The recent teachers’ union strike and the weeks leading up to it were undoubtedly difficult for all of us in Oakland. Even with our teachers and students back in their classrooms, the community is still processing these events.
I know there’s still much to reconcile. However, I’m convinced that if we approach this process as a community, with compassion and collaboration, there’s no limit to how much we can accomplish for our kids. Above all, I know there’s opportunity on the road ahead for Oakland Unified to renew its commitment to Oakland students, and I’m optimistic that we can now begin the hard work of healing and reimagining our district.
I’m relieved that the strike is over and happy that our teachers returned to work better compensated. We are committed to recruiting and keeping the best educators in Oakland and we want to do right by our teachers, nurses, librarians and staff. This agreement with the teachers’ union gives us a small window to “pause” and make thoughtful decisions about how best to support our students and teachers.
One of my greatest frustrations is that we at the district continue to struggle to fix our long-standing fiscal issues once and for all. I want them fixed already, but know it will take a few years to stabilize the district financially. It’s painful to accept that without additional funding we simply cannot afford to maintain our current levels of staffing, programs and facilities while remaining fiscally solvent. Oakland Unified is working hard to find more funding so we can maintain the student services we value deeply as a community.
It’s our responsibility to set our district on a long-term path to sustainability. To do that, our financial and academic teams must deepen their collaboration to support high-quality programs that are financially sustainable to best serve all Oakland Unified students. We’ve been implementing our Fiscal Vitality Plan.
We are also partnering with the Alameda County Office of Education to improve fiscal systems, processes and practices and build up staff capacity. The Oakland Unified Board of Education, Chief Financial Officer and I remain in control and accountable for managing our budget responsibly, and for building a strong foundation for the long-term financial health of the district. The goal of the partnership with the county is to speed up implementation because we cannot afford to wait. Too many students are depending on us.
The state must also rise to the occasion.
It is unacceptable that California — the world’s fifth largest economy — provides so little funding to students. California is consistently among the lowest-ranked states in terms of per-student education funding, yet it’s one of the states with the highest number of kids in need.
The state should direct additional resources to California’s highest-need students first — from Special Education and English learners, to newcomer families and children living in poverty. As we move forward, the fundamental conditions that are frustrating our efforts to provide our students with the best possible education have not changed: the rising cost of special education, pension obligations, the continued increase in newcomer students and the rising cost of living in Oakland for both families and staff, to name a few.
Our students deserve a better education so they can be happy, healthy, productive adults. We’re doing everything we can to get our fiscal house in order, but we can’t meet all of our students’ needs without additional support from the state. This is why I stand with the community in calling for adequate school funding from the state.
In early April, East Bay educators, students, families and community members rallied on Sacramento’s Capitol Mall to call for a level of investment that reflects the future we want. Many in our community have signed the California School Board Association’s Full & Fair Funding petition. And I am encouraging others to do so in the coming weeks and months.
It’s time we see how strong we can become by working arm-in-arm for Oakland students.
Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell is superintendent of Oakland Unified School District.
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