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School board reviews facilities improvements funded by Measure B

on October 28, 2010

The district’s annual report on Measure B, the $435 million school facilities bond passed in 2006, prompted words of praise from principals on improved school facilities and a brief discussion about the lack of 10th grade bathrooms at Oakland High School. The report summarized the district’s annual expenditures using funds gained from the measure, which provided money for new classroom construction and school renovations.

“You have transformed my site from looking like a prison to looking like a school,” said Monique Brinson, the principal at Sankofa Elementary in North Oakland. “The aesthetic improvements have really improved our enrollment.”

To date, 93 projects, including the transformation of the former Washington Small Schools campus to Sankofa Elementary and the modernization of classrooms at Oakland Technical High School, have been approved using Measure B funding at an cost of about $390 million. Plans are still in development for how to use the remaining $43 million dollars generated from the measure.

While most of the speakers had words of praise for the construction projects, District 4 school board candidate Ben Visnick, who teaches history and driver’s education at Oakland High, said construction at school was compromising student safety. “It’s pure luck that we haven’t had a tragedy,” he said, adding that there have been near-misses between students and trucks, and added that dust and noise from the construction were bothering students.

School board directors Jody London and Alice Spearman both commented on Visnick’s concerns. “Having a school site under construction is a challenge, but we’ve heard that the result makes a big difference,” said London. Spearman said that she had not heard any student complaints about the construction, and suggested that the adults were the ones who were having a hard time with the dust and the noise.

“Kids will deal with the noise and the dust, and they know how not to get hit by trucks, but what they should be complaining about is not having a bathroom,” said Spearman, explaining that the 10th grade building at Oakland High was constructed without any restroom facilities. “That’s perplexing to me. Now we’ve got to tear down something and put bathrooms in. Do you know how much that’s costing us? How do you build a building without bathrooms?”

The school board meeting, which ran for an uncharacteristically short three and a half hours, began with the board’s unanimous decision to make October Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Oakland. District 5 director Noel Gallo presented two female community members who spoke about their recent breast cancer diagnoses with pink Gerber daisies and tulips.

Student representative Nikita Mitchell arrived slightly out of breath a few minutes before the start of the meeting, having just arrived from the All-City Council forum called “Let’s Vote,” where students from the Oakland Unified School District participated in a mock election for mayor and the school board’s District 4 seat.

Superintendent Tony Smith announced that the district would reinstate funding for the Meaningful Student Engagement Office, which is part of an initiative to increase student leadership in Oakland schools.

Voices and protest signs were also raised during the meeting as Oakland Technical High School teacher Tania Kappner and members of the local political advocacy group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) accused the district of anti-immigrant sentiments. Kappner said she received a letter of reprimand from Oakland Tech Principal Sheilagh Andujar for being too one-sided when talking to her students about Arizona law SB 1070, which some consider to be one of the strongest anti-illegal immigration measures in decades. As Kappner spoke to the board about her reprimand, young members of BAMN held protests signs with slogans like “California is not Arizona.”

Kappner denied the criticism that she was presenting only one side of the argument on SB 1070, which she strongly opposes. Kappner said she felt she had been unfairly targeted for her well-known pro-immigrant beliefs, and that she didn’t believe she had done anything wrong. Along with her fellow members of BAMN, Kappner cited the district’s choice not to renew the visa for Filipina AP statistics teacher Evelyn Francisco, who has taught at Oakland Tech for 10 years, as further evidence of anti-immigrant sentiment by school and district officials.

“Because I believe that students have the right to be critical thinkers. I brought a civil rights lawyer to talk about both sides of SB 1070, and I wanted to bring my kids to the Capitol,” said Kappner. “I want my letter rescinded. I want my field trip. I want Ms. Francisco at my school.”

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