Amid school closures due to the coronavirus, the Oakland Unified school board on April 22 unanimously approved a contract extension for Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell through June 2023.
If she remains in her position through the end of the contract, Johnson-Trammell would become one of the district’s longest-tenured superintendents in years.
“Thank you for allowing me to be of service, even during all of these tumultuous times,” said Johnson-Trammell, an Oakland native who has spent her entire professional career in the district and who has been in her post for almost three years. “It is indeed my pleasure to be of service to the community that’s raised me.”
During her short tenure so far, she has to had grapple with severe financial problems, a weeklong teachers strike, and now a pandemic that has left all the district’s students at home trying to learn remotely — in many cases without devices or internet access.
“The number one action we can take to ensure the success of this school district is continuity in leadership, starting with the superintendent,” said board president Jody London, who has served on the board for 12 years. “She is smart, compassionate, and committed to improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all students in our city. I am delighted that she will continue as superintendent.”
The school board appointed Johnson-Trammell to her position July 1, 2017 to replace Antwan Wilson, who left to head the Washington, D.C., schools after only 2 1/2 years in Oakland. Johnson-Trammell attended district schools and has worked in Oakland Unified as a teacher, principal and district administrator before becoming superintendent.
Although Johnson-Trammell’s contract was not set to expire until June 30, 2021, the seven-member board acted on it a year ahead of time. The terms of four board members, who have said they do not intend to run for reelection, will expire this year.
The new contract boosts Johnson-Trammell’s pay to $280,000 a year, with fringe benefits including “longevity pay” and health and retirement contributions of nearly $80,000, bringing the total value of her compensation to just under $360,000. Board members thanked Johnson-Trammell for agreeing to continue leading the district through the coronavirus pandemic and into the future.
The board also approved a contract for a new chief business officer, Lisa Grant-Dawson, through June 30, 2022. She has a base annual salary of $247,200, plus benefits including health, vision and dental insurance of about $36,154, bringing the total value of her compensation to $283,584. Grant-Dawson previously worked in Stockton Unified as its chief business officer, and was a chief business officer at Vallejo City Unified, which has also had financial troubles.
Over the past two decades, Oakland has had 10 school chiefs, which includes three interim superintendents who served while the district looked for a permanent superintendent, and three appointed by the state. None of them stayed longer than four years in the district, which has struggled to stay afloat financially. It has also faced strong criticism from many teachers and community members who have objected to several school closings, and the expansion of charter schools citywide. Teachers in the district went on a strike for seven days last year, which ended after the district agreed to pay raises, as well as an expansion of a range of support services for students, among other demands.
During the past year, Johnson-Trammell faced criticism after district police used batons to keep anti-school closure protesters from disrupting a meeting, which sparked a lawsuit and calls for the district to eliminate its police force. Johnson-Trammell has agreed to bring a safety plan to the board in the fall so it can consider alternatives to district police.
The district’s overspending and lack of fiscal controls over a period of many years have been criticized by an Alameda County civil grand jury and by the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team, or FCMAT, an agency that helps districts in fiscal distress. Many of these issues stemmed from before Johnson-Trammell became superintendent.
While Johnson-Trammell has provided leadership continuity over the past three years, the district has suffered from a lack of stability in its fiscal department. Marcus Battle, the previous chief business officer, left last year and the chief financial officer resigned a month later.
To help address its financial problems and fill the void left by the loss of its two fiscal leaders, last July the district brought in interim chief financial officer Luz Cazares. With Grant-Dawson coming on board, Cazares is expected to work through June 30 “to help with the transition,” according to the district. The district does not intend to hire a permanent CFO.
District resident Carol Delton, who routinely questions fiscal issues and board decisions, made a plea directly to Grant-Dawson during the Zoom meeting. “Please help this board and district make better financial decisions,” she said.
Grant-Dawson said she heard the concerns expressed by community members. She said she would help the district develop fiscal strategies so that “people are no longer talking about Oakland in a negative manner and this community can stand strong and be very comfortable and confident in what we’re building together.”
* Editor’s Note: As a special project, EdSource is tracking developments in the Oakland Unified and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts as a way to illustrate some of the challenges facing other urban districts in California. West Contra Costa Unified includes Richmond, El Cerrito and several other East Bay communities.