Today, the District will be presenting its Second Financial Interim Report where they certify whether or not they are able to meet their financial obligations for the remainder of the fiscal year and the two subsequent years as of January 31, 2021. The District has retained their “qualified” certification since the First Interim. Overall, they will be financially stable for the remainder of this school year (meaning, their expenses do not exceed their revenue). However, they must take timely actions in the coming months by June 30, 2021 in order to remain solvent in the subsequent years.
At the last Board meeting, the District introduced a first read of its Budget Reduction Option and Bridge Plan, a short-term, one-year solution that would allow the district to avoid the anticipated $16M in cuts from next school year’s budget, largely due to the additional COVID relief revenue the District received from the feds and state. If this plan is passed, the District won’t need to make budget cuts in 2021-22, however, long-term challenges remain, such as concerns around enrollment and ADA decline in 2021-22 that will affect the 2022-23 budget.
The District will continue to develop the Budget for 2021-22 to ensure the long-term fiscal solvency of the District. They will host a Special Board Meeting to discuss one-time funds on March 16th and is scheduled to present its Third Interim Financial Report on April 15th.
We want to recognize Chief Business Officer, Lisa Grant-Dawson, and her team for increasing community transparency of the District’s budget by sharing more regular budget updates and continuing to address and work on long-term solutions by anticipating upcoming financial complications and proposing ongoing solutions to ensure we continue to have a financially stable District that can allow for better student outcomes.
We encourage the District to continue to maintain transparency around the way they decide to spend one-time funds stemming from additional federal stimulus, the California state reopening measures, and the upcoming 2021-22 California budget to ensure those dollars are spent in a way that maximizes student learning.
In mid January Board President, Director Shanthi Gonzales introduced an enrollment policy that attempts to address the decline of enrollment of OUSD-operated schools over the last few decades. Since then, Director Gonzales has had multiple engagements with the community and will introduce an official first read of the Enrollment Stabilization policy tonight. The policy states that the decline of enrollment has led to multiple negative consequences: fewer students means fewer resources. As enrollment has declined OUSD has faced budget cuts, layoffs and difficult decisions to close and merge schools. This proposed policy calls for:
- Dedicating central staff positions to supporting schools to reach out to families such as creating videos and other marketing materials, holding community events, and updating and maintaining school websites and social media accounts
- Having schools, board members and central departments to identify ways to support enrollment growth and stabilization such as creating an annual enrollment stabilization plan
- Identifying and implementing of strategies to make enrollment more accessible for OUSD families such as increasing language access and sending outreach materials to all families of rising TK and Kindergartners, 6th and 9th graders
- Prohibiting the District from using resources to promote enrollment in competing schools (including charter public schools and private schools), which applies to OUSD’s enrollment system, school maps, family guides and other enrollment materials, any OUSD website, OUSD facilities, enrollment fairs, and teacher recruitment events
The annual costs are estimated to be $1.5M. About $1.3M of the total costs would come from the marketing provisions such as the new required staffing, stipends for sites to enlist staff or parents in their outreach to families, and the budget for marketing activities. The remaining $200,000 would come from provisions that prohibit the use of District resources to support the enrollment or marketing of competing schools as the District would likely need to bear certain costs. The cost will most likely increase to an estimated $1.8 million in year two.
We agree with the board’s urgency to address the decline of enrollment over the past few decades and additional resources for OUSD schools to better market themselves to families–expanding equity by giving those schools that are typically under-resourced the means to showcase their school and community. However, this policy, as currently written, does not consider the root causes of enrollment declines in individual schools nor does it address underlying concerns that families have with the lack of quality options available. Additionally, it could make the enrollment process more complicated for families forcing them to use multiple online platforms to explore their school options instead of strengthening the current system that allows families to see all their options in one place.
We are also concerned that the estimated cost assumptions seem to assume the best case scenario outcomes and that the enrollment gains that were seen in previous small pilots at one grade level will hold true for the entire system. Especially after a year of pandemic, disruption, and parent frustration after a year of distance learning, it is unwise to make budget assumptions based on a best-case scenario.
Along with budget implications, we encourage the Board to listen to family voices before making a decision. Families are looking for a single simple system that allows them to look at all their public school options (both District and charter schools). The conversation needs to focus on ensuring quality school options for all students.