What does Alameda County’s education office do for Berkeley schools?

In the June primary, voters will choose between L.K. Monroe and Alysse Castro for county superintendent. Here’s a guide to understanding how the office works.

Students in class at Community Day, Oakland Unified’s expulsion school that will be closed this year. Expelled students will attend the Alameda County school instead. Credit: Amir Aziz

While Berkeley Unified School District makes most of the big decisions affecting students, teachers, and public schools in Berkeley, the Alameda County Office of Education plays an important oversight and support role to local districts. 

With the June 7 primary election approaching — and with the county superintendent race on the ballot — we wanted to offer an overview of the county education office: what exactly it does, and how it affects Berkeley schools. We’ll be reporting more in-depth about the candidates running for county superintendent in the days to come.

For more information about the June election, Berkeleyside also has guides to the district attorney and sheriff races.

What does the Alameda County Office of Education do?

California has more than 1,000 local school districts and 58 county offices of education. School districts, like Berkeley Unified, oversee the day-to-day operations of the schools in their districts, while county offices have broader responsibilities. The Alameda County Office of Education has a few main roles: approving and monitoring school district budgets; reviewing local accountability plans, which outline how districts are supporting their students; operating alternative schools for students who are involved with the juvenile justice system, have been expelled, or are at risk of not graduating on time; and providing support and professional development for school district staff. 

The county office of education also serves as a liaison between the California Department of Education and local school districts. When the state education department offers grants or other special funding for school districts, like COVID-19-relief funding, the money is often first distributed to county offices of education, which then allocate it to their respective districts. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the county office of education has also worked closely with the Alameda County Public Health Department to set guidelines for school reopening that align with the state’s requirements and are responsive to local conditions. 

The Alameda County Office of Education runs several alternative schools: Opportunity Academy, a charter school for students 16 and older who haven’t been successful in traditional high schools and need an alternate path to a diploma; William P. Burke Academy and Fruitvale Academy, for pregnant and parenting students; Quest Academy, an independent study program for students who have been expelled; and Butler Academic Center and Sweeney Academic Center, which are schools for youth at the county’s juvenile justice center. 

The county office also oversees charter schools whose petitions were approved by the county board.

There are about 4,000 students attending either the county-run alternative schools or county-authorized charter schools. 

What does the county superintendent do?

The county superintendent is the chief administrator of the county office of education, and in 53 of California’s 58 counties, including Alameda, that person is elected. L.K. Monroe, the current Alameda County superintendent, was elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2018 after running unopposed. 

The county superintendent’s role is governed by the state education code, which grants that person the responsibility of overseeing district budgets and visiting and reviewing schools. 

Every year, Superintendent Monroe and her staff review school districts’ interim budget reports and issue each a rating of “positive,” “qualified,” or “negative,” based on whether the district has enough funding for the current year and subsequent years. Berkeley Unified currently has a positive rating, though the district’s been warned that keeping the rating will require close monitoring of its deficit spending, post-employment benefit liability and declining enrollment.

The county superintendent decides how to address districts that face financial instability, and can implement stricter oversight, and pressure district leaders to take steps to address budget deficits. 

What does the county school board do?

The Alameda County board of education has seven trustees, each representing a different area of the county. The Claremont Hills are in District 3, and most of the rest of Berkeley is in District 1. Similar to the BUSD board, trustees serve four-year terms, and elections take place every two years. The trustees for areas 1, 4, and 7 are up for election this year, and the other four seats will be up for election in 2024. 

The county board has several functions that are similar to local school district boards: It approves charter school petitions and revisions for the charter schools that they’ve authorized, signs off on accountability plans for the schools that Alameda County directly operates, and approves the county office of education’s budget. 

The county school board also oversees expulsion and interdistrict transfer appeals. For families who want to transfer their children from the district where they live to another district—for example, if an Oakland family wanted to transfer their child from OUSD to Berkeley Unified—the transfer must be approved by the home district. If it is denied, families can appeal to the county board. Families can also appeal an expulsion decision to the county board of education.

Who’s running in the June primary?

L.K. Monroe is running for a third term as superintendent. Monroe has worked as a teacher and principal in Oakland, and initially joined the county office in 2011 as the director of student programs. Challenging her is Alysse Castro, who currently serves as the executive director of county schools for San Francisco Unified School District, which operates both as a county office of education and a local school district. 

We will be reporting more about both of the candidates for superintendent in the coming days.

The trustees for areas 1, 4, and 7 on the county education board are up for re-election, but only area 1 includes Berkeley. Its boundaries stretch from Albany to Oakland, and include the North Oakland neighborhoods of Rockridge and Temescal, along with some of West Oakland, extending south to West Grand Avenue and east to Broadway.

The current area 1 trustee, Joaquín J. Rivera, is running unopposed. He has been in the seat since 2010. He previously served on the Berkeley Unified School District Board from 1996 to 2008. 

In area 4, which includes San Leandro, San Lorenzo, and Castro Valley, incumbent Aisha Knowles is also running unopposed. In area 7, which covers the eastern part of the county including Dublin, Pleasanton, and Livermore, the current trustee, Yvonne Cerrato, is stepping down. Three candidates are vying for the seat: Cheryl Cook-Kallio, a former teacher and Pleasanton city councilmember, Diemha ‘Kate’ Dao, the founder of Acton Academy East Bay, a private school in Livermore, and Eric Dillie, the superintendent of schools at Key Educational Group, an organization that helps people start charter schools. 

Because there are no challengers in areas 1 and 4, those races won’t appear on the ballot.

Ashley McBride reports on education equity for The Oaklandside. Email: ashley@oaklandside.org.