Bill to Return Local Control of Schools

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Sandré R. Swanson

Citing an unacceptable delay on the part of the State, Assemblymember Sandré R. Swanson (D-Alameda) recently introduced a bill that would complete the transition to local control for the Oakland Unified School District.  AB 791 passed the Assembly Education Committee last week on a 7-3 vote.
“The Oakland Unified School District received a clean bill of health over four months ago from a State mandated independent auditing firm. However, the State has shown no move to return the final areas of responsibility to the democratically elected school board.  It is time to put an end to this stalemate and implement a date certain for the return of local control,” Swanson said.
AB 791 would mandate that the remaining areas of Financial Management and Pupil Achievement be returned to the District’s board of trustees by July 1, 2010, which is the start of the new fiscal year.
This would formalize the recommendation of the independent Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), which conducted a complete audit in December of 2008.  Since the District entered State receivership in 2003, FCMAT has conducted regular audits of the District, recommending the return of certain areas of authority as they reached a level of recovery that FCMAT deemed sustainable.
School Board President Alice Spearman and Vice-President Noel Gallo testified before the committee on the need for local control.  “We are in the right place and we have the right board to handle our business.  We are asking now that we have the authority to make decisions over our academic progress with the students and to make decisions over our financial departments,” said Spearman.
“I think it is long overdue that Oakland regain control over the schools.  In the time under receivership, Oakland has met its obligations and met its conditions required by the law,” added Gallo.
Oakland Education Association President Betty Olsen-Jones also spoke in support of AB 791, stating that, “The heart of our democracy is to have the ability of teachers, parents, and students to have a voice in the education of our children.  It has been six years.  We need our voice back.”
Swanson also raised deeper concerns about the State Department of Education’s receivership system.
“This ongoing stalemate is harmful to the District, and continues to cast doubt on the State’s system of receivership. The community has waited far too long to regain its rightful role in determining the direction of their public education system,” he said.
“ With FCMAT’s recommendations, the Superintendent of Public Instruction is free to return authority as quickly as he wants.  However, the District and the State will have an end point so that the local board, teachers, parents, and students can get on with the business of directing their schools.”

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