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State Fiscal Austerity Agency Says 11 School Districts Face Similar Fate as OUSD

It is now becoming clear to many local education advocates that under FCMAT, the state’s enforcer, or the whip hand of education austerity, K-12 school districts and community colleges statewide are being threatened with cuts, layoffs, and the possibility of loss of local control, even while the state is awash in an almost $50 billion surplus.

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FCMAT CEO Michael Fine.
FCMAT CEO Michael Fine.

West Contra Costa Unified School Board Defies FCMAT demand to lay off teachers.

By Ken Epstein

The financial austerity arm overseeing public education in California, the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), has performed a behind-the-scenes role determining budgets, repeated cutbacks, layoffs, and the closures of 21 schools since they moved into Oakland along with the state receiver in 2003.

One district, West Contra Costa Unified, recently defied pressure from a FCMAT spokesman to lay off school staff, voting against the layoff recommendation proposed by the district administration.

It is now becoming clear to many local education advocates that under FCMAT, the state’s enforcer, or the whip hand of education austerity, K-12 school districts and community colleges statewide are being threatened with cuts, layoffs, and the possibility of loss of local control, even while the state is awash in an almost $50 billion surplus.

Every year, the California Legislature appropriates funding for FCMAT’s operation, providing most of the nonprofit agency’s financial support. Over the years, FCMAT’s scope has expanded, but it remains an extra-governmental agency, not subject to typical governmental oversight. Formed by the state in 1991, FCMAT’s authority has evolved as new state laws were passed.

Oakland Unified is not the only public school system labeled by FCMAT to be a “lack of going concern,” which FCMAT defines as a “message that a district is in jeopardy of not being able to continue on its own.”

At present, FCMAT says that there are 11 school districts in California “that have been designated as a ‘lack of going concern’ in 2021 for a variety of budget and non-budget concerns.”

These districts are Bellflower USD, Curtis Creek ESD, East San Gabriel Valley ROP, Loleta Union SD, Montebello USD, Oakland USD, Sacramento City USD, San Bruno Park USD, San Francisco COE, San Francisco USD and Sonora ESD, according to a report published Feb. 2 by FCMAT to the State Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee.

Looking at “solvency trends,” FCMAT’s report cites a number of financial difficulties, which many see as connected to the pandemic crisis or ongoing insufficient state funding. FCMAT says the most common reason for less-than-satisfactory certifications of fiscal health “is declining enrollment.”

Other negative conditions include:

  • Decreased attendance rates
  • Expiring one-time funds.
  • Inflationary cost increases.
  • Increasing staff pension contribution rates

However, the report admits that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Jan. 10 budget proposal could eliminate the “lack of going concern designation” for 50% of the districts on the list.

In addition, five Community College systems are on FCMAT’s “Distress or Watch List.”

Districts considered in distress are Gavilan in San Benito, Napa Valley in Napa and Peralta in Alameda. City College of San Francisco is on the watch list, and Compton in Los Angeles is categorized as in a borderline state of “Transition Planning.”

Although Richmond schools were not on FCMAT’s list, the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) is experiencing FCMAT’s heavy hand.

FCMAT CEO Michael Fine showed up at the school board meeting March 9 to support the administration’s proposal to lay off teachers and other school staff this year. Fine told the Board that the district has a choice to accept the cuts, or the Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools will first declare a “Lack of Going Concern” and appoint an “advisor” to review the district’s budget and suggest changes.

If the board continues to refuse to make cuts, an overseer would be appointed with the right to veto WCCUSD financial decisions. If the board still ignores the ‘recommendations,’ the state could take over and give the WCCUSD a loan.

“A state loan is disastrous — it’s not good for the community, and it’s not good for the school district,” Fine told the Board, explaining that along with the loan, the superintendent would be dismissed, and the Board would lose its ability to govern. A state-imposed administrator would act as both the Board and superintendent.

Despite those threats, the Board voted 3-2 not to issue the layoffs, responding to pressure from employee unions. View the WCCUSD board meeting at www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kNZpHPM3yE

WCCUSD has a long history of dealing with FCMAT and state intervention. Formerly known as Richmond Unified, the district was under state control from April 1990 to June 2012.

