Friday, August 17, 2018

More Allegations of Embezzlement at Oakland's BayTech Charter School

The school district is investigating "questionable credit card charges" for expensive meals, cruises, and Disney tickets.

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 11:55 AM

BAYTECHSCHOOL.ORG
  • BayTechSchool.org

OUSD officials are investigating numerous questionable purchases made using the Bay Area Technology School's credit card, according to a notice of concern sent by the district to the charter school.

The newly revealed allegations are part of a broader investigation by OUSD into financial mismanagement at the school and include accusations by BayTech's three current board members against the school's former principal that he fraudulently altered his employment contract. The former principal, Hayri Hatipoglu, has accused the school's board of defaming him.

The review of the school's credit card spending was revealed in a July 12 notice of concern sent by OUSD's charter schools oversight office to BayTech's leaders. The district also wrote that BayTech has a system of "inadequate financial checks and balances."

OUSD flagged purchases from Netflix, Amazon, and numerous expensive restaurant bills as cause for concern. It's unclear if the purchases had any legitimate educational purpose.

The district also found $6,800 in payments to Commodore Cruises and Events, an Alameda-based cruise ship operator. BayTech's credit card was also used to purchase $2,919 in Disneyland tickets. The school paid for hotels and plane tickets for staff to travel to Southern California, Arizona, Utah, and Texas.

Copies of BayTech's credit card statements from 2016 and 2017 obtained by the Express through a California Public Records Act request show that the school paid $2,655 to an upscale Oakland pizzeria over a two-year period. The school's Wells Fargo credit card was also used to pay for six separate meals at Scott's Seafood in Oakland costing a total of $4,453.

Last year, the school's credit card was used to buy $32,698 in Apple electronics. According to former school staff who spoke with the Express on the condition of anonymity, some Apple products were given to staff as thank-you gifts and not used for official school purposes.

The district is currently investigating the school for financial mismanagement, and BayTech's board has also hired an independent firm, Oracle Investigations, to review allegations of embezzlement and fraud.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Oakland Unified May Eliminate Nearly 340 Positions in One Year to Stay Fiscally Solvent

Layoff decisions must be made by Feb. 28. Possible cuts include classroom teachers.

by Theresa Harrington
Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 3:57 PM

The Oakland school board deliberates during Aug. 8, 2018 meeting. - THERESA HARRINGTON FOR EDSOURCE
  • Theresa Harrington for EdSource
  • The Oakland school board deliberates during Aug. 8, 2018 meeting.

As it grapples with how to deal with its ongoing budget difficulties, one of the state’s more financially troubled districts Wednesday considered a plan that could result in hundreds of staff, including many teachers, being laid off.

Oakland Unified, which is still digging its way out of state receivership imposed on it 15 years ago, is facing continued financial challenges. This is despite getting a major infusion of state funds in recent years intended to help educate low income and other high needs children through the Local Control Funding Formula. The district has also lost a significant number of students to charter schools and has been criticized for budget mismanagement by independent and county officials.

As a result, the district anticipates deficits of $20.3 million in 2019-20 and $59 million in 2020-21 if it doesn’t make $30 million in ongoing cuts a year from now.

In the next few months, Oakland Unified officials will meet with employee unions to identify up to 340 positions that could be eliminated in 2019-20 to balance the district’s budget.

The Oakland school board on Wednesday unanimously agreed to revise the district’s three-year budget to reflect these possible upcoming cuts after the Alameda County Office of Education rejected the budget adopted by the board in June. That budget showed nearly $30 million in budget reductions in in books and supplies in 2019-20 and 2020-21, resulting in negative balances of $10 million in those categories for two years in a row.

The county nixed that plan, saying it was not acceptable because it did not comply with the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan, which requires Oakland Unified to provide adequate books and materials to students and teachers. To remedy the problem, the district decided to spread the $30 million per year over two years across salaries, benefits, supplies and contracts, based on a separate “commitment to fiscal solvency” resolution the board unanimously approved Wednesday.

It says the district projects it will have negative fund balances of $20.3 million and $59 million respectively each of those two years, so it should consider eliminating at least 234 certificated positions which include teachers and principals and 104 classified, management and confidential positions beginning in 2019-20 to save about $26.4 million. The job cuts must be identified by Feb. 28, along with $400,000 in cuts to books and supplies and $3.5 million in cuts to services and operating expenses. The resolution also requires the board to increase the district’s reserve from the minimum 2 percent to 3 percent “given the district’s history of budget and fiscal miscalculations,” to address “unforeseen budgetary increases.”

Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said during the meeting that the county required more detail from the district because of its past failure to implement needed cuts.

“This is truly the county and the state leaning in more, saying, ‘We expect you to make these reductions as a district that you haven’t in the past,’” she said. “In the past, just saying, ‘We’re going to make the reductions’ would have been good enough. Now, the county is saying, ‘You need to be more prescriptive over where you may make these reductions, so we as a county have more comfort that you are going to make these reductions.’”

The resolution is tentative because the board has not yet identified the specific cuts it will implement to eliminate its deficit, said Marcus Battle, the district’s recently-hired chief business official. It intends to work with unions to identify possible alternatives to layoffs by Jan. 31, according to the resolution. The cuts suggested in the resolution were an example of what the district needs to do if it doesn’t identify other expense reductions or new revenue sources, he said. Battle also noted that the county required the district to identify its cuts by February, in time for layoff notices to be mailed out in March.

