Together, we can put a stop to drowsy governance!

late.jpgThe Oakland school board convenes its twice-monthly meetings at 4 p.m. — at least an hour earlier than most. Sometimes, they don’t adjourn until the next morning.

No matter how mundane the agenda, or how straightforward or short, the meetings almost always carry on into the bleary-eyed hours of the night, or morning. And around 10 p.m., like clockwork, the discourse starts to disintegrate — or maybe it’s just my own diminished ability to comprehend what’s being said.

Tonight, just before 11 p.m., board president David Kakishiba noted the hour and — to our collective relief — asked to postpone the last discussion item. I’m still fuzzy on what happened next.

We had made it to the “New Business” section, and some board members were trying to get certain issues on the next agenda (the status of an English teacher position at Paul Robeson High School, a staff report on the “substandard” facilities at Cox Elementary). Others — sometimes, simultaneously — tried to sort out what was policy-setting and what was micro-managing, and who decides what makes it onto the agenda.

“This must be what waterboarding feels like,” Ward Rountree, a former teacher’s union president executive director and board meeting regular, said after it finally ended.

I have a policy proposal. I know I’m not supposed to make these, only report them. But maybe someone else with educational credentials or clout can get this on the agenda one of these days, as the board figures out its new identity and what to do with its new-found powers.

The school board of the Oakland Unified School District shall not govern while drowsy, as the habit practice often results in a slower reaction time, decreased awareness and impaired judgment.

I’d leave the implementation of the policy for board members and staff to figure out. After all, I’m just a journalist. Who’s writing while drowsy.

image from deepereyes’ site on flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Sue

    Katy, you’ve hit on the reason DH and I don’t even try to go to school board meetings anymore. I have to get up the next morning and go to work, and he has to get up and get the boys to school. The few times we tried to attend and comment on issues that mattered to us, the issues were so late on the agenda that we either gave up and went home before the meeting got to our tpoic, or we were too tired and incoherent when we finally got to say something.

  • Nextset

    It appears that the board here is conducting themselves in other than a business-like manner. Why am I not surprised. As far as Sue’s experience, I would wager that things were arranged so she would begone when her topic came up. There are no accidents – in organizations things happen for a reason.

  • Sue

    Absolutely! Those darned parents of Spec. Ed. students “encroaching” on the general education funds – no one wants to hear from us.

    And I searched CA’s eduction law web-site, where I found nothing for the term encroachment. But it was getting used frequently by the then-state administrator. Seemed like he was trying to set the general education majority against the Spec. Ed. minority because we were too successful in advocating for our children’s needs.

  • hills parent


    I am assuming that the closed session is prior to the open session. Is this correct in Oakland?

  • Katy Murphy

    That’s right. The open session usually doesn’t get started until after 5 p.m.

  • hills parent

    So, possibly the new board members can advocate that the closed session occur after the open session. That might be an incentive for the school board to make better use of their time in scheduling items.

  • Katy Murphy

    Interesting idea. Do you know of other districts that do this?

  • hills parent

    I don’t know of other districts who have their closed session after the open session. However, neither do other districts have school board meetings regularly in the wee hours of the morning.

    Maybe it is a time for a change in the way school board meetings are scheduled

  • Katy Murphy

    Maybe so.

    In a district with as many schools and as many challenges as Oakland, I don’t pretend to know how to set an agenda or run a meeting to make it shorter. I only know how to complain about it.

    Maybe there could be more committees to hash out major, recurring issues at greater length? Maybe a pledge to limit off-topic speeches?

    Does anyone remember a time when the OUSD meetings were more efficient, but still democratic? I’m sure the meetings of “rubber stamp” boards are remarkably short, but I’m sure that’s not what Oakland citizens want, either.

  • Steven Weinberg

    I’d suggest weekly meetings, with every other week reserved for closed sessions, presentations by staff that are not tied to action items, and the consent calendar, with the closed session at the end (with a brief reconvening to announce the closed session decisions). With these routine items taken care of, the other board meetings could handle controversial items when the board, staff, and public are all still alert.

  • http://www.mikemcmahon.info Mike McMahon

    In Alameda we have a Board policy that reads as follows:

    The Board believes that late night meetings deter public participation, can affect the Board’s decision-making ability, and can be a burden to staff. Regular Board meetings shall be adjourned at 10:30 p.m. unless extended to a specific time determined by a majority of the Board. The meeting shall be extended no more than once and may be adjourned to a later date.

  • Pollyanna

    Perhaps if they stopped with the self indulgent comments about when they went to Carl Munck or McChesney or were principal of one school or another. I haven’t been to that many meetings but I seem to have heard all the posturing and patting on the back too many times already. They could cut out an hour with that… We know already.

    I even know how many years Yee’s wife has been a principal. Why?

    Also the district reports seem to just name how many meetings they went to. Great.. But what problem did they solve?