According to officials, the takeover was the “salvation” of the district, keeping it from going bankrupt at that time. “But state control…was the polar opposite of salvation,” according to former school Board President Charles Ramsey, who served on the board during that time.

During the takeover, the district enforced pay cuts, mid-year elimination of enrichment courses and athletic programs, closed libraries and paid $2 million in annual loan payments at 6% interest. The community responded with a 75-mile protest march on Sacramento in 2004, with some participants holding a hunger strike.

“You have this shadow overlooking you,” Ramsey said in an interview in 2012 with the California School Board Association blog. “We barely survived, but we’re pleased that we’re now through it.”

Future articles will examine FCMAT’s impact on schools in Inglewood and San Francisco, as well as on San Francisco City College, which faces layoffs of 50 full-time faculty members.

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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Activism

Sheng Thao Sworn in as New Mayor of Oakland, Pledges New Direction for the City

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

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Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.
Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao appoints HNU’s Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as deputy mayor

By Ken Epstein

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees who overcame homelessness and domestic abuse to attend university and build a life for herself and her family in Oakland, received the official oath of office Monday afternoon as the new mayor of the City of Oakland.

Sworn in at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, she stood on stage surrounded by friends, family, and staff members. She was flanked by her son Ben Ventura, who performed a musical piece on the cello, and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao.

The mayor called on Oaklanders to join with her to create a more humane, inclusive, and just city. She spoke about her commitment as a progressive to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, making the city safer and cleaner, building 30,000 units of truly affordable housing, fostering jobs, promoting economic development, supporting small businesses and providing solutions to homelessness that recognize the dignity of the unsheltered.

“I know what we can do together, Oakland,” she said. “Our city’s’ best days are still to come. The Oakland that we all know is possible and within our reach.”

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

In her remarks, the mayor focused on the city’s long fight to become more inclusive and equitable.

“We believe everyone deserves a seat at the table, not just a few, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected,” she said.

“Sometimes, we take our shared progressive values for granted, our advances toward justice and equality,” said Mayor Thao.

She reminded people that “a…century ago, our city was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan (where) Klan members burned crosses in our hills and marched through our streets. As recently as the1970s, freeways were made possible by tearing down thriving Black, Latino, and Asian communities,” she continued.

“We recognize what we have overcome together to remember what is worth fighting for every day…(and) to take stock of how far we still have to go.”

Promising a “comprehensive” approach to public safety to make all neighborhoods in the city safer, she said she would bolster anti-crime programs like Ceasefire and “we will fill (police) vacancies with home-grown police officers who know our community, who look like us.”

At the same time, she said, the city must increase opportunities for young people, reinvigorating the summer jobs program (for youth) and enhance the school-to-work pipeline so young people can gain experience and job skills.

She said she would beef up the many city departments that are currently operating on skeleton staffing, promising to fill the staffing vacancies that “plague our city.”

Mayor Thao said she herself is a renter, and that she “will fiercely protect Oakland renters. If you are a renter in Oakland, you’ve got a mayor who’s got your back.”

Speaking about the Oakland A’s proposed waterfront real estate development promoted by former Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mayor Thao said the city will continue negotiations to keep the team “rooted in Oakland.”

“Working closely with the A’s, I’m hopeful we can reach a good deal, (based) on our Oakland values,” she said.

The former mayor’s plan for building the proposed waterfront real estate development at the Port of Oakland was dealt a major setback this week when Oakland failed to secure more than $180 million in federal funds to help pay for infrastructure development for the project.

Speaking of the importance of the appointment of Mayfield as deputy mayor, the Mayor’s Office explained her role in the new administration:

“Mayor Thao was thrilled Kimberly Mayfield agreed to join her team because of her tremendous and longstanding leadership in Oakland. In recognition of her vast experience, it was decided that the best role for her would be as deputy mayor where she will be an instrumental part of the leadership of both the Office and Oakland.”

In her introduction at the Paramount Theatre, Mayfield said, “Today is not about political agendas…It’s about the power of the people…it’s a recognition of the rejection of the status quo. This new chapter begins with a mayor that understands how to build a culture that works for everyone. Thank you, Mayor Thao for the opportunity to serve.”

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