The future of the administration of the Oakland Unified School District—as well as the future of OUSD’s downtown administrative properties—fell into considerable confusion this week with the decision by the San Diego County Board of Education to hire state administrator Randy Ward as their administrator.
On Thursday morning, San Diego County Office of Education officials announced that their county board had voted 5-0 to hire Ward to replace the SDCOE outgoing superintendent.
While rumors of Ward’s pending hiring had been roaring through Oakland all week following calls from the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper to Oakland school board members to get background information on Ward, the fact that Ward had applied for the San Diego job caught most school officials off guard.
Board members said that Ward had not informed them of his San Diego plans before the San Diego Union Tribune inquiries, and they had not been contacted by State Superintendent Jack O’Connell even while O’Connell was making statements to newspapers concerning his future plans for Oakland schools.
Ward was hired by State Superintendent O’Connell to run the Oakland public schools in 2003 after a massive budget shortfall and a state bailout loan caused the state to take over control of the Oakland school district. OUSD’s elected board of trustees has functioned as an advisory body only since that time.
He is scheduled to begin work officially in San Diego on August 14 and is expected by San Diego officials to spend some days there between now and then to work on transitioning.
“I don’t think there is any question that Jack O’Connell is going to hire another administrator to replace Randy Ward,” OUSD Advisory Board President David Kakishiba said during an emergency board meeting held on Thursday afternoon shortly after the San Diego decision was announced. “The question is, for what purpose, and how long?”
Kakishiba said that any new administrator should be charged by O’Connell with the dual responsibilities of continuing the education and financial stability gains made in the district over the past few years, and working in close concert with the school board and the community to facilitate a return to local control.
Board members renewed their call for a phased timetable for a return to local control of the Oakland public schools by next summer, with outgoing trustee Dan Siegel saying, “Who do we trust more with the future of the Oakland schools—Jack O’Connell, or ourselves? I’ve got more confidence in the rest of you to run this district than I do in O’Connell or some potluck administrator he brings in. The state has had three years to come in and fix the systems. If they haven’t been able to fix them so far, what makes you think they’ll be able to do any better in the next three years?”
Last week, before the Ward decision was announced, the OUSD advisory board members unanimously passed a resolution requesting that O’Connell “direct the State Administrator to immediately work with the Oakland Board of Education to develop and execute an orderly governance transition process, including, but not limited to the Board of Education’s search for a Superintendent, beginning January 30, 2007, and its selection of a Superintendent by July 1, 2007.”
The resolution said that the district had substantially met the fiscal and academic reforms called for in the legislation that authorized the 2003 state takeover.
Copies of the resolution were sent out to O’Connell, the State Board of Education, the State Assembly and Senate, and County Superintendent Sheila Jordan, asking for support for return to local control of the Oakland schools by next summer.
Kakishiba said on Thursday that even with Ward’s imminent departure, the board should “stay the course” on the summer of 2007 timetable.
On Thursday, Trustee Greg Hodge argued that the board should take immediate steps to hire an interim superintendent to begin the transition to local control, and Siegel called for immediate return to local control. Siegel also called for the suspension of negotiations over pending sale of the district’s downtown properties—including the Paul Robeson Administration Building and five surrounding schools—until Ward’s replacement is in place. Three public hearings on the proposed sale have been scheduled for this summer, with one of them to take place in September, after Ward’s planned departure from the district.
But other board members urged caution in transitioning back to local control, with Yee saying that the summer of 2007 “should be our target” and adding that “we should not be distracted by asking for an interim superintendent.”
Trustee Noel Gallo agreed, saying, “We’re still not being informed by the state administrator’s office about what is happening in the district. You want local control, but local control of what? What is the true budget picture? I don’t know. This district is still being managed by the state, and O’Connell has never responded to questions by David [Kakishiba], even out of courtesy.”
Gallo said that board members were being given mixed messages about the actual financial situation in the district.
“The county superintendent [Sheila Jordan] is saying one thing publicly and another thing privately,” Gallo said. “I guarantee that in a year’s time, if we get immediate local control we will be back in the same financial situation that originally led to the state takeover, and we’ll be blamed.”
Trustee Alice Spearman said that the board should request local control over everything but the district’s finances, saying that control over the district’s academic direction was the most important step “so that we can start to make this district heal and make it whole.”
Spearman said that she had supported the state takeover as a private citizen and local education activist in 2003 “because I wasn’t pleased with the way things were going then.”
While board members eventually backed away from speeding up their proposed timetable for return to local control by next summer, they added that they would organize a campaign among local elected officials to convince State Superintendent Jack O’Connell to give the school board a say in the selection of Ward’s replacement in Oakland—however long that replacement may last, and in whatever form that replacement will run Oakland’s schools.
“This is going to be a political decision,” trustee Noel Gallo said. “We’re going to have involve the politicians that the state superintendent listens to the most. In my opinion, that means we are going to have to involve [incoming Oakland mayor] Ron Dellums.”
Board members also said they would contact State Senator Don Perata, Assemblymember Wilma Chan, and her pending replacement, incoming Assemblymember Sandre Swanson, to help lobby O’Connell. Hodge also said that Perata might be induced to add amendments to SB39—the Perata-written legislation that authorized the Oakland school takeover in 2003—to make it easier for Oakland’s schools to return to local control.
All of the board’s members were present at the emergency meeting except for Kerry Hammil, who is on vacation.
Ward was reportedly in San Diego on Thursday and did not attend the emergency Oakland board meeting. Kakishiba said that the state administrator was not scheduled to return to work until July 10.