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School District Faces Hostile Takeover by State Overseers

The Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) told Oakland Unified School District officials that they must cut the budget by $90 million and threatened – if the district does not take sufficient steps by the end of January – to withhold the salaries of the school board and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and place the district under direct control of the state’s Bakersfield-based nonprofit agency, the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), according to a November 8 letter to the district from ACOE Supt. L. Karen Monroe.

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The danger of direct state control — now operating through FCMAT and ACOE — serving as the agents of the state, rather than through the dictatorial power of a state receiver — seems like a modified replay of the state takeover of OUSD in 2003, nearly 19 years ago.
The danger of direct state control — now operating through FCMAT and ACOE — serving as the agents of the state, rather than through the dictatorial power of a state receiver — seems like a modified replay of the state takeover of OUSD in 2003, nearly 19 years ago.

Takeover threat immediately follows district’s decision to halt school closings

By Ken Epstein

Oakland Unified School District officials were caught by surprise recently when they heard from the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE), which previously was working closely with OUSD, that the county had taken a dramatic step seemingly out of the blue, invoking an official “Lack of going concern” ruing on the district.

The ACOE told OUSD that they must cut the budget by $90 million and threatened – if the district does not take sufficient steps by the end of January – to withhold the salaries of the school board and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and place the district under direct control of the state’s Bakersfield-based nonprofit agency, the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), according to a November 8 letter to the district from ACOE Supt. L. Karen Monroe.

Some school board members and school advocates see this threat of takeover by ACOE and FCMAT as retaliation and possibly an attempt to reverse a recent action by the board and Trammell-Johnson passing a resolution with wide community support to reject state pressure to close neighborhood schools.

With only five days to challenge the county’s ruling, school board members – with the backing of the superintendent and top administrators – voted unanimously at a special meeting on Saturday, November 13 to appeal the ‘lack of going concern’ determination to State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who this week announced he has sided with the county.

The danger of direct state control — now operating through FCMAT and ACOE — serving as the agents of the state, rather than through the dictatorial power of a state receiver — seems like a modified replay of the state takeover of OUSD in 2003, nearly 19 years ago.

At that time, the state placed a receiver and FCMAT in charge of OUSD and forced the district to accept a $100 million loan it did not need, and proceeded to unilaterally spend the windfall on their pet projects. OUSD is still paying off that loan. Also, the superintendent was fired, and the authority of the school board suspended.

Under state guidance, the district has closed about 20 schools, mostly in Black and Latinx flatland schools, with the direct encouragement of FCMAT, even though FCMAT has recognized that closing schools does not save money.

Under the leadership of FCMAT and the county since 2003, the district has faced almost continual budget cuts, has stayed in debt and has relied on a revolving door of privatizing administrators and consultants, many who appear to pass through Oakland as a career steppingstone.

According to Monroe’s letter, which has been challenged by the district, OUSD was doing fine this year, and its budget for 2021-2022 was approved. “However, due to the significant level of budgetary reliance on one-time revenue sources and the lack of adequate assurances that fiscal solvency is certain in future years, it has been determined that the district is a Lack of Going Concern with its budget approval.”

Monroe’s letter said the district must “implement $90 million in required reductions within a timely manner.” She also said the county will “withhold compensation of the members of the governing of the school district and the school district superintendent for failure to provide requested financial information,” though the district says it has worked closely with the county and has withheld no information.

Following FCMAT’s “recommendations” would not be optional. “The school district shall follow the recommendations of the (FCMAT) team, unless the school district shows good cause for failure to do so,” the letter said.

The district’s relationship with its overlords at the ACOE and FCMAT seemed to have gone south soon after the school board and administration decided on October 27 that it would no longer give in to state pressure to close more schools in coming years. Before the decision, the state trustee threatened to reverse the board decision if it passed but did nothing when they passed it anyway.

“Karen Monroe for five years has had oversight over every budget, and she approved the budgets,” Boardmember Mike Hutchinson told the Oakland Post. “She is the one who has had oversight. Whose responsibility is this?” He asked.

