Thursday, June 20, 2019

Blueprint for what exactly? (Oakland schools)

Last night’s Oakland Unified School District school board meeting was on two subjects.  One was a report on how we are doing with our Blueprint for Quality Schools from the ad-hoc committee. The other was on the budget, which was presented as an inch-thick pamphlet in a format that is hard to read. (Do not expect an organizational chart)
My guess is that hardly more than a few hundred people in Oakland know about our school district’s “Blueprint for Quality Schools” outside of those who work there.  Yet this is a plan that the board and district staff have been working on for years.  There have been committees formed, advisory groups consulted and all kinds of surveys and meetings that supposedly consulted our communities.  When you voted in 2016 and 2018, you voted for supporters of the “blueprint” process, which was already in gear. In earlier versions it was called a “search for excellence” and other such trial branding. 
The stated goal for this plan is an outreach and public consultation to make our schools better.
The Oakland School Blueprint for Quality Schools is really a cutback and layoff plan.
The only “better” that they found was the only one that they looked for.  I took the survey for parents.  The only questions were about what schools to close, how to do consolidation, etc.
There was always a reason to be dubious about this Blueprint for Quality Schools process that our school administrators have been pushing for some years.
Doubt number one is this idea that somehow, we need to rediscover how to run quality schools.
Seems to me that what our political class needs to rediscover is the need to fund education adequately.  One could talk about all kinds of things and most of them start with the word "restore".  That is as in we need to RESTORE art, music, sports, shop, civics, Spanish, sports and and and....
But that is not what the Blueprint is really about.
It is about cutbacks.  Add to cutbacks, consolidations, closures, and downsizing.
It is also about real estate.  The school closures prepare the way for even more transfer of our publicly owned real estate to these so-called charter schools. 
Those private schools using public money use our public school buildings.
And California State law makes it our obligation to give the charters a home.  Maybe there is another version of charter schools out there somewhere, but I am talking about the actual "charters" that California law gives us in practice and the access they have to our school sites under prop 39 guidelines. Every time I talk about this with a pro “charter” activist they want to talk about what charters should be, and not what they really are here in Oakland. Here they are a bird that lays its eggs in another bird’s nest.
The "Blueprint for Quality Schools" view of efficiency is the same as a bank merger.
We are now at the phase where we consolidate, close branches and lay off staff.
If I heard him right, the principal working on the merger plan that will give us Elmhurst United School explained how we will now have 3 coaches for the united school when we had 4 otherwise. I hope that I heard him wrong.
As if our schools are anything close to sufficiently staffed before these mergers and downsizing?
Schools are not a business and the business model is not healthy for a public service. If they want a Blueprint for Quality Schools in our schools, they could start by cutting back administrative staff and put more support staff on the school sites.  The real plan gives some small concessions to electives that are not available for all students.  Their idea of an elective that it is acceptable to underfund includes Spanish.  Music and art, maybe.  Shop, civics and practical skills? Don’t even ask. 
We have been doing these short-sighted cutbacks for years.  At each round of cutback we offer fewer options to students leaving many parents with little choice other than to “vote with their feet” as one of the illustrious leaders on the dais put it last night. 
We have been sold a hand to mouth version of budget scarcity and the cutbacks that really don't add up to much, but do make more real-estate available for this so called charter movement.
And if we did every cutback, merger and downsize in the Blueprint for Quality Schools, we still would not have the budget stability that the OUSD board claims. 
Sometimes when I listen to OUSD administrators talk about their fine plans, I feel like I am listening to a landscaping beautification plan in the path of a forest fire.
The real needs are for better management with fewer administrators pulling down six figure salaries, better funding altogether, better financial oversight and certainly, more choices at every school instead of being forced to choose between schools.
And we need an audit.                              
But the only versions of these kinds of ideas one heard at last night’s meeting came from dissent from the floor.  A group of students spoke against closures.  Later parents and teachers spoke against the closures. Members of the communities from the schools getting downsized spoke against this plan as parents and teachers. Many who spoke are both parents of OUSD students and have been working for the district in one way or another for many years. 
Finally, Megan Bumpus, a union member and dissenting member of the ad-hoc committee spoke very succinctly against closures in her minority report, making a clear and well supported case that the closures cost more than they save. Parent and teacher activists handed out flyers opposing the closures making similar points. 
If ever there was a day that shows that 5 of the 7 members on that board are elected with the support of Great Oakland Public Schools Advocates and other deceptively named pro “charter school” organizations, yesterday was that day. 
The students and public of Oakland do not get better schools from this “blueprint” but the people who back our school board have more square feet in the pipeline. 

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