Although no union representatives addressed the resolution or revised budget, one teacher noted later in the meeting that the union is at impasse and there is talk of a strike. Although school starts Monday, the district is still trying to fill 29 teacher vacancies, including 19 in special education, Johnson-Trammell said.

Oakland has a history of miscalculating its budget and spending money without proper internal controls, which has been documented in several independent reports by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance organization, or FCMAT, as well as the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury. It is currently paying back a $100 million state loan due to past fiscal distress and is working to address the issues raised by FCMAT and the grand jury.

Johnson-Trammel said this will include “learning from the past,” and changing district culture so that policy changes are implemented effectively.

“We’ve created new policies in the past,” she said. “But sometimes they aren’t always implemented. We need to focus on training.”

The Wednesday board action was required after the county rejected the district’s budget for the 2019-20 school year. “Previously, we did not have to state the details,” Battle said. “We just said the reductions could come from salary, benefits, books, supplies, other line items of expense. But the county requested more specificity.”

Board member Shanthi Gonzales expressed concerns that the resolution “does definitely signal that we expect to be reducing staffing next year.”

She also asked how the majority of reductions ended up in books and supplies, which she had not seen in the budget when the board adopted it in June. Battle struggled to explain this, saying the district’s computer system should have flagged large negative balances in that expense category as an “error.”

“This particular error should have been caught, to be honest with you,” he said, adding that the district’s finance department is being restructured, but currently lacks proper checks and balances to catch such problems.

Gonzalez asked that future budget presentations show three-year trends so board members can see the shifts they are approving.

“Yes,” Battle said. “We are going to get the type of information you want to see early so you can see the trends.”

Two district residents said the budget process lacks transparency.

Mohammed Mordecai, a citizen watchdog who routinely comments on agenda items, said the resolution passed by the board on Wednesday night gives the appearance of a commitment, but was “written in such a way that there is no commitment.”

Mike Hutchinson, who graduated from Oakland public schools and ran unsuccessfully for the school board two years ago, said it was premature for the district to focus on staff cuts.

“It seems all these cuts are going to fall right on the backs of our employees, when we don’t have the minimum staff to run the district,” he said, adding that he believed contracts with outside consultants should be cut. “The problem was, when you voted on the last budget, there were no budget breakdowns at all…We have to do business a different way, otherwise this is going to keep happening.”

Board President Aimee Eng said the board has created a special committee to identify budget reductions that will begin meeting later this month.

The board also learned that the governor’s final budget will force Oakland Unified to cut another $2.2 million from its 2018-19 budget, due to lower-than-anticipated one-time funds. Although the governor’s budget increased the cost of living adjustment for school districts from 3 percent to 3.71 percent, it reduced one-time funding from $344 per student to $184 per student, resulting in a net loss of $2.2 million for the district, said Ofelia Roxas, the district’s newly-hired chief financial officer. This change will be reflected in the board’s September budget presentation.

Several board members called the budget picture “sobering,” but a few pointed out that the district is also exploring options for selling or leasing surplus property, which could help ease its fiscal stress.

“We’re sitting on the most sought-after asset in Oakland, which is land,” said board member Roseann Torres.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a continuing series on how the West Contra Costa and Oakland Unified school districts are responding to California’s new accountability system.

This story was originally published by EdSource.org.

Bicycle Advocates Decry Arrest of Najari “Naj” Smith

After the arrest of the popular Richmond bicycle advocate at Oakland’s First Friday, supporters organize ‘Biking While Black.’

by John Geluardi
Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 12:29 PM

Najari “Naj” Smith was leading a group of about 40 young riders when he was arrested by Oakland police.
  • Najari “Naj” Smith was leading a group of about 40 young riders when he was arrested by Oakland police.

When a popular youth organizer and bicycle advocate was arrested by an Oakland police officer during the group’s regular First Friday bicycle ride, news spread rapidly through Richmond, causing at first concern and then outrage.

Najari “Naj” Smith spent the first weekend in August in jail after being arrested during a regular group bicycle ride in Oakland that included three bicycle organizations that have primarily African American members. The arresting officer charged Smith with creating excessive noise.

Smith is a member of the Richmond Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the founder and executive director of Rich City Rides, a nonprofit bicycle organization that teaches young people bicycle mechanics, gives them opportunities to work for their own bicycles, and offers guidance on healthy lifestyles and positive social interactions through group bike rides, public path maintenance, and civic advocacy on transportation issues.

“Naj is a well-known and well-respected person in Richmond,” said Mayor Tom Butt, who plans to contact Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf about the arrest once he learns more about the circumstances. “It looks like this is a case of ‘Bicycling While Black.’”

Rich City Rides has organized an event on Aug. 31 in support of Smith called “Biking While Black.” Smith is scheduled for a court appearance on the same day. There is also a petition being circulated calling for the charges against him to be dropped.

Richmond Councilmember Melvin Willis said he intends to participate in the Aug. 31 event to call for justice. “This is something the entire Oakland City Council needs to take a stand on,” he said.

At the Aug. 3 bicycle ride, participants formed a “bonding and healing circle,” a tradition started by the bicycle organization Red, Bike and Green in 2008.

