OAKLAND – Interim state administrator Vincent Matthews was greeted with a raft of bad news about Oakland schools and open hostility from the standing room crowd Sept. 26 at his first public meeting with the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education.
Markeshia James and Shakora Cowart , elected student directors for the board, presented reports from students at nine Oakland high schools of rats, leaking toilets, no heat or air conditioning , no art classes, not enough books, not enough desks, no principal at one school and no library at another.
“There are rats at every school. It’s a big problem that shouldn’t be taken lightly. We have them on my campus [EXCEL College Prep] as well,” said Cowart after her testimony.
At the conclusion of the student directors’ report, the other board members sat in silence for several moments before Director Noel Gallo changed the subject. He asked the student directors to report back to him with incentives the board could provide to make students take standardized tests more seriously.
It seemed as though the board might not address the students’ comments at all when Alice Spearman, director, interjected.
“It’s unconscionable that [they] report back that our schools have a vermin problem,” Spearman said.
Fanning herself vigorously with a folding fan, Spearman went on to request action on the students’ concerns. She asked the board to report back in two weeks what had been done to rid the schools of rats.
The student directors’ report was compiled at a Sept. 20 All City Council meeting at Youth Empowerment School, where 58 students from nine schools gathered to give input to elected student representatives.
EXCEL College Prep’s delegates reported that their computer lab had been burglarized for the third time and that the stolen computers had not been replaced, leaving students with no computer access on campus. Students from Oakland High School said that there are not enough desks in their classrooms and that the heating and air conditioning are broken. There is also no heat or air conditioning at Youth Empowerment School. Skyline High School delegates said that they did not have enough textbooks, that their classes are overcrowded, and that the boys bathroom is missing faucets. Paul Robeson Visual and Performing Arts High School representatives said their campus had a rat problem. BEST High School reported that it had no library, no computer access, no physics class, and no art class. Metwest High School reported a rat infestation, no computers, and bathroom leaks.
Spearman added to the list, asking why the Castlemont Community of Small Schools did not yet have a fully functioning library.
“There are some things a school has to have. They have to have libraries,” said Spearman.
Director Gregory Hodge agreed with Spearman’s , but neither other board members nor Matthews made further comment before opening the floor for public input.
The Board Room at the Paul Robeson building on Second Avenue was filled to capacity with many people left standing at the back of the room.
Jack Gerson, a math teacher at Castlemont Leadership Preparatory High School and an Oakland Education Association board member thanked directors Spearman and Hodge for speaking out in favor of bringing a library back to Castlemont.
“You know it’s a state secondary code violation for a school to not have a library and a violation to not have a librarian,” Gerson said. “We aren’t sure what parts of the education code the board wants to enforce.”
Communications director Troy Flint said that the district would investigate the complaints and address them in order of importance.
“If there are rats, we will immediately contract out to rodent removal,” he said.