Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Suspend Oakland Schools Superintendent Tony Smith

by Jack Gerson

The following leaflet was distributed at today's citywide membership meeting of the Oakland Education Association (OEA -- the Oakland teachers union). It was distributed again at this evening's meeting of the Oakland school board. For those outside the Oakland area, Tony Smith is the schools superintendent (for more details on Smith, see our previous blog post here.) Otherwise, the leaflet speaks for itself -- and it speaks volumes about the ongoing privatization and systematic dismantling of public education.

                                                   Suspend Tony Smith
                                          No More Cover-ups
             No More Victimizing Students, Staff, Community
                   No to Gary Yee as Interim Superintendent

Tony Smith is on the way out. But not soon enough.

Serious charges have been made against Smith, against the school district’s chief lawyer (Jacqueline Minor), and against past and present OUSD police chiefs Peter Sarna and James Williams.  One of the OUSD cops involved in the killing of Raheim Brown, Jonathan Bellusa, says that Smith and Minor tried to coerce him into giving the same version of the shooting as the other cop involved, Barhin Bhatt (who shot and killed Raheim Brown). Bellusa, acknowledging that he ordered the first shots, says the subsequent rounds that killed Brown were unnecessary because Brown was already incapacitated.  Bellusa says that he’s been singled out for retaliation because of this, and because he brought complaints of racist harassment against former OUSD police chief Peter Sarna.

Bellusa’s charges must be taken seriously and investigated transparently, with full community involvement. Did Smith and his legal staff try to manipulate and cover up how Raheim Brown was murdered? Why did Tony Smith want to promote Barhin Bhatt to OUSD police chief after he killed Raheim Brown (only community outrage blocked this)? Why did killer cop Bhatt command the OUSD police invasion of the Lakeview sit-in – tapping away at his gun holster in the presence of children? 

Then there’s the big picture:  the privatization and destruction of Oakland public schools, victimizing low-income areas and especially targeting the black community. We’re all aware of how OUSD was laid low by six years of state takeover: privatizing -- $80 million+ per year in outsourced contracts; downsizing – closing or “redesigning” more than half of Oakland public schools, closing libraries in most middle schools, eliminating electives, shutting down vocational programs, laying off support staff (custodial, clerical, food service, building repair and maintenance, security, …), quadrupling charter school enrollment  while shutting down public schools and driving out  nearly 20,000 public school students,  increasing teacher turnover dramatically,  punishing students for creativity and rebelliousness by focusing on rote learning and obedience enforced by high stakes testing. All low-income areas were hard hit. West Oakland and East Oakland communities were hit hardest.

Tony Smith wasn’t brought in to undo the damage done by the state takeover. No, he was brought in to continue their program, to deepen it, to give it polish and spin with “passionate” rhetoric and claims of his “racial sensitivity.” Spin and hype to cover the ongoing corporate-backed attacks. He is their creature, a creature of the Eli Broads and the Bill Gates. And he made things worse. Tony Smith went after the most vulnerable. He tried to cut early childhood education, and met teacher / staff / community resistance. He tried to cut Special Education, and met even fiercer resistance. But he did succeed in virtually eliminating the Adult education program. When Tony Smith arrived in 2009, Adult Education served 25,000 students. He shut down more than 95% of the program, victimizing the most vulnerable: single mothers, high school dropouts looking for a second chance, and immigrant workers desperate to learn language and customs.

And Smith has brought more charter schools – including semi-private ones. More school shutdowns. More program cuts. Bigger class size.  A high school dropout rate of nearly 50%. The most vulnerable areas, communities and neighborhoods were the hardest hit by the attack on anchors of the communities, their neighborhood public schools and their main source of hope, the hope of a future for their children. Heartless atrocities that can only be explained by a combination of malevolence and incompetence. Even before Smith closed five more elementary schools last June – four predominantly black, one predominantly Latino – young children in largely black Northwest Oakland (North of Macarthur, West of MLK) were being shipped by bus to schools in the far corners of East Oakland (beyond the Coliseum).

And now all hell is breaking loose. YouTube videos are circulating of students fighting students and even of students fighting teachers. We blame Smith, and we blame the board that approved his policies and, at best, turned a blind eye to what was going on. At best.

So we demand a full and transparent inquiry into Sgt. Bellusa’s charges, with full community involvement.

We demand the immediate suspension of all those named, pending the outcome of the investigation: OUSD superintendent Smith, OUSD chief legal counsel Minor, OUSD police chief Williams, Rahim Brown’s killer Bhatt.

We demand that the board not appoint Director Yee – or any other board member – to the superintendent position (be it “acting”, “interim”, or permanent) pending the completion of a full, transparent investigation of the charges.   What has Yee done to stop the blatant racism, class bias and violence embodied in the District police actions and the endless cuts in schools and programs?  Absolutely nothing!

Jack Gerson, OEA retired, former member OEA Executive Board & Bargaining Team
Bob Mandel, OEA retired, former member OEA Executive Board & Bargaining Team
Gerald Smith, former BPP, member Oscar Grant Comm. & Justice for Alan Blueford
Bob Wells, Oakland Adult Education, retired

No comments: