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By Ken Epstein

Oakland Unified School District officials were surprised recently when they learned from the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE), which previously worked closely with OUSD, that the county had taken dramatic action. apparently out of the blue, citing an official “Lack of continuity” ruining the neighborhood.

The ACOE told the OUSD it had to cut the budget by $ 90 million and threatened – if the district does not take sufficient action by the end of January – to withhold school board salaries and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and place the district under direct control. control of the state’s Bakersfield-based nonprofit, the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), according to a Nov. 8 letter to the district from Superintendent ACOE. L. Karen Monroe.

Some school board members and school advocates see this threat of ACOE and FCMAT takeover as retaliation and perhaps an attempt to reverse recent board action and Trammell-Johnson passing a resolution with broad community support to reject state pressure to close neighborhood schools.

With just five days to challenge the county’s decision, school board members – with the support of the superintendent and senior administrators – voted unanimously at a special meeting on Saturday, November 13 to appeal the determination of “Lack of continuity” to the state superintendent. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who announced this week that he had sided with the county.

The danger of direct state control – now operating through FCMAT and ACOE – serving as agents of the state, rather than through the dictatorial power of a state sequestrator – appears to be a modified re-reading of the 2003 state takeover of the OUSD, nearly 19 years since.

Around this time, the state placed a receiver and FCMAT in charge of the OUSD and forced the district to accept a $ 100 million loan it did not need, and proceeded to unilaterally spend the windfall. on their favorite projects. OUSD is still repaying this loan. In addition, the superintendent was fired and the authority of the school board was suspended.

Under state leadership, the district has closed about 20 schools, mostly Black and Latinx flatland schools, with direct encouragement from the FCMAT, although the FCMAT has acknowledged that closing schools does not save money. money.

Under FCMAT and county leadership since 2003, the district has faced almost continual budget cuts, remained in debt, and relied on a revolving door of privatizing administrators and consultants, many of whom appear to be passing through Oakland. as a career springboard.

According to Monroe’s letter, which was contested by the district, the OUSD was doing well this year and its budget for 2021-2022 has been approved. “However, due to the high level of budget dependence on single income sources and the lack of adequate assurances that fiscal solvency is certain in the years to come, it has been determined that the district is lacking in continuity with its budget approval. “

Monroe’s letter said the district must “implement $ 90 million in required reductions as soon as possible.” She also said the county “will withhold compensation from members of the school district administration and the school district superintendent for failing to provide requested financial information,” although the district said it worked closely with the school district. county and did not hide any information.

Following the “recommendations” of the FCMAT would not be optional. “The school district will follow the recommendations of the (FCMAT) team, unless the school district shows a valid reason for not doing so,” the letter reads.

The district’s relations with its ACOE and FCMAT overlords appeared to have deteriorated shortly after the school board and administration decided on October 27 that it would no longer bow to pressure from the state to shut down more schools. schools in the years to come. Prior to the decision, the state trustee threatened to overturn the board’s decision if it passed, but did nothing when he passed it anyway.

“For five years, Karen Monroe oversaw every budget and she approved the budgets,” board member Mike Hutchinson told The Oakland Post. “She was the one who had the surveillance. Who owns this responsibility? ” He asked.

The district works closely with the county and its financial situation is better than it has been in years, Hutchinson said. “What’s new other than the district’s decision not to close more schools?”

Oakland Teachers Union president Keith Brown told the Oakland Post, “We are opposed to the actions of (Supt.) Monroe. We believe that imposing FCMAT on Oakland would be detrimental to our community and our schools. “

While many school advocates sharply criticize the district for its top-down bureaucratic management and lack of accountability in budget decision-making, they oppose this threat of takeover for a variety of reasons:

  • The imposition of the FCMAT on the OUD constitutes the suspension of the right of voters to choose their representatives and constitutes a violation of the democratic rights of self-government of the residents of Oakland.
  • The county is demanding $ 90 million in budget cuts. How did it go under county watch? How can you cut $ 90 million while still having a school district that exists in some recognizable form?
  • The county says school enrollment has declined but has not acknowledged the pandemic had anything to do with it. The county complains that the district relied on one-time spending, but isn’t that what federal pandemic funds were used for?
  • FCMAT and the county have worked closely with OUSD for years, but now say they have failed. Why does the solution give them full control?
  • There is at least the appearance that the threat to withhold executive salaries and impose FCMAT is in part retaliation for the district’s decision to stop closing more schools, which is the democratic right of representatives. local.

Responding to questions from the Oakland Post, Monroe said, “Decision making at Oakland Unified rests with the board members who have been elected by the community of Oakland, so I am perplexed at any reference to a violation. Oakland Democratic Rights. voters.

“The work to be performed by the FCMAT does not constitute a replacement for the governance structure of the OUSD and is clearly stated in the education code. It is limited in scope and does not usurp or compromise local control of the Council, ”she said. More of his answers will be printed in the next edition of the Oakland Post.

L. Karen Monroe’s letter to OUSD is available at:

https://ousd.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9962661&GUID=ADEF97D5-0DD4-44CF-99E2-C31AF83C734E

The OUD’s appeal letter to Tony Thurmond is available at

https://ousd.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9963018&GUID=7E877777-AF0C-4211-ABE3-D38E9F2FB20E

Council member Hutchinson urged people to call Tony Thurmond and the superintendent. Monroe and sign a petition available online at https://bit.ly/3xJRc6K


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