Oakland mayoral candidates talk education at forum
on October 21, 2014
According to a group of Oakland mayoral candidates, one minute is not enough time to address some of Oakland’s most pressing education issues.
“I feel like this is a speed-dating exercise,” said candidate Dan Siegel Thursday night, drawing laughter from an audience of more than a hundred and fifty Oakland voters.
Moments later, Libby Schaaf said with a smile, “I can’t believe you’re giving us only one minute!”
The candidates were speaking to a moderator as part of “Education in the Oakland Elections,” a mayoral election forum hosted at the Waterfront Hotel in Jack London Square by Great Oakland Public Schools (GO), a nonprofit organization working to ensure “all Oakland children have access to quality public schools.”
The audience was comprised of teachers, education leaders, people interested in education and others still undecided on whom to select as their next mayor in an election only weeks away. The other candidates present, seated side-by-side in alphabetical order, included Bryan Parker, incumbent mayor Jean Quan, Courtney Ruby and Joe Tuman (for unexplained reasons, Rebecca Kaplan did not attend).
The six candidates were held to one-minute limits on responses to questions about topics like “linked learning,” a program designed to help students succeed after high school; early childhood education; and the support of Oakland teachers in terms of pay and class size.
Measure N, a parcel tax intended to improve Oakland public schools, also became part of the conversation. The measure seeks to help keep students in school, increase job-training opportunities and better prepare students for finding work once they graduate.
All candidates who were present support Measure N, and the forum (perhaps like much of the current Oakland mayoral race) didn’t include strong disagreements on any key issue. Its purpose, said Jessica Stewart, GO’s Managing Director, was to provide “a fair and efficient opportunity” for the candidates to share experiences, skills and ideas they think might best help them in serving the city’s schools.
That led to Parker explaining how his campaign manager taught in the Bronx for almost a decade; Ruby sharing how she’s raising two boys she adopted from foster care (one currently attends a public charter school and the other a therapeutic program); Quan describing her service as a twelve-year school board member; Schaaf speaking about how she’s committed to putting computers “everywhere our kids go – even laundromats”; Siegel talking about how he raised two sons in public schools, both of whom grew up to be Oakland teachers; and Tuman introducing himself by saying, “I have the dubious distinction of being the only teacher up on the panel running for office.”
According to GO’s Director, Stewart, this type of dialogue helps people become “education voters,” meaning people can meet and hear candidates up close – and better value the importance of educating Oakland’s students.
“There’s the assumption that the mayor really doesn’t run schools or doesn’t have any control over schools,” Stewart said. Yet, she’s quick to point out ways a mayor can provide major impacts on a city’s education. “For example, the city runs many of our preschool programs,” Stewart said. “And the funding for those programs comes from the city budget.”
Eventually, Mayor Quan announced she had to leave early to partake in her birthday celebration. After she left, the GO forum concluded by announcing its endorsements of Oakland Unified School’s Board Candidates: Renato Almanzor (District 6), Nina Senn (District 4), Saleem Shakir-Gilmore (District 4) and Aimee Eng (District 2).
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