The State of California, acting through its appointed trustee Chris Learned, this week ordered the Oakland Board of Education not to pass a community-driven policy on “Reparations for Black Students,” threatening to rescind the policy if it passed because it halts the continued closing of largely Black neighborhood schools in the city.
“For four years, the district has been told it has too many schools,” said Learned, speaking Wednesday evening at the Board’s Zoom meeting. He told the board in the public meeting that he would not allow the policy to stand because the district’s large number of schools was the cause of its economic woes.
Learned maintained that school closings save money, despite the lack of evidence that it does. Highly respected research shows that in districts around the country closures do not save money and instead are very costly, not to mention the damage to the quality of education and the morale of students, families and teachers.
Since the state took over in 2003, imposing state control over the district and the oversight of the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), this is the first time a state trustee has spoken in public threatening to rescind a decision of the school board.
Unknown are the number of times that FCMAT, the trustee or the County Office of Education, acting as the state’s representative, have acted behind the scenes to threaten or intimidate district leadership into following their dictates.
The Oakland Post has contacted the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom to ask if he supports the decision of state representatives to block the board’s resolution on reparations for Black students.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the board took three votes on the policy. The original resolution, backed by Black school board members and a broad community coalition, was defeated. A second compromise resolution, which contained wording that postpones closures for at least a year in largely Black schools, was also voted down by the board after hearing from Trustee Learned, saying he would rescind it.
A third vote passed a watered-down version of the reparations policy, removing language from the compromise resolution on postponing school closings. This policy passed with the support of board members who had opposed the original resolution, and no Black board members voted in favor of it.
Boardmember VanCedric Williams, urged the board not to be afraid to pass the reparations policy and instead to force Learned to rescind it if that’s what he wanted to do.
Mirroring the practice of calling out the names of Black people murdered by police, Williams solemnly read out the long list of names of largely Black schools in Oakland that have been killed by the state in the nearly 20 years since the state imposed FCMAT on the district.
In a memo to the district dated March 24, Learned told the board he would not permit the passage of the reparations policy.
“I am unwilling to move forward any action item that removes a potential budget-balancing option for OUSD; therefore the governing board is informed that I will stay Resolution No. 2021-0037 until the language limiting, preventing, or delaying the Board’s ability to act on school mergers, consolidations, or closures is removed,” Learned wrote.