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School District Faces Hostile Takeover by State Overseers

The Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) told Oakland Unified School District officials that they must cut the budget by $90 million and threatened – if the district does not take sufficient steps by the end of January – to withhold the salaries of the school board and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and place the district under direct control of the state’s Bakersfield-based nonprofit agency, the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), according to a November 8 letter to the district from ACOE Supt. L. Karen Monroe.

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The danger of direct state control — now operating through FCMAT and ACOE — serving as the agents of the state, rather than through the dictatorial power of a state receiver — seems like a modified replay of the state takeover of OUSD in 2003, nearly 19 years ago.
The danger of direct state control — now operating through FCMAT and ACOE — serving as the agents of the state, rather than through the dictatorial power of a state receiver — seems like a modified replay of the state takeover of OUSD in 2003, nearly 19 years ago.

Takeover threat immediately follows district’s decision to halt school closings

By Ken Epstein

Oakland Unified School District officials were caught by surprise recently when they heard from the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE), which previously was working closely with OUSD, that the county had taken a dramatic step seemingly out of the blue, invoking an official “Lack of going concern” ruing on the district.

The ACOE told OUSD that they must cut the budget by $90 million and threatened – if the district does not take sufficient steps by the end of January – to withhold the salaries of the school board and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and place the district under direct control of the state’s Bakersfield-based nonprofit agency, the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), according to a November 8 letter to the district from ACOE Supt. L. Karen Monroe.

Some school board members and school advocates see this threat of takeover by ACOE and FCMAT as retaliation and possibly an attempt to reverse a recent action by the board and Trammell-Johnson passing a resolution with wide community support to reject state pressure to close neighborhood schools.

With only five days to challenge the county’s ruling, school board members – with the backing of the superintendent and top administrators – voted unanimously at a special meeting on Saturday, November 13 to appeal the ‘lack of going concern’ determination to State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who this week announced he has sided with the county.

The danger of direct state control — now operating through FCMAT and ACOE — serving as the agents of the state, rather than through the dictatorial power of a state receiver — seems like a modified replay of the state takeover of OUSD in 2003, nearly 19 years ago.

At that time, the state placed a receiver and FCMAT in charge of OUSD and forced the district to accept a $100 million loan it did not need, and proceeded to unilaterally spend the windfall on their pet projects. OUSD is still paying off that loan. Also, the superintendent was fired, and the authority of the school board suspended.

Under state guidance, the district has closed about 20 schools, mostly in Black and Latinx flatland schools, with the direct encouragement of FCMAT, even though FCMAT has recognized that closing schools does not save money.

Under the leadership of FCMAT and the county since 2003, the district has faced almost continual budget cuts, has stayed in debt and has relied on a revolving door of privatizing administrators and consultants, many who appear to pass through Oakland as a career steppingstone.

According to Monroe’s letter, which has been challenged by the district, OUSD was doing fine this year, and its budget for 2021-2022 was approved. “However, due to the significant level of budgetary reliance on one-time revenue sources and the lack of adequate assurances that fiscal solvency is certain in future years, it has been determined that the district is a Lack of Going Concern with its budget approval.”

Monroe’s letter said the district must “implement $90 million in required reductions within a timely manner.” She also said the county will “withhold compensation of the members of the governing of the school district and the school district superintendent for failure to provide requested financial information,” though the district says it has worked closely with the county and has withheld no information.

Following FCMAT’s “recommendations” would not be optional. “The school district shall follow the recommendations of the (FCMAT) team, unless the school district shows good cause for failure to do so,” the letter said.

The district’s relationship with its overlords at the ACOE and FCMAT seemed to have gone south soon after the school board and administration decided on October 27 that it would no longer give in to state pressure to close more schools in coming years. Before the decision, the state trustee threatened to reverse the board decision if it passed but did nothing when they passed it anyway.

“Karen Monroe for five years has had oversight over every budget, and she approved the budgets,” Boardmember Mike Hutchinson told the Oakland Post. “She is the one who has had oversight. Whose responsibility is this?” He asked.

The district has been working closely with the county and is in better fiscal shape than it has been in years, said Hutchinson “What is new, besides the district’s decision not to close more schools?”

President of the Oakland teachers’ union Keith Brown told the Oakland Post, “We’re opposed to (Supt.) Monroe’s actions. We feel that imposing FCMAT on Oakland would be damaging to our community and our schools.”

