Welcome to Oakland Unified, Dr. Smith

The “love fest” on the Oakland school board over its new hire — as described by Jumoke Hinton-Hodge on the night of Tony Smith’s unanimous selection — appears to be over.

Tonight, three of the seven members voted “no” on the future superintendent’s contract for various reasons — but mostly, because of the compensation. (It sounds like Smith was a formidable negotiator.)

“It’s just really difficult for me, as cheap as I am, to accept the terms of the contract as they were written,” said board member Gary Yee.

The juxtaposition of Smith’s lucrative contract with the previous agenda item — the grim budget outlook, and the prospect of closing schools, laying off staff and increasing class sizes in the next year to make ends meet — was hard to ignore.

Yee and David Kakishiba were careful to say that they welcomed Smith to the district, and that they were opposing the contract on principle. Kakishiba said the severance package didn’t sit well with him. He also said the board had agreed in March to pay its new hire up to $275,000 in total compensation; Smith will earn a base salary of $265,000, plus health benefits and, depending on his performance review, a total of $60,000 toward his retirement during the next three years.

Alice Spearman, who cast the third dissenting vote, was less tactful. She said she felt that the retirement language in the contract had changed since the board voted on it Saturday (Jody London spoke up later and said she was certain the terms were consistent). She also said something about Smith’s “arrogance,” apparently referring to the negotiations.

“This school district is in the throes of financial difficulty,” Spearman said. “I’m not here to be hijacked by nobody.”

Hinton-Hodge wasn’t happy, either. “I’m just highly disappointed,” she said, when it was her turn to speak. “We struggled to get to a 7-0 decision around our new superintendent. We pushed one another, we showed leadership. I am terribly, terribly disappointed in the way in which we can slander people, calling people arrogant, acting as if people shouldn’t value themselves. … I feel totally apologetic to Dr. Smith.”

Katy Murphy

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

  • Filly

    Kakishiba, Yee and Spearman are longtime Board members. What went on behind the scenes? Why does his compensation need to be so high? He’s 42, will he retire soon? Thanks again Katy for shedding light on the convoluted and mysterious administration (Board and Staff) of Oakland Unified School District. Dr. Smith should be held accountable for his big paycheck just as we teachers are held accountable every day in the classrooms of Oakland.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Another sad day. I would have hoped Dr. Smith would have structured his compensation with a lower base and a higher bonus structure. Then again, with this Board, get the money while you can. No telling when they’re gonna change their mind.

  • turner

    Whew! I’m not the only one who thinks you can’t pay anyone $265,000 when you’re about to layoff teachers and other staff.


  • John Garrett

    I don’t think the compensation ceiling of $275,000 is excessive. A teacher with no experience starts at $40,000 a year and the proposed ceiling is about seven times that. Within ethical boundaries and often necessary if you want to hire someone effective.

    The problem here is the proposed contract doesn’t reflect total compensation of $275k or less. It reflects an average of $285k a year plus health benefits which are likely substantial.

    So whoever represented the district in the contract negotiations (is there a district counsel?) seemingly ignored the parameters set by the board.

    Let’s welcome Dr. Smith, but it would help if staff did their jobs the right way to avoid things like this.

  • Catherine

    He would not want to structure his compensation that way because he does not have a solid plan to get our students to improve their proof of mastery over the subject matter through passing exams.

    Just as Tony’s company, oh I mean not-for-profit cooperative, reaped financially from both Emery Unified and Oakland Unified. And, yes, to be fair some students benefited. But if you divide the number of students who actually benefited by the dollars spent, you will find that we spent over $25,000 per year per successful student who was working below grade level.

    As a soceity, we can say that a student is worth that much money, and if so, we should be giving that money to classroom teachers to reduce class sized down from 20:1 or 31:1 to 15:1 – we would get the same benefit, however we would reach more students.

    Figures can be verified by looking at the contracts and comparing student outcomes for the students at the specific schools Tony is responsible for working with.

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

    Down the road in Castro Valley, the 8500 student school district with an experienced school board is going to pay their new Superintendent $230,000 in salary. I do not have any details on the additional compensation for the new CV Superintendent.

