A Friday hearing at Oakland City Hall on state takeovers

Randolph Ward, as state administrator in 2004UPDATE: Sandre Swanson’s office says they’ve just learned that West Contra Costa Unified has cut its last check to the state, which means they — like Emery Unified — would be free from state receivership.


Only eight California school districts have undergone state financial takeovers in the last 20 years after requesting large emergency loans from the state. Half of them have been from the Bay Area.

At 1 p.m. Friday afternoon, the State Assembly’s Select Committee on State School Financial Takeovers convenes a public hearing at Oakland City Hall to learn more about how the Emery, Oakland, Vallejo City, and West Contra Costa school districts fared (or have fared) in the process. The state lawmakers will be trying to determine what could have been done to prevent the fiscal crises — or to accelerate districts’ financial recoveries afterward.

Emery Unified emerged from state control last summer after making its last loan repayment. The other three Bay Area districts are still repaying those loans and have a state-appointed trustee with veto power over their expenditures.

The select committee is chaired by Assemblymember Sandre Swanson (D-Alameda), who became involved years ago in local efforts to help the Oakland school district stabilize and exit state receivership.

From 2003 until July 2009, when Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith came on board, a series of state administrators held the governing power. During most of that time, the elected school board was merely advisory. As of July, OUSD had repaid almost $42 million in principal and interest — and still had a balance of $69 million.

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A cautionary tale: San Diego, on brink of insolvency, looks at Oakland school takeover

Former OUSD State Administrator Randolph Ward in 2006

Keegan Kyle, a reporter at Voice of San Diego, offers his readers a look at what’s happened in Oakland’s public schools since the 2003 state takeover. It’s interesting to note that Randy Ward, OUSD’s first state-appointed administrator (pictured above, in 2006), is the superintendent of the San Diego County Office of Education, which oversees the finances of local districts.

What would you add to this history of OUSD’s state takeover?

P.S. I posted the story on my Facebook page last night, so you’re welcome to comment there, too. I’m trying to get (less anonymous) discussions going there, too, and might start a Facebook group pretty soon.

You can find me at Facebook.com/katyEmurphy. (Don’t forget the middle initial!)


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.


Oakland Unified’s next state trustee? Probably a part-timer.

Vincent Matthews, OUSD trustee and future superintendent of the San Jose school districtWhen State Administrator-turned-State Trustee Vincent Matthews leaves the Oakland school district in July to take charge of San Jose Unified, the financially struggling school system could find itself with a $100,000-plus windfall (my estimate — nothing official). 

Matthews’ replacement, whoever it is, is likely to be part-time, Hilary McLean, the press secretary for California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, told me today.

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Kakishiba to stay on Oakland school board

David KakishibaDavid Kakishiba will remain on the Oakland school board for the rest of his term — which ends in December 2010 —  rather than step down, as he had initially announced, he told me today.

“I believe my obligation, my responsibility, is to serve out my term,” he said.

Kakishiba’s original announcement, that he would resign from the board at the end of October, came in response to a conflict-of-interest opinion by Oakland’s general counsel, Jackie Minor. Kakishiba is also executive director of the East Bay Asian Youth Center, which does lots of work in Oakland schools.

But Kakishiba said most of his board colleagues — who rejected the legal department’s recommendation in a 5-1 vote last week Continue Reading


A new Oakland schools coalition: Will you join?

Local control has returned to Oakland Unified, and the new superintendent is in effect. Now what?

A coalition of Oaklanders called Great Oakland Public Schools, or GO Public Schools, is vying to help chart the school system’s path. The group, which formed last fall, is distributing a 5-page document titled “A Declaration of Community Beliefs and Visions for Oakland’s Public Schools.” Those who endorse it were invited to attend a meeting with Superintendent Tony Smith.

Some of the ideas in the declaration sound a lot like previous or existing initiatives: That principals should have greater say over staffing (i.e. hiring and firing), budgets and curriculum. That families should have the option to send their children to various district or charter schools. That Oakland should offer rewards and incentives for teachers in high-poverty areas, and raise base pay for teachers.

Some seem to regard the group with suspicion. Continue Reading


The other big salary in Oakland Unified

There was much debate the other week over the $265,000 salary (plus roughly $23,000 in benefits) that Oakland’s new superintendent, Tony Smith, negotiated for himself in the midst of a horrifying state budget crisis.

But Oakland’s state trustee, Vince Matthews — who will have veto power over the fiscal decisions of the newly re-empowered board — isn’t too far behind. Matthews’ former role as state administrator might have been scaled back this week, after the transition to local control, but his pay hasn’t changed: Continue Reading


Boo! Hiss!

image by Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group-East Bay

I wasn’t at yesterday’s local control ceremony, but I read that a number of teachers — protesting the bargaining impasse — were shouting over the speakers, booing and hissing. (Is hissing particularly popular in the Bay Area/California? My first exposure to this form of protest was in Hayward, over four years ago.)

I often hear that teachers want to be seen — and treated — as professionals, and most would agree that they should be.  Continue Reading


Impasse declared in contract negotiations

UPDATE: The story on yesterday’s local control ceremony, by my colleague Kristin Bender.


Just as State Superintendent Jack O’Connell decided he would return local control to the Oakland school board — and days before Superintendent Tony Smith begins his job (Wednesday) — O’Connell’s appointee announced an impasse in bargaining with the district’s largest union, said Betty Olson-Jones, president of the Oakland Education Association.

Olson-Jones said some school board members were unaware that this had happened. More on this later. I’m headed back to California now.