Oakland

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Cash Influx Makes Oakland School Board Races Competitive

by Lillian Mongeau

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Mary Prime-Lawrence canvasses East Oakland voters for GO. (Lillian Mongeau/KQED)

The role of money in politics is a big issue in many elections this year – including the race for four seats on the Oakland Schools Board of Education.

A local non-profit, the teachers’ union, and the board candidates themselves are expected to spend more than $300,000 on seats that have been uncontested in more than half the races since 2004.

Mary Prime-Lawrence is a dozen doors into her list of registered voters on 88th Avenue in East Oakland. She’s standing in the dark hallway of a rundown fourplex. Most people haven’t been home, so she smiles when the deadbolt slides open.

“Hi there. Is Michelle Logan in? Are you Michelle? She’s not here right now? Can I leave some information for her? If you can give her that. James Harris is running for school board. We hope she can give him her support November 6,” Prime-Lawrence asks.

After 40 minutes, Prime-Lawrence has met only two of the voters she’s looking for. The low numbers haven’t dampened her conviction that this is the right way to spend her Saturday morning.

“In Oakland if you are un- or under-educated, you are more likely to get pregnant, get someone pregnant. Be involved in gangs, in drugs, in violence. It’s a life and death issue for some people, for some children,” she says.
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Oakland Schools Hope for Kitchen Upgrades If Measure J Approved

By Katharine Mieskowski, Bay Citizen

Public schools in Oakland are looking for major kitchen remodeling with a measure on the November ballot.

If approved, Measure J would authorize the Oakland Unified School District to issue up $475 million in bonds to improve school facilities.

Along with seismic upgrades and lead-paint removal, the bonds could help underwrite a planned overhaul of kitchen facilities in the district, including building a new central kitchen in West Oakland. It’s part of an ongoing effort to improve the food the district serves to students, some 70 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals.

Oakland has made strides toward serving healthier and fresher food in recent years. For instance, the district now buys more fresh fruits and vegetables from within 250 miles of Oakland. There are salad bars at 67 schools.

But it’s infrastructure, not ingredients, that’s become the biggest barrier to making lunches healthier and tastier. Many schools have antiquated kitchens — if they have a kitchen at all.

“It’s a very attractive museum of kitchen dinosaurs,” said Zenobia Barlow, executive director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The facilities limit what food can be served.

“A lot of what is served is processed and prepackaged and frozen,” said Ruth Woodruff, who has a first-grader and a fourth-grader attending Chabot Elementary School. “It gets unwrapped and put on trays and heated.” Continue reading