  • Alice

    Let’s get the record straight. I think Dr. Smith will make an excellent superintendent, I did vote for him and truly wish him success are our leader. However, contract negotiations are a different beast. I stand by my statement that the contract language did change from what I agreed to on last Saturday in closed session. I feel the compensation package should be negotiated after the second year and not be automatic.
    I am looking forward to much student and district success under the leadership of Dr. Smith.

  • harlemmoon

    You folks who are chirping on about Smith’s salary need to sit back and reassess. How the heck can you fault a person for negotiating – very well, I might add- his salary. One that he must feel mirrors his value to the district.
    I am certain that all of you would flip us off for trying to tell you to negotiate a LOWER salary when you know your true worth.

  • turner

    I respect his expertise and his true worth.

    I have a problem with him getting as much as or more than the other superintendents in a time when we all have to give up something. Some people are losing their jobs, some will lose some pay. He should start at a lower scale than the others.

    We’re about to reduce our workforce. We’re throwing staff and teachers out into an uncertain economy to save our district. He should show he understands by accepting a lower pay package. That’s all I’m saying.


  • Katy Murphy

    Alice: If you said during the meeting that you thought Dr. Smith “will make an excellent superintendent,” or something to that effect, I apologize for the omission.

    I don’t remember you saying anything along those lines, however — other than that you would “work with” him, despite your differences with his philosophy. But much was said during the discussion, so I might have missed it.

  • Alice

    Just because one may have differences of opinions/philosophies does not mean one is opposed to r. Smith being hired nor does it mean I do not wish him total success. The point of the matter is, OUSD is facing severe financial decisions which will effect all students and employees, and with this as fact, the board should be prudent when negotiating large contracts such as the superintendents. I think that a retirement package which will amout to $90,000.00 over a three year period is too excessive, given the financial state of affairs we face. The contract was ratified, Dr. Smith is our superintendent and I do look forward to working with him July 1, 2009.

  • crockergal

    Reality check comment here — I wouldn’t do the job for any amount of $$$ annually.

    Am I mistaken, but he already has a job right? Would you move to a new company, one that was really struggling, and take on a much bigger role, putting your personal and professional reputation at stake, and take some piddling amount of salary for the new job — because well — things are really tough at this new place right now??? Or would you just keep your current job?

    He is jumping into a quagmire of problems, a budget that evaporates as each second passes, and he gets to be second guessed and critized on every issue and decision he makes by a peanut gallery numbering in the 1,000’s. And from all the difficulty and hassle we expect him to work some sort of magic and facilitate the perfect for school environment for every child in OAK…. and all that for $10/hr.

    Please. Seriously. The job sucks. He is making what a rank and file senior level executive at most local large firms make, without the 65% of base compensation as an annual bonus to go with it. And their jobs are easier, MASSIVELY easier. I appreciate that it seems like a lot of money, but we are asking the world of this man, entrusting our kids and schools to this man, asking him to somehow make everything better when there is no agreement or money to fix anything…..

    In the “C level” world of executive leaders who manage less personnel and less budget $$$ by far, what he is getting is frankly, unremarkable.

    Pay him and hold him accountable.

    (Queue the posters that will now complain about how compensation for all senior executives is completely illustrative about what is wrong with America as a whole, etc…….)

  • Filly

    My principal told me this morning that class sizes at the primary level would go up to 24. Do you have any news about this? Or the other budget issues? Although there may not be layoffs for teachers, positions may be cut through attrition. Already at our school, a position won’t be filled. Thanks.

  • Katy Murphy

    At Thursday’s meeting, increased class sizes (up to 24 at the K-3 level and up to contractual levels in other grades) was one of the cost-cutting options discussed. But the board asked the CFO to look at the savings realized by boosting class size by one or two students, for example, rather than four.

    In other words, the change hasn’t been made, officially, although it sure looks like that’s how staff is leaning. And it’s still unclear how the central office would implement such a change, under its school-based budgeting system. I’ll write more about it next week.