The district has been working closely with the county and is in better fiscal shape than it has been in years, said Hutchinson “What is new, besides the district’s decision not to close more schools?”

President of the Oakland teachers’ union Keith Brown told the Oakland Post, “We’re opposed to (Supt.) Monroe’s actions. We feel that imposing FCMAT on Oakland would be damaging to our community and our schools.”

While many school advocates strongly criticize the district for its bureaucratic, top-down management and lack of accountability in making budget decisions, they oppose this threatened takeover for a variety of reasons:

  • The imposition of FCMAT on OUSD constitutes the suspension of voters’ right to choose their representatives and is a violation of Oakland residents’ democratic rights of self-government.
  • The county is demanding $90 million in budget reductions. How did this happen under the county’s watch? How can $90 million be cut and still have a school district that exists in any recognizable form?
  • The county says school enrollment has declined but failed to acknowledge the pandemic has anything to do with it. The county complains the district has relied on one-time spending, but isn’t that what federal pandemic funds were for?
  • FCMAT and the county have been working closely with OUSD for years, but now they say they failed. Why is the solution to turn total control over to them?
  • There is at least the appearance that the threat to withhold leaders’ salaries and impose FCMAT is in part retaliation for the district decision to stop closing more schools, which is the democratic right of local representatives.

Responding to Oakland Post questions, Monroe said, “Decision-making in Oakland Unified lies with the members of the Board of Education that have been elected by the Oakland community, so I am perplexed by any reference to a violation of the democratic rights of Oakland voters.

“The work to be done by FCMAT does not constitute any replacement of OUSD’s governance structure and is spelled out clearly in Education Code. It is limited in scope and does not usurp or compromise the Board’s local control,” she said. More of her responses will be printed in the next Oakland Post edition.

L. Karen Monroe’s letter to OUSD is available at:

https://ousd.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9962661&GUID=ADEF97D5-0DD4-44CF-99E2-C31AF83C734E

OUSD’ appeal letter to Tony Thurmond is available at

https://ousd.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9963018&GUID=7E877777-AF0C-4211-ABE3-D38E9F2FB20E

Boardmember Hutchinson urged people to call Tony Thurmond and Supt. Monroe and to sign a petition available online at https://bit.ly/3xJRc6K

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Activism

Tiny Homes Offer Hope for Holidays and Beyond

We are accepting applications for volunteers and accepting donations that we can use to build Tiny Homes. You might have things in your house or garage you haven’t used or extra construction tools, a bag of stud nails, used doors, windows, roofing materials, lumber, metal, hardwood flooring, sheetrock tape, paints, and anything that we can recycle to build and add to our Tiny Homes. 

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As chief operations officer for The Tiny Homes Project, I join Lackey in expressing gratitude for the support that the Oakland Post, as our media partner, has helped us with in gathering community and faith-based leaders to help solve our increasing homeless problem in the Bay Area. We can no longer ignore homelessness in Oakland, which has now reached a humanitarian crisis.
As chief operations officer for The Tiny Homes Project, I join Lackey in expressing gratitude for the support that the Oakland Post, as our media partner, has helped us with in gathering community and faith-based leaders to help solve our increasing homeless problem in the Bay Area. We can no longer ignore homelessness in Oakland, which has now reached a humanitarian crisis.

By Dr. Maritony A. Yamot and Rev. Ken Lackey

The holidays are the season when we stop and begin to think, “How can I give back this year and what are some different ways to help out?”

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help out during the holidays that don’t cost a thing. The Tiny Homes Project — with Rev. Ken Lackey of the Center for the Perfect Marriage Church at 6101 International Blvd. — needs to increase its capacity and we wanted to remind our community that everybody matters to God.

As chief operations officer for The Tiny Homes Project, I join Lackey in expressing gratitude for the support that the Oakland Post, as our media partner, has helped us with in gathering community and faith-based leaders to help solve our increasing homeless problem in the Bay Area. We can no longer ignore homelessness in Oakland, which has now reached a humanitarian crisis.

