Oakland School Board Asks State for New Fiscal Plan

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday August 17, 2007

With Oakland Unified school board president David Kakishiba calling his district’s financial situation “precarious,” the newly-empowered OUSD school board issued a sharp criticism last week of the district’s fiscal condition under state receivership, directing state-appointed administrator Dr. Kimberly Statham to adopt a new five-year financial recovery plan to put OUSD’s fiscal house in order. 

“The board wanted to provide direction to the state on how the district can meet the important fiscal challenges that lie ahead, and we wanted to go on record to show that we are profoundly concerned about the present fiscal situation,” Kakishiba said this week by telephone. “The current budget represents a step backwards in moving towards solvency.”  

In its first official meeting following the return of limited authority after five years of full control of the district by the office of State Superintendent Jack O’Connell, board members passed a resolution saying that while the original fiscal recovery plan developed after the state takeover called for a positive fund balance and a restoration of the district’s state required 2 percent reserve fund by the 2006-07 fiscal year, “the state-appointed Administrator adopted a 2007-2009 fiscal budget that includes a $1.4 million negative fund balance, and a $1.5 million shortfall” in the 2 percent reserve.  

Last week’s board resolution directed Statham to present a new five-year recovery plan to the board by January 30 of next year. The board wants the recovery plan to include, among other factors, the impact of declining enrollment on the district and the financial, instructional and human resource impacts of proposed school closures and the Expect Success! program that was introduced by Statham’s predecessor, Randolph Ward, that Ward once called “essentially a redesign of OUSD.” 

Kakishiba said that the district’s current budget problems comes from “assumptions made by the state that were clearly wrong,” including “failure to take into account the impact of charter school competition on the district. That was the biggest wrong assumption.” 

Under state control, the number of public charter schools operating in Oakland under OUSD administration has increased dramatically.  

The Oakland school board recently won return of control over the area of “community relations and governance,” with the state administrator retaining control over all other areas of district operation, including finances, personnel, facilities, and educational instruction. Kakishiba admitted that the ability for the school board to “direct” the state administrator under such circumstances was “murky,” but noted that the board took its authority for the action from the language of the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team reports outlining professional standards for community relations and governance. Kakishiba also said that the administrator told board members at last week’s meeting that “she intended to get the plan together.” 

Statham’s office did not return a telephone call by deadline asking for a comment on the resolution.  

Statham was hired a year ago by State Superintendent Jack O’Connell to run the Oakland school district after the original state administrator, Randolph Ward, resigned to take the post of Superintendent of the San Diego County School District. Many of the fiscal problems detailed in the board’s resolution had their beginning’s in Ward’s administration. Critics have charged that Ward left the district deeper in debt and in worse financial shape than when he took over in 2003, and that the former administrator concentrated more on changing the district’s education program than on righting its finances.