Why “Chop from the Top” Won’t Save Us-The Too Many Schools Problem

OUSD’s continuing budget crisis means there will be annual cuts until some major restructuring takes place. Many school sites, that were already lean, have been cut to the bone.  It makes sense to look to central office for cuts, but all cuts are not created equal, and some of the district’s most important and impactful departments are housed at central, like finance, the office of equity and the English language learner multilingual achievement office.

It’s not about across the board reductions, or a slogan,it is about making choices about where to put the kids’ money, and assuring those are the best ones possible.  And part of that equation is the district taking a hard look at itself, and its own structure.  And let’s be serious no rhyming slogan will capture the nuance we need to emerge relatively unscathed.

25,000 fewer students–4 fewer schools in OUSD

I have written about the “too many schools problembefore.  How Oakland Unified once housed 63,000 students in 90 schools and now has roughly 38,000 students in 86 schools.  While small schools by design may be sustainable, schools designed for 1000 kids that have 400, that are small because of low enrollment, will tend to have diluted and lesser student services that are spread more thinly.  Ultimately, as a district, you have more employees spread more thinly, who are paid less on average.  Which is a recipe for disaster.

The Express reported this years back, and the union seemingly agreed

Although Oakland teachers’ union President Betty Olson-Jones did not return phone calls for this story, the union is well aware of the problem of too many schools. During hearings earlier this year, the union argued before a fact-finding panel that the district’s rush to small schools was too costly. The union contended, according to the fact-finding report, that the district’s “priorities are skewed” in part “by the recent growth of decentralized small schools, each needing a principal and staff.”

The union also has argued that the district has too many administrators. And that’s true, when one realizes that principals are administrators. In fact, Oakland has the highest number of administrators per student in the county because it has too many schools. According to Ed-Data, Oakland employs one administrator for every 151.7 pupils. Alameda, by contrast, employs one administrator per every 385 students. And Pleasanton’s ratio is 1 to 319.

10% of OUSD schools are sustainable-by their own measure

And consider the OUSD Board’s own analysis, found in last week’s budget and finance committee meeting.  You can see the slide, but the district determined how many students they need per school to be sustainable and provide the appropriate level of student support—590 at elementary, 939 at middle and 636 at high school.

So how many OUSD schools met those size thresholds- 4 elementary schools, 0 middle schools, and 5 high schools.  Even if the numbers are a little off that’s glaring that just over 10% of OUSD’s schools are of sustainable size.

“Without Action, Solvency will be beyond Reach”

Others like Go Public Schools and Educate 78 have dug in more on the overall budget issues.  And there is solid piece in the East bay Times from them this week.

Let’s forget about the unbudgeted lead costs, the unbudgeted $68 million annual tab for critical deferred maintenance, and $2.2 billion in facility needs.  Let’s just look at the district’s own budget projections, and its path to insolvency.

Revenues flatten out, and costs increase.  “Without Action, Solvency will be beyond Reach”– that’s the District’s title for the slide.  In 20-21 we are projected to have over a $30 million deficit– though the takeover would have occurred by then.

Oakland has hard decisions to make, we can pretend we don’t or that the state or Santa Clause or someone will come bail us out—the state won’t’ they already did and we still owe from the last time.  Or if they do, it won’t be for free.

This is on us, our elected leaders and the administration—and as nice as it would be to have a slogan save us, I don’t think that will be any more effective than a call to Santa.


What do you think?

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