The Oakland We Knew and the Mayor’s Race

 

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Libby Schaaf’s Record

It’s hard to know how seriously Oakland folks will take this contest at a time when we are glued to twitter trying to understand the circus in Washington, but local politics are also a reflection of broader issues coming home to roost.

Libby Schaaf was a local apparatchik for a number of party politicians before she was elected to a single term on the council. She then ran what a pundit described as a “stealth campaign” for mayor. While everyone was busy blaming Jean Quan for all our ills and taking pot shots at Rebecca Kaplan, Libby Schaaf was tooling around town making goo goo eyes at reporters about her Oaklandish cred. [That was some ish alright.] After she released her secret weapon, an endorsement by Governor Jerry Brown, she turned out to be the top vote getter in that Ranked Choice Voting surprise.

Now almost 4 years later, we areexperiencing a human disaster like none we’ve seen in our 152 history. Thousands of Oaklanders are living in squalor on the streets and whole neighborhoods have been destabilized by gentrification. Of course, Ms. Schaaf cannot be blamed for the sudden rise in homelessness but the level of indifference she’s shown to these conditions, has been, until very recently, stunning.  920x1240

https://draketalkoakland.com/2017/07/10/oakland-city-council-must-heed-the-homeless-advocacy-working-group/

To add incompetence to neglect this administration managed to misplace $2.2 million  desperately needed  anti-displacement funds granted by the state. Eventually, they found them but still had trouble distributing them in a timely manner. Meanwhile tent cities continued to proliferate.  http://www.oaklandpost.org/2018/05/31/oakland-allocated-2-2-million-prevent-evictions-mayors-staff-failed-spend-money/  https://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2018/05/22/oakland-failed-to-spend-22-million-on-anti-displacement-and-homeless-assistance

Yes, she’s raised private funds for tough sheds, probably an improvement on tents, and that’s nice. But when activists of the Homeless Advocacy Working Group, HAWG, offered a list of solutions, I wouldn’t say they were shown the door but just left to sit in the waiting room.  Meanwhile, the mayor created another highly paid position in her office to deal with the problems hiring Darin Ranelletti, Policy Director for Housing Security, phew, I feel better already.

https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2018/03/15/oakland-creates-new-policy-director-position-to-deal-with-housing-crisis/

She spent her first day as mayor hanging out with police officers, because she felt their morale needed boosting and then was blindsided when it came out that they had been engaging in a sex trafficking operation. When it was also discovered that the department had been involved in cover-up after shameless cover-up, her administration did issue a loud slap on the wrist. Her next response to this crisis in confidence was to attempt to limit the independence of the proposed charter amendment that set up a Police Commission.

It turns out that her negotiation style is classic my-way-or-the-highway. When she demanded the power to appoint almost half of the commissioners, no compromise was brooked . I have to add that neither she nor her city administrator nor the city attorney have stopped trying to put obstacles in the path of a truly independent police commission even after the voters overwhelmingly supported it.

There have been a number of disasters and scandals during this administration’s first three years but little has stuck to Schaaf given the mostly positive press she garners locally and nationally–the Ghostship Fire, the cover-up of the new police chief’s images (7)complicity in an ICE raid in West Oakland, at least 4 police shootings in one summer, not to mention the accelerated exodus of native Oaklanders, especially Black Oaklanders from the Town. Additionally, this mayor has managed to look like a hero against the Jeff Sessions anti-immigrant onslaught while doing nothing to ensure our city’s sanctuary policy is upheld. She even told a group of immigrants fighting to maintain their Temporary Protected Status in the US who have started a nationwide bus tour to call attention to their plight that she was too busy to meet with them.  https://consortiumnews.com/2018/08/15/journey-for-justice-caravan-launches-cross-country-trek/

My Ranked Recommendations- 1) Cat Brooks, 2) Pamela Price, 3) Saied Karamooz.

Many people know Cat Brooks as a firebrand speaking at the city council and leading a march to the police department but she has a warm side that shows itself to friends and family and that includes all of the marginalized folks who are being ignored or actively pushed out of Oakland. She is an artist/performer besides being an activist on almost every issue and she has amassed a volunteer army who share her inclusive vision of Oakland. Her campaign is a positive force in Oakland politics. crowd+shothttps://www.catbrooksforoakland.com/  “That’s what this campaign is about. It’s about putting the people into the halls of power and collectively creating a new way of governance that is people driven and people-centered.”

