School board candidates gather for first forum after Rudsdale shooting

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Candidates for the Oakland Unified School District Board of Trustees can agree on one thing: The current board has gone astray and needs fresh insights to get back on track.

At a forum on Thursday at Castlemont High School – a day after six people were injured in a shooting on a school campus in East Oakland – the candidates mainly talked about how they would bring renewed attention to academics and student success at bi-monthly board meetings.

The forum was hosted by Families in Action for Quality Education, an Oakland organization founded by charter school families to train parent and student leaders in education advocacy. The school board debate was followed by a town hall debate.

At the start of the hour-long school board debate, candidates and moderators acknowledged the shooting that occurred Wednesday afternoon at OUSD’s King Estates campus, home to Rudsdale High School, the study independent Sojourner Truth and the Bay Area Technology School, a charter school serving sixth through 12th grades.

“I must first begin tonight by acknowledging and honoring all of the victims of the King Estates campus shooting yesterday,” said Cesley Frost, the college principal at BayTech. “Our thoughts are with you. At this time, I plead with you – politicians, lobbyists, high-level decision-makers – that we must prioritize and allocate the necessary resources to ensure that what happened yesterday never happens again.

Several of the school board candidates also offered brief condolences to the victims of Wednesday’s shooting, which injured six people, including students and staff at Rudsdale School. Three victims remained in hospital on Thursday. All of the victims were 18 or older. Police have not released the names or exact ages of the victims, citing security concerns.

But the candidates spent most of the evening discussing the need for academic improvement in the district, their differing opinions on charters and how best to manage the OUSD budget.

Of the nine school board nominees, five attended the forum: District 2 nominees David Kakishiba and Max Orozco, District 4 nominee Nick Resnick, and District 6 nominees Joel Velasquez and Kyra Mungia. District 2 candidate Jennifer Brouhard, District 4 candidate Mike Hutchinson and Pecolia Manigo, and District 6 candidate Valarie Bachelor were not in attendance.

Improving Academics in Oakland Schools

To Improve Student Achievement, District 2 Candidate and Former OUSD Board Member kakishiba proposed to reform Measures G and G1, two of the OUSD parcel taxes. Measure G raises about $21 million per year to support OUSD libraries, teacher retention, and arts and music programs, while G1 raises about $12 million per year to support arts classes and college music and retain teachers. Kakishiba suggested reforming Measure G to focus only on elementary schools while G1 should focus on middle schools.

Members of Families in Action watch school board candidates debate OUSD academics at a forum at Castlemont High School on September 28, 2022. Credit: Amir Aziz

He said he would like the measures to model somewhat on Measure N, the OUSD College and Career Readiness Package Tax.

“Ninety percent of all these tax dollars go directly to school sites, school leaders are developing plans, and there is a very strong and powerful public accountability process,” Kakishiba said of the positive aspects of N. measurement in our schools and how we will support school leaders to overcome barriers to their success.

The college and career readiness package tax will go to voters again in November, this time on the ballot as Measure H.

Constituency 4 Candidate resnick said his priority will be to push OUSD to invest deeply in fewer areas, rather than fund whatever comes down to the board. Resnick, a parent of two, said his focus areas would be academic achievement and student mental health.

“Right now across Oakland, we’re known for initiative overload, where we invest in whatever comes our way,” Resnick told the crowd of families, students and school staff. “If you attend a school board meeting right now, you’ll recognize that they’re talking about anything but improving students, both academically and their social-emotional health.”

District 6 Candidate and OUSD Parent Velazquez linked school performance to school closures.

“Over the past two decades, we have closed schools in black and brown communities. We talk about providing resources, but how can we provide these things when we close the physical space that we all have? And that’s the only resource that many of us have,” he said.

Velazquez has been open about school closures for a decade. He was instrumental in the occupation of the now-closed Lakeview Elementary School in 2012, and also participated in protests at Parker K-8, where parents and activists have occupied the school since its closure. in May.

Increasing Tax Responsibility at OUSD

To a question about improving fiscal responsibility, the candidate from District 6 Mungia noted that for the first time in years, OUSD is not expected to have a budget deficit. But there are still improvements to be made, she said, especially with regard to OUSD’s excessive administrative positions.

“OUSD pays 591% more in central office supervisory roles than other districts in California,” claimed Mungia, who is the current appointed director for District 6. “It doesn’t show that our priorities are the students.” Oaklandside could not independently verify this number before publication.

Mungia and resnick both said they would like to see the district invest in teacher compensation to increase retention and ensure Oakland educators can live here and teach in Oakland schools.

District 2 candidate Max Orozco addresses the crowd at the Families in Action candidates forum. Credit: Amir Aziz

Orozco, a candidate and parent from District 2, encouraged the crowd to speak out on how OUSD should invest one-time funds. He thinks the board should stop approving new positions at every meeting, end school closures and focus on investing funds in schools and teachers.

“We need to bring this money for supplies and programs that our children need,” he told the crowd. “We can’t just stay silent and let the district decide what to do with all that extra money.”

kakishibaalso present in District 2, wants the council to follow strict procedures on how the money is spent.

“The school board adopted a policy over 10 years ago that established that 88% of all district revenue would go directly to the operation of our schools and only 12% would be held for district overhead,” he said. -he declares. policy has been on the books, it has not been canceled and it has never been implemented.

Oakland Charter Schools Spark Debate

Although the forum was quite friendly, the discussion became tense during a “lightning round” when candidates were asked to give only yes or no answers.

On the question of whether charter schools are public schools, Orozco and Velazquez chose to abstain, and they also declined to answer a yes or no to a question about whether charter schools are entitled to public school facilities. Prop. 39, a state law, requires public school districts to make their buildings available to charter schools, even if those buildings operate schools. Due to Proposition 39, many charter schools share campuses with OUSD schools.

Velazquez, Orozco, and other public school advocates have criticized the expansion of charter schools in Oakland, saying they compete with OUSD schools for students and funding. Charter schools receive public funding, but unlike district schools, they are overseen by unelected boards.

Orozco and by Velázquez non-responses received heckling from a host of largely charter school families. However, the candidates tried to seduce the public.

“As a father and a proud Mexican, I want to represent my community and my people. I fight for these children,” Orozco said. “People who are not used to expressing themselves, I want to be their voice.”

“Whether we agree or not, I’m here to serve the families and children of this city because we’re all on the same side. Velazquez said in his closing remarks. “Someone outside of our communities convinced us that there are sides here, and there aren’t. I hear the same stories from the same mothers, fathers and children that I have heard throughout the district for nearly 20 years.

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