  • harlemmoon

    This all seems a little like whining after the fact.
    How is it that Alice – and a few other board members – could have such grave concerns over Smith’s contract, yet the deal is approved?
    That makes no sense. Who negotiates for OUSD and why weren’t these issues brought to the fore long ago?

  • Judy


    However all of Castro Valley’s schools are Distinguished schools with wonderful API scores. This just doesn’t happen without effective district office administrators that hold schools accountable. This is what is missing in Oakland.

    How about holding the Supt.’s salary hostage for demonstrating effective leadership? Then reward him.

    Oh, my…I forgot that first you need effective and competent school board members, both of which are lacking in Oakland.

  • Catherine

    Judy: Tony has a track record – just look at Emery Unified. APIs are in the 600s and 22% of the annual budget on Administration.

    I say build a salary INCENTIVE into Tony’s contract based on performance. He increases API scores by 10% in the lowest performing schools without harming higher performing schools while lowering administrative costs in the district and he’s worth every cent for which he’s asking. If he does not, he’s not worth half of what he’s asking.

    Please remember that Tony is not new to this district. He is not starting from the ground up as other candidates who applied for the position. Tony and his wife have already earned several hundred thousand dollars from the district. If he really has a plan as he says he does, if he’s worth his salt, if he’s worth a unanimous vote, then he’s worth a very LARGE incentive for turning the district around. But he has already had time, money and a contract to make big changes and he’s made some small gains, but nothing that would compare with what we need to accomplish in the next three years to get our district on track.

    So, Tony, you have the Board’s backing. You have a plan. Work for the incentive and show us what you’ve got or move over and let someone who has a proven track record of success do the job.

  • anon79

    Judy- Do you think that the income level of those who live in Castro Valley has anything to do with the wonderful API scores? Perhaps we can learn from school districts like Castro Valley and teach predominantly wealthy students….

    While I agree that effective district administrators need to hold schools accountable, it’s not the only challenge that OUSD is working with.

  • Catherine

    Anon79: I think you had better look at the home and income values of Castro Valley – yes, it used to be as you are describing it now, mostly white middle to upper middle class. But that has not been the case for several years.

    Castro Valley has a lot of subsidized housing, head start and working poor. They do not have the crime, drug problems and truancy rates of Oakland, but that is a function of what we as a society are willing to put up with because we believe that we will trample people’s rights and culture if we tell them they will be reported to social services for keeping kids home, having and selling drugs out of the house or keeping unlocked and unchecked weapons near children.

    All of those issues would be reportable in Castro Valley because they have a community belief that the children come before the family. In Oakland we put the family needs before the children’s needs.

  • Judy

    Anon 79: You clearly know nothing about Castro Valley. This is far from an affluent community. Once again, a false assumption

  • Judy


    Well said about Castro Valley. I work in the community and you are absolutely right. They do not have the truancy problems because they address the issue from the get-go, unlike OUSD. Most importantly, however, is the quality of the school board members. It is no surprise that one of the members is also the State President of the PTA. This is about leadership, which Oakland is sorely lacking!

  • anon79

    First, I apologize for being negative on my post… And you are correct that I do not know that much about Castro Valley, but the free and reduced lunch % in castro valley is 15.8, vs. 68.5 in Oakland. These are clearly different communities. I do believe that there are some things we could learn from Castro Valley (and I’d love to hear what the board members are doing which makes them great leaders), but we do need to recognize challenges and opportunities that make Oakland and Castro Valley different.

    I do hope that Tony can be the leader OUSD needs, but it’s going to take leadership from all parts of Oakland for us to get where we want.

  • Tired Teacher

    Has anyone heard if Joaquin Miller got a new principal yet? I hear the last one is gone, gone, gone . . .

