Emery: Full control, and a debt repaid

It was a happy day in Emery Unified. The district was celebrating the end of an era: a decade of state debt and state control.

Emery’s fiscal crisis began to unfold in 2000, about two years before the mess in Oakland began. Its former superintendent, J.L. Handy, who had racked up personal charges on the district credit card, left the tiny, two-school district $2 million in debt.

Emery regained partial control in 2004, but — as is the case today in Oakland — the state maintained veto-power over its spending. In late July, Emery officials repaid the last of the district’s emergency loans.

From everything I’ve heard, state receivership didn’t leave the same scars on Emery Unified as it did on Oakland. At an event today, local leaders actually thanked the state-appointed administrators/trustees, Henry Der and John Quinn, for helping to put Emery’s fiscal house in order. In contrast, Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith (and former Emery superintendent) noted at Wednesday night’s board meeting that OUSD’s current state trustee, Carleen Naylor, is the first state appointee since 2003 to have expertise in finance.

According to this list posted on the California Department of Education’s website, the Oakland school district still owed $69 million on its $100 million loan as of July. Oakland also pays its state trustee a $117,600 salary (no extra benefits) and is required to pay the controller’s office $400,000 for its annual, mandated audit.

If OUSD stays on schedule, it will celebrate its full emergence from state control — in 2023.

Katy Murphy

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