The Worst OUSD Board in 25 Years and How it Can Get Better

Last night a young Black child came to the OUSD Board meeting to proudly sing a song that they learned in Spanish.  Their family was beaming, but the child was upset.  She wasn’t shy.  She was upset.  She didn’t want to sing.  Clutching her mother, head in her chest she was silent.  And what upset her was the rancor and trash that we call our board meetings—yelling, personal insults, disrespect of certain trustees and staff, and a generally toxic atmosphere, where nothing gets done.

Maybe she was worried they would yell at her, maybe they would have.

Note to parents—board meetings are not safe places for children, hell they ain’t safe places for a Sister that got elected.  And they sure as hell ain’t safe places for the Black and Brown Flatlands kids that attend schools in the lowest performing large district in the State.  Meanwhile, our trustees would rather try to micromanage the staff and superintendent, sabotage the board’s own policies, and pontificate on things they don’t control, all the while not making the big decisions that need to be made.

We actually have a superintendent who could make a difference now, but when your own board undermines you, bosses your staff around, and generally second guesses staff decisions—not sure how long a good superintendent can stay in a bad marriage.

If this is our Board, and these are our meetings, we should be taken over.

A board that can’t run a civil meeting, sure as hell can’t run a challenging district.

It is painful to watch.  And more painful for the parents who feel the costs of inaction.

Theater Over Substance

Remember the board meeting where dozens of kids showed up to complain about school food cuts, many of them losing their only meal of the day.  Heart wrenching testimony about kids not even getting the basics from OUSD schools.

Did the board respond?   No.

Any support for the kids?   No.

The board doesn’t respond to such things.  Part of that is a legal issue, the Brown Act prohibits discussing something that is not on the agenda.   And nobody put this on the agenda.

Then a charter school comes up and asks for a 2 week change in a timeline.

Stop the presses, get staff up here, let’s take what seems like an hour to talk about a two week change in timeline, while kids aren’t eating.  Some motion is made with little support, and fails—makes for great theater but really shitty governance.  And does nothing for children, nothing.

The End of Civility

Some guy starts screaming at the speakers and calling them names as they are speaking.  I hear screaming in the background.

Later the same guy tells a board member to shut up (I have to admit, that was hearsay, since I had to take a mental health break from watching).

If we were a rich, well-performing, equitable district, this might be at least a little funny.  Since we are a very low performing district, that is teetering on bankruptcy, with huge equity issues, it’s not funny. Not even remotely.

What was once a sideshow is now a trainwreck, and we know who will be on which side of tracks when the train derails.  When your kid has one chance at school, you don’t have time to take it slow, and hope for some miraculous turnaround from a district that can’t even feed its kids.

If we can’t get better, we deserve a takeover, and honestly that will probably better serve our students than the painful farce of a board meetings we went through last year, which produced oh so much smoke but little productive fire.

Oakland deserves better, we need board meetings that children can attend, we need urgent action on the issues that matter, and we need trustees that will focus on the needs of Flatlands kids and families not their own political obsessions, and we need leadership. I really hope the Board can step up and deliver.


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