OAKLAND -- After nearly five years under state control, the Oakland school board is on the verge of regaining authority over the majority of the district's departments. When the agreement with state schools chief Jack O'Connell is signed and sealed, the district's elected officials will have the power to choose a leader for the city's public schools.

But even some who welcome the long-awaited power transfer are bracing themselves for its awkward by-product: a two-boss system. Until full authority is returned to the Oakland school district, a state-appointed administrator will control the district's finances and its academic policies. A locally appointed superintendent, when hired, would be in charge of everything else.

Who takes the lead in employee salary negotiations, for instance, when the local board oversees personnel matters, but the state controls the finances?

Will some department leaders report to a superintendent (who reports to the school board), while their colleagues down the hall report to a state administrator (who reports to O'Connell, in Sacramento)?

"It doesn't make any common sense," said Noel Gallo, a board member who voted against the power transfer agreement that passed 5-2 Wednesday night. "You just don't manage that way. We need to regain full control and be able to hire a full-time superintendent."

The first -- and arguably most important -- decisions the school board will make in the weeks to come will revolve around district leadership. But before selecting Oakland's first superintendent since 2003, the board must decide when to hire one, and how.

The board is considering three options. It could choose an interim leader while conducting a national search for a permanent replacement; launch an immediate search for a permanent superintendent; or wait to choose a leader until the state returns full authority to the district.

Board President David Kakishiba said he hadn't made up his mind. In the past, he favored hiring an interim leader, but said it might be wise to delay the superintendent search until full powers are restored. The split governing system might scare prime candidates away, he said.

Some are concerned, he said, "that the environment is simply too unstable for a seasoned veteran."

If a superintendent and a state administrator do co-exist, Kakishiba said, it is likely that the superintendent will run day-to-day operations and manage central office staff members. The state administrator, he said, would oversee big-picture fiscal and academic policy matters at the board-room level.

"In very practical terms, I think people recognize it's (otherwise) a very unworkable work environment for staff," Kakishiba said.

Kim Shipp, a longtime parent activist who keeps close tabs on what happens in the district, said she thought it would be best for the board to wait before hiring a superintendent. For one thing, she said, having two high-priced leaders at the helm would incur an unnecessary expense, especially during a time of budget cuts. Oakland plans to cut $23 million from its 2008-09 budget.

Moreover, Shipp said, it isn't effective to have two people in charge of an organization. "I would lean more to waiting until things iron out a little bit more," she said. "Who's really going to be 'held responsible' for the district as a whole? Just because you have authority doesn't mean you have to take immediate action."

School officials expect a signing ceremony to take place in early April.

Reach Katy Murphy at 510-208-6424 or kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.