Oakland Unified School District’s academic year is well underway, with students arriving in classrooms late last month. While parents and pupils stock up on school supplies and ready themselves for the year ahead, Oakland Local education reporters share with you what to watch for at the district level for 2013-14.
An election, a resignation and two appointments have changed the face of the OUSD board drastically over the last year. With three new directors and the appointment of Gary Yee as superintendent, half of the seats atop the board stage have changed hands.
Directors James Harris and Roseann Torres won their seats in last November’s election and began service on the board in January. This will be their first full school year as members of the board.
On the other hand, former board member Gary Yee and Anne Campbell Washington, chief of staff to Mayor Jean Quan, received appointments by the board to their new positions. The new Superintendant and District 4 Director began their tenures over the summer following then Superintendent Tony Smith’s resignation.
In searching for a new superintendant, the board sought to continue in the direction Smith had put the district on four years ago, including continuing Smith’s commitment to full-service community schools.
Yee began his tenure with OUSD as a schoolteacher at Cleveland Elementary in 1973, and served as assistant the superintendant in the mid 1990’s before being elected to represent District 4 in 2002.
After years of dwindling resources amid state budget cuts to education, Oakland Unified this year is getting a cash infusion from the state thanks to passage of Governor Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula for education and to Proposition 30 which kept in place certain tax revenues targeted for education.
The Local Control Funding Formula gives major financial boosts to school districts with students who are low income, English learners or foster children.
Oakland has many students who fit one or more of these categories – indeed 80 percent of its student do – so over time it stands to receive a lot more funding, starting with $500 more per student this year. However, this year’s additional money will not be handed down until March and OUSD must develop specific plans on how it will spend the money and have those plans approved before funds are released, according to a presentation by Ron Bennett of School Services of California Inc., a finance and management consulting firm that advises school districts, when he addressed the Oakland school board last week.
The way the new formula works is that each public student throughout the state is funded with a base grant. Those grants range from $7,675 per student in the youngest grades to $8,638 per high school student.
On top of that, the state will give a 20 percent supplement for each child who is either a foster youth, an English language learner or who is low income as defined by eligibility for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. So, Oakland Unified will receive a supplemental grant for about 80 percent of its students, which once the program is fully in place will amount to $1,500 per student per year.
Then, if a district has a concentration of students who fit these categories, or a clear majority, the school will receive another 50 percent grant per such student. Oakland qualifies as having a concentration of such students in many of its schools, so those students would each bring in an average of about $3,800 per student, eventually.
It is expected to take several years for California to ramp up its funding to the full amounts prescribed by the formula.
But Oakland will eventually receive funding of close to $12,000 for a significant percentage of its students. Neither the consultant nor board members ventured to approximate the total.
Oakland Unified won’t know for sure how much additional it gets for this year under the LCFF until March but before the school year started it received an additional $42 million cash infusion from Proposition 30 revenues.
School districts throughout California have been asked to adopt the new federal Common Core standards for curriculum and instruction. They join students in a majority of states who are also adopting the new standards.
Common Core is based on a philosophy of teaching critical thinking and problem solving and de-emphasizing rote memorization. Teachers throughout Oakland Unified have been working in teams with district curriculum administrators to map out new lesson plans for Math and English instruction under Common Core. Now, the actual teaching under these plans has to follow.
The state of California is providing a $200 grant per student to help districts implement Common Core.
On the other hand, the federal Education Department is not happy that California is considering nixing the traditional paper based standardized testing this year as it implements Common Core. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has threatened to withhold federal dollars from California public schools. This issue has yet to be resolved.
Back in June, the Alameda County Grand Jury filed their annual report on citizen complaints and other important issues facing the county’s government. Among them was a list of problems facing OUSD from finances to teacher turnover, teacher pay to teacher assignments and the districts relationship with the teachers union.
Last Wednesday, OUSD responded to the issues raised by the Grand Jury.
Included in the response was a new contract with the teachers union after a 10-year hiatus, a one-time bonus and an annual raise for teachers and more flexibility from the union on teacher assignments.
However, other issues from the report are still being worked on, including a new teacher evaluation system. To this end, the district is in the process of piloting three new teacher evaluation systems at limited school sites this year.
According to the response, the district is also in the process of creating a Human Capital Data Management System, allocating $300,000 to the project to address the Grand Jury’s complaint that the district lacks a central database for keeping track of teacher evaluations, hindering its ability to track teacher performance and development.