OUSD’s Structural Deficit, the “Too Many Schools” Problem, and Why a Slogan Won’t Save Us

OUSD’s continuing budget crisis means there will be annual cuts until some major restructuring takes place, you can see the latest board presentation here. Many school sites, that were already lean, have been cut to the bone.  But “Chop from the top” or “no cuts no closures” are great slogans they aren’t real solutions.  It makes sense to look to central office for cuts, especially where OUSD’s central office is relatively more expensive than similar districts, 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, recruitment, 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 slogan will capture the nuance we need to emerge relatively unscathed.  These are complex problems, that have festered for decades and need complex solutions.

25,000 fewer students–4 fewer schools in OUSD

I have written about the “too many schools problem” before.  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 a 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.

Compared to other Districts we are an outlier on number of schools and school size

This data is year or two old, and I got it from Director London, but it’s likely still roughly accurate, and you can see the full post here, in Does Oakland Have Too Many Schools?

Director London explained that our number of schools creates inefficiency in administration and infrastructure, as well as making it difficult to strategically plan program locations:

Let’s look at the numbers; Oakland currently has 11,776 students in 40 charter schools, 36,392 students in 86 district-run schools, and 48, 168 students overall in 126 schools, with 17,572 resident students who don’t attend a district or charter school (which is a whole nuther story).  As stated by Director London,

“in every category Oakland is operating nearly twice the number of schools as similarly sized districts. This has a carrying cost in terms of money spent on administration and other       infrastructure.  It also makes it difficult to figure out where to locate all the programs, something the charter sector doesn’t really talk about except when they complain that they are   being offered shared sites or spaces across several sites.

Here’s the data table she provided, where I calculated average school size, this does not include charters (because I didn’t have the data for other districts).  Oakland is the outlier, with the smallest number of students per school (430), and significantly below similarly sized districts.

Berkeley 9,400 19 495
Alameda 10,000 15 667
Santa Rosa 11,000 20 550
Carlsbad 11,000 15 733
Gilroy 11,000 15 733
Upland 11,000 14 786
Twin Rivers 28,000 40 700
San Jose Unified 32,000 42 762
Fremont 34,000 42 810
Oakland 37,000 86 430
Clovis 41,000 45 911
Sacramento 43,000 75 573
San Juan 46,000 60 767


“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.  And if we don’t act and a slogan or Santa doesn’t work.  then we have a takeover, which nobody wants.  I put my money on action, and I ain’t waiting on Santa or a slogan.

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “OUSD’s Structural Deficit, the “Too Many Schools” Problem, and Why a Slogan Won’t Save Us

  1. The too many schools problems can be helped by the majority on the Oakland School Board voting to not renew charter schools whenever any of the subgroups within a charter school seeking renew does not achieve improvement on the State annual standardized test.

    California Education Code Section 47607(a) (3) (A) “The authority that granted the charter shall consider increases in pupil academic achievement for all groups of pupils served by the charter school as the most important factor in determining whether to grant a charter renewal.”

    Jerry Brown’s Oakland Military Institute (OMI) was recently renewed regardless that several groups did not improve achievement in math on the State standardized math test. The Oakland School Board has not been rigorously following the spirit or letter of California’s charter law when it renewed OMI charter for five (5) more years.

    The theory of the charter school is the charter operators agrees to be evaluated on his/her enrolled students test scores and if after five years students in all subgroups have academically improved then the charter is renewed or if one or more subcategory (example Foster students) failed to achieve the school’s charter is not renewed.

    If the Oakland School Board was holding its charter schools accountable for their pupil achievement there would be fewer Oakland charter schools; and likely an increase in the District’s enrollment.

    1. so if its about student achievement you should support the Epic renewal since it had the most improvement of any middle school across ELA and math– meanwhile a school that is last in math achievement and third to last in ELA achievement being argued to keep open– I would support a clear line of increasing achievement for all schools to show their viability

      1. How could anyone not support improved achievement for all students? Or, how could anyone be against the City of Oakland with every student is above average. No matter what is done there will always be outcomes with some up and others done. That is why students need a school no matter where they score. Public schools are for the public and not for only those students with good scores.

        Privately managed charter schools are not about taking all students from the public. They are suppose to be a five years of test score improvement for all groups within the school or; the privately managed charter school is suppose to be not renewed if all groups did not achieved higher than when they started. Trouble is the Oakland School Board renews low performing schools like Jerry Brown’s Oakland Military Institute.

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