Deadlocked OUSD School Board Must Fill D5 Vacancy Immediately
Statement from Oakland Rising Action on the Oakland Unified School District Board Vacancy
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jocelyn Cansino, Jocelyn@OaklandRisingAction.org
May 5, 2023
Oakland, CA – With the recent stall in the strike negotiations, we see the need to have a full school board to make decisions. Oaklanders deserve a local government that is effective, responsible, and representative of all of us, no matter what we look like or whether we live in the hills or the flatlands.
But right now, the Board of the Oakland Unified School District is facing a vacancy in the seat representing District 5. District regulations state that the Board must appoint a replacement within 60 days or the county registrar will call a special election to fill the seat that became vacant after this most recent election. The deadline for the board to make an appointment – May 20th – is fast approaching. And rather than appointing a qualified candidate, some board members want to waste over $500K during a budget crisis on a low-turnout, special election where voters are more likely to be white, wealthy, and not representative of Oakland.
“We cannot leave this seat open for a full year. The Board has a lot of work to do and should fill this seat now,” said Clarissa Doutherd, director of Parent Voices Oakland Action and a leader with Oakland Rising Action. “Special elections actually disenfranchise voters, as there is usually very low turnout. And without the implementation of the youth vote in Oakland, no new voices will be heard.”
“A six-person OUSD board is deadlocked and has already shown to be unable to support or protect students, especially students with dis/abilities. With the cuts to programs expelling Dis/abled students from their school sites to save $2.5 million, it seems ridiculous that the board would spend half a million dollars on a special election that wouldn’t be resolved for another year that our most at risk students can not afford,” said Alan Pursell, parent of an autistic OUSD student. “The OUSD bylaws have an alternative system in place to appoint a board member and if they truly are trying to be fiscally responsible, they should appoint the best possible person to that position quickly.”
In addition, a special election would cost the district money it does not have. Currently, OUSD is negotiating with teachers over their contract, and the budget is at the center of the negotiations. District funds should prioritize the needs of students at school sites – such as teachers, counselors, and librarians – not paying for an unnecessary special election. The Alameda Registrar estimates the special election to cost over $500,000.
Oaklanders need the board to deliver on quality schools without any further delay. Students, parents and community organizations alike are calling on the OUSD board to appoint a new member to represent District 5 right away. A special election may not happen until March 2024, meaning that the representative would only serve for eight months before the general election. This would also leave the seat open for almost a year.
The OUSD board president, Mike Hutchinson, has said that he wants the city or county to pay for the special election. However, the city of Oakland is facing its largest budget deficit in history and we cannot expect it to cover this extraneous expense. The county has also stated that they will not pay for it. At the March meeting, he also stated that it is not the role of the board to appoint an open seat, but the board does have the authority to do so and should since the seat could stay open for a year.
Karen Chan, a District 5 resident and Executive Director of the West Valley – Mission Federation of Teachers, AFT 6554 said “ it’s important that we have representation on the school board without the expensive cost of a special election. Leaving our community without a school board member as part of the governance of OUSD for almost a year is denying our right to representation. It’s the duty of the board to appoint someone to fill this gap immediately, especially when we see they are deadlocked and unable to function. We want a process that requires candidates for appointment to show ample support from District 5 constituents – students and residents. This would ensure the will of students and residents are heard without diverting money from their essential educational needs.”
The OUSD board members must do their job and appoint someone immediately.
District 2 board member Sam Davis said he believes a special election is the best way to ensure youth have a say in who fills the seat. While well-intentioned, this suggestion is misguided. While Oakland did pass a youth vote measure in November 2020, the registrar of voters has not yet implemented the measure. As an alternative to ensure young people are represented in the decision, the Board could create a process to include youth in the screening or interview stages.
The Oakland Unified School District board must get started on a thorough and transparent process to make the appointment as soon as possible — there is no time to waste.
Oakland Rising Action (ORA) is a community-led political organization focused on supporting candidates and issues that drive a progressive agenda for Oakland’s working-class, immigrant and communities of color living in the flatlands of Oakland. ORA engages in aggressive voter education and GOTV operations that encourage Oakland’s working-class, immigrant, and communities of color to think critically about voting for or against issues, policies and candidates based on our shared vision and values for an Oakland for all.