Monday, October 26, 2009

Jerry Brown’s Two Pet Charter Schools: Part One

Read Part Two HERE.

Jerry Brown wants to have another turn on the Governor of California ride. The "About" page on his campaign website features a little story about him. [UPDATE 5/27/2010: See the new information at the end of this piece]

Of the 1035 words written to summarize Jerry’s long political career, 196 words are dedicated to Brown’s accomplishments while he served as Oakland’s mayor from 1998 to 2006. Of those 196 words, 53 words quite accurately describe Brown’s involvement in education during that time. His interest in the education of Oakland’s school children is explained as such:

Brown personally founded the Oakland School for the Arts and the Oakland Military Institute. Both schools serve students from the 6th grade through the 12th and are among the best performing schools in Oakland. Their graduates are now studying in such outstanding universities as Yale, Vassar, Stanford, West Point, UCLA and UC Berkeley.

Now, an astute observer will notice something’s missing – namely any mention of the 50,000 or so students who attended the schools which weren’t either of Jerry’s charters. With so little information about his views on public education or any other possible involvement he had had, an independent critical thinker will be curious how the claims on Jerry’s website mesh with reality.
About Jerry’s Schools
The Oakland Military Institute (OMI) opened its doors in the fall of 2001. For its first three years, OMI was under a charter granted by the California State Board of Education, after which it was granted a charter by the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). The first school year for the Oakland School of the Arts (OSA) was 2002-2003; its charter was granted by OUSD.

Here are the enrollment figures for Jerry’s charters:

OMI OSA Total OUSD Percentage of
Oakland public
school students
served by Jerry’s
2001-2002 157 - 157 53545 0.3%
2002-2003 321 102 423 52501 0.8%
2003-2004 342 176 518 50437 1.0%
2004-2005 420 272 692 49214 1.4%
2005-2006 480 421 901 48135 1.9%
2006-2007 526 285 811 47012 1.7%
2007-2008 546 311 857 46431 1.8%
2008-2009 530 408 938 46516 2.0%

I lived in Oakland during the two terms that Brown was mayor, and I also voted for him both times. Today I am of the opinion that Brown’s attitude toward Oakland’s public schools could be described as one of contempt and increasing distance. Rather being a vigorous advocate and lending strong support to the public schools which contained 12.5% of the population he was supposed to be serving (Oakland’s 2000 US Census report was 399,484), Jerry Brown spent his time and energy on a minute percentage of kids by launching his two charter schools.

Because it is tied into downtown development – and therefore connected to Jerry Brown’s developer friends – the OSA is Brown’s specially-tended “baby.” Despite the fact that OUSD had performing arts programs at the traditional public schools (most notably Skyline High School, alma mater of Tom Hanks), Brown never offered them one lick of support.
Even today, Jerry Brown continues to undermine the traditional public schools by leveraging his connections to bring in millions of extra dollars to his one special “baby.” In this era of “choice,” Jerry Brown is doing his very best to make the traditional public schools look like poor, undesirable half-siblings.

Andrew McIntosh just wrote an online piece for the Sacramento Bee which tells us all we need to know (Jerry Brown's 'kids' get ka-ching from Bing, October 16, 2009):

Brown, the state's top law enforcer and former governor, has raised $9.8 million for two Oakland charter schools that he helped launch while he was mayor of the Bay area city: the Oakland School for the Arts and the Oakland Military Institute.
More than 200 corporations, foundations and people have given to the two schools at the urging or "behest" of Brown since 2006, state financial records show.

That includes an eye-popping $1 million alone from Steve Bing, the uber media-shy Hollywood producer who owns an entertainment company, a green building construction firm and a solar energy venture under his Shangri-La Group of companies.

While state law limits the value of campaign contributions and gifts to politicians, there are no limits on so-called "behested" payments to politicians' favorite pet charity.

Such donations aren't considered campaign contributions or gifts under state law but must still must be reported to the FPPC if they top $5,000 a year from a single source.

Steve Bing made his donation to the Oakland School for the Arts through Los Angeles law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which reported the donor as "B. Co." in records.

Brown spokesman Scott Gerber reports that "B. Co." is Bing. The donation was made Aug. 5, 2008, state records show.

Bing owns green construction firm Shangri-La Construction L.P., corporate records show. It was incorporated in Delaware on Sept. 9, 2008.

The construction firm three months later became a partner in a $100 million green building investment fund, a news release shows.
Paul Bloch, a Los Angeles publicist for Bing, declined to comment on the millionaire's donation or his company, adding: "We don't ever comment on anything."

