Mixed Reaction to Oakland School Control Bill Veto

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday October 16, 2007

In a move that Oakland Unified School Board President David Kakishiba said was “not unexpected,” California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed Assemblymember Sandré Swanson’s AB 45 Oakland school local control bill on Saturday. 

Schwarzenegger wrote, “The pace at which [the bill] seeks to restore the authority of the school board may surpass the pace at which the state administrator can imbed sustainable reforms. Current law contemplates the return of the district to local control once the [California Superintendent of Public Instruction] has a level of confidence that the improvements in the district are sustainable. In the interest of the educational well-being of the students, it is well worth investing the time to allow the [state superintendent] to finish the work that has already begun.” 

The veto means that the fate of the future of the Oakland Unified School District remains under current state law, which allows the California school superintendent unlimited discretion as to when local control can be returned. 

Under Swanson’s bill, which he introduced on the first day he took office last year, a recommendation for return to local control by the state-financed Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team school monitoring organization would call for immediate return in that operational area, regardless of the state superintendent’s position. 

In a Saturday press release entitled “Swanson Upbeat for Next Step for Oakland Schools,” the first-term Oakland assemblymember said that despite the failure of AB45 to become law, he felt the bill had caused some positive accomplishments. 

“I believe that the Governor’s action puts more pressure on the Superintendent, as he now must continue the transfer of authorities without the structural guarantees that I was attempting to put in place with AB 45,” Swanson said in his prepared statement. “Under current law, … the superintendent always had the ability to move the process forward but had been unwilling to do so. Given this new environment, I am optimistic that there won’t be another stalemate, and that is a clear victory for Oakland children.” 

But speaking by telephone, School Board President Kakishiba sounded considerably more bitter about the veto. 

“While some people have been talking about the problems with the local school board, nobody in state government—from the governor’s office to the state superintendent to the Republican members of the legislature—wants to be culpable for what has happened to the Oakland schools under state control,” Kakishiba said. “During five years of state receivership, we have never had a balanced budget, and the executive turnover has been far worse than any other urban district in California during that time.” 

While praising state officials for “dealing with the most severe part of the fiscal emergency at the beginning of the state takeover,” Kakishiba said that since that time “state officials have proven themselves unable to solve the day-to-day problems of the district, such as stopping the declining enrollment. The state doesn’t want to look in the mirror and see its own actions. I see a lot of raw, naked opportunism at work here. It’s not about getting educational results in Oakland. It’s about the state retaining power. It’s both sad and frustrating.” 

Kakishiba said that the Oakland School Board—which received a limited return of local control last summer from State Superintendent Jack O’Connell after the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) had recommended such a return two years running—will “keep on the state administrator’s case to balance the ’07-’08 budget and to develop a new multi-year Fiscal Recovery Plan for the district.” 

The board president said that the board will “continue to develop plans for initiating a superintendent search in anticipation” of beginning such a search next spring. 

Saying that the AB45 veto “won’t derail” board plans to begin the process for a board-hired superintendent, Kakishiba said that when the new FCMAT report on the Oakland schools comes out next month, he is anticipating an FCMAT recommendation of return to local control in either two or three of the remaining four district operational areas.  

“The past practice in return to local control after state takeovers is that when at least three areas have been returned to local control, the local district is allowed to hire a superintendent to administer those areas,” Kakishiba said. “That’s what occurred in Compton and Vallejo.”  

Kakishiba said that even though O’Connell could choose not to follow FCMAT’s recommendation under current law, “I believe the superintendent feels that there has not been any problem with the return of local governance and community relations to school board control, and so there is good reason to believe he will go along with the FCMAT recommendation.” 

Kakishiba said that one possible reason for O’Connell to reject a FCMAT recommendation of return of more local control in the Oakland schools is “if the state superintendent believes that the private investment in the Expect Success! initiative will be endangered by the return of local governance.” 

O’Connell's office issues a statement on the AB45 veto Thursday afternoon: 

“I commend Governor Schwarzenegger for vetoing AB 45 by Assemblymember Sandré Swanson (D-Oakland), which would have instituted an unworkable process for determining the timeline for return of local control to the Oakland Unified School District. I appreciate Assemblymember Swanson's passion for improving public education in Oakland, and I share his commitment to our students. I am pleased that Oakland Unified is making progress in both student achievement and fiscal stability, and that the district has resumed local control in the area of governance and community relations. However, this bill would have created a new bureaucracy for the process of determining the return of authority to the local school board. This process would not serve the best interests of the students of Oakland Unified.”