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Education

Commentary: Inglewood Unified School District: the Canary in the Coal Mine

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All California school districts will have to submit an interim report in their financial health by December 15.This report compares the school district’s ongoing fiscal condition to what was projected in the budget they submitted in July.

Most schools districts will certify that they will meet their financial obligations for the current and two subsequent fiscal years, but there are a growing number of districts that will assign themselves ‘qualified’ or ‘negative’ certifications. (Districts in good standing give themselves a ‘positive; certification.)

Large school districts, based on their July budgets, that may be on the list of qualified and negative include Los Angeles Unified, Sacramento City Unified, Sweetwater Union, and Oakland Unified.

Districts with negative and qualified certifications must come to terms with the fact that unless they find new revenue sources or better control their expenditures they will have to request a state loan to avoid fiscal insolvency.

According to Assembly Bill 1200, called the Eastin Act, the state of California is required to maintain the financial soundness of public school districts.

Under AB 1200, a district secures a state loan through Legislative action. A state-appointed administrator takes over, the superintendent is fired, and the board of education becomes an advisory body. All decisions about the district’s operational priorities are taken away from the local level until the state loan is paid in full.

State intervention has not been a guarantee that the school district in receivership will be better managed. This has to concern school districts facing this prospect.
Inglewood Unified is currently the only school district in state receivership. Its experience is “the canary in the coal mine” that districts on the verge of accepting a state loan need to look at closely.

Between 2012 and 2017, the state superintendent appointed three administrators, two interim administrators and one trustee. During this period of unstable leadership, the district’s finances and operations did not significantly improve and little progress was made toward being able to return to local control.

In 2015, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved an audit concerning the State Superintendent of Public Instruction’s oversight of the Inglewood Unified School District.
A key recommendation the State Auditor made to the Legislature was “any future state emergency funding for a school district appropriated by the Legislature should specifically require the state superintendent to document the selection and appointment process of a state administrator, including the rationales for progressing certain candidates once screened or reasons that particular individuals were ultimately selected to serve as state administrator.”

So far, the Legislature has failed to implement the recommendation put forth by the audit. It’s clear that Inglewood’s progress has suffered because of a lack of stable leadership provided by the State.

A similar experience happening to any other school district in the future is unacceptable.
In 2018, Assembly Bill (AB) 1840 provided financial relief to Inglewood Unified and Oakland Unified as both school districts struggled to balance their budgets and pay off state loans. In that legislation, responsibility for managing a school district under state receivership was removed from CDE and given to the County Office of Education.

The last State Administrator appointed by CDE to lead Inglewood Unified, Dr. Thelma Melendez, recently retired. Under the guidelines of AB 1840, a new County Administrator, Dr. Erika Torres, was announced by the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE).
Before her appointment, Torres was acting interim County Administrator and, for about a year, she was the LACOE Deputy Superintendent charged with working with Melendez. So she takes the job already knowing what needs to be prioritized and what resources she will need to succeed in turning around the school district.

This may be the model that should be adopted for future state takeovers. Instead of firing the superintendent of the school district, a reasonable transition period should be observed. Prior to the appointment of Torres, each state administrator had to figure out on their own how they would lead. That process failed to produce satisfactory progress.
It is time for the Legislature — hopefully, during the upcoming session — to craft legislation that will provide better direction on how school districts under state receivership are managed. The future of the students in those districts will be the beneficiaries of the legislation they approve

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African American News & Issues

Jobs, Mental Health, Gun Violence: Cal Leaders Discuss Helping Black Men and Boys

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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Young Black Boy Reading a Book, Stock Photo courtesy of California Black Media

The California Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color held a meeting last month that brought legislators face-to-face with community organizers to discuss investing in African American and other youth of color in a “post-pandemic California.”

Introducing the various panelists, committee chair Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), who is a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, spoke about the bipartisan nature of the committee’s goals.

He said people from different backgrounds and political perspectives reach agreement when talking about the plight of youth of color because their conversations are based on hard numbers.

In California, per capita, Black men and boys are incarcerated more than any other group; are unhoused more than any other group; are affected by gun violence more than any other group; and in public schools, Black children’s standardized test scores fall only above children with disabilities.

“One of the things that brings both sides of the aisle together is data. What we would like to see is either internal audits or accountability measures to show that your numbers are not only successful but you’re keeping data over a period of time showing your success rate,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Committee vice-chair Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), a Republican, agreed with this assertion.

“I am looking forward to the instruction that we’re going to get today,” Lackey said. “This is a part of our population that deserves the attention and a much stronger effort than has been displayed in the past.”

The first topic discussed during this meeting was gun violence, as panelists towed the line between cracking down on gun violence and preventing the over-policing of communities of color.

“How can we do this without returning to a punitive approach that grows the prisons, the jails and the criminalization of our community without achieving the public safety we so desire,” asked the Rev. Michael McBride who is known in the Bay Area as “Pastor Mike.” McBride is a social justice advocate and the national director for Urban Strategies/LIVE FREE Campaign with the Faith in Action Network.

