A tiny K-8th grade charter school that serves kids in East Oakland’s most dangerous and desperate neighborhood lost its charter Wednesday night after an emotional session before the Oakland board of education. (see more below)

In a long, chock-full meeting Wednesday evening, the board of the Oakland Unified School District also voted to prepare a ballot measure asking Oakland residents to consider a new parcel tax of $120 per parcel to fund improving its high schools. The measure would be on the November ballot.

Additionally, the board voted to limit police contact with students during school hours and to give students the right to have a parent present before answering any police questions. (see separate story coming Monday)


The Oakland school board approved a plan to draft a ballot measure for November asking voters for a $120 per-parcel tax to help improve high school instruction in Oakland.

Specifically, the district wants to bring Linked Learning pedagogy to all of its high schools, as well as hire more counselors, teachers and advisors so that each student receives personal advising through their high school years and has access to academically rigorous courses. OUSD  aims to raise about $12 million through the parcel tax and distribute it to all high schools in Oakland, including charter schools, on an equal amount per student basis, with 10 percent saved for administering the program. Schools would develop Linked Learning — or learning through internship — curricula and apply for the funding set aside for each school. Watch the video below to learn about Linked Learning.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5Sy0G02Le4?rel=0&w=420&h=315]


The high schools are, by the district’s own assessment, the weakest part of the school district, in that scores from the high schools as a group suggest lower proficiency among students compared to their peers elsewhere, and nearly 22 percent of high school students drop out.

While several of its high schools are academic success stories where many families try to enroll their kids, some others are fraught with problems, including high drop out rates, declining enrollment, teacher turnover and low academic achievement. Three schools in particular, located in Oakland’s poorest neighborhoods, Castlemont, Fremont and McClymonds high schools, have significant troubles. Castlemont, which is two blocks up the street from E.C. Reems in the same violence-plagued neighborhood, lost its principal mid-year, while McClymonds has yet another new principal this year.

Linked Learning programs developed at some district high schools, including MetWest and Life Academy with partial programs at other schools, have been successful in raising student achievement and keeping students in school to graduation. Data the district extracted from its student achievement records found that students in Linked Learning programs generally scored higher on California standardized tests and were more likely to enroll in college preparatory classes than peers not in the programs.

Acting Superintendent Gary Yee proposed “The Oakland College and Career Readiness for All Fund” ballot measure would have the following five goals and four uses.


  • Increase the high school graduation rate.
  • Decrease the high school drop out rate.
  • Increase high school students’ readiness to succeed in college and career.
  • Increase middle school students’ successful transition to high school.
  • Reduce disparities in student achievement and student access to Linked Learning based on race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, and residency.


  • To increase supports for students in college preparatory courses in every high school to ensure all students are eligible to attend and are prepared to succeed in college.
  • To provide work-based learning in every high school, including career exploration, career technical education courses, job shadowing, internships, and job certifications.
  • To provide counseling, tutoring, mentoring, and other intensive support services to students in danger of not graduating high school.
  • To provide programs to students transitioning from 8th grade to 9th grade to prepare them to succeed in high school, including early career exploration, summer school, and parent outreach.

Money raised through the tax would be apportioned to all publicly-funded high schools in Oakland (including charter high schools) on a per-pupil basis, such that schools get the same amount per student. Last night, the board added a stipulation to include the county-approved charter high school in Oakland, Envision Academy, in receiving funding.

Community groups have been pushing for help for the high schools. The Oakland Community Organizations and East Bay Asian Youth Center took it upon themselves to survey 552 households to gauge willingness to pay a special tax to improve the city’s high schools and help teenagers. Its survey, used by the school board in making its decisions, found that 73 percent of voters polled would approve a parcel tax of $120 to improve Oakland’s high schools. Of course, attitudes shown in a poll might differ from votes actually cast. A tax measure needs two thirds or 67 percent of votes to win passage.

Katy Nunez-Adler, an organizer with OCO, said, “We are a  group working in support of Linked Learning and high school improvement. Our research showed that Linked Learning approaches can make a real difference in a child’s life if we have enough support. So out of our own funding, we conducted a community survey of households,” on what they think of a parcel tax. Her colleague from EBAYC, Andy Nelson, said, “We don’t take this lightly, we know it is a huge task, especially for flatlands families. We also know from the polls across the city that Oaklanders do take seriously the need to provide opportunities for high school students.”


