Sheila Jordan’s Legacy Poses a Challenge for her Hand-Picked Successor

Candidates to replace retiring Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Sheila Jordan at a forum Wednesday in Hayward. Left to right, Jeff Bowser, Helen Foster, Karen Monroe and Ursula Reed. PHOTO/Steven Tavares

CAMPAIGN 2014 | ALCO SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS |There has long been a sense the queen of Alameda County education, Sheila Jordan, has become unresponsive to the needs of some of its struggling school districts and created a bloated administration filled with, what critics derisively describe as F.O.S, or, Friends of Sheila. With Jordan, a former city council and school board members in Oakland, retiring this year, four candidates say they hope to improve the quality of education in Alameda County, except, it’s not hard to discern which of the three is Jordan’s hand-picked successor.

Sheila Jordan

Karen Monroe was named assistant county superintendent two years ago, but as Jordan was contemplating retirement last year, she quietly moved to appoint Monroe to replace her. However, some members of the Alameda County Board of Education privately nixed the idea of giving Monroe the electorally advantageous power of the incumbency in 2014. Monroe acknowledges the attempt by Jordan to appoint her as a replacement, but says she preferred running for office on her own merits.

“The idea of an appointment came up,” said Monroe, “but I asked her to let me run because I know how that works. I know people around here in the community are not in favor of that move.” She also wanted to maintain her independence, she said. “First of all, I’m not going to owe anybody anything for putting me in office.” Nevertheless, some are already connecting Monroe with her ties to Jordan. “Sure, I get that often. ‘Are you just going to be Sheila’s best friend? Are you going to be the same [as Jordan]?’,” said Monroe. “I do work for her. There are things that I like about what she’s done, there are things I would do differently.”

In addition to Monroe, the June 3 race includes San Leandro Councilmember Ursula Reed, Pleasanton Unified School District Trustee Jeff Bowser and San Lorenzo Unified School District Trustee Helen Foster.

If a majority of the vote is not gained by
any candidate June 3, a general election
matchup between Monroe and Reed is likely.
PHOTO/Steven Tavares 

Monroe’s three opponents are well aware of the positives and negatives associated with being Jordan’s favored successor. During an hour-long candidates forum Wednesday evening, it was clear the basis of their platforms, outside of Monroe’s, was to portray Jordan’s 14-year tenure in a negative light, even as the subject of their dissatisfaction was watching from the back of the room.

“I don’t think we need more of the same,” said Foster. “I think we need fresh ideas and we need the modeling of those ideas from the top.” Many in the community from school district superintendents on down to parents say there is no outreach from the county superintendent’s office, she added, “For the last 15 years, I feel like the Alameda County office has lost sight of its mission and purpose.”

Reed, who won a second term to the San Leandro City Council in 2012, likely possesses the most political experience in the race. She has also worked for school districts in Oakland and Hayward. “I believe that makes the difference,” said Reed, who advocated for creating partnerships between the Alameda County Office of Education and private companies. Earlier in the forum, Reed also made allusion to Jordan’s legacy when she vowed to eliminate cronyism at the office of education.

Bowser was the more deferential of the candidates toward Jordan as he often took the high road while using personal stories to convey his platform. As the first of three to graduate from college from a strong middle class background, Bowser said the inaccessibility of higher education worries him. “What really scares me about this economy that we see is we’re losing those middle class jobs and we know the key aspect in order to gain this is to make sure we have a well-educated and healthy populace and it starts with the schools,” said Bowser.

However, when it came time for Monroe to defend her position, and by extension, her boss’s accomplishments, she said, “I don’t think we’re broken. We are absolutely not broken. Can we get better? Absolutely.”

Categories: 2014 Election, Alameda County Board of Education, Alameda County Office of Education, Helen Foster, Jeff Bowser, Karen Monroe, Pleasanton, san leandro, Sheila Jordan, Ursula Reed

30 replies

  1. Prior to the election of Sheila Jordan the county schools had superintendents with long histories of education background.
    Both in “higher” administrative posts as well as a early career in the classroom and as principals.

    Jordan came in more as a political hack who only happened to have some education experience.
    She won only because the in-house successor was a zero in terms of political skills and political planning.
    Jordan was very lucky to face someone with such limited political skills who had put so little preparation into the campaign.

