Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Oakland Eyes Denver Educator for Schools Chief

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

OAKLAND -- The school board has named an assistant superintendent from Denver Public Schools as its top candidate for superintendent to oversee its 37,000 students and may take a public vote on him at its April 30 meeting.

The board named Antwan Wilson, an assistant superintendent in the 86,000-student Denver school district, as the top finalist to replace Oakland Interim Superintendent Gary Yee. 

"We leave tomorrow to Denver to do a due-diligence trip and meet people in his district," said Oakland school board President David Kakishiba. "If all goes well, we will set an April 23 meeting to approve a contract for Mr. Wilson." 

Kakishiba declined to say who came in second to Wilson, but he did say there were about 20 serious applicants. He and two other school board members, James Harris and Jumoke Hinton Hodge, will make the trip to Denver. 

According to information on the Denver Public Schools website, Wilson oversees middle and high schools in Denver and is responsible for leading the college readiness programs there. Before that, he was principal of the troubled Montbello High School in Denver where, his biography says, he increased the percentage of students going to four-year colleges from 35 percent in 2005 to 95 percent in 2008. He also worked in Wichita, Kan., as middle and high school principal. 

Wilson comes to Oakland where the graduation rate is 59 percent, well below the 79 percent state average and where 25 percent of students drop out, a figure well above the state drop out figure of 13 percent. 

If the school board approves Wilson, Kakishiba said, the four priorities for him in the next year will be to improve the district's financial management, because it has had "some very scathing audit reports about the state of our financial management"; improve the high schools, manage an overabundance of schools and work on retaining teachers. The average teacher salary is $55,000 a year. 

Kakishiba said the board likes Wilson because "of his experience as a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent overseeing secondary education, which was clearly a plus." 

Yee gave up his seat on the school board to become interim superintendent for one year in 2013 after former Superintendent Tony Smith stepped down and moved to Chicago. Smith held the position for four years and was the first permanent superintendent named by the school board since the district fell into financial ruin and then state receivership in 2002. 

"The major challenges he will face are that we continue to have too many schools, finding a permanent location for our administrative offices and settling a contract with our unions," Yee said. "He also will need to make sure he's in tune with the activism in Oakland. A superintendent has to be really adept at that kind of community involvement." 

Oakland schools spokesman Troy Flint said candidate names were not publicized because "that would discourage qualified candidates from applying for fear they would lose their jobs in their home district when it was revealed they were pursuing the superintendency here in Oakland." 

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Albany Names New Schools Chief

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

The Albany school board named a new superintendent Friday to replace Marla Stephenson who is retiring June 30. 

Valerie Williams, who currently works as assistant superintendent of human resources at Dublin Unified School District, will take over the top job in Albany July 1. Albany has 3,800 students. 

Before working in Dublin, Williams worked as director of certificated personnel at Fremont Unified School District. Williams has been an English teacher, a middle school principal and an associate high school principal. 

A consultant hired to find a new superintendent found 85 applicants for the job, which was narrowed to two candidates in late March. The board of education and a group of teachers, administrators and parents interviewed Williams before the board offered her the job, according to a statement from the school district. 

One of Williams major tasks upon taking the job in Albany will be a decision on whether to ask voters if they want to renew a $149 a year tax on homes and nonresidential properties that expires July 1, 2015. That tax was approved by voters in 2010 to restore teacher positions and student services during deep cuts to the state budget.

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Fired Director Battles Board for Control of KPFA Parent Organization

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

BERKELEY -- She's not giving in and she's refusing to leave. 

The fired director of the organization that runs radio station KPFA and four others around the country continues to occupy her office despite losing a legal challenge this week to reinstall her as head of the struggling nonprofit. 

Summer Reese was fired March 13 from her $105,000-a-year position as executive director of Pacifica Foundation Radio by the board of directors on a 11-7 vote. On Wednesday, an Alameda County judge denied a temporary restraining order that would have reinstated her pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by board members who support her. 

"I'm still here all the time," Reese said Thursday, adding she continues to draw a paycheck. 

After she was fired, she returned to her office on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, cut a lock on the door and took up an around-the-clock occupation with her mother. 

The air mattresses that in late March lined the walkway of Pacifica's cramped Berkeley headquarters are gone, but Reese said she and her supporters are maintaining a presence there nonetheless. 

"There are crews of people who come daily in different shifts," Reese said Friday. "Different people stay overnight, but there is around-the-clock coverage (so) I've been able to go home for a shower. I just don't tell them my schedule." 

The suit seeking to reinstate her was filed by nine members of the board who support her. They are suing the foundation and 12 members of the board who want her out. 

High drama at Pacifica Foundation and KPFA, both headquartered in Berkeley, is nothing new. There have been occasional power struggles over the past 15 years, mostly owing to budgetary problems. 

Protesters camped outside the station in 1999 after Pacifica fired a popular KPFA station manager, locked out the staff and temporarily shut down the station. 

