Oakland’s city officials and promoters often tout the success of the city’s gentrification. They herald the “vibrancy” of the “New Oakland,” and the thriving new restaurant scene. They proudly announce that Oakland had been voted America’s most exciting city. Yet, on May 29, 2014, several Oakland African-American and Latino high school students joined a class action lawsuit demanding educational opportunities equal to their more privileged peers.

Photos by Kheven Lagrone

Photos by Kheven Lagrone

According to Cruz et al. v. State of California, their schools’ lack of resources disrupted their learning experiences. They needed mental health professionals to help students cope with the violence and other traumatic distractions in the communities. Their schools had higher teacher turnovers then those of their more privileged peers. Their teachers were less experienced. Coursework was often disrupted by the school-wide instability. Going to such a school was often just a waste of time—leading to the distractions of high truancy, absenteeism, tardiness and dropping out.

Oakland has been voted the “coolest” city in America, but that “coolness” did not include those students. Such low-quality education will ensure their being displaced from the increasingly more expensive “New Oakland.” While Oakland marketers like to brag about the city’s new businesses, these students will not be prepared to compete for jobs in them. These students will not have the economic literacy to survive here. They may not even be able to afford going to the “trendy” and “upscale” new restaurants—even working in them.

How can our politicians and political candidates defend Oakland in court without embarrassing themselves? The schools’ lower test scores are well documented and well known. If Oakland’s gentrification is really as successful as the city officials claim it is, there should be more money to spend on schools.

For years, Oakland has invested in gentrification, and these students need to see the return. Cruz et al., v. State of California should be a campaign issue. It’s embarrassing and is a blemish on Oakland’s so-called “moving up.” Sadly, our candidates would probably give them more attention if they robbed people in some of the more affluent parts of the city.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
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22 Responses

  1. Oakie


    Almost none of the revival of Oakland has anything to do with Oakland officials or the operation of our city government. All cities have a primary function to provide: police and fire protection, libraries, parks, and roads. Do you agree the City of Oakland does a pretty lousy job at those things?

    Our politicians love to jump out front whenever crime stats go down (even if it’s due to the natural up and down of the stats) and claim credit. Those same weasels do not jump out in front of TV cameras and take ownership when the stats go up.

    The revival of our city has entirely been done by private citizens by their own effort and money. Give them the credit.

    As to the Cruz lawsuit, I’m happy to see you paying attention to the failure of OUSD to deliver education to our minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students. It is a scandal.

    You may want to include in your analysis the results of Vegara v California, which just concluded. One of the plaintiffs was an OUSD student at Skyline. They made 13 charges as to how they were denied an equally high quality education relative to rich students (even in the same district) as guaranteed by our state constitution as their right.

    The judge agreed with all 13 charges. He said the number of grossly incompetent teachers in these districts (including OUSD) “shocked the conscience.” He concluded that the teachers’ union contracts ensured that the poorest quality teachers ended up at the schools that served the poorest students. Do you know how many incompetent teachers have been fired in OUSD? None.

    But did you know that we spend $550 Million on OUSD? Did you know that it works out to $15,000 per student per year. For a class of 30 students that’s $450,000 per classroom. If the teacher is compensated at less than $100,000, where does that $350,000 go?

    Well, you can now look it up:


    Use the pull down menu to select OUSD and it’s amazing what you will find. There are about 5,000 employees.

    I’m looking at the top 250, which comes to about $35 Million. Very very few of them have anything at all to do with your classroom and providing you an education.

    You may find some interesting nuggets in there.

    For example, did you know that OUSD spent over $122,000 for one full time painter? Not some high level manager, or district-wide coordinator, but a run of the mill painter. You know, the kind of person who picks up a paint brush, dips it into a can of paint and tries to get most of it on the wall.

    Btw, the components shown (salary, medical, pension contribution) do NOT include Workers Comp, which for a painter is about 15% of wages. So if you add that, the total compensation for a low level painter is about $130,000.

    Given the generous working conditions OUSD provides their employees (they’re good at that, just not good at providing, you know, an education to their students) the number of productive work hours in a year are about 2,000. Vacation, sick days, holidays, meetings, etc. chew up a lot of time.

    So take that $130,000 and divide it by 2,000 hours and you get about $65/hour. That’s in a market where painters get charged out by contractors at about $25/hour.

    Now multiply the misspent money for one person and multiply it by 5,000 and do you see where the money goes?