We want to launch an intensive month-long generosity campaign to help the increasing homeless issues in our neighborhoods by adding to the number of tiny homes that we have already built at various private locations in Oakland.

We invite you to join us as we partner with some of Oakland’s fabulous nonprofit organizations to meet critical needs in our communities.

Whether through donation or action, there are plenty of opportunities to give.

We are accepting applications for volunteers and accepting donations that we can use to build Tiny Homes. You might have things in your house or garage you haven’t used or extra construction tools, a bag of stud nails, used doors, windows, roofing materials, lumber, metal, hardwood flooring, sheetrock tape, paints, and anything that we can recycle to build and add to our Tiny Homes.

We are also looking for vehicle donations of trailers or any truck for hauling material and picking up volunteers and homeless people that are helping to build Tiny Homes. We build our homes with primarily donated and surplus materials, allowing us to cut costs and provide a pleasant home for under $40,000.

Each and every person who wants to help out and eradicate the homeless problem in the City of Oakland can donate funds for us to build a Tiny Home. If donors want to give money to the ministry, we will build a tiny home and name it after them. Know that your donations will be able to take a whole family off the street during this cold season.

In addition, we are open to getting a sponsor or sponsors for an entire Tiny Homes Community Park and we have a separate location that will be designated for homeless veterans, the elderly, single mothers or single fathers, and any individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, such as those living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, places not meant for habitation, or sleeping on our streets.

Please spread the word and contact us about any way you can help our Tiny Homes Community Project with Rev. Ken Lackey.

There are three ways to contact us

  1. By Phone/toll-free number: 1-833-233-8900 ext. 1
  2. By Email: TinyHomesC@gmail.com
  3. By Appointment/Donation Drop off location at the All About Grits Restaurant at 6101 International Blvd., Oakland, CA

Or you can attend our next two major events:

  1. Tiny Homes Fundraising Event on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. Place to be announced.
  2. Tiny Homes Community Building Workshop with the help of our community and local partners in the Bay Area. Date and place to be announced.

Contact us for more details of these two events or any ways you can help in this season.

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Activism

Faith Baptist Church Becomes Oakland’s First Official Resiliency Hub

Faith Baptist Church was the recipient of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Legacy Award. Faith was chosen out of a pool of dozens of applicants for the award. The key differentiator was the Solar Battery Storage project. With that, Faith Baptist has the ability to totally exit the PG&E grid and generate 100% energy from its solar panels. That makes Faith Baptist a potential energy distributor.

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As members of the community that comprise Faith Baptist Church look on, California Interfaith Power and Light Executive Director Susan Stephenson, left (in white jacket), hands scissors to the eldest member of Faith Baptist for the ribbon cutting on Nov. 14 while Pastor Curtis Robinson stands just behind him. Also pictured are District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb (white hair, white shirt) and to his right (multi-colored top) is Shayna Hirschfield-Gold, Oakland’s Climate Program manager. Photo courtesy of Faith Baptist Church and California Interfaith Power and Light.
As members of the community that comprise Faith Baptist Church look on, California Interfaith Power and Light Executive Director Susan Stephenson, left (in white jacket), hands scissors to the eldest member of Faith Baptist for the ribbon cutting on Nov. 14 while Pastor Curtis Robinson stands just behind him. Also pictured are District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb (white hair, white shirt) and to his right (multi-colored top) is Shayna Hirschfield-Gold, Oakland’s Climate Program manager. Photo courtesy of Faith Baptist Church and California Interfaith Power and Light.

By Curtis O. Robinson, Sr., M.A., Harvard University fellow, ’19, Senior Pastor, Faith Baptist Church

So, when I say that Faith Baptist is Oakland’s first Resiliency Hub, the first question that many people ask is, “what is a resiliency hub?”

In an article from the Christian Science Monitor entitled “Resilience hubs: A new approach to crisis response,” the author writes, “Things that shock a community have to do with climate, but more urgently they have to do with systemic inequities.”