Gerber said it's "absurd" to link Bing's generosity to the Oakland charter school to Brown’s push for California cities statewide to embrace green building ordinances.

"Jerry Brown has a long record of championing environmental causes and protecting the environment," Gerber said.

Brown relishes his record of raising cash for the two schools, Gerber added. "The schools have achieved an enviable record of helping disadvantaged young people get into prestigious universities such as Yale, Stanford, UC and West Point,” Gerber said.

Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, doesn't think that such donations can be banned. The key, he says, is that they're all disclosed.

"It's great to give, but are they giving because Jerry Brown is a great guy or because he's attorney general?," Stern asked.

Donors backing one or both of the Oakland schools have included oil giants, banks, mortgage lenders, utilities, health plans and telecom giants, and Indian tribes with gambling interests, many of which are regulated and investigated by his department.

Other big donors include:
- General Atlantic Corporation, a private equity giant, $450,000.
- Lytton Rancheria in Santa Rosa and United Auburn Indian Community, both casino operators: $250,000 each.
- PG & E, $75,000
- Wal-Mart Stores, $50,000 [this was probably the Walton Family Foundation]
- Occidental Petroleum: $25,000
- Safeway Foundation, $25,000.
- Clorox Company $40,000; the Clorox Company Foundation, $100,000.
- Dow Chemical Foundation, $10,000.
- Hearst Foundation, $150,000 into to Oakland's Military Institute, while Hearst heir William R. Hearst III personally donated another $50,000.

The Oakland School for the Arts received $10,978,807 in 2006 for 285 students, $1,032,828 in 2005 for 421 students, $1,432,148 in 2004 for 272 students, and $1,088,851 in 2003 for 176 students (Form 990 - EIN 680463892). Just recently Brown persuaded Sean Penn to be the featured guest at a fundraiser which brought in over $1 million dollars.*

This all is being conducted while the performing arts funding of Oakland's traditional public schools is nearly totally neglected!

And keep in mind this information from the FPPC:

The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) was created by the Political Reform Act of 1974, a ballot initiative passed by California voters as Proposition 9.

The FPPC educates the public and public officials on the requirements of the Act. It provides written and oral advice to public agencies and officials; conducts seminars and training sessions; develops forms, manuals and instructions; and receives and files statements of economic interests from many state and local officials.

The FPPC investigates alleged violations of the Political Reform Act, imposes penalties when appropriate, and assists state and local agencies in developing and enforcing conflict-of-interest codes.
The FPPC regulates:
  • campaign financing and spending;
  • financial conflicts of interest;
  • lobbyist registration and reporting;
  • post-governmental employment;
  • mass mailings at public expense; and
  • gifts and honoraria given to public officials and candidates.

So with the gobs and gobs of money, and by reading the glowing blurb on Jerry’s campaign website, you’d think that all would be more-than-well with his two schools. My goodness, millions of extra dollars for just a handful of Oakland kids, along with big boasts of tremendous accomplishments – Yale, Vassar, and Stanford!
Well, it’s about time someone took a closer look.


*UPDATE: The following year, it was Robert Downey, Jr.'s turn (Iron Man) to help Jerry raise
dough for OSA. The event was held at the mansion of Ann and Gordon Getty on May 5, 2010. Look at pics of the guests and setting here.

And speaking of gubernatorial elections (Jerry Brown for governor and Gavin Newsom for lieutenant governor), be advised of these generational social connections between Brown, Newsom, Getty, and Pelosi.
  • Jerry Brown is friends with William Newsom (SF Mayor Gavin Newsom’s father, a retired state appeals court judge and administrator of the Getty family trust). Their fathers were close friends (Pat Brown and William II).
  • William Newsom is also a close friend of Gordon Getty (son of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, and composer). They met in the late 1940s while attending St. Ignatius Catholic prep school in San Francisco.
  • William Newsom’s (Gavin’s father, Jerry’s friend) late sister Barbara was once married to Ron Pelosi, brother-in-law of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
  • Gavin Newsom’s business ventures were funded by Gordon Getty. Gavin and Gordon’s son (Billy) were friends but may have had a falling out in 2000.


nikto said...

Oh No.

Say it ain't so.

So even Jerry Brown is now an adversary of Public Schools?

The guy went downhill the day he broke up wiuth Linda Ronstadt.

She would have kept him on the right path, I'll bet.

Public Education has so few friends and allies among the powerful now, it merely indicates to me how decrepit & corrupt most of "The Powerful" are these days.

A French-style revolution would surely wipe the corporate-funded smiles off their faces.

But America ain't France, so
forget it!

