The 2 Numbers You Need to Know to Understand the OUSD Fiscal Crisis

OUSD once had 63,000 students and roughly 90 schools, today we have 36,000 students and roughly 86 schools.  Esteemed Oaklandologist, Dr. Brian Stanley, dropped that knowledge in a long historical look back on OUSD enrollment and its finances.  And anyone wondering where the fiscal crisis comes from should just ponder that.

So we have 57% of the historical students but 96% of the schools, with each school having a set of fixed costs around leadership, facility, and specialized staffing.

OUSD has too many schools and a similarly oversized central office.   This means our resources are spread out rather than targeted more efficiently on students at schools, and it creates an ongoing drag on the finances.  A drag that will continue and only get worse until we fix this imbalance.

Here’s the chart of enrollment from 1970 to present (compliments of the Oaklandologist)

Enrollment declines, central office and facilities don’t

OUSD will never have as many students as it did at its peak.  Yet we have a central office built for too many students, with a roughly $400 cost per child higher than similar districts and too many school facilities, about twice as many as similar sized districts.  And we need to right size both.

This will not be easy but it is necessary.  Districts are built to grow, and struggle to contract even when enrollment does, and school closings seldom make friends or propel political careers.

All that being said the district’s finances won’t get any better until it restructures itself.  Our revenues are about as high as they will get, and our costs will structurally rise.  So these cuts will become a regular thing unless we right the ship.  And there is no way to insulate schools or our most vulnerable students.

My Oaklandologist colleague breaks the fiscal spiral down,

Thus the quality (real and perceived) of its (OUSD’s) schools was keeping people away from enrolling and that under-enrollment robbed OUSD of the resourced needed to improve schools. This is the real problem of a structural deficit in a public system. It robs you of the resources necessary for investment in improving services to the public. And, in the absence of new revenue, the public system just fails to deliver, driving down the public trust overall.

The End of the Road for Kicking the Can

These changes should have been made long ago in a planned and staged way with real community input.  But, it is always easier to kick the can down the road, leaving a larger problem for the next sucker.

The State has underfunded pensions for decades and now, and our kids are paying those bills and will pay even more.  Our local board has not wanted to face down the need for school closings, sales of non- instructional properties and sales of school properties, or right sizing of central, with the real job losses and real people hurt.

Nobody wants to be the villain closing schools or firing folks, it is a dark road fraught with danger.  But we can’t just keep kicking the can, at some point that road will end, and it won’t be us doing the kicking but being kicked by a state receiver.

We can’t run a 36,000 student district with a central office and facilities budget geared for 50-60,000 students, or we can, we just won’t be in charge of it for long.




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