At the school board meeting last night, Chief Business Officer Marcus Battle presented an updated plan for OUSD’s budget cuts for the 19-20 school year.
- Up to $30 million in cuts will happen in next year’s budget.
- Of this, the vast majority of cuts would be from the central office staff and departments, with $3 million from school site budgets.
- It is unclear what amount of teacher raise is assumed into the cuts presented.
We are concerned that this plan is not where it needs to be. OUSD must:
- Prioritize funding school sites: Our community must see evidence that every possible dollar follows students. Keep cuts away from school site budgets.
- Strategic redesign of the central office: Drive the redesign of the central office by limiting central office expenses to the areas that are 1)legally required, and 2) support a limited number of strategic central initiatives that have the greatest impact on students and schools.
- Smarter spending practices: Impact on student outcomes should drive the rationale for future budget decisions. The current reality is that those systems and culture are not yet in place, but moving forward, the district must expect that all central office departments establish clear goals, measurable outcomes, and demonstrable impact on student outcomes.
Here are more in-depth thoughts on each of these 3 demands, including why we think school site budget cuts might not need to happen at all.
Prioritize funding school sites: While it is encouraging to see that there is currently no scenario where school site budgets are cut more than $3 million, it is unclear that cutting school site budgets is necessary at all. A few questions that remain unanswered after last night are:
- Do we even need to cut school site budgets? If the district has scenarios where they can cut anywhere from $14.3M to $25.1M from the central office, why are school sites experiencing any cuts at all? Could the floor of central cuts be lifted to $17.3M to avoid the $3M from the school sites?
- Why aren’t our highest-need students being more clearly prioritized? In regards to equitable cuts to schools, the district is using a formula based on grade levels (elementary, middle, high, etc.) but does not take into account the pervasive disparities across racial and socioeconomic lines. What additional steps can be taken to protect Oakland’s highest-need students?
Strategic redesign of the central office:
The current approach for central office reductions are framed, regardless of the dollar amount, as 20% to the Superintendent’s office, 40% from Academic Support and 40% from Operational Support. These numbers seem general and vague, and don’t show a careful analysis of which departments are having the greatest impact on schools and student outcomes. The current approach to central office reductions does not provide a clear view into the process of decision-making for maintaining or eliminating departments. While it is clear that across the board, the central office will experience significant cuts, this process misses an opportunity to provide a window into the district’s approach of prioritizing funding for the highest-impact investments.
National best practices in district budgeting leverage academic return on investment. This term means building systems that allow the district to measure the impact of spending and make smart decisions about where to spend more or less. As a former OUSD principal, this was a practice my colleagues and I used, without even realizing it had a fancy name. Do we hire a reading intervention teacher or a literacy coach for teachers? Which one will have the greatest impact on our students? OUSD must adopt a culture of asking questions like this. The district will benefit from implementing systems that transparently define goals and measure impact to maximize every dollar spent.
See this blog from OUSD principal, Carmelita Reyes, who thinks the central office should budget more like school sites.
On January 23rd, the district staff will present a revised version of their budget cut plans to the school board. On January 30th, the school board will finalize and adopt the plan for recommended cuts.
It is time for you to raise your voice and make sure that the school board knows that the community is advocating for prioritizing funding school sites, strategic central office redesign, and smarter spending.
I’m going to be hosting a free event at our office to share more about how OUSD got into this budget situation and how we can get to a better place for our students. Email me (Nima Tahai) and I’ll share the dates once they’re set.