Smith said that during the circle ritual, an Oakland police officer broke through the line and stopped Smith, without any warning, by grabbing the handlebars of his bicycle. The officer said he was being detained for excessive noise coming from the stereo trailing on a small cart behind Smith’s bicycle. Smith said he immediately complied with the officer’s request and turned off the stereo. The officer then ordered Smith to stay put and momentarily walked away.

Smith, who was leading a group of about 40 young riders, thought the officer was going to write a citation, but when he returned, he put Smith in handcuffs, confiscated his bicycle and stereo equipment, and took Smith away to spend the weekend at Santa Rita Jail. Smith made the $5,000 bail two days later and has a court date set for Aug. 31 on charges of creating excessive noise.

“I cooperated with the officer as much as possible,” Smith said. “Everyone in the group was upset and I was trying to put the best example forward. There is a lot of tension with the Oakland Police Department and I didn’t want the arrest to turn into a mess.”

Oakland Police Department spokesperson Felicia Aisthrope said Smith was detained for interfering with traffic and playing music too loudly, and that he did not have proper identification. Aisthrope added that the department has reached out to East Bay bicycle organizations in order to start a constructive conversation about the circumstances of Smith’s arrest. “It is important that our community concerns be heard, and that discussions and future solutions be shared,” she wrote in an email.

Oakland attorney Walter Riley is representing Smith pro bono. Riley said the police department’s claims are insufficient. He said the Oakland Police Department is well aware of these bicycle organizations and their emphasis on creating positive interactions with the community. Furthermore, Riley said the police showed poor judgment in arresting Smith, who was leading a large group of young people.

He added that Smith, 39, has never had any contact with police or the justice system before this incident and that Smith has devoted his life to making healthy changes in the lives of young people. He also pointed out that Oakland police officers disproportionally stop African Americans.

“This is not a case of an individual racist officer,” Riley said. “This is the police department as a whole. No matter how well intended you are there’s something in this system that wants to bring you down.”

Friday, August 10, 2018

Oakland's BayTech Charter School Violated Multiple State Laws

School administrators forced students to buy uniforms, graduation caps and gowns, and made parents buy tickets to attend ceremonies. BayTech's board also repeatedly violated the Brown Act.

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Aug 10, 2018 at 12:51 PM

BAY AREA TECHNOLOGY SCHOOL
  • Bay Area Technology School

The Bay Area Technology School violated state education laws when it required students and their families to purchase uniforms, graduation tickets, and caps and gowns, according to the Oakland Unified School District. All students were made to purchase uniforms from the Oakland charter school only, a violation of the education code.

Graduating 8th and 12th graders were made to purchase caps and gowns from the school, and their family members were required to buy $10 tickets to attend the ceremony.

These practices went on for several years, according to school staff who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. BayTech even warned parents on its website that students would only be allowed to wear BayTech branded jackets, sweaters, and shirts, and that students could face discipline if they didn't don the clothing.

The proceeds BayTech collected from these illegal activities amounted to thousands of dollars, said several sources. It's unclear what the school's administration did with the money.

OUSD authorities ordered BayTech to put a stop to these practices on June 8, according to a notice of concern sent to the charter school's board and interim co-principals by Leslie Jimenez, OUSD's charter school coordinator.

In a separate notice of concern sent a week earlier, OUSD officials warned BayTech leaders that they repeatedly violated California's Brown Act, which requires that charter schools provide public access to meetings because they receive public funding.

According to OUSD, BayTech's board convened meetings in February that were essentially secret because no notices or agendas were posted to inform the public.

The school board also convened meetings via email without notifying the public. The purpose of one of these online meetings was to recruit a new board member. The potential replacement was a Richmond resident originally from Turkey.

In March, BayTech's school board failed to post agendas for two separate board meetings on BayTech's website. And in May, the board posted an incorrect date for a board meeting and then issued an agenda after a mandatory deadline, thereby hampering the public's ability to participate.

Furthermore, OUSD found that three of the school's board members withheld documents from two board members. The recent notice of concern sent by OUSD to BayTech didn't identify which board members were prevented from accessing the records, or what specifically the records pertained to.

The numerous financial and transparency violations came to light after OUSD announced that it was investigating BayTech for mismanagement.

The district's investigation was initiated after BayTech's principal, Hayri Hatipolgu, suddenly resigned at the end of the past school year. Several other senior staff also quit the school, and two board members, Alretta Tolbert and Gina Miller resigned, as well. The sudden departure of the board members and staff have thrown the school into chaos.

The three remaining board members, Fatih Dagdelen, Kairat Sabyrov, and Volkan Ulukoylu, are now accusing Hatipoglu of defrauding the school by surreptitiously changing his employment contract to give himself a three-year payout worth hundreds of thousands of dollars if he resigned, instead of a six-month payout worth much less.

Hatipoglu has fired back at the three remaining board members by accusing them of being part of a "shady network" that is trying to "take over" BayTech. But since he resigned, the Express has been unable to contact Hatipoglu.

Looming over the school's management crisis is its relationship to a larger network of charter schools that were established by followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish imam who has been accused of plotting the 2016 coup against the Turkish government. Gulen resides in Pennsylvania.

