mike hutchinson standing in front of door at edna brewer middle school
Oakland Unified School District Director, Mike Hutchinson poses for for a photo in front of Edna Brew Middle School, where he attended when it was called McChesney Junior High School. Credit: Amir Aziz

An Alameda County Superior Judge declared Mike Hutchinson the winner of the OUSD District 4 school board race on Monday, ending a months-long saga stemming from a vote-counting mistake made by the county registrar in the November election.

Hutchinson, who currently serves as the District 5 school board member, filed a complaint in January after the Alameda County Registrar of Voters admitted in December to using the wrong algorithm to tally ranked-choice votes on certain ballots—an error that resulted in the registrar declaring another candidate, Nick Resnick, the winner. Hutchinson had chosen to enter the District 4 race against Resnick and a third candidate, Pecolia Manigo, after the city’s new district map placed his home address there. 

Monday’s court decision was somewhat expected after Resnick, who initially contested Hutchinson’s challenge of the election results, resigned from the school board two weeks ago, saying in a statement that a prolonged legal fight isn’t “what’s best for this community and I don’t think that’s going to help get our schools where they need to go.” Resnick, a former teacher and current CEO of a school curriculum company, added that he will continue to be an advocate for improving public schools through other avenues. 

“Errors were made sufficient to change the result of the election,” said Judge Brad Seligman to attorneys for Hutchinson, Resnick, the city clerk, and county registrar on Monday. “The court also finds there was an error in the vote counting program,” said Seligman, and that after the registrar tallied the votes in accordance with Oakland’s city charter, “contestant Hutchinson received a majority of the votes cast and accordingly, is declared the winner of the Nov. 8, 2022 general municipal election.”

The error was related to 235 ranked-choice ballots where voters had left their first-place choice blank. On those ballots, the second and third-choice candidates should have been bumped up to first and second place respectively, but were not, causing Resnick to win by a slim margin. When the registrar re-ran the results correctly, Hutchinson earned the most votes. But because Resnick had already been declared the winner and the City Council had already certified those results, only a judge could overturn them, which Seligman did on Monday.

“I am very happy with the judge’s decision. We’re four months from Election Day now, so it’s definitely been a roller coaster of a process,” Hutchinson told The Oaklandside on Monday. Hutchinson is a former afterschool teacher and was a longtime public school activist prior to joining the school board in 2020. He’s been an outspoken critic of school closures as a way to reduce the OUSD budget. 

“I think it shows the growing base that we have around the issues a lot of us have fought for for a long time. [It shows] I can win in two different districts in back-to-back elections, two years apart.”

Before he can take the seat, Hutchinson, who also serves as the school board president, will have to resign from his District 5 position and be sworn into office. The swearing-in will need to happen in the next few weeks because the school board has 60 days from Resnick’s resignation to fill that seat. Once Hutchinson’s District 5 post is open, the board will have another two months to appoint someone or call for a special election.

When former District 6 Director Shanthi Gonzales resigned last year, the board chose to appoint someone to fill her seat for the remainder of her term, which was about seven months. Hutchinson has two years left on his District 5 term, and some, including OUSD’s student board directors, are calling for the board to go with a special election to give the community a chance to weigh in. 

The school board has seen significant turnover in the past two years. In 2020, none of the four incumbents chose to run again. In 2022, two of the three incumbents chose not to run, while Kyra Mungia, who was appointed to serve out Gonzales’ term, lost her bid for the District 6 seat to Valarie Bachelor. None of the current OUSD school board directors have been on the board for more than two years. 

Deciding how to fill the vacancy in District 5 is just one of the high stakes decisions the board will need to make in the coming weeks. Last week, the school board rejected a package of budget cuts and adjustments that were intended to allow OUSD to offer substantial raises to teachers and other district staff. The board has until March 15 to make those budget adjustments, which include layoffs of school site and central office positions. The board’s impending budget decisions could also influence whether Alameda County education officials increase oversight of the school board or the district moves closer to being financially independent.

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.