    Now we see a group of candidates where many of them have minimal ability or background to suggest they would do a good job.

    From reading here previously about Ursula Reed, she would be a disaster in this top job. She has very little to suggest she could lead the entire department.
    I dare say she would be far worse than Jordan.

    The guy from Pleasanton seems to also have very little in his bio to suggest he has any qualification to hold the job.
    Serving as a trustee on a school board is a far cry from knowing how to run the Alameda County Dept. of Education.

    I don't know much about the other trustee from San Lorenzo.

    While I don't know much about the current Assistant County Superintendent, Karen Monroe, despite the fact that she is Jordan's friend and chosen one, she may still be the most qualified.

    You look back at the 4 or 5 superintendents who preceded Jordan and you wonder how the quality has slipped so far.

    Be careful who you back, because once in office, they only leave when they want to. The office is never lost by a incumbent.
    I can't imagine having someone the caliber of Ursula Reed heading the county schools for the next 12 or 16 years.
    Surely one of the other candidates is better than that.


  2. I don't understand why the reporting should be so sensational and derogatory? “Queen of education”!!!!! I wonder how many people in this country would agree with that phrase. Come on EB, this is education, not some political office run such as Congress or Senate. Leave our children alone to “live in their village.”


  3. I was at the forum.

    As an “outsider” to the education world, I believe the candidate forum was very enlightening and well done by ACOE.

    My thoughts?

    1. If the 3 candidates (Bowser, Reed and Foster) all spoke about “change” needed at ACOE, then my first instinct is that the change won't come if Monroe is elected. She continuously spoke about what is taking place NOW at ACOE and obviously the other candidates do not believe that the NOW is working.

    2. I do not believe from what I learned about Bowser the other night, that he would be able to relate to the youth that this job requires of you. He did not once speak about the programs that the County Superintendent must oversee or what he would do differently if elected. His main “platform” during the forum was to make sure that the employees of ACOE liked their job, which I agree is important, but should not be his main “action” to run a campaign on.

    3. Reed seemed competent. As did Foster, I was actually surprised with some of the things that both women spoke about. I agree with what Reed talked about as “cronyism” and applaud her boldness to say it. Foster had some valid points.

    Overall, I feel like Reed has the background over Foster to actually make a difference in such an important job role, that let's remember has no term limits.

    Just my 2 cents.


  4. To the person who feels sorry for Sheila Jordan. Education is the closest thing to organized crime in local government. I'm sure you know what happens to school employees who speak out? They get fired and when they try to find another job in education, no matter how far away, they are blacklisted.


  5. Ursula Reed was asked to leave her last job and has done almost nothing on the San Leandro City Council. She almost lost her Council seat when she ran for re-election.

    Helen Foster does not have a very good reputation on the San Lorenzo School Board.

    Karen Monroe is very qualified but is the hand picked successor of the current Superintendent.

    Jeff Bowser seems qualified but doesn't seem to have very much experience. Don't know much about him, but friends in Pleasanton say he is very intelligent.

    If you want change vote for Jeff. If you want qualified experience vote for Karen.


  6. I may not remember correctly but wasn't Sheila a Don Perata candidate?


  7. Yes, Jordan is a disciple of Perata. On Reed, I would say she didn't almost lose her re-election race. At the start, I thought she was going to lose, for sure. But she ran a good, tough race and pulled it out. Her opponent was no slouch. Her first race wasn't an easy race, either. Political campaigns are hard and experience is important. Just limiting unforced errors is 90% of the battle.


  8. “Jordan came in more as a political hack who only happened to have some education experience.”

    Sheila Jordan's 20 years as an educator hardly justify her being a politician foremost.


  9. 2:07 — Yes, Jordan was a teacher for 20 years, but you don't go from being a classroom teacher to being Supt. Of Alameda County schools on the basis of your “education experience”

    She only made the step by being a political operative on both the Oakland School Board and especially by being on the Oakland City Council.
    That is why she won the race, from her political “skills”. Her education experience was less than that of a typical elementary school principal.