  • Jim Mordecai

    Wednesday’s School Board agenda and packet lists the following in Personnel Report No. 0008-0015:

    Monique Brown Principal Sankofa Elementary
    Kenya Crocker Principal Claremont Middle
    Roma Groves Principal M.L. King Elementary
    Debra Marker Principal Oakland High School
    Elizabeth Rhine Principal Crocker Highlands
    Paulette Smith Principal Joaquin Miller
    Preston Thomas Principal Life Academy
    Earl Walls Principal Maxwell Park
    Lauren Klaffky Principal Skyline High School

    Jim Mordecai

  • Nextset

    Hmm… The main difference between Castro Valley and Oakland is race. Whites run White operations differently than Whites or Blacks run Black operations. And I’ll say it for the umteenth time – White Children are valued more than Black Children regardless of who is in charge.

    This isn’t a value statement, just pointing out the obvious. If the White Children started becoming unruly the school operators – White, Black or whatever, would fight back and get control. The Black kids (in groups) are not seen to be going much farther than prison or the morgue so why bother.. Pat them on the back and keep ’em happy. Tell them they’re “wonderful”..

    And on top of that – the behaviors are completely different. Whether we admit the IQ difference in the group averages or chalk it up to the different average age of onset of puberty or just say when you have a bastardy rate above a certain percent you have this issues, – there are diffences in the groups. We can’t compare Castro Valley with Oakland, different demographics.

    Until we get an administration who is not afraid to accept the differences openly and fight the kids and their “parent(s)” to get a better life for them despite themselves – the failures will continue. I for one think we should populate OUSD staff with returning military from Irag/Afganistan starting with the administration. And I still contend we need separate campuses for the higher functioning students regardless of how the racial divisions go.

    It does no good to pay these six figure salaries to these smiling faces to preside over average scores and deportment this horrible. And for a long time to come the schools are going to have a lot less money anyway.

  • Michael Siegel

    In the OUSD budgetary scheme of things, the amount of Smith’s contract is more symbolic than anything else. A salary that may be $25K or $50K more than we want to pay is nothing in comparison to, for example, our annual debt payments to the State of California for the 2003 bailout.

    One thing I am curious about is Smith’s mindset. Is he thinking to himself, “I need to do as well as I can for two or three years, and then jump to the next, more relaxed, higher profile gig”? Or will the new supe really take ownership for the district, and think of himself as truly part of the Oakland community?

    Although our last “true” superintendent, Dennis Chaconas, certainly had his challenges as a leader, I always admired how he came up in Oakland, worked his way through OUSD, and felt an abiding sense of ownership and responsibility to the people of Oakland. I hope we can see the same from Tony Smith.

  • Anton

    It looks like the OUSD Board has once again put their foot in their mouths. If the board had any doubts or misgivings about the new superintendent’s salary, they should have made them known prior to hiring him. I hope the board will come together and address their concerns about this situation with the same respect and professionalism they used in reccommending Mr. Smith for the job. Name calling and pointing the finger at each other in a public forum continues to show the public that OUSD can’t get their house in order.
    Presently, the Interim Supt. makes $250,000.00, the State Administrator makes $240,000.00. Since these figures are public knowledge, it would have been wise for Mr. Smith or whomever negotiated his contract to bear these figures in mind during the contract negotiating process. If that was the case, the board and OUSD could move on to other pressing issues: school closures, school violence, teacher salaries and raising our student’s test scores.

  • harlemmoon

    My sentiments exactly, Anton. I raised this in post #15.
    Now that Smith’s here, however, it’s time to support him and the district – and those superbly inept board members.

  • Skyline mom

    Does anyone know about Lauren Klaffky? Did the interview panel go through the whole process? Did OUSD just assign her to us? This seems to be so quick.

  • Born and Raised Oaklander

    I couldn’t agree more with Crockergal. This is going to be a tough job! And, to Catherine’s point, Dr. Smith will not have his contract renewed if he doesn’t make improvements. That’s a pretty big incentive from where I sit. I have it on very good word that this isn’t a stepping-stone position for him; he is committed to all the children of Oakland for the long-haul.

    Btw, let’s be thankful that there are no blogs devoted to our own personal salaries and salary negotiations. It’s hard to imagine that Dr. Smith has time to read these posts, but if he did, it wouldn’t be a very feel-good way to step into working with a community.