BayTech's three current board members are all Turkish. When asked at the school's board meeting earlier this week if the school is linked to the Gulen movement, both Dagdelen and Ulukoylu declined to answer.

According to OUSD records, the district is reviewing BayTech's finances to see if any money was misappropriated. Hatipoglu's employment contract is also being examined to determine if the allegations against him are true.

BayTech's first day of school is August 13 and the school has hired an interim CEO to assist with reconstituting the board and getting the organization's affairs in order. OUSD is also considering appointing a board member to BayTech.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Proposal to Build a Vast BART Surveillance System to Be Decided at Suburban 'East of the Hills' Board Meeting Next Month

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 5:00 PM

img_1084.jpg

At a lengthy and sometimes confusing board meeting in Oakland today, BART's board of directors decided to delay approval of various security measures while allowing several others to move forward.

The most controversial proposal that was delayed involves building a powerful surveillance system that will use video analytic software to review digital footage from thousands of cameras on trains, in stations, and around parking lots. If approved, the multi-million dollar project would be one of the largest surveillance systems of its kind in the Bay Area, watching over several hundred thousand people who move about BART each week.

Most directors wanted to delay voting on the surveillance system in order to first bring forward a privacy policy that's been in the works for over two years. The privacy policy will create a framework for evaluating potential surveillance technologies and establish rules to protect people's civil liberties.

But other board members were more concerned about giving suburban communities a greater voice about whether to move ahead with the project, especially since most members of the public who spoke at today's Oakland meeting were strongly opposed.

The district already has over 4,500 cameras, most of which are old analog models that don't easily lend themselves to being incorporated into a surveillance system that uses computer programs to automatically analyze footage.

Directors gave the go-ahead today for staff to work on a plan to replace many of these old cameras with new digital types, but the board must vote again on whether to allow spending money on the replacement project.

At the Lake Merritt Station, BART is already testing software that can, without any human assistance, identify suspicious packages or alert police when someone jumps a turnstile without paying. The district's police and administration insisted at today's meeting that they do not intend to pursue controversial capabilities like facial recognition or audio collection at this point in time, but so far they've declined to provide specific details about the capabilities of the technology being considered.

A letter sent to the BART board by several civil liberties groups yesterday criticized the proposed surveillance system as a "sweeping expansion" based on little information. The groups, including the ACLU of Northern California, Oakland Privacy, Council on American-Islamic Relations California, and Anti Police-Terror Project wrote that BART should first approve the surveillance ordinance and privacy policy before starting a debate about whether or not to move ahead with the surveillance system.

Many speakers at today's meeting accused the BART police and management of trying to "exploit" the Nia Wilson tragedy to push through the controversial surveillance project. They said increasing surveillance and policing will likely lead to the further criminalizing of people of color and the homeless.

But BART directors from suburban areas in Contra Costa and Alameda County were very supportive of the surveillance proposal and other measures to increase police presence.

"Unless I'm mistaken, there is no expectation of privacy in a public conveyance," said BART Director Joel Keller, who represents North Concord, Antioch, Pittsburg, and Bay Point. Keller said he wants action fast on the surveillance system and is frustrated at delays.

Keller said the attendees at today's board meeting were only presenting half the story. He insisted that BART should hold an evening board meeting in a suburban city to gather input from riders who will support the surveillance plan, in addition to hiring more police, cracking down on fare evasion, and banning panhandling.

"We haven't heard from the frightened riders who are reluctant to use our system," he said. "We have heard the concerns of people who live in the urban core."

Director John McPartland, who represents Castro Valley, Dublin, Pleasanton, and Hayward, echoed Keller, saying he has constituents who "don't feel safe," and that he's heard from mothers who won't let their kids right BART at anytime.

"Nia's killer wouldn't have been caught if he wasn't caught on camera," said McPartland as he pushed for an immediate approval of the surveillance system.

Debora Allen, who represents Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Pleasant Hill, and Concord, said she supports the surveillance system also, but felt it could be delayed until a privacy policy is in place. She voiced strong support for other controversial measures though, like a ban on panhandling inside the paid areas of stations. She said she's always approached by people begging for money in Oakland when she leaves board meetings for her home in suburban Contra Costa.

Allen also took opportunity to defend the BART police. "The whole attacking of the police force saddens me," she said.

The board voted to convene a special evening meeting next month somewhere "east of the hills" in a suburb where the surveillance system can be discussed further and possibly voted on.

The board plans to receive and vote on a final draft of the surveillance technology and privacy ordinance at its next regular board meeting, likely after the suburban forum.

Monday, August 6, 2018

BART Is Planning a System-Wide Surveillance Network

The technology will use 'video analytics' to pinpoint crime and alert cops.

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Aug 6, 2018 at 4:12 PM

ALPR cameras the BART police installed in the MacArthur Station Parking Garage. - DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Darwin BondGraham
  • ALPR cameras the BART police installed in the MacArthur Station Parking Garage.

Following several high-profile crimes in recent weeks, including the horrific killing of Nia Wilson, the Bay Area Rapid Transit district is under intense pressure to ensure passenger safety.

In response, BART officials have revealed preexisting plans to build out a massive surveillance system that would closely monitor all of the district's stations, trains, and other property.

