A Bay Area Journalist's First-Hand Account Of How Mayor Jerry Brown Screwed Over Oakland On His Way To Sacramento



J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Oakland Unwrapped Column
UrbanView Newspaper
August 8, 2001

Sometimes, getting to the bottom of stuff in Oakland government is like trying to straighten out that mess of wires at the back of your computer console. Isolating one wire don’t necessarily solve the problem. It only leads to another tangle down below.

Like this thing about grades at the Oakland Military Institute charter school.

About a month ago, the Chronicle printed an article about OMI which included the line: "Oakland Military Institute students need a C average and good attendance records to get in." I thought that was out of line with the charter school’s stated goal of helping disadvantaged kids, and wrote in a column that it had to be a misprint, or something.

Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, Mayor Brown writes a letter to Urbanview, saying that the C average acceptance statement was "simply wrong. … OMI has an open, non-discriminatory admissions process. The school’s cadets represent a wide range, including students with…below C-averages."

To figure out what happened, I look up the Chronicle story on the web. "Jerry Brown’s Military Coup" by Meredith May, July 8, 2001, is still there, except now the line in the admissions paragraph reads: "Oakland Military Institute students need good attendance records to get in." Nothing about a C average. God bless hardcopy, and the saving thereof. I find the original print article in my files and see that I’m not crazy, and I didn’t make up the C average part. It’s still there.

Is Winston Smith alive and well and working in the Chronicle’s online department?

Anyhow, I called up Meredith May at the Chronicle and she told me the error was all her fault. She had been talking to OMI’s principal about attendance requirements, and he said something about students having to keep a C average to stay at OMI, and she wrote it down wrong. Understandable. Things like that sometimes happen.

Still, I’ve got to check to make sure the reporter did actually get it wrong. I called over to the Mayor’s office to see if they had one of the academy’s new Student Parent Handbooks, and they referred me to Assistant City Manager Simón Bryce, who left word that he could pick one up for me while he was working out at the Army Base the next day. And sure enough, when I got the OMI handbook from Bryce, it didn’t say anything about needing a C average to get in, but instead includes the provision that if an OMI student’s grade point average is below a C at the end of any of the school’s three marking periods, the student "may be dismissed from OMI." So you’re figuring that cleared it all up, right?

Uh, not quite.

First, I’m not sure if there’s much of a difference between keeping students out of OMI if they don’t have a C average or above, or kicking them out if their average goes below a C after three months. But maybe this is why the Mayor keeps guaranteeing that OMI students will do better than students in the regular Oakland public schools. Maybe he just means they’ll have a better grade point average. The regular schools, after all, don’t have the option of dropping the kids who are getting C-minuses and D’s and F’s. They’ve got to teach everybody. And thank goodness they do.

And second, it’s really nice that the Assistant City Manager happened to be going over to the Army Base where the OMI is located, and could pick up an OMI handbook for me. But I’m wondering how much Bryce…or any other city staff members…is putting time over at OMI, now that the approval battle has been one, and the school is ready to open. And if city staff is putting in time over there, I’m wondering if that’s going to show up on OMI’s budget somewhere as in-kind contributions. Just to keep everything straight, you know.

Like I said. Follow one wire long enough, it leads to a bigger tangle underneath.