Pamela Price, as many of you know, ran a tough campaign for district attorney. She did well in Oakland, although this race is a completely different one. I championed her  against Nancy O’Malley and think it’s a good thing that she has jumped into this race too. “We must fight injustice and income inequality in Oakland. We must house the homeless and ensure that we protect and enhance the safety and quality of life in our  Pamela_attorney-e1485730265186neighborhoods. We must reach deep inside ourselves and unite behind bold solutions while moving everyone in this City forward. We must “lift as we climb.”

https://www.pamelaprice4mayor.com/meetpamela

Saied Karamooz is a businessman who became active in Oakland politics a few years ago. At the time he seemed to me to be someone who took potshots at what others were doing but I see him differently now. He helped us get the Police Commission, Measure LL, on the ballot, helped pass it and has worked doggedly with the Coalition for Police Accountability [which cannot endorse in any campaign] to fight to maintain its independence. He is a member of  the otherwise ineffective Green Party but has worked with the Oakland Justice Coalition as well as other local advocates.  “I have been active in various progressive causes, such as Police Accountability, Fight for 15, Stop Urban Shield, Renter Protection, Public Bank, and No Coal in Oakland.” Saied-Headshot-e1517086595811

https://everyonesmayor.org/bio/

 

RCV–the Anti-gentrification Tool:

If the campaigns above work together in the Ranked Choice Voting system, there’s a chance we can beat the incumbent (that means ranking everyone but the incumbent in almost any order.) Why is that so important? No, I don’t think that Libby Schaaf is a terrible mayor. No, the potholes are not her fault or even the fault of her predecessor–but if you’re concerned about them–please don’t vote to repeal the gas tax since it’s our best chance to fund road repair and replacement.

Oakland is teetering on a precipice. It may even be too late to pull it back and while I don’t think Ms. Schaaf has done it on purpose, we could easily go the way of San Francisco. That city where I once lived, is no longer home to artists, working families or indeed families in general. In fact SF is a city with the fewest children of any metropolitan area in the US. It’s Black population which once mirrored that of the country and was significant in its cultural life-is now half of that and rapidly shrinking. San Francisco’s rep as a cauldron for activism, creativity and movements for progressive change exists only in nostalgia for the old city that once welcomed everyone in.

We all see where Oakland is going and we’re happy about new businesses opening up, an uptick in nightlife we haven’t seen since WWII, with cranes towering over the downtown and uptown. But it shouldn’t be necessary to harass and evict the people who have lived, worked and raised their families in this city and did so without grocery stores, restaurants or the availability of the capital to fund them.

Admittedly it’s a difficult task to find ways to provide it in a time of deregulation and soaring greed when the federal government long ago ceased funding any significant levels of housing affordable to the middle class much less the poor. It takes an administration that allocates available tax dollars wisely, monitors the funds carefully and actively seeks out creative urban planning ideas.

Contrast this with a city government in which neighborhood groups like the Chinatown Coalition must raise thousands of dollars to appeal planning decisions that give developers valuable height, density, and parking variances in exchange for next to no community benefits. The Chinatown Coalition fought for affordable housing within these giant projects in addition to space for small local businesses and indigenous art communities. But the Planning Department under this administration has still not recognized or utilized community benefits mandates in their process.

https://draketalkoakland.com/2016/12/14/help-wanted-an-oakland-planning-director-for-equitable-development/

With the leadership of this mayor and the current council members in Districts 2, 4, and 3, developers are actively discouraged from listening to community needs, the planning department ignores community demands and the budget is earmarked to fund everything but housing, services for the homeless, clean-up crews, recreation centers, and libraries especially in our economically struggling districts. They have been left to fend for themselves while public land is sold away to charter school corporations and elite programs.   http://www.oaklandpost.org/2018/07/13/council-delays-decision-selling-public-land-build-charter-school/

Oakland scored 33.5% on a study called the Equity Indicator Report. For all this mayor’s focus on police, Oakland’s poorer communities rate the lowest in the city for public safety according to this report.  https://www.kqed.org/news/11680162/new-report-shows-oakland-scores-low-for-racial-equity

