Our newly elected, progressive OUSD Board majority just reversed school closures. Now it’s time to get to work to realize our vision of a community led, anti-racist, people-over-profit centered school district.

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Brookfield students showed up for the vote to keep their school open! Photo credit to Corrin Haskell

On Wednesday night, in the first official act of the new progressive majority, the Oakland Unified School District (“OUSD”) Board of Directors voted to rescind planned closures of 5 elementary schools and 1 middle school program at the end of this school year. Students, parents, educators and community were on hand to witness newly elected board members Jennifer Brouhard and Valarie Bachelor join with sitting directors VanCedric Williams and Mike Hutchinson to fulfill the mandate of the 67% of voters who supported their platform of ending school closures which target schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods and destroy communities while fueling the gentrification of Oakland. 

The fight is not over. No sooner was the vote complete than the Alameda County trustee Luz Cazares, appointed to oversee OUSD’s finances, informed OUSD that they reserved the right to stay and rescind the board’s action to end school closures, because OUSD did not provide a Fiscal Impact Analysis as required by its own board bylaws prior to the vote.

District staff should have prepared that Analysis as soon as the matter was introduced by Director (now President) Hutchinson on November 30th, but failed to do so, and it appears that both Director Sam Davis and Director Hutchinson, who had each declared their intention to become board President, allowed staff to delay the Fiscal Impact Analysis until January 25th. This was done despite the urgency of needing to fix the enrollment system immediately to include the targeted schools and begin the budget development for school sites. That willingness to delay and worsen the harm to students led to Director Williams being elected president and immediately calling a special meeting for Wednesday, January 11th for a vote on the rescission resolution, which passed. President Williams’ decision to act immediately to help the targeted school communities jump start planning their futures was also a rebuke against the deliberate slow rolling by staff and politicking by board members. We are grateful for his leadership and for putting students first.

It is now up to District staff to prepare the necessary analysis so that we can avoid action by the County trustee and move on with the planning for how we support the targeted schools to repair the harm done by years of uncertainty and underinvestment. We must also rethink our solvency strategies to ensure we are no longer balancing our budget on the backs of our most vulnerable students. We must restructure our district from a top heavy, consultant-dependent “business model” to a district built from the bottom up, where we prioritize students and classrooms in true Community Schools. We must push our city, county and state leaders to support us in creating a district that serves the whole child, addressing community needs so that students are prepared to learn and excel in life. It is possible to educate students in equitably funded neighborhood public schools with staff who are valued and paid a living wage. 

OUSD receives more money per student than almost any other large school district. It is time we invested those funds in the classrooms where they belong. Let’s get to work.

Why did Alameda County Superintendent Monroe reward managers with huge Covid stipends?

Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Karen Monroe paid up to $22,500 each in Covid related stipends to some of her highest paid managers and political contributors. That’s a problem.

In a fascinating series of meetings by the Alameda County Board of Education (ACBOE), we have learned that Alameda County Superintendent of Schools (Superintendent) L. K. Monroe’s office quietly, and without informing the ACBOE as required by law, paid $527,800 in Covid related stipends to employees, more than half of which went to 16 managers in amounts ranging from $15,000 to $22,500. Further, we learned that the Superintendent’s office has resisted publicly accounting for these expenditures, which the Superintendent now says were a “mistake,” to the ACBOE as required by Ed Code section 1302. That is very troubling, and we should be very concerned about this misuse of taxpayer dollars and hold Superintendent Monroe accountable for this failure by voting in the upcoming June election and NOT rewarding her with another term in office. 

The County Superintendent position is an elected office, unlike what we have in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) where our elected school board hires (and can fire) the superintendent. Superintendent Monroe is currently running for re-election in Alameda County on the June ballot, and unlike her last re-election campaign where she ran unopposed, she is now forced to actively campaign against a very strong challenger, Alysse Castro. This all comes at a very bad time for Superintendent Monroe, which may explain why these payments were not brought before the ACBOE in the first place, and why  it has been so difficult for the ACBOE to get the answers needed to understand who decided to make these exorbitant payments to upper managers instead of those educators and staff who work with students directly. 

Now that Superintendent Monroe finally provided the list of staffers who received these exorbitant payments and the amounts, we can dig a little deeper and when we did, we discovered that at least half of these staffers who received large Covid stipends ALSO contributed to Monroe’s re-election campaign. In all, 11 ACOE employees made political contributions to Monroe’s campaign, and she awarded 9 of them this enormous discretionary stipend. That is simply shocking. 

Superintendent Monroe also oversees OUSD’s budget, demanding OUSD close schools instead of rightsizing its own bloated administration. That’s also a problem.

The Alameda County Office of Education also oversees the Oakland Unified’s budget and has required OUSD to move forward with school closures that disproportionately harm Black students in a process that is flawed, discriminatory and possibly illegal. Superintendent Monroe threatened to withhold approval of OUSD’s budget and block access to additional state funds if OUSD didn’t execute this plan, claiming she is all about fiscal transparency and accountability. We now know that is not what she is all about. 

In fact, Superintendent Monroe has been approving OUSD’s budgets since she was first elected in 2014, during a time when OUSD’s administrative office grew by 550%; when OUSD paid a consultant $30,000 a month to oversee his own contract; and when OUSD mismanaged funds, covered it up and faced criticism and more from the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) and the Alameda County Grand Jury. Superintendent Monroe continued to approve OUSD budgets during all of those times, yet threatened to withhold approval if OUSD didn’t continue its racially discriminatory plan to close schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods. Superintendent Monroe should be held to account for that as well.

OUSD continues to overspend on central administrators as compared to districts locally and statewide. In fact, if OUSD “rightsized” its administration the way that Karen Monroe demands that it rightsize the number of schools, OUSD could save in excess of $15 million per year. Yet Superintendent Monroe doesn’t demand that from OUSD. And now we know why – Superintendent Monroe suffers from the same philosophy as OUSD in imagining that central managers deserve more than the educators and staff who work directly with students. 

It is time to hold Superintendent Monroe accountable for the misspending of Covid relief funds and the harm she has done while “overseeing” OUSD’s budget. Vote on (or by) June 7th.

#ACOE #OUSD #Budget #Covid #Transparency #Accountability #Vote