Grand Jury: “OUSD’s Broken Culture: Millions Wasted Each Year”

On Monday, the Alameda Grand Jury issued a scathing report looking at OUSD’s fiscal practices and raising serious concerns about the district’s stewardship of public funds. Here, we provide a summary of the 22-page report and our perspective.

The Grand Jury Report shared four major areas of concern:

  • Spending Priorities: OUSD is underspending on direct student needs and is overspending on non-classroom administrative, central office staff, contractors and consultants.
  • Facilities Department: OUSD’s facilities department does not follow the best budgeting practices, frequently ignores direct orders from superiors, and has failed to follow district policies leading to wasteful spending and incomplete projects.
  • School Board Leadership: OUSD’s Board has out of date policies, leads meetings resulting in a lack of actionable decisions on key issues, and has failed to provide strategic leadership on the district’s severe financial problems.
  • Organizational Culture: OUSD’s culture is broken and operates with harmful attitudes of “what is in it for me” and displays of favoritism, nepotism, and disregard for board policies.

GO’s Perspective:

This report is disheartening and raises serious concerns about OUSD’s financial practices. For the second straight year the Grand Jury has put a spotlight on financial issues that have plagued OUSD for over twenty years. It is critical that OUSD respond to this report by acknowledging the need for immediate improvements to the district’s culture and financial systems.

“In essence, OUSD’s organizational culture is broken and must change. We defined culture as the learned values, behaviors and norms practiced in the workplace. A broken culture can be as subtle as ignoring policy in order to expedite paperwork or as blatant as hiring a relative to work under one’s supervision. Allowing or encouraging such poor business practices will cause an organization to lose its way. A detached board and instability in senior management provided the perfect environment for this to happen at OUSD, leading to the profound crisis that the district faces today.” – page 45

What gives us hope:

An identified root cause of the district’s financial challenges has been the turnover in leadership with “…nine OUSD school superintendents since 2003 – a new one every 18 months on average.” GO is hopeful that Superintendent Johnson-Trammell is bringing stabilized leadership to OUSD, and has named Fiscal Vitality as one of OUSD’s top three priorities. The district has reached out to the Alameda County Office of Education for help, and the school board and Superintendent are enacting a new strategic Citywide Plan that is focused on maximizing resources to increase overall quality.

“Yet staff cannot be expected to buy into these changes if the elected Board continues to lead by reaction. Failure to put into place a strategic plan and have the courage to carry it out will ensure that the district continues to sputter with under-enrolled schools and shoestring budgets. Over one thousand school districts in the state operate competently with the state’s current funding structure. Oakland is not one of them even though it receives significantly more funding than the median district in the region. The Board has “kicked every can down the line” and rarely acted with a sense of urgency on many vital issues. The state of the district today is the inevitable result.” – page 46

What must happen:

GO has two advocacy campaigns that drive our work. The work of those campaigns directly addresses the concerns raised by Grand Jury and ensure that all Oakland students are receiving the education they deserve:

  1. Budgeting for Impact: The school board and Superintendent must implement national best practices in district-budgeting. There is a “Smarter Spending Framework” that exists and a network of schools that work with the Government Finance Officers Association to ensure that they are maximizing every dollar spent to have the greatest impact on student outcomes. The historic waste in OUSD is unacceptable and our students deserve to know that OUSD is budgeting with students at the center.
  2. 1Oakland: The time is now for OUSD to implement their strategic Citywide Plan with fidelity. This means the prioritization of processes that ensure all of our public schools, district and charter-run, are providing a quality and equitable education and are financially sustainable. A shared definition of quality must lead these decision making processes and the district must operate with transparency and bring the community along as a partner in the work. We call on OUSD leaders to be honest about the challenges that are being faced and explicit in your communications about difficult tradeoffs that must be made to ensure positive change for students. 

Thousands of smart and hard-working Oaklanders wake up every day and go to work at OUSD to try to do right by kids. We appreciate their work and dedication. And, as this report makes clear, there are major issues that need to be addressed so that the district can be in the service of Oakland’s children. Join the movement at GO Public Schools to ensure that we deliver on the vision that every child in Oakland receives a high-quality education.

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