The question now is what is your vision of Oakland? Is it the watered down Jerry Brown version where tech bros rule downtown, the uptown all the way to Temescal-whatever that means-“Construction cranes dot the downtown skyline, and scaffolding-shrouded towers march down Broadway into Temescal”-not to mention the Lake, Fruitvale and beyond?  [https://extras.mercurynews.com/oaklandboom/ ]

Should Fruitvale and West Oakland be rebuilt as bedroom communities for one demographic, whose folks will definitely buy artisanal coffee and drink green smoothies a la Blindspotting, but where will the rest of us go who struggled through the days images (1)where the easternmost coffee shop was the Coffee Mill on Grand Avenue, crime was high and storefront churches kept kids fed in the summertime. Should we have to leave because the goodies of the “sharing culture” don’t accrue to us? Should our kids have to move to Sacramento, Oregon, or, I dunno, Ohio because we just don’t fit the new vision? This is our chance, maybe our last one, to select a more inclusive mayor, one who knows and even cares where Willie Wilkins Park in East Oakland is and how it serves our families. We can do this.   http://oaklandschaafted.com/#how%20long

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The Long Sordid Record of Oakland’s Neglect of Affordable Housing, continuing saga…

I turned on the radio today, KPFA of course, in time to hear my old friend, architect and well-respected political and tenant activist, James Vann being asked by Kitty Kelly Epstein why a progressive council in a city like Oakland couldn’t seem to pass serious tenant protections. James answered, “I just don’t think we have anyone on the present city council who is progressive.”

That’s quite an indictment, especially when that little island city of retired military across the Estuary, Alameda,just passed stricter renter protections and extended a moratorium on no-cause evictions plus a cap lower than Oakland’s on rent increases.

James also stated (also embedded in his letter) that the city manager in charge of the mayor’s housing cabinet declined to even pass on the recommendations of the Renters’ Working Group to the mayor because….

I don’t think I need to add much more to this long, sad history of Oakland’s abrogration of its responsibility to its renters which is equivalent to neglect of its citizenry since the majority are tenants. What the hell is going on, Oakland??

[I have changed only typos in the following. Warning:read only with a strong drink, a good glass of wine, or your suitcase packed.]