    If you remember back to her initial election to superintendent, she was as shocked as anyone that she won. She almost dropped out because she had a heart problem or condition.
    I can't remember if it was a actual heart attack.

    However the 'in house” candidate from the superintendents office was so politically inept that with a few political endorsements from her Oakland City Council years, Jordan won the election.

    It had very little to do with her being qualified to the degree that the prior 5 superintendents had been.
    They had all gone through the steps of not only being educators, but had substantial experience in administration of schools.
    Jordan had none of those qualifications.

    Most of this current crop of candidates is also lacking in such skills.
    To suggest that Reed is qualified on the basis of the post she held in Hayward is absurd. Her record there is highly questionable. Ask the people who worked around her and the reasons why she is no longer in that position. It was discussed heref last year when she first floated the idea of running.

    Shelia Jordan's ability as a politically connected player had everything to do with her attainment of the office.
    She had very little administrative ability. It showed as the years went along.

    Ask long time Alameda County School employees how they feel about her years compared to the superintendents who preceded her.

    Having said all that, her assistant superintendent may still be the most qualified of the current candidates.
    Just because Jordan appointed her doesn't mean she will run the office in the same manner, and she does seem to have more of the proper educational and administrative background.

    She better be a much better political candidate than the assistant superintendent that faced Jordan back in 1998.
    In fact she'd better have been planning this run for the last 2 years. Lining up support.

    Otherwise we could get someone like Reed who would be a disaster for the department.
    As I indicated, once a person wins this office, they are in it until they choose to retire.
    It costs far too much to run a county wide race to displace a incumbent.

    Some of these folks are running for the pension boost.
    Even if you hold the office for only one term, your entire STRS pension is hugely boosted for life.
    If your prior high STRS years were at $100K and you get this post, after only 2 years, your future pension will be based on a salary over $230,000 a year,

    If you live even 20 years in retirement, gaining the new post could be worth from 1.5 million to well over 2 million dollars in extra future pension.
    No wonder you have some of these people running, after having a less than stellar education background.


  10. Trying to decide between Karen Monroe and Jeff Bowser. Agree the other two aren't very good.


  11. As an educator with 30 years of experience and as someone who has first-hand knowledge of what goes on at ACOE, I can say with certainty that change is absolutely needed at ACOE. Karen Monroe is definitely a F.O. S (Friends of Shelia) and although she has only been at ACOE for two years she has continued Shelia’s history of cronyism and has taken it to a new level. Now at ACOE there are a group of people that are F.O.K (Friends of Karen). This is easily verified – just look at the people who Karen has brought to ACOE — Jamie Marantz (Director), Juwen Lam, and Sasha Kirkman – all F.O.K from Oakland USD. BTW: Why are so many people being recruited from Oakland USD? Is Oakland USD doing right by students?

    At the forum, there was talk about the high level of administrators at ACOE – in fact, under Karen’s tenure this has grown exponentially. Coordinator positions were turned into Director positions – even Executive Directors. A prime example, is Executive Director, Teresa Kapellas. Teresa used to be involved with Charter Schools although has never been an educator at any level. Now she is an Executive Director, Administrative Services – what is this and how did she get such a position – must be F.O.S. All of this too can be easily verified. Someone needs to do a Freedom of Information Act request. ACOE has spent a ton of public money giving people promotions and raises as well as remodeling their offices.

    In addition, at the forum, there was talk about managers not having expertise and degrees in the positions they hold. This is absolutely true and again easily verified. People who were experts in their field have left ACOE due to the high level of corruption and cronyism. Just ask – what degree does Jamie Marantz have? How about Juwen Lam? How about Unique Holland (life long F.O.S), Communications Director? At the forum, Karen Monroe, did not tell the truth with respect to the fact that there are managers at ACOE that do not have expertise in their fields – just look at the few examples provided above – there are many more.

    Finally, it is important to clarify the comments made in the article about Shelia’s desire to appoint Karen Monore to superintendent prior to Shelia’s retirement. This is absolutely true and was more than a notion. In fact, it wasn’t that quiet of a move on Shelia’s part. Everyone at ACOE knew that Shelia was trying to do this and was not successful because the board stopped her. So for Karen to be quoted the way she was in this article is total spin and once again not truthful.

