Sunday, March 15, 2009

Is it Fiction, or Not? Not.

On September 26, 2007, the editors of the Oakland Tribune stated their opposition to AB 45 in an editorial entitled, “Oakland not ready for control over schools.” The bill, authored by Assemblyman Sandre Swanson and which proposed a gradual return to local control, was being presented before the California State legislature around this time. The Oakland Unified School District had been under state receivership since 2003.

Toward the end of the piece, the Tribune editor wrote:

“Given the past, we agree with local businessmen who have raised millions of dollars to help improve the schools and believe returning local control prematurely would be disastrous.”

Now, I am a person who has been reading the Tribune everyday for many years, particularly focusing on any article about OUSD, local schools, education, issues about children, urban issues, violence, and race. In fact, I’ve been compulsively clipping and saving these types of articles since 2001, so it particularly struck me odd that I had no idea who these “local businessmen” might be.

I had known that, since the state takeover, the school district had been run by Broad-trained people, but the Trib's description wouldn't fit them. It instantly irked me that a group of people – who the editorial would not even name – seemed to be having considerable influence on the direction of Oakland’s public schools. I posted my concern on a local community listserv.

Later that day I received a private response, and two follow-ups, from an Oakland resident who was very involved with the city at the time. Here’s the bulk of that message with all of the top secrets crossed out:

Dear S,

As a [position specified] I didn't want to have this on the yahoo group but I thought you should understand the backroom dynamics. The editorial states near the end that they agree with Oakland businessmen..... There is a group of Oakland business people led by [A, a wealthy local businessman] who are strong Eli Broad supporters, and charter school supporters and think that the downfall of the school system is the teachers and the unions.

Typically they don't invite me to their meetings but I was invited to one [several years ago]. Jerry [Brown] and [B, a specified Oakland councilmember] were there as well. It was mostly Caucasian business men with the exception of [C] and [D]. The guest speaker that day was Randy Ward who spoke about how he was trying to break the union to help the budget. There were various discussions. The businessmen expressed support for the Kipp (sic) model although they hated that you had to pay for the principal for a year of planning prior to the opening of the school. They are powerful and I'm sure want to keep their Broad educated leadership of the district which they currently have with the new "interim" administrator.

(Second message later that day)

I forgot to add that [C] and [D] tried to differ with them about the teachers being the problem but they weren't in listening mode…While I do believe there are problem teachers in the school district, I don't think that the problem with the district and our children's education is solely the fault of teachers and the union.

The whole time Randy was talking about his plan to close and reopen all the schools so that teachers have to re-apply for their jobs at lower salaries, [A] kept elbowing [B] mumbling things like "isn't he terrific" "great presentation" etc. sounding almost like Donald Trump on that ridiculous TV show that extols competition and dog eat dog business practices.

(Third message later that day)

I'm not sure I remember all the business people there. Jerry's friend [E] who is a developer… [F, another local businessman ]... [G] who I think owns [major Oakland business]. I think [H] was there who is the Jack London developer. [A] is the name of person who chairs the group as you found on the web… I don't recall who else was there - it's a blur of males in suits at the other end of the table.

Sorry, but at this time I do not feel comfortable revealing the entire content of these emails which were sent to me. Perhaps you would like to have an ice cream cone as you ponder who the players might be.


Anonymous said...

Glad you made that letter public. It shows why we have to work consistently to keep education decisions out of the hands of the business class.

When I was in college, the business students seemed to have no patience for learning. They wanted to get a degree as quickly and cheaply as possible and get out and start making money. From this letter it is apparent that the business class wants to project its own limited life choices on everyone else.

One of the classic American myths is the myth that businessmen (and now women I guess, with female computer and internet moguls running for elective office) know the best way to get things done - that the most direct, efficient, productive and cost effective way to do something is the businessman's way. This mythology persists in spite of the numerous times that it has been proven to be wrong. The totally messed up Iraq adventure was a businessman's war from start to, well, whenever... Anyone reading a newspaper this month would wonder how businesspeople could possibly presume to tell anyone else how to do their job! In education, the current crumbling system which businesspersons are stumbling over each other to destroy, was foisted on us by that same business class at the beginning of the 20th century when they decided that schools should be organized like their factories.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Thank you for your insights, Ted.