COMMENTARY: 3 OUSD Board Members ‘Set the Record Straight’ on School Closures, Budget
“We were elected to end a harmful era of unjust school closures and mergers carried out in Oakland’s Black and Brown communities”
On March 1, 2023, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a one-sided story, which contained inaccurate and hyperbolic statements, about the decision of the Oakland school board not to enact budget cuts. As OUSD school board directors, we want to set the record straight.
We were elected to end a harmful era of unjust school closures and mergers carried out in Oakland’s Black and Brown communities with little to no notice, let alone authentic engagement with impacted communities.
Oakland voters understood that research – and their own experiences – show that school closures don’t save money and are harmful to our most vulnerable students. In November, Oakland voters clearly said, “Enough is enough” by voting for school board directors who were committed to ending these harmful practices, and committed to putting our schools on-track to be the safe and racially just spaces that all our students deserve.
Old habits are hard to break, and that became clear last week when special meeting documents were posted with only two days’ notice that contained the proposed merger of 10 schools with no community engagement.
This is the least amount of time that communities have been given notice of school mergers and closures that any of us can remember, and a violation of the OUSD Community Engagement policy, the Reparations for Black Students Resolution, and AB 1912 – which requires an Equity Impact Analysis before any vote to close, consolidate or merge schools.
Mergers would not impact the budget next school year since they would not occur until the 2024-25 school year. This makes the lack of notice and community engagement even more shocking and unnecessary.
The Public Employment Relations Board recently ruled that the way OUSD closed schools last year was illegal. Additionally, California Attorney General Rob Bonta led an ongoing investigation into the recent school closures by OUSD. We believe that a rush to merge schools currently is legally, financially, and ethically irresponsible.
We were also elected to ensure Oakland students have the safe, stable, and racially just community schools that they deserve. Cutting our lowest-paid staff who provide direct services and support to students is not the way to balance a budget, and it’s certainly not what is best for students.
Finally, we were elected to bring stability to a district that has been mismanaged for decades. Thanks to federal COVID funds, historic increases in state education funding, and the payoff of one of our state loans, we are not in a financial crisis.
However, we do have an obligation to be fiscally responsible and direct our resources where they will have the most impact on students. Unfortunately, rushed decision-making on a compressed timeline based on little community input and insufficient data is a pattern in OUSD and one that we were elected to end.
We need to fundamentally change how our district does business.
That change starts with a few things. First, while our teachers are paid less than the Bay Area average, our highest-paid, top-level employees are paid more.That must change.
We have more unrepresented top-level staff than districts of similar size and demographics. That must change. We owe it to our students, teachers, and families to keep all cuts as far away from the classroom as possible.
Additionally, OUSD has a 22.7% reserve, far more than the 2% reserve required by the state or the 3% reserve required by OUSD board policy. We can fund non-represented positions through the money in reserves and not fill positions vacated through attrition.
The reserves would fund these positions for one year and at the end of one year, departments would have to find other sources of funding if they wanted to maintain these positions.
Lastly, as elected officials, we have a responsibility to the public to be professional and honest in our messaging and actions. The words we use carry power, and so we must choose them carefully.
Our teachers, staff, and administrators work hard and deserve our respect. It is unconscionable to make unfounded accusations that educators who oppose these budget cuts are “engineering a strike.”
Educators, whether they are certificated or classified, work together to build school communities that support our students, families, and communities every day. Teachers do not want a raise on the backs of the people they work with to support students.
No one is “engineering a strike,” and these reckless words only seek to divide students, families, educators, and the community.
We call on our colleagues to engage in civil debate over difficult issues, and not use their positions of power to discredit those who show up to work every day for us, our children, and our city.
Oakland Board of Education Members
Jennifer Brouhard, District 2
VanCedric Williams, District 3
Valarie Bachelor, District 6
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