    My perception of what took place at the forum is:
    Jeff Browser – is a politician and too far removed from classroom to make a positive difference. It appeared as if he was running for office in Texas.
    Helen Foster – is aware of the problems at ACOE and had some great talking points. I just feel as if she can’t win. Although I would like her to run for ACOE board to help make ACOE what it could and should be.
    Karen Monroe – is just the latest version of Shelia – just a better public speaker than Shelia – although that doesn’t take much.
    Ursula Reed – is aware of the problems at ACOE and has the best chance of ending the cronyism at ACOE and has the best chance of wining against Karen.

    We should all rally to support Ursula.


  12. Ursula was let go from her last job and done almost nothing in her two terms on the San Leandro City Council. She would be a horrible County Superintendent of Education. Her election would be a blow to education improvement in our County. She is the perfect example of the ” Peter Principle.”


  13. None of the four is impressive. None has presented to the public detailed platforms–only pious platitudes.Bowser and Monroe have or are working for ACOE. That rules them out as simply Jordans reincarnated.

    Actually, the bigger picture must be addressed: i.e., why even have 58 county offices of education–at a cost of about $6 billion a year. In the 1800's they were useful, because they ran all the schools in each county before the advent of local school districts. Now, in seven counties ( Alpine, Amador, Del Norte, Mariposa, Plumas, San Fracisco and Sierra) there are no local school districts; the county office of education conducts all schools. There is no reason to have county offices of education, The few things they do mandated by law (e.g., run the juvenile schools, watch over local districts' budgets, etc) could well be done better and more efficiently by other entities. The Grand Jury has several times investigated the Alameda Count Office of Education and found various shortcomings in Jordan's approach to these duties. The raised questions at the beginning of her reign whether she was actually qualified to hold office: at the time she only had a temporary, incomplete administrative credential. A clear credential is required.

    Another problem is that the Education Code is vague as to who has the final say in the budget ( Including her salary and perks)of the county office of education. Jordan maintained that she had the final say in the budget; members of the county office of education have disagreed. The Grand Jury agreed with the board, but Jordan stacked the county board with her friends; and, no action was ever taken to implement the recommendations of the Grand Jury. Since 2004, the board has had a majority friendly to Jordan and has frequently raised her salary.


  14. Ernest Avellar, Could you give us the current salary for the school superintendent.

    I cringe when I see both Jordan and the current crop of candidates and compare their ability and experience with past Alameda County superintendents.
    There was a time when politics was largely kept away from the department.
    That changed greatly when Jordan came to the office from the Oakland City Council where politics was the ONLY thing that mattered.


  15. Jeff Bowser was a clear winner in the debate the other night. He would bring some fresh perspective to the job, is extremely intelligent, and is nobody's puppet. He has my vote!


  16. I was at the forum the other night and I heard all of the candidates. Foster said that she'd worked in 7 different districts in Alameda County (that can't be good). Bowser said after the forum that he would bring what is working in Pleasanton to ACOE. Does he not understand that the kids that ACOE works with are NOT the same as the kids in Pleasanton? Monroe hired her boyfriend to be in charge of Special Ed and Early Childhood programs and he doesn't have a degree or experience in either! Reed has the background and the experience working with our kids. She is my choice.


  17. Reed was let go from Oakland School District, Hayward School District also let her go and she has done nothing meaningful on the San Leandro City Council in her many years there. Talk about incompetent and a waste of space, she is not my choice, except for last. It has to be Jeff Bowser if change is wanted, or Karen Monroe if you want to stay the course.


  18. Ursula Reed is a product of cronyism? For sure she got her principal's position in Hayward because she is the God-daughter of Marlin Foxworth, the Superintendent at the time. She got her rehire in Hayward Unified because of Foxworth. I believe that her times in Oakland were also a result of Marlin Foxworth. Ms. Reed is a poor example of someone who is dedicated to advancing the education of students in Alameda County. She has no compassion for students with special needs…no sense of leadership or mentoring of teachers. She has no respect for community people. She belongs in San Leandro!!!