  2. Oakie

    I left out “Direct Overhead” in my analysis of the Painter’s cost to the taxpayer.

    “Direct Overhead” is associated with the staffing directly above the painter that are responsible for managing the scope of work performed. I found 18 persons (I only looked at the top 500).

    The total cost for these 18 people was a little under $2.4 Million. We would also need to know how many people are supervised by them. If there are 100, the cost per worker would be $240,000. If it is 1,000 then it would be $24,000. That would have to be added to the $130,000 direct cost, and would add to the $65/hour cost for work actually performed.

    Here are the titles for these 18 people:
    “Assoc Suprntndnt Fac Plng&Mgmt; Office Of Cfo Administration”
    “Director Facilities Management; Fac Plng & Mgmt Administration”
    “Director Custodial Services; Fac Plng & Mgmt Administration”
    “Coordinator Facilities Mgmt; Facility Planning & Management”
    “Coordinator Facilities Mgmt; Fac Plng & Mgmt Administration”
    “Project Manager Facilities Pln; Facility Planning & Management”
    “Project Manager Facilities Pln; Facility Planning & Management”
    “Director Buildings & Grounds; Fac Plng & Mgmt Administration”
    “Manager; B&G Foremen”
    “Manager; B&G Foremen”
    “Coordinator Buildings Grounds; B&G Foremen”
    “Project Manager Facilities Pln; Facility Planning & Management”
    “Project Manager Facilities Pln; Facility Planning & Management”
    “Project Manager Facilities Pln; Facility Planning & Management”
    “Manager; B&G Foremen”
    “Manager; B&G Foremen”
    “Executive Office Assistant; Fac Plng & Mgmt Administration”

    i was also looking to find costs associated with managing the charter schools (for which the district skims the first 30% off of money that should belong to the charter schools for operation). I found exactly two such persons out of the top 500. There are 12,000 charter students and 36,000 public school students.

  3. Seamus

    It’s boggling. There’s bars, restaurants, other businesses open downtown. Just 10 years ago, it was a ghost town.

    You think the tax base still isn’t big enough to fund local schools. Well, I would agree, but the trend is toward more money, so you should be somewhat optimistic about the future of school funding in Oakland.

  4. Len Raphael

    Oakie, over the years I’ve heard so many anecdotes from people with adverse or no economic skin in the OUSD game, that OUSD admin costs are extremely high, that there must be some fiscal fire in that smoke filled OUSD HQ.

    But it’s always been radio silence from our elected school board members.

    i don’t think OUSD administrative costs are within the broad domain of the City Auditor, but it certainly should be the subject of the Alameda County Grand Jury, which has investigated much less significant Oakland fiscal issues.

    Seamus, unless DTO turns into Las Vegas, the sales, business, and property tax revenue from the hospitality industry is never going to be enough to generate the tax revenue needed to pay our current operating expenses and are overdue bills for retirement costs and delayed infrastructure work. We need many more and bigger businesses which pay high taxes but don’t need 24 x 7 fire and police services.

  5. Oakie

    Grand Juries investigate crimes. This is not a scandal because what they are doing is illegal. It’s a scandal because it is legal.

    Having shrunk from 54,000 students down to 36,000 and falling, it is clear that the system is constantly struggling to reduce the overhead. And it is a system in which the employees have virtual lifetime employment and the only relevant measure used to establish compensation is the hire date. Can you imagine Apple, Google, Facebook, or Tesla successfully operating under those conditions? Why would anyone think OUSD would be any different. Would you buy an iPhone built by OUSD? Well, we’ve turned the young people of Oakland over to them. What does that say about how much we value our kids?

    What I observe is a voting public that is unwilling to face the facts as they are. I am not telling you that there is a serious problem, I am showing it with the data. That painter, costing us $65/hr plus direct overhead plus indirect overhead has lifetime employment and compensation based on hire date. There is not a single competent building contractor who could survive under those circumstances with that kind of employee. And yet that is what the taxpayer is paying for.

    That is the scandal.

    Kheven correctly observes all the ways OUSD is not serving the students. We have a plague of PTSD among our young people who cannot possibly perform academically without help dealing with it. He is wrong to point the finger at “gentrification” or any of the other usual suspects. The fact of the matter is that with a $550 Million budget there is sufficient money to address the concerns he identifies. You just can’t possibly accomplish it under the terms and conditions OUSD operates under.

