Richmond Kills Power Plant Proposal; OUSD Sends 600 to Grade 8.5; CoCo Buys the Inch 

"Teachers are pigs," Albany schoolboard member Owen Jones writes in a bizarre e-mail

Strange developments, indeed, in the dispute between the Albany Teachers Association and the Albany Unified School District. On Friday, June 1, newly elected school board member Owen T. Jones turned in a letter to district offices requesting a medical leave until this September. Then on Tuesday afternoon, June 5, Jones turned in a letter of resignation. At 8:30 that evening, he posted a letter to an online newsgroup devoted to the subject of Albany schools announcing his decision to leave the board. There, perhaps as a final parting shot, he wrote: "I am sick and tired of teachers moaning about how underpaid they are. Most people in the Bay Area can't afford to live here--so why should the teachers think they are any different than the rest of us professionals?? Also, all, not most, all other professionals work a twelve-month work year. Not only that they work at least 9-5, not the 8:30-3:15 workday the Albany teachers work. I am told time and time again how hard the teachers work--but I have yet to see any hard evidence. They are pigs slopping at the trough as far as I can tell."

The school board was so horrified by this sudden turn of events and the possible incendiary and legal effects that Jones' words could have on the negotiations that they called a special emergency school board meeting last week solely to address Jones' missive.

Around twenty teachers, some carrying pink signs that read, "This little piggy wants a raise" and "We're ready to strike" and others wearing pink cutouts of pig ears and noses, sat silently in the audience as each school board member offered personal apologies for the letter which, they emphasized, was of Jones' own creation, not the school board's. Still, the letter can't help but hurt teachers' confidence in the district's good-faith bargaining.· · ·

At a midday meeting last week, Richmond City Manager Isiah Turner told a wildly excited audience that the recent proposal to build a municipal power plant in the Chevron refinery is now dead. "There are many other priorities that to me are more important than a power plant at this time," he said, adding that he recommends that a survey of the citizenry be taken on the subject. The crowd had gathered in response to word that the city was considering building a power plant on several acres of Chevron property in an already heavily industrialized area. The city had gone so far as to listen to a proposal made by Bill Roth , a consultant who worked with Chevron, that would have required the city put up $3 million for initial studies of the idea. After several dozen speakers made their way to the podium, all opposed to the power plant idea, the subcommittee of four councilmembers voted to stop all proceedings on the power plant. Turner said he had already shown Roth the door; apparently the politicians felt the heat from the proposed 500-megawatt power plant before it could even be built.· · ·

Despite the example of the rest of the world, America has never really caught on to the joys of the metric system, save for those two-liter bottles of Mr. Pibb at the local Pak 'N Save. But for a time, the metric system was a requirement in both state and county governments. In the early '90s, Congress passed a law requiring that government agencies switch over to the metric system or else lose out on lucrative state and federal grants. Contra Costa County was on the cutting edge of this, and moved quickly to convert its inches to centimeters and require all those who dealt with it to do so too, thereby thoroughly annoying all the contractors, developers, and individuals who now had to change their building plans accordingly. But some good ideas come before their time, and it seems that America just isn't ready to accept the metric system as a fact of life. Last week, the Contra Costa County Public Works Department gave up as well, and asked the Board of Supervisors to convert them back to the English system. The metric system caused its fair share of problems, says Senior Civil Engineer Brian Balbas . "In engineering, the metric system is simpler to use. But the thing is, in our country everyone has an intuitive feel for feet, yards, and miles. Most engineers know what 25 feet is, but when you put it in meters and kilometers, that's when they have trouble." Will Balbas miss it? Perhaps. But even though the metric system has been in place at the public works department since 1996, "I still need to use my slide-ruler cheat sheet," Balbas confesses.· · ·

Last summer, the Oakland Unified School District found itself at an impasse--about a quarter of the district's students, or 17,000 of them, had such low scores on their end-of-the-year report cards that they clearly needed some kind of help to make it through to the next grade. Should the district hold those students back a year, at a cost of about $6,000 for each child who repeats a grade? Or should they promote them to the next grade, even though they have not mastered the material from the previous one? The district's compromise measure was to send these students to summer school, where a newly revamped program specifically targeted at kids in academic pivot points--third, fifth, and eighth graders--was supposed to reinforce basic math and reading skills. Although attending summer school was not technically "mandatory," about 3,000 of these students were "retained with consideration," which meant that they would be held back if they didn't pass their summer school classes. Still, many of the students who needed the most help never showed up, and at the end of the summer the OUSD was largely dissatisfied with the performance of those who did. (At least it was better than the previous year, when scandal had erupted after then-interim-supe George Musgrove allowed 7,000 failing students who skipped their summer school classes to advance to the next grade anyway.)

