Swanson Bill Seeks to Return Some Local Control to OUSD

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday December 08, 2006

16th District Assemblymember Sandré Swanson (D-Oakland) quickly delivered on a promise made several times during the months since he won the June Democratic primary, introducing a bill on his first day as a state legislator to immediately return some measure of local control to the Oakland Unified School District. 

The bill would leave fiscal control in the hands of the state. Even then, getting the legislation passed and signed into law, and actually returning power to Oakland’s elected school trustees, will be a considerably more difficult matter. 

Swanson’s simply-worded four-page AB45 would “require the [California] Superintendent [for Public Instruction] to immediately return the rights, duties, and powers regarding the operational areas of community relations and governance, facilities, management, personnel management, and pupil achievement to the governing board of the Oakland Unified School District.” 

Under Swanson’s bill, fiscal management authority over OUSD would continue to be held by the state superintendent through an appointed state administrator. The bill gave no timetable as to when local control over fiscal management would be returned. 

Swanson’s bill was also silent on the issue of the controversial proposed sale of Oakland Unified’s downtown properties. State Superintendent Jack O’Connell is currently negotiating the sale of 8.25 acres of OUSD property—including the district’s administrative headquarters and five adjacent schools and early childhood learning centers—to the east coast-based development team of TerraMark/UrbanAmerica. 

The developers want to put a high-rise luxury condominium development on the site. The Oakland school board, the Oakland Education Association, the Oakland City Council, the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees, Swanson, Oakland Mayor-elect Ron Dellums and numerous community groups have all come out in opposition to the proposed sale.  

The state seized control over all aspects of Oakland Unified in 2003 in the wake of a severe fiscal crisis in the district. Under the legislation that authorized the takeover, the state superintendent has the final authority to decide when local control can be restored. The takeover legislation also authorized a $100 million line of credit for the district from the state, all of which has now been drawn down. 

Swanson held a public meeting on Thursday night at the district’s Second Avenue administrative headquarters to solicit community input for his bill. The meeting was held after the Daily Planet’s deadline. 

In a prepared press statement, Swanson said that “Education is our greatest example of democracy. The return of local control is essential in our goal to achieve academic excellence. This legislation recognizes and implements the progress in accordance with [the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team’s] recovery plan and recommendations.” 

FCMAT, a Bakersfield-based education organization set up by state legislation, has been charged with evaluating Oakland Unified’s progress under state control. The organization’s most recent progress report on the district, issued last September, recommended that control be returned to the district in the area of community relations and governance. 

Despite that recommendation, originally made in September of last year, State Superintendent O’Connell has failed to return that area of local control to Oakland Unified. 

The Swanson local-control bill faces several formidable hurdles, even if Swanson is able to get it passed in the Assembly. The first hurdle is State Senate President Don Perata (D-Oakland), who wrote the original 2003 SB39 legislation that authorized the state takeover. 

Perata has not yet indicated a position on the Swanson bill, and without Perata’s support or—at the very least—without the powerful senator’s promise not to actively oppose, it is difficult to see how the bill would be able to get through the State Senate. 

In addition, Swanson must gain Republican support for the local control bill, either with a bloc of Republican legislators or with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even with unanimous support from Democratic legislators, Democrats do not hold enough seats in the state assembly and senate to be able to override a gubernatorial veto.