Despite protests, Oakland schools cut $9 million from budget

December 18, 201710:29 AM CDT BY MARILYN BECHTEL

OAKLAND—Despite long, vigorous, and sometimes boisterous protests from parents, students, teachers, and school workers, the Oakland United School District Board voted 6-1 Dec. 13 to slash $9 million from its nearly $800 million budget, effective midyear.

Before the meeting began, hundreds of protesters repeatedly circled the auditorium in a picket line, carrying homemade signs with slogans such as “Don’t punish kids for grownups’ mistakes,” “We demand the schools allour children deserve,” and “No new Jim Crow for Latina/o & Black youth: Quality public education is a right for every student.” Among their chants: “Hey, hey, ho ho – where did all the money go?”

Students took the lead in public comments.

“I’ve been fighting against budget cuts since I was in kindergarten,” Oakland Technical High School senior Eleanor Davis told the school board. “I remember sitting in my kindergarten class, making posters with band-aids on them, saying ‘Please don’t cut us!’ And still, I don’t get the education I deserve, because of the cuts being made to our schools.”

Eighth-grader Griselda Aleman asked the board members, “Are you really going to let our chances to get into college be ruined because of this budget cut? … I want to be an educated person to do something that I will make you guys proud of – so no more budget cuts for us!”

Also on the long speakers’ list was Pastor Jim Hopkins of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church. With him were a group of other speakers whom he introduced as coming from Oakland Community Organizations, a federation of congregations, schools, and allied community organizations representing over 40,000 Oakland families.

“We call on OUSD this evening to protect our most vulnerable students from the impact of the budget cuts, to prioritize site funding for critical services for our most vulnerable students in their schools, including English learners, foster youth, newcomers, and special education communities,” Hopkins told the board.

The cuts are the latest development in the school district’s long-running struggle to adequately fund its K-12 students’ needs. While it deals with rising costs, the district must overcome financial mismanagement problems and overspending in some budget categories under the previous superintendent, Antwan Wilson, who left the district last winter to become schools’ chancellor in Washington, D.C.

The district estimates it will fall short of meeting its required reserve by about $1.1 million, and calls for reserving another nearly $8 million to protect against both known and unpredictable risks. Cuts were originally projected to total $15 million, but were later adjusted to $9 million.

Marilyn Bechtel/PW

Many speakers, including members of the Oakland Education Association—the teachers’ union—urged that cuts be limited to assuring the required reserve. But Board members and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, a longtime Oakland teacher now in her first year as superintendent, argued a larger reserve is needed to assure the district is protected against unforeseen issues.

Many students, teachers, and community members also urged that needed cuts be focused as much as possible on administration spending, which soared under the former superintendent, rather than on programs and staff at school sites.

OUSD’s fiscal troubles go back many years. In 2003, a financial crisis forced the district to go into state receivership in exchange for a $100 million state loan. The district was administered by the state Department of Education for six years, and now operates under supervision of a state trustee who can veto any decision that might threaten fiscal stability. School Board members stressed the need to avoid risking being forced back into full receivership.

Teachers, students, parents, and community groups are now looking forward to discussions on the 2018-19 budget.

Via People’s World 

Port of Oakland approves “groundbreaking” Good Jobs Policy for new warehousing complex

November 14, 20179:13 AM CDT BY MARILYN BECHTEL

OAKLAND, Calif. – Labor and community leaders and activists gathered here Nov. 9 to celebrate, as the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners unanimously gave initial approval to a “groundbreaking” Good Jobs Policy for its new state-of-the-art warehousing complex, on public land once occupied by the now-decommissioned Oakland Army Base. A final vote is set for Nov. 30.

Industrial real estate developer CenterPoint Properties is expected to start construction early next year on a 440,000 square foot logistics center on the Port’s part of the former base. In 2012, the City of Oakland reached agreement for development of its portion.

The pact with the Port is even stronger than the earlier agreement with the City, rally participants said.

The new agreement, worked out during 20 months of talks between the Port Board, the Revive Oakland! and OaklandWORKS coalitions and CenterPoint, requires living wages, local hire including disadvantaged workers, protections for subcontracted workers, and a Ban-the-Box policy said to be one of the country’s strongest.

At a rally before the Port Board meeting, Revive Oakland Coalition director Jahmese Myres told the assembled union, community and faith leaders, “What is making us so excited about this new policy is how we are transforming the warehouse industry.”

Myres said the agreement will help to transform what has been a “low-road industry that exploits its workers, is unstable and often unsafe.” She said the pact, agreed at a time when the Trump Administration is trying to exploit workers and communities and further racial and economic inequality, “will have reverberations across this city, the region, the state and the country.”

E.J. Pavia of the Urban Peace Movement and John Jones III of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice both emphasized the importance of the strong ban-the-box provisions.

Pavia cited the issues his formerly incarcerated brother faced in finding a job and trying to put his life back together. “My brother’s life would have been completely different if the policies we just won had been around 17 years ago,” he said. “Moving forward, this new policy is a racial justice victory” for black and brown communities “experiencing the brunt of job discrimination and chronic unemployment.”

Jones, himself formerly incarcerated, spoke of his inability to find a job over an 18-month period after he returned home, “because I had to mark a box. How does that contribute to public safety?” With the new pact, he said, “solutions are here, we’ve done it!”

Agustin Ramirez, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s lead organizer for Northern California, emphasized the importance of “good paying, family sustaining, ILWU union jobs.” Saying the ILWU “has divisions all these workers can fit into,” Ramirez called attention to the Port of Oakland’s position as the country’s fifth largest port for containers. “As we know,” he said, “warehousing is the key component” of the logistic changes now happening in the industry.

All speakers emphasized the importance of monitoring how the agreement is carried out going forward, and its importance for enabling workers to stay in their communities and not be displaced by the area’s soaring housing costs.

The agreement’s provisions include:

  • Wall-to-wall living wage jobs at a minimum of $13.32 per hour with benefits, and $15.31 without benefits, plus annual cost-of-living increases.
  • Fifty percent local hire within the Port’s Local Impact Area, including the cities of Oakland, Emeryville, San Leandro and Alameda, with priority hiring for Oakland’s “flatlands” zip codes, to make sure residents there can have resources to stay in their homes.
  • Twenty-five percent hiring of workers experiencing barriers to employment including single parents, former foster youth, veterans, chronically unemployed, formerly incarcerated, or recipients of public benefits, so that those who are struggling and most often left out of jobs can gain access.
  • One of the country’s strongest “Ban-the-Box” policies to end discrimination against formerly incarcerated workers. This will significantly narrow the scope of background checks and assure transparency before and after allowable checks are done.
  • Equal protection for subcontracted workers, and limits on temporary workers.
  • Priority to job-seekers coming from the West Oakland Job Resource Center, established as a part of the City of Oakland’s 2012 agreement with the Port.
  • Community enforcement through an oversight body and a legally-binding Cooperation Agreement between the Port of Oakland and the community.

Environmental concerns urgently need further discussion, Earth Justice’ Adenike Adeyeye told the Board during the public comment portion of the meeting. She called attention to the need to significantly cut emissions that are contributing to major health problems experienced by nearby West Oakland residents, as freight and warehousing operations grow.

Earth Justice is working with other organizations including the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, to assure that those issues are thoroughly addressed.

“We know some environmental issues remain, and we believe this is not an either-or but a both-and,” Myers told the Board. “We need good jobs and healthy communities … communities of color are often at the center of both economic and environmental injustice. We are committed to continuing to work with the port to make sure environmental issues are addressed.”

Via People’s World