The Oakland school board spent more than two hours last night discussing its priorities and ideas for improving the local schools, especially those serving low-income children, while cutting $27 million or more from next year’s budget.
They covered a lot of ground, from teacher quality (Hodge) and support and the need for more academic rigor in some of the district’s high schools (Spearman) to the possibility of using existing parcel tax money to boost the salaries of teachers who are in their first five or 10 years at OUSD (Kakishiba), to the pros and cons of outsourcing school services, rather than providing them in-house (Yee, Spearman).
A group of principals spoke in favor of the current school-based budgeting system — and against the idea of the central office adjusting the amount of money given to schools based on a target class size. They came up with their own proposal, which I’ll write about later.
One issue the board grappled with last night was whether the central office — which now receives about 30 percent of the general purpose dollars — should absorb 70 percent of the $27 million cut, as CFO Vernon Hal and Superintendent Tony Smith proposed earlier this fall.
A cut that large would dramatically reshape the central office, which has already been redesigned in various “waves” under the Expect Success initiative.
In light of this downtown downsizing, Smith said he has questioned whether to shore up in-house services (which individual schools can purchase) or to stop providing some of them altogether. As it is, many school principals opt to work with outside organizations and companies, for example, rather than district personnel. You can find more details about consultant contracts here.
“Is the quality of service such that our own schools will purchase that service from the district?” Smith asked. “And that’s a standing question. … There are outside providers that are doing a better job.”
Bob Mandel, a longtime union leader who opposes the widespread use of consultants, told Smith he hoped he’d misunderstood his statement. He said the only way forward was for the district to build its internal capacity.
Katherine Carter, a principal at Manzanita SEED, said it shouldn’t matter whether the services are internal or external — that principals should be able to choose whatever’s best for their students.
“The majority of our funding goes to salaries,” Carter said. “However, we are not an employment agency. We are here to serve our students, and we really have to remember that.”
What do you think?