OUSD Budget Cuts Update – Difficult Trade-Offs

Budget cuts hurt. At the opposite end of every cut is a staff member that is dedicated to supporting Oakland students, a program that aims to fulfill a promise to make education better in Oakland, or a school site struggling to do more with even less.

Unfortunately, OUSD’s financial reality is that prior fiscal mismanagement, rising costs, and flat revenue are requiring cuts to existing staff, programs and schools. The district’s budget reduction process is happening under the supervision of the State, County and FCMAT – and this is forcing OUSD to name their priorities and make difficult trade-offs.

If you choose not to make a decision, a decision will be made for you…
you must get your financial house in order.”  
Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) CEO Michael Fine, at an October 2018 OUSD school board meeting

OUSD must acknowledge and learn from its mistakes

On Monday morning, the school board made the difficult decision to cut a little over $20M from their budget for the 19-20 school year. Click here for answers to 5 Big Questions about OUSD’s Budget Cuts. And while cuts were necessary for OUSD’s fiscal sustainability, there is clear room for improvement in the district’s budget reduction process.

  • Beyond completing surveys, there was no real opportunity for the community to grapple with the difficult trade-offs that the district leadership was making.
  • Even when specific cuts were announced to Restorative Justice, Asian Pacific Islander Student Achievement, and Foster Youth case managers – there was no analysis or explanation given about why these positions were cut while others remained.
  • It is unclear if cuts to school sites and direct services to school sites were a last resort – as we believe they should have been – and what the central office re-design process will entail.

The lack of community engagement in meaningful trade-off conversations has clearly increased the frustration of those following along and trying to make sense of why certain positions were reduced over others. The district must do more to meaningfully justify their budgetary decisions and ensure that student, family, and educator voice is present throughout their budgeting process.

The conversation about trade-offs doesn’t end here

While there are indications that OUSD is improving their budgetary systems and there is a possibility of additional funding for the district through a provision in last year’s state budget, the fact is that OUSD’s fiscal troubles are unlikely to end anytime soon. Districts throughout California are experiencing flat funding while costs are increasing for pension contributions and serving special needs students. Without significant state policy change, the district may need to make further cuts in the coming years.

Time to turn the attention to Sacramento.

From the California School Boards Association “The impact of pension cost increases on California’s schools”

We have heard loud and clear from our network that you are interested in getting smarter about state-level advocacy campaigns to increase school funding. There are efforts underway to reform California’s commercial property taxes to raise more money for education (Proposition 13 reform), and a vision put forth by the California School Boards Association to raise school funding to the national average by 2020 and to the average of the top 10 states by 2025.

We will be hosting an event for Oaklanders to learn more about efforts to reform Prop 13 reform efforts on the 2020 ballot to better fund schools – sign up here to let us know you’d like to get more information once the date is finalized.

In partnership,

Nima Tahai
Director of Educator Leadership
GO Public Schools

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