This election, OUSD is placing a $735 million construction bond measure on the November ballot.
While the investment is sorely needed, will voters hold their noses, swallow hard and trust the district to not waste all that money, after years of overspending from an organization that lacks an overarching building strategy and has suffered “a systematic breakdown of sound business practices in many areas”?
Maybe taking the Green Bond Pledge, and a Social Bond pledge, could help not only sway voters but put the district on a more sustainable path.
Green Bonds are similar to traditional bonds a city or school district would issue to finance projects and operations, with the only caveat that the money be spent on green or environmentally friendly projects. For Social Bonds, the funding must be applied to projects with a social benefit, including basic infrastructure like clean drinking water, or programs with socioeconomic advancement.
Taking the Green Bond Pledge means simply that, “all bonds that finance long-term infrastructure and capital projects need to address environmental impact and climate risk.” Mark Hall, an energy efficiency consultant and founder of the energy efficiency tech company Revalue.io, is advocating the district take the Green Bond Pledge. Hall is also advocating the district commit to finance projects either through Green Bonds or Social Bonds.
“When you issue Green and Social Bonds, you have to clearly identify your use of funds and how you’re going to track proceeds,” Hall said. “You have to be transparent, and that’s one of the issues that voters in Oakland had a problem with.”
Hall, an Oakland native and OUSD grad, formerly managed capital improvements for parks and recreation centers for the City of Oakland. In doing so, he worked on the city’s climate action and resilience plan. “I began to see a lot of opportunities to achieve the goals in that plan (through Green and Social Bonds),” Hall said.
While OUSD currently implements aspects of Green and Social Bonds, it does so in an ad-hoc way, Hall said, and does not make a coordinated effort. For example, energy efficiency and building systems are managed separately. The Bond Pledge would bring everything under one roof.
“Pretty much issuing Green Bonds would provide the school district with a standardized framework for prioritizing projects according to climate action and resilience goals,” he said. “For example, by grouping projects together that reduce energy use, therefore cost, therefore greenhouse gas emissions. While you’re doing that, students are able to focus and are more comfortable in the classroom.”
The Social Bond pledge also fits in well. “Those principles are based around job creation, increased diversity, food security, all these things (OUSD needs),” Hall said.
Hall said he’s “encouraged but not certain” if OUSD leadership will sign the pledge.
“It’s an opportunity for Oakland to really shine the light on what Oakland really is,” Hall said. “I went to Oakland public schools. There’s a huge opportunity for Oakland to leverage this transition that’s going on. Climate change resilience has been identified as a critical factor to keep California ahead of the curve. The more immersed OUSD can be immersed in this kind of work, the more they’ll be a model for other school districts and cities.”