The meeting was an opportunity for participants representing community-based organizations to share ideas with legislators with the hope of influencing their decision-making.

As of 2019, California had the seventh-lowest firearm mortality rate in the country. But with the state’s large population of almost 40 million people – the largest in the country — that still equated to 2,945 deaths that year.

“As everyone knows, there are probably too many guns in too many people’s hands who should never probably ever have guns,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Jones-Sawyer addressed the racial element of victims of gun violence in America.

“Many of those individuals were Latino and African American so it behooves us that post-pandemic, we need to figure out what we’re doing, what we need to do if we want to protect our boys and men of color,” Jones-Sawyer said.

He also offered up part of a solution.

“This year we need to infuse the California Violence Intervention and Prevention grant program (CalVIP) with a large sum. We did put in money for a large sum to fund the work that we so desperately need to get not only guns off the street but out of the hands of people who should not have them.”

The second topic on the agenda was post-pandemic mental health care.

Le Ondra Clark Harvey, chief executive officer of the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, spoke on the intersectional nature of mental health issues in communities of color.

“Historically, Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) communities’ mental health and substance abuse disorder services have been impacted by several factors including access to treatment, cultural beliefs and stigma,” she said.

Largely, Clark Harvey said mental health treatment for BIPOC people has not been preventative.

“When BIPOC individuals do seek help, it tends to be at a time of crisis; at an emergency room, a psychiatric hospital or due to some type of interaction with law enforcement,” Harvey said.

She also spoke about the increase in opioid use, suicide and calls to crisis hotlines for boys and men of color.

Two of the programs in California mentioned during the meeting that are making headway on mental health problems facing Black men and boys are COVID-19 Black, an organization dedicated to lessening the effects the pandemic has had on the Black community, and Strong Family Home Visiting Program, a Los Angeles County-based program that provides in-home family support services.

Wraparound service approaches to care were also discussed as a way to shift “focus away from a traditional service-driven, problem-based approach to care and instead follows a strengths-based, needs-driven approach,” according to the California Department of Social Services.

The last topic of discussion was on career pathways and building generational wealth for communities of color.

Tara Lynn Gray, director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, highlighted that most of the disparities in communities of color can be traced to economics.

“Some of the challenges facing boys and men of color stem from economic challenges in their communities and lack of investment for years prior to this administration,” Gray said.

“The pandemic induced economic hardships that we’ve experienced have exacerbated those issues with many businesses closing their doors and roughly 40% of Black and Latinx businesses closed,” Gray continued.

Gray claimed that it is not all doom and gloom, however, as she mentioned what the state has done to assuage these disparities.

“The good news about the challenges we have seen is that our leadership, both in the administration and in the Legislature, have created access to programs, resources and financial assistance for small businesses to help with economic recovery and make an impact on some of the challenges facing boys and men of color,” Gray said.

Gray also spoke about investing in business opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.

Through the California Reinvestment Grant Program CalCRG, for example, the state has been directly funding community-based organizations across California to expand job and re-entry programs for Black and other men of color who were impacted by the “War on Drugs.”

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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Education

Legislature to Gov. Newsom: Make Ethnic Studies a High School Graduation Pre-Requisite

Sponsored by Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside), AB 101 requires all public school districts and charter schools serving students in grades 9 through 12 to offer culturally responsive curricula reflective of California’s diverse population.

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California Governor Gavin Newsom (then Lieutenant Governor) riding in the Golden State Warriors Parade in Oakland, California 6/12/18

For the second time since he became governor, Gavin Newsom is being asked by the California Legislature to sign a bill that would make ethnic studies a California high school graduation requirement.

Days before the end of the 2021 Legislative session, by overwhelming margins, the State Assembly and Senate approved Assembly Bill (AB) 101. It would require high schools to offer ethnic studies courses beginning academic year 2025-26 and make completing a one-semester course a graduation requirement starting in the 2029-30 school year.

Sponsored by Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside), AB 101 requires all public school districts and charter schools serving students in grades 9 through 12 to offer culturally responsive curricula reflective of California’s diverse population.

The state has more than 1,000 public school districts enrolling 6.2 million students speaking more than 90 languages. More than three-quarters of California’s K-12 students are non-white: 55% Latino, 22% white, 12% Asian or Pacific Islander and 5% African American.

According to Medina, a former ethnic studies teacher, “California is one of the most diverse states in the country and we should celebrate that diversity by teaching a curriculum that is inclusive of all of our cultures and backgrounds. Ethnic Studies provide students an opportunity to learn about histories outside of the Euro-centric teachings most prominent in our schools. At a time when the national climate drives divisiveness and fear of otherness, Ethnic Studies can play a critical role in increasing awareness and understanding.”

Last year, Newsom, who has expressed support of ethnic studies, vetoed a similar bill, AB 331.

He expressed concerns about the content of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum that was being developed as a template to guide school districts as they created their own versions of the course. Newsom called the draft model curriculum “insufficiently balanced and inclusive and needed to be substantially amended.”

Initial reaction to the Department of Education (CDE) Instructional Quality Commission’s (IQC) Ethic Studies Model Curriculum was strongly negative. During two years of heated debates, it produced several versions of the curriculum and attracted nearly 100,000 public comments.