Sordid Record of Oakland City Council on Rental and Housing Issues

jamesevann@aol.com

I presented this letter in October to the Renter’s Working Group of the Mayor’s Housing Cabinet process:
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Oakland’s current affordable housing crisis — particularly for renters — is not new, and has been acknowledged as a “crisis” by successive city councils since before the economic downturn of 2008. Events that have characterized the “crisis” over many years have at least included:
• the real estate “flipping craze” of the late 1970s that caused tenants to qualify “Measure E,” a rent control initiative that barely failed 53% to 47% in 1980, because Mayor Wilson and landlords quickly wrote the current and one-sided “Rent Arbitration Ordinance,” backed by over $20,000, and trumpeted as “Oakland-style rent control.”
• the condo conversion explosion of the 1970s, that resulted in the flawed condo conversion ordinance of 1981.
• appeals by tenants to make the “Rent Arbitration” ordinance more fair for tenants. Referred by CM Spees to a task group of tenants and landlords. No mutual decisions reached. No action by CC.
• the condo conversion rush of 2005-08. A tenant offered proposal not acted on by CC.
• appeals to end the passing to tenants of LLs (landlords’) “mortgage payments” from Rent Law (2007-08). Rent Board approved removal in 2008. Not acted on by CC until 2015.
appeals for needed revisions of the Condominium Conversion Ordinance; a continuing request since 2006. No actions ever by CC.
• appeals for “inclusionary zoning” in 2006; No CC action on “Inclusionary Zoning” and “Condo Conversion’ proposals. Referred by CM Brooks to a Blue Ribbon Commission. CC took 8 months to appoint the Commission.
• Blue Ribbon Task Force of 2006-08. After meeting for 18 months, and presenting a report of “lukewarm” recommendations, CC took no action on the Committee’s report.
• Mayor Dellums’ comprehensive Affordable Housing Program Plan of 2008; Presented to CC in 2009. No action by CC.
• uprising by tenants in 2013 – 14 against excess pass-through of 100% capital improvements, and lack of action after 5 years on “elimination of debt service pass-through” from Rent Board. Referred by CM Reid to “landlord & tenant work group. Repeal of debt service and compromised report of work group on capital improvements accepted by CC in 2014.
• “Tenant Protection Ordinance” struggle of 2014. CC approved text in 2014, but stripped “implementation and remedies” sections from the ordinance, rendering it useless to tenants.
• revised condo conversion ordinance developed by OTU in 2008 – 10 with CM Brunner, who refused to submit to CC unless prior assurance of passage.
• Condo Conversion Ordinance refined by housing advocates in 2014-15. Resubmitted to CM Kalb in early 2015. Held Up 5 months by City Attorney’s office for legal review. Finally released by CA in Nov 2015. No action by CC in last 2 months.
• CED staff announces “crisis” in Rent Program because tenant petitions increased from 1/2% to 1% of tenants, and applied to CC for a quadruple rental fee in order to double staff capacity. Both LLs and tenants strongly disagreed, and called for audit of Rent Program’s efficiency. OTU also argued that the city’s “one of a kind” rent program is the problem; that because it is a program that is activated only by tenant petitions, and that the program relies on landlords to inform tenants of their right to file a petition against that same landlord’s exorbitant increases or other illegal action (which many LLs don’t do), that tenant petitions should actually be at least 20% of tenants, not 1%, thus as more tenants learn of their right, it is impossible that increasing staff will solve the problem. It is the program that must change. What Oakland needs is a real rent control program, rather than the present landlord designed farce.
• As an assist to the current RAP problem, OTU submitted to the Renters Work Group of the Mayor’s Housing Cabinet the draft of a “Rent Control” ordinance recommended for inclusion in recommendations of the Housing Cabinet for the mayor. Manager Byrd decided against forwarding the recommendation to the Cabinet, perhaps considered “too radical.”
• Renters Work Group urged that a “resolution of urgency” be recommended directly to Mayor (not thru the Mayor’s Housing Cabinet) for immediate submission to CC to declare a “state of emergency in rental housing and a moratorium on rent increases and no-cause evictions” (as Alameda has done) to permit time to work out the problems in the rent program. T Moss, mayor’s chief of staff, reported at next meeting of the Work Group that instead of addressing the rental crisis (even though Mayor Schaaf has stated that ending displacement of long term residents is among the highest priorities of her administration), that the mayor decided to submit to CC an “emergency resolution” only for homeless programs. No action would be taken on declaring a rental housing emergency (despite the fact that the adopted Housing Equity Roadmap found that btw 2011 & 2014, Oakland had lost over 25% of its African American population and over 14% of families with school age children)

Through all these and other recurring housing and renter problems, the common identifying characteristic has been that hearing after hearing, and proposal upon proposal, the City Council of the time has almost never taken action.

This time, something different needs to happen. All council members, on several occasions, have acknowledged that Oakland is in a severe housing crisis, particularly for the majority of Oakland’s residents — the renters of Oakland’s flatlands, here the median income for a family of four is only $34,000, not nearly enough to pay current fast rising rents in Oakland. Many of these households presently pay 60 to 80% or more of their income for rent. By 2014, the city’s housing crisis had led to a loss of 25% of Oakland’s African American population and 17% of families with school aged children as documented by the city’s adopted Housing Equity Roadmap .

Declaring a “Housing Emergency” and enacting a “Moratorium” on rent increases and no-cause evictions will go a long way toward assuring tenants that city fathers (and mothers!) are serious about the crisis and, this time, will do more than just talk. Declaring a “Housing Emergency” is also a powerful signal to the suffering community that City Hall finally hears their pleas, and establishing a moratorium timeframe expresses to the community that the city is finally committed to assure that this time, action, not just talk, will happen.

James Vann

To add to this long list of inaction, Oakland is one of the only surrounding cities without developer impact fees and the city is poised to ….perhaps….maybe….enact a weakened fee, not comparable to those of other cities and which excludes 4,000 units presently in the pipeline and offers significantly lower fees in areas where the threat of gentrification is imminent.

Or it may postpone the whole thing until the building boom is over. The discussion will finally get started on January 26th at 1:30pm (is that a problem for you?)

