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Thomas Ultican: The Manufactured Disaster that Crushed the Oakland Public Schools

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Thomas Ultican, the chronicler of the Destroy Public Education movement, writes here about the calculated destruction of the Oakland Public School District, which has suffered at the hands and by the wallets of billionaires.

In 2003, the district had a deficit of $37 million.

The state forced the district to take out a loan of $100 million.

In return, the state took control of the district.

After six years of state control, the district’s deficit increased from $37 million to $89 million.

Unfortunately for Oakland, the billionaire Eli Broad decided to turn the district into his petri dish.

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown welcomed the state takeover.

The Broadies romped.

A California central coast politician named Jack O’Connell was elected California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2002. He selected Randolph Ward, a Broad Academy graduate, to be Oakland’s state administrator. When O’Connell ran for state superintendent, his largest campaign donors had been Netflix CEO Reed Hastings ($250,000), venture capitalist John Doerr ($205,000), and Eli Broad ($100,000). Brown described the state takeover as a “total win” for Oakland.

The Broadies of Oakland

2003-2017 Broad Academy Graduates and Superintendents of OUSD

Broad Academy graduates are often disparagingly called Broadies.

The OUSD information officer in 2003 was Ken Epstein. He recounts a little of what it was like when Ward became the administrator:

“I remember a school board meeting where Ward and the board were on stage. Each item on the agenda was read aloud, and Ward would say, “passed.” Then the next item was read. In less than an hour, the agenda was completed. At that point, Ward said, “Meeting adjourned” and walked out of the board room and turned out the lights, leaving board members sitting in the dark.”

When Ward arrived in Oakland, the district was in the midst of implementing the Bill Gates sponsored small school initiative which is still causing problems. The recently closed Roots that caused so much discontent in January was one of the Gates small schools. Ward opened 24 of them (250-500 students) which in practice meant taking an existing facility and dividing it into two to five schools. He closed fourteen regularly sized schools.

When Ward arrived in Oakland there were 15 charter schools and when he left for San Diego three years later there were 28 charter schools…

Kimberly Statham, who was a classmate of Ward’s at the Broad Academy, took his place in 2006. The following year a third Broad Graduate, Vincent Mathews took her place.

After a short period of no Broadie in the superintendent’s seat, Antwan Wilson was hired in 2014. Shortly after that, the New York Times reported that the Broad Foundation had granted the district $6 million for staff development and other programs over the last decade. The Broad Center also subsidized the salaries of at least 10 ex-business managers who moved into administrative jobs at the district office.

Kyla Johnson-Trammell, an Oakland resident who and educator with OUSD, was named to replace Antwan Wilson in 2017. When he left to lead the Washington DC’s schools, he left a mess in Oakland. Mother Jones magazine says Wilson saddled the district with a $30 million deficit. They continue, “A state financial risk report from August 2017 concluded that Oakland Unified, under Wilson, had ‘lost control of its spending, allowing school sites and departments to ignore and override board policies by spending beyond their budgets.”’

The preponderance of the problems in OUSD are related to the state takeover, FCMAT and the leadership provided by Broad Academy graduates.

The usual billionaires have selected several of the OUSD board members and showered them with donations from out-of-district and out-of-state.

The fundamental problem is Oakland has a dual education system with 37,000 students in public schools and 15,000 in charter schools. It costs more to operate two systems. Every school district in California that has more than 10% of their students in charter schools has severe financial problems. Oakland has the largest percentage of charter school students in the state with 29% so financial issues are the expectation.

This is an education crisis that was manufactured by the super wealthy and implemented by neoliberal politicians.

 

 

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