He was referring to police shootings, civic unrest, the growth of homeless encampments and more. The resiliency hub approach to these inequities uses a respected local organization, such as a church or community center, and bolsters it to help neighborhoods prepare for crises — hurricanes, heat waves, pandemics or unrest — and to respond and recover from them.

When Faith was approached with the idea of solar panels for its rooftop as a source of heat, the decision was relatively a no-brainer.

As a House of Worship, there is a collective emphasis on the workings of God in the universe. The first job that God gave humanity was to tend the Garden. When it comes to environmental justice, our goal then is to take care of this place called planet Earth.

The world is now in an environmental tailspin. However, with technology that teaches us how to create sustainable outcomes, sprinkled with common sense, we can achieve an environmental balance that can create safe spaces environmentally for our children and for our future.

Faith Baptist Church was the recipient of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Legacy Award. Faith was chosen out of a pool of dozens of applicants for the award. The key differentiator was the Solar Battery Storage project.

With that, Faith Baptist has the ability to totally exit the PG&E grid and generate 100% energy from its solar panels. That makes Faith Baptist a potential energy distributor.

With the help of California Interfaith Power and Light and energy experts from the U.S. Green Building Council, we held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 14.

Joining us, among others, were Susan Stephenson, executive director of California Interfaith Power and Light, Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb of District 1, Shayna Hirschfield- Gold, Oakland’s Climate Program manager and members of Faith Baptist and the Pentecostal community that shares our space and Green Building volunteers.

We bask in the glory of energy independence, because we now tap into clean energy from above and not dirty energy from below.

Publisher’s note: Rev Curtis Robinson also is a columnist for the God on Wall Street column for the Post News Group.

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Activism

March Against Fear: When ‘Black Power’ Became Mainstream

What began as a solitary peaceful protest for voter registration became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmichael formed unlikely alliances that resulted in the Black Power movement. This ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

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James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. (Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, the United States Library of Congress.)
James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. (Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, the United States Library of Congress.)

By Tamara Shiloh

It was June 5, 1966.

James Howard Meredith (born 1933), on a mission to encourage Black voter registration and defy entrenched racism in the South, set out on a solitary walk from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi.

On the second day of his journey, Aubrey Norvell, a white gunman, waited on a roadside a few miles south of Hernando, Mississippi. He ambushed Meredith, shooting him in the neck, head, and back.

Within 24 hours, the nation’s three principal civil rights organizations vowed to continue the march: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Success of the event could not be predicted. Leaders were aware that last-minute planning of a march could be dangerous, and the route chosen was not without uncertainty. The three-week march led to death threats, arrests, and the use of tear gas. Internal tensions surrounding leadership swelled and use of the slogan “Black Power” became a revolutionary phrase urging self-determination and Black pride.

The Deacons for Defense and Justice, a group of Black veterans from World War II who believed in armed self-defense, provided protection for participants. Founded in Jonesboro, La., in 1964, The Deacons for Defense had already protected civil rights activists from the Ku Klux Klan. About 20 chapters were created throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

The march ended on June 22, 1966. Meredith, sufficiently recovered, had been able to rejoin the event. Participants supporting Meredith along the way joined in, making the total number of marchers arriving in Jackson about 15,000. The March Against Fear was one of the largest marches in history for that geographical area. It was during the post-march rally that Stokely Carmichael first used the phrase “we want Black Power” during a public speech.

Carmichael sought to define the quest for Black Power in constructive terms, explaining to supporters in Detroit that “Black votes created Black Power…That doesn’t mean that we are anti-white. We are just developing Black pride.”

Meredith had become well known when he successfully challenged the Kennedy administration to protect his civil rights. His application for admission to the University of Mississippi, dubbed Ole Miss, had been twice denied. With backing from the NAACP, he filed suit for racial discrimination.

After heavy negotiations with U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Meredith was permitted to enroll at Ole Miss but only under escort of federal troops. He graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

What began as a solitary peaceful protest for voter registration became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmichael formed unlikely alliances that resulted in the Black Power movement. This ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

Understand the complex issues of fear, injustice, and the challenges of change in Anne Bausum’s “The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power.”

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