While many school advocates strongly criticize the district for its bureaucratic, top-down management and lack of accountability in making budget decisions, they oppose this threatened takeover for a variety of reasons:

  • The imposition of FCMAT on OUSD constitutes the suspension of voters’ right to choose their representatives and is a violation of Oakland residents’ democratic rights of self-government.
  • The county is demanding $90 million in budget reductions. How did this happen under the county’s watch? How can $90 million be cut and still have a school district that exists in any recognizable form?
  • The county says school enrollment has declined but failed to acknowledge the pandemic has anything to do with it. The county complains the district has relied on one-time spending, but isn’t that what federal pandemic funds were for?
  • FCMAT and the county have been working closely with OUSD for years, but now they say they failed. Why is the solution to turn total control over to them?
  • There is at least the appearance that the threat to withhold leaders’ salaries and impose FCMAT is in part retaliation for the district decision to stop closing more schools, which is the democratic right of local representatives.

Responding to Oakland Post questions, Monroe said, “Decision-making in Oakland Unified lies with the members of the Board of Education that have been elected by the Oakland community, so I am perplexed by any reference to a violation of the democratic rights of Oakland voters.

“The work to be done by FCMAT does not constitute any replacement of OUSD’s governance structure and is spelled out clearly in Education Code. It is limited in scope and does not usurp or compromise the Board’s local control,” she said. More of her responses will be printed in the next Oakland Post edition.

L. Karen Monroe’s letter to OUSD is available at:

https://ousd.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9962661&GUID=ADEF97D5-0DD4-44CF-99E2-C31AF83C734E

OUSD’ appeal letter to Tony Thurmond is available at

https://ousd.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9963018&GUID=7E877777-AF0C-4211-ABE3-D38E9F2FB20E

Boardmember Hutchinson urged people to call Tony Thurmond and Supt. Monroe and to sign a petition available online at https://bit.ly/3xJRc6K

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Activism

Moms 4 Housing Hold Sit-in Demanding County Supervisors Extend Eviction Protections

All formerly unhoused mothers, the Moms are risking arrest to demand that newly elected Supervisor Lena Tam uphold a previous vote for a strong package of permanent tenant protections for renters in the unincorporated areas of Alameda County as the end of the COVID Eviction Moratorium looms. Participants in the sit-in, are calling on all supporters to come to the 5th floor of 1221 Oak Street or outside the county building immediately to support the protest.

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Participants in the sit-in, which began Tuesday afternoon, are calling on all supporters to come to the 5th floor of 1221 Oak Street or outside the county building immediately to support the protest.
The Moms are prepared to hold this sit-in for 60 hours — for the 60,000 tenants who need these protections, which are set to expire.

By Post Staff

Moms 4 Housing held a sit-in in the nonviolent civil disobedience tradition of Martin Luther King Jr., to demand that the Alameda County Board of Supervisors uphold their original vote to pass permanent Just Cause eviction protections for the 60,000 tenants living in the unincorporated areas of Alameda County.

The Moms are prepared to hold this sit-in for 60 hours — for the 60,000 tenants who need these protections, which are set to expire.

All formerly unhoused mothers, the Moms are risking arrest to demand that newly elected Supervisor Lena Tam uphold a previous vote for a strong package of permanent tenant protections for renters in the unincorporated areas of Alameda County as the end of the COVID Eviction Moratorium looms.

Participants in the sit-in, are calling on all supporters to come to the 5th floor of 1221 Oak Street or outside the county building immediately to support the protest.

The Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), ACCE and EBHO, along with other local activists, are mobilizing outside of the Alameda County Administration Building to stand in solidarity with Moms 4 Housing, an organization focused on uniting mothers, neighbors, and friends to reclaim housing for the Oakland community from the big banks and real estate speculators.

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Activism

Following More Mass Shootings Democrats Introduce Assault Weapons Ban

On January 22, a gunman opened fire on a crowd celebrating the Lunar New Year in Monterey Park, California, killing 11 and wounding 9. The Democrats’ proposed Age 21 Act would make it illegal to sell or buy an assault weapon to anybody under 21, bringing it in line with the legal age for purchasing handguns. President Joe Biden has publicly stated his support for the legislation.

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The assault weapons prohibition “passed the House last year with bipartisan backing, but was blocked by Senate Republicans
The assault weapons prohibition “passed the House last year with bipartisan backing, but was blocked by Senate Republicans.

By Stacy M. Brown,NNPA Newswire

Two proposals aimed at curbing the spread of assault rifles were submitted today by Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein of California, and Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

The Assault Weapons Ban seeks to prohibit the commercialization, distribution, production, and importation of assault rifles and other firearms designed for use in military operations, as well as high-capacity magazines and similar devices.