The last budget fight, in 2010, came when the former director laid off some popular radio hosts, prompting an outcry from listeners. The fired employees at one point took over the station and aired a renegade show. 

In addition to the five stations around the country, there are 180 affiliates who carry Pacifica programming and approximately 80,000 listeners regularly donate to the $13 million annual budget. 

Reese said the type of people who are drawn to the governance board, usually from the far-left and radical political fringes, mostly lack basic business skills that would allow them to make good decisions. 

She said failed fiscal audits in the past several years have prevented the organization from getting funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting since 2012. 

This latest struggle for control of the organization has not affected operations of any of the radio stations. 

In a prepared statement Pacifica board Chairwoman Margy Wilkinson said she hopes the denial of the temporary restraining order "will encourage the plaintiffs to express dissent with their voices and their votes, not litigation. Pacifica is in a fragile state and can't afford the time or expense of this lawsuit." 

When she was fired, Reese was about six weeks into a three-year contract. 

As the office occupation drags on, the board has hired a new interim executive director who likely will start next week using an office in the KPFA radio station next door, said Carole Travis, chairwoman of the KPFA board, who is not on the Pacifica Foundation board. 

The lawsuit to reinstate Reese contends board members violated Reese's contract because they fired her without giving her a performance review and did not give a reason for her ouster. 

Reese said the struggle for control of the foundation is between those on the board who want to sell the New York license of radio station WBAI, which she estimates is worth $65 million, and those like her who want to keep it. 

"It's between those who want to sell that license and redistribute the millions of dollars to the remaining four stations versus those who want to keep all five stations intact," Reese said. 

Travis denied that allegation. 

"Nobody wants to sell anything," Travis said. "Nobody wants the foundation to collapse either. She has not been forthcoming with the Pacifica board about the financial fragility of the organization. She's obstructing our ability to deal with the survival of the organization." 

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Newark Teachers, Administrators Get 5.5 Percent Raise

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

BERKELEY -- Newark teachers and administrators will get a 5.5 percent raise under a new contract signed with the Newark Unified School District, officials said. 

The teacher raise is retroactive to July 1 and is good through July 1, 2015, said Assistant Superintendent Tim Irwin. It is the first such raise the 300 teachers in the small school district have received in seven years, he said. 

Irwin said management in the school district, including district administrators, school principals, coordinators and managers, also will get a 5.5 percent raise. 

Newark teachers start at $57,368 a year and top out at $99,514 with 25 or more years experience, Irwin said. 

That's higher than Berkeley, where teacher pay starts at $39,500 and tops out at $82,000 a year, and in Hayward, where teacher pay ranges from $52,864 to $88,061 a year. 

Newark has 6,100 students in one high school, one middle school and eight elementary schools. 

Irwin said the money for raises came from a new state program called the local control funding formula. In addition to the raise, teachers in Newark agreed to collaborate more with administrators on the Common Core State Standards, Irwin said. 

The Newark raise matches a contract Hayward teachers got when the two sides there came to an agreement March 1. 

Berkeley teachers will get a 3.5 percent raise and a one-time, 2 percent bonus starting July 1. 

Teachers in other school districts in Alameda County are still negotiating for new contracts. 

Trish Gorham, president of the Oakland Education Association, said her group is currently negotiating a three-year contract with the Oakland school district. She said the fact that some school districts in the county are raising teacher pay is a step in the right direction. 

"You might credit the state local control funding formula and Proposition 30 for stopping the free fall that we were in terms of funding," Gorham said. "Who knows, in a few years we may be back to our funding level of 2010." 

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Berkeley Teachers Pull Down 3.5 Percent Raise

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

BERKELEY -- The school district's 800 teachers will get a 3.5 percent raise and a 2 percent one-time bonus, the district and the teachers union announced Wednesday. 

The raise includes the fiscal year going forward starting July 1 and the previous year retroactive to July 1, 2013. Last year the two sides agreed upon a 2.5 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2012, plus a 2.5 percent bonus. 

Berkeley Federation of Teachers President Cathy Campbell explained that there were no raises from 2008 through 2012, so the last two contracts included retroactive raises from the previous years. 

In terms of pay, she said teachers still have not recovered from the recession when state funding to education was cut during those years. 

"With the state promising to get back to 2007 levels by 2021, it's going to take us a while to catch up," Campbell said. "We basically had a wage freeze that affected everybody in the state for four years." 

As part of the contract, middle school teachers agreed to increase the time they teach each day by 20 minutes. She said she's not sure how schools will implement it, with longer class time or increased advisory time. 

"Their overall time at school doesn't change, but the percentage of time they are at school with students will expand," Campbell said. "Some teachers will see it as more work, and some will see it as more time with students." 

Campbell added that the raise will boost morale at a time when teachers are having to learn new teaching strategies with the Common Core standards. 

Teacher pay in Berkeley ranges from $39,500 to $82,000 a year, she said. 