The district's general manager and police want to upgrade BART's 1,500 existing analog video cameras to a digital format, which would then be linked to computers that analyze video feeds in real time to detect possible criminal activity. The computers would then automatically notify officers to respond to the scenes of crimes and other disturbances.

The proposal is mentioned in a report that will be heard at this Thursday's meeting of the BART board of directors. But the proposal isn't really new. BART officials said they've been testing various powerful surveillance technologies since long before Wilson's death and other recent violent incidents.

According to an "Executive Decision Document" prepared by BART General Manager Grace Crunican in advance of this Thursday's board meeting, the district's Physical Security Information System, or PSIM, was "originally designed to monitor physical alarms and fixed sensors," but it can be "enhanced to include cutting edge video analytics to generate automated alerts based on defined criteria and BART Police Response Plans."

The cost of rolling out the system-wide PSIM network would be about $4.9 million, plus an additional $1.3 million for personnel to operate it. But first, BART would need to spend $15 million to upgrade all of its security cameras to digital format.

BART records show that a test project of the PSIM is already "in process" at the Lake Merritt Station. Lake Merritt was chosen due to its proximity to BART's existing data center and police station.

The test project at Lake Merritt doesn't require approval by the BART board, but an expansion of the surveillance system throughout the rest of BART's stations would require board hearings and a vote, according to BART records.

Surveillance video analytics are computer programs that review footage without human assistance and automatically flag incidents and create alerts. Thousands of hours of recordings can also be searched using queries through a search engine interface. For example, police can search videos for people wearing certain colors of clothing and other visible features. Some video analytics software can include highly controversial features like facial recognition, in which computers use biometrics to identify and track people.

BART spokesperson Jim Allison told the Express that the technologies being tested at Lake Merritt Station do not include facial recognition. "We are not currently considering any audio or phone tracking technology," he added.

BART is testing a feature that can automatically flag fare evasion and alert police officers, however.

"The testing began at Lake Merritt Station well before the Nia Wilson murder," Allison wrote in an email. He said BART can't provide details on how many cameras are in use and what specific types of video analytics are being tested.

BART has long sought to use technologies to secure its trains and stations, but this hasn't necessarily made the system safer, and many worry about the loss of privacy and civil liberties, or fear surveillance tools could be used in harmful ways.

For example, in 2011 BART turned off cell phone services at a downtown San Francisco station in order to thwart a planned protest against its police department. Earlier that year, a BART officer shot and killed Charles Blair Hill in the same station.

In 2014, BART started urging passengers to download and use a security reporting app, but many passengers used the cell phone app to report Black people and homeless people.

Two years ago, BART quietly installed automated license plate reader cameras at its stations, and according to records obtained by the researcher Mike Katz-Lacabe, the cameras have been sending license plate data to the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center since January 2017. Federal immigration agents have access to NCRIC data.

BART's growing surveillance system has been likened by some to the Domain Awareness Center, a now defunct proposal from the city of Oakland that would have tied together cameras and other sensors throughout the city and fed this information into a central police monitoring station.

Brian Hofer, the chair of the city of Oakland's privacy commission and a member of the group Oakland Privacy, said there are many ways to make BART safer that don't necessarily involve mass surveillance.

"Hastily made decisions often have negative consequences," said Hofer. "BART has in the past ran trials with video analytics, and discontinued such trials because the benefits didn't outweigh the costs. BART's Board should not approve the PSIM proposal or the Lake Merritt analytics trial without a careful vetting of the impact of such projects."

Hofer said Oakland Privacy and other civil liberties groups have been working with BART to draft rules that would govern the acquisition and use of powerful surveillance technologies, but the board hasn't voted on the ordinance yet.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Oakland Mayor Schaaf Sitting on $315,000 in Campaign Cash Heading Into November Elections

D6 candidate Loren Taylor raised 3.5 times more than incumbent Desley Brooks.

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Aug 1, 2018 at 9:48 AM

FILE PHOTO BY D. ROSS CAMERON
  • File Photo by D. Ross Cameron
Last night was the deadline for candidates running for Oakland mayor, city council, and other offices to file disclosure statements showing how much money they've raised in the past six months. Here are the candidates by the numbers.

Mayor

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was able to raise $116,739 so far this year and she has about $315,000 in cash in her committee account to pay for her re-election campaign. No other candidate has close to that amount of funds, and the mayor is also benefitting from her high-profile feud with the Trump administration.

Cat Brooks is considered a top contender in the mayor's race. Brooks was able to raise $49,932 over the same span of time.

But it was actually Saied Karamooz who raised the most money. His $181,000 came in the form of a self-loan, however. Karamooz reported no contributions from any other source.

Marchon Tatmon was the only other candidate in the field of 16 who are running for mayor who reported raising money. He received $7,409 in contributions.

District 4

In the city's hotly contested District 4 race, one of the frontrunners dropped out. Chris Young was fast outpacing his rivals in terms of fundraising, with $113,207 contributed to his campaign this year. But he cited personal reasons when he declared the end to his campaign last week.

The Express previously reported that Young claimed to be the in-house attorney for GoFundMe even though his status with the state bar was "ineligible" to practice law due to a failure to pay his bar fees and complete mandatory legal education. Schaaf and outgoing D4 Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington both endorsed Young before he quit the race.