On January 22, a gunman opened fire on a crowd celebrating the Lunar New Year in Monterey Park, California, killing 11 and wounding 9.

The Democrats’ proposed Age 21 Act would make it illegal to sell or buy an assault weapon to anybody under 21, bringing it in line with the legal age for purchasing handguns.

President Joe Biden has publicly stated his support for the legislation.

Biden said that the number of mass shootings declined during the decade that the Assault Weapons Ban was in effect.

“In the 10 years that the Assault Weapons Ban was on the books, mass shootings went down,” Biden remarked.

“After Republicans let the law expire in 2004 and those weapons were allowed to be sold again, mass shootings tripled,” he declared.

Both houses of Congress were urged to take quick action by the president.

According to Biden, “the majority of American people agree with this rational measure.”

“There can be no greater responsibility than to do all we can to ensure the safety of our children, our communities and our nation,” he insisted.

In the House of Representatives, Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline said he plans to introduce a companion bill to the Senate’s Assault Weapons Ban.

Feinstein said assault rifles “seem to be the unifying denominator in the seemingly endless number of horrific shootings.”

“Because these firearms were created for maximum efficiency in mass murder,” the senator noted.

“They have no place in our society or educational institutions. It’s time to take a stand against the gun lobby and do something about getting these lethal weapons off the streets, or at the absolute least, out of the hands of our youth.”

Blumenthal added, as the gunman at the Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park demonstrated just days ago, assault weapons are designed for one and one purpose only: to murder or hurt human beings.

“These military-style combat weapons – built for the battlefield and designed to maximize death and destruction – have brought bloodshed and carnage to our streets and continue to be the weapon of choice in countless mass shootings,” Blumenthal said.

“Guns don’t respect state boundaries, which is why we need a national solution to restricting the ownership and use of assault weapons. Now is the time to honor gun violence victims and survivors with this commonsense action.”

Rep. Ciciline argued that it is long past due to reinstate an assault weapon ban and remove these “weapons of war” from civilian areas.

The assault weapons prohibition “passed the House last year with bipartisan backing, but was blocked by Senate Republicans,” Ciciline noted.

“We need to come together to enact this commonsense, effective, and proven policy to reduce gun violence and save lives. I thank Senator Feinstein for her partnership in this fight and look forward to introducing the House companion bill in the coming weeks.”

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With a 97.3% Strike Vote, More Than 500 Richmond Educators Rally Before School Board Meeting

“We don’t want to strike, but we will if it means doing what is best for our students. Over 90% of all union members who participated in the strike authorization vote are ready to meet this crisis created by a board and management team not working in the interests of the district. We are hoping our actions through the fact-finding process will show WCCUSD that we are serious about fighting for the best resources for our students. They deserve the best, and nothing less,” UTR President John Zabala said.

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Educators across the district have weathered crisis after crisis: from budget cuts due to poor financial management, to building new virtual learning systems during the pandemic, or giving up countless prep or non-contractual hours to ensure students are with a credentialed adult every day
Educators across the district have weathered crisis after crisis: from budget cuts due to poor financial management, to building new virtual learning systems during the pandemic, or giving up countless prep or non-contractual hours to ensure students are with a credentialed adult every day

By Post Staff

United Teachers of Richmond (UTR) held a rally urging West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) officials to reach a “fair settlement” and avoid a strike.

Teachers, school psychologists, school nurses, school counselors, program specialists, librarians, and speech-language pathologists are calling for a settlement that includes community schools, shared decisions, and competitive compensation that keeps outstanding educators in the community — and brings the next generation of educators to the district.

The rally was held at Lovonya Dejean Middle School, 3400 Macdonald Ave. in Richmond.

“We don’t want to strike, but we will if it means doing what is best for our students. Over 90% of all union members who participated in the strike authorization vote are ready to meet this crisis created by a board and management team not working in the interests of the district. We are hoping our actions through the fact-finding process will show WCCUSD that we are serious about fighting for the best resources for our students. They deserve the best, and nothing less,” UTR President John Zabala said.

In mid-November last year, the Legislative Analyst Office of California announced additional guaranteed, ongoing funding for the 2023-24 school year. The district intends to only provide less than half of the percentage of ongoing permanent funding it receives from the state for educator compensation, according to a statement released by the UTR.

Despite that projection of continued funding by the state, the school district declared an impasse in negotiations with UTR. Educators across the district have weathered crisis after crisis: from budget cuts due to poor financial management, to building new virtual learning systems during the pandemic, or giving up countless prep or non-contractual hours to ensure students are with a credentialed adult every day.

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