Oakland School Officials Await Decision on Local Control

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday November 30, 2007

State Schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell appears ready to turn over two more areas of control to the Oakland Unified School District on the recommendation of the Fiscal Crisis & Assistance Management Team (FCMAT), a move that could lead directly to the hiring of a new OUSD superintendent under local control.  

O’Connell’s office has set up a conference in Oakland for Friday morning (today) in which it will “announce the process of returning two additional operational areas to the Oakland Unified School District governing board: Personnel and Facilities.” 

FCMAT, the state funded school intervention organization, issued a report on Wednesday in which it recommended that O’Connell turn over control of those two areas. The state superintendent began controlling all five OUSD operational areas—including finance, community relations and governance, and pupil achievement—following a 2003 state takeover of OUSD resulting from a massive district budget shortfall.  

At that time, the local board lost all power, and the local superintendent, Dennis Chaconas, was fired and replaced by a state administrator hired by O’Connell. 

The FCMAT report also said that it was close to a recommendation of return to local control to OUSD in a third area: pupil achievement. Control over a fourth area—community relations and governance—was returned by O’Connell to the local board earlier this year on FCMAT’s recommendation from two earlier reports. 

Clearly ebullient OUSD board member Gary Yee described the leaps in FCMAT’s assessments of OUSD’s performance from last year to this as “remarkable,” and called the report and its recommendations “the most powerful good news we’ve seen in the district in some time.” 

Under the original SB39 legislation that authorized the 2003 state takeover of OUSD, the state superintendent has the sole power to grant the return of local control in any operational area following the FCMAT recommendation. Earlier this year, the legislature passed Assemblymember Sandré Swanson’s AB45 bill that would have taken the local control restoration discretion out of the superintendent’s hands and given that return automatically upon FCMAT’s recommendation. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed that bill. 

Following the release of this week’s FCMAT report, and even before O’Connell’s announcement of agreement with the organization’s recommendations, the OUSD board moved quickly to begin the process of employment of a superintendent. At Wednesday’s board meeting, OUSD Board President David Kakishiba said that he was putting an item on the board’s Dec. 8 retreat agenda that will “begin the dialogue on how we should go about the superintendent search process.” 

In a telephone interview held earlier on Wednesday, Kakishiba said that in past state takeovers of local school districts, the state has allowed the hiring of a local superintendent once three of the five operational areas have been returned to the local district. 

Kakishiba said that the granting of authority to hire a local superintendent after the return of three operational areas “is not set out in law, but it has been the past practice. Vallejo is the most recent example where that took place.” 

If O’Connell follows through with his announced plans to return the two additional areas to local control as expected, it would eventually mean a bifurcated administrative system in OUSD, in which the state-appointed administrator—currently interim administrator Vincent Matthews—would have sole and final authority over the areas of finance and pupil achievement, using the board as an advisory body only in these two areas. 

The board would set policy in the three remaining operational areas—community relations and governance, facilities management, and personnel management—and run them through the newly-hired local superintendent, but Matthews would act as a trustee in those areas, with the ability to veto any policies or actions if he considers them harmful to the district’s fiscal recovery. How that bifurcated administration would actually act in operation—and how much or little leeway and deference the state administrator would give the local superintendent and board—is unknown. 

O’Connell’s actions following the most current FCMAT recommendations—if he does follow through with abiding by them—contrasts sharply with his past treatment of OUSD. O’Connell ignored FCMAT’s recommendation of local control return in the area of community relations and governance for two years, and then granted it only after Swanson filed his proposed AB45 legislation, which would have taken the return authority out of O’Connell’s hands. 

At Wednesday night’s board meeting, board members gave the assemblymember full credit for moving the local control process forward. 

“I know that we didn’t have any of these areas returned until Swanson intervened,” board member Kerry Hamill said. “Before his bill was introduced, the process was dead.”