Among the candidates still in the race (there are 11), only five others reported raising money. Charlie Michelson led the group with $47,330, followed by Nayeli Maxson, Joseph Tanios, Sheng Thao, and Joseph Simmons.

District 6

In District 6, several candidates are trying to unseat Councilmember Desley Brooks.

Brooks raised $33,497 so far this year and has $57,353 in cash in her account.

Loren Taylor, who has Schaaf's endorsement, outpaced Brooks in fundraising. He reported receiving $119,476, or three and a half times more than Brooks. Some of his contributors include Schaaf's longtime supporters.

Natasha Middleton and Marlo Rodriguez reported raising $28,900 and $20,630, respectively.

District 2

Abel Guillen is facing two opponents this November. The incumbent councilmember reported $97,342 in contributions since January 1, including support from Schaaf and several real estate developers who are building large housing and hotel projects in his district.

Nikki Bas raised $36,934. Many of her contributions are from nonprofit staffers, activists, and others who have been critical of Oakland's development politics and gentrification.

Carlos "Kenzie" Smith, who was the target of the woman known as BBQ Becky, did not report raising money in the past six months. He launched his campaign after being approached by many in the community who are concerned about rising anti-Black racism and gentrification.

While money isn't everything, it's also virtually impossible for a candidate without considerable funds to successfully run in Oakland.

But at the same time, the candidate with the most money doesn't always win. Incumbency counts for a lot. In 2016, At-Large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan beat challenger Peggy Moore (who had Schaaf's support), even though Moore raised $316,000 to Kaplan's $169,000.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Courtney Ruby Returns to Run for Oakland Auditor

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Jul 27, 2018 at 4:13 PM

Courtney Ruby
  • Courtney Ruby
Oakland's former city auditor, Courtney Ruby, is returning to challenge current City Auditor Brenda Roberts in this November's election.

Ruby said her decision is very much in response to Roberts' track record of producing few impactful audits over the past four years.

"The oversight function hasn’t been well served," said Ruby, who is currently the director of administration and facilities at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

"This is a really critical time when we don’t want to squander our resources. We need an effective oversight function," she said.

Ruby was city auditor from 2007 to 2014 and unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2014. Under her leadership the auditor's office carried out several major investigations, including an examination of the city's Fox Theater renovation project, interference in administrative affairs by city councilmembers, and mismanagement of the public works agency.

According to an investigation by reporter Gabrielle Canon, morale in the auditor's office plummeted under Roberts, as did productivity. Several of Roberts' former employees have become outspoken critics.

A phone call and email to Roberts' campaign committee treasurer Carlos Hickerson wasn't immediately returned. But Roberts has defended her record and told the Express last year that she has several important audits currently underway, which have yet to be released. One of them, a review of the city's 911 system, was issued in November 2017.

Native Americans Push Schools to Include Their Story in California History Classes

“Our story has never been present. It’s often sidestepped because it’s inconvenient. But it’s the truth, and students should learn it.”

by Carolyn Jones of EdSource
Fri, Jul 27, 2018 at 10:07 AM

Native American teachers and activists meet regularly to create K-12 curriculum about California's indigenous inhabitants. - COURTESY OF SACRAMENTO STATE UNIVERSITY
  • Courtesy of Sacramento State University
  • Native American teachers and activists meet regularly to create K-12 curriculum about California's indigenous inhabitants.

For decades, California 4th-graders have studied the Golden State: its geography, people and history. Now, historians and Native American teachers are pushing to broaden that curriculum to include more on the culture and history of the state’s original inhabitants.

“For so many years, the story of California Indians has never really been part of classrooms,” said Rose Borunda, an education professor at Sacramento State University and a coordinator of the California Indian History Curriculum Coalition. “Our story has never been present. It’s often sidestepped because it’s inconvenient. But it’s the truth, and students should learn it.”

Borunda, who is Native American, and her colleagues are working to educate teachers statewide on the history of California’s indigenous people, who were among the most populous and diverse Native Americans in North America. Their curriculum would complement the state’s History-Social Science framework, which was updated two years ago.

The changes are part of a broader effort to expand Native California curriculum in the state’s K-12 schools. In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 738, which requires the state’s Instructional Quality Commission — which advises the State Board of Education on curriculum — to create a Native American studies class curriculum for high schools that will satisfy the elective course requirements for admission to the University of California and California State University. Earlier this year, Brown signed AB 2016, which creates an elective high school ethnic studies course that could also include Native American history and culture. The State Board of Education is required to adopt the ethnic studies curriculum by March 2020.

The story of Native Californians begins at least 10,000 years ago when people first began settling along the West Coast. Before the arrival of Spanish colonists in the 1700s, Native Californians numbered more than 300,000 and lived more than 200 tribes, dwelling in almost every part of the state. Because tribes in California were geographically isolated from the rest of the continent, many tribes had no contact with Native Americans outside California, and some tribes — especially those in remote areas — were among the last in North America to encounter Europeans.

All California public school students, for at least 50 years, have spent time during 4th grade learning the state’s history, with a focus on the Spanish missions — the 21 outposts established by Father Junipero Serra, soldiers and settlers in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Students created missions out of sugar cubes and popsicle sticks, visited missions and sometimes learned a version of the mission story that emphasized the Spanish perspective, rather than that of native people.

