By Ken Epstein
As the Oakland Unified School District prepares to slash spending and make large budget cuts in the next 18 months to keep from going into the red, teachers and members of the school community are discussing the finding of a report commissioned by the district that finds OUSD has a top-heavy administration, spending more and its central office and less on instruction at schools than comparable districts.
The district last year paid nearly $455,000 to Educational Research Services (ERS)–a national nonprofit organization–to provide a “robust picture of resource use within the district.” A preliminary report was released in June.
ERS researchers found that “OUSD spends a smaller share of its resources on instruction than national benchmarks, which is partially driven by high central office spending.”
According to the report, OUSD in 2014-2015 spent $420 million on its pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, which seems like a lot of money.
But compared to other school districts examined by ERS, OUSD spending on students is 25 percent below average, $35 million less than what would be expected for a district of its size.
Looking at emerging findings, the report said, “At $11,400 per student, OUSD’s total investment in operating pre-K to (grade) 12 is $24 million lower than its total per pupil spending level would suggest.”
At the same time, spending on instruction at the school level is $35 million lower than total per pupil spending in comparison districts.
The cost of the central office is high in Oakland. The district spends about $325 per student or about $11.4 million more on central administration, compared with other school districts.
Factors contributing to the district’s failure to invest in schools and instruction, according to the report, include 370 central office administrators, 120 more than in comparison districts.
The ERS researchers found that the district has two times as many upper level positions as other districts, “though within each position level salaries are lower than comparisons.”
In addition, ERS said, benefits for top administrators in OUSD cost 50 percent more per employee than other districts.
ERS also minimized the impact to the district’s budget of small, under-enrolled schools.
Under-enrolled schools cost the district $7 million, which is only about 1.7 percent of the OUSD budget.
“The financial implications” are “not as significant” as the other district’s other program spending, report said.
At school sites, parents and school communities are feeling the lack of supplies and staff due to the limited budget for instructional resources.
And now as the district attempts to eliminate a $22 million budget shortfall, the schools are becoming more alarmed.
School communities came out in large numbers Wednesday night a board meeting to protest the administration’s decision to eliminate most of their schools’ budgeted funds for the remainder of the school year.
The board is also backing a plan to cut $14 million in next year’s budget or to close or merge small schools’ in the 2018-2019 school year.
A staff member at a small Oakland school told the board, “We are a school that serves kids, and we do it because we are small,” pointing out that at her school, every teacher knows every student by name and can give students personal attention.
Pecolia Manigo of the Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN) called on the board not to cut school site programs.
The decision to limit spending at “ultimately mean that school sites cannot spend their dollars, which means there are cuts to schools this year,” she said.
The budget shortfall is a “mistake on the part of the district and the superintendent, and as a result, the schools are paying for that mistake,” Manigo continued.
Zaineb Alomari, a parent at Community United Elementary School spoke in Arabic through a translator to the board. “We need to protect our schools and students. We need to make it better for our children,” she said.
Others argued that while some of the top central office employees who were hired in the last couple of years can easily be eliminated, there are others who are necessary, such as gardeners, buildings and grounds staff who do repairs, truck drivers who deliver supplies and payroll department staff.
“The worker bees are very important,” said a Fremont High School teacher.
The school district did not respond to questions about the ERS report.
Posted January 27, 2017