7 Days  

Those who can't do, teach; those disgraced in LA move north; those who can't win, run anyway; those who get Jerry, get a park.

Learning curve: It was with a certain glee that we read in the Chronicle last week that Oakland schools superintendent Dennis Chaconas -- the same Chaconas who presided over an $82 million budget deficit, provoked the largest bailout of any district in California history, and effectively ended democracy in the Oakland schools -- is now teaching a Mills College education department course on fiscal and business services. Employing the awesome investigative arsenal at our disposal, we have procured for you, dear reader, the latest in our ongoing series of nonexistent testimonials of powerful East Bay officials. Herewith we present the imaginary syllabus for Dennis Chaconas' class, "Six Steps to Scholastic Solvency."

Week one: Harness your synergy. You have mounting evidence that enrollment is dropping, threatening to suck millions in state money out of the district and defund some of your most prized education reforms. You've also got an army of accounting bureaucrats who are too busy sitting on their butts to notice. Why not let one problem take care of the other?

Week Two: Arbitrage Responsibility. When first-grade reading comprehension scores rise for the first time in decades, step into center stage and wait for the accolades. When new accounting software reveals millions of dollars in hidden debt, fob it off to the latest retiree from the Office of Business Services. The game is simple: buy low, sell high.

Week Three: Maximize Shareholder Value. Your students' parents are clamoring for academic improvement, but if you try to explain the budget to them, their representatives on the school board will start stitching you a golden parachute. Not to worry: Short-term gain works wonders in the court of public opinion. If you break the bank on a 24 percent teacher raise, not only will student test scores rise, but the margin call can always be rolled over to the next generation. Just ask George W. Bush!

Week Four: Accounting can be fun! Just as public companies can bury their stock option packages in the footnotes of their annual report, so too can you gloss over certain unforeseen expenses. For example, say you've improved the work atmosphere so thoroughly that credentialed teachers replace subs by the hundreds. Sure, they're coming with heftier salaries and benefits that cost you an additional $10,000 per teacher, but it's not like taxpayers are paying you to pay attention to things like that. What are you, a public servant?

Week five: Stave off the leveraged buyout. As state regulators sniff around your operation and start talking bailout, a good public-relations arm is critical to saving your ass. So here are a few helpful hints. Start attending Sunday services at Allen Temple -- in fact, go to every church in town. Get the activists at Oakland Community Organizations to ambush Don Perata at community meetings. Make friends with Paul Cobb. Above all, remember one thing: "Local control" is Latin for "keeping your job."

Week six: Bricks and clicks. When the jig is up, and a mob of outraged parents and teachers starts throwing bricks through your office windows, just click on the 911 page of the Oakland Police Department Web site. Then barricade yourself in the boiler room underneath the district headquarters. The firewalls down there are virtually impenetrable. -- Chris Thompson

And the spoils go to ... : Now that we've had our fun with Chaconas, let's take a look at two of his potential replacements. Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown has reportedly been working behind the scenes to dictate who takes over the school district after Chaconas, and the shortlist of candidates for superintendent includes two very interesting and controversial figures: Kathryn Downing and Deborah McGriff.

Media watchers may remember Downing's adventures in Southern California, where she served as publisher and president of the Los Angeles Times in the late '90s. The Times, of course, is of one of the country's most prestigious newspapers, but by the time Downing got through with it, the paper was mired in scandal.

In 1999, the Times entered into a partnership with the Staples Center, the ultra-modern sports and entertainment center and new home of the LA Lakers, in which the paper split advertising revenue with the center in return for, well, a little proactive journalism. Specifically, the Times assigned a team of reporters to collaborate on a 168-page magazine supplement touting the center's many splendors, but neglected to mention that the paper had a formal business partnership with the center. When the paper's staff learned how they'd been used, they revolted in well-publicized indignation and forced Downing to apologize, both in person and in writing, for overseeing the scandal. Now that she may get her hands on the Oakland school district, we can't wait to find out what new "partnerships" she may have in store for the city's students.

As for Deborah McGriff, she put herself on the map for serving as senior flack for Edison Schools, the company that has led the charge to privatize public schools throughout the country. This is hardly the first time Brown has flirted with Edison; three years ago, the company came sniffing around Oakland, and Brown's proxy school trustee Paul Cobb led the charge to consider privatizing part of the district. In fact, Brown's proxies have been only too happy to carry his water; Brown appointee Harold Pendergrass threw the Oakland school board into an uproar by trying to get the district to blow $2 million on a new generation of untested math instruction software -- which just happened to have been developed by ex-con and Brown buddy Michael Milken. Jerry makes the most interesting friends. -- Chris Thompson

Hell no, Wilma won't go: Would-be state Senate candidate Dion Aroner is a won't-be after all. Sources close to the former Assemblywoman recently sent a letter announcing her decision not to run. Aroner's decision isn't a surprise after the attorney general resurrected incumbent Don Perata from his term-limited grave last month by issuing a favorable legal opinion.

What is a surprise is that Wilma Chan still has her foot on the gas pedal, ready to run the Don off the road. Chan, the Assembly majority leader (which 7 Days knows because her receptionist answers the phone, "Majority Leader Chan's office," not that she's into titles or anything), has been brandishing her own legal opinion from the state legislative counsel. And according to Chan's piece of paper, the Don can't run.

It's sorta puzzling that Wilma, who isn't termed out of the Assembly until '06, wouldn't just wait for Perata to finish his turn. Presumably, the big man's gonna run for mayor of Oakland after Jerry's electoral moon gets eclipsed in 2006. Should Perata become mayor, then Wilma would be the instant front-runner in a special election for the job.

Chan-chistas justify her apparent hubris by posing the following worst-case scenario: Scared by Perata, no other Democrat bothers to enter the race by the candidate filing deadline. Then someone -- perhaps from another party -- sues to block the incumbent from running again because they argue the incumbent's time is up, he's termed out. A judge agrees and disqualifies Perata, leaving no Democrat in the race except for maybe a Kool-Aid-sipping Larouchie. "That," shudders one Chan-friendly Dem, "would be a friggin' disaster."

(Memo to Audie Bock: Don't get any crazy ideas, 'kay?) -- Will Harper

I think I can: Unfortunately, the squeaky wheel that gets the grease often gets it by hiring a flak. But sometimes the deserving little guy gets the grease too. That'd be the folks behind Oakland's long-delayed Bella Vista Park construction ("The Little Park That Couldn't," Cityside, April 30). After years of ridiculous bureaucratic tangles, the San Antonio district neighbors and the Trust for Public Land -- the national nonprofit that helped them raise $1.7 million to turn 1.6 acres of aging community asphalt into something nice -- scored a sit-down May 5 with Mayor Jerry Brown, key city bureaucrats, and Local 21, an engineers union that had threatened to sue the city if Public Works signed a construction contract with a nonprofit such as TPL.

Two important things happened at that meeting. First, Local 21 agreed to withdraw its grievance. And second, Jerry told his gang to get the lead out: "He basically said, 'Get things moving,' and things have started to move," says Deborah Schoenbaum, director of urban programs for the Trust for Public Land. "The mayor's office does see TPL as a value to the city, and that's very positive."

According to Schoenbaum, the nonprofit has since received a new draft contract from Public Works, and lawyers from both parties are meeting to flesh out the details. "This is a lot better than all the sitting around and waiting," she says. -- Michael Mechanic

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