Jack O’Connell vs. OUSD

I have my hands full enough with the City that I don’t even try to cover the schools, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in them. I wish there were more local education bloggers around. There’s certainly no shortage stuff to write about. Have you guys been following this fight with Jack O’Connell and the School Board? Talk about drama.

So back in November, Oakland voters rejected Measure N, which would have levied a $120/year parcel tax on Oakland homeowners. 85% of the money was supposed to go towards increasing OUSD teacher pay, and they other 15% would have gone to Oakland charter schools.

In February, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell sent a letter (PDF) to Vince Matthews, OUSD’s State Administrator, directing him to give $60 extra per student to all of Oakland’s charter schools “while a longer term plan is pursued” to address the funding inequity between the charter schools and OUSD schools (which exists because revenue from OUSD’s parcel taxes aren’t shared with the charter schools). Anyway, here’s O’Connell’s position:

Since the District supports all students who are served in Oakland public schools, including the charter and traditional schools, there is potentially an equity problem in this situation with regard to the eight thousand students served by charter schools in Oakland. It is particularly noteworthy that local students served by the public charter schools are by-and-large thriving academically in those settings.

Unsurprisingly, the union wasn’t thrilled with that, and Betty Olson-Jones, Oakland Education Association President, responded with an angry, paranoid, and completely insane letter to O’Connell, which you can read in full on the recently revived Novometro blog. Here’s a taste:

Your claim that this is a question of equity is particularly Orwellian and disturbing. In fact, your performance over the past 5 1/2 years as de facto dictator of the Oakland Unified School District makes a mockery of the concept of equity

Your talk of equity is a smokescreen for your real intention, which is to further destabilize the financial situation in the OUSD, continue to punish traditional schools by accusing them of failing and yet making it even more difficult for them to secure the resources they desperately need, and reward quasi-private charters who are exempt from democratic control.

County Superintendent of Schools Sheila Jordan also objected, although her letter isn’t nearly as entertaining to read. The School Board is now suing O’Connell to stop the reallocation of the funds, but yesterday Judge Frank Roesch denied their request to temporarily stop the fund transfer on the grounds that they had not “made an adequate showing of irreparable harm” and had not “demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits based on uncertain standing.” Basically, since they don’t actually have control over their money, they have no legal authority to sue about their money.

So, I’m supportive of charter schools, but I think I’m with the School Board on this one. Well, maybe not their side because I’m particularly persuaded by their arguments, which basically amount to “We’re broke.” But if I understand O’Connell’s reasoning correctly, the root of the inequity he wants to correct is that charter schools don’t benefit from OUSD’s parcel taxes. I agree that the situation is unfair, but voters approve stupid taxes all the time, and if they approved taxes that go to OUSD but not to charter schools, well, that’s what they wanted, and you have to live with it. It’s not okay to move around the voter’s money just because you don’t agree with their decisions.

17 thoughts on “Jack O’Connell vs. OUSD

  1. das88

    I do not know much about education issues. I am not even sure where I stand on the whole charter school v. school district general issues. On the issue of fairness, though, couldn’t the district argue:

    1) there is not inherent inequality in the fact that charter schools do not share in parcel taxes because they have funding source like foundations not open to the district schools

    2) district schools should get more per student on average because the charter schools cherry-pick and do not have the same numbers of special-needs kids

    I have no idea if either of these arguments have any real credence. I am just throwing them out for debate.

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    My initial responses to those arguments would be:

    1. Foundation and grant money is also available for district schools. Some grants are available for district schools that aren’t available for charter schools. Some grants are available for charter schools that aren’t available for district schools. Foundations that give money to charter schools in Oakland also give money to Oakland’s district schools.

    2. I’m way out of my area of expertise here and don’t have time to look it up (I put in some calls to people who might know, so I’ll update if I get an answer), but I think that schools get extra money for special needs kids anyway, whether those are charter schools or district schools. I know there are examples of charter schools elsewhere in the State that serve exclusively special needs students. I believe there are Oakland charter schools that serve high numbers of English learners as well.

    More broadly, I think it’s dangerous to suggest that certain schools should receive less per pupil funding simply because they’re perceived to not need it as much. Should the State give schools in nice neighborhoods less money per student because they can draw on the resources of their parent community to make up the difference? It’s the same logic.

    On the other side of the coin, charter schools, since they don’t benefit from district facilities bonds, have to spend more of their funding on rent and site improvements, leaving them with less per pupil funding for the classroom. So one could argue that the funding structure is less fair for them. I guess that’s part of O’Connell’s issue, actually.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    Okay, so I’ve confirmed that schools get extra money per pupil for special needs students, but been warned that the way it’s done is rather complicated, so I can’t say how much or exactly how all that works. Also, I hear that OUSD charges charter schools some kind of fee for not serving special needs students, but again, don’t know any of the details on that either. Hopefully someone with more knowledge of school financing stuff will weigh in to explain some of the details.

