The newly empowered school board of the Oakland Unified School District moved swiftly to exercise authority granted by California State Superintendent of Education Jack O’Connell, voting on Wednesday to hire an interim district superintendent on a one-year basis while the board looks for a permanent superintendent.
But even more surprising than the swiftness of the OUSD Board’s actions—coming a day after the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signing ceremony at Grass Valley Elementary—was the board’s choice: Roberta Mayor, who, as chief management analyst for the Fiscal Crisis and Management Team (FCMAT), has been overseeing OUSD’s finances during the five years of state control.
Since a massive budget shortfall led to the state takeover of OUSD in 2003, the state superintendent’s office, the state administrator hired by the state superintendent to run the Oakland schools, and FCMAT have been equally viewed by many Oakland residents as symbols of outside control of the local schools.
Mayor, who will take office in Oakland on July 1, was hired on a 4-3 vote, reflecting the deep divisions that have emerged on the board as the district moves slowly out of state control.
The MOU itself passed on a 5-2 vote of the board, with Director Chris Dobbins saying on Tuesday that he’d had second thoughts on voting for approval. Director Noel Gallo, who opposed the MOU, pointedly refused to go up on the Grass Valley Elementary stage with other directors and stand behind O’Connell and district officials while the MOU was being signed.
Both Gallo and Dobbins say they are concerned that, under the MOU personnel authority transfer, the board will take over direct contract negotiations with the Oakland Education Association teachers union, even though the board has no say over the district’s fiscal matters.
Under the MOU, the OUSD board regained control over facilities management and personnel, and with it the ability to hire a local superintendent and an independent auditor. Oakland earlier won authority over community relations and governance. Under a complicated arrangement, state administrator Vincent Matthews will have complete authority over the district’s finances and pupil achievement, and will serve as trustee—with veto power—over the three areas that have been returned to local control.
OUSD Board President David Kakishiba said that, in the months since favorable FCMAT reports in facilities and management triggered a decision by O’Connell to take those areas out of state control and authorize the hiring of a local superintendent, board members have grappled with a decision on whether to hire a permanent superintendent, an interim superintendent, or no one until full local control had been restored.
Kakishiba himself had originally supported hiring a superintendent, but early last month he told the Daily Planet in an interview that he was having second thoughts.
“I’m concerned with our ability to attract the best candidates to Oakland given the present uncertainties,” Kakishiba said at that time. “I think it’s better to wait and have a clean transition.”
By this week, however, Kakishiba had changed his mind again, and supported the interim hiring.
“Ms. Mayor’s hiring will infuse the district with the leadership and exper
tise needed to end the state takeover and get our finances in order,” Kakishiba said by telephone this week. “Given what we believe is needed at the present time, the board feels she is the right person at the right time.”
In a prepared press release, the district said that Mayor “boasts 40 years’ experience as an educator, serving as a teacher, principal, deputy superintendent and superintendent in both California and Hawaii.”
“The past five years have afforded me the opportunity to observe the inner workings of the Oakland Unified School District and to develop great affection for Oakland Public Schools,” Mayor said in a statement. “I am humbled and honored that the board has entrusted me with the task of leading the district in its return to a solid financial position and full local control.”
Despite the fact that the SB39 state legislation authorizing the state takeover specifically called for the hiring of a state administrator with “recognized expertise in management and finance,” this is the first time since the state takeover that a fiscal expert has been hired to lead a portion of the district.
None of the three OUSD state administrators hired by O’Connell—Randolph Ward, Kimberly Statham, and now Vince Matthews—had a background in fiscal management expertise.
Kakishiba denied this week that there was any quid pro quo agreement with FCMAT over Mayor’s selection.
“No, absolutely not,” he said. “I think that [the people at FCMAT] were probably shocked. But who else better to get the district focused on the FCMAT fiscal standards than the chief FCMAT investigator?”
Under Mayor, FCMAT has written reports and recommendations that have been highly critical of the state’s management of Oakland Unified’s fiscal affairs, although the state management has received some praise from FCMAT for fiscal recovery in recent months.
In its most recent assessment of Oakland Unified in November of last year, the assessment that led to the return of facilities and personnel management to local control, FCMAT said that “the reforms undertaken by the district [under state receivership] have not always considered fiscal recovery as the primary goal,” but that state administration was making “steady improvement” in that area. Still, of the five areas monitored by FCMAT, OUSD received its lowest marks in fiscal management.
Fiscal recovery of the district was the sole reason the district was taken over by the state.