Isaac Kos-Read, newly hired Chief of Communications and Public Affairs for the Oakland school district, has responded on Facebook to an Oakland Post article that raises serious questions about transparency and public involvement in the development of the prime real estate where the district’s former headquarters is located on Second Avenue.
The article, “Does OUSD Want Community Input or Just a Rubber Stamp on Headquarters Development,” focuses on concerns raised by most of the community members on the OUSD community engagement committee, who complained that the whole process was “inauthentic.”
The article, published last week in the Post’s print edition, online and on the newspaper’s Facebook page, followed up on an earlier article about former facilities manager Tim White, who was forced out of his job and had raised similar concerns.
Like the paper does with a number of its major stories, the Post paid a small fee to “boost” the story, that is, to send it to many of the people who “like” the paper on Facebook.
“The community engagement process we are implementing is 100 percent authentic and focused on getting constructive input on the future of the site,” said Kos-Read who earns $192,000 a year and frequently speaks at meetings as the superintendent’s representative.
“That’s why we created the committee and engaged some of our most active citizens to be on it,” he said, “and why we’ve set up this website on the project and conducted numerous – almost weekly – public engagement sessions: https://2ndaveproject.wordpress.com/.”
Kos-Read went on to lambast the newspaper for promoting its news coverage.
“By the way, I’m shocked there is a paid boost on this post on social media – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a news outlet sponsor and promote an article like this. Commenting at the risk of giving it any credence at all, but only so that everyone can have access to an information-filled public website on which we would welcome your feedback and input, so as not to help boost this post anymore,” he said, inviting people to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A man by the name of Doug Appel responded:
“Honestly, Issac Kos-Read, I don’t know quite what to think. Between the comments by Tim White and the comments by the committee members, it sounds as though this process has some question marks around it. As it is likely to take many millions in public funds, I’d prefer to be certain that everything was clean as a whistle and on the up and up. If the District’s response is to attack the reporting and try to spin it, maybe that investigation should come from the Alameda County Grand Jury or DA’s office.”
Also responding was Betty Tyler: “Things are not going well for the new guy. Disappointing.”
The school district headquarters flooded in January 2013, causing the entire building to be evacuated. Since then, the district’s central offices have been temporarily located at closed school sites around the city and in an office building in downtown Oakland at Broadway and 11th Street.
In addition, the city is selling land to a company to build a condominium tower next to Dewey Academy, which is adjacent to the old headquarters. Dewey students and supporters held a series of protests last year to pressure the district to halt a proposal to sell the property to the company to help pay for the new headquarters project.
The original community involvement was dropped after protests amid community suspicions that the district was arranging to sell Dewey Academy out from under its students and teachers, and hand over the school district headquarters property on Second Avenue to private developers.
The new process was begun in December and is supposed to conclude on March 22. Communitiy Engagement Committee members who do not work for the district are saying they have never learned enough about the development project to make an informed recommendation
“You have to accept it all on blind faith,” said Bruce Kariya, a former school board member and member of the engagement committee.