GO’s Budget Advocacy Story

OUSD’s financial instability is currently the greatest risk to the health of Oakland’s largest education system, and ultimately is a threat to the education of all students across our city’s system.

In recent years, under the watch of a state receiver tasked with helping preventing OUSD from experiencing financial trouble, OUSD had achieved the highest credit ratings and saved taxpayers millions. In January 2017, when the current financial crisis reared its head, many, including GO, were caught by surprise.

The Board of Education and district leadership had to make midyear budget changes to address a financial shortfall. The months that followed revealed a pattern of overspending, outdated systems and lack of information about the current state of the district’s finances.

Direct impact on students, educators, and sites:  Overspending during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years have weakened OUSD’s fiscal position and directly impacted Oakland’s students and educators.

GO’s advocacy: GO Public Schools Oakland has advocated to rebuild the financial health of the Oakland Unified School District, for both the:

(1) short-term to minimize the impact on students, and

(2) long-term to fundamentally change OUSD’s approach to budgeting by aligning to national best practices and ensure the district’s financial stability for Oakland’s present students and for generations to come.

Oakland’s current financial distress presents an opportunity for the district to emerge as a leader in financial stability. We believe that we can engage our community, school board and new Superintendent to understand and acknowledge the district’s failed financial practices and to adopt nationally recognized best practices and standards for financial operation that will ultimately help the district prioritize its resources, narrows its focus and improve outcomes for students across the city.  

Our work has been focused on advocating for OUSD adopting fiscally responsible policies and best practices, developing a long-term strategic financial plan, and engaging school leaders to partner in systems changes to benefit students. In service of that, we have:

Kept the community informed about the fiscal challenges and path ahead: Through one-to-one meetings, a blog series and videos breaking down important budget issues, and solutions-oriented informational community events in 2017 and 2018, we deeply value and prioritize the need to share our understanding and analysis of

Researched best practices and solutions: After experiencing the same frustration as many community members in understanding OUSD’s budget presentation we began researching best practices from a number of organizations. To that end, we:

  • Reviewed landscape of fiscal best practices and frameworks
  • Identified GFOA’s Smarter School Spending Framework as a collection of school-centered best practices
  • Attended two GFOA conferences and three other GFOA trainings
  • Contacted and held conversations with a number of different school leaders from large urban districts to better understand the impact of various policies and aligning to the GFOA.
  • Collected samples of various best practices policies that the Board could use a resources to build policies applicable to OUSD.

Introduced key leaders to the Smarter School Spending Framework and standards for district budgeting endorsed by the Government Finance Officers Association. Key leaders include the Superintendent, Chief Academic Officer, five out of seven School Board Members, and 15 OUSD Principals.

Supported school board members to write and adopt foundational financial policies aligned to best practices in budgeting, including:

    • Advocating for the BOE to engage with FCMAT to get a third party opinion on OUSD’s fiscal condition
    • Collected samples of various best practice policies that the Board could use as resources to build policies applicable to OUSD
    • Updating OUSD’s reserve policy to align to best practices and ensure clear rules and communication around when it is used
    • Adopt a structurally balanced budget policy which ensures that one-time funds are used for one-time expenses and ongoing expenses are paid for by ongoing funds. It also requires the district to account for ongoing maintenance for items, ranging from buildings to computers.
    • Adopting updated guidelines for budget presentations aligned to best practices, which will radically increase budget transparency once fully implemented.

    In the future, GO Public Schools Oakland will continue working to ensure OUSD adopts fiscally responsible policies and best practices, develops one strategic financial plan, and engages school leaders to partner in systems changes to benefit students.

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