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Ca. Assembly Sandre Swanson's Bill To Restore Oakland Schools To Local Control - Kerry Hamill In Rockridge News

Assembly bill seeks to limit state oversight
by Kerry Hamill,
North Oakland School Board Member - Rockridge News, January

Oakland’s new state Assembly member, Sandre Swanson, will likely spark some long overdue discussions in Sacramento this year about the future governance of Oakland public schools. On Swanson’s first day as a member of the Oakland delegation, he introduced a bill which would put the school board back in control and protect the district’s students from any risky financial decisions by keeping budget veto power in the hands of a state-designated trustee. If passed, the bill would allow the school board to resume power in 2008 and select a new superintendent. To that end, current state administrator Kimberly Statham will likely be on a short list of possible candidates. She continues to earn high marks in the school community for her ability to listen, accept good advice and embrace changes that have worked well for students.

Central to any discussion about restoring local governance is how to continue the momentum for improving academic performance. Since 1999, when organized groups of parents from Oakland’s lowest performing schools banded together to demand change, student achievement has steadily improved, despite political controversy over management decisions. Oakland Unified School District’s Katrina Scott George, who has worked under former Superintendent Dennis Chaconas and state administrator Randy Ward, has documented school progress. Her data indicates that in 1999, 37 Oakland public schools had an Academic Performance Index (API) below 500 out of a possible 1,000 API. Today there are only nine such low-scoring schools. In 1999, there were 11 Oakland public schools with an API over 700, and today there are 42 – approximately half of the district’s schools.

Schools in the Rockridge/Temescal area and their API rankings are shown in the chart below. The gains were achieved after increasing teacher salaries, updating the curriculum from kindergarten through 8th-grade, improving the use of classroom
data to guide instruction and giving school leaders greater control over their budget, among other measures. Despite the political battles and staff upheaval since the state took over, the school board, Mr. Chaconas and Dr. Ward have articulated educational goals that have translated into better teaching and learning.

We still have a long way to go in Oakland, but I fully support a return to local control next year. An elected school board working closely with parents and teachers is the ideal way to assure the best for Oakland’s students. The educational program, as illustrated by state scores, is flourishing. To assure future fiscal stability, Assemblyman Swanson’s bill
would require the appointment of a state trustee who would have oversight and veto power over the budget. This model, which has worked well in other state-controlled school districts, is an essential next step for Oakland’s schools as they pursue solvency and academic excellence.
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