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6 Arguments For and Against The Privatization of OUSD Land

17 Sep

ClassroomStruggle:

The newest piece out on the Hands Off Dewey struggle. This one takes a look at some of the key arguments OUSD has put out in favor of moving forward with demolishing Dewey. The District arguments, though, aren’t just about Dewey or just the white-washing of a bad plan by OUSD staff. They represent concrete examples of how neoliberalism and austerity plays out in our school district. The ins and outs of these arguments should be studied by everyone who wants to fight for a socially just OUSD and world. Definitely worth reading.

Originally posted on Hands Off Dewey!:

Intro:

The past two months have seen an upsurge of community organizing on the part of public school teachers, parents, students and community members of Oakland against the privatization of the old OUSD Admin building on 2nd Avenue, and the threat of displacement that faces Dewey Academy next door.  Though the organizing, discussions, actions and analyses generated from the grassroots of OUSD’s communities have been inspiring to all those participating, they’ve been demeaned by some in OUSD.  High level board members and administrators have claimed that those of us against the privatization of public land are being “biased” in our positions.

Instead of appreciating and honoring the community organizing that happened this summer, a few high ranking OUSD board members have slandered it.  Why?  What's at stake for them?

Instead of appreciating and honoring the community organizing that happened this summer, a few high ranking OUSD board members have slandered it. Why? What’s at stake for them?  What are the arguments for and against the privatization of public land?

In order to address our critique of the pro-privatization…

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Where is the Money?

27 May

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The Disconnected Rhetoric of a Forgotten Superintendent

23 Apr

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Tony Smith’s recent anti-teacher editorial in support of the plaintiffs in the Vergara v. California supreme court case, published by the OaklandTribune (a historically and current right-wing pro-business rag) comes as no surprise to Classroom Struggle. His departure–from the lucrative post as superintendent of Oakland Unified School District (OUSD)–was precipitated by teacher, student, and parent-led protests of school closings/union busting/closure of Adult Education, and two Oakland Schools police scandals.  As Smith oversaw a record influx of charter schools, and a number of public school closures, the flood of protest resistance rose higher than the flood waters at the 2ND Avenue OUSD Administration offices, which forced a relocation to the former Cole Middle School — a school later replaced by an Oakland Schools police substation and eventually a charter school move-in. The amount of money Tony Smith’s leadership wasted on administration and consultants coupled with an annual failure to spend the mandated 55% of budget funds on classrooms, should shed light what Tony Smith actually did as Superintendent of Oakland Schools. This oft-spoken advocate of critical race theory and strident supporter of young African American men, is gone and forgotten, though the legacy of his devastating policies present the public with important work to organize against and overturn these corporate/private attacks on public education.

In contrast to the teacher, student, and parent outrage at Tony Smith’s policies, his plans were met with a minimum level of resistance by the Oakland teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA). The only minor pushback consisted of a widely respected one-day strike in response to Smith and the School Board’s contract imposition. Otherwise, Smith did everything he could to delegitimize the OEA. With the majority of the school board in his back pocket and union leadership too willing to collaborate, Smith’s promise of “full-service community schools” proved in reality to be no-service community schools.

But the OEA was not alone in this fight, resistance heightened up to and throughout the Occupy Movement where a proposal at the Occupy Oakland general assembly, resulted in the creation of a committee (the Occupy Oakland Education Committee) specifically aimed at challenging Smith’s policies and his union-busting corporate, pro-charter camp. With the support of the Occupy Oakland Movement,this committee, now called Classroom Struggle, participated in organizing thousands of Oakland’s finest students, teachers and parents in marches for the defense of public education. This organizing reached a high point in a concerted fight against Smith’s closure of five public elementary schools after the 2011/2012 school year.

Collaborating with Occupy Oakland, Classroom Struggle served as the organizing committee for an 18 day sit-in and People’s Summer School at Lakeview Elementary — an effort led by teachers, elementary and middle school children, and parents devastated by the closures of their neighborhood schools. The sit-in culminated in a march and rally on the front lawn of Tony Smith’s house after a 4am police raid (commanded by infamous Officer Bhatt, more on him later) on what was a peaceful sit-in and People’s School. Without a doubt, the presence of a huge and diverse crowd of Oakland citizens protesting Smith’s policies and police action on a peaceful sit-in, landed an impactful left hook to the chin of a bureaucrat who did everything possible to maintain a progressive facade–a facade shaken by two Oakland schools police scandals.

