Members of the Oakland school board during a meeting on Nov. 30, 2022. Credit: Amir Aziz

The last Oakland Unified School District board meeting of 2022 began with a tribute to outgoing school board directors Aimee Eng, Gary Yee, and Kyra Mungia for their service to OUSD, as three new directors will be sworn in this January. 

Both Eng in District 2 and President Yee, who represents District 4, decided not to run for reelection this year. They served on the board during a tumultuous time that saw the district grapple with declining enrollment, financial challenges, and strong public backlash over the board’s decision to close schools.

District 6 Director Mungia, who was appointed in June to serve out the remainder of Shanthi Gonzales’s term, lost her race to Valarie Bachelor, a labor organizer.  

“You have all embodied that spirit of collaborative space, and trying to work towards the best outcomes,” said Michael McDaniel, a family organizer at Families in Action For Quality Education. “Thank you all for what you have provided.” 

All eyes will be on OUSD’s incoming board to tackle the significant issues the district faces, including the remaining school closures, which opponents say disproportionately impact Black and brown communities. 

District 5 Director Mike Hutchinson introduced a resolution to rescind the closures, which the board is expected to take up early next year. Two incoming board members, Jennifer Brouhard in District 2 and Valerie Bachelor in District 6, said during their campaigns they would work to end school closures. 

Also joining the board in January will be Nick Resnick in District 4, an OUSD parent, former teacher, and CEO of Inquiry By Design, a school curriculum company. Resnick has said he’s not blanketly opposed to closures but wants to see more information about the district’s current plan.

All three incoming candidates have expressed a desire to improve the overall culture of the board and create more consensus, something that was echoed by others at Wednesday’s meeting.

“My vision for this new board coming in is that you actually listen, that you actually partner, that you actually want to truly create a community school district, and not something that just looks good on paper,” said Pecolia Manigo, a parent organizer at Reparations 4 Black Students who also ran for the District 4 school board seat and placed second behind Resnick.

Transitional kindergarten expansion expected to boost enrollment

Oakland Unified Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, who is back from a three-month sabbatical, gave an update on enrollment numbers for the 2022-23 year. The total number of enrolled students as of Dec. 5 was 34,132—higher than the previous 20-day enrollment count conducted earlier this year, but still a slight decline compared to the 2021-2022 school year, when 34, 428 students were enrolled.

OUSD isn’t the only district in the state with declining enrollment. The 2021-2022 school year was the fifth consecutive year that California as a whole saw enrollment decline in public K-12 schools, falling below 6 million for the first time since 1999-2000, according to EdSource

OUSD’s expansion of transitional kindergarten (TK), an optional stepping-stone between preschool and kindergarten for children who narrowly miss the age cutoff for kindergarten, could help to stabilize enrollment.

Johnson-Trammell announced on Wednesday that any child who turns five by April. 1, 2024, will be eligible for TK next year. By the 2025-26 school year, all four-year-olds in California will be able to enroll in TK, regardless of when their birthday falls.

“OUSD’s implementation of the state’s TK expansion is a critical factor that will support the longtime stability of the district by bringing Oakland families into our district sooner,” said Johnson-Trammell. “Support us in getting the word out to the community by highlighting this critical resource that will support our youngest learners to get ahead on their academic journey.” 

The enrollment window for families to apply to OUSD schools for the 2023-24 school year is open until Feb. 10, and school assignments will be sent to families on March 9. 

OUSD projected to meet its financial obligations

DeCarlos Kaigler, OUSD’s chief financial officer, presented the 2022-23 first interim budget report, which must be submitted to the Alameda County Office of Education by Dec. 15.

The interim budget report shows that the district is on track to meet its financial obligations for the remainder of this year, and the next two years. If it’s approved by ACOE, it will be the first time in 20 years the district receives a “positive certification” from the county, and an important step toward ending the district’s state receivership.

OUSD has been under state receivership since 2003, when it received an emergency loan of $100 million from the state to meet its financial obligations.

“We must work hard to sustain ongoing financial and operational sustainability and move forward to exit state receivership,” Kaigler said. 

The district will continue to submit interim reports for certification, with the next one due on March 15. 

OUSD urged to increase budget for George Floyd Resolution

On June 24, 2020, the OUSD board unanimously approved the George Floyd Resolution, a two-phase plan to eliminate school police and divert its $6 million annual budget into a new school safety plan with community input. Phase one, the elimination of school police, was adopted on Dec. 9, 2020.

On Wednesday, members of the Black Organizing Project (BOP), a group working with OUSD and other community members on phase two, presented a proposed plan and budget calling for a much greater investment of $57 million to support school safety and other improvements at OUSD schools serving Black and brown youth.

“This is the bare minimum that these children should be getting—a baseline for what we can be offering for our young people,” said Malaika Parker, executive director of the Black Organizing Project. “It’s a budget that offers you an invitation to invest in the future of young people in Oakland.”

Board directors and the superintendent all expressed a general support for the new initiatives in the proposal but didn’t indicate whether they would support the expanded budget request, and board President Yee along with Johnson-Trammell suggested that the BOP team should begin having conversations with the county about how to fund its prevention strategies.

Supporters of the plan said it’s an opportunity for the district to make a transformative change in Oakland schools.

“We have the opportunity to make history and impact school finance policy nationally, as what happens in Oakland influences the entire country,” said Cecelia Jordan, former Ralph J. Bunche Academy history teacher. “Our district has a unique opportunity to change the narrative on Black education and set the precedent for what true transformation looks and feels like for our young people.” 

Next month, the newly constituted school board will decide if the expanded proposal for phase two will be implemented.

Gisselle Medina's identity consists of multitudes—a Latinx, queer, non-binary from Los Angeles. They are a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism specializing in Narrative Writing and Multimedia. Through their reporting, they work to contribute to elevating diverse communities through investigating and accurately reporting on deep-rooted issues such as unequal access to mental health resources and racial inequality.