School board renews charters, supports March 4 ‘Day of Action’

District staff looks on while board members make their comments at a meeting in September.

District staff looks on while board members make their comments at a meeting in September.

The Oakland school board renewed the charters of two longstanding Oakland public charter schools last night—Oakland School for the Arts and Berkley Maynard Academy—with two affirmative and unanimous votes.  (Board member Chris Dobbins abstained.)  The board also announced the receipt of a $38 million low-interest federal loan that will allow the district to install photovoltaic cells on 17 district school buildings.  The agenda item that garnered the most attention and public comment, however, was the board’s adoption of a resolution stating its support for the March 4 Statewide Day of Action in Defense of Public Education that has been called for by the California Coordinating Committee.

“Working with union leadership, we will take organized action in solidarity with San Francisco, the California Teachers Association and across all unions,” schools superintendent Tony Smith said after the meeting.

According to student participant Jennie Lu of UC Berkeley, the California Coordinating Committee is a network of students, teachers and administrators from all levels of the California public education system from kindergarten through the university level. “We have to all join in the struggle together,” Lu said.  “The struggle against the commoditization of a human right, such as education.”

Though action plans by many different groups in education are in the works, it is unclear exactly what will be happening on March 4. In its call to action, the California Coordinating Committee states on its website “all schools, unions and organizations are free to choose their specific demands and tactics — such as strikes, rallies, walkouts, occupations, sit-ins, teach-ins, etc. — as well as the duration of such actions.”

This encouragement has led to a broad variety of plans and an apparent lack of cohesiveness between interested groups.  Plans found online vary dramatically from a two-hour walk out at CSU Long Beach to a six-week, 250 mile march from Bakersville to Sacramento planned by the California Federation of Teachers.

In Oakland, Smith said his hope is to organize both an after-school rally and an in-school action.  Smith was not able to provide exact details about what the in-school event would be, but said it would allow students a “learning opportunity” and send a clear message to Sacramento.  Smith said he hopes to coordinate the after-school rally with a similar one happening in San Francisco, but did not yet have any specific details.

The district is not in favor of students missing learning time on March 4 or of losing the funding it receives from the state for daily student attendance. To this end, the resolution initially presented to the OUSD board included language stating “that all personnel and pupils of the Oakland Unified School District shall attend school and be on duty during school hours” on March 4.  This language was strongly opposed by some teachers at the meeting, Oakland teacher’s union president Betty Olson-Jones, board member Christopher Dobbins and student board member Wesley Sims.  “The board has crafted this resolution to minimize, not maximize, participation,” Oakland Tech teacher, Tania Kappner, charged.

Dobbins then suggested removing the language about school attendance on March 4 from the resolution.  “I think it’s unconstitutional to restrict people from going [to a rally during school hours],” he said.

Dobbins met no opposition from fellow board members, and the resolution passed unanimously with his proposed amendment.  (Board member Jumoke Hodge abstained.)  The final version of the resolution reads: “Be it resolved that the Board of Education of the Oakland Unified School District hereby endorses and supports those legitimate March 4, 2010 Statewide Day of Action To Defend Public Education for its pupils.”

Smith said that he was glad the board had voted to support the Day of Action but was steadfast in his opinion that all students should be in school on March 4.  “Sanctioning young people and staff to be out of school is not somewhere I am prepared to go,” he said citing funding considerations—the district receives money based on the average number of students who attend class every day— safety considerations, and the potential for the day to be a teachable moment within classrooms.

Later that evening, board members offered little opposition to granting renewal to the charters of two charter schools; even Alice Spearman, a board member who regularly opposes charter schools on principle, quickly voted for these charters to be renewed.

One of them, the Oakland School for the Arts, a middle and high school in the Golden Gate neighborhood, has been in Oakland for ten years.  The school focuses on providing an arts education alongside its academic offerings.

The other school is Berkley Maynard Academy, a K-7 school that is part of Aspire, a statewide network of charter schools focused on providing education to low-income and underserved populations.  Berkley Maynard, located in the Golden Gate neighborhood, is housed in the building that once housed Golden Gate Elementary and boasts an average California State Test score of 817.  An average score of 800 or above is considered proficient in California.  Berkley Maynard is one of only 28 public schools in Oakland with an average score of over 800.

According to OUSD’s charter school director David Montes de Oca, both schools have recently initiated partnerships with traditional public schools in order to share best practices and spread their success.  The charter office would like to facilitate the use of “charter innovations to have a positive impact on other schools,” de Oca said.

The final news of the night was the announcement of the $38 million dollar low-interest loan the district has received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the federal stimulus.  The loan will allow the district to install solar energy panels on 17 school buildings that currently account for 30 percent of the district’s energy bill.  The loan is structured in such a way that it can be paid off with the money saved in energy costs as a result of the new photovoltaic cells.  The government also requires that a certain amount of the savings be invested and saved towards paying back the loan with a balloon payment.  The district expects that the loan will be paid off in 15 years and that 17 of its school sites to be operating on 100 percent free energy.

Update: It was erroneously reported at the board meeting that two charter-traditional public school partnerships had been established—between East Oakland School of the Arts for Oakland School for the Arts and Lafayette Elementary for Berkley Maynard.  Montes de Oca has let Oakland North know that the partnerships are not yet solidified.  The above article has been altered to reflect that change.  –Lillian Mongeau, Oakland North staff, March 2, 2010

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