Please, please, please, if you are a renter, know a renter, or might have a family member who would like to be a renter (rather than, you know, living with mom) let your council member know how seriously you take these issues. It truly is a State of Emergency in Oakland!

 

The Living Wage, BART Protestors, and Charter Schools, a Blog for Friday the 13th, Oakland

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Today’s blog is just a Friday-the-13th-kinda-thing -lots of seemingly strange stuff happening in the Town lately. Since we don’t know yet what might come out of it all, keep your eyes open and proceed with caution.

For one, last Tuesday the City Council subcommittee for economic development, in the name of that very concept, offered to give away the wages of struggling Oaklanders, East Oaklanders, many of whom continue to survive against great odds. Here’s the story as I’ve gleaned it- a developer started working with the City way back when there was redevelopment funding to secure a nice commercial parcel for development in Desley Brooks district at Seminary and Foothill, and she worked with him to make it happen. Millions of dollars in tax credits later including an extra capital fund of  $1.2 million, the developer will be paying about $6000 for the property which already has an anchor tenant in Walgreens.

Now let that sink in, $6000 is less than a down payment on a condo in most of Oakland, but, of course, this corner of Oakland sits at the beginning of the retail desert that extends all the way to San Leandro (but don’t tell that to the hard working businesses on International.) Residents of that area were happy to hear that a full-service Walgreens, which sells all the stuff your average chain drugstore carries plus food, would come in and bring other needed tenants. In an area with limited walkability due to the lack of offerings and the level of crime, this project was very welcome.

Here it starts getting confusing-if you weren’t bewildered enough by all the monies that developers and corporations manage to secure in an era when Oakland had long ago shuttered its adult schools and reduced public safety staffing, etc, etc-we have two laws that govern wages for the lowest paid workers. From what I’ve read in social media, people are using them interchangeably but they are different.

Back in 1998 a living wage ordinance was passed so that businesses that received subsidies or contracts from the city would be required to offer a wage that a person could live on-although the actual wage needed for life in the East Bay these days now hovers around $25 an hour-rather than the $14.10 currently required. Our new minimum wage that was fought for and won by a coalition of advocacy groups and labor unions is only $12.25 per hour but it’s still the highest in the area, at least until nearby cities pass proposed increases that may match or surpass ours.

Back to the project, as it was nearing the point of lease signing  with Walgreens, etc, a city staff report surfaced that the developer wanted a waiver to get out of paying the required “living wage” as per the ordinance in order to secure Walgreens. The old fear rose up in City Hall among city staff and council members that, once again, East Oakland might lose out.

Oh, another wrinkle is that the living wage only requires $12.27 an hour, 2 cents more than the new minimum wage so no big deal, right? The higher wage, $14.10, only gets implemented if the employer does not offer healthcare or some type of benefits package. Some proponents assume that with Obamacare (the ACA) employees will get healthcare anyway but that is only if the employee can get 30 hours of work a week. You may have heard that many employers are not offering 30 hours, even cutting their hours, so they can circumvent the ACA, and there’s the rub.

When some of the advocacy groups that worked for Measure FF, the new minimum wage, found out that staff was recommending that the waiver be granted, they showed up at the Community Economic Development meeting and objected to giving waivers willy nilly, particularly to large corporate chains. But folks from the neighborhood-to be fair some of the advocacy groups members also live in the area-heard from Councilmember Brooks that they needed to lobby for the waiver in order to get the project built. They seemed to feel under attack from “outside groups” who are actually Oakland community organizers who see the very real threat of gentrification-development that makes a neighborhood more desirable, thus raising rents and prices, without the attendant increase in local income for residents who have persevered through the worst of times.

I turned on to watch the meeting expecting a battle royale between labor, anti-gentrification groups and the proponents of the project. What I saw was that a few folks from groups like EBASE (East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy), Causa Justa, and a union or two had shown up. They spoke in favor of the project and against the waiver and the need for Oakland residents to get something out of all the government tax credits, city staff time, and valuable property the chain was getting to utilize. At a time when the economic boom seems to be luring lots of businesses to Oakland, it seemed weird to assume Walgreens would not like to come, especially as there is so little competition in that area as pointed out repeatedly by the proponents.

