OUSD receives “Unacceptable” rating for budget transparency

Given the district’s poor fiscal management in the past and the real impact this has had on students and families, GO is launching the Sunshine checklist, a new tool to hold the district accountable for budget transparency. Put simply, the community deserves to know and understand the status of OUSD’s budget. But right now, concerned community members are locked out of the process by unclear presentations to the board that often don’t address the questions families, educators, and community members have. This must change. 

Our community working group developed a Sunshine checklist with 15 criteria that we expect to see in each and every presentation the district gives about its budget. We studied past presentations, examined national best practices, and interviewed dozens of Oakland stakeholders — from family members to board members — about what they expect to see each time OUSD presents their budget.

Today the district will present the second interim report, an important update to board members, educators, and parents. Our team reviewed the presentation and memo in advance to determine if they made the grade. The district fell short in meeting our team’s expectations for a strong, clear, accessible presentation for all stakeholders. We’ve shared the ratings below and our recommendations for how to improve the public materials for the next presentation. We’re sending this first edition to our entire GO network, but you can sign up for Board Watch here to make sure you continue to receive these updates.

Click here to see the full rubric rating.

To improve its score on the Sunshine checklist on the next budget presentation, OUSD must:

  1. Share a clear narrative: What is the story you are trying to tell? Overall the report reads more like a statement of facts rather than an interpretation and solutions-seeking. Guide the audience from what was shared at the last interim to this current moment. Put the current challenges front and center of both the report and presentation. Don’t bury the headlines. The community shouldn’t have to dig through the details to find the challenges.
  2. Share how it is impacting students: We saw no evidence of a high-level summary of how these specific budget shifts from the first interim to the second are affecting students. Add more interpretation about the implications of these shifts, with clear consideration for what is restricted and unrestricted money.
  3. Focus on solutions: We saw minimal discussion of proactive solutions to the current challenges presented. What is already being done to address the challenges? What more can be done? Looking forward, what does a best-case scenario look like? What does a worst-case scenario look like? As you present solutions and the necessary trade-offs, always tie it back to the impact on students. 

OUSD’s 2019-20 Second Interim Report Summary
Item #20-0460

The second interim report is an update on this school year’s budget and whether the district will be able meet its financial obligations in the next two years.

Revenues and Expenses: When we look at the changes made to the unrestricted funds — money that the district has the most flexibility in allocating — from the first interim report and the projected year totals, we see moderate changes to revenue (+$1M) and expenditures (-$3.5M). For restricted funds — money that the district can only use in limited ways — we see an increase in revenues and expenditures mostly due to an increase in local revenues (i.e. City of Oakland and San Francisco Foundation) and an increase in special education costs, FY18-19 carryover in the Routine Restricted Maintenance Account, and revisions to the Funding formula.

Reserve: Last week the board decided to temporarily dip into their 3% reserve to minimize cuts to school sites next school year. This decision is not yet reflected in the second interim report. Additionally, above and beyond the 3% reserve, the second interim report indicates that a total of ~$2.7M of unassigned funds could be used for unforeseen expenditures, such as supporting McClymonds or a decrease in revenue due to a decrease in attendance. 

Long-Term Outlook: When looking at their multi-year projections, we see that the district’s expenses will continue to exceed their revenues for the next three school years (see slide 9), largely due to state funds not keeping up with the district’s necessary expenditures (i.e. rising pension costs and minimal increase in LCFF). To stay solvent and maintain a 3% reserve in the coming school years, the district must consider cutting at least $5.8 million in additional reductions to the 2021-22 school year budget. The $5.8M is in addition to the board-approved $18.5M in budget cuts for next school year. 

A Note on Tonight’s Board Meeting Agenda: In addition to the second interim report, the board will be discussing the revisions to the Opportunity Ticket. The Opportunity Ticket gives most impacted families an opportunity that prioritizes their placement at the schools they believe is most suitable for their children. In September 2019, the Opportunity Ticket Working Group and the Superintendent recommended that students from closing charter schools also receive an Opportunity Ticket and tonight the board will be discussing whether they should. You can find the full board meeting agenda here.

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