Who’s Breaking the Tie for Oakland students?!

Tie game. No overtime …

Guest blog by Jumoke Hinton

I’m not talking about a “Game,” Game. I’m talking about the entrenched, ideological, special interest Board of Education representing Oakland Unified School District. 

Really, more than half of the BOE are consumed with protecting the status quo and the protection of adults. They demonstrate no knowledge of why school districts exist: to improve student outcomes.

We can’t have a governance board that is driven by the egos of all the adults in the room. Tie votes, refusing to vote on budget cuts, rescinding school closures without even knowing how much it would cost – this is just ineffective governance.  It demonstrates no one is governing on behalf of children, they are only representing the adults in the community– and wasting time and energy on things that have nothing to do with student progress.

Ironic, isn’t it? During the campaign season, the candidates carried on this rhetoric about pushing out the former board members – because the former board was lying about the structural deficit and the impact it has on all students. Do you think they believe that same rhetoric now? Yeah, me neither.   

We must begin to govern in such a way that student success is the priority. 

This really is about life and death. One newly elected board member (and new to Oakland) represents a part of our city called the Killing Zone.  Another newbie represents a place we call the Murder Dubs. Social determinants for these students and families in District 6 and 2 are grim. Yet the campaign rally cry we heard was all about “saving” schools that are low-performing and under-enrolled, and the usual stuff about “stopping” billionaires and privatizers. 

Did they explore why students and families were making independent choices about quality and safety?! No, instead their own confusion about their role spread directly to the electorate. Now we have a confused electorate and feckless board upholding a patronage group that has zero interest in student outcomes! 

Their first responsibility of a new board is to collectively understand the values and vision of education in Oakland. It is a huge task because there is a lot to discern. What is needed in the West is different from what may be needed across town. But the board is elected to represent all, and manage experts in education and monitor their abilities to create learning gains for Oakland’s children! They should be learning about the community, not providing their patrons an interpretation of what’s needed in neighborhoods where schools exist. They should provide the community with a road map on how to accomplish the district’s goals, and inspire confidence that they will leverage every penny we receive to ensure Oakland students achieve.

This newly configured board has kept their promises to special interest and patronage groups, and they were so quick to deliver. First, an irresponsible vote making a multimillion dollar decision about resources, where children would learn without any attention to the fiscal impact. They were so confident in delivering the promise for their base without even waiting a week for a fiscal impact report from the Superintendent and Chief Business Officer! Who does that?! 

This decision was grounded in a mindset of pretending – as they pretended during the campaign – that there is “no structural deficit.” And it carried over into their governance: “you can do anything you want with one-time money.” 

You can’t be that ill informed and willing to ignore the education experts, and then turn around and say you’re just listening to your base! You are ignoring the principles of effective governance! 

An effective governing board that wants to gain the trust of the community, doesn’t make fiscally devastating decisions on Day 1! And then make excuses for not having fiscal impact information from staff. 

A tie vote did not rectify the fiscal emergency they created with their collective vote to go against doing what the district needed to do. The consequences of that detrimental decision to reopen schools already came back to haunt them – making it imperative to make deeper cuts. The board still wants to save teacher jobs and ensure raises. And closing underperforming and unsustainable schools are back up for discussion

If this is how the board is going to do business, buckle up. It’s going to get crazy this year.

Oakland, if you’re tired of the gaslighting and the barrier it creates to serve students well, you need to understand what effective governance means. Please consider whether that is more important than the rhetoric you want to hear. The gaslighting may fit your ideology, but it does nothing to improve outcomes for students. Understand we can – and should be – be an electorate who is about effective and accountable governance. 

Oakland, it’s time to demand that this tied-up board can’t be responsible for filling a vital seat on the school board representing District 5 whose demographic is largely multilingual learners, newcomers and many low-income students and families, and community to several high-performing charter schools. They have only proven that some organization or donor will be driving their decision. They won’t allow for a democratic process. 

We need to break the tie, Oakland, because Oakland children need a win. Let’s stop the gaslighting and instead focus on effective governance, and get to the vision and values of young people achieving and being their best selves! Student outcomes won’t change until adult behaviors do!

What do you think?

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