Oakland Unified must close schools and reform its fiscal practices in order to stay solvent, according to an Alameda County Civil Grand Jury.
Titled, “Oakland Unified School District: Hard Choices Needed to Prevent Insolvency,” the report cited multi-million dollar budget deficits, too many schools for the district’s dwindling student population, unsound fiscal practices, lack of accountability and high teacher and administrator turnover as key contributors to the district’s woes. It referenced a previous analysis by the independent Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, or FCMAT, that said “the district has lost control of its spending.”
“We concluded that these management and governing problems are chief reasons why OUSD has been on average between 20 and 30 million dollars in debt for the last 15 years, and may help to explain why one in five Oakland public schools scores in the bottom 5 percent statewide in math and English language arts proficiency,” the report said.
Board President Aimee Eng said the district is taking the report seriously and will review the issues and recommendations cited.
“As we remain committed to achieving fiscal vitality and stability, it is critical that we receive outside analysis and feedback such as this report and the recently completed FCMAT report to better inform our work,” she said, in a prepared statement. “We hope the information shared by the grand jury will help guide us on our way towards a sustainable future in which all Oakland’s students receive a high quality education.”
Oakland Unified faces a fiscal crisis that requires at least $5.8 million in budget cuts for next year on top of $9 million the district said it cut this year from its $552.4 million budget. District officials estimate that the budget deficit will be $20 million next year and will grow to $60 million the following year unless cuts are made. Even with those cuts, the district’s deficit next year will be an estimated $14.2 million.
The report noted that enrollment in Oakland Unified schools has dropped from nearly 54,000 to about 37,000 over the past 15 years, but the number of schools has not changed dramatically, with 87 schools currently run by the Bay Area district.
The grand jury said that Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell has made some positive changes and is pursuing plans to consolidate schools and control spending. However, it said “lack of political will” is preventing the district from fixing its problems.
To help remedy the district’s problems, the grand jury issued eight recommendations:
- Only hire new staff or institute new programs if “there is money in the budget beforehand to fund them”;
- Assess school occupancy and make “painful decisions” to close and consolidate schools “as soon as possible”;
- Expand collaboration between charter schools and traditional district-operated schools, especially those that share campuses;
- Require board governance training that stresses directors’ roles as “policy-makers, not day-to-day administrators”;
- Require board members to communicate with district officials via the superintendent;
- Establish a “position control system” that tracks staff costs and how staff is assigned to schools;
- Train school administrators in “position control and budgetary policies”;
- Develop transparent budget reports that better inform the board and public about the “long-term consequences of financial decisions.”
Forewoman Jane Cosgriff Sullwold said the group hoped the report would “result in positive changes.”
The investigations included interviews and document reviews by a group of 19 county residents serving on the 2017-18 civil grand jury to ensure that government runs efficiently and that public money is spent appropriately. It is separate from the criminal grand jury. The district must respond to findings and recommendations by Sept. 26.
The civil grand jury is appointed annually and often investigates complaints by whistle-blowers and others whose identities remain confidential.
The Oakland Unified report was one of eight investigations into city and county governments and agencies, along with three jail inspections, released this week.