School Budget Horse In Lead

If we were calling a horse race between the Oakland’s School Board and City Council, then the school horse would be in the lead right now.  Both horses are making their way around the race track and keeping pace, yet the school steed is already thinking ahead to next year.  We do know they are both woefully underfed and would enjoy stopping for some apples or sugar cubes.

Comparing These Horses

From a budget process perspective, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is ahead; their board and administrators are already working on how to save a whopping $39 million next year.  Meanwhile, the Oakland City Council still needs to wrap up the current year’s $9 million gap, and then will address their $25 million shortfall next year.

Oakland Schools have asked citizens to take this survey about budget priorities, and reported 500 responses a full week ago.  The City Council didn’t conduct a survey, but Make Oakland Better Now! volunteers took that mantle and 140 responses were received last week.

When it comes to meetings, the school and city council horses are neck and neck.  There are many school outreach meetings, with a few about next year’s budget.  The council members communicated about shortfalls during earlier rounds, but didn’t hold meetings about closing this fiscal year.

Caring About Oakland Schools

Anyway, we would like to focus on the schools here and now.  As you may know, there are serious financially-related questions and no good answers:  What are the ideal class sizes?  How do we balance the empty and full schools?  What personnel cuts could be made?  And what’s happening with teacher pay?

Montclarions manage around the problems at their well-performing elementary and middle schools.  Parents are quite involved locally, starting with tight teacher-principal communications.  They try to make noise about the poorly-maintained schools and grounds.  To improve or offer programs, parents are active fundraisers.  All in all, the kids learn, grow and prosper.

Then many parents speak loudly through their actions:  moving their children into private middle and high schools.  If these students stayed in the public system, then they would likely go to Oakland Tech or Skyline High.  (Skyline keeps churning principals annually, apply now.)  If we’re not there, then interest naturally wanes.

Getting On The Soapbox

Yet we all should be considering the greater good of public education.  Regardless of dysfunction, our school budget horse needs enough sustenance to keep trotting along – and that means “weighing in” on what we value in free schooling.

Oakland’s schools are infamous (!) for their budget travails before the recession.  We had the special situation of state-controlled schools due to our problems.  It’s good to be in control locally once again, and installing our new superintendent was a critical step forward.  However Tony Smith has to rely on a functioning school board and energized citizens.

On the board, Montclarions are represented by Director Gary Yee.  He was also elected vice president of the board, back in May.  As a quick introduction, Yee’s a long-time educator and administrator who most recently served as vice chancellor of Peralta Community Colleges.  (Read Yee’s biographies on LinkedIn and OUSD site.)

City-wide school administration just isn’t top-of-mind for most Montclarions.  It’s easier to tune into the schools which are located nearby.  But some locals must be concerned about Oakland’s school budget, and maybe we’re trotting (sorry) with the wrong herd.  What are your priorities related to the schools?

More info:  Please read The Education Report by Tribune reporter Katy Murphy, which covers the beat regularly.  Comments following Murphy’s posts are often insightful.  Link to Great Oakland Public Schools, to keep up with the school board and more.  Also check out the Oakland Unified School District, including their recent survey.  For the latest school news, visit the OUSD’s twitter account.

Across The Board Cuts, Except Cops

After Make Oakland Better Now! asked locals what steps should be taken to close the City of Oakland’s budget gap, we wondered what would happen next.  Finding another $9 million-plus this fiscal year isn’t an easy task for novices or experts, but our opinions do matter.

Well, the people have spoken:  at least 140 survey-takers shared their opinions.  According to Bruce Nye, who heads MOBN!, the results boiled down to making cuts as equally as possible.  However police and public safety were functions that needed protection, in the short term.

MOBN! intended to share Oaklanders’ priorities with the City Council before they met on budget decisions.  Thus a recommendations letter was emailed to Council members yesterday, which first acknowledged constraints in the short-term and then provided specific direction signals.

Don’t touch public safety:

  • The topic of reducing sworn law enforcement personnel should be off the table.
  • The minimal savings that could be achieved through reducing civilian personnel in the Oakland Police Department constitute a false economy.
  • The city’s immediate fiscal problems cannot, for the most part, be solved by eliminating programs.

Do share the pain elsewhere:

  • Oakland must balance its budget with significant, across-the-board reductions in personnel costs in every non-public safety function in the city.
  • Combined salary and benefit costs are far out of line with the market, and far exceed what the city can afford.
  • Accomplish [cuts] through a very wrenching combination of lay-offs, salary reductions, more early retirements, and a major restructuring of benefits.
  • While even severe cuts to the council’s and mayor’s offices (and to employee parking) would provide only minimal benefit…it is a representative message to deliver.

Next up?  We suggest you mark your calendars for February 16th, when the City Council will meet and wrestle with gap-closure choices.  If you tune into KTOP (Comcast Channel 10) at 5pm, then you’ll see this cliffhanger play out all night.

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Political Preseason For District 4

In Oakland, our City Council seat is now up for grabs.  Since District 4 Rep Jean Quan has announced her bid for the mayor’s spot, everyone’s curious about who might replace her.

Although candidates don’t officially file until summer, there’s preseason buzz about the guard change.  This week, Future Oakland mentioned a full line-up of potential candidates including Jill Broadhurst, Floyd Huen, Scott Jackson, Clinton Killian, Libby Schaaf and Melanie Shelby.  And Zennie62 put his support behind Schaaf.

