Drive to Return Oakland Schools to Local Control Gains Steam

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday July 11, 2006

Outgoing state administrator Randolph Ward is moving forward this week with the first of three public hearings to discuss the sale of the downtown Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) properties as education and political leaders and activists are escalating their challenge to both the proposed property sale and the continued state management of the district. 

The property sale hearing will be held on Wednesday, July 12, 6:00 p.m., at the district Administration Building at 1025 Second Ave., Oakland. 

Included on the agenda are a presentation by the proposed developer of the OUSD properties, and presentations by district staff on the net financial return from the proposed sale, potential options of relocation of the five schools located on the properties, and enrollment projections that might have an impact on the need for more schools in the downtown and east lake area where the property is located. 

Under a Letter of Intent signed on June 13, Ward and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell have until mid-September to reach a final agreement with developers Terramark and Urban America for the purchase of 8.25 acres of Lake Merritt-area OUSD properties, including the OUSD administration building, La Escuelita Elementary School, two high schools, and two child development centers. 

OUSD trustees originally called for the proposed sale in February of last year, but after O’Connell and Ward engaged in a year of secret negotiations with developers leading up to the signing of the Letter of Intent last month, several trustees have expressed reservations over the announced terms of the proposed sale, as well as the fact that Ward will be leaving the district for a new job in San Diego in the middle of the final stage of sale negotiations. 

Since the state takeover of the Oakland public schools in 2003, trustees continue to be elected by Oakland voters but hold no power over district policy or administration. 

Last Thursday, a coalition of district education and political leaders met at OUSD headquarters to plot strategies to try to delay the sale, as well as for a return to local control of the Oakland schools. Movement leaders have also said that if O’Connell decides to hire another state administrator to replace Ward, they want a hand in the selection process. 

The coalition meeting was chaired by OUSD trustee Greg Hodge and included trustees Dan Siegel and Alice Spearman. Representatives of the Oakland Education Association and American Federation of Teachers were also in attendance, as well as District 16 Assembly Democratic nominee Sandre Swanson and several individuals closely identified with the recent campaign of incoming Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums. 

Leaders of the local control movement have said they are going to attempt to enlist the support of both Dellums and Swanson in their efforts. 

OUSD Trustee Board Chair David Kakishiba also announced that he is holding a meeting with O’Connell this week to discuss a resolution passed by trustees calling for a timetable leading to complete return to local control of the Oakland public schools by the summer of next year. 

The resolution was passed in early June before trustees learned of Ward’s pending departure, but trustees met immediately following Ward’s departure announcement and reaffirmed their commitment to requesting the local control timetable.