School board meeting attendees plea for Measure G funds for charter schools
on September 15, 2016
The Oakland Unified School Board meeting Wednesday night was packed—and then it wasn’t. Hundreds of parents and children wearing pro-charter school t-shirts and waving roses filled the left hand side of the gym at La Escuelita Learning Center, spilling over onto the right side where union members from the Oakland Education Association sat.
Over twenty cards for public comment had been filed on an item that did not appear on the agenda. But as the board opened the floor to comments, it became clear what the families had come for as, one by one, they asked the board to include charter schools in funding from Measure G.
Measure G was a parcel tax passed in 2008 by 79.4 percent of Oakland voters. It was earmarked for textbooks, school libraries, and after-school programs “with all money benefiting Oakland schools.” But the parents lined up to comment were there because charter schools do not currently receive any funding from Measure G.
Charter schools are publicly funded, but privately operated, schools. They theoretically receive the same level of public funding as district schools, but are governed by independent governing boards rather than by the district and its elected board of education.
Some students who were there to request that charter schools receive Measure G funding asked for more Advanced Placement courses. Others asked for improved facilities. “Every student deserves fair and equal funding,” said Licera Rodriguez, who attends a charter school.
Parents who spoke in favor of including charter schools under Measure G argued that they are public schools, so should receive public taxpayer money. “I voted for Measure G. I’m a homeowner in Oakland,” said Chris Jackson, whose children attend Aspire Lionel Wilson Preparatory Academy.
Numerous parents said their students would benefit from the extra $530 per student the schools would receive if they were offered Measure G funding. Most parents wanted the additional funds to be used for after-school programs, which they said they currently had to pay for out of pocket.
“If we want to send our kids to prison, don’t provide resources to kids,” said father Manuel LaFontaine, who stood at the podium to support updating Measure G to include charter schools.
LaFontaine’s daughters attend the Roses in Concrete Community School, which had over fifty supporters in the audience, many of them carrying flowers to symbolize their allegiance to the school. LaFontaine, who describes himself as an organizer and wore a hat emblazoned with a fist and the words “All of Us or None,” said that he felt conflicted about sending his daughters to a charter school. As a group, charter schools are “completely privatizing education,” he said.
But as an individual school, Roses in Concrete was the best choice for his daughters, he said. “They’re much more progressive,” he said about the charter school. “They’re not ideal, but they are culturally competent and teach kids about their own identities.”
The board members listened to the speakers without comment.
By 7:30 pm, the majority of the audience had gone home, with one parent saying it was time for bed. But charter schools remained the focus of the second half of the meeting.
Dr. Silke Bradford, who works as the Director of Quality Diverse Providers within the district’s office on charter schools, delivered the district’s response to an Alameda County grand jury’s report about charter schools. Because Oakland has so many charter schools—25 percent of district schools compared to the national average of six percent—and because they receive public funds, a grand jury investigated Oakland’s oversight of charter schools earlier this year.
The grand jury report determined that “although the office of charter schools in the city of Oakland is doing an adequate job in complying with the current standards required by the State Board of Education, the number and type of charter schools in the city have out-paced both the current legislation and the administrative process to oversee their activities.”
The jury made four findings and eight recommendations. According to Bradford’s presentation, the district agreed with the first finding that charter schools are “insulated from adequate public oversight.” Bradford, who is in charge of overseeing charter schools in Oakland, also expressed frustration at how she “cannot technically require a charter school to list board contact info” or require charter schools to disclose where their boards will meet.
The grand jury’s second finding stated that “the current authorization and evaluation system of charter schools are insufficient to provide equitable access for students.” Bradford said the district partially agreed, but would substitute “charter law” for “evaluation systems.”
The third finding stated that there is “no plan in place in The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) to manage the proliferation of charter schools.” Bradford said the district does not agree with the grand jury’s finding, and pointed out that since 2007, there has been a net increase of only five OUSD authorized charter schools. Bradford took the opportunity to highlight that the state, not the district, has been responsible for driving the bulk of new charter school authorizations. Under current law, either the district, or county, or state may authorize new charter schools.
The jury’s fourth finding stated that the OUSD “desires to enact a plan to ensure that every student in OUSD regardless of the school they attend, is given equal opportunity to be successful, but there are significant obstacles to this goal.” Bradford said the district agreed.
In response to its four findings, the grand jury recommended, among other things, that the district increase site visits of charter schools, have charter schools sign an equity pledge in order to be authorized, and lobby the state to strengthen legislation governing charter schools.
Trish Gorham, President of the Oakland Education Association, later noted that such an equity pledge is not enforceable by law. She also said that the California Charter Schools Association, whose name was printed on the backs of the t-shirts many parents wore, had successfully killed such legislation in the past, like Senate Bill 322, which would have held charter schools to a higher standard regarding equitable admission and expulsion policies.
Bradford told the attendees how the district is implementing the grand jury’s recommendations, although she later noted after the meeting that none of the recommendations that the jury made had measurable goals that could be evaluated. She said her office would set their own measureable goals to track their progress.
Bradford also echoed the grand jury’s concerns about equity and inclusion to the board stating, “My brother has Down Syndrome. I have never seen a single Down Syndrome face” in the charter schools she has visited to date. While charter schools accept students with mild and moderate disabilities, students with more severe disabilities who need special transportation are not served by charter schools, she said.
All school board members voted to approve the district’s response to the report, except Director Shanthi Gonzales (District Six) who abstained because she said she did not agree with one finding in the grand jury’s report. She did not specify which.
Gorham, speaking after the vote, reacted by saying, “If charter schools want public school money, they need to play by public school rules.”
In other board business, two teachers received Teacher of the Year awards. Tina Byrd-Linarez, who teaches kindergarten at Carl Munck Elementary, and Diana Culmer, who teaches special education at Grass Valley Elementary School, were formally recognized with enthusiastic applause from the board.
The next regular board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 28th at 4:00 PM at La Escuelita Learning Center. A calendar of all district events and meetings can be found here.
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