The police scandals began with the resignation of racist Oakland Schools Police Chief Pete Sarna, and followed with the murder of an unarmed, black young man by two Oakland schools police officers.  Tony Smith was complicit in these two scandals.  First, he presided over the hiring of Sarna, who prior to working as OUSD Police Chief, resigned in disgrace from the position of Deputy Director of Law Enforcement for Jerry Brown’s state Justice Department–after Sarna crashed the state’s Chevy Tahoe into a tow truck and was cited for misdemeanor drunk driving.  Apparently Smith and the Oakland School Board felt this type of behavior was good enough for Oakland Schools Police Chief.

Equally disgusting was Smith and the OUSD School Board’s pick to replace the racist Sarna after Smith’s second police scandal in which a young unarmed, black man, Raheim Brown, was shot and killed by OUSD police officers. Officer Barhin Bhatt was chosen as Interim Police Chief after having just shot and killed Raheim Brown outside a Skyline High School Dance.  According to Barhin Bhatt’s partner, Officer John Bellusa, Bhatt shot two rounds into the body of Raheim Brown, and then fired another five rounds to finish off the young man who had driven up the hill to hangout with his date.  In a sworn affidavit, Bellusa testified that he ordered the first round of shots because Brown allegedly had a screw driver, but no longer considered Raheim a threat after the first bullets, yet Bhatt still made sure this young man wouldn’t live to see his 20th birthday. Bellusa also swore he witnessed Officer Bhatt consume alcoholic drinks while on duty; another nice choice for Chief of the Police Department that “serves and protects” the students of the Oakland Unified School District.  To top it all off, Bellusa also implicated Tony Smith in the coverup of Brown’s murder.  In making the decision to promote a trigger happy Bhatt and assisting in the coverup of murder, Smith’s concern for young black men proved to be the standard lipservice of a top down bureaucrat. To read a full report of this gross police misconduct click here.

This decision to name Officer Bhatt as Interim Chief of Police was met with stiff resistance and a large campaign for justice led by Raheim Brown’s family. This young man was gunned down by an incompetent police force who were being led by a racist drunk. With this type of misleadership, no sane person would ever mistake Tony Smith for someone who truly cares about the lives of OUSD students and families, especially young black men and their families. Smith’s shameless pandering to a progressive urban populace is nearly as bad as he and the School Board pretending to provide full service community schools, while defunding libraries, counseling, nursing, the arts and the remnants of Adult Education/GED programs, to name but a few of the services gutted by the Smith regime.

Yet, if the above doesn’t dispel Tony’s myths about teachers, then maybe the numbers will. The Smith-led Oakland Unified School District was fined every year for having too many administrators. With an excess of school administrators, high turn-over of OUSD teachers, and the imposition of the Accelerated Teachers on Special Assignment (TSA) policy, one has to wonder about the legitimacy of Smith’s claim that administrators don’t have the capacity to fire “bad teachers”.  The district was fined just under one million last year alone for its numerous administrators;  lets also remember that OUSD and its School Board chose not to dispense the mandated 55% of the overall budget to classroom expenditures every year since Smith took office.  In 2011, classroom teachers were shorted $10.8 million dollars below the required minimum 55%, while the district continued to waste further millions on consultants and police annually–money that could pay for more teachers, allowing for reduction in class sizes and caseloads, and student access to crucial services.  Surely re-prioritizing spending on teachers and student access to services would get much closer to “full-service community schools” than the Tony Smith model of racist killer cops; excessive administration payouts; school closures; rampant union busting; the decimation of Adult Education; or a record # of charter schools spreading anti-union agendas, something Tony Smith also proved to be quite committed to with mutual matching and the Accelerated Teachers on Special Assignment (TSA) positions forced upon teachers at Fremont, Castlemont and McClymonds high schools.

T. Smith’s model  is not a recipe for “full-service community schools”. No, his is a recipe for privatization with teachers as scapegoats and poor childrens’ futures, the collateral costs. For more context on the annual shortchanging of Oakland’s teachers and families and its connection to the criminalization of youth as more and more money is spent on police and security, please check out this report. Just because Tony Smith is gone and forgotten, doesn’t mean his policies are not still front and center in the Struggle for Public Education. There can be no rest until Public Education is transformed into something entirely different from the Broad/Gates/Smith “Race to the Top” plan.  Unified action is necessary.

