Oakland school board member Shanthi Gonzales resigned on May 2, 2022, seven months before her term was set to expire, leaving a vacancy that the district must fill within 60 days. Credit: Kathryn Styer Martínez

The Oakland Unified School District board announced Wednesday it will be appointing a new director for District 6 to replace Shanthi Gonzales, who abruptly resigned last week. 

The board faces a tight deadline to find a replacement. If they don’t either appoint someone or hold a special election before July 1, the Alameda County Superintendent of Schools will step in and order an election.

Because the District 6 school board seat is already going to be up for re-election in November, the school board directors at Wednesday’s meeting favored making an appointment. The individual ultimately selected by the board will hold office only for the remainder of Gonzales’ term, which ends in January. 

Board directors on Wednesday stressed the importance of the appointment, despite it being temporary.  “It’s going to impact our board a great deal and also going to impact the community at large, not just District 6,” said director Clifford Thompson. 

The school board decided to move forward with the appointment process, despite only four of the six remaining board members showing up to the meeting. In addition to Gonzales’s now empty seat,  Board President Gary Yee and Director VanCedric Williams were both absent.  

The district will post the application for the open director position on the OUSD website next Monday, and applicants must apply by no later than 5 p.m. on June 1. All applications will be considered public documents. Late or incomplete applications will not be accepted. 

Only residents of District 6 on the city’s current district map are eligible for the appointment. Oakland adopted a new district map earlier this year with revised boundaries, but that map doesn’t go into effect until prior to the November election and doesn’t apply to this appointment. However, if the appointee does not live within the new D6 boundaries come November, they will not be eligible to run for that seat in the election.

Some community members on Wednesday raised questions regarding the transparency of the appointment process. “If the replacement is going to be an appointment instead of an election,” said Liz Noune, a community member, “what guarantees do we have of this person who’s going to actually represent those of us in District 6 as opposed to reflecting the preferences of the current board members?” 

Others in attendance agreed with the board, saying an appointment offered the most expedient solution. “We need to make sure that we close the loop of filling the seat again, with someone that the community can trust,” said one District 6 constituent who spoke at the meeting. “We will have an election this year, and we can let the voters find a more permanent person for that space.”

The school board will consider scheduling three special board meetings in June to select finalists, conduct interviews, and appoint an individual. The board will decide on the number of applicants to interview and other logistics, during the special meeting dedicated to selecting the finalists. 

The vacancy of Gonzales’ seat, coupled with the other board absences, placed additional pressure on the directors who attended Wednesday’s meeting. Since the school board needs four votes to approve agenda items, each school board member’s vote became more likely to impact the board’s decisions. Director Mike Hutchinson expressed frustration with the board being short-staffed at the beginning of the meeting. “I’m really disappointed that one of the reasons is one of our colleagues on the board just gave up and quit,” he said.

Gonzales resigned on May 2, publishing a statement on her blog that excoriated the district and the teachers union for not placing the academic needs of students first, and criticized the union and community groups opposed to the district’s school closures and consolidation plan for mounting personal attacks and using intimidation tactics against school board members they disagree with, which she said effectively shut down the possibility of having any meaningful debate. 

Updates on school policing, and recognitions for student directors

The board postponed most of the consent items on the agenda to make sure that it could address the time-sensitive issue of filling the D6 seat. But OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell did provide a brief update on the George Floyd Resolution to Eliminate Police, which was approved by the school board in June 2020 after nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism. It eliminated the OUSD police department and created plans to improve learning conditions and safety response on school campuses.  After one year of being implemented, reported Johnson-Trammell, the number of police calls to campuses has dropped dramatically.

May is a month for celebrations, promotions, ceremonies, and graduations across the district, and the school board took time on Wednesday to recognize one of its student directors, Samantha Pal, who will finish her term at the end of this school year when she graduates from Oakland High School. Pal served two terms on the board during a tumultuous time when schools turned to remote learning when the district was forced to close campuses because of the pandemic. Over 10 community members made public comments to recognize her services and accomplishments. 

Student directors are elected members of the All City Council, the OUSD student union. They are responsible for reporting to the school board about ACC activities and uplifting students’ voices and perspectives at school board meetings. There are two student directors on the school board. The incoming student directors for the 2022-23 school year will be returning Student Director Gallegos Chavez, and current ACC President Linh Le.