The Elites are safe.

Anyway, looks like I'll be checking out Gavin Newsome for Governor.

I'd actually prefer that Grayson guy, though.

caroline said...

I'm sorry to break this to you, but Linda Ronstadt sent her kids to Waldorf schools...

caroline said...

...and, by the way, despite this I'm still more comfortable with Brown than Newsom for governor. Newsom is truly an empty suit -- I speak as a San Franciscan, and one who cheered his pioneering gay marriages (but eventually learned that there's no more there there than that).

The Perimeter Primate said...

In listserv exchange with another parent who held up OSA as a "GREAT local example" I responded with the following:

"I have such a hard time understanding how OSA can be held up as a "GREAT local example" of some sort of more-perfect school without addressing some of its very important features.

A major one is that the school has one of the highest average Parent Education Levels in OUSD, along with nearly the lowest percentage of Socioeconomically Disadvantaged students in any OUSD secondary school (just 0.5% higher than Montera - Ed-Data).

Another is that OSA spends much more per pupil than traditional OUSD schools, $11000 in the 2006-07 Fiscal Year, in comparison to an average of $6506 for the traditional public schools. The Oakland School for the Arts received $10,978,807 in 2006 for 285 students, $1,032,828 in 2005 for 421 students, $1,432,148 in 2004 for 272 students, and $1,088,851 in 2003 for 176 students. So the 2006-07 year seems likely to be typical.

Would the regular OUSD schools appear any brighter to you if their demographics and funding levels were identical to OSA? Do you think these factors I'm mentioning are minor or insignificant?

I maintain that is the generational abandonment of the public schools by Oakland's middle class families, and the resulting neglect of those schools (in terms of fighting for decent funding and keeping the schools on their toes by continually deploying the middle class sense of entitlement norm), which has caused them to become/seem so "bad." My prescription for increased "great"-ness, then, is to provide today’s “bad” schools with much higher levels of funding and a less impoverished student body with more educated parents, a la OSA.

If all Oakland families would use the public schools, much of this progress could be made. Imagine if the schools district’s demographics looked like the city’s, most recently estimated at 31.4% African American, 19.4% Asian, 22.5% Hispanic, and 31.7% White, and 17.6% living in poverty. Yes I know that this will probably never happen; people are too comfortable in the current levels of segregation. But if it did, I am quite sure it would bring about a rapid “fix.”

And as far as doing something goes, all I can say is that constant trashing of the schools and of the people who are willing to work in them doesn’t help a thing."

The Perimeter Primate said...

...According to an investigative piece in the Tribune, there was significant evidence that Brown may have worked behind the scenes to help orchestrate the 2003 state takeover of the Oakland public schools ("Phone Logs Link "Politics" To School Takeover").

By that time, Brown's educational interests were centered almost exclusively around the two charter schools he had formed during his first mayoral term — the Oakland School for he Arts and the Oakland Military Institute — ordering staff from the City Administrator's office to put in many hours working on OSA and OMI business and setting aside more than a million dollars from the city budget for the two schools' use, including city-financed renovation of OSA facilities first at the Malonga Casquelord Center and then at the Fox Oakland. Brown even helped engineer deals between the Port of Oakland and billboard companies to steer thousands of dollars a year to his arts charter school ("Jerry Brown Raised $12 Million for His Two Oakland Schools").

Meanwhile, the Oakland public schools floundered financially under state control, ending up deeper in debt than they were at the point of the state takeover. In our view, Jerry Brown turned his back on the Oakland schools during their years of state takeover and his years as Oakland mayor, refusing to intercede in the many state failures that were well documented in reports by the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT)...

The Perimeter Primate said...

“Jerry Brown's charter schools in Oakland reap big donations.” Los Angeles Times, August 8, 2011,0,3363095.story


At a time when many nonprofits are struggling to remain afloat, watching contributions sputter amid an ailing economy, two small Bay Area charter schools are having a banner year, with hundreds of thousands of dollars gushing into their coffers.

Big energy companies, telecommunication interests and Indian tribes are lining up to write checks. So are unions, Sacramento lobbyists and Hollywood celebrities...

"This is definitely the new fad in influence peddling," said Derek Cressman, a spokesman for the government watchdog group Common Cause.

Brown insisted that donations to the schools, which primarily serve inner-city youth [NOTE: THIS IS NOT TRUE; OSA ONLY HAD 18% FRPL IN 2010-11!] , have had no effect on his decision-making, and he defended his efforts on their behalf as "the Lord's work." But the schools' donor lists read like a who's who of the politically powerful...