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State to Return Part of OUSD to Local Control

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday July 06, 2007

The president of the School Board for the Oakland Unified School District said late this week that State Superintendent for Public Instruction Jack O’Connell will come to Oakland next Monday to announce his decision to immediately turn over the area of “Community Relations And Governance” from state control to control by the school board.  

Four other areas of school district operations—personnel, management, pupil achievement, financial management, facilities management—will remain in O’Connell’s hands, and the district will continue to be operated by O’Connell’s state administrator, as it has been since OUSD was taken over by the state four years ago after the district announced it was in danger of failing to meet its payroll.  

“The transition back to local control has started,” board president David Kakishiba said in a telephone interview on Thursday afternoon. “I think this is a good thing for Oakland. The ball is starting to roll.” 

What exact duties that will mean for the school board have not yet been fully determined. The Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), which the state has charged with monitoring and assisting the district during the takeover period, includes several areas affected by “Community Relations And Governance,” including the setting of district policy. Potentially, that could have some effect on all district operations, including finances. 

Under the 2003 state takeover law, the board was rendered completely powerless, functioning as an unpaid “advisory body” that the state administrator did not have to listen to. Kakishiba said that “one thing the turnover will do is force the board to begin to think differently about our responsibilities. I believe that the board will not defer so much to the state on issues affecting the district, and it will cause us to be more proactive on those issues. On the flip-side, it will cause the staff to have to operate differently as well. For the last four years, they have operated with no public accountability. That will now change.” 

In practical terms, the school board president said that the state-appointed administrator will now be required to report to the board, something, he said, the administrator did not have to do while the board was completely powerless. 

Kakishiba said that he was not surprised by O’Connell’s announcement. “Actually, I expected it to happen last month,” he said. “We have been working on this for some time.” Kakishiba said that he and OUSD State Administrator Kimberly Statham have been working on a Memorandum of Understanding between the Superintendent’s office and the school to spell out the specific duties that will be taken over by the board. 

O’Connell will make the announcement at a special school board meeting called for 8 a.m. Monday morning at the OUSD Administrative headquarters, 1025 Second Avenue in Oakland. 

The state superintendent’s official announcement of the turnover will come just two days before the State Senate Education Committee is scheduled to hold hearings and vote on Assemblymember Sandré Swanson’s AB45 bill that, if passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor, would result in the return of control over Community Relations and Governance to the local board, and would establish firm guidelines for return to local control of the other four areas of operation. AB45 has already passed the state assembly. 

The hearing on AB45 will be heard on Wednesday, 8 a.m., in the John Burton Hearing Room, Room 4203 in the state capitol building in Sacramento. 

O’Connell’s office could not be reached for comment, but Swanson’s public information officer, Amber Maltbie, said that O’Connell has invited Swanson, State Senator Don Perata, and State Assemblymember Loni Hancock to be present with him at the Monday announcement. 

“Assemblymember Swanson is happy that things are moving forward,” Maltbie said on Thursday by telephone. “He believes it shows that AB45 is still needed. If anything, this shows that the progress on the bill has spurred the superintendent to action.” 

At meetings held in Oakland over the past two years, many Oakland educators and activists have expressed the belief that return of “Community Relations And Governance” responsibilities to the local school board was long overdue. 

SB39, the 2003 Senator Don Perata-sponsored legislation which authorized the state takeover included several steps for return to local control of the district, including language that restoration would come after the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), the state-authorized agency charged with overseeing the recovery of troubled school districts, “determines that for at least the immediately previous six months the school district made substantial and sustained progress in implementation of the plans in the major functional area.” 

FCMAT determined in both its 2005 and 2006 OUSD progress reports that the district had made substantial progress in “Community Relations And Governance,” concluding in its 2006 report that “this area of school district operations is appropriate for the governing board of the Oakland Unified School District.” 

But up until this month, O’Connell ignored those findings and refused to cede control, and Assemblymember Swanson reported earlier this year that the state superintendent had refused to give him a firm timetable on the return of “Community Relations And Governance” or any other aspect of district activity to local control. Swanson said he wrote AB45 in part so that return to local control would not be arbitrary, but would be based upon “defined guidelines.” 

Perata has signed on as a floor manager of AB45 in the Senate. O’Connell has come out in opposition to the bill.