Study looks at Oakland’s school budgeting system

Oakland Unified is one of about 10 districts across the country that has tried an approach to funding its schools that’s designed to focus more resources in low-income areas than traditional budgeting systems do.

This means that local schools have more say in how they spend their money (a figure roughly based on attendance and enrollment) than they used to. Individual schools also pay their teachers’ salaries out of that pool of money, so those with more experienced — and expensive — teachers have less money left over for other things.

Researchers from the nonpartisan, Washington, D.C.-based social science research group American Institutes for Research recently studied how these budgeting systems were put in place in Oakland and San Francisco, and how they have worked.

Through their interviews and focus groups, researchers found a strong preference in both school districts for this approach. But they also found that it didn’t bridge the “experience gap” between the teaching staffs at high- and low-poverty schools — and that it was quite a lot of work (no surprise there).  You can read a summary of the study in this news release.

The full report, “A Tale of Two Districts: A Comparative Study of Student-Based Funding and School-Based Decision Making in San Francisco and Oakland Unified School Districts,” is available here.

What do you think about Oakland’s “Results-Based Budgeting” system, and how could it improve?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Catherine

    When I look at the Title 1 schools in Oakland who have as much government granted discretionary income as our PTA fund, I see a huge difference in how the money is spent. Our PTA funds are used to help students: we apportion a specific percentage to hiring teacher’s aides to reduce the GAP, we have a computer lab, librarians that work directly with kids who have reading or learning issues, we have an arts program, a music program and a very targeted field trip program.

    There is a very strong school site committee, GATE committee, principal’s committee and PTA. These funds are accounted for, uses agreed on and programs evaluated from the view of and by the principal, teachers, parents, aides, community members and children.

    When I look at the Title 1 money, I see teachers begging for things like walkmans and Rosetta Stone English language CDs, even when the school actually owns them. I see more Administrators in Title 1 schools trying to figure out how to spend the money. I see security guards reading the newspaper rather than standing on their feet greeting students and parents as they walk through the door. I see libraries with books and funding for librarians, but not a librarian in sight. I see homework passes given out to students rather than free books for kids who achieve.

    Mostly what I see in Title 1 schools is a lack of accountability: the schools and administration of whom I know and visit regularly, do not have a standing monthly meeting with parents on the school site committee, education committee, PTA or Parent Association, Principal’s Committee, and most of all, they have not put forth a set of programs that continue from year to year that all children, teachers, parents, family members, community members and school librarians and GATE administrators can evaluate.

    If you want to have fairness and equity, you must have accountability, without accountability and transparency, you will never be able to have high achievement, in any environment.

  • Jose, Former Student


    I agree with you 100%.

  • Local Teacher

    Catherine and Jose–

    While it may appear that there is no accountability for this money, it is actually quite the opposite with Title I and federal funds. There are many restrictions as to how this money can actually be used at a school, and some of the examples of how your PTA spends money, while good uses of funds, are not permissible within the funding structure from the government. These restrictions and accountability to the restrictions makes it difficult to spend the money in the best way possible to support student learning.

    Additionally, the district requires that all funds that are spent by a school be approved by the school site council and be included in the school’s site plan (also approved by the SSC). I’m not entirely certain how any school and/or principal would get around this process. I know at our school the purchasing office will call to ask for the proper documentation before a purchase order is created. If that level of scrutiny is being applied, how could someone be circumventing the system?

  • Catherine

    Local Teacher:

    Can the funds be used for tutors to pull groups of kids? When I look at how our school is closing the GAP using PTA funds, they have someone hired to listen to individual kids read – in 1/2 chunks throughout the day.

    Some of the things that can be done. Make sure a librarian is at school and that the library is open to students. This may mean hiring the right person.

    Principals must make it a priority that the security officers are adding value. They make eye contact with every person walking through the door. They shake the hand of every parent. They learn the names of all of the students.

    School site committees can have community members who do not have students at the school. These members can make a huge difference in terms of their far reach in the ability to draw from resources not available to schools. The two Title 1 schools that I am thinking of do not have community members.

    Also, the programs need to run from year to year. Some of the flexible money, about $15,000 could be used for paperback books as incentives rather than a pass to not have to do homework.

    And, finally, the resources that the school does own, such as language CDs, Walkmans (poor English, but proper, I believe) should be cataloged and available to the teachers at FIRST request.

    And, finally, I just don’t understand how if teachers want to open up their classrooms early, stay in for breaks and lunch and close their classrooms late in the day, they requests cannot be facilitated. I also believe that principals should contact parents and make arrangements for struggling students whose teachers are willing to come early or stay late to be ing the classroom when the teacher is there even if before or after regular hours.

    I know of teachers who, much to the chagrin of the Teachers Union want to be in their classroom as early as 7 and as late as 4:30 and it’s the principal and the “school rules” that prevent it.

    I also have to say, that as the rules for public schools become so restrictive to teachers, student learning and the ability to provide services, the more charter schools will step in to fill the GAP – no pun intended.

  • Local Teacher

    Catherine –

    I don’t disagree with anything you are saying, and in fact, work at a Title I school in East Oakland where all of the above statements are true. We also happened to make significant gains in both ELA and Math last year, so I know that many of these issues contributed to our success.

    So when you make comments about how funds are used at Title I schools – please make sure you’re not making blanket statements about every single school because there are many schools in Oakland that are similar to mine.

  • Chas

    Being an Oakland teacher who deals with 2nd Ave. and its gathering of miscreants, imbeciles, sinecure-holders and all-around bums, I am not the least bit surprised that there are problems regarding every aspect of administrating OUSD. 90% of our problems are generated by downtown. These low-life do-nothings inhabit 1025 2nd Ave. as if it were some feudal manor, existing for their benefit alone. Why not throw the majority of these bums out into the street, which would solve many financial and moral problems from which our poor district is suffering.

  • ex Oakland teacher

    Catherine- for the record, re: “I know of teachers who, much to the chagrin of the Teachers Union want to be in their classroom as early as 7 and as late as 4:30 and it’s the principal and the “school rules” that prevent it.”
    I worked in OUSD for many years and was in my classroom most days from 7 to 4:30 (or later) as were a number of my colleagues. I had no administrative or union interference at any time.

  • Catherine


    I apologize if I offended you. Of course there are schools making a huge difference in students lives. These teachers, admistrators, students and family members are working together to make sure students are learning the required material and they are having an opportunity to explore more subjects in depth.

    It is incredibly frustrating to volunteer time at schools who do not do the work that you do. Sometimes I am overwhelmed and frustrated and feel like I am wasting my time when basics, just basics, like opening the school, having adults make eye contact and greet families, having books available are just not there.

    When I look at our own school, which, I admit is filled with the wealth – both monitarily and volunteers – and we talk about the struggling children, we pay attention at what makes the kids interested in school, makes them get to school on time, what makes them excited. It’s being welcomed and loved at the school all the while expecting they can and will do well.

    Ex Oakland Teacher: Even 4 years ago, there was less of a problem for teachers showing up early and staying late. Now, there is not only administration issues of making sure the “contract prep time in the morning is available to all by making sure that all classroom teachers are not interrupted.” But by the teachers themselves who do not want the pressure of other teachers opening their rooms before school hours.

    Also, at lunch the hallways are required to be free of children. How do children who are working on reading at lunch, avoid the hall if they have to leave to go to the bathroom?

    Anyone out there who represents the union at your school, what is the position of the union for those teachers who WANT to keep their classrooms open before and after school and at lunch?

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