School board hears grief over shooting, examines budget
on January 27, 2011
Teachers in Oakland can expect a small raise next year, but that was the only positive budget news from Wednesday night’s school board meeting. The district is expecting to lose more of its state funding this year, is running low on much of its one-time-use federal funding and continues to struggle with low enrollment.
But most of the people who packed the boardroom were not curious about budget news. Instead, most of the people who shared their comments with the board at the beginning of the meeting came to share their grief over the death of a 20-year-old man who was shot by Oakland Unified School District police officers on Saturday evening. The man, identified as Raheim Brown of San Francisco, was sitting in an allegedly stolen car with its hazard lights flashing near the grounds of Skyline High School. Police were patrolling the area because there was a dance being held at Skyline. According to police, when officers approached the car, Brown stabbed one of the officers with a screwdriver. The other officer pulled his gun and shot and killed Brown, police said.
About a dozen protesters, including Brown’s mother and members of the civil rights group BAMN, contested this version of events, saying they didn’t believe Brown would have stabbed anyone and that the officer with the gun announced his plan to kill Brown before shooting him eight times.
“I want to know who killed my son. I haven’t even seen my son’s body yet. I want answers now,” Brown’s mother, Lori Davis, told board members. “We’re going to make sure that you get this man prosecuted.”
OUSD spokesman Troy Flint said the district is completing an internal investigation and that the Oakland Police Department Homicide Unit and the District Attorney’s Office are also investigating the circumstances of the shooting.
“There’s a loss of life, so it’s understandable that people want to speak out and protest,” Flint said earlier Wednesday afternoon when the protest was first announced. “The investigation is still ongoing. The facts as we know them at this time does not suggest there was any wrongdoing on the part of officers.”
After the protesters left the meeting, the board got down to reviewing the budget. Other than the promise of a 2 percent raise, the budget information was bleak. District officials won’t really know what their 2011-2012 budget looks like until after the June election when Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to extend current state taxes will be put to voters, said Vernon Hal, the district’s chief financial officer. Even if the taxes pass, he said, the district will lose funds to the tune of $19 per student, or $700,000 district-wide.
“But if the taxes do not pass,” Hal said, “it is estimated that [the loss] would be about 330 bucks per kid and for us that’s about $12 million dollars. That’s a hit. That’s a significant hit.”
To illustrate the district’s financial troubles, Hal pulled up a slide of a graph with three lines on it. All of the lines started in 2007, marking funding levels for that year. A blue line snaked up and, floating high above the others, continued through to 2011-2012. This line, Hal said, represented the level where school funding would be if lawmakers had approved regular cost of living adjustments over the last four years. A red line cut through the middle of the graph. This line represented what funding would be like if it had remained steady since 2007. Then there was the yellow line. This one crept below the others, jagging down sharply as it went. The yellow line, Hal said, represented actual school funding levels.
“I’m going to do some quick calculations here,” Board President Gary Yee said after Hal finished presenting the graph, pointing out that the difference between the blue line and the yellow line was $1,200 per student. He said that was equal to the annual pay for an additional teacher or the funding the district would receive from putting an extra three or four students in a classroom.
“We have never seen the blue line,” Yee said. “And we’ve never seen the red line. Like, those are in a fair world where education is a priority. The reality is the yellow line.”
Oakland schools’ superintendent Tony Smith expressed outrage at the difference between the funding schools actually get and the money they would be receiving had funding increased based on the cost of living since 2007. “For me, that should be on everybody’s car window [and] on the front page of the paper,” Smith said. “This is absolutely criminal.”
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