What’s Happening in Oakland Education? January 2022

Welcome to What’s Happening in Oakland Education? volume 8, a newsletter to keep the community informed. In light of the frustration and concern expressed at this Wednesday’s board meeting, this edition will focus on answering the community’s questions about the OUSD budget and the potential school consolidations.

1. Does the District have a budget problem?

Yes. This year, OUSD finds itself in a position where it will have to make budget cuts next year. When OUSD was unable to handle its financial responsibilities in years past, the state took over and made their own financial decisions – while the District is not at this point yet, the Alameda County Office of Education has stated its intent to intervene if OUSD cannot find long-term solutions to its longstanding budget problems.

2. So how much needs to be cut?

OUSD is set to make $40M in cuts to address projected deficits and the current need to increase ongoing employee compensation to attract teachers. These cuts are significant and will be painful and yet, this still only provides a single year solution. Those adjustments will only address the cuts necessary to balance next year’s budget and the District itself is projecting that revenues will decline and expenses will increase in future years.

3. Why are budget cuts necessary if schools just received a lot of money from the government?

The District recently shared that it received about $283 million from the state and federal government to support with COVID relief efforts – most of these funds have been spent, and what remains will be used to cover the costs surfaced by the pandemic. Legally these one-time relief funds cannot be used to cover recurring costs like employee salaries and other general expenses. As a result, budget cuts will still be required next year to address projected deficits and raise teacher salaries.

4. Why are people talking about school closures as a solution? 

The District primarily gets funded by the state on a per student, enrollment and attendance basis. The District’s enrollment has steadily declined over the last decade and when enrollment numbers drop in a district, schools receive less money from the state to cover their operating costs. Last year alone during the pandemic OUSD lost approximately 1,500 students. Nonetheless, Oakland continues to pay for schools designed to accommodate far more students than we have today. 

The District hopes that by operating fewer, better resourced schools – by not paying the overhead on school facilities that are unnecessary for the number of students they have – that they can provide families with more quality options and become financially sustainable. To date, OUSD has 80 schools that currently serve 33,000 students. For context, Fremont Unified serves 34,000 students with 42 schools. 

At a recent school board meeting, 5 of the 7 directors voted for a resolution directing the Superintendent to bring a list of recommended school consolidations and closures to the board and that list will be voted on and finalized on February 8th.

5. Why are parents, teachers and community members upset about this?

Schools are much more than places where learning happens – for so many Oakland students, schools are where lifelong friendships and connections are made, where dreams begin to take shape, and where the comfort, care, and compassion afforded by teachers and staff is boundless. Schools are, in essence, anchors in our communities. There is no process that can make the decision to close or consolidate a school pain free, especially for the students, teachers, and families who call that school home. 

During Wednesday’s school board meeting, families and advocates spoke to the emotional and physical disruption the closures and consolidations will cause and were outraged by the disproportionate number of schools identified in Black and brown neighborhoods – all while communities are already overwhelmed and overstretched by the pandemic and in need of their anchors. 

The District must make every effort to address these very real concerns raised by Oakland families. Families are clear that more information is needed and more engagement must be had before any decisions are finalized.

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