Shula Bien: A Response to KQED's Editorial

This letter was written in response to this editorial published by KQED.


Hi Mr. Trautwein,

I am a 7-year veteran Oakland teacher and a KQED listener. My school, Elmhurst United (formerly Elmhurst Community Prep and Alliance Academy) was the first to be merged in the current Blueprint process (Cohort 1). I was dismayed to hear Ms. Young's account of OUSD's Blueprint process, which has happened behind closed doors and without any type of democratic process.

First of all, it's important to note that Lakesha Young works for REACH and is paid by GO Public schools. This information should be added to her byline in the article. Her 2017 salary was $127,799 according to their tax records. This is a pro-charter school organization backed by Bloomberg, Gates, Broad, and other unelected billionaires who purchase an outsize role in shaping public education - largely through their influence in school board elections. For example, according to public records GO poured $150,000 into the last election bid of Gary Yee (district 4), $123,000 into the last re-election of James Harris (District 7), $90,000 to re-elect Jumoke Hinton-Hodge (District 3), and $3,900 to re-elect Jody London (District 1).  All of these candidates have pursued a pro-school closure, pro-charter agenda.  

Publishing Ms. Young's op-ed without any of this contextualizing information was irresponsible. A group of directly affected parents, teachers, and students called Oakland Not for Sale are pushing OUSD to stop the Blueprint process, defund OUSD police, stop prioritizing charter schools, and have more fiscal transparency in financial decision-making.

In addition, I want to share some key facts from the Elmhurst - Alliance merger/ closure that complicate Ms. Young's "perspective":

1. The families and students impacted and destabilized by the Blueprint process of closures and mergers are disproportionately students of color from the flatlands of Oakland (Elmhurst, Alliance, Frick, SOL, Roots, Sankofa).

2. There was no meaningful community engagement around the Blueprint process, nor was there any evidence presented that money would be saved as a result.

3. The case that we need to close schools to resolve the district’s financial situation is flimsy at best. There is no evidence that closing and merging schools saves money; in fact, the February 2019 OUSD Fact Finding report revealed that “potential savings from attempted school closures are offset by implementation costs and a loss of enrollment primarily to charter schools.”

4. If the “merger” at Elmhurst United is indeed a success, that is no thanks to the district. Contrary to what was promised by district officials, support from the district was weak and inconsistent at best. We were promised financial and structural supports that were never delivered; those that were delivered were so meager or late.

5. Merging multiple school communities on a campus twice the size continues to be difficult. We are currently trying to build one cohesive school culture with students from Alliance, Elmhurst Community Prep, and Roots. While dealing with the intense emotions of mourning that come with losing a school and the stress of crafting the process without a literal blueprint, we had to fight to keep our enrollment up, to reassure our families, and proactively recruit students from surrounding elementary schools.

I urge KQED to be more responsible in its reporting instead of offering itself as a free platform for anti-public school advocates. There is certainly much more to say about this process should you be interested in publishing an alternative perspective.



Shula Bien

Elmhurst United Teacher



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