  19. Hayward, is all jacked up period ! Why is Hayward Unified not on ebcitizen anymore ? I guess their being good now so Lisa and McGee can be re-elected in November. That's what Armas, Meribel, and Sarah did and it worked. Then, they got in there and did what ever the HELL they wanted to !


  20. San Leandro doesn't want Ursula Reed either. She won her last election by just a few hundred votes. If the race was held again, I doubt she would win. Thank god for term limits.


  21. 2/24 @9:47
    I was wondering the very same thing about covering HUSD. Guess there wasn't enough grimey stuff to cover in the recent past to warrant coverage. HUSD is still short changing students and families and SPENDING HUGE AMOUNTS on more administrators. Oh well.


  22. 2/25 @12:23
    Here is what needs to be done far as for the administrators, it's pink-slip time! Citizens need to send letters to the Board asking them not to renew contracts. They have to mail them out by March 12th or 15th, I think. It's time for people like Chinn Wu – Fernandez do GO ! If she is still there. Send the letters to Reynoso, so at least we will know they were shown and concidered. The citizens do not have to put there names.


  23. Good question about Jordan's salary..they keep,such data guarded. Her Public Relations department tell callers they can find the information in the budget..but anyone who has tried to decipher a public budget, knows how they hide everything.. I went to the page that says salaries and it seems to say Jordan makes $256,042, benefits: $140,501. When I asked the PR person if that is correct; he replied cryptically, “if that's what you find in the budget, I guess that's it!!!!!”

    She has done well by stacking the board with friends. When she was first elected some 16 years ago, she was making $160,000 .

    The whole county office of education is heavy on administrators and consultants; teachers and education of kids only has about 25% of the budget. Cushy numbers like about $600,000 for Travel! A typical school district spends about 65% of its budget on the classroom


  24. As a former ACOE employee, I can say that the worst thing that Superintendent Jordan did is to hire Mr. Smith. He started his term with a reorganization creating high positions for his close friends. He also spent a lot of money on office renovations & contracting Digital Schools (which does not work). He also uses taxpayer's money to go to New Orleans to attend Mardi Grass with his Executive Team. I strongly urge all voters to be wise in picking the next Superintendent. ACOE needs the candidate who will be honest, trustworthy & wise in making critical decisions.


  25. “The good citizen will demand liberty for himself, and as a matter of pride he will see to it that others receive liberty which he thus claims as his own.” Theodore Roosevelt

    I like how you all sling these wild and muddy allegations after the several terms of Sheila's superintendency. If public funds where wasted on F.O.S & F.O.K, why wasn't there upheaval in the streets?, and board meetings? petitions signed? shame on you ALL or alleging injustice and standing by and allowing it to happen.
    How could have all of these appointments of friends taken place?? ACOE is a public agency…right? I'm sure if all of these allegations of “cronyism” were true the CDE would shut ACOE down, after all wouldn't it be illegal to hire someone that wasn't QUALIFIED or properly CREDENTIALED??
    Isn't there some governing board monitoring what goes on at the county level?
    I'm sure their Human Resources department would catch any corruption, or unqualified administers, HR has to legally verify education,experience and certification and file or report this information. I HIGHLY doubt that anything illegal is being done.

    I voted for Sheila twice, she is very intelligent, I have met her and I believe that she has done a great job as superintendent. I will support her endorsed candidate.


  26. It's Jeff Bowser for me. The office needs intelligent change.


  27. The record will show Adrian Kirk was hired as an administrator without any credentials. He has since received a credential through an online program. And, contrary to what you have said, many have been hired without the appropriate credentials, but because Sheila said to do it. Anyone who works at ACOE is aware of this, but afraid to publicly be quoted.

    BTW, $5000 was spent painting an office for Karen- it was once a well used conference room


  28. I agree! the fact that he took the high road and has a history of working in alternative ed. is impressive. Also he comes from a district that works Pleasonton. What is wrong with that?


  29. Ursula has done a terrible job on the San leandro city council. And didn't she give a try and running for Mayor and lost badly. My understanding is that she is not well respected in San Leandro. How can she lead a county office then?


  30. Ursala Reed is a TERRIBLE choice. Please ask anyone who has worked for her or with her BEFORE you subject our children to more of what she has done to so many. I agree she's a great example of “Peter's Principal.”


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