With Oakland education leaders traveling to Sacramento this week to lobby for a return to local control of the Oakland Unified School District, OUSD documents reveal that the real power over the future direction of Oakland’s public schools may lie with private foundations.
Documents authorizing last year’s much-publicized $10 million Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to OUSD’s Expect Success! reorganization mandate that the Gates Foundation can withhold the funds or terminate the funding agreement if the foundation does not approve of “significant leadership changes” within OUSD. The district has also received a $6 million grant from the Broad Foundation, which works with urban school districts.
In addition, the May 2005 district-written proposal requesting the funds from the Gates Foundation indicates district administrator Randolph Ward’s intention that the massive Expect Success! school district reorganization now under way would be put in place in such a way that it would be a permanent fixture of the Oakland schools that could not be overturned by OUSD’s elected school board even after the anticipated return to local control.
According to the OUSD funding proposal, a “major risk is that, once Oakland makes the return to local control, … the local school board could attempt to dismantle the reform.” The funding document concludes that Expect Success! organizers “expect to complete the [Expect Success!] change process while the district is under state control, and it will be difficult to dismantle the new design completely.”
In addition, the Expect Success! funding proposal worried that unions representing Oakland Unified workers would fight the reforms called for in the proposal, calling those unions “another area of risk.”
One portion of the Expect Success! proposal appears to call directly for the replacement of unionized workers, indicating that one of the areas of the project “focuses on service areas with high potential cost savings, yet which face potential union and legal challenges: Custodial, Building & Grounds and Food Services. All three areas generally demonstrate poor cost performance and provide low to moderate quality service. External service providers are also strong options for all three areas…”
Read that portion of the proposal over the telephone, newly-installed Oakland Education Association teachers union president Betty Olson-Jones, who said she had not previously seen the proposal, said “Oh, my God!,” adding that the proposal’s provisions were openly calling for “busting the unions” by “outsourcing” district jobs and services currently being held by unionized employees.
OUSD Board President David Kakishiba said by telephone that “the way Expect Success! has been rolled out has not been healthy for the district. The ideal time for them to do this is while the district is under state receivership, so that they can do it under absolute authority. They don’t have to deal with an elected board and, by extension, they don’t have to deal with labor.”
Kakishiba, who says he supports some of the goals of Expect Success! but says he has “some disagreements with some of the aspects of the program and some of its fundamental assumptions,” said he believes “some of the program’s supporters are running scared right now. They banked on Ward being here for five years and now that he is going, they are worried about the new regime” to be selected by State Superintendent O’Connell to run Oakland’s schools.
“They’re as afraid of what the new administrator might do as they are of an elected school board,” he said
Jointly managed by the OUSD state administrator’s office and the private nonprofit, Oakland-based Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools (BayCES), Expect Success! is a three-year, $43.3 million project which the project proposal’s Executive Summary says is intended “to create a new organization rather than improve the existing one,” and is designed to create what OUSD officials call a “performance management culture” in the district. Among the components of that culture listed in the proposal are “a lean central office; market-driven services; [and] Results-Based Budgeting.”
Critics of the program say it is an attempt to reshape the public school system on an untested and inappropriate corporate model.
“I have a lot of suspicions about something that puts so much emphasis on systems and loses track of the actual teaching of children, ” OEA President Olson-Jones said.
He added that “I don’t even see that they have plans for great new systems, just new jargon. They say that they are going to deliver certain services to ‘customers,’ and when you ask them what they mean by ‘customers,’ it’s the teachers and principals. My big concern is that it’s a kind of a front for the business model of school operation that Eli Broad is committed to.”
The Broad Foundation, which advertises that its mission is “to dramatically improve K-12 urban public education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition,” has committed a $6 million grant to the OUSD Expect Success! project. In addition, in 2003 outgoing OUSD administrator Ward was trained in the foundation’s Broad Center for Superintendents training program.
Board President Kakishiba said that the district personnel putting Expect Success! in place “must be high” if they “expect completion of the entire program in 2008.”
