31
Jan
10

School Budget Horse In Lead

If we were calling a horse race between the Oakland’s School Board and City Council, then the school horse would be in the lead right now.  Both horses are making their way around the race track and keeping pace, yet the school steed is already thinking ahead to next year.  We do know they are both woefully underfed and would enjoy stopping for some apples or sugar cubes.

Comparing These Horses

From a budget process perspective, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is ahead; their board and administrators are already working on how to save a whopping $39 million next year.  Meanwhile, the Oakland City Council still needs to wrap up the current year’s $9 million gap, and then will address their $25 million shortfall next year.

Oakland Schools have asked citizens to take this survey about budget priorities, and reported 500 responses a full week ago.  The City Council didn’t conduct a survey, but Make Oakland Better Now! volunteers took that mantle and 140 responses were received last week.

When it comes to meetings, the school and city council horses are neck and neck.  There are many school outreach meetings, with a few about next year’s budget.  The council members communicated about shortfalls during earlier rounds, but didn’t hold meetings about closing this fiscal year.

Caring About Oakland Schools

Anyway, we would like to focus on the schools here and now.  As you may know, there are serious financially-related questions and no good answers:  What are the ideal class sizes?  How do we balance the empty and full schools?  What personnel cuts could be made?  And what’s happening with teacher pay?

Montclarions manage around the problems at their well-performing elementary and middle schools.  Parents are quite involved locally, starting with tight teacher-principal communications.  They try to make noise about the poorly-maintained schools and grounds.  To improve or offer programs, parents are active fundraisers.  All in all, the kids learn, grow and prosper.

Then many parents speak loudly through their actions:  moving their children into private middle and high schools.  If these students stayed in the public system, then they would likely go to Oakland Tech or Skyline High.  (Skyline keeps churning principals annually, apply now.)  If we’re not there, then interest naturally wanes.

Getting On The Soapbox

Yet we all should be considering the greater good of public education.  Regardless of dysfunction, our school budget horse needs enough sustenance to keep trotting along – and that means “weighing in” on what we value in free schooling.

Oakland’s schools are infamous (!) for their budget travails before the recession.  We had the special situation of state-controlled schools due to our problems.  It’s good to be in control locally once again, and installing our new superintendent was a critical step forward.  However Tony Smith has to rely on a functioning school board and energized citizens.

On the board, Montclarions are represented by Director Gary Yee.  He was also elected vice president of the board, back in May.  As a quick introduction, Yee’s a long-time educator and administrator who most recently served as vice chancellor of Peralta Community Colleges.  (Read Yee’s biographies on LinkedIn and OUSD site.)

City-wide school administration just isn’t top-of-mind for most Montclarions.  It’s easier to tune into the schools which are located nearby.  But some locals must be concerned about Oakland’s school budget, and maybe we’re trotting (sorry) with the wrong herd.  What are your priorities related to the schools?

More info:  Please read The Education Report by Tribune reporter Katy Murphy, which covers the beat regularly.  Comments following Murphy’s posts are often insightful.  Link to Great Oakland Public Schools, to keep up with the school board and more.  Also check out the Oakland Unified School District, including their recent survey.  For the latest school news, visit the OUSD’s twitter account.

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