By Carmelita Reyes
My name is Carmelita Reyes, and I am the Co-Principal of Oakland International High School and also serve on the GO Public Schools Leadership Council. It is my 12th year as Principal in OUSD, 18th year working in the district and I co-chair the Principal Advisory Committee (PAC). The mission of PAC is to represent principals by providing input into district decision making.
This fall the Principal Advisory Council administered a principal survey on budget prioritization to provide the central office and school board with recommendations for how to think strategically about budget cuts and investments. Three things became clear in this process:
- Principals believe some departments have a greater impact on students than others.
- Naming departments, positions or programs for reductions is hard, but necessary, and allows us to invest more in what is working best.
- Our central office should approach budgeting more like school sites.
Results of the Principal Budget Prioritization Survey
We acknowledge that no one survey can provide us with all the answers for our budget priorities, and that it is important to look at multiple sources of information. For this survey, principals were given a list of 43 district departments and each department’s description and expenses. The survey found that on average, principals believe that most central departments should be cut to some degree, with the exception of custodial services and special education. The results identified the following top five departments recommended for cuts (see full survey results below and see the recommendations for cuts on slide 22).
Top 5 Departments Recommended for Cuts
- Innovations Office
- Organizational Effectiveness
- Office of Equity
- Academics and Instruction
The full results for this question can be found on slide #22 from the results presentation (Principal Budget Prioritization survey to the Special Committee on Fiscal Vitality). To watch the full video of this at the board meeting, click here and click on the video for agenda item #18-2179)
Naming departments, programs or positions for reductions is hard, but necessary
All the departments at the central office were designed to help schools and children. However, some departments, services, or positions have a greater impact than others. Core business functions such as payroll or buildings and grounds, are, by definition, critical infrastructure. Other departments, such as Linked Learning, School Networks, and the English Language Learner and Multilingual Achievement office, are optional strategic investments that principals rated critical to achieving outcomes (see slideshare above, slide 20). On the flip side, there were departments that principals view as being less impactful.
With information from our survey, our district can identify central office programs that provide higher academic return on investment. These are the departments we need to protect or consider investing in more. Conversely, we should cut budgets of departments that are least impactful. By measuring the impact of departments on school sites, we can make informed tradeoffs.
Our central office should approach budgeting more like school sites
At school sites we interrogate student performance data. We annually review the efficacy of our investments and adjust where necessary to meet goals around reading, math, and school climate. Our data is public and the budget process is open for participation by students, families and staff and is published and reviewed at several levels. As a community we grapple with trade offs. To improve, we re-train staff or re-deploy resources. Currently, the central office budgeting process is varied between departments and dependent upon the practices of individual program leaders. There is no consistently adopted best practice nor is there a method for school sites or community members to participate. The use of data to inform investment is also inconsistent and lacks transparency. The central office could hold itself accountable and be more strategic if they used a similar process to school sites.
We have an opportunity to do things better
Principals believe that smarter spending in OUSD can lead to better schools for our students. The silver lining of the fiscal challenges we currently face is that we are forced to reflect on our current budgeting practices and commit to doing things better. We need a budgeting approach, across school sites and central office that effectively allocates resources in service of students. Principals are ready to partner with district leadership and the school board to make smart decisions that are data driven and grounded in community input.
Co-Principal, Oakland International High School
GO deeply appreciates OUSD staff like Carmelita Reyes who are thinking deeply about OUSD’s budget challenges and working to lift up the importance of community engagement and the adoption of best practices the district moves towards budget reductions for next year. We encourage you to check out GO’s FAQ update on bill AB1840, and make sure to share your voice by taking the OUSD Fiscal Vitality Survey.
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