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Berkeley to Fight Big Oil Plans to Ship Crude by Rail Through Town

By  Doug Oakley
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group

BERKELEY -- The City Council is poised to fight plans by big oil companies to ship millions of gallons of highly flammable Bakken crude oil by rail through the city after a unanimous vote Tuesday night. 

The council voted 9-0 to pass a resolution directing the city attorney to join anticipated lawsuits over the plans to transport oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and Canada through the area to refineries in the Bay Area and Southern California. The resolution also says the city will formally oppose any permits or environmental impact reports filed with local agencies where oil refineries plan to expand or begin oil shipments by rail. 

The resolution mentions a July explosion in Lac-M├ęgantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed when a train carrying the same kind of oil derailed and crashed. Other derailments and explosions have occurred in the past year in Alabama and North Dakota. 

Most pressing for Berkeley is a Phillips 66 plan to send trains carrying 1.8 million to 2.1 million gallons of Bakken crude to its Santa Maria refinery in Nipomo. According to a draft environmental impact report for San Luis Obispo County, which could approve or deny an expansion of the refinery's rail shipments of crude, the trains would either come from the north, passing through Sacramento and the East Bay, or from the south. 

Berkeley City Manager Christine Daniel said Berkeley's fire chief, planning manager and city attorney already are working on a plan to fight the proposed rail shipments through Berkeley. 

"The planning director has already taken a look at the comments in the draft environmental impact report for San Luis Obispo and there are a number of familiar agencies there we can partner with," Daniel said. 

Echoing comments heard in public testimony, council member Max Anderson said the threat of an explosion of 2 million gallons of oil in Berkeley is too large to ignore. 

"The movement of this volatile oil through our community represents a threat we can't quite comprehend at this moment," Anderson said. "We're talking about rendering a large swath of our community uninhabitable and toxic in terms of future generations. What we are doing today is a small effort but it can grow." 

Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery spokesman Dean Acosta said Tuesday the company's "top priority" is transportation safety. The company began modernizing its crude rail fleet in 2012 as a "proactive precautionary measure to safely capture the opportunities of the rapidly changing energy landscape," he said. 

"Phillips 66 has one of the most modern crude rail fleets in the industry, consisting of railcars that exceed current regulatory safety requirements," Acosta added. 

In any case, Acosta said, Union Pacific Railroad will make the final determination of which route the cars would take. 

Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt said a decision on which way the shipments to the Nipomo refinery would go would be "made at a later date." He said the company currently does not move any crude oil through the Bay Area. 

Reach Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him on Twitter at

Fired Director Refuses to Leave Office that Runs Berkeley's KPFA Radio Station

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group

BERKELEY -- The fired head of the foundation that runs the city's iconic KPFA radio station and four other stations around the country is refusing to go and is living in her office with her mother and supporters. 

Air mattresses line the hallways of the Pacifica Foundation Radio headquarters in Berkeley where former Executive Director Summer Reese cut a lock and re-entered the building March 17 after being fired four days earlier by a majority of the 22 member national board. 
Summer Reese, seated, gets a kiss from her mother Geneva Reese  in the Pacifica Foundation Radio offices in Berkeley. Summer Reese was refusing to leave the office after the board of directors fired her. (Doug Oakley)

"We have no idea what's going on over there," said board chair Margy Wilkinson from the KPFA offices which are next door to the Pacifica Foundation offices on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, adding that she has not been let inside since Reese cut the lock. "They've been sleeping there 24-7 as far as I know." 

Reese' mother, Geneva Reese, of Richmond, said she was there to support her daughter, "hold down the fort and keep out the enemies." 

Police arrived on the scene Monday after Wilkinson said a Reese supporter began yelling at her on the sidewalk in front of the two offices. Wilkinson said she noticed employees bringing documents out to a mobile shredding service and began to ask questions. No injuries or arrests were reported. 

Summer Reese, 40, said it was routine shredding, and in any case, all records are available on computer drives in the office. 

Reese was a little over a month into her three-year, $105,000 a year contract when she was fired and given no reason, she said. Wilkinson declined to say why Reese was fired, saying it was a personnel matter. 

The fight over who runs the organization has not affected operations at KPFA or other stations around the country, officials on both sides of the disagreement say. 

Wilkinson said the Pacifica board has chosen a successor to Reese and will make an announcement in the next couple of days. In the meantime, the board is considering legal action to get Reese out of the office. 

Reese, who oversaw a $13 million budget, said she will not go because the decision, supported by a bare majority of board members, was made at an unannounced meeting and is therefore void and illegal. She said the organization needs her because its books are in disarray, it's financial situation precarious. 

"I care about this organization and they want to destroy it," Reese said. "I have a fiduciary duty to stay around and it will fall apart if I am not here." 

Reese was the Pacifica interim executive director for 18 months before she signed a three-year contract Jan. 31. 

Reese said the board's displeasure with her may have started in August when she had to lay off 19 employees, or two thirds of the staff at WBAI in New York. 

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