Three candidates are actively campaigning for the District 5 seat on the Oakland Board of Education: incumbent Roseann Torres, Oakland native and school activist Mike Hutchinson and middle school teacher Huber Trenado, who is part of the slate backed by the pro-charter organization Great Oakland (GO) Public Schools.A fourth candidate, Michael Hassid, is on the ballot but has not appeared so far at candidate speaking events.
Torres, who practices law in Oakland, is married and the parent of a high school senior. Originally from Stockton, she has lived in Oakland for about 12 years.
Speaking of her accomplishments, Torres said she is most proud of the 14 percent teacher pay raise that the school board negotiated with teachers.
“This is very big accomplishment to give a double digit raise to teachers” in a district that loses teachers frequently to nearby districts that pay $8,000 or more a year than Oakland, Torres said. She is also proud of her efforts to initiate and pass an ethnic studies requirement at all Oakland high schools.
Torres began working with a teacher in 2014 to develop the policy. Before that, she said, there were only a few teachers who taught ethnic studies “under the radar, without permission.”
Ultimately, the policy passed the board on a 7-0 vote.
When she first ran for the school board, Torres said she had no idea what the pro-charter corporate lobby was or the role of GO Public Schools in Oakland.
“They thought I was going to be a blank check for charters and not just do what I thought was right,” she said. “I started getting checks from all over the country (to support her candidacy).
“I didn’t know they wanted to control what I did and how I vote. Their assumption was: we brought in all this money, and you have to vote way we expect.”
Torres said she supports charter schools and charter school renewals that she thinks are good for the students and the community but that she is not a blank check.
However, GO and other charter school backers have turned against her for taking an independent stand, she said.
Mike Hutchinson, born and raised in Oakland, attending public schools. He is not a teacher but has worked in local schools in many capacities, including as a coach and in afterschool programs.
Hutchinson speaks at most school board meetings, pushing the board and the administration to be more responsive to community needs, he said.
He says he has three top priorities.
First he wants to see the district adopt “authentic community engagement,” to listen to parents and the community to incorporate what they say into policies and decisions.
At present, he said, “district staff shows up and tells the community what they plan on doing,” he said.
Second, he wants to “reprioritize” the district budget, which this year is $792 million. About $80 million of the funds are spent outsourcing district functions to highly paid consultants. The saved money can be invested in improving neighborhood schools, he said.
His priority would be to stop privitization.
“Oakland has over 40 charter schools, but San Leandro has none, and San Francisco and Berkeley only have a few,” he said, emphasizing that the district is giving too many of its resources to charters.
Huber Trenado works as a seventh-grade humanities teacher at Lazear Charter Academy in the Fruitvale District.
His family emigrated from Mexico, and he was born in Los Angeles. He later moved to Oakland, where he attended school and lived in a small apartment with his mother and six siblings.
If elected, Trenado said he would be the first openly gay school board member.
The loss of teachers has lot to do with the lack of support they receive in their first few years in the district, he said.
“Teaching is a really hard thing, and it crucial to help them grow during their first years in the profession,” said Trenado.
He said he wants to improve the schools so all students get served. At many flatland schools, as many as 50 percent of the students do not graduate or have the coursework to go to college.
He has the backing of GO Public Schools but is not a member.
“I’m not pro charter,” he said. “I don’t support new charter schools being opened. I don’t think opening new charter schools is fiscally responsible.”
However, he said, “the whole debate is political,” not focusing on what is good for students and families. “It’s a lot of privileged people” who are complaining about charter schools, he said.
Great Oakland (GO) Public Schools responds: