Opposition to Oakland School District Property Sale Grows (Berkeley Daily Planet)

(reprinted from an article in the Berkeley Daily Planet, by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor, published August 8, 2006)

With the state’s office of the superintendent for public instruction announcing an interim Oakland Unified School District administrator to replace the outgoing Randolph Ward, opposition to the sale of the OUSD downtown properties got a boost in the past few days when two more Oakland public officials came out against the sale.

Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks stated her opposition in an interview at a community concert in East Oakland on Sunday. And late last week, Peralta Community College District Trustee Nicky Gonzalez Yuen released a letter sent to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell in which Yuen said that “the plan to sell off the OUSD land near Lake Merritt … is a huge mistake.”

Meanwhile, members of the Ad Hoc Committee to Restore Local Control, the coalition of Oakland organizations, officials, and activists that has led the opposition to the property sale, have scheduled a meeting with aides of state Sen. Don Perata later this week to try to persuade the senator to come out in opposition as well.

Perata, who wrote the legislation that made both the state takeover of the Oakland Unified School District as well as the sale of the OUSD downtown properties, has been silent since the controversy over the property sale began.

On Monday, O’Connell’s office announced the appointment of OUSD academic chief Dr. Kimberly Ann Statham as interim state administrator for the Oakland schools. Statham is replacing current administrator Randolph Ward, who is leaving the district in a week to take the job as superintendent of the San Diego County School District.

Statham will receive a yearly salary of $240,000 for her position as interim administrator, the same as former superintendent Dennis Chaconas received in 2003 before he lost his job during the state takeover. Ward’s starting salary in 2003 was reported to be $239,000, but was later reduced by $6,000 as a budget- cutting measure.

In a statement released by the state superintendent’s office, Statham, a graduate of the University of Maryland and Howard University as well as the same Broad Urban Superintendents Academy where Ward received his training, said that her “immediate focus will continue to be on preparing for the beginning of the school year August 28.”

In a letter sent Monday to school district staff, Ward, who hired Statham for the academic chief post, wrote that Statham will continue the work on the controversial Expect Success! initiative he brought into the Oakland schools. “However long this interim appointment lasts,” Ward wrote, “I am confident that Dr. Statham has the vision and the ability to continue the work that has been done to make Oakland a national model for urban school reform. Her expertise will only add to the district redesign effort known as Expect Success! Parts of this project were under way before I arrived in Oakland, and I have no doubt that this effort and the momentum it has created will continue and grow under the great project leaders who remain.”

As interim OUSD administrator, one of Statham’s most closely watched acts will be her recommendation to State Superintendent O’Connell on the proposed OUSD property sale. O’Connell is currently in negotiations with the East Coast development team of TerraMark/UrbanAmerica for the sale of 8.25 acres of downtown-area OUSD property, including three schools, two early childhood development centers, and the OUSD Paul Robeson Administration Building. The 2003 state takeover of the school district gave O’Connell the legal authority to sell the property and to apply the proceeds to the $100 million borrowed by OUSD from the state.

Under the letter of intent signed between O’Connell, TerraMark/ UrbanAmerica, and outgoing OUSD administrator Ward, the parties have until mid-September to reach a deal on the property sale.

On Sunday afternoon, during the kickoff of the second season of free community concerts at East Oakland’s Arroyo Viejo Park sponsored by her office, Councilmember Brooks told the Daily Planet that she was “completely opposed to the sale of the school property. I don’t think this is a time that we should be getting rid of public property. We should be preserving what we have.”

Brooks’ position makes unanimous the opposition to the sale from the eight member Oakland City Council.

Late last month, Brooks had failed to join six other councilmembers in signing a proclamation co-sponsored by Councilmembers Pat Kernighan and Jean Quan which noted that “there is no guarantee that the proposed sale of District land would financially benefit the School District, even in the short term.” However, Brooks said that “the only reason I didn’t sign the proclamation is that one of Pat [Kernighan]’s aides brought it to me to sign while we were taking a vote, and I didn’t have time to read it. I don’t sign anything that I haven’t read.”

City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente was not present at the meeting in which the proclamation was signed, but he earlier stated to the Daily Planet through a staff member that he was opposed to the sale of the OUSD property as well.

City Council opposition to the proposed sale is significant because even though the council has no say in the sale, any future development of the property by the new owners would have to go through the Oakland city planning process, including final approval by the council.

Meanwhile, in his July 31 letter, Peralta Trustee Yuen told O’Connell that while “I can understand the temptations to liquidate district resources to generate greater revenue, … I strongly urge you to quickly put out this fire, shelve the plan to sell the land, and get back to the central concerns of reestablishing administratively and fiscally sound systems of governance and management.”

Yuen said his opposition was based upon three conclusions: that there was no “consistent and reliable system of governance” in the Oakland schools “that will ensure that this project does not become another boondoggle that benefits private interests and leaves the public stripped of even more resources than it started with”; that the sale would be “a huge distraction from the job of governance in the district”; and that “decisions of such long-term impact should never be made by a caretaker administration.…It contradicts the notion that the people who are most seriously affected by a decision should have the greatest influence over the making of such decisions.”

Yuen concluded that the goal of the state takeover of the Oakland school district in 2003 “was and remains the establishment of a stable and viable system of administration and governance as quickly as possible. The goal is to restore a functioning system of local control. The Lake Merritt development project is completely unnecessary to and beyond the scope of any of these goals.”

The second of three public hearings on the proposed sale of the OUSD downtown properties is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16 at the OUSD Administration Building.