Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were keynote speakers this week at a $250-a-person election fundraiser for Great Oakland (GO) Public Schools, which protesters say is an organization that backs school board candidates who are pro-charter and uncritically supportive of pro-corporate policies in the Oakland Unified School District.
The “Education Evening with the Mayors” fundraiser on Tuesday at Impact Hub in downtown Oakland was organized by the GO Public Schools Oakland Advocates’ Families & Educators for Public Education political action committee –“to help elect great school board members.”
Standing at the entrance to the event at 2323 Broadway, dozens of protesters passed out a flyer that criticized GO, saying, “Oakland students deserve a functioning school board.”
“GO Public Schools sells itself as a benevolent, pro-public school group, but it is a part of an interconnected network of well-funded organizations in Oakland that are undermining our public schools by directing much needed resources away from our neighborhood schools and giving them to privately managed charters,” according to the protesters’ flyer.
The teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA), is also raising concerns about the participation of Mayor Libby Schaaf in a fundraiser that is designed to build support for GO’s school board candidates.
“I think it does not bode well that the mayor of our city is getting directly involved in the election of an ideological school board,” said OEA president Trish Gorham. “We have seen this in the failure of Mayor Jerry Brown’s involvement in appointing school members. We don’t want to return to that kind of mayoral interference.”
Erica Derryck, spokesperson for Mayor Schaaf, strongly denies that GO seeks to elect pro-charter school board candidates.
“GO Public Schools is not pro-charter, it’s pro kids,” said Derryck in a response to the Post.
“Mayor Schaaf believes there is nothing more important for our city than delivering a great public education for our children,” said Derryck. “Mayor Schaaf supports an organization that is focused on educating voters on school board elections because they are so critical.”
GO describes itself as a “coalition of parents, teachers, principals, and community leaders from the hills and flatlands, East, West, and North Oakland, charter and district public schools who share a vision of an Oakland where all children receive the schooling and support they need to live successful, fulfilling lives.”
GO’s participation in local school board elections goes back to 2012 in an election that was covered by the Oakland Tribune in an article titled, “Big Money in Play in Oakland School Board Campaigns.”
The teachers’ union jumped into the 2012 election for the first time in 20 years, funding a political action committee to spend $20,000 on three candidates, according to the Tribune.
GO Public Schools collected $123,000. Most of the money came from two individual donors, including the San Francisco-based venture capitalist and philanthropist Arthur Rock, who gave $49,000, the Tribune reported.
The California Charter School Association also donated $50,000 to the GO PAC.
The Tribune quoted Henry Brady, dean of UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy who observed that, “The polarization of the American political system is now getting all the way down to local politics.”
“Districts are grappling with … sharply different views on school board governance and the role of publicly-funded, independently run charter schools,” said Brady.
“I think there’s a big ideological fight out there right now with how schools should be controlled,” he said.
Support for GO includes $200,000 in 2014 from the pro-charter Walton Foundation (connected to Walmart). For several years, the Rogers Private Family Foundation paid the $200,000-a year-annual salary of GO’s former Executive Director Jonathan Klein.
Gary Rogers of the Rogers Family Foundation, who helped create GO Public Schools, is well known for his support for charter schools.
A Rogers Family Foundation Education Strategy document states:
“Our goal is to facilitate the conditions, partnerships, and direct school investments that will result in creating new and redesigned high-quality schools with the collective capacity to serve 10,000 students by 2020.
“Our tactics will be to stay the course of growing small-but-mighty, high-performing charter schools, making big bets on trusted and successful charter management organizations.”