  4. MarleenLee

    The arguments made by the District in support of its writ petition are legally complex, but basically boil down to a claim that the Education Code contains numerous statutes that constitute a mandatory “funding scheme” for charter schools, and O’Connell’s decision to allocate additional money to the charter schools violated that statutory scheme. In addition, the District argues that O’Connell’s decision violates SB 39, which is the piece of legislation passed to bail out the District, because his decision puts the District in a deeper financial hole. The District also argues that O’Connell’s decision violates a “memorandum of understanding” entered into between the District and state officials pursuant to SB 39, by encroaching on the school board’s authority, as outlined in that MOU dated April 8, 2008. Lastly, the District claims that O’Connell’s decision to allocate money to the charter schools constitutes an unconstitutional “gift of public funds.”

    O’Connell’s preliminary opposition focused mainly on the fact that the powers of the Disrict are extremely limited under SB 39. Basically, by asking for the bailout, the District gave up a lot of authority, and according to O’Connell, the right to sue was one of the rights that the District gave up. The preliminary opposition did not really get into the merits of the District’s arguments, which will be heard at some point in the future. I’ll be following the case with great interest. It may well be that the case will be disposed of rather quickly if O’Connell can show that the District gave up its legal right to sue and hasn’t gotten it back yet.

  5. drydock

    Just a side note, one of Jerry Brown’s four main planks was to “fix the schools”. What Oakland’s philospher-king actually did was raise a couple million dollars for his two charter school pet projects, while pretty much ignoring the other 100 plus Oakland public schools.

    I quit as a teacher in Oakland because the pay was simply too low.

  6. drydock

    Yes, that is true but Brown 1. was/is a major player in the democratic party and could have mounted pressure on O’Connell in the interest of OUSD. 2. Raising millions for schools, I would argue isn’t insignificant. Brown chose his pet charter projects over the public schools.

    Like I said this something of a side point to the original post.

  7. Patrick

    I’m someone who has been out of the Public school system for many years, and I don’t have any children. Are the Charter schools “for profit’? I’ve read articles that suggest that charter schools are yet another way that “entrepreneurs” can gut public services for private profit – leaving the public schools to teach those with special needs…

  8. We Fight Blight

    I find it interesting that those who mismanaged the OUSD into bankruptcy are upset that O’Connell is shifting funds to charter schools. Non-charter schools have consistently failed parents and kids. Why on earth should we continue to pump money into a failed system because the union sees this as a threat to losing power and teaching positions? Where was the union when the OUSD was being mismanaged into bankruptcy? I like the notion that the non-charter schools are feeling the heat and competition from charter schools. Oakland’s non-charter schools have been abysmal for many years. That’s why there are a significant number of former residents who have moved to areas with better school districts and that’s why there are a significant number of parents who have elected to be taxed twice for education by taking their children out of OUSD and putting them into private schools. For those who don’t have the resources to move or pay for private school, at least they have some opportunity for charter schools. Charter schools provide a degree of choice and alternative to OUSD.

  9. Ralph

    Okay, I care about education and some time ago I was vehemently opposed to charter schools because they only help a few and don’t solve the problem but with age I am changing my thoughts…that said, I do not know enough to comment on this particular issue, just want to clear up a few items and offer some light reading…

    charter schools don’t cherry pick, but most do require a higher level of commitment by both the student and the parent

    charter school can be either not-for-profit or for profit – but not all are created equal.

    i assume poster was being a bit facetious, still it is a simple argument that parents are being taxed twice, should people without children receive a tax break, should people in high tax district receive a benefit because the per pupil expense is not equal to the amt of tax they pay…do california taxes even work this way?

    if anyone is interested in education reform, i suggest picking up the book, No Excuses Closing the Racial Gap in Learning

  10. livegreen

    What complicates the small charter schools vs. large schools is that the needs of the flatlands are different from the needs of the hills. It is NOT one size fits all.

    For the flatlands even if charter schools make it easier to operate the school on the inside (and is good for kids IF it is accompanied by small class sizes), it’s my understanding it makes it harder for OUSD to administrate since they have more schools to administor and twice the data to gather and analyze. For the Hills schools, they’re making progress in the existing large schools (more neighborhood participation so contributing more money), but they still need smaller class sizes.

    Progress in large schools beyond elementary has been most prominent at hills/flatland straddling Brewer Middle School (w/help from Brothersontherise.org which focusses on at-risk kids). Brewer has become one of the two best Middle Schools in Oakland in just a few years (joining Montera in Montclair). Besides having programs that focus on conflict resolution and at-risk kids (again, http://www.brothersontherise.org) it’s also helped by improved elementary schools.

    But to be maintained these larger schools also need financial assistance with smaller class sizes and good programs. The lessons learned from both successful charter schools the AND larger schools need to be applied.

    With progress on both charter and large schools fronts, the systems that work in BOTH should get funded. Not one-size fits all, all Big or all Small…

  11. Jim Mordecai

    Maybe State Superintendent Jack O’Connell is right that their should be equity between Oakland Public Schools and Oakland Charter Schools. And, with his total control over the finances of the District he is asserting his power to right the ship of equity.

