised by some of the school districts that ended up in Program Improvement this time around.

Nearly a dozen more OUSD schools landed in Program Improvement, including Think College Now, Manzanita SEED, Montera Middle School and others that have won awards for closing the achievement gap.

No OUSD schools made it out this year, but we reported on a school in Hayward that did. Burbank Elementary School received a three-year, multi-million-dollar School Improvement Grant, beginning in 2010-11, and has been able to offer its students more ever since.

Below is the list of Oakland schools newly identified for Program Improvement, and you’ll find a link to the PI status of all schools in Alameda County here.

OAKLAND SCHOOLS THAT FELL INTO PI THIS YEAR: Continue Reading

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2012 STAR test scores for California

The results of 2012 Testing Season are here. They show, grade-level by grade-level and exam by exam, the levels at which students tested this spring: advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, or far below basic.

You’ll find a short story here. On that same page is a database that will let you find your school’s scores and a chart with Alameda County school districts’ results in reading, math, history and science.

In a few weeks, the Academic Performance Index (API)  scores come out, largely based on the numbers reported today.

OUSD’s data department has compiled a dizzying array of spreadsheets, as well as a document from the communications office that highlights the positive notes.

The percentage of Oakland Unified students testing at “proficient” or “advanced” levels remained flat in reading and math (up 1 percentage point in reading, to 45 percent and flat in math, at 45 percent), dipped by two points in history and rose three points in science.

In the document below, OUSD highlighted the positive trends at some schools.

 

OUSD’s test score highlights

5

Your back-to-school pictures, commentary

Class lists at Burckhalter Elementary
photo by Laura A. Oda/Oakland Tribune

I used Storify for the first time yesterday, compiling public tweets and photos that people had posted (mostly, those with the hashtag #oaklandschools) on Twitter and Facebook, as well as our first-day coverage. Thanks to all who responded to our call for stories!

You can find the final product here.

Now that I’m hooked on Storify and see how easy it is to use, I’m thinking of the next project — an educational issue or event that people will naturally be discussing on social media. It could be local, regional or even national.

Have an idea? Post it here, email it to me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com, or send it to me on Twitter, at @katymurphy.

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Your candidates for Oakland school board: an almost final list

THURSDAY UPDATE: The city’s list of qualified candidates is here. Cindi Reiss, a District 5 hopeful, said this morning that she planned to contest the clerk’s office determination that she didn’t have enough valid signatures, as she submitted three additional pages yesterday. As of now, the only two qualified candidates for that seat are Mike Hutchinson and Roseann Torres.

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The Oakland school board races are still shaping up to be lively, though some of the candidates appear to have dropped out or failed to gather enough valid signatures to qualify. The deadline for District 5 was today, which explains why there are no candidates listed for that race in the city’s qualified candidate’s list, updated as of yesterday.

In District 1 you have incumbent Jody London and challenger Thearse Pecot, an OUSD grandmother who sued the district over the closure of Santa Fe and other elementary schools.

District 3 has three candidates now: incumbent Jumoke Hinton Hodge and challengers Richard Fuentes, an aide to Oakland City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, and Benjamin Lang, who had flown completely under my radar. I haven’t found a campaign site for him, but will add a link when I do. Sheilagh Polk, who — along with Hinton Hodge — was endorsed by GO Public Schools’ governing board, apparently didn’t file. Vicente Cruz, the Green Party candidate who’d also planned to run, fell a few signatures short of qualifying. (But he tells me he plans to give it another try before long. “Look for me soon,” he said.)

The District 5 deadline was today, rather than last Friday, as it’s a no-incumbent race. So far, I’ve seen Mike Hutchinson‘s and Cindi Reiss‘s names on the city’s site, though the city has yet to come out with its updated list of qualified candidates, and I believe Roseann Torres was also planning to file.

In District 7, there are just two candidates: incumbent Alice Spearman and challenger James Harris.

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Competing for attention: Moldy portables, broken heaters and a 90-yard football field

Improving Oakland’s school facilities will be a major focus for the district in the coming months. The long-awaited Facilities Master Plan is up for a vote on May 23. Then, on June 13, the board reviews the proposed language for a $475 million bond measure that might go on the November ballot.

Gene Bregman, a market researcher hired by OUSD, reported at tonight’s school board meeting that he was “very encouraged” by the results of his firm’s telephone poll about a possible bond election.

Tim White, who heads the district’s facilities department (which has created this website for the master plan), said that, over the years, the district has received many millions of dollars for upgrades in addition to local taxpayer-funded bond money — mostly in the form of matching grants.

Maybe White can do that again if the bond is approved this fall, at least to some degree. But the fact remains that, despite the money Oakland taxpayers have already raised for capital improvements, the district’s list of needs totals $1.536 billion. That’s three times the amount of the as-yet hypothetical bond revenues.

Will Fremont High School in East Oakland get a football field with a full 100 yards, and building to replace some of its rotting portable classrooms? Will West Oakland schools — slated to be a hub for science, technology, engineering and math activity — be outfitted accordingly? Will the district create a new central kitchen and renovate smaller ones so kids can eat more nutritious food? Make its buildings better able to withstand a massive earthquake?

Continue Reading

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LAO proposes even shorter year, fewer special-purpose funds, changes to teacher layoff deadline

Given the financial stresses facing California school districts and the uncertain outcome of Gov. Jerry Brown’s November tax initiative, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office thinks state lawmakers should:

  1. reduce the minimum school year from 175 to 170 days
  2. remove the strings attached to even more special-purpose funding streams, such as Partnership Academies and K-3 class-size reduction funding. (To see what might happen to such programs when districts can use the money for any legal purpose, look no further than to adult education, which lost its protections in 2009.)
  3. lift restrictions on outside contracts for services not related to teaching (food services, clerical, maintenance)
  4. make major changes to the teacher layoff timeline, including a rolling emergency layoff window in the event of mid-year cuts
  5. adopt the governor’s proposal for k-12 funding restructuring by replacing the current reimbursement system with a “weighted student formula” or block grants. (The list of restricted programs that would merge into that formula is on page 4 of the report on the previous link.)

What do you make of these recommendations? You can find further explanation at the bottom of this report, which includes a survey of school districts. About 60 percent of the districts surveyed reported instituting three furlough days in 2010-11, and slightly fewer in the current year.

The layoff proposal, explained: Continue Reading