The ratings are in. Could the state be on its way out?

I’ve got some news for you on this otherwise quiet Monday: The latest progress report by the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team clears the way for the Oakland school board to reclaim all of its authority.

Jack O’Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, ultimately decides how long his department will keep a presence in Oakland. His spokeswoman told me today that it was premature to say what he’ll do.

Is the board ready? If the power transfer does take place, what do you want to see from your elected officials?


Top-level OUSD staffer leaves for the Island

Oakland’s search for a permanent superintendent is underway, but Kirsten Vital — an associate superintendent and the district’s Chief of Community Accountability — won’t stick around to see her fourth boss in three years.

Vital has been tapped to run the nearby 10,000-student Alameda school district, replacing retiring Superintendent Ardella Dailey.

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On the agenda: Supe search, cuts and more

Tomorrow night, the Oakland school board and the public hear how the governor’s proposed mid-year cuts would affect the school district. The board also discusses an analysis of Oakland Unified’s budgeting system (which I blogged about the other week, here) by American Institutes for Research.

Meanwhile, the board is inching closer to hiring the school system’s first permanent superintendent in almost six years. Seven search firms think they have what it takes to find the right leader for OUSD, and a committee will soon form to pick a favorite, according to a document posted on the agenda.

What do you know about the below firms? (Well, other than the CSBA, which apparently recommended Stephen Wesley to the Emery school board without double-checking his resume.) Continue Reading


Cash desensitization

In the last few weeks, our national discourse has been about billions — and even trillions — of dollars.

In the Oakland school district, much of the money talk hovers in the millions, or the multi-millions: the $100 million dollar emergency loan, the $20 million cuts to schools, the $435 million facilities bond.

That’s why yesterday, when I spoke with the lawyer representing Bryant & Brown and he told me that the firm had received an extra $22,000 because of duplicate bills sent to OUSD in 2007 and 2008, I understood how he could say that while it shouldn’t have happened, “In the total scheme of things, it’s relatively unimportant.”

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Your bond money at work, paying lawyers

In 2006, Oakland voters passed a $435 million tax levy that would allow the district to refurbish its crumbling schools. Did you know that more than $1 million of that money has gone to a two-partner law firm, even though OUSD has its own lawyers?

In 2006-07 alone, local attorneys Bryant & Brown took in $846,900 in bond money to handle construction contracts, litigation and facilities-use plans, according to school board documents (just type the firm’s name in the search box) — plus $200,000 from the district’s general fund that was apparently furnished by an East Coast developer that was trying to negotiate a deal on a prime piece of district property.

Well, they do call themselves a “boutique law firm.”

In any case, the Oakland school district’s general counsel is investigating Bryant & Brown’s contracts and invoices, and the district has asked the Alameda County District Attorney’s office to review them as well. If the firm was, in fact, overpaid (and it’s possible that the total payments to Bryant & Brown were much larger than $1 million), the probe will look into how it happened and who was responsible.

“This is an extremely serious matter that we should not take lightly,” Noel Gallo said. “We need a full, complete investigation from the top down.” He added: “All those involved need to be terminated.”

Troy Flint, the district’s spokesman, said no personnel actions have been taken, but that the initial inquiry found “irregularities” in the firm’s invoices. Continue Reading


A happy, anti-climatic ending for small schools

There was plenty of drama leading up to the school board meeting tonight. The television trucks outside the Oakland Tech auditorium, the cameras, the crowd. Fittingly, the board members, the superintendent and the state administrator were on stage, under brutally bright lights, while the audience sat in relative darkness.

“This is not a show, it’s a meeting,” board member Greg Hodge said in an unsuccessful attempt to even out the lighting.

But it was a show, as these kinds of meetings often are. In this case — to everyone’s relief (except, maybe, for some of the journalists) — it was an anti-climatic one. Continue Reading


Board prez: All this closure talk is “premature”

More than 1,000 people are expected to pack tonight’s school board meeting at Oakland Technical High School to speak out against the closure or merger of the district’s (new and old) small schools, according to Oakland Community Organizations organizers.

For all of you who are feverishly preparing your speeches, this bit of information might be helpful: The board appears likely to back off of the “right-sizing” idea entirely, at least for now.

David Kakishiba, the school board president (pictured here), told me today that there is no plan to close schools this year, and that he didn’t know how that notion took hold. He said he will likely make a statement tonight, at the beginning of the meeting, to assure people that OUSD will seek other ways to fix its budget other than shutting down schools.

“It’s absolutely backward,” Kakishiba said. Continue Reading


Politicos stand against Oakland school tax

Measure N, the “Outstanding Teachers For All Oakland Students” tax, is no longer just an unpopular cause; it’s the cause to be against (unless, of course, you’re Jack O’Connell).

At a press conference yesterday, Alameda County Superintendent Sheila Jordan and Assemblymember Sandre Swanson — both critics of the state administration that put this tax on the ballot — joined the `N Stands for No’ chorus.

The $120 parcel tax would raise about $10 million a year for teachers’ salaries. But its opponents (too many to list here) say the ballot measure is all wrong, and that it came out of the blue from O’Connell’s office in Sacramento.

Noel Gallo, the lone board member who supports this election, says that’s not true.

(Pictured above is Eleanor Alderman, a second-grade teacher at ACORN Woodland Elementary School in East Oakland. Photo by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune)

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School closure meeting moves to bigger venue

So many people are expected to attend Wednesday night’s Oakland school board meeting — where the board is likely to signal its direction on potential school closures — that the district has moved the meeting to a larger venue: the auditorium of Oakland Technical High School, 4351 Broadway.

No final decisions are expected Wednesday night, but the board could establish criteria for closure — or make it clear that it won’t support the large-scale closure plan proposed by Interim Superintendent Roberta Mayor as a cost-saving measure.

You can find the agenda here. The public part of the meeting begins around 5 p.m.


Note to superintendent search team: Heads up!

In today’s Chronicle, Nanette Asimov exposed fabrications in the resume of Stephen J. Wesley, the recently appointed superintendent of the two-school, 800-student Emery Unified School District.

Asimov noted that she had been corrected by a district administrator after she called Wesley `Mr.’, not `Dr.’ — but apparently he doesn’t even have a doctorate.

This must be a huge let-down for Emery Unified families and teachers, especially since the district — which went into state receivership because of fiscal mismanagement — seemed to be the model of recovery.

It also brought to light the limitations of some executive search firms Continue Reading