    And, aren’t we glad that our new supe has strong negotiating skills? Hard to picture him being an effective leader without them

  • turner

    Born and Raised Oaklander,
    My sympathies lie with the staff who will soon be earning $0, because Dr. Smith will lay them off. My idea is for him to get a salary of $200,000 a year and the same benefits the rest of the OUSD staff receive.

    $200,000 is not chump change. What can’t he start there? If he does such a great job, he can ask for a raise. He could even earn $212,000, which is what the Governor of our state should earn, except Arnold forgos his annual salary.


  • aly

    born and raised: many of us are teachers whose salaries and salary negotiations are quite public. it is not very encouraging for the foot soldiers of ousd to be pink slipped, laid off and take a 3% CUT when our new leader is playing for more. i’m not sure smith cares too much about the welcome he gets; it oughtn’t be a surprise when he’s asking for more in a time where everyone has less.

    he should take a cue from the select group of state senators who opted to take a pay cut in light of the financial difficulties our state faces right now.

    i agree with plans like turner’s. raises will come with results.

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  • Marsha

    Michael Siegel,

    Do you recall it was your dad (Dan Siegel) and Dennis Chaconas who were in charge of OUSD that resulted in the state take-over and a hundred million dollar bail out? Do you recall the financial package of Mr. Chaconas with his sports car that your dad voted to approve?

  • Sue

    Marsha, just a couple of facts omitted from your description:

    Chaconas contracted with FCMAT to review all the finances of the district when he started the superintendant’s job. One of FCMAT’s recommendations was to replace an antiquated and inadequate finance-and-budget computer system. When he followed that recommendation, the new system revealed the on-going budget problems he’d inherited from the series of temporary superintendants who had preceeded him.

  • oak261

    Its difficult to comprehend the upward mobility of former board members on whose watch the bankruptcy of OUSD occurred. Some have moved to higher, arguably more responsible positions. (For example, Ms Quan, working the city council purse strings). Why do people vote this way? I guess its the sort of expertise the people want. Alternatively, whatever happened to accepting responsibility and figuratively, falling on the sword??

  • Marsha


    You confirmed my point. Chaconas was in charge and it was his show, however, you and he want to blame the computer system. Did it ever occure to him or his team to review the district’s bank statements?

    How can you blame the former superintendants for the fact that Chaconas spent more money during his leadership than he had comming into OUSD?

  • Baffled by the drama

    Skyline Mom, you’ll be delighted with Lauren Klaffky. She’s a very capable, level-headed administrator, and there’s going to be a lot of disappointment when the Oakland High community returns this fall to find her gone.

    But the OHS faculty is bitterly divided over the Principal Scott debacle, and those bad feelings won’t be healing any time soon. Can’t blame Ms. K for wanting to flee that hornet’s nest.

    Our loss is absolutely your gain. Klaffky’s a gem, as was Scott. Ain’t it a shame when “adult” egos get in the way of what’s best for the CHILDREN???

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  • Gordon Danning

    Skyline Mom and Baffled by the Drama: To be fair to Ms. Klaffky, she did not “flee” Oakland High, since she interviewed for the Oakland High job, but the panel chose someone else. Rumor has it, however, that she is not going to be Skyline’s principal. I dont know for sure whether the rumor is true.

    PS to Baffled: I think you overstate the division at OHS re: Ms. Scott, but maybe you talk to very different people than I do. Perhaps a meeting to clear the air is in order.

  • lisa

    Michelle Rhee’s salary seems even sweeter for the D.C. schools, which are also in unremarkable condition…

    From Washington Post:
    Acting D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee will be paid $275,000 annually and will receive a $41,250 signing bonus if she is confirmed, making her the highest-paid school leader in the immediate metropolitan area.

    According to a contract Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) submitted to the D.C. Council yesterday, Rhee is also eligible for a $27,500 annual bonus if she meets certain performance goals identified by Fenty that include “student academic achievement” and “communications with community and families.” The mayor and Rhee together will agree to the terms on which she will be evaluated.