  6. JR

    Mr LeGrone-
    FIrst of all I wholeheartedly agree that the OUSD is a troubled district and it has been for my entire life. But really, do you really think that a lawsuit is going to fix this? The only people who will benefit off of this are the lawyers, certainly not the disadvantaged kids that are filing it. It will be a joke, just like the NSA and when the school district was under state control.

    The sad truth of the matter is that the parents need to be taught how important school is. That is the main difference between good and bad schools-parent involvement. I know that is a tough pill to swallow, but it is the truth.

    But please don’t get sucked into the obviously Oakland Local “gentrification accusation.” OUSD has had these problems for way longer than I could walk downtown and grab a drink at scores of establishments. Gentrification is helping-not hurting- the schools. The most impressive example is Oakland Tech.

    The numbers and examples that Oakie is bringing up is something that should be looked at too. Having a close relative work in the OUSD I can not say that I am surprised. Some of the way things work in Oakland schools are very self serving of the workers and not putting the children first.

  7. Oakie

    Well, you know the old saying, you get to pick your friends, but not your relatives.

    An update on the $65/hr Painter:

    I went through most of the data from the Mercury data base, down to salaries of $20,000 figuring anything less than that is only partial year entries.

    I found a bunch more facilities overhead, and the total cost of that direct overhead is a little more than $4 Million (a total of 37 employees).

    The sum of all the direct labor employees under Buildings and Grounds and Facilities totaled a cost of a little more than $8 Million (a total of 86 employees).

    So the allocation of Direct Overhead to Total Compensation of the employee is 50%.

    That makes the painter costs to be $100/hr plus all the indirect overhead on top of that. And there is ton of that lard in the Superintendent’s office, the legal office and the HR department.

    I would also note that even gardeners have total compensation packages as high as $90,000. Anyone out there willing to pay out of their own pockets that kind of money to handle your gardening needs? Didn’t think so. When it’s everybody’s money, it’s nobody’s money. That’s when it’s easy to spend. Just ask Dan Siegel how easy that is.

    Looking through all the personnel costs it’s pretty clear that there is no effective fiscal management control at OUSD. It is a fiduciary mess to this day. It would be a tragedy to vote in favor of giving them another parcel tax until they get their house in order.

  8. Len Raphael

    The teachers’ union is the only organized voice I have ever heard decrying high OUSD HQ costs. Voters ignore it as so much posturing because the union only brings up the issue at contract negotiation time.

  9. Pablo Marx

    odd juxtaposition of the very ugly painting of some overrated rhymer on the side of a liquor store on E. 18th Street and 5th Avenue with an article supposedly about education and gentrification. What was the point?

  10. James Miller

    Concur with JR: Oakland schools have been scandalously poor for far longer than Oakland has been cool. This us-them rhetoric just isnt going to crack it with lots of everyday Oaklanders (particularly those disproportionately represented in the electorate).

    I infer that the author believes that the schools wouldnt be as much of a problem if Oakland were stuck in the economic doldrums; that if Oakland stopped being cool, everything would be OK. I dont agree with that.

    Id suggest that an approach that says “Oakland’s coming up, and its a great opportunity to bring our schools with” would resonate more politically. Making people feel bad that Oakland’s getting better is a dead end

  11. Cornelius marks

    They should be suing the parents of their fellow classmates for making Ousd such a lousy school district. It’s not the schools job to raise the children, it has become a sad reality that there is little to no parenting going on in the homes of some Oakland households. This all has an impact on the children and how they behave and perform in school. As a result less affluent homes tend to have less parent involvement in the classroom and at home (if there is a parent raising the children at all) I’m not saying the school district is right for spending money in the wrong places, but the root of the problem is with the structure of inner cities culture of gangs, drugs and crime.

  12. Oakland

    You’re article is simply not correct. In Oakland you chose which school you want your child to attend. You are not forced to attend a school in the ghetto. We applied to Kaiser and got in with no problem. If you don’t like the school in your neighborhood then apply to a better school. If you have problems with Oakland then move to a better town.

  13. Len Raphael

    The 2013/14 Alameda Grand Jury did look at OUSD’s finances. The civil Grand Jury has broad authority: “This report was prepared by a civil grand jury whose role is to investigate all aspects of local government and municipalities to ensure government is being run efficiently, and that government monies are being handled appropriately”

    The Grand Jury sounds like it was overwhelmed by the task of evaluating the finances of OUSD, so it restricted itself to reporting on the astounding failure of OUSD to get clean audit opinions for some years now. Apparently that failure alone has cost OUSD some 23Mill in higher bond interest costs.

