The Oakland Unified School District’s state overseers have mostly operated behind the scenes to enforce their dictates since they took over the district nearly 20 years ago. But last week, the state Trustee Chris Learned sent shock waves through the school community when he came to a public board meeting to announce that he would “stay” or block any motion of the board that halts or puts a temporary moratorium on permanent closing of Oakland schools
The state, acting through the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) and the state Trustee, has pushed for austerity budgets, with annual cuts to programs in the city’s classrooms and closing as many as 20 schools since the state takeover in 2003.
Many activists who back the Reparations for Black Students policy told the Post that the overseers were forced to appear in public because of the huge pressure the board and administration were feeling from hundreds of students and community members in the Justice for Oakland Students Coalition, which has the backing of community leaders and elected officials.
Organizations active in the coalition include Bay Area Plan, Parent Voices, Anti-Police Terror Project, the Black Organizing Project and the Oakland Education Association (OEA).
Activists are excited about the passage of a historic reparations policy in OUSD because it contains a commitment to repairing the historic harm done to Black Students. But they are furious the about the refusal to pass the part of the resolution stopping school closures.
“There is no justice if you pull the knife of structural racism out just halfway and decide to let our community bleed from the harm of school closures that displace students and destroy our communities,” according to a statement released by the coalition.
“The OUSD Board passed most of the Reparations for Black Students Resolution … but lacked the courage to put an end to the racist school closure policy, delaying the full measure of justice to our Black students, but we will NOT be denied,” the statement said.
Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, dean of the School of Education of Holy Names University, told the Post she and many others want an audit to be conducted of FCMAT.
“FCMAT is made up of accountants and fiscal people, not educators,” she said. “They don’t know what elements need to be in place for quality education. We continue to be harmed by them.”
“Our experience is that they target urban districts to close schools of Black and Latino students,” she said. Even in rural districts, they close schools that are predominately Black and Latino.
“They close schools in neighborhoods vulnerable to displacement and deeper gentrification,” she said.
“Their practices create a lot of chaos for the children they claim to be operating in the best interest of,” said Mayfield.
The board “received at least 500 e-mails from community members supporting the reparations resolution, as well as hearing from elected officials and major unions,” said Boardmember VanCedric Williams, speaking with the Oakland Post.
“The district is balancing its budget on the backs of Black kids, closing schools in Black neighborhoods, which contributes to people moving out and gentrifying the neighborhoods,” he said.
What FCMAT and the State Trustee are doing is an example of what “has been a prevailing relationship that OUSD has been living under for 20 years,” Williams. “There is no democracy if you have someone is overseeing your financial decisions,” he said. “We are now moving closer to ending this.”
Boardmember Mike Hutchinson told the Oakland Post that the passage of the reparations policy was a huge victory for improving programs for Black students.
The victory was a sign of the overseers’ weakness, who had to come out in public. “We forced the wizard out from behind the curtain; (Trustee) Learned showed up at open session” to issue his threat, Hutchinson said.
He said the district is in good shape financially, receiving between $200 million and $300 million in one-time federal funding, which can support transformative education for students over the next three years.
“There is no structural deficit,” and therefore no need to heed FCMAT’s call for continued school closings and austerity budget cuts, Hutchinson said.
Kampala Taiz-Rancifer, an OEA leader, told the Post the coalition made huge steps in the right direction: “We won 14 of 15 demands,” she said.
“(But) we’re not going to stop this fight against school closures,” she said, because if the struggle loses, there will no longer be Black students in Oakland. “They will push the Black students out.”