The first test of Oakland Unified School District’s ability to include parents and students in making budget decisions — something now required by state law — happened Wednesday night when about 100 people asked the school board to let schools, rather than the central administration, decide how to spend a pot of money.
The students and parents won.
At issue was $1.5 million — a paltry sum within an overall $589 million budget for the district. But it was the subject of great debate because the Board of Education had decided last June to gives schools this money, and $3 million more, to spend as they see fit, but then faced increased expenses, so considered rescinding that decision.
Amid a sea of yellow signs that read “Fulfill the promise! Send $$ to support students in their schools,” parents and students stood up one by one to speak at a Board of Education meeting Wednesday night about letting schools make spending decisions.
“When I was in school, I didn’t learn as much as I was supposed to. I faced challenges in school. I was homeless much of the time. I did not get the attention I needed until I got into Dewey Academy, where teachers took interest in me. More teachers like that are needed,” said D Di’jah’nay Stewart, who graduated from Dewey in 2012.
Stewart, an intern at Oakland Community Organizations, said she had campaigned for the passage of state Proposition 30 which brought more money to public education in California, so other students could benefit, she said.
Two pieces of legislation passed by the state last year changed how schools get funded. One was Prop. 30, which restored education funding to pre-recession levels.
The second is the Local Control Funding Formula which sets a new formula for how state funding is distributed. Under LCFF, public schools receive a base amount for each of their students, and then additional supplements for each student who is low-income, a foster child or an English learner. Schools where a majority of students fit in those categories get yet another grant, called a “concentration grant.”
Oakland stands to benefit significantly from this new formula. Already this year, its schools received $12.5 million more than last year because of LCFF.
What parents and students wanted Wednesday was the “local control” part, or more say in decision making.
“I am here to demand that the money from LCFF go directly to the school sites. We fought for that money to go to students,” said high school student Precious Brazil, a leader at Castlemont High School who also campaigned for state legislation.
Several parents from Edna Brewer Middle School said the high-performing school is popular with students and families, but faces attrition every time the district talks about possibly reduced funding.
Board member Roseann Torres, in voting with almost all of her colleagues to allocate the $1.5 in question to the schools, said it was “an investment in our parents,” and school communities to make decisions about the education of their kids.
“It is not just $1.5 million. It is restoring some sense of hope that those who are closest to our children are making great decisions,” Torres said. The board voted 6 to 1 to allocate the money to the schools, which was against the recommendation of the Superintendent, who said the district reserves might fall below required levels as a result.
Nonetheless, the debate was an exercise in the “local control” part of the new state legislation, because parents are supposed to have a much greater say than in the past on how money is spent.
During four Saturdays in March, Oakland Unified will hold community meetings on how best to spend extra LCFF dollars to benefit low-income, English-learner and foster children. The first was Saturday morning, March 1, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 at Oakland Technical High School. More LCAP meetings will be held the mornings of March 8, 22 and 29.
Across the state, school districts are having to change their decision making to include more parent and student and teacher input. Each district is supposed to have a Local Control and Accountability Plan, which Oakland has not yet developed, but the March meetings are intended to develop that plan.
Ben Tabscott, who leads a group of parents and former educators trying to improve McClymonds High School in West Oakland, charged that Oakland is behind some other in holding community meetings and forming parent advisory meetings.
Rev. Billly Dixon, pastor of At Thy Word Ministries in Oakland, said he graduated from high school in Oakland in 1983, “and yet we are still having the same problem. Can we send the money where it is supposed to go? Do what you need to do. Do what we ask you to do. We fought hard for this legislation.”