Brown vs. Board of Education 

The mayor promised Oakland voters he would change the way their schools were run, and he has -- for the worse.

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"Just proceed, Mr. Cobb. Stay on point, now."

"You made a comment that she didn't interrupt anybody while they were speaking," Cobb incoherently pouted.

"You know what?" Hamill retorted. "You know what? It doesn't matter. Please, let's just keep to the issue -- "

"Oh yeah, it does matter!" Cobb said.

By then, the crowd had the taste of blood. The louder they screamed, the more pleased Cobb seemed to be with his performance.

Finally, Hamill had had enough. "Mr. Cobb," she asked in a tone worthy of Joe Welch addressing Joe McCarthy, "why are you being like that?"

Jerry Brown spent an enormous amount of political capital to be able to put Paul Cobb on the school board. Forging an alliance with state Senator Don Perata and assembling a political action committee -- the so-called "3Rs PAC," with a war chest of more than $350,000 -- Brown doggedly pushed Measure D, a March 2000 ballot measure that would empower him to appoint three additional directors to the seven-member school board and thus give the mayor unprecedented influence over the schools. Obviously enraged at a school board that had dared to defy his pick for a new superintendent, the mayor was moving to bring the schools under direct control of the most potent political machine that Oakland had seen in more than a generation. For months, the city watched in fascination as Brown not only announced his intention to remake the schools from top to bottom, but also gathered the raw power to do so.

When Brown narrowly won his new authority, he promised to use it wisely, appointing financial and curriculum experts who would elevate school policy above its traditional parochial pork-barrel squabbling and craft a reform agenda. Now, twenty months after his triumph, nothing resembling an agenda has emerged from the mayor's office, and even Brown's closest allies have joined a rising chorus of city and district officials who are repudiating the conduct of his appointees. In fact, critics claim, Brown appointees Paul Cobb and Wilda White have essentially paralyzed the district with their bizarre theatrics, abusive behavior toward district staff, and relentless campaign of trivial criticism of Superintendent Chaconas -- a campaign that seems designed to belittle him and hound him out of office.

"[Cobb] has been at various times extremely rude to district staff, particularly in committee meetings, where he berates people and has literally driven some of them to tears," says director Dan Siegel. "He tends to take off on points without having any information to back him up, and constructs a polemic based on little bits of information -- or misinformation. Frequently, he resorts to racial arguments, he wraps himself in concern for African-American students or employees, and accuses staff of being insensitive." Siegel has no love for Wilda White either. "Wilda doesn't seem at all calm right now -- she's really on the warpath about everything," he says. "Wilda is fanning the flames [around consolidation], telling everyone it's a major crime against humanity. She tells teachers who complain not to worry; that they won't be moved. We [the board] can't go along with it, but it's the kind of thing she likes to do, because she can get on the moral high ground and try to make the rest of us look like idiots."


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