Voters should rehire Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) Superintendent L.K. Monroe for another four-year term.
Alysse Castro, a San Francisco school administrator, also is a good candidate backed by teachers’ associations and numerous Alameda County politicians. But there does not appear to be any compelling reason to remove Monroe from her post.
First elected in 2014, Monroe successfully steered the ACOE through the COVID-19 pandemic and recently showed strong leadership in her budget oversight role with the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD).
As County Superintendent of Schools, Monroe has no role deciding curriculum or policy decisions for the Tri-Valley’s three school districts — Dublin Unified, Pleasanton Unified and Livermore Joint Valley Unified. Those matters are left up to the trustees voters elect from their neighborhoods.
The ACOE superintendent acts as a liaison between the California Department of Education and 18 Alameda County public school districts. The superintendent provides oversight for each of the districts’ district budgets, makes sure they are meeting basic educational standards, and directly operates schools that serve Alameda County students held at the Juvenile Justice Center, in foster care and in substance abuse treatment programs.
Last year, in her job ensuring districts are financially stable, Monroe warned OUSD that the state might rescind bailout money if the board did not get its house in order.
“The need for the OUSD to balance the budget has been consistently communicated since 2016-17,” Monroe wrote in a November letter to the district. “In this time period, the Governing Board has been unable to ensure solutions are in place to adequately meet the fiscal needs of the District.”
Monroe continued that if the OUSD did not implement timely solutions to reduce its budget by $90 million, the county would intervene.
“We remain seriously concerned as OUSD’s current budgetary approach nearly caused the district to go bankrupt in 2017,” Monroe said.
With declining enrollment the primary cause, the district closed and merged a number of schools, setting off teachers’ union protests and student walkouts.
Fourteen angry teachers associations now support her challenger.
But we contend Monroe was doing her job, just as she was in 2016 when she asked the state to conduct an audit of the Tri-Valley Learning Corporation (TVLC) to look into allegations of "fraud, misappropriation of funds, or other illegal fiscal practices."
The audit found TVLC, which managed two Livermore charter schools, was $3 million in debt and that its management had failed to disclose numerous conflict-of-interest relationships, diverting and commingling funds with various private entities, including three created by its CEO Bill Batchelor. The Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District revoked the schools’ charters and the campuses shut down.
Although no teachers organizations are listed among her endorsements, Monroe’s supporters include Tri-Valley Congressman Eric Swalwell, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, two Alameda County supervisors and all five current ACOE board members.
Castro, executive director of Court, County and Continuation High Schools in the San Francisco Unified School District, meanwhile, said she was running for superintendent “because the jobs of teaching, learning and education are hard and are darn near impossible right now.”
Castro said ACOE was strong in budget and accountability compliance, but there was room for improvement in obtaining grants for such things as special education programs.
She touted her experience in alternative education to break “the school-to-prison pipeline” and change students’ lives. She called herself an expert in school finance and systems, and notes that she was recognized for her work as president of Alameda Family Services, a community agency that provides $7 million of early childhood, school-based wellness, and family support to students or schools.
Her skills and voice in education are definitely important and needed in the years to come.
Monroe is our choice to continue as superintendent. She earned it.