The drafts drew complaints from Jewish Americans and other ethnic and religious groups who said their American experiences were being ignored. Jewish Americans expressed concerns that the curriculum evoked anti-Semitic stereotypes and dwelled on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Others criticized the curriculum for taking a left-leaning and politically biased view of history. For example, it defined capitalism as a system of oppression.

Revisions to the model curriculum were made and it was adopted by the State Board of Education this past March. The 894-page curriculum with more than two dozen lesson plans is designed to teach students about the history, culture and struggles of four historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups: African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. The guidelines also include supplemental lessons on Jews, Armenians and Sikhs in response to public comments received.

School districts and charter schools are not required to adopt CDE’s model curriculum. AB 101 lets them pick the elements they like from the model curriculum— or choose none of them. They can develop ethnic studies courses on their own. The course must be approved by the governing board of the school district or the governing body of the charter school, and the courses must be approved as meeting the A–G requirements of the University of California and the California State University.

AB 101 is supported by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and a coalition of educators, students, and advocates across the state. Supporters include the California Teachers Association, the California State PTA, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, California Association for Bilingual Education, and The Education Trust-West.

Over the weekend, at the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA) 2021 Annual Round-Up, Thurmond was applauded by the group when he said, “I hope you’ve heard the good news. AB 101, the bill to require ethnic studies as a graduation requirement has been passed and is on its way to the governor’s desk for signature.

“Our babies deserve to learn about the contributions of their ancestors. Our African American children, our Latino children, our Native American, Pacific Islander children, deserve to hear the positive contributions of their ancestors, who helped to make this a great state, and a great nation.”

Also unanimously supporting AB 101 are the five diversity caucuses of the California State Legislature: the Latino caucus, the Asian Pacific Islander caucus, the Black caucus, the Jewish caucus and the Native American caucus.

The statement from the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) leaders chair Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and vice-chair Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) reads, “As chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, I am proud to stand with Assembly member Medina in support of the amendments to AB 101, … it is critical that ethnic studies be immediately included as a graduation requirement to help reduce further racial bias and create understanding. History is often taught with oppression and racism in the periphery or sometimes erased altogether. It is imperative that all students leave our education system with a deeper understanding of the communities that make California and America culturally diverse and strong.”

As Newsom decides whether or not to sign AB 101, criticism of the bill persists.

The anti-Semitism watchdog AMCHA Initiative writes, “My organization is deeply concerned that classes taught using [the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum] will become vehicles for highly controversial, one-sided and extremely coercive political advocacy and activism that will both subvert the educational mission of our schools and incite bigotry and harm against many students…, we believe it is irresponsible and unethical to pass a bill requiring students to take a course that has not been shown to improve students’ academic achievement, and is quite likely to incite strife and hatred.”

Republican legislator opposition can be summed up in a comment Sen. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) made recently. Debating AB 101, Melendez said that ethnic studies is rooted in “critical race theory,” a view that racism is ingrained in laws and government institutions.

Ahead of his recall election on September 14, Newsom will likely avoid signing any bills until after the election, fearing he could motivate critics to vote in favor of the recall.

He has until October 10 to sign the bill.

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City Government

Oakland Councilmember Sheng Thao Calls for More Police Academies

“There have been changes made in Oakland’s police department by the chief that I believe will increase not only the graduation success rates among academies, but will improve Oakland’s recruitment efforts in order to close the gender gap in OPD,” said Thao.

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Police at a Trump Rally; Photo courtesy of Colin Lloyd via Unsplash

On Tuesday, Oakland City Council President Pro Tem Sheng Thao called on the City Council to immediately approve and fund two new police academies.

Thao is bringing forward a plan to use cost savings from the Oakland Police Department to immediately fund an additional police academy this fiscal year, 2021-2022, and is also urging her City Council colleagues to fund an additional police academy for fiscal year 2022-2023.

“Public safety is my No. 1 priority,” Thaos said. “As a representative on the Oakland City Council, I do not take lightly the rise in crimes throughout the city, including violent crimes and property crimes. We cannot afford to wait. Our children should be able to play outside, walk to school, or ride their bike without their parents having to worry for their safety. Our seniors should not have to feel unsafe just to walk to the store and as Oakland residents, we should be able to feel safe in our own homes,” Thao said.

“There have been changes made in Oakland’s police department by the chief that I believe will increase not only the graduation success rates among academies, but will improve Oakland’s recruitment efforts in order to close the gender gap in OPD,” said Thao.

“That is why I am calling upon my City Council colleagues to support my legislation to immediately move forward with a fifth Police Academy that will include a higher number of local hires, a higher number of women recruits, and an option for childcare for recruits that are in need.”

As the city continues to have trouble with police officer retention, Thao states that finding more local candidates or candidates with ties to Oakland is key to keeping officers who are invested in Oakland.

Thao has submitted her request to be heard at the next scheduled City Council meeting on September 21.

     This report comes from the press office of City Councilwoman Sheng Thao.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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