“I don’t have deep faith in our leadership when they talk like this,” he said. “I’m looking at a 10 year program to completely change the management culture in the Oakland Unified School District. Am I against a complete overhaul of the district system? No. Do I understand what is presently going on in this overhaul? No. Would it be better if we involved the key stakeholders in the implementation of this overhaul, even if it took longer to implement? Yes.”
Kakishiba said that he sees two “bad cultural assumptions” about the Expect Success! implementation.
“There is an assumption among the people putting this together that the school district is thoroughly rotten, the people working in the district are rotten, and in order to reform the district we have to shut it down completely and grow a new school district,” he said. “I don’t agree with that.”
Kakishiba said one of the problems with that assumption is that it has resulted in wholesale firings of district personnel.
“You start seeing purges of whole groups of people,” he said. “You look at the central administrative offices and it’s hard to find many people who were there even three years ago. We’ve lost a lot of institutional memory. We’ve driven out a lot of talent.”
The board president said that his second concern about the program’s implementation is that “it’s based on the notion that real change cannot occur with democratic participation. That’s counter-intuitive to the type of system we are trying to create. It’s saying that the paid personnel know the answers and they have to be given time to embed these things in the system before we go back to normal operation.”
But asked if Expect Success! was a good idea, Trustee Greg Hodge said “generally speaking, yes. It pulls together various initiatives that were being discussed during Dennis’ time [former OUSD Superintendent Dennis Chaconas]: small schools, results-based budgeting, evaluation of teacher performance, and better deliverance of service to sites. The idea of a reorganization of the central office is radical, but people have been asking for that for years. We need a central office that is responsive, nimble, and not so top-heavy. A lot of the people criticizing Expect Success! are doing so just because it started under Randy [Ward] and BayCES.”
Hodge said he took a seat on BayCES’ board of directors so that he could have a voice with OUSD administrator Ward “in a way that wasn’t happening in my role as a school board member” following the state takeover.
The main problem with Expect Success! is that Randy didn’t use his people skills to try to convince people about the merits of the program. He tried to force it down people’s throats,” Hodge said. “I told them that they could do it that way, but they would pay for it on the back end. Now is the moment of truth, when the board and the community will have to come together and discuss this and see if they can accept it. We need to have a public debate on the program.”
The Oakland Unified School District has been run through the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell since a 2003 budget crisis forced the Oakland public schools into state receivership.
With the elected OUSD school board acting in an advisory capacity only, O’Connell has run the Oakland schools for the past three years through state administrator Randolph Ward. Ward recently resigned his OUSD post to take the job of San Diego County Superintendent of Schools.
O’Connell is currently conducting what his office is calling a “nationwide search” to find a replacement for Ward. A spokesperson in O’Connell’s office said that “until we have an announcement to make about the actual appointment, our office will not be releasing any details about the search process.”
Kakishiba and board Vice President Kerry Hammill have a meeting scheduled with O’Connell on Wednesday to discuss the board’s recent proposal to return OUSD to local control by the summer of 2007. Kakishiba said that while discussion of Ward’s replacement is “not on the agenda,” he would “certainly be willing” to talk about the subject if O’Connell brings it up.
While the O’Connell-Kakishiba-Hammill meeting will be a private affair, members of the newly-formed Ad Hoc Committee to Restore Local Control/Governance to Oakland Schools say they plan to travel to Sacramento on Wednesday to attempt to meet with local legislators, including State Senator Don Perata (D-Oakland), and State Assemblymembers Wilma Chan (D-Oakland) and Lonnie Hancock (D-Berkeley).
The organization has released what it is called three “points of unity,” including: Immediately restore the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) to local control/governance, so that we, the people of Oakland, can make the decisions about our school district; immediately freeze the sale of all OUSD property until local control/governance has been restored; and immediately freeze spending the last $35 million from the state loan until return of local control/governance.
The coalition has been meeting at the OUSD downtown headquarters, and consists of local educational activists, teachers, political leaders, and several school board members.