Re-Elect London, Hinton Hodge, Torres, and Harris to the Oakland School Board
They deserve another term to continue their work of improving the city’s public schools.
In the years since Oakland regained local control of its schools, the district has made substantial progress. Its finances are in much better shape; the graduation rate has increased; student suspensions have plummeted; and academics appear to be improving—although data is lacking on this last measure because of the state’s new computerized testing program.
At the same time, we’ve grown increasingly concerned about the proliferation of charter schools in the city—and the political power wielded by their wealthy supporters. Charter schools are privately run public schools that operate with almost no oversight and are not subject to the same open government and records laws as regular public schools.
Charter schools also undermined an effort by the district several years ago to decrease its costs—and raise teacher pay—by closing schools that had declining enrollment. Closing schools is a difficult decision, and charter schools made matters worse by simply reopening in the closed campuses, thereby effectively eliminating any cost savings for the district.
The problems created by charter schools, however, are largely due to lax regulations established by the state. Gov. Jerry Brown is an avid backer of charter schools (he still operates two of them in Oakland) and has repeatedly blocked attempts to regulate them. Oakland currently has 45 charter schools—by far the most in the East Bay.
Yet despite the charter school issues, Oakland Unified has improved overall since state control ended in 2009. To be sure, the district still has a long way to go, but we think the school board deserves credit for the district’s improvements. And that’s the main reason we’re endorsing the incumbents this year.
District 1 (North Oakland)
We think Jody London is the one the most effective school board members in the East Bay. She’s smart and is passionate about public education; in fact, her children attend regular Oakland public schools. She’s also been outspoken about opposing the creation of more charter schools in the city.
Her opponent, Don Macleay, is a longtime East Bay activist/progressive, who is running on an anti-charter platform. We think he makes good points about the need for the school district to improve its oversight of charter schools—a view shared by the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury earlier this year. We also like Macleay’s proposal to reintroduce vocational ed programs in city schools.
But we think London is more qualified for this seat, and we strongly endorse her.
Jumoke Hinton Hodge.
District 3 (West Oakland-Downtown)
Jumoke Hinton Hodge
Like London, Hinton Hodge was first elected to the school board in 2008 and was part of the team that led the district out of state control. Over the years, she’s been a strong proponent of fiscal responsibility and for the creation of community schools that serve as focal points for neighborhoods. She’s more pro-charter than London—and us—but we admire the hard work she’s put in advocating for low-income kids of color in her West Oakland district.
We also like the passion of one of her top opponents—Kharyshi Wiginton, an educator at McClymonds High School. A progressive, Wiginton is backed by the Oakland teachers’ union and Parent’s United, a group of parent activists who contend that Oakland has been too accommodating to charter schools. Wiginton also is a strong advocate for improving elementary school education, noting that many kids in Oakland arrive in middle school without basic reading skills. If you’re anti-charter, Wiginton is a good choice in this race.
But there’s more to the job than just dealing with charter schools, and we think Hinton Hodge deserves reelection.
District 5 (Fruitvale-Glenview)
This race has become a microcosm of Oakland school politics. In 2012, Torres was elected to this seat when longtime school board member Noel Gallo won election to the city council. In that race four years ago, Torres was backed heavily by the charter-school group Great Oakland (GO) Public Schools. But this year, GO is spending large amounts of money on behalf of another candidate in the race, Huber Trenado.
Why? Because Torres has turned out to be far more independent than the charter school backers had hoped: She’s not a sure vote for them. Trenado, by contrast, is a charter school teacher who was recruited to run by members of GO. Trenado teaches at one of the charter schools—Lazear Charter Academy—that opened up in one of the campuses that the district tried to close several years ago.
We’re endorsing Torres because she’s an independent thinker, not beholden to anyone. We also think she’s done a good job as a school board member, although we encourage her to try work better with her colleagues. At times, she’s become involved in unnecessary personality clashes.
Trenado is a smart young candidate, and if you’re a charter school backer, he’s a good choice in this race. A product of Oakland schools, he’s also a graduate of UC Berkeley. But we don’t think he’s quite ready to be a school board member.
The third main candidate in this race, Mike Hutchinson, is running on an anti-charter platform, much like Macleay and Wiginton. A longtime education activist and policy wonk, Hutchinson is acutely aware of the challenges facing Oakland schools. And he’s right about the need for better oversight of charters.
And we urge Torres to lead the effort for better charter oversight if she’s reelected.
District 7 (East Oakland)
We think James Harris, the current president of the school board, is a rising star in Oakland’s political scene. In fact, when Councilmember Larry Reid finally decides to retire, perhaps in 2020, Harris would be a fine choice to replace him.
Harris is an intelligent and persuasive advocate for public schools, and has been actively involved in improving several campuses in his district, including Castlemont High School. Our one gripe with Harris is that we wish he would take a tougher stance on charters, much like his good friend, London, has done. It’s why the charter school folks are financing his campaign—and not hers.
Harris’ opponent, Chris Jackson, a former member of the San Francisco City College Board of Trustees, is also running on the anti-charter slate. And he’s backed by the teachers’ union and Parents’ United.
But, as we said, being a school board member in Oakland is a multidimensional task, and we think Harris is the best choice for the job.
Published Oct. 25, 2016 at 3:43 p.m.
Our endorsements are unanimous selections of the editorial board.