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

How does OUSD compare with other districts in upper administration spending?

How Does OUSD Compare to their Chosen Comparison Districts?

District# of students# Admin > $200k#Admin > $300k#Students/ >$200k AdminUPP %% Charter SchoolsRevenue per Student
Fontana35,461121295587none$14,626
Fremont35,1572401465271%$11,730
Fresno73,3812532935895%$15,122
Moreno Valley31,597231137484none$14,500
Oakland Unified35,4894727557627%$17,325
Riverside40,0832022004671.6%$13,399
Santa Ana46,5934211109885.7%$15,353
Stockton40,6276026778216.5%$15,148
AVERAGE42,299321.51659757.1%$14,652
Districts chosen by OUSD as comparison districts in the report presented 2/8/2022 as part of the school closure resolution; dated updated 5/17/22

Things to notice: 

  • Fresno has the highest need students (by UPP) but has 22 fewer high paid execs
  • If OUSD had the average number of highest paid execs, they would save nearly $4 million per year
  • The two districts with highest numbers of high paid execs have the highest degree of privatization, demonstrated by the number of charter schools
  • OUSD receives $2,673 more per student than average for these districts, that is $95 million more PER YEAR that OUSD receives compared to other districts of comparable size
  • Not coincidentally, Oakland also has the second highest amount of money spent in School Board elections in California, second only to the largest district (LAUSD – but only half as much per student was spent in that election) and nearly all of that spending (98%) came from outside of Oakland

        How Does OUSD Compare to Neighboring Districts?

District# of students# Admin > $200k# Admin > $300k#Students/ >$200k AdminUPP %% Charter SchoolsRevenue per Student
Alameda Unified9,3728011723517%$13,314
Berkeley 9,84460164130.68none$17,329
Fremont35,1572401465271%$11,730
Hayward19,80291220074.8211.3%$14,760
Oakland Unified35,4894747557627%$17,325
San Francisco52,77866580057.0813.5%$17,866
San Leandro9,06711182466.7none$13,352
West Contra Costa28,246121235471.1212.1%$14,214
AVERAGE24,969231.25142454.810.24%$14,986

Data Sources:

http://www.ed-data.org/

https://transparentcalifornia.com/ – 2020 data accessed 5/17/2022

https://medium.com/@CSBA/deep-pockets-spending-on-school-board-races-goes-national-f1dc5c6dbfb9

https://www.maplight.org/post/new-maplight-report-finds-oakland-elections-dominated-by-big-donors-and-outside-money

Tell OUSD to Install Outdoor Classrooms at ALL Oakland elementary schools immediately!

Last spring, as part of its Covid-19 planning, OUSD announced that it would be installing temporary outdoor classrooms at every elementary school to enable students to learn outside where the risk of transmission of the virus is much lower. Along with upgrading ventilation systems, this was a key strategy for a safe return to school. This presentation from April 28th makes clear that ALL elementary schools were to receive these Outdoor Learning Spaces by the end of July, 2021.

From OUSD Superintendent presentation to the board April 28, 2021

Now, just two weeks before school is due to start on August 9th, as the delta variant is causing a spike in cases and parent and educator apprehension about returning to school is rising, we have learned that 20 schools still have not received their Outdoor Learning Spaces. Although staff has stated they are expected in the “next few weeks”, we are concerned that they will not be available for back to school on August 9th. Given that August weather is often sunny and hot, as well as the rise in cases in Alameda County and the greater risk of transmission with indoor contact, those Outdoor Learning Spaces are critical for student safety and comfort on day one.

https://covid-19.acgov.org/data accessed July 29, 2021 at 7:30 am

OUSD prioritized schools serving white and affluent students while leaving our most vulnerable students without the outdoor classrooms needed for a safe return to school

Data for the 20 elementary schools for the 2020-21 school year from OUSDData.org dashboard

97% of white OUSD elementary students attend schools that already have the outdoor classrooms in place, despite making up just 11% of our student population. Even more troubling is that students in East and West Oakland were left out of the original distribution, areas that historically have had the highest case rates and are likely to again as cases surge. While schools in the hills, North Oakland and around the lake already have those outdoor classrooms ready for day one, the mostly Black and Brown families in most of the East and all of the West are poised to start school in a few weeks without shaded outdoor spaces for children to learn more safely. This is not equity, nor is it good public health policy. It violates OUSD’s Reparations for Black students and Equity Policies, and it is simply unacceptable. OUSD needs to remedy this IMMEDIATELY, provide Outdoor Learning pods for all schools in Oakland, and to do it by the first day of school. 

Map created using information received from OUSD Staff July 20, 2021

When systems and structures are built on white supremacy, we must act with intention to dismantle those structures. We understand that OUSD staff intended to provide shade structures first for those schools with higher enrollment and a higher intent to return last spring, which were largely the more affluent, whiter schools. Given the structural racism that underlies both of those conditions, any outcomes based on them were by definition inequitable and racist. This was a predictable outcome that OUSD should have avoided, but because we are a district steeped in white supremacy and anti-Black and Brown racism, we did not.

On top of the prioritization of white and affluent families in the rollout, OUSD has provided almost all of the most affluent hills schools with not one but two of the pods, while providing a single pod to most other sites, regardless of number of students enrolled or the concentration of Covid cases in the community. OUSD must provide a minimum of two pods to EVERY elementary site, and especially to those communities with high case incidence and limited community resources to privately fund shade structures and outdoor learning equipment.

Certainly, the failure to provide these Outdoor Learning Spaces to the remaining 20 schools, and the some 6500 non-white students that attend them, by August 9th will simply compound these inequities at a time when we need to be reassuring families that it is safe for their children to be back in school. Knowing that children can be learning outdoors, in shaded classroom pods, will help to ease parent concerns about whether it is safe to return to school. OUSD must do better, examining every decision for white supremacy bias and centering racial justice and equity every single time. They must act NOW to prevent further harm.

CONTACT THE SUPERINTENDENT AND BOARD MEMBERS TODAY!

Please take a minute to email Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and your school board director to demand that the remaining 20 schools receive their Outdoor Learning Spaces before August 9th, and that all schools be given two pods if they don’t already have them.

Per OUSD Staff via email dated July 20, 2021, the Outdoor Learning Spaces are allocated (# of pods per school in parentheses)