This year, the district's taking a tougher stance. On Friday, the OUSD announced that it will be sending about 600 eighth graders who failed their courses last year to separate academies for an extra year of instruction before they will be allowed to advance to the ninth grade. The program is expected to be phased out after three years--hopefully by then students will be scoring higher on standardized tests and be more ready to move to the next grade on the regular timetable. Till then, welcome to grade eight-and-a-half.· · ·

An intriguing love triangle is forming in the nascent campaign for the 14th District Assembly seat being vacated by Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley) next year. As 7 Days readers likely know, Oakland Vice Mayor Jane Brunner is already collecting endorsements--which include blessings from Jerry Brown and state Senator Don Perata (D-Oakland)--and cash for her bid for the Assembly post. But readers may not have heard that former Berkeley city councilwoman Nancy Skinner is putting out feelers for a possible run.

Both Democrats, Brunner and Skinner have a lot in common when it comes to their political views. But they also have something else in common: A romantic involvement with socially responsible investor James Nixon of Progressive Asset Management in Oakland. Once upon a time, Nixon and Skinner were husband and wife, a union that produced a daughter before the couple divorced. Nowadays, Nixon is Brunner's live-in domestic partner. When asked about the situation, Brunner paused, then said, "I've been waiting for this one. In a boring race, you [the press] have to do something to make it interesting." An East Bay wag who hasn't taken sides in the race yet quipped, "I'm waiting to see if any of Nixon's other lovers are going to run."

West Contra Costa School Board member Charles Ramsey --who, as far as we know, has not ever shared a bed with Nixon (not that there would be anything wrong with that)--is also eyeing the Assembly seat. Ramsey, by the by, did briefly campaign for the same seat in 1995, but abruptly pulled out of the race after getting busted for soliciting an undercover cop posing as a hooker (there might be something wrong with that, at least politically speaking). · · ·Well Shrub, aka President George W. Bush has gone and done it again--he pissed off Allen Michaan , president of Renaissance Rialto Inc., which runs the Grand Lake Theater. That's the one with all those pretty lights that have been noticeably dimmer ever since Enron and the El Paso energy companies put their leather-gloved hands around California's throat. The last time Bush ticked off Michaan was during the election when the theater owner slammed a message up on the marquee that read "This is America: Every Vote Counts." This time, it's a brand-new message for Bush: "There is no energy shortage: this is an ethics shortage."

Get Michaan on the phone on the topic, and the appliance will likely glow white-hot and melt. "I guess it was George Bush's visit to California that pushed me over the edge. Bush pushed my buttons," said Michaan, chuckling. "This whole energy situation in my opinion is the biggest theft of the people of a country that has ever occurred in the history of the world." Then he got really revved up: "It is absolute theft, and the danger here is that not only are they creating tremendous hardship for families and businesses alike, but they are jeopardizing the entire economy of the country, and consequently the world by doing this. To me it is outrageous and it is totally transparent. Did you know that during the entire campaign that Bush was flying around in an Enron jet! Yeah, it's true!"

Of course, Michaan has both objective and subjective reasons to be a teeny bit ticked with the Texan energy cartel. If a blackout occurs on a Friday or Saturday night it could cripple his business, because that is when the Grand Lake Theater makes some sixty percent of its revenue. That's not to mention the PG&E bills, which Michaan estimates will total some $10,000 to $12,000! "We can't afford that," he laments. "If you went to Safeway and every item that you needed was all of a sudden one hundred times more expensive, people would start rioting. The same thing has happened here."


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