E.C. Reems Academy of Technology and Arts, on MacArthur Boulevard at 84th Street, sought a five-year renewal of its charter from OUSD. Charter schools get funding and general approval from local school districts but operate independently.

Tucked along a corridor where gun shots ring out daily and where unemployment shapes day-to-day life, E.C. Reems schools 243 children, almost all of them local and almost all of them African-Americans from very low-income families. It is one of Oakland’s oldest charter schools, founded 14 years ago by Bishop Ernestine C. Reems of nearby Center of Hope Community Church.

But citing sharply declining enrollment, financial difficulties with rising debt and mediocre academic performance  — although that last point was contested — OUSD staff recommended the board not renew E.C. Reems’ charter. After an anguished discussion, the board voted 4 to 2 along those lines, despite pleas from parents, students, administrators, local clergy and community members. Only board members James Harris, who represents East Oakland, and Chris Dobbins voted to let the school continue.

“E.C. Reems is really the community. The school has done so much for the community, for families who are homeless, for families living in hotels,’’ said parent Nikka Bell with one of her three children who attend Reems at her side. “If you take it away you’re taking away the hope of our children.”

Recent graduate LaVonte Thompson said the school is “my home, our home” and another recent graduate credited her E.C. Reems education for  her success getting into several colleges and state universities.

Principal Lisa Blair said the school has a particular mission. “We are in East Oakland to save lives. We are in East Oakland to give children who have been transferred out of other schools an opportunity to excel, an opportunity to become adults.” She acknowledged that enrollment is down and finances tough but added that OUSD is also losing enrollment. She said families are moving out of Oakland.

E.C. Reems’ enrollment has plunged 33 percent in two years. Since schools are reimbursed based on how many kids are enrolled and attend school, its revenues have also plunged. It has borrowed money from OUSD as well as from its own future revenues — a risky move — to pay for ongoing expenses. Its debt is about $280,000. The OUSD staff who review charter applications by analyzing the school’s practices, data on student outcomes and school finances also cited poor academic performance based on the state’s Academic Performance Index, lack of professional development opportunities for teachers and no plan in place to implement curriculum aligned with the Common Core standards although schools are required to do so. However, the school’s API rose to 711 last year from 699 the year before. Most notably, scores achieved by E.C. Reems’ African-American students for the past three years are higher than the average scores for African-American students attending district-operated schools, according to data on the E.C. Reems application.

Pastor Raymond Lankford of Voices of Hope Community Church asked the board perhaps the most searching question: if you close the school, he asked, what is your plan for these children?

In an anguished discussion, board members wondered why Reems officials filed their petition late — too late for them to provide much help to Reems administrators to shore up finances and strengthen the academic program.

Principal Blair, in an interview, said she will appeal to the county an the state if necessary.


7 Responses

  1. P-K4

    There seems to be no appreciation for how high tax rates already are for Oakland homeowners in relation to other counties. The effective property tax rate is in excess of 1.3% is already well above the 1% state property tax rate.

    Homeowners are already paying their fair share. Perhaps they should instead try for a sales tax.

  2. Oakie

    P-K4, you are quite right. But the level of overtaxation may be just the tip of the iceberg as to why this proposal from OUSD for yet another money dollop is wrong headed and should be stopped.

    Consider the fact that the OUSD School Board is shutting down EC Reems because of “sharply declining enrollment, financial difficulties with rising debt and mediocre academic performance,” and also their multi-year effort to shut down AIM Charter.

    Well, let’s look at the same criteria with regards to OUSD public schools, shall we?

    As to declining enrollment, when I arrived in Oakland in 1982, the enrollment was 54,000. Now it is 36,200 and declining year after year [In fact, there are 2,000-5,000 of those waiting to get out of OUSD run public schools into charters which have no more room]. So by this criteria, OUSD ought to close down a hecka lot of their schools. But they don’t want to do that.

    Financial difficulties? Ay ya…. OUSD was in receivership for 6 years in the last decade because of financial incompetence.

    Poor academic performance? Again, it’s the OUSD public schools that should be closing, not charters such as AIM. They are applying full court press to shut them down in spite of the fact that AIM High School ranked #6 in the state, ahead of well respected Lowell in SF. By comparison, the public high schools in Oakland are an embarrassment.

