Oakland's Perfect Storm Leads to State Takeover. (Update: Education News from Schools, Businesses, Research and Government Agencies)

Article excerpt

It was a "perfect storm" of sorts, dubbed by locals referring to the 48,000-student Oakland, Calif., school district during the last two years. As a result, the ship's captain, Superintendent Dennis Chaconas, and its locally elected school board, were tossed overboard when the state recently approved a $100 million bailout to save the district from bankruptcy.

Chaconas declined to be interviewed, but many details of the fiscal fiasco are clear. When he was hired in 2000, Chaconas promised a "renaissance" of the Oakland schools. He produced progress: students reading at grade level increased by more than 5 percent and standardized test scores at the elementary level showed strong increases. Additionally, a teacher exodus was stanched by a 25 percent salary increase.

Unfortunately, balancing the checkbook was not Chaconas' strong suit. In the fall of 2002, a $60 million deficit, accrued over two years, was revealed.

"The causes are attributed to lack of discipline around personnel costs," says Gary Yee, an elected school board member "At the same time the district started losing around 2,000 students a year. …