If you’re like me, you’re worried about the implications of Oakland Unified School District’s (OUSD) current budget shortfall. Across the city, our children already face major hurdles – lack of basic needs, housing instability and exposure to violence, not to mention the fear and anxiety stemming from the rhetoric and policies coming out of DC.

Now they’re being told they’ll no longer get to go to art class because that contract has been abruptly cancelled. Their teachers are being told not to use too much copy paper; and principals are being told it will be their fault for not adhering to the spending freeze if the district goes back into state receivership. This is unacceptable. Instead, we believe:

  • OUSD children deserve a stable and efficiently run school district that puts students first.
  • Teachers deserve to have the resources they need to do their job, which is already incredibly challenging.
  • Principals deserve to be treated as the smart and mission-oriented leaders they are.
  • The people of Oakland deserve accurate and timely information, which we are not necessarily getting.

That’s why we’re going to embark on a multipart series focused on the budget – Real Talk on the #OUSDBudget. Our intention is to help shed light on a complicated situation and suggest possible ways forward.

We fully recognize that as a state, California does not fund public education at the levels that our students deserve – but until that changes, we must do the best we can with what we have. We don’t think it’s helpful to point fingers or bemoan “what could have been.” Restoring fiscal health with the current budget shortfall will inevitably require district leadership to make hard trade-offs and unpopular decisions. We hope that more people will get informed and join the public discussion about what we as a city need to do to provide our students with what they need.

In this series, we’re hoping to provide information on the following questions:

  • How bad is it, really?
  • How can we recover?
  • How can we prevent this from happening again?

What the Experts Say

One of the best sources of information to better understand the situation are two reports by nationally recognized not-for-profit education research group Educational Resources Strategies (ERS). They dissected OUSD’s 2015-2016 spending, in comparison to similar districts around the country and across California. These reports, presented to the OUSD Board last year, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (of taxpayer money) and their results are compelling, though not entirely surprising:

  • OUSD operates too many schools for its student population – by a lot. Right-sizing to the median would require consolidating 30 schools. There are strategic reasons to want smaller schools, but there is a very real cost – and many OUSD schools are under-enrolled because families have rejected those options. Also, consolidations themselves won’t generate cost savings if poorly implemented.
  • OUSD spends more in its central office and less at school sites than comparable districts…with less-than-optimal results. This disproportionate spending is not just at the top, it’s at all levels, and holds true despite publicized efforts to reduce the size of central office over the past three years.
  • Resources are not getting to high need students equitably. OUSD essentially redistributes state LCFF per pupil funding to sites via central allocation decisions, leaving some high need students with much less than the state intended.
  • Special Education is especially costly in OUSD because of outdated programmatic approaches. To its credit, OUSD has already begun to make important changes to its Special Education delivery model – changes that are aligned with best practices nationally, are better for students, and that are more cost-effective. But these changes will take time to yield financial savings.

How Can you Get Involved: Reading, Other Resources, & Hashtags

For those of you who want to better understand the current budget situation, there are numerous existing resources and perspectives:

If you’d like to join in, please follow and begin using the hashtag #OUSDBudget. We’ll be posting our blogs at www.educate78.org/OUSDBudget.

This current fiscal setback is a reminder that we have a long way to go to creating the kind of schools we want for our children. However, we continue to believe that Oakland has the passion, talent and brilliance to create a thriving public education ecosystem for all students, anchored by a strong and stable district that supports and fosters innovative community schools. Getting through this current budget crisis will be an important step forward.

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