It is no secret that Oakland Unified School District has been struggling with finance and budgeting for quite some time. According to the East Bay Times and WestEd, “weak ‘internal controls’ — an accounting term for systematic measures in place to maintain accurate budget and management data and safeguard assets and resources — were a key driver in the budget crisis, in that expenditures were not adjusted to reflect declining enrollment.”
The lack of oversight that OUSD has enjoyed for years is now getting called out by teachers and parents, and has culminated in Oakland teachers’ vote to authorize a strike. Oakland teachers, like teacher in Los Angeles, want smaller class sizes, and an increase in teacher salaries. The district has expressed interest in raising teacher salaries, believing that an increase in salary will result in a decrease in teacher turnover rates. However, a decrease in classroom size might be difficult to achieve given the wavering number of students who are enrolled in district-run schools.
Another factor that has impacted OUSD is the rise of charter schools in the city. As of 2019, there are 34 charter schools in Oakland. We know that the state invests a majority of its funding in students, not in school districts. The mass migration from district to charter schools that many students have been a part of in Oakland has funneled thousands of dollars from district-run schools towards charter schools. This has been a point of contention between district and charter schools; however, district-run school members ignore that the money does not belong to the district — it belongs to the students. To read more on this issue, read our Comadre, Leticia Chavez-Garcia’s blog about this issue.
With the lower enrollment rates that district-run schools are experiencing in Oakland, the district is looking to close certain schools in Oakland altogether. If this is their course of action, we must stop and think — how can we achieve lower class sizes if our students are grouped and crammed like sardines into fewer schools? The plan to shut schools down in Oakland will not contribute to overall need for smaller classroom sizes.
Oakland teachers have not set a date for a protest, but we know that one is coming. The district must be proactive in responding to the needs of teachers, and giving raises to teachers is not the only solution. We obviously need more oversight and accountability from the Oakland Unified School District, but most importantly we need Oakland to keep schools open. We need students to have choices. We need students to avoid taking a bus ride to a school that is too far from their homes. We need OUSD to meet the needs of our teachers and students, and to move forward with a willingness to be transparent.
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