  • Turner

    The fact that meetings last that long is a clear testament to bad leadership. Board meetings generally should last no more than four hours and should average between 2 and 3 hours in length.

    The solution is simple: the board members should remain standing throughout the meeting. Before you know it, they will be flying through the meetings so fast!

  • John

    Or we could bring the state administrator with the thin mustache back to preside and call the shots, otherwise I’m gonna sell beer and night shots and request ALL the lavatories be kept open
    for non-scheduled extra important business.

    Pollyanna, I attended Montclair, Montera, Skyline and taught at Golden Gate and Centro Infantil de la Raza with a stint at the central office. That’s 46 of my 58 years in the OUSD. I should be on the board! I’d have a lot to say and a lot of time to say it, especially now (as evidenced by the above) that I’m getting into my rambling twilight years.

    And yes, I remember a time when board meetings were more efficient in the late sixties and early seventies. Lorenzo Hoops, a prominent local MORMON, was president of the school board during that time. He had a way with the verbal gavel that has never been equaled! Too bad Romney didn’t make it through the Republican primaries. Am I rambling again?


  • Sue

    John, I’d seriously consider voting for you – if only you still lived in the district.

    I’d probably regret it, and hate a lot of your recommendations and decisions. That wouldn’t be much of a change from my current views of the board (well, the district administration, since the board was powerless for so long), but your policies certainly would be a change from the status quo.

  • John

    Change for the sake of change. Sounds like an Obama campaign slogan! Anyway I do appreciate your support Sue, any other takers?

    Hey, maybe I could rent a room at your house to meet the candidate address requirement Sue. We could talk and plot campaign strategy while you’re cooking dinner or hosing down the driveway. It would be fun!

  • Sue

    I don’t cook, DH does. There’s two sayings about meals at our home: No one eats mom’s cooking, not even mom; If life were fair, I’d weigh about 300 pounds. (Mostly about me because I was regularly described as anorexic until I was past 40 and “got a little meat on my bones”.)

    I also don’t waste water on concrete.

    There are no spare rooms in my tiny little house. The best I could offer for sleeping would be a sleeping bag on the floor of my sons’ bedroom – which I don’t recommend unless you like seriously lumpy sleeping surfaces, or are willing to pick up their mess.

    But it would be a really fun treat for me to be the proverbial fly-on-the-wall while you were plotting your campaign with DH.

    And my ulterior motive for getting you (or someone like you) on the school board, is that I’ve long thought DH should run, and your policies just might be the motivation he needed.

  • jim2812


    Correction on your statement that Ward Roundtree is a former union President. He was an outstanding former Executive Director until his retirement this year. Union office of Executive Director is the highest local chapter CTA staff position but not an elected office as with current President Betty Olson-Jones elected by the membership of OEA.

    I acknowledge that board meetings would be shorter if I was silent; yet, I agree with the idea that steps should, and can, be taken to not have lengthy meetings. Every regular meeting (two are scheduled per month) has business including legal compliance, that needs to be taken care of. However, on top of the business portion of the meeting there are ceremonies such as winning State Championships and honoring teachers and employees that are a good and righteous thing that take time. In addition reports on whether or not to authorize another charter school, or two or three more charter schools also take time. The board has recently called special meetings, in addition to regular meetings, to vote up or down charter school applications and this change has worked to make the amount of time of the meetings reasonable. But, the work on the Board approving policy around the coherent governance issue has lengthened board meetings.

    I think setting a time limit for regular meetings and recessing that meeting until another scheduled day is a good idea.

    Board bylaw 9322 contains language that was not followed at Wednesday’s meeting and partly explains what happened. The majority objected to putting the proposed motion on the issue of staffing an English teacher at Robeson High and the bylaw language below supports the right of the majority of board members blocking discussion of a motion the minority wanted discussed and acted on. This blocking action was a surprise to me because I don’t remember in the past a majority of board members blocking a motion a board member wanted for discussion and action at a future meeting.

    I also note that the portion of bylaw 9322 I quote requires that members of the board put in writing their motion. This part of the bylaw has not been followed in the past nor at Wednesday’s meeting. The motions in writing might have moved things along a little faster.

    BB 9322

    “Every Regular Meeting Agenda shall provide for the Introduction of New Business. Board members, except a Student Director, desiring to have a motion, resolution, order, or other subject matter scheduled for action by the Board shall announce the subject nature of the intended matter at a regular meeting, provide written language of the specific legislative proposal and supporting documentation for such item and file it with the Secretary. Or alternatively, the member may file his or her request in the same manner as a member of the public. The President, without objection of the majority, shall assign the subject matter to the appropriate standing or special committee for consideration of its programmatic, financial and/or other impact or consideration.”

    Jim Mordecai

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks, Jim (and sorry, Mr. Rountree). I’ve made the change.

  • jim2812


    I note that you got Mr. Rountree’s name spelled correctly although I can’t say the same about my post correcting you about Mr. Rountree’s official title.

