Classroom building at Fremont High School under construction.
Fremont High School in Oakland received major upgrades from Measure J, a $475 million bond for school upgrades passed in 2012. Funding from the Measure Y bond will go to similar renovations at other schools. Credit: Pete Rosos

Oakland voters passed two ballot measures this year related to schools: Measure QQ, which allows 16- and 17-year-olds to vote for school board directors, and Measure Y, which provides $735 million to Oakland Unified School District for infrastructure upgrades. Local election results aren’t certified yet, but both measures garnered broad support from voters, with 68% (Measure QQ) and 78% (Measure Y), respectively. But there are still some hurdles to clear before they can be enacted.

Measure QQ: Youth vote for school board

Several logistical challenges stand in the way of enabling 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in school board elections. Once the results are certified, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, and the Oakland City Clerk will work together to revamp the current voting infrastructure, said registrar Tim Dupuis.

“Right now, the voter database is built for voters who are 18 and above. To accommodate the 16- and 17-year-olds, the database and the system would have to be modified,” Dupuis said. 

In addition to updating the voting systems, another obstacle is creating ballots that would only have the school board races on them for youth to use. In Berkeley, voters approved a similar measure in 2016 that hasn’t been fully implemented yet. Berkeley’s youth vote initiative, Measure Y1, restricted city funds from being used to cover the additional costs of implementing it, placing all financial responsibility on the school district. That stipulation is not in Measure QQ, and the Oakland city attorney estimated that enabling 16- and 17-year-olds to vote could cost about $7,000 to $10,000 more during school board election years.

Lukas Brekke-Miesner, the executive director of Oakland Kids First, has been working with youth advocates to promote Measure QQ. The most critical step was having voters approve the measure, and now the group is looking forward to working with the county, the city, and the school district.

“For the young people, it’s really exciting because it’s government education in real time,” Brekke-Miesner said. “What we want to do is put together a task force that includes young people, community members, educators, the registrar’s office, city council and school board to start mapping out what needs to happen, not just for it to be legal for young people to vote but to actually do a robust implementation.”

That implementation work will include youth voter registration and civic education, in part provided by the school district. 

“We will ensure that our students are prepared to exercise their right to vote once that time comes,” OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a statement. “That will include supporting students with enhanced civics education about our democractic processes, rights and responsibilities as the next election approaches in 2022.”

Measure Y: school bond

Now that Measure Y, the school bond, has passed, OUSD school board members are responsible for deciding which projects to prioritize. Prior to Election Day, school board members put together a project list of improvements at specific campuses in the district that bond funds would go to if the measure were approved. That list includes things like renovating McClymonds High School, building a new cafeteria at Claremont Middle School, expanding the campus at Coliseum College Prep Academy, and many more projects, along with district-wide upgrades for  facilities, technology, and other issues that aren’t specific to one school. 

The district won’t receive the entire $735 million at once, but in portions. The first could be around $250 million, school board director Shanthi Gonzales said. Because of that, the school board will have to decide what projects to focus on first, and COVID precautions will be at the front of everyone’s minds. 

“We will be thinking about what we need to do to make the return to school safer for staff and students,” Gonzales said. “Ventilation projects, shields in high-traffic areas like front offices and cafeterias, and outdoor classroom space could be another possibility.”

The facilities committee, which is made up of District 6 director Gonzales, District 4 director Gary Yee, and District 5 director Roseann Torres, meets on the second Friday of each month, and will be discussing which projects should begin first. Then, the committee will make recommendations to the full board, which will vote on the spending plan. The board could take a vote at the last meeting of the calendar year on Dec. 9, or wait until January when the four new board members are sworn in.

Residents can give feedback and share what they think should be prioritized during the public comment portion of facilities meetings, or during a regular school board meeting. Other avenues include reaching out to your specific board director, making e-comments online, or participating during meetings for the district’s bond oversight committee, which is made up of Oakland residents. The oversight committee meets on the second Monday of each month

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.