    Should not equity for both groups require that Oakland Charter Schools share equally in the toxic burden of the District’s $100 million dollar debt that resulted in the State take-over?

    Aren’t District charter schools Oakland Public Schools? Why don’t they have to share in the responsibility of the District’s debt?

    If charter schools are not Oakland Public Schools, then why would they have to share in parcel tax income?

    Should not the decision of sharing parcel tax money be a decision of the Oakland voters without Jack O’Connell trying to nullify the voters decision?

    Since the current enrollment of Oakland’s 32 charter schools is about 18%, shouldn’t Oakland’s charter schools be making 18% of its yearly payment? But, right now it pays nothing.

    Jim Mordecai

  12. Pondoora

    Here are just a few of the interesting little facts I know. Connect the dots and think about how this current situation fits in, if you want. And then let it all bother you, or not.

    1. Before he was elected State Superintendent, and before OUSD needed the loan, O’Connell had received major contributions for his 2002 campaign from Eli Broad ($100,000), John Doerr ($205,000) and Reed Hastings ($250,000), three pro-charter pushers. O’Connell and Hastings were longtime friends. (“Eli’s Experiment,” East Bay Express, 10/07)

    2. Reed Hastings (Silicon Valley entrepreneur) and Don Shalvey co-founded Aspire Public Schools in 12/98, a charter management organization which now has a very strong presence in Oakland. They are also responsible for the passage of the Charter Schools Act of 1998 (lifted the cap on the number of charter schools permitted in California).

    3. In OUSD, Aspire Public Schools currently manages 16% of the OUSD charter school pie (5 of 32) and Don Shalvey is the “Superintendent.” They had a sixth school in Oakland until last year, but it has been moved to Berkeley.

    4. Read a history about the massive overhauling of OUSD during its occupation by the State (from the perspective of the overhaulers) in “National Model or Temporary Opportunity: The Oakland Education Reform Story,” found at http://www.edreform.com/_upload/CER_Oakland_Education_Reform_9_07.pdf.

    The document reveals that, “A group of Oakland small school creators, activists, technocrats, and philanthropists decided that the conditions were indeed ripe to try something big.” They had been waiting for a “politics free zone” to push their agenda. Their autocratic-authoritarian dream was granted to them by O’Connell. So much for Oakland voters.

    6. On September 26, 2007, the editors of the Oakland Tribune stated their opposition to AB 45 in the editorial, “Oakland not ready for control over schools.” Toward the end of the piece, the editor wrote: “Given the past, we agree with local businessmen who have raised millions of dollars to help improve the schools and believe returning local control prematurely would be disastrous.” It did not name these local businessmen.

    Because I am an active and engaged OUSD parent, I questioned the role of these mystery people on a local listserve and received a private response from an Oakland resident who was very involved with the city at the time (I am withholding some names):

    The response said:

    As a [position specified] I didn’t want to have this on the yahoo group but I thought you should understand the backroom dynamics. The editorial states near the end that they agree with Oakland businessmen….. There is a group of Oakland business people led by [A, a wealthy local businessman] who are strong Eli Broad supporters, and charter school supporters and think that the downfall of the school system is the teachers and the unions.

    Typically they don’t invite me to their meetings but I was invited to one [several years ago]. Jerry [Brown] and [B, a specified Oakland councilmember] were there as well. It was mostly Caucasian business men with the exception of [C] and [D]. The guest speaker that day was Randy Ward who spoke about how he was trying to break the union to help the budget. There were various discussions. The businessmen expressed support for the Kipp (sic) model although they hated that you had to pay for the principal for a year of planning prior to the opening of the school. They are powerful and I’m sure want to keep their Broad educated leadership of the district which they currently have with the new “interim” administrator.

    (Second message later that day)

    I forgot to add that [C] and [D] tried to differ with them about the teachers being the problem but they weren’t in listening mode…While I do believe there are problem teachers in the school district, I don’t think that the problem with the district and our children’s education is solely the fault of teachers and the union.

    The whole time Randy was talking about his plan to close and reopen all the schools so that teachers have to re-apply for their jobs at lower salaries, [A] kept elbowing [B] mumbling things like “isn’t he terrific” “great presentation” etc. sounding almost like Donald Trump on that ridiculous TV show that extols competition and dog eat dog business practices.

    (Third message later that day)

    I’m not sure I remember all the business people there. Jerry’s friend [E] who is a developer… [F, another local businessman ]… [G] who I think owns [major Oakland business]. I think [H] was there who is the Jack London developer. [A] is the name of person who chairs the group as you found on the web… I don’t recall who else was there – it’s a blur of males in suits at the other end of the table.

    So, Better Oakland readers, this is just a tiny peek into how things go. As an Oakland resident, I’m totally disgusted with all these people, and am especially glad that I’ve always liked Breyer’s the most.

  13. len raphael

    P, instead of being shocked by your report of local biz and developer types doing backroom stuff re our schools, I’m pleasantly surprised that they’d take the time away from much more profitable backroom wheeling dealing to pay attention to education.

    -len raphael