BOARD WATCH: Revised budget reductions for next year and using one-time funds for mental health supports

For more, click here for the full agenda

You can watch the Zoom meeting by clicking on this link at 5:30pm or by calling (669) 900-9128, then enter Webinar ID 84323418953, then pressing “#”. 

Item #21-0949

In February, the district presented the first reading of the Budget Reduction Option and Bridge Plan, a total of $20.8M in savings for next school year’s budget that includes:

  1. An ongoing total of $4.8 million in savings from staff reductions ($1.4M), elimination of historical contributions to student nutrition ($1.6M) and central office reductions due to the reorganization of police services ($1.8M).
  2. A one-time short-term solution that would allow the district to avoid anticipated $16M in cuts from next school year’s budget by using one-time state and federal COVID-relief funds.

Because the Board expressed interest in using one-time funds to restore staff positions (i.e. positions at any school site due to enrollment decline, positions at Blueprint/Cohort 1 and 2 schools, or assistant principals), the revised Budget Reduction Option and Bridge Plan is proposing a total of $19.4M in budget reductions by eliminating staff reductions ($1.4M).

One-time COVID-relief funds should be used for one-time expenses. While many board members have affirmed this, we are starting to see more and more proposals to use these one-time funds as band aid solutions for ongoing structural budget challenges. 

While this proposal would allow the District to avoid budget cuts next school year, this pattern might put an unfair burden on future generations of Oakland students if the District does not find sustainable solutions to its ongoing structural deficit. 

From the Alameda County Board of Education in response to OUSD’s Second Interim Report:

“[ACOE] has not received OUSD’s board-approved budget-balancing solutions or a timeline of its implementation aside from OUSD’s short-term stabilization ‘Bridge Plan’. The District must address the structural deficit including a detailed plan of action and status updates to the County Trustee and ACOE.”

Item #21-0012

OUSD’s Enrollment Stabilization policy proposal attempts to address the decline of enrollment of OUSD-operated schools over the last few decades that will cost the district an estimated $1.5M. The very first version of the policy was introduced in mid-January and since then has had multiple iterations given community feedback. Tonight, Board President Shanthi Gonzales is proposing two options for approval. Option 1 is the same version presented during the last discussion that calls for:

  1. Dedicating central staff positions to support schools with family outreach
  2. Having schools, board members and central departments identify ways to support enrollment growth and stabilization 
  3. Identifying and implementing strategies to make enrollment more accessible for OUSD families
  4. Prohibiting the District from using resources to promote enrollment in competing schools, including charter public schools and private schools (i.e. enrollment system, school maps, family guides and other enrollment materials).

Option 2 includes the same language as Option 1 with the following amendments:

  • Allowing Student Welcome Center staff to provide contact information for a charter school enrollment clearinghouse or aggregator (i.e. Oakland Enrolls) share information, if requested.
  • Allowing the District to partner with charter schools on the alignment of school calendars.
  • Allowing District staff to encourage individual students on a case-by-case basis to apply to a charter school based on student safety, equity, and need.
  • Allowing the Board, by resolution, to exempt a charter school from the prohibition against the use of OUSD resources to support enrollment, which would allow a charter school to be listed on the District’s online school navigation platform.
  • Directing the Superintendent or her designee to analyze the impact and effectiveness of the policy on enrollment in three years (2024).

As we’ve said before, instead of addressing the root causes of Oakland’s enrollment decline by improving the school quality options available, this proposal unnecessarily separates public district schools from public charter schools in the enrollment platform, making the process more complicated for families. After years of deepening partnerships between OUSD and Oakland public charters and streamlining processes with the best interests of families in mind, this policy is a step backward. It will likely lead to less collaboration, more siloed processes, and different enrollment timelines across school types – all of this means it’s harder for families to find the best public school for their child. Read this OUSD parent’s perspective on why this would roll back progress we’ve made as a district.   

Option 2 is clearly less damaging for families than Option 1 as it would allow families to see more (but not all) of the public options available to them. However, this policy raises more questions than it answers: If a charter is to be exempt, what is the process, timeline and criteria that will be used to make such decisions? Will district schools be required to meet those same quality and equity standards? 

Item #21-0717I

Student Board Director Jessica Ramos and Director Aimee Eng recently proposed a resolution that directs the Superintendent to create a district comprehensive plan to address social emotional health, mental health, and credit recovery due to the deep impact of the pandemic on students by 1) creating & supporting relational culture at all schools 2) investing in mental health and wellness spaces and resources 3) planning, training and capacity building to execute this work. 

After last board meeting’s discussion, the revised proposal now includes, but is not limited to, these changes:

  • Clarifies that the resolution focuses on students at elementary, middle, and high schools
  • Directs that prioritized elementary, middle, and high schools have a Community School Manager, or similar position
  • Directs the Superintendent to incorporate the direction provided by this Resolution into the Expanded Learning Opportunities Grant Plan (scheduled to be presented for a first read on May 12th)
  • States the expectation that at least $9M of the District’s Expanded Learning Opportunities Grant allocation would go to funding the activities and services described in this Resolution

Note: The Extended Learning Opportunity Grant is a state COVID-relief grant under Assembly Bill 86 that can be used for any of following: extending instructional learning time, accelerating progress to close learning gaps, integrated pupil supports, community learning hubs, supports for credit deficient pupils, additional academic services, and training for school staff. OUSD will be receiving a total of $38.7M from AB86.

While we support the use of these funds to address the mental health crisis, we again caution the District to balance the urgent mental health needs with the long-term fiscal solvency of the District. This means that if this policy does not effectively embed mental health practices at the school levels and build existing staff capacity to support student mental health, this work will end when the money runs out. This would be yet another example of using one-time funds to delay difficult decisions while forcing future generations of Oakland students to reckon with the consequences.

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