Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education
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.