    Now, how about this suit by OUSD students agains the district for failure to provide an adequate education:

    “When Eric Flood’s economics teacher at Fremont High School went on maternity leave last fall, a procession of substitute teachers filled the days with easy, irrelevant and uninspiring work. It was so boring, many students stopped going to the first-period class altogether.”

    “The suit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, cites a loss of valuable learning time due to a number of systemic failures, including a shortage of teachers and mental health counselors, and the failure to have class schedules ready at the beginning of the year.

    “We didn’t even have to do the work. The substitute just marked us as being there even if we weren’t,” Flood said Thursday. “There was no point in going to that class anyway, so we just stayed home.”

    So while the school district puts forward yet another new scheme, this time called “Linked Learners” (how cute!) nothing is said about the complete incompetence of the district to perform the most basic of functions: providing a competent and responsibly acting teacher in the classroom. [And, btw, have they ever fired one of these excuses for a teacher for incompetence? Not once in all these years, afaik]

    No; no talk about doing that. Instead they throw a hot new drop in the pan, hoping we get dazzled by the flash and don’t spend much time thinking about what the truth is.

    And how much money does OUSD already have? According to the analysis below, it works out to over $15,000 per student in FY2013-2014, which would already rank us as #12 among states. Ask any CTA shill, and they’ll claim we’re at #48 or even #50, which is bunk.

    They don’t need more money, they need to learn how to operate competently or shut the heck down. They have enough money to do it, but apparently don’t know how to do it.

    Compete with the charters and prove you can deliver the kind of service Oakland kids receive from them. And stop trying to pull the wool over the taxpayer’s eyes.
    Here is the budget document for OUSD for Fiscal Year 2012-2013:

    The budget is $549 Million. (Page 35) of which $121 Million goes into capital projects and $382 Million go into the General Fund.

    Charter schools get less than $1 Million (Page 51) for “Central Office Operations.”

    Enrollment is 36,200. Down a bit from prior year. Page 60

    I see no other mention of Charter Schools, although they represent about 12,000 students. So I am assuming they are not including Charter School funding.

    So if you take the budget and subtract out that which is associated with charters, and divide by the number of students, you get $15,100.

    If you look at Table H-16 on Page 57:

    You will see that OUSD funding would rank us already as #12 Most Highly Funded among states. If you listen to the CTA, I’ve been told we are #48 or #50. That is simply not true.

  3. Jim Mordecai

    Charter schools force the closure of neighborhood schools. And, after they have done that damage to the District, their allies on Oakland’s charter school friendly School Board wants to not let an unkind deed go unrewarded and wants to send to the November ballot a parcel tax measure to fund a program called Linked Learning (high school courses focused on a path to careers). Board wants parcel tax funding to implement Link Learning program to go equally to the District high schools and to Oakland charter high schools. How generous with Oakland property owners’ money!

    Charter schools are not just public schools but they are publicly funded schools privately managed. Charter governing boards are independent of the school board that approves their charter. A charter authorizer can intervene if the conditions of a charter are being violated and seek revoking of a charter.

    Parents and employees in a charter are in the position of having to accept management decisions of charter governance. They have two options accept or find another school or another employer.

    Charter school parents are legally second class to public school parents having less legal rights under the private governance of charter schools’ management. And, charter school parents can’t vote out charter school private governing boards if they feel they have been treated badly. In fact, many of the Oakland charter school governing boards are not even located in Oakland.

    Also, union families should know that Oakland charters are non-union with at-will employees.

    Measure J defeat was about by 400 votes. But, most believe, if Measure J had NOT included charter schools, Measure J would have passed with the required 2/3 vote.

    The Oakland School Board learned nothing from the defeat of its charter school friendly Measure J. The Board is back again asking Oakland voters to approve a new parcel tax favorable to charter schools and expecting a different outcome. It’s doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome that is viewed as definition of insanity.

    Will the School Board’s promotion of charter schools’ interest once again mean defeat of a Measure that would help the students of the Oakland Public Schools?

    Better question is why didn’t any Oakland School Board member see the wisdom of sending a clean measure to the voters, without making charter schools part of the ballot measure and unnecessarily stimulating opposition and risking the Board’s measure again being defeated by those fighting charter schools–and the privatization of Oakland Public Schools.

    Charter schools have the option to act alone and to bring to the ballot a request that Oakland voters pass an additional property tax, a charter school parcel tax. Charter schools don’t need to free load and ride the coat tails of the Oakland Public Schools’ parcel tax.

