While Oakland Unified School District makes most of the big decisions affecting students, teachers, and public schools in Oakland, the Alameda County Office of Education plays an important oversight and support role to local districts, and runs its own schools that may also enroll Oakland students.
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With the June 7 primary election approaching—and with the county superintendent race on the ballot—we wanted to offer an overview of the county education office: what exactly it does, and how it affects Oakland schools. We’ll be reporting more in-depth about the candidates running for county superintendent in the days to come.
What does the Alameda County Office of Education do?
California has more than 1,000 local school districts and 58 county offices of education. School districts, like Oakland Unified, oversee the day-to-day operations of the schools in their districts, while county offices have broader responsibilities. The Alameda County Office of Education has a few main roles: approving and monitoring school district budgets; reviewing local accountability plans, which outline how districts are supporting their students; operating alternative schools for students who are involved with the juvenile justice system, have been expelled, or are at risk of not graduating on time; and providing support and professional development for school district staff.
The county office of education also serves as a liaison between the California Department of Education and local school districts. When the state education department offers grants or other special funding for school districts, like COVID-relief funding, the money is often first distributed to county offices of education, which then allocate it to their respective districts.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the county office of education has also worked closely with the Alameda County Public Health Department to set guidelines for school reopening that align with the state’s requirements and are responsive to local conditions.
The Alameda County Office of Education runs several alternative schools: Opportunity Academy, a charter school for students 16 and older who haven’t been successful in traditional high schools and need an alternate path to a diploma; William P. Burke Academy and Fruitvale Academy, for pregnant and parenting students; Quest Academy, an independent study program for students who have been expelled; and Butler Academic Center and Sweeney Academic Center, which are schools for youth at the county’s juvenile justice center.
OUSD’s Community Day School has served expelled students in recent years, but will shut down later this year as part of a districtwide cost-saving plan. Beginning next year, those students will be directed to Quest Academy.
The county office also oversees charter schools whose petitions were approved by the county board. There are 10 such schools in Oakland: Alternatives in Action High School, Aurum Preparatory Academy, Community School for Creative Education, Cox Academy, Envision Academy, Epic Charter Academy, Lazear Charter Academy, Oakland Unity Middle School, Urban Montessori Charter School, and Yu Ming Charter School.
There are about 4,000 students attending either the county-run alternative schools or county-authorized charter schools.
What does the county superintendent do?
The county superintendent is the chief administrator of the county office of education, and in 53 of California’s 58 counties, including Alameda, that person is elected. L.K. Monroe, the current Alameda County superintendent, was elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2018 after running unopposed.
The county superintendent’s role is governed by the state education code, which grants that person the responsibility of overseeing district budgets and visiting and reviewing schools.
Every year, Superintendent Monroe and her staff review school districts’ interim budget reports and issue each a rating of “positive,” “qualified,” or “negative,” based on whether the district has enough funding for the current year and subsequent years. Oakland Unified currently has a qualified rating, which means the district is at risk of not being able to meet its financial obligations in the next few years. As a result, the district is required to submit additional interim budget updates to the county.
The county superintendent decides how to address districts like Oakland that face financial instability, and can implement stricter oversight, and pressure district leaders to take steps to address budget deficits.
In November, Monroe wrote to the OUSD board approving the district’s budget plan, but warned that its reliance on one-time funding was not sustainable. She issued a formal notice identifying OUSD as an ongoing concern, and urged district leaders to take more serious steps to reduce spending. The OUSD school board responded in January and February by cutting $40 million from their budget and voting to close, merge, or shrink 11 schools over the next two years. On March 31, Superintendent Monroe wrote again to the board to rescind her notice, in light of those decisions. OUSD must still submit a third interim budget report to the county by June 1.
What does the county school board do?
The Alameda County board of education has seven trustees, each representing a different area of the county. Areas 1, 2, and 3 include parts of Oakland. Similar to the OUSD board, trustees serve four-year terms, and elections take place every two years. The trustees for areas 1, 4, and 7 are up for election this year, and the other four seats will be up for election in 2024.
The county board has several functions that are similar to local school district boards: It approves charter school petitions and revisions for the charter schools that they’ve authorized, signs off on accountability plans for the schools that Alameda County directly operates, and approves the county office of education’s budget.
Decisions made by the county about its charters can sometimes impact OUSD. This was illustrated last month when the OUSD board voted to ask the county to reconsider Yu Ming Charter School’s request to relocate to another district in Alameda County. The county board of education had denied the request, which means that OUSD may be forced to supply Yu Ming with additional district property.
The county school board also oversees expulsion and interdistrict transfer appeals. For families who want to transfer their children from the district where they live to another district—for example, if an Oakland family wanted to transfer their child from OUSD to Berkeley Unified—the transfer must be approved by the home district. If it is denied, families can appeal to the county board. Families can also appeal an expulsion decision to the county board of education.
Who’s running in the June primary?
L.K. Monroe is running for a third term as superintendent. Monroe has worked as a teacher and principal in Oakland, and initially joined the county office in 2011 as the director of student programs. Challenging her is Alysse Castro, who currently serves as the executive director of county schools for San Francisco Unified School District, which operates both as a county office of education and a local school district.
The Oaklandside will be reporting more about both of the candidates for superintendent in the coming days.
The trustees for areas 1, 4, and 7 on the county education board are up for re-election, but only area 1 includes Oakland. Its boundaries stretch from Albany to Oakland, and include the North Oakland neighborhoods of Rockridge and Temescal, along with some of West Oakland, extending south to West Grand Avenue and east to Broadway.
The current area 1 trustee, Joaquín J. Rivera, is running unopposed. He has been in the seat since 2010. Rivera previously served on the Berkeley Unified School District Board from 1996 to 2008.
In area 4, which includes San Leandro, San Lorenzo, and Castro Valley, board president Aisha Knowles is also running unopposed. In area 7, which covers the eastern part of the county including Dublin, Pleasanton, and Livermore, the current trustee, Yvonne Cerrato, is stepping down. Three candidates are vying for the seat: Cheryl Cook-Kallio, a former teacher and Pleasanton city councilmember, Diemha ‘Kate’ Dao, the founder of Acton Academy East Bay, a private school in Livermore, and Eric Dillie, the superintendent of schools at Key Educational Group, an organization that helps people start charter schools.
Because there are no challengers in areas 1 and 4, those races won’t appear on the ballot.
Correction: This story previously stated that Joaquín Rivera is the president of the ACOE board. Aisha Knowles is the board president, not Rivera.