Deep divisions in the Oakland community played out in the recent ambitious attempt to review and develop a deeper and more grounded plan for use of OUSD school buildings. I applaud the effort, this has been sorely needed, and this is not a critique of the superintendent or the community engagement folks, but it may be too little too late.
If you thought that the overall budget was in disarray, then you will claw your own eyes out when you look at the facilities issues, and the staggering costs associated with them. Let me share one cost–$68 million—that’s how much OUSD has to expend each year going forward on critical deferred maintenance issues. Every year from here til infinity, $68,000,000 which probably is low given what we usually end up paying versus what was budgeted. And again these are real needs.
As we heard at the meeting, freshmen at Mack are going to graduate without ever having a library. And there are lead issues, real seismic issues, and an aging and costly set of school sites to maintain.
Now ask how much OUSD budgets for that out of the general fund.
So unless the district can pass facility bonds, or somehow raise $68 million in extra revenue a year or make that level of cost reductions—we are bankrupt the second those charges start hitting the books.
It is a tough spot to be in.
The district needs $2.2 billion for capital, and I think it is going to have an uphill fight in getting a skeptical, and sometimes disrespected, public to approve more money.
This is not window dressing, these are health and safety issues, not even getting to the equity ones. Our buildings are crumbling, lead seeps from fixtures, an earthquake could level half the district, and more than half of its building are beyond their expected life of 50 years of use.
There are also 13,000 surplus seats according to the blueprint report. And as many folks have maintained, Oakland has a too many schools problem—with roughly twice the number of schools as similar districts and a dozen schools that are less than half full and 15 that are less than 2/3rds full.
Here’s the slide
There are obviously hard decisions to be made, and so far the district has largely deferred them, but it can’t anymore. They need a bond and it’s smart to have an imperfect process leading up to that rather than nothing. If only to show the need.
But they may have a skeptical public.
The Perfect Storm to Sink a Bond
OUSD is conducting a poll around how the public feels about a bond, which will be critical. But let’s look at some of the things that could go wrong (1) confidence in the OUSD board and it’s oversight is probably not at the highest (to say the least) from a whole range of competing constituencies, (2) existing bonds have come under question as to whether they are being properly overseen and spent as required, as one of our parent sleuths outlined in “Oakland’s $11 Million Hole and the $1 Billion Debt Beneath it” (3) I believe the County has a competing early childhood bond on the ballot, and (4) it’s getting late to start a bond process for Fall 2018, and once you commit it is expensive ($600K plus) and unbudgeted—whether you win or lose.
Though the developer community seemed willing to help defray at least some of those costs, which I guess is good.
I will cover all this in more detail, but we find ourselves stuck, and the current administration is dealing with the deferred maintenance and deferred responsibility from prior ones. But none of that really matters to the kids with lead in their schools. And it will take real leadership from the Board and superintendent to get this through, oversee it well, and build public confidence across constituencies and sectors.
For all of our sake I really hope they can get it together.
But I worry.