    But, Oakland School Board would rather risk chance of opposition to charter schools causing its parcel tax fail than let them to have to seek Oakland voter approval on their own. Clearly their loyalty is to charter schools first.

    However, the Oakland School Board doesn’t seem to be able to do enough to favor charter schools. It is now considering including a charter high school authorized by Alameda County whose sponsor got wind of the scent of money and showed up at last Wednesday’s School Board meeting and asked that it be included in the proposed measure because it is located in the city of Oakland.

    There are two troublesome aspects of this proposed parcel tax measure I’ve not mentioned. One is the time. There is no sunset so far proposed. And, there is no evaluation. The proposal mentions Board’s five person committee that will advise the School Board if allocated money is being used with fidelity to the program If the concept doesn’t live up to its advertisement, the program and the taxing continues.

  4. Oakie

    Excellent. I am glad to see Jim also wants to defeat this tax.

    My opposition has nothing to do with his core problem: the existence in any form of charter schools in Oakland.

    Parents in Oakland are speaking with their choices for the education of their own children: 40% of Oakland students are not choosing OUSD public schools.

    There are 57,000 student-age residents according to the latest census, and only 36,000 are students in OUSD public schools (in 1982 it was 54,000). Over 12,000 attend our charter schools, and that number is growing each and every year. The remaining 9,000 found other options, both private and public as better choices for their eduction.

    And the only reason it is –only– 12,000 in our charters is because of restrictions on the part of OUSD management and the school board to restrict them. Somewhere between 2,500-5,000 of those 36,000 students at OUSD public schools would choose a charter if the space were available. The existing waiting lists alone are 2,500 and many others don’t bother because they are too discouraged to bother. The president of the school board has stated she’s willing to break the law to prevent any more charters.

    Jim hates choice. He wants to force everyone into one of those failing and dysfunctional OUSD public schools. But almost half of the student population is either in charters, fled the district in other ways, or are stuck in OUSD run public schools but don’t want to be there.

    The OUSD budget is $549 Million for FY2013-2014. Divided over those 36,000 students amounts to over $15,000 per student. That ranks us as #12 if compared to states in public school funding. The problem with OUSD is not that they need more money. It’s that they are not competent at spending the money and delivering an education.

    Giving them more money through this new tax is throwing good money after bad.

  5. Jim Mordecai


    Politics makes strange bed fellows Oakie. Seems we’ll both work for the defeat of the Oakland School Board’s parcel tax but for different reasons.

    You want to privatize public schools and I want to protect them from privatization.

    Long live government of the people, by the people and for the people.

  6. Oakie

    Actually I don’t want to privatize anyone’s school. I want all parents to have a choice as to where they send their kids for an education. The opposite of that is a monopoly where parents have no choice. That’s what “protecting” public schools really means.

    It’s not protecting the students and their parents, it’s denying them options they clearly want. If it weren’t what they wanted, 25% of OUSD parents wouldn’t have chosen it, a number only limited because of the misappropriation of priorities of the school board under undue influence of those funding their elections (and willingness to actually break the law to prevent more charters).

    Protecting the public OUSD schools from the choices of the parents is the essence of the special interests: the teachers union, the central office staffing and management and all the ancillary adults who have their snouts in the taxpayers funded trough. Protecting that has not one iota to do with educating the students, as demonstrated by the abysmal academic achievement of OUSD public schools.

    As to our democratic system, I noticed that among all the choices we have gotten for the OUSD school board and Alameda County Board of Education are funded by and promoted by the special interests that control OUSD public schools, none of these candidates have a single kind word to speak in favor of charters. That’s a formulation of democracy that would be envied by the Soviet Politburo.

  7. Len Raphael

    Without stepping into the crossfire around charter schools, this parcel tax is just bad public policy.

    It takes California “ballot box budgeting” to a whole lower level that could be called “ballot box school curriculum design.”

    if this latest educational theory called Linked Learning doesn’t work well we’ll be encouraging OUSD teachers and administrators to manipulate and lie so that the next educational fad appears to fit the definition of Linked Learning.
    Basically it will become curriculum design gamesmanship. (Which we already have too much off.)

    It sounds like the Board doesn’t have the leadership to settle this endless fighting over charter vs OUSD public school.

    Nor does it seem to have the trust of the voters to approve a parcel tax that would go to OUSD without restriction. We won’t know for sure if Jim’s position becomes the position of the teacher’s union and the union fights this parcel tax.


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