I was surprised, chagrined really to see how quickly the council members on the committee, plus Noel Gallo, and Ms. Brooks asserted that, indeed, Walgreens would leave and the project would collapse. There was not even a peep of negotiating or possibly sunsetting the waiver (did I miss something?) So this waiver was granted to a giant corporation on the eve of the new minimum wage going into effect, not to a small business or struggling local entrepreneur, or non-profit doling out wages from federal grants, no a giant successful chain. The TV news got hold of that part of the story, the struggling small business part, and it gained traction, I’m guessing, on the evening news. IMG_20141201_212805

No one knows what really happened but maybe someone at Walgreens got wind of how it would look for them to refuse an extra $1.45 an hour in wages and declared that they did not intend to ask for a waiver of city laws. Now the project may go forward and the amount of the living wage will hinge on whether Walgreens avoids granting enough hours to its employees to enroll them in healthcare. I certainly hope the city is a better watchdog of its own laws in the future than it was last week, but everyone who worked on Measure FF needs to prepare themselves to continue the fight.

Now let’s talk about BART and civil disobedience for a minute.

The BART board voted just the other day to back off demanding retaliatory fines from the Black Friday 14 (however, that doesn’t mean the DA will have to abide by their resolution) but they maintained that the DA should go ahead with criminal charges. So, many people are still demanding that the District Attorney drop them. Or are they? If you look at social media, you will see that there is a difference of opinion among some of those folks calling themselves “supporters”of the Black Lives Matter movement.

They say that in the good ole days of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, people expected to suffer for their cause and were willing to “take their medicine.” But I was reminded while viewing Selma that the activists in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference saw jail and even beatings as part of heightening the contradictions, as pure PR that could demonstrate to the media and hence lawmakers, their plight in a way which had not been visible to them before.

No, folks, they didn’t go to jail because they thought they deserved it for disturbing the ugly peace of Jim Crow. They went as a tactic, and they used it because it worked. Sure they were willing to suffer for their cause. Some of them even suffered death. Are we harkening back to those days, and if so, why? Don’t we want to at least pretend that things have advanced in this country toward social and racial justice? Do we need more proof of suffering before we can implement change?

Whether disturbing the transport of the average citizen is a tactic we can get behind, I think well-intentioned people can disagree. But unlike BART Board Member Joel Keller’s manipulative op-ed in the Oakland Tribune, no, teachers weren’t trying to go to work that day, it was part of the Thanksgiving holiday-so remember that what they disturbed was the ultimate capitalist holiday, shopping day. Didn’t we tell you all to shop Oakland Grown that day anyway?

IMG_20141201_175233But, as to BART itself, though they have made improvements, it is still difficult to forget, as someone said, a movie, a real life tragedy,  was made about BART called Fruitvale Station. BART police and their supporters didn’t care about killing a young man and brutalizing others, and they certainly weren’t concerned about whether folks were able to catch the train home from work at that point.

And I can’t forget that this board cavalierly forced their union workers into a lengthy contract battle during which many average riders struggled to get to work on a regular basis, because BART’s GM didn’t think that the people who do the actual work should be able to maintain a middle-class lifestyle. For many BART workers of color those union contracts allowed them and their families to be the first generation to enter the middle class. Don’t forget also that at least two workers died directly due to that recent struggle.

So, to me, when community service is suggested as part of their penance for that short disruption, I say that is their community service-what they are already doing. The Black Friday 14 and the Black Lives Matter organizers are taking steps to bring their community together to protect themselves and prevent further abuse by authorities and they are doing so in a well-organized, peaceful and disciplined manner. If BART wants to make itself a target of continuing unrest, well, they’re doing it just right.

Since it’s Friday the 13th, I’ll just throw this issue on the pyre. If you want to see a large unwieldy government bureaucracy that is much less transparent and seems to produce less for its constituents, look not further than the Oakland Unified School District. And, no it’s not about not allowing charter schools to loosen that up, that ship has sailed since the Oakland district has likely authorized more charters than other cities its size. It’s about whether Oakland families and taxpayers will have a coherent public system or whether charters will swallow the entire system.

If you think schools run by organizations not beholding to citizens, parent committees, unions or even the kids who need change the most, can do a better job, then turn our system over to charter organizations altogether. But, on second thought, please don’t. Happy Friday the 13th! IMG_20141201_213625