    Jim Mordecai

  • John

    The function of a union chapter Executive Director is not dissimilar to the function of the political officer in an old soviet military unit. Their function was to protect the interest of the Soviet political establishment. The OEA (teacher union chapter) Executive Directors are there to protect the interest of the parent organization.

    The organizational function of a local teacher union, like OEA, is to confiscate money from teacher checks and (at last count) send two thirds of it to the corporate bosses. There is relatively little invested in the needs of teachers (contract enforcement, teacher grievances, etc.).

    Teacher Union Inc. postures itself as being about “the children/students,” when it’s all about profits and political power.

    Here’s an honest slogan for Teacher Union Inc. (CTA & NEA) should adopt: “March around someone else’s wealthy corporation to demand money for your dam schools, NOT OURS!”

    Sue: Tell DH I want to exchange recipes, and THANK YOU for conserving water!

  • jim2812


    There are similarities and differences in the old Soviet political officers and the CTA officers. One difference is that in the Soviet State the communist party was in Marx’s phrase the dictatorship of the proletariat (workers). CTA is not a dictatorship but an elected governance. However, because elected officials come and go while staff usually stays on like the bureaucrats of a school district elected governance becomes dependent on the institutional knowledge of the CTA officials.

    And, in addition, CTA can deliver the goods with expertise on both the chapter and the district’s budget that average elected union official would not have and an influence in Sacramento no chapter can equal.

    So a combination of longevity and expertise has CTA local officials in position of great influence and power.

    Yet, this influence and power is always increased if local officials can provide for the needs of the membership. When in trouble CTA can be of a great help in seeing that the administration treats teachers according to the letter of the law. In Los Angeles the mess up by the LA Administration’s payroll department in put in a computer system that misfired has lead to State legislation that if passed with CTA help and signed by the Governor will get teachers not only their back pay but interest.

    Personally, I would like CTA to bargain for the whole state with adjustments for cost-of-living for different parts of the state and do away with bargaining at the local level for wages and benefits. And, also do away with CTA officers at the local level. However, I would like contracts to remain at the local level over working conditions.

    Regarding my ideas on CTA, the majority of representatives to State Council, the body that makes CTA policy, at this time do not support them.

    Jim Mordecai
    One of OEA’s Elected
    State Council Reps

  • John

    Jim Thanks for a well written and balanced reply. It’s so refreshing to communicate with a strong teacher union advocate who doesn’t respond to expressions of concern or criticism with the emotional zeal and starved logic of a hard line religious fundamentalist.

    My biggest concern is, and has always been, a general lack of teacher union support and resources locally for contract enforcement, administrative infractions, etc.

    An often heard petition from the local union (and parent organization) leadership and teachers is for lower teacher/student ratios – which for CTA equals more teachers equals more dues money in CTA/NEA coffers. It also increases the cost of doing business for school districts, but so what!

    How about increasing (union PAID) service provider/teacher ratios to enable meaningful services to (mandatory) dues paying teacher union members? It would increase the cost of doing business at the local level for CTA & NEA, but so what!? Because it’s NOT about the needs and concerns of individual teachers, it’s about CTA/NEA milking the locals (OEA) for money spent on elsewhere agendas.

    The paid first allegiance of an Executive Director (“CTA officer”) is to the CTA not the OEA teacher membership. Here’s a concrete example: I’ve witnessed several circumstances where a teacher was on the correct (right) side dispute initiated by a misguided administrator that threatened her employment. The teacher is eventually told by an OEA (CTA/NEA) executive director that a full legal defense of her case would NOT be funded by CTA and at some point, should the case dragged on; she would be required to pay the legal bills. The teacher, unable to shoulder such an expense, ends up resigning and CTA is spared having to provide another member the legal coverage it loves to brag about.

    As you articulate, the CTA can be of great help in seeing that the administration treats teachers according to the “letter of the law,” as in the collective L.A. teacher payroll matter you cited. However, absent the legal needs (& CTA photo opportunity) of a collective teacher issue, the CTA seems inclined to short change the letter of the law in its treatment (defense) of individual teachers.

    Even the gleaned cynicism of twenty-five years of district employment and OEA (CTA/NEA) (mandatory) dues paying membership didn’t prepare me for my post retirement shocker. I inadvertently learned that the district was gouging its “appreciated” retirees with twenty or more years of district service. After giving them a written invitation to participate in the district’s group health plan (ostensibly to save money), the district quietly started charging them individually MORE than it was paying for its contracted teacher individual participation in the same health plan. I assume this was done to subsidize the district rising medical costs. I brought this cruel joke to the attention of an OEA (CTA) executive director who blew it off with huffs and puffs of high paid hot air. It was dejavu all over again, only worse.

    I certainly agree that CTA has a combination of expertise and power that carries and applies weight in a lot of places. It’s crushing, I’m sure!

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