While there is hope, my main takeaway was that the district’s budget situation is more dire than a lot of people are willing to admit. It was clear from the presentation that Marc Tafolla (policy director at GO) delivered that that our diminished rainy-day fund and the need for painful midyear cuts this last December were not due to a single decision made by a single person — rather, they’re the result of years of poor financial decisions, deficit spending, encroachment, instability in district leadership particularly in positions related to finances, and a lack of transparency and accountability to the community.
All of these elements together have created a profound distrust in OUSD. Statewide, we face flat funding, a likely recession, rising pension costs, and decreasing state contributions to special education costs, which leaves districts (particularly those with special education needs as high as Oakland’s) to pick up the slack. And the federal terrain is even more challenging, attacking everything from the healthcare to immigration status of our vulnerable communities. The challenges to our district are numerous and span the entirety of the system, and working through them in ways that are measured and sustainable will be a true test of leadership.
It’s clear that any solutions need to take both a short-term, triage-based approach to create stability, as well as a longer-term view that work to rebuild the community’s trust in our systems through leadership that is stable, transparent, and accountable to those it serves. Oakland’s immediate tasks are to work on rebuilding their reserve and self-insurance funds, while limiting the number of central office priorities and ensuring that cuts are kept as far from the classroom as possible.
As a community member looking to stay engaged and activated on Oakland’s budgeting, you can sign up to receive updates from the GO Budget Matters campaign, attend School Board meetings to stay informed and help keep board members accountable, contribute to your local schools, and keep showing up to have these critically important conversations in service of our students.
Sonya Mehta taught kindergarten in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland for 5 years before moving out of the classroom to help design an Alameda County ballot initiative to increase funding for early childhood education. She was a Teacher Policy Fellow with GO Public Schools during the 2014-15 school year and a recipient of the the Educate78 Teacher Advisory Group innovation grant in 2016-17.