Bonta says legislation to waive Oakland USD state loan debt is a non-starter

When Assemblymember Rob Bonta spoke in support of a proposal last Tuesday for Oakland officials to begin collecting a controversial parcel tax to fund early education, Council President Rebecca Kaplan put him on the spot about another pressing financial issue for Oakland students.

After concluding his remarks at the April 16 Oakland council meeting, Kaplan asked Bonta if he was willing to introduce legislation in the state Assembly to waive the remainder of the Oakland Unified School District’s state loan, estimated to be more than $30 million.

“I’m getting that from all over the council,” said Bonta, suggesting the question has been posed to him by several Oakland councilmembers.

“I can. I’m happy to. I just don’t think it is going to be successful,” he said, with a sheepish grin.

Bonta said there is little enthusiasm in Sacramento for retiring the state bailout loan given to OUSD in 2003. The original loan was $100 million.

“Our approach was to have that done last year. And the discussions with other people who vote–I’m not the dictator of California, as you know. I’m one legislator who votes and stands up for my district–but other folks have an opinion on this,” said Bonta.

“Their opinion has been outvoting mine that a straight waiver of the debt without anything else–no conditions over financial oversight and management of the school district, no other skin in the game from OUSD, in terms of better practices and a commitment to do better going forward, that without that–it wouldn’t happen.”

Bonta was even more blunt about its prospects in the Legislature. “I like to introduce bills that pass. I like to deliver to my constituents. I like to get things done.”

One bill , in particular, was signed into law last September with great support from Bonta that allows the state to offer OUSD,and another struggling school district in Inglewood, up to $52 million in funding over the next four years if certain fiscal reforms are made.

But the request to waive OUSD’s loan debt has been broached before by Kaplan in recent months. Kaplan made a similar request last February during the seven-day Oakland teachers strike. In a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, Kaplan also asked the state to forgive OUSD’s loan.

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