While the missions marked the beginning of colonization in California, they were also the beginning of the end for most tribes, as thousands were enslaved by missionaries, killed by settlers over the next few decades or died of diseases introduced by Europeans. Within 70 years of the Spanish arrival, the native population dropped to fewer than 70,000, according to the state’s Native American Heritage Commission.

In 2016, when the state updated its History-Social Studies framework, the mission chapter was broadened to include more information about Native Californians, how they lived before colonization and how they were affected by the arrival of settlers. Now, missions are taught as “sites of conflict, conquest and forced labor,” according to the standards. “It is clear that even though missionaries brought agriculture, the Spanish language and culture, and Christianity to the native population, American Indians suffered in many California missions.”

The standards now emphasize broader themes in the mission era, such as immigration and how cultures change when they come together and colonization’s impact on the environment, such as the introduction of farming, livestock and invasive species.

“We changed it because it was the right thing to do,” said Nancy McTygue, executive director of the California History-Social Science Project at UC Davis, which oversaw the framework revisions.

“It’s better history teaching. It’s more responsible. Whatever the topic, we wanted students to have a more nuanced understanding of the past, so they can make more informed interpretations.”

Attempts to bring more native perspectives to public school history curriculum began with the Native American rights movement of the 1970s, said Gregg Castro, a consultant on Native American site preservation and member of the California Indian History Curriculum Coalition.

Those efforts have progressed in fits and starts, he said. Some tribes have worked closely with local elementary schools for years, providing lesson plans and guest speakers to supplement the 4th-grade California history curriculum. Other schools have done less, and in fact some still teach popsicle-stick mission projects despite the framework overhaul, McTygue said.

Separately, Assemblyman Phil Ting successfully advocated for a $5 million grant in the 2017-18 state budget for the California Historical Society and McTygue’s group to create free online materials, such as original documents and photos, for K-12 teachers to implement the new history-social science framework, including the history and culture of Native Californians.

“This $5 million investment by the state will provide students and their teachers with the resources to learn about — and from — the people, places and events that have shaped California for thousands of years,” Ting said.

Around the same time the history-social studies framework was being updated, Borunda began to get involved. She became interested when the subject of Native American curriculum in general came up at a meeting of the California Indian Conference, an annual meeting of Native Californians to network and discuss issues affecting their communities.

“A man was at one of these meetings who’s a teacher. He started crying because he was told he had to teach the California mission project,” Borunda said. “It stuck with me. I thought, well, here I am, an education professor. Maybe I can change this.”

Working with her colleagues at Sacramento State, as well as tribal members, teachers and historians, Borunda began compiling free online lesson plans for elementary teachers to supplement what’s already in the framework. The coalition has also hosted several statewide teacher forums to share curriculum and strategies for teaching Native Californian history and culture.

The topic is complicated, Castro said. California tribes are as diverse as the state’s geography, so no single lesson plan fits all tribes, she said. California tribes spoke hundreds of languages and dialects and each had a culture adapted to the areas in which they lived: the desert, the mountains, the Central Valley or the coast.

But perhaps the more challenging aspect of the curriculum is teaching about the enslavement, disease and slaughter that befell native people after the Spanish arrival, McTygue and Castro said.

“It’s a difficult period in American history, and it’s especially hard to teach to 9-year-olds,” McTygue said, referring to the age of students when they study California history in 4th grade. The difficulties are in part due to a lack of materials about the pre-Spanish era, she said, and in part because of the sensitive nature of the subject matter.

Even the terminology poses challenges. For example, using the word “genocide” can be problematic, because thousands of Native Americans still live in California and have thriving cultures. “Genocide” implies that the native culture was completely erased, Castro said. In fact, California has more Native Americans — 362,801 — than any other state, according to the most recent Census data.

Focusing on the mission period can also detract from 10,000 years of Native Californian history and culture, he said. After all, there’s a lot more to native people than the colonization story, he said.

“A lot of it comes down to terminology,” he said. “Instead of using the word ‘genocide,’ you can say, ‘We were forced to work at the missions. We didn’t want to be there and we suffered for it.’ ”

Castro suggests that elementary teachers look at broad topic areas, such as salmon or fire, and incorporate multiple academic subjects into their lessons. For example, a unit on salmon would include native traditions and lore about salmon, as well as lessons on the fish biology, river ecosystems and seasons. A unit on fire would cover how native people burned fields to enrich the soil, manage vegetation to attract wildlife and prevent larger wildfires. This unit would include lessons on ecology, land management and how humans alter their environment.

“It can be done quite well, in a non-traumatizing way, without shading the truth,” he said. “Right now there is abysmal ignorance out there because people just weren’t taught about Native Californians in school. But people need to know this. They need to know what happened, that we’re still here, that there’s still things to be saved.”

This story was originally published by EdSource.org.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Protesters March to KTVU, Demand Justice and Accountability for ‘Dehumanizing’ Use of Nia Wilson Photo

“This isn’t going to be another day where you get to say you’re sorry and walk away.”

by Josh Slowiczek
Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 5:57 PM

Protesters marched through downtown Oakland chanting "Justice for Nia" as they made their way to the offices of KTVU, demanding accountability for the local news station’s use of what they called a "dehumanizing" photo. - JOSH SLOWICZEK
  • Josh Slowiczek
  • Protesters marched through downtown Oakland chanting "Justice for Nia" as they made their way to the offices of KTVU, demanding accountability for the local news station’s use of what they called a "dehumanizing" photo.

