The Oakland school board voted Wednesday to change the district’s budgeting process to allocate funds based on school enrollment, send a greater percentage of general funds out to schools, and supply extra funds to help disadvantaged students and schools that lie in distressed neighborhoods.
The policy is part of a broad budgeting policy change proposed by Acting Superintendent Gary Yee that is aimed at bringing more equity to school funding in a district where some schools seem to have needed resources and others struggle. Yee’s plan calls for assuring that each school receives enough money to cover teacher salaries, provides discretionary funds to each school to spend how the school leadership believes would best serve its students, and supplies extra funds to schools with English learners, low-income and foster care students as well as to help schools overcome adverse neighborhood conditions.
After a wide discussion with comments from dozens of parents, teachers, students and principals, the Oakland Unified board passed a resolution that endorses the principles in Yee’s plan without approving an implementation process. The resolution, put forth by Board President David Kakishiba, also calls for 88 percent of general revenue funds to be spent at the schools, limiting the central administration budget to 12 percent from the current 13 percent. Like Yee’s broad plan, the resolution calls for aligning expenses to improve school quality and student outcomes at all schools.
Numerous students told the board that their schools do not have what students need and they begged the district for more money.
“There are a lot of things we don’t have at Fremont. We don’t have PE equipment, we don’t have functional computers,” said a senior at Fremont High School named Marquis.
Alex, a sophomore at Melrose Leadership Academy, said “I want high quality learning and I want opportunities that other students have.”
Many people applauded the board for approving the proposal — which they did unanimously. But it is still a shell of a broader plan and many people warned the board that unless it is careful in implementation, in watching how the budget making shakes out and what it brings to each school, the plan could backfire and hurt some schools.
A few principals and teachers from some needy schools warned that unless the board is careful, the policy on funding a core teaching staff could wind up reducing funds at their schools if too formulaic.
Even though Superintendent Yee’s goal in proposing the new system was to bring equity, help under-resourced schools, and end a pattern where schools in the city’s poorest neighborhoods get the least experienced and lowest-paid teachers, while schools in areas where parents are able to donate money get more experienced teachers, some principals and teachers raised red flags.
They said that because the Yee’s implementation proposal uses a formula to allocate funds for teachers and their salaries, it takes away some autonomy on how a school uses money, and therefore how it answers students’ needs.
Fremont High School Principal Emiliano Sanchez told the board he agreed the old system needed to be changed, especially to help disadvantaged students, “but make sure you don’t supplant what is already working,” with something that doesn’t work as well. He said Fremont has made great strides in transforming school culture and student achievement and engagement and he doesn’t want to lose that.
In an interview, Sanchez explained that class sizes at Fremont average 23 students, but under the teacher staffing formula for providing core teaching staff at each school, class sizes would be 32 students, which could mean Fremont would have to reduce the number of teachers at the site. Fremont is already one of the three most under-resourced high schools in Oakland Unified School District.
Life Academy biology teacher Claire Crossett said that the plan to allocate teacher staffing funds by a formula takes decision-making power away from the school and thus from the people who know students’ needs best. “This budget system sends a very clear message: that our board members believe that the people closest to our students — our teachers parents and administrators — are unfit to effectively allocate funding to support our kids.”
On the flipside, Fremont and some other schools in East Oakland and West Oakland are staffed almost entirely by new teachers. Speakers at the meeting described how teachers with a mere two years’ experience are sometimes senior teachers leading departments.
Dr. Yee wants to move away from the former system that provided incentives to schools to hire new teachers so they could save money to spend on other things.
“I want a process that is accountable and transparent. It is not that you get every dollar you want but that everybody knows that staffing of core teachers is not dependent on (realizing) savings from high salary teachers,” he said.
“What we are trying to do is shift the paradigm in budgeting for schools from a dollar-based equity strategy to a service-based equity strategy. That is, instead of your principal having to go through the balancing pool to beg for teachers, we are committing to funding every teacher a school needs,” he said.
He said every school will also have discretionary funds for things like hiring reading specialists or more counselors, and that schools with students who are low-income, English learners or foster kids will get additional “supplemental” funding to help these students succeed. Thirdly, schools in distressed neighborhoods where pollution or poverty seem to play a role in students’ ability to perform in school will get additional funds: what the state calls “concentration funds.”
Providing “supplemental” and “concentration” funds is actually part of the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula and ushers from how the state supplies money to districts.
Exact rules on how districts can use those funds were to be discussed yesterday (January 16) by the State of California Board of Education, and possibly voted on.
Board members, while passing the policy unanimously, each stressed that being flexible and open to suggestions during the implementation of the policy will be key to assure it doesn’t do harm. They agreed to go slowly in formulating and passing a budget, holding many public hearings along the way, and vowed to numbers on the district’s website.
Yee and district staff said they anticipate next year’s unrestricted general fund will be $282 million and that school sites will get 88 percent of that. About $15 million will be supplemental and concentration grants to schools. In the current academic year (2013 – 14), the budget is $267 million, including about $11 million from the Local Control Funding Formula supplemental and concentration grant allocations.
Another reason for going slowly, pointed out parent Pecolia Manigo, who is a program manager for Parent Leadership Action Network in Oakland, is that the district hadn’t yet known what regulations would come down from the state on how districts can use the supplemental and concentration grants under the Local Control Funding Formula: “I find it interesting that you are comfortable making decisions before the regulations for the Local Control Funding Formula is passed.”
Those are expected to have been decided yesterday in Sacramento at a hearing of the State Board of Education.