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Parents will bike to Sacramento to raise money for schools

on May 5, 2011

More than 100 Oakland residents—mostly parents, teachers and students from Claremont Middle School and Oakland Technical High School—will ride their bikes to Sacramento on Saturday to raise money for their schools and protest state cuts to education funding.

With the $30 million in expected cuts to the Oakland Unified School District’s budget for the 2011-2012 year, schools like Claremont could be looking to parents to provide half of the funding needed for extracurricular activities.

“We’ve got to change it,” parent and ride organizer Mike Napolitano said. “We can’t accept education not being adequately funded. It’s everybody’s future.”

The group has raised $25,000 so far, with half to go to Tech and half to Claremont. Their goal is $30,000, but Napolitano said raising money is only one part of the ride’s importance.

“The more people we can get there—that’s the most important part of the ride,” Napolitano said. “We want to raise the money but there’s no way we can raise what’s needed.”

This is the third year parents from North Oakland will be biking to the state’s capital to raise money and awareness about cuts to public education, but the ride has never been this big. Last year about 40 people made the trip. This year 79 will ride the 100 miles from Oakland to Sacramento with other groups joining in at the 40- and 60-mile marks.

Lucy Flattery-Vickness, 12, is one of the students who will be joining the group in Vacaville for the final 40 miles. With straight bangs and a splash of freckles she looks more like babysitter than a master fundraiser, but the teenager has raised more than $700 in sponsorships for her ride and she’s not done yet. Her goal is $1,000.

Lucy says she’s raising the money because the school needs it. Her friend, Natalie Foster, also 12, put it like this: “Because of the budget cuts, the community has to help out, which we’ve always done, but now we have to do it even more.”

The girls don’t seem nervous about the long ride ahead of them even though neither has practiced much. “I’m athletic,” Natalie said with a shrug.

The girls’ history teacher, Claudette Center, is not as nonchalant. She’s ridden this far before, she said, but “I haven’t been on a bike for a year and I’ve gained weight and have bad knees.”

For all that, Center was not hesitant about taking on the 40-mile ride. A former police officer, Center said she believed deeply in the power of education to deter kids from crime. “Right now, we are failing our kids,” Center said.

In Center’s first period class, 20 kids sat quietly reading and answering questions on a chapter about the early Hebrew people. Center was taking turns meeting with each student about his or her latest essay. Center discussed the strength of each student’s thesis statement, the paper’s organization and the clarity of the students’ arguments.

“Teaching sixth graders how to write essays requires personal attention,” Center said. But she wasn’t satisfied with how she was managing to provide it—“by threatening them with more homework”—and said better funding could provide for teacher’s assistants who might teach a group lesson while the teacher met with individual students.

That wasn’t the only thing Center would spend money on if she had it. Classroom technology to further engage students, better teacher salaries to attract and retain excellent teachers and courses in art, music, dance and other non-academic subjects all top her list. “When you do all that stuff, you don’t have to worry about test scores,” she said. “They’ll naturally go up.”

Right now Oakland spends about $5,000 per student, per year. That’s less than the average in California, and the state ranks 47th in per student spending according to numbers provided on the OUSD website. Next year, if the state legislature does not extend current taxes, Oakland’s per student spending will shrink to about $4,300 a year — not enough to maintain the current teaching force, let alone to add the things Center hopes for.

And so, bad knees aside, she’s joining the group of parents, kids and Oakland residents and she’s riding to Sacramento, to the steps of the capitol building, to call on leaders to do something, now, about education funding.

The group will leave Oakland at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday and head up toward Tilden Park. “Then to Martinez, then we cross the Benicia Bridge and ride the back roads through Cordelia and Suisun,” Napolitano said, counting off the landmarks on the 10-hour ride. “We lunch in Vacaville then head north through Winters, then turn east and it’s Davis and the capital. The bridge is a dramatic finish.”

The finish is expected to be at 4 p.m. and the leader of the State Senate, Darrell Steinberg, has agreed to meet the group on the steps of the capitol building and hear their request for more school funding. The group even knows exactly where to suggest that money come from: taxes.

“They can raise my taxes,” parent Peter Vetter said. “Raise my taxes specifically, and I’ll pay them.”

To donate to the ride or find out details about the afternoon rally in Sacramento, visit the group’s website.


  1. DC on May 17, 2011 at 9:21 am

    They’re biking to Sacramento to ask the broke incompetent legislature for more money?

    I realize this is an age where realists run few and far between, but perhaps it would be better for them to band together and turn their attorneys on their own unions who have extorted them for decades, and grown quite wealthy because of it. Follow the money. They can reform their union and never need to touch the people’s money. Seriously, the payout from one union could be a 500 million+

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