School Board Watch September 11, 2019: Voting on mergers/closures/expansions, closing the books on 2018-2019 budget

For more, click here for the full agenda.

Items #19-1654, 19-1826, 19-1827

At the last school board meeting, OUSD staff discussed their recommendations for the Blueprint for Quality Schools Cohort 2

  • Merge Kaiser and Sankofa on the Sankofa campus
  • Merge Oakland School of Language (SOL) and Frick on the Frick campus
  • Expand Melrose Leadership Academy (MLA) to upper and lower schools on the Sherman and Maxwell Park campuses
  • Invest in expanding the successful program at Fruitvale Elementary

During the discussion, the Board of Directors shared their concerns and questions and OUSD staff will share responses to those specific questions at tonight’s meeting before the board approves the Cohort 2 schools. 

Nationally, and here in Oakland, tough decisions about mergers and closures have not affected all families equally. Too often, low-income, black and Latinx families — who already bear the brunt of educational inequity — are disproportionately affected by school closures. Any Blueprint decision made by the board must take this historical and current context into account take measures to shift power into the hands of those families who are typically locked out of educational opportunities in this city.

The recommended proposals show evidence of a thoughtful lens on quality and equity for historically underserved communities, while acknowledging the need for fiscal sustainability. For example, minimizing displacement impact for Sankofa students – the majority of whom are black and Latinx; or providing more options for families by expanding innovative dual-language programs for newcomers in East Oakland and expanding the successful academic program at Fruitvale Elementary, which has one of the strongest growth scores for elementary schools in the city.

It is now up to the Board to move forward with a plan. One thing is certain: the district has too few high-quality school options and they are concentrated in the city’s most affluent neighborhoods. We recognize this is a difficult process that requires trade-offs, but the status quo is unacceptable. 

Item #19-1660

The Alameda Grand Jury issued a scathing 2018-19 report looking at OUSD’s fiscal practices and raising serious concerns about the district’s stewardship of public funds on June 24, 2019. Some major areas of concern included OUSD’s spending priorities, facilities department, school board leadership, and organizational culture. The district was tasked with responding to each of the Findings and Recommendations by September 22, 2019. In their Proposed Final Response the district appreciates the Grand Jury’s candid feedback, but also note that they don’t completely agree with all Findings and Recommendations in the report. 

It is hopeful to see that, under Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell’s leadership, the district has self-identified many of these same concerns and has already begun implementing solutions, even before the report was published. The big three initiatives named in the response (1)the Blueprint for Quality Schools plan (2) the Citywide plan, and (3) the Fiscal Vitality plan are all important steps toward improving quality, financial sustainability, and the organizational culture of the district. We hope that the district stays the course and follows through with these initiatives and that the Board commits to its organizational wellness goals this year. 

Item #19-1511

The Board will be approving the Annual Statement of All Receipts and Expenditures of the District (closing of books) for the 2018-19 school year. This is the process of understanding the final financial statement for a school year, and it is one of a few key moments in the budget process. The district is required to adopt the current year’s budget BEFORE it finishes last year’s budget. That means if OUSD ended up spending more money than it planned on last year, then it may have to adjust this year’s budget.

The “close of books” report shows some evidence that OUSD is improving its budgeting practices. When we look only at the district’s unrestricted funding – the majority of the district’s money, which can be used for any purpose – we see that OUSD’s end-of-year revenue and expense estimates last year were very close to the actual numbers published in the close of books. There’s also some evidence that OUSD’s academic and operations departments are working more closely together to make more student-focused budget decisions that are based on actual performance data. Overall, this suggests a positive direction for the district’s budget department. 

However, we still have some concerns about the district’s transparency in their budget operations. While the close of books changes to unrestricted funding was minor, there were large swings in restricted funding. Restricted funding comes from streams like grants or parcel taxes, which have limits on how they may be used. The close of books shows that the district spent $37.3M less in restricted funding than they estimated at the end of last year. The memo sent to the board says that “as always with the closing of the books, the District shows lower restricted expenditure levels than budgeted at Estimated Actuals,” and we did see similar behavior from OUSD during last year’s close of books. But we would strongly encourage the district to be more open about why this limited-use money was reserved and what they expect to spend it on in the coming years. 

Keep your eyes out for the next school board meeting September 25, where according to the Board Meeting Yearlong Agenda, the Board will cover:

  • Enrollment Policy Update/Opportunity Ticket Part 2 revision (First Read)
  • Revise the Middle Years Program and update the Resolution on the commitment to Fiscal Vitality

Join us on September 23rd at 5:30 pm at the GO offices to learn more about Proposition 13 reform and how we can bring $45-50 million in additional funds to Oakland public education. RSVP here

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