    So the Grand Jury never even got into analysing OUSD numbers other than to make some superficial comments about teacher salaries and too many underutilized schools.

    The Grand Jury sounds mildly prejudiced against charter schools.

    That same antagonism of 5 years ago between OUSD admin and the state overseer continues in a conflict with the state auditor’s who have reserved the right to audit OUSD instead of a less expensive private auditing firm. I don’t know enough about school audits to say if that’s good or bad for us taxpayers and students and teachers, but it’s hecka dysfunctional. I’m not even sure if we can rely on those financial numbers to figure out what’s happening at OUSD.

    Even more bizzare that we never hear this stuff from our elected school board members.

    report starts at page 40 https://www.acgov.org/grandjury/final2013-2014.pdf

  14. kelly h williams

    only developers and wannabees would claim that gentrification, as part of the larger systemic class issues, is not the problem. nah, it has gotta be that nefarious gardener or painter making $100 an hour. because those people should be making minimum wage, correct? don’t like your local school? i’m sure it is no problem to pick the “good” one further away, because poor people have no problem with transportation and the associated costs. don’t like it? then get the hell out, am i right?

  15. Oakie

    kelly h williams,

    You can count me as a developer or wannabe (whatever that is). Although I’m not either.

    As to your defense of paying $100/hr for a gardener or painter, I am perfectly happy to have YOU pay that, either for your personal affairs or via a tin cup to support that kind of spending for OUSD. What I don’t see is anyone talking that talk walking that walk. Are you?

    Remember, OUSD is funded by involuntary payment of taxes. Taxes that are collected on the basis of the policing power of our government. Policing power means they can use the equivalent of guns to force these payments. When you collect money by these means, you have an obligation to a higher level of fiduciary responsibility.

    If a charity spent money like that would we give voluntarily to such wasteful organizations? Why should we have OUSD doing that with our involuntary contributions?

    I have no problem with taxes paying for OUSD. What I object to is the wasting of money. Paying gardeners more than teachers is wasting money.

    This fall OUSD will demand yet another layer of taxation to support them based on window dressing hogwash (Linked Learning). I will use your words to oppose any new money for OUSD: if they stop wasting the money they already have, they won’t need this extra tax on us.

  16. OaklandNative

    By the way, has any of the mayoral candidates commented on this lawsuit?

  17. andrew berg

    It is incumbent upon the people of Oakland to ensure that the tech and Finance communities cannot establish the same kinds of footholds in Oakland that they have in SF. Nobody benefits from the these industries except for the very narrow group of people from privileged backgrounds who these industries bring with them or import. We need a mayor who will save public land from privatization, direct the sale of commercial properties to manufacturing rather than software and require all new companies coming in to oakland to employ at least 50 % of current residents at every pay level in the company.

  18. A

    Comrade Andrew,

    You’re wrong. These companies bring money into Oakland both from direct and indirect taxes. I’m sorry if you can’t see that.

    Who wants to set up manufacturing in CA much less Oakland if the costs to do business is so high? Do you know why manufacturing has left CA much less the U.S.? So your plan is to now zone primed real estate to an dying industry in the state instead of a growing one?

    Also, companies/business that want to compete in the global market will not go to a place that has these artificial constraints were they can only pool from a certain region just to make everyone feel good. So again, your policies will keep Oakland the way it was.

  19. OaklandNative

    But A,

    Why do I want to make Oakland more attractive to outside businesses if I will be displaced? Look at the Google protesters and the the anti-tech protesters in SF?

  20. R2D2II

    “We need a mayor who will save public land from privatization, direct the sale of commercial properties to manufacturing rather than software and require all new companies coming in to oakland to employ at least 50 % of current residents at every pay level in the company.”

    Remark is a pretty big disconnect from any knowledge of governance in Oakland or elsewhere. Knowing how government actually works is a big step towards bring real change.

    Specifically such policies belong to the Council rather than the Mayor. Mayor administrates (performs) policies Council devises. Even if all suggested policies were good ideas, all are politically/practically infeasible. And even if such were feasible, Oakland needs a government which 1. has a vision about a future to work toward and 2. has the grey matter to actually do things which move towards that vision. Which we ain’t got at present.

    Gots to do: learn about how government generally, and specifically in Oakland, works (or doesn’t work). Think carefully about who you vote for if you do vote. Oakland tends to keep voting for the same people again and again. Maybe this has something with why things don’t seem to get better.


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