Simply put, the line-up is very impressive.  There are three lawyers, a doctor, a utility exec/consultant and a private sector marketer here.  Two work for the county, while one toils away for the city.  And everyone has been actively involved in civic activities, trying to improve Oakland’s quality-of-life.

We don’t believe anyone has been elected to city offices before.  In 2004, Melanie Shelby ran for the at-large council seat and was beaten by Henry Chang (now filled by Rebecca Kaplan).  Earlier this year, Clinton Killian and Scott Jackson were rumored candidates for the mayoral race as well.

Since half this line-up has Oakland Hills ties, we wanted to introduce people we’ve met before:

  • Jill BroadhurstA leader on our Montclair Safety & Improvement board, Broadhurst brings her private sector skills to improvements like the Pocket Park.  She’s an activist focused on city parks, libraries and fire safety – and has already declared her council seat run.  (More: Campaign)
  • Floyd HuenA public health medical director, Huen heads various Alameda County services today.  He’s also been a civil rights activist through the years.  We see him at assorted events along with his wife, Jean Quan. (More:  KQED, Alameda Cty)
  • Libby SchaafAn inside reformer and attorney, Schaaf provides legislative and development counsel to the City.  She’s advised Mayor Brown and worked as the Port’s public affairs director.  Schaaf also served on the Lighthouse School and MOCHA (museum) boards. (More:  LinkedIn)

While we haven’t met the other possible candidates, they also have nice backgrounds:

  • Scott Jackson – A deputy district attorney for Alameda County, Jackson’s been involved in various cases that matter to Oaklanders.  His press has ranged from retail robberies to preventing deportation for an refugee.  Outside of work, he coaches kids sports teams.  (More:  Tribune)
  • Clinton KillianA private-practice attorney, Killian’s also established a free legal clinic and worked in small claims court.  He’s served on the Planning Commission and AC Transit board.  Killian also has been involved with the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club and Paramount Theater. (More:  Web Site)
  • Melanie ShelbyA PG&E public affairs exec turned supplier diversity consultant, Shelby has served on Oakland Housing Authority, Health & Human Services Commission, and MOCHA (museum) boards.  (More: LinkedIn, Last Campaign)

When it comes to the District 4 seat, we should smile at all these candidate possibilities.  While their backgrounds vary, the six are smart, well-educated and devoted to Oakland – so there’s no need to pick the lesser of evils.

That Volunteerism Thing

In Montclair, it impresses me how people want to volunteer these days – by helping others learn, improving our surroundings, and even contributing their own sweat equity.  There have always been good works, but there’s also an increased willingness to show up.

As a boomer, I was a babe when President John F. Kennedy delivered his inaugural address asking Americans to “do for your country.”  Looking back at the ’60s and ’70s, we know that many citizens took his declarations to heart and contributed to the common good.  Then Americans shifted their priorities, with “me generations” ruling the roosts for a while.

During the ’10s, we might be experiencing a new groundswell of altruism.  Every time we look around, there seems to be another Oakland group catching this wave.  Here are only a few examples:

  • Sweat equityBeaconsfield Canyon is an open space owned by the City of Oakland.  Clean-ups began with a few neighbors pruning monthly.  There are so many volunteers expected this weekend that Friends of Sausal Creek has put out an all-points call for leaders.
  • People powerWalk Oakland Bike Oakland is an advocacy group that seeks to improve walking and biking around the city.  They embrace volunteers, and have many campaigns underway.  And now they’ve hired their very-first executive director to keep things moving along.
  • Local trailsTrail conditions were a problem this year, especially as park rangers were cut from the Oakland budget.  The Friends of Montclair Railroad Trail was created between neighbors and the city – and it has begun working on the trail, vandalism, bike use and even dogs-on-leash issues there.
  • Citizen advocacyMake Oakland Better Now! is composed of volunteers who decided to tackle and learn about Oakland budgeting travails, and has engaged with the police chief and budget director to share the difficulties.  Their immediate aim is to “be heard” by City Hall.
  • Greening homesGreening Oakland Homes has just come together to help homeowners reduce their carbon footprints.  They are surveying neighbors about green priorities.  And they’re organizing their first fair in Montclair, where hand-picked suppliers will share what to do and how to finance it.
  • Volunteer action After Obama’s election, a group of local supporters decided to harness their energy into local volunteerism:  the Montclair Community Action Group.  They ran a successful Oakland-wide school volunteer fair, and other important energy and health initiatives are in the works.

We should mention the two safety groups which have been around longer, like Montclair Safety & Improvement Council and North Hills Neighborhood Council.  And more hyper-local groups also get out there and make Montclair a better place to live.

In our more modest times, it’s nice to see volunteerism growing slowly but surely.  There’s no reason (excuse) not to carve out a little time – and share your expertise and energy to improve our city.

Protecting Us, Pruning Trees

After today, we should be emerging from the winter rains.  We are all waterlogged, especially the poor trees.  All week long, there have been trucks cleaning up around Montclair Village.

Normally we drive right by, but came across two of the big trucks with buckets this morning.  It seemed like a good enough reason to check things out and record the tree-related maneuvers underway.

Two bucket workers were busy clearing canopy above some nearby power lines.  Since this area already experienced a toppled tree and power outage recently, the “men in trees” were taking smart preventative actions.

For a while, we were entertained by watching the men aloft and on terra firma.  In the bucket, they were buzzing away at the branches and letting them crash below.  At street level, they were making sure the coast was clear (of vehicles).

The scene wasn’t extraordinary in the Oakland Hills, but your faithful Montclair blogger has become a tree-obsessed creature.