Good riddance Tony, your thinly veiled privatization schemes will never fool the teachers, students, and families of Oakland.  Your backhanded attempt to degrade the profession of teachers and slander the real commitment Oakland teachers have to Oakland children holds no ground when faced with the realities of your racist, police scandal ridden, and privatization legacy.  

Classroom Strugglehas launched a campaign with parents, students and teachers to ensure that class-size reductions proposed by the OEA are won in negotiations–a struggle that may necessitate a teacher, parent, and student strike.  We call on Oakland residents who are committed to quality public education for all children, to work side by side with us to create those “full-service community schools” that Tony Smith loved to pay lipservice but never, in fact, realized.

Classroom Struggle: Vision – Platform – Strategy

5 Apr

 

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VISION

We are Oakland parents, students, teachers and school workers who are organizing for the defense and transformation of our public schools. We are fighting for the public schools that students and communities deserve. These are public schools that are fully-funded, safe, democratically controlled, and committed to supporting every student to develop their full potential as creative, intelligent and caring human beings.  

  • We need schools that are fully-funded in order to support the full development and potential of each student, teacher, and our communities.  Instead of budget cuts, bare bones funding and concentration of resources at the top, we need to fight for new sources of school funding and democratic control of resources.  

  • We believe curriculum should be deeply meaningful to students’ lives through a holistic approach to education that supports the self-actualization of young people, and gives us the skills we need to both to survive within capitalism and to overthrow it.  We vigorously oppose “reforms” that track students, standardize our education and turn us into data points.  

  • We understand that in order for students to learn they need to feel safe. We foster safe schools through the development of the social and emotional supports students need to forge a path outside of the violence that surrounds us, as well as through struggle against the violence waged by the state and owning class against working class, oppressed groups and political dissidents and struggle to shift the violence internalized in our communities.

  • We need democratically controlled schools where decisions are made by the people who use and run them: teachers, parents, school workers, students.

PLATFORM

We believe the following changes could move us toward this vision:

  1. Decision-Making – Parent, teacher, student and school worker representatives have real decision-making power at school site level; School decision making informed by bi-annual community wide assemblies to discuss all changes and budgeting.

  2. Class-size and caseloads – Sharply reduce class size and special education caseloads across K-12.

  3. Curriculum – Shift away from standardized testing towards meaningful assessments and critical thinking based curriculum; Integrate ethnic studies and community based learning (i.e. participatory research and internships) throughout the curriculum; Fully fund athletic/music/art programs.

  4. Full Service Community Schools – Actualize the district’s slogan of “full service community schools” by ensuring that the social, emotional and health of each student is supported by school-based health services, schools counselors and speech therapists with manageable caseloads, and healthy food.  

  5. Transportation – Provide free AC Transit and BART cards for students and parents so that no one misses school or goes without other basic needs because of the strain of paying for public transportation to school

  6. Safety – Replace school police with restorative justice facilitators and conflict mediators (train SSOs to play these roles); Moratorium on suspensions and expulsions except when there are serious threats to safety.  

  7. Early Childhood and Adult Education – Broaden the reach of our schools to the full community – reopen early childhood and adult education programs in every neighborhood.

  8. Staff Retention – Invest in school workers and retain them through 1) raising wages/benefits of classified staff (office, support, custodial and security workers); 2) unionizing afterschool teachers and other un-unionized school workers; and 3) a fair contract for Oakland teachers that increases planning time and decreases caseload.

  9. Teacher Training – Institute fully-funded projects of team teaching where new teachers can team-teach with veteran teachers;  Fight burnout and incompetency by keeping the veteran teachers active and on their toes while the newer teachers gain the wisdom and experience their more senior co-workers embody.

  10. School Closures and Charters – Moratorium on school closures and shift in policy towards supporting students through increasing stability of the school and surrounding community not further destabilizing them – Moratorium on new charter schools as charter schools selectively recruit OUSD students and increase the segregation of our school system.  Convert current charter schools back to public schools. Reform top-down curriculum controls that incentive some public schools to go charter.  

We need to fight for the money to implement these changes:

  • Shift priorities as a society – raise taxes on the wealthy, demand banks pay back the bailout money, stop building prisons, cut military spending

  • Reform Proposition 13 so that California’s per pupil spending is no longer among the lowest in the U.S.

