By late Tuesday, Alameda County Schools Superintendent L.K. Monroe held a slight edge over her challenger Alysse Castro.
Fewer than 3,000 votes separate Monroe, who is running for her third term, from Castro. The county has about 120,000 votes left to count, said registrar Tim Dupuis. Results could change as more votes and mail-in ballots are tallied in the coming days.
Monroe told The Oaklandside she feels optimistic, but isn’t declaring victory yet.
“I’m waiting to see how the votes come in in the next 48 hours, and then I’ll feel much more certain of the outcome,” she said Wednesday morning.
Castro similarly said she’s waiting for more votes to be counted. Regardless of the outcome, Castro is proud of the outreach campaign she ran and the support she’s received from teachers.
“I think I hit 10,000 doors canvassing, and the only thing I would do differently is aimed for even more,” she said. “Talking to voters has been the very best part.”
This is all because the people I’ve met in these last 8 months are the people who show up to say, “How can we work together make sure the kids are getting what they need?”
— Alysse (@alyssecastro) June 8, 2022
This is the first competitive race for county superintendent since 2014, when Sheila Jordan stepped down, paving the way for an open race. Monroe, who was then associate superintendent for the county, ran for the position and won. This year, Monroe faced Castro, the executive director of county schools in San Francisco.
The superintendent runs the county office of education, which has little direct influence on the day-to-day operations of Oakland Unified School District schools, but provides important support, training, and funding to OUSD and other districts in the county. The Alameda County Office of Education also runs its own schools, which include alternative schools for pregnant and parenting students, an independent study school for young adults who need a high school diploma, and a school for students who have been expelled from district schools.
The Alameda County superintendent also oversees each school district and evaluates district budgets multiple times a year. Monroe has criticized OUSD for its reliance on one-time funding to sustain budget shortfalls. Last year, Monroe warned that if district leaders did not take steps to cut millions from the budget, she could place OUSD under stricter oversight, including reviewing the district’s financial processes, inviting in a state fiscal oversight agency, and even withholding compensation to school board directors and the district superintendent.
A few months later, the OUSD board voted to close, merge, or shrink 11 schools over the next two years over budget concerns.
“My role as county superintendent is to ensure the district makes decisions they need to have a balanced budget,” Monroe told The Oaklandside in March. “If you are deciding that school closures is that decision, then that’s the decision I’m going to hold you to.”
Alameda County’s next superintendent will oversee OUSD at a critical time for the district as it attempts to free itself completely from enhanced county oversight resulting from budget mismanagement in the early 2000s. District officials hope to pay off the remainder of a $100 million state loan by 2026—a loan OUSD took on in 2003 under state receivership. Until the loan is paid off and OUSD passes a financial audit, a trustee within the county office of education has veto power over district budget decisions.
“It’s important to have a good understanding of Oakland schools and the historical relationship between the county and schools,” said OUSD board president Gary Yee. “As an Oakland resident and long-time Oakland educator, I’ve worked with superintendent Monroe over a period of that time, so I have confidence that she understands the context and performance of Oakland schools pretty well.”
Monroe recently came under fire for the way her office distributed one-time COVID-relief funding, as bonus stipends to administrators. The county office of education received about $15 million in federal and state COVID funding to support distance learning, address learning loss, provide personal protective equipment and supply bonuses for employees who took on new responsibilities during the pandemic.
The county office of education handed out about $600,000, according to EdSource, mainly to managers and administrators, some of whom then donated to Monroe’s campaign.
Castro, who oversees alternative schools in San Francisco, said she wants to expand the support and training that the county office provides to the local school districts it oversees and develop better pipelines for educators in the East Bay to address hiring shortages that districts are facing.
Castro has the support of several teachers and employee unions, as well as former Superintendent Sheila Jordan. Jordan initially planned to stay neutral in the race, but after talking with Castro, she decided to endorse her.
“I have confidence Alysse will sit down and work with people and see if there’s a sensible way of determining if and how many schools would need to be closed, understanding what the potential impacts are for underperforming schools, children facing poverty, and children of color,” Jordan told The Oaklandside. “Alysse has a true passion for working with kids as well as being extremely smart, understanding budgets, and a willingness to sit down and meet with people and listen.”
Both candidates see a need for the state to move away from attendance-based funding for schools, which could lead to losses for Oakland Unified and other school districts still dealing with COVID-related absences.
“Cutting a district’s resources because they’re serving families that are struggling to come to school is just not logical,” Castro told The Oaklandside earlier this year.