Last Hired, First Fired and How OUSD Budget Cuts Undermine Progress on Equity in Sports, Hunger, Discipline, and More

A predictable victim in the District’s budget battles is equity, figuratively and literally.  Over the Summer, the OUSD’s “Office of Equity”  saw its budget slashed, folks were demoted, and longer term funding is a question.  For those calling for cuts to central office, they got them.  Unfortunately, many of the district’s equity efforts are rightly situated at central.

And similarly, with the latest set of cuts to sports, not everyone was treated equally.  This will be a trend unless we interrupt it.   The last to the party will be the first shown the door.  With predictable effects on our most historically underserved students and families.

Another Painful Year for our Most Vulnerable

This year is starting as the last one ended; with a parade of the equity horribles—first it was restorative justice, cuts to the program and elimination of school based staff, then it was slashing the growing Office of Equity, then, as school started we saw the wholesale elimination of sports, with girls’ sports bearing an unequal burden.  And this week it’s a story about how the OUSD program that fed hungry children dinner was eliminated.  Literally food being taken from the mouths of babes.

Many of these targeted programs are considered kind of add-ons or non-essentials, for reasons of history or ingrained bias.  And equity is a newcomer to the educational scene, one that chatters a lot but has a small footprint.  Equity also has less established constituencies—unless you count the underserved students and families.  So, unless we interrupt this predictable cycle there will be more of the same to come.

And don’t get it twisted about who attends the schools that will close, one more shoe dropping.   And the 300 plus positions to be eliminated, who do you think they will be and by and large who do they serve?

But before we get to the potential fix—we have to look at the latest casualties.

The Second Class Status of Girls Sports

Title IX and creating equal opportunities for girls and women in sports has been a revolution and has opened countless doors for young people.  But as school started and students heard the news about cuts to school sports—while everyone lost, some lost predictably a lot more than others—as the Chronicle reported

The Oakland district’s decision to cut 10 high school competitive sports, announced Aug. 24, affected twice as many girls as boys, which represented a clear violation of federal Title IX law against sex discrimination in schools, the legal experts said.

“It was so clear that it never occurred to them to consider the gender inequity,” said Elizabeth Kristen, director of gender equity at Legal Aid at Work. “What an absolutely terrible message to send to girls: ‘You don’t matter.’”

The District acknowledged issues but said it was an oversight due to staffing turnover…

Hungry Children Struggle to Learn (or Sleep)

Then this week another in the trail of painful news for families, cuts to a program feeding our most vulnerable children, as described in the Express,

Students who are used to eating a hot meal after school through the Oakland Unified School District’s supper program will have to go hungry this year due to budget cuts imposed by the school board. School staff say elimination of the program will negatively impact dozens of schools and thousands of students.

“Lots of families depend on the supper program,” said Angela Phung, the after-school coordinator for Manzanita Community School. “With budget cuts, students suffer first.”

At Manzanita Community School, about 70 students used to receive fresh fruit, milk, and a hot meal five evenings a week. Out of necessity, some families even brought younger siblings in to eat, Phung said.

It is hard for many families in Oakland.  Many are just getting by on that basic quest for safety, security and food, and now that food piece is gone for even more.

This is the second week of school.

The Need for Better Approach

Education and schools are inherently conservative.  They look back to how things have been done and who has been doing them and may make small changes but very little else.  And when it is time to cut, there are sacred cows and sacrificial lambs, and the lambs tend to be the last ones to arrive at the party.  So our new initiatives—like the office of equity are cut, while more longstanding (and arguably less effective) programs meander on.

Years ago, in my legal days I worked on a case of layoffs in San Francisco fire and PD.  Since they had just started hiring Black, Brown, and female officers in any numbers, when the layoff notices came—you know who they went to.   The progress was rolled back by a neutral mechanism, that allocated layoffs by seniority.  The effects were in no way neutral though.

We have that same mentality working in OUSD, and we are going to have the same effects.  Newer programs with less established constituencies or less habitual spending, which might actually interrupt inequities in the system will be the first to go.  Same with young staff.

There are ways that Oakland can dig itself out of its fiscal hole, but we need more than a temporary fiscal solution we ultimately need a change in mentalities.  Where we look hard at the actual results of programs and effect on equity and start lining up the sacred cows and sacrificial lambs based on present value rather than established lobbies or historical longevity.

And if we don’t change our thinking, it is going to be a very long year, especially for the most underserved students and families.

What do you think?

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