Roughly 50 protesters marched through the streets of Oakland today to demand accountability from local television news station KTVU for the airing of a photo that appeared to show Nia Wilson, the 18-year-old Black woman stabbed to death Sunday night at the MacArthur BART station, holding a gun.

It was actually a cellphone case. And for the community members, activists, and artists who rallied, the use of the photo represented a completely unacceptable act that perpetuated false and harmful stereotypes of Black Oaklanders.

“We have to send a message to Channel 2 [KTVU] and everyone else,” said Theo Williams, a concerned community member and the artistic director of SambaFunk, a local collective for African Diaspora culture. “This isn’t going to be another day where you get to say you’re sorry and walk away.”

KTVU, a Fox affiliate, aired the photo on July 23 during a noon newscast, less than 24 hours after Wilson and her sister were attacked by John Lee Cowell, a white man with a history of criminal activity and mental illness. Though police have not yet released a motive for the killing, community members say that the attack was most likely a hate crime, and that KTVU’s use of the image must be seen in the broader context of the historic and growing racism in the United States.

“It’s not just KTVU. It’s the media,” said Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks. “We have got to demand that they start treating African American communities, and people of color communities, with respect.”

Brooks, Williams, and several other prominent Black community members spoke to a growing crowd at the Alice Street Mural this morning, addressing not only the death of Wilson and KTVU’s actions, but also the structural violence that communities of color face. They also spoke of the need to respect and protect Black women.

Protesters marched to the offices of KTVU in Jack London, demanding accountability for the local news station’s use of what they called a "dehumanizing" photo. - JOSH SLOWICZEK
  • Josh Slowiczek
  • Protesters marched to the offices of KTVU in Jack London, demanding accountability for the local news station’s use of what they called a "dehumanizing" photo.

Public outrage spread quickly over social media shortly after KTVU’s noon newscast. Frank Somerville, one of the station’s anchors, quickly issued an apology for the action over social media, and then during a later evening newscast. But many at the protest saw the apology as being tepid and in poor taste.

The day after, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Bay Area Black Journalists Association, and the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education issued a press release condemning the news station.

“The use of the photo can be seen as an attempt to dismiss her [Wilson’s] humanity and silence those who view her death as a racially-motivated attack,” the press release states. “Such depictions reinforce unconscious bias, particularly against people of color, who are over-represented in stories about crime and violence.”

But some, such as Bay Area reporter JR Valrey, see the station’s use of the photo as something much worse. “This was a hate crime,” he said. “They made the victim look like an aggressor.”

This is not the first time that KTVU has come under fire for questionable content. In 2010, protesters rallied against the station for a sympathetic jailhouse interview with Johannes Mehserle, the BART officer who shot and killed Oscar Grant. Then, in 2013, the station aired four fake and racially insensitive names of Asiana Airlines pilots one day after a crash that killed three passengers and injured dozens of others at San Francisco International Airport.

Both incidents were referenced by speakers and demonstrators as further evidence that the station not only has a history of racism, but is part of a larger, systemic problem.

As protesters marched from the Alice Street Mural to the television station, they chanted “Justice for Nia Wilson,” and “What are we for? Why are we here? Nia Wilson,” to the beating of drums by members of SambaFunk. When the demonstrators arrived at KTVU’s property shortly after noon, they began chanting, chalking the entrance, and setting up an altar in memory of Wilson while they waited for Amber Eikel, the news director of KTVU, to come out and hear their demands. Wilson’s sister, Latifah, watched from a chair, surrounded by community members standing solemnly behind her.

As a helicopter from the Oakland Police Department circled overhead, protesters paid their respects at the altar. Libations, in the form of bottled water poured into small, potted plants, were also offered, as the names of Black youths taken before their time were shouted out: “Oscar Grant,” “Trayvon Martin,” and “Nia Wilson.”

Eikel did not make an appearance, but almost two hours later, Paul Chambers, one of the station’s reporters, came out of the gated parking lot with a camera crew to speak with the protesters and record their demands.

Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B. speaks with KTVU reporter Paul Chambers about the station’s use of a photo pulled from one of Nia Wilson’s social media accounts. - JOSH SLOWICZEK
  • Josh Slowiczek
  • Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B. speaks with KTVU reporter Paul Chambers about the station’s use of a photo pulled from one of Nia Wilson’s social media accounts.

There were six: demonstrate accountability by firing those responsible, create a committee of Black Oaklanders to explore how and why the photo was aired, create a policy ensuring that similar incidents never happen again, distribute the policy through various local media organizations, start a Nia Wilson scholarship fund for students at Oakland High, and develop new internships at the news station for students of color.

Local Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B., surrounded by protesters, spoke with Chambers in front of the altar, a large portrait of Wilson’s face. Delivering the demands pragmatically, he spoke of the need for respect and dignity in this moment of hardship for the Black community.

“The criminalization of us as a people has gone on for far too long, and for us to be criminalized when we’re hurting is wrong,” Mistah F.A.B. said. “For years, we’ve been fighting for civil rights. What does that mean? It means we need someone to be civil with us.”

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