Whereas, we want our power back

On Monday, the Oakland school board will issue a resolution to support Assemblymember Sandre Swanson‘s latest attempt to end the state takeover. AB 791 would require State Superintendent Jack O’Connell to restore the last two areas of local governance — academic policy and finances — to the OUSD board by January 4 July 1, 2010. 

In December, state auditors gave OUSD high enough ratings for O’Connell to cut the district loose, but he has yet to make a move. It’s been almost six years since the takeover.

Katy Murphy

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

  • harlemmoon

    Whereas, the return of those two key areas to the dysfunctional board would be a total disaster, I say nay.
    Seriously folks, who among you thinks the knucklehead board and their dunderheaded counterparts – the OUSD administration – have done anything remotely worthy of the restoration of their powers.
    To Jack I say withhold your “OK” until a full gouging of the board – ever attend one of their comical board meetings? – and the top administrators occurs.
    We do our children a terrible disservice to do anything less.
    Truly, the thought of these so-called representatives of the public returning to full power sickens me greatly.

  • Pepe

    I second your thoughts, Harlemmoon.

  • Jim Mordecai


    Winston Churchill believed “democracy is the worst form of government-except for all the rest…” Apparently you believe democracy delayed is best.

    You demean the job of the Oakland Board Members but obviously your demeaning of the Board did not have sufficient sufficient support to personally, or working for an alternative candidate representative of your view, to have defeated s member of the Board during an election from your Oakland electorate School Board district.

    I believe the School Board should be returned to local control. Meanwhile, the Oakland administration under the state did not prioritize speedily bringing the finances of the District to a reasonable standard. The priority of the District was Eli Broad reform. The FCMAT finance reforms were of a secondary priority as were the State Controller audits not a priority.

    Although of a secondary priority until the appoint of former FCMAT chief, as the Board’s Superintendent, steps were taken that improved the District’s financial systems. Position control was established; meaning that when a person is hired, the District has money to pay for the position. And, internal audit system has recently been established. Finally, there is now in place an independent audit committee that keeps an eye on the District’s financial system. All of these steps are positive and an improvement.

    The 15 million deficit uncovered by the recent Board authorized audit was a good initiative and a great improvement if the District in its fifth audit by the State Controller’s passes. Something that as yet has not happened.

    Being an Oakland Board critic is low hanging fruit and I frequently engage in such criticism. But, like the Churchill quote Oakland School District has experienced management under democracy and management under the dictates of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. It was under the State undemocratic control that the District’s debt grew far beyond anything past school boards had mismanaged.

    Yet, even if the State had been more effective, I would still support democracy over State management because I believe the responsibility for government policy is the electorate’s responsibility. And, for citizens to properly excise that responsibility they have to have the capacity to vote school board members in or out of an office and the officials they elect must have the power to make policy that expresses the will of the electorate.

    After the bailout and State take-over, only one seated Board Member was defeated by Oakland voters. Perhaps voters in the other School Board Districts were satisfied by the State take-over and didn’t feel it necessary to remove all Board Members. Not voting out all the Board Members was the eligible voters’ choice and their responsibility. Those that do not like the members of the Board, or the choices of the electorate, should campaign to change the Board Membership. Perhaps the sharp criticism on of the Board on this blog is a form of campaigning for such a change.

    But, the change I support now is the change to local democratic control.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Harold

    well said Mr. Mordecai!

  • Pepe

    Your criticism is well formed, and I do agree with some of your points.

    I think my greater problem is with school boards in general–when we politicize education in such a way, decisions are often not made in the best interests of our children. We have individuals who are under-qualified and under-informed making system-wide decisions that are often based on the needs of a few special interests. School boards are often seen as spring boards for higher office. How many of the members of the board truly understand the problems that our schools face? Is it possible for them to understand these problems without being in the schools every day? How much time is spent on debating inconsequential issues (from the system perspective)that could be spent on moving the district forward?

    It will be impossible to effect system-wide change and drastically improve education for all until we reorganize the way districts are run and decisions are made. I understand the power of democracy, and need no reminders of this, but in this instance, the way the system has been organized seems more of a hindering factor than an empowering one. Of course, the board is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to holding back progress, but that conversation might belong in another post. There has got to be a better way to maintain the voices of parents and students.

  • turner

    The lesser of two evils; better the devil you know, I say.

  • TheTruthHurts

    I’m torn on this point. After the debacle with the 15 million, I don’t see how the state can justify a continued presence to restore fiscal discipline. It’s all but laughable. However, I’ve heard about how the board behaves and that’s just too scary to fathom. Hasn’t Oakland been recognized for pupil achievement under state administration?

    BTW, Mr. Mordecai, having the state run things is about as democratic as it gets. Whose money do you think is funding Oakland schools? State money (with a good heap of federal money too I imagine). The voters of the entire state have an interest in how that money is spent and if the local democracy wastes that money, I’d argue that was undemocratic abuse of local authority (hence the takeover). Dare I say, if the residents of Oakland were the sole funders of the schools, they’d be in worse shape than they are now.

  • cranky teacher

    The state has not done any better than the district did, imho. Better in some areas, worse in others. It’s a wash.

    This O’Connell guy is a piece of work, though. Sure, he’s a public official, but he acts like he’s a king. The charter school money override attempt was just the most recent example of his arrogance.

  • John

    If board members don’t get their power back how are they going achieve the kind of public profile they need to run for higher office? Jean Quan barely managed to jump off the school board and onto the city council as the ship was starting going down before the state moved in. Her board colleagues weren’t so lucky and have long been stuck in a powerless quagmire for six years with a political ‘go nowhere card!’ They’re not getting any younger and their political lives are ebbing away.

    These urban public servants have been school boarded up long enough! It’s time to give them back their power wands so they can make a few headlines and move off the board and up the ranks.

    Come on Jack O’Connell you’ve got your political ambitions and they have theirs! Show a little empathy! Obama (with but a few exceptions) isn’t taking power away from the evil fiscally irresponsible corporate executives he’s bailing out, so why continue punishing these urban public servants!?

    You’re out of touch with the times Jack. If you want to be a rising star in the democratic party you gotta stop punishing the fallen stars for their fiscal and leadership inexactitudes! Members of your party largely responsible for the housing related ‘credit crisis and global financial meltdown still have their power wands. What’s so unspecial about the Oakland school board that they shouldn’t get their wands back for what, in relative terms, is nothing more than an accountability failure for a little wad of chump change!

    Give them back their power wands and allow them to move on with their political lives and make something of themselves before their as old as Mc Cain.

    “State Senator Noel Gallo.”

    Hmmm, has a kind of nice ring to it, don’t you think?