  • Renegotiate the state debt – Oakland students should not be held accountable for money wasted by state trustee

  • Demand influx of Local Control Funding Formula funds go to the students who need it most (low-income, English language learners, special education and foster youth)

  • Tax the Port of Oakland – Use this money to fund Oakland schools

  • Shift priorities for how we use funding the district already has – Lower admin salaries, cut consultants and move central office student support positions to school sites.  

STRATEGY

We need to organize collectively to get there.

  • We need to organize ourselves as parents, teachers, school workers and students.  We need to develop a democratic district-wide student union, parent union, teacher and school worker unions that are using to use their power through strikes and other militant actions to demand what our schools need.

  • We need to come together through the development of school site committees of parents, teachers, students and school workers, as well as a city-wide organization through which we can learn, teach and support each other’s struggles.

  • We need to ensure that the bases of power we build in schools and the community-at-large are independent from politicians, corporations and the administrators that work under their control.

  • We need to learn how to build an alliance of all oppressed sectors, races, genders, sexualities, abilities, religions that can unite through our different strengths without ignoring our deep divisions. 

  • We need to envision what it would look like for us to organize across all workplaces, communities, and sectors that are under attack by the same forces in capitalism and to grow a common movement that reaches across Oakland and out towards the Bay Area, California, the U.S., and the world.

 

Our Contract = a Social Justice Document

5 Apr

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What is the future of collective bargaining? According to the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, “our contract…[is] the most important legal document – and social justice document – for ensuring a quality education for our students.” To push back against “management prerogatives”, SPFT has been explicit in placing teachers’ compensation as the last issue they address. Instead, they are working closely with parents and community members to fight in 7 key areas outside of “conventional” bargaining: 1) Educating the whole child, 2) Family Engagement, 3) Smaller classes, 4) Teaching, not testing, 5) Culturally relevant education, 6) High-quality professional development, and 7) Access to preschool. In so doing, SPFT is moving collective bargaining forward as a space both to fight for teachers’ working conditions and advance the interests of students, parents, and the community. Our struggles are tied.  

What can we learn from Saint Paul? For more information, read here! https://portside.org/2014-03-24/present-past-and-future-collective-bargaining

New Report Highlights Increased Use of School Spending on Police: 20,000 CA Students Arrested in 2009-2010

24 Mar

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This new report by the Black Organizing Project / Labor Community Strategy Center is a must-read, as it presents data on the role of police officers in schools and shows how this statewide problem can be addressed by the Local Control Funding Formula. In one school year, over 30,000 California students were referred to police, with at least 20,000 students being arrested, and over 90% of them being youth of color. The report shows how this increase in the criminalization of youth is directly tied to school spending. School budgets across the state have been increasingly devoted to school police and security at the expense of vital support and educational services. For example, Oakland Unified School District spent over $6.5 million on its school police department in 2012-2013, but less than $1 million for counselors. in Los Angeles Unified School District, the police/security budget was substantially more than the combined budgets for their arts program, psychologists, the Office of Civil Rights, instructional aides, psychiatric social workers, parent involvement, and career technical education.

The report also offers a series of recommendations for how the Local Control Funding Formula could be used to shift funding away from police and towards proven alternatives for increasing academic achievement and school safety (pp. 12-13). Such measures include smaller class sizes, well-rounded curricula, the expansion of ethnic and cultural studies, improved teacher support, more afterschool programs, and enhanced student/staff relationship building.

For the full report, read here: http://www.blackorganizingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/LCFF-POLICY-BRIEF-FINAL-VERSION-3-20-2014.pdf

 

Uniting Our Struggles

12 Mar

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In San Francisco, many classified staff are in the same union as teachers. This article makes the argument that the union, which is numerically dominated by teachers, should stand strong in demanding a living wage for its lowest paid members – classified staff like classroom aides.  In Oakland, where credential and classified staff are divided, we must still ask this question: What can we do as teachers, the highest paid non-managerial workers, to promote better conditions and wages for all school workers, many of whom do not make a living wage? As we fight for a significant raise and better conditions for teachers in Oakland during our current contract campaign, how can we also be advancing the demands of our co-workers who are in other unions and make much less than we do?

https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/12/06/18747411.php

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