Pandemic Response, Budget Reductions, and more: December newsletter

Pandemic Response

Oakland Unified gave at-home test kits to 20,000 students before the Thanksgiving break, and will again be providing as many as possible to families before the Winter break, so that students can test themselves before coming back to school in January.

Most elementary schools also now have pooled PCR testing on a regular basis for students whose families give permission. There is also regular testing offered at middle and high schools.

Once the vaccine was approved for ages 5+, the district worked with city, county, state and medical partners to provide vaccine clinics at elementary schools in neighborhoods hardest hit by the pandemic, providing shots to over 2000 students before Thanksgiving and continuing with many more in December. Visit www.ousd.org/vaccine for an updated list of locations and times.

Vaccination will be required in OUSD and most charter schools for all students aged 12+ starting Jan. 1. District staff are reaching out to families of unvaccinated students to give them information and the alternative of requesting a medical or personal belief exemption signed by a doctor, or transferring to independent study.

The district’s data dashboard shows big equity issues in which students have not gotten protected by the vaccine. With a winter surge coming and new variants in the headlines, it’s more urgent than ever to get families to talk to their doctors about the benefits it provides.

 

Thanks to Ms. Mathews at Piedmont Ave. Elementary for inviting me to observe her beautiful class!


Budget Reductions

There are two big issues at the root of the upcoming budget reductions. First, Oakland Unified’s enrollment has dropped over 1500 students since the beginning of the pandemic, which means state funding based on attendance is projected to drop $23M next year.

Second, the district urgently needs to increase compensation in order to attract and retain employees. This year, many job positions were vacant because of too few qualified applicants, in part due to low starting pay.

To balance the budget, the Board must reduce overall expenses in order to increase salaries. As we do this, we must take equity into account so that we don't disproportionately impact schools with the greatest need.

The need for reductions has led to some stern warnings from the County, which must approve our budget and sign off on labor agreements under AB 1200. Our Board and district staff understand the seriousness of the issues we face and will be voting on substantial budget reductions on Jan. 26.

The current tension between the county and the district is confusing since both have the goal of balancing OUSD’s budget and better planning for the future. By passing the necessary reductions, the Board will demonstrate that commitment to the county as well as make room in the budget for ongoing increases in employee compensation.

These reductions will take effect next school year (2022-23). There is not any immediate crisis because the district still has a healthy fund balance due to the pandemic relief funds. Those funds may allow us to defer some, but not all, of the reductions.

However, the county is correctly insisting that we name the reductions now in great specificity, so that it is clear which expenses in our budget are ongoing and which are temporary using one-time relief funds.

The good news is that California’s economy is strong so January will also bring news of additional state funding. In my opinion, any additional ongoing funds need to be dedicated to future compensation increases, to make it more sustainable to work in OUSD.

Reorganizing central office will also be a part of the reductions process. The volunteer OpenOUSD project has created a website for visualizing central office costs, very useful if you want to dive deeper into these issues. It’s at www.OpenOUSD.org


Enrollment Deadline is Feb. 4

Families with students who will enter TK/K, 6th, or 9th grades next year should know that the priority enrollment deadline for 2022-23 is Feb. 4. Oakland Unified has a new enrollment website, and a new page that includes only OUSD schools, ChooseOUSD.org, listing tour dates, school facts, and more. 

It’s now possible to enroll entirely by internet/text, with the goal that families don’t need to go to the 746 Grand Ave. office to sign up for TK-12. If you have questions on how to do this, your school office staff should have received training on how to help.

If you do call or visit the enrollment office, you will see new employees that have been hired to assist you. There are also newly-hired people helping schools to showcase themselves better with photography and other tools. The goal is to boost enrollment and re-engage families that may have left OUSD during the year of remote learning.

The Integrated Schools project encourages parents to look beyond school reputations that may be based on implicit bias, and to tour schools that are majority students of color.

 

Art teacher Ms. Mary and Principal Guikema at Sankofa United


Safety at Oakland Tech

Nationwide, the trauma and isolation of the pandemic has caused a surge in school fights. At Oakland Tech, everybody is working together to address this problem..

A small number of students are responsible for almost all the fights, but the impact is felt in the entire community. This is heartbreaking because before the pandemic, fights at Tech were few and far between. 

One of the challenges is the immediate shortage in Culture Keepers, which is the new title for school security officers, recognizing their increased training in restorative justice practices and the move away from a purely disciplinary strategy to addressing root causes of students acting out. The challenge in hiring Culture Keepers again speaks to the urgent need to increase staff salaries districtwide.

In the meantime, the district will be contracting with a private company to offer more supervision on campus. The administration is also taking many other steps to respond to incidents as well as to shift the culture at the school, and to provide more interventions for students who start fights.

Parents have also stepped up by organizing as volunteers at the school to set a different tone on campus. It’s important to show that we will come together as a community to change the culture at Tech back to the way it has been for many years, focused on learning and all the opportunities that a large comprehensive high school can offer.

The Oakland Tech administration is also working on addressing concerns about sexual harassment and assault. Students say that this is not a new issue, but a refusal to accept behavior that was also common before the pandemic. 

As with the school fights, this is not unique to Tech or OUSD—there have been walkouts in San Francisco, as well as at Oakland private and charter schools calling for change. As we have seen on college campuses, changing the culture around consent is slow hard work that requires everybody—students, families, and school staff—to confront unacceptable behavior that has often been depicted in popular culture as normal or ‘not a big deal.’

OUSD has been partnering with the Alliance for Girls since 2014 to address these and other issues and the district is planning to extend that partnership. You can read about that work in this article

I am grateful to Senator Nancy Skinner and Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks’s offices for accepting my invitation to meet with students to hear their concerns, and for committing to look for legislative solutions that would help school districts investigate and stop incidents of sexual harassment and assault on campus.


College and Career Readiness For All Fund (Measure N)

The bright spot in my work in these difficult times has been the listening sessions organized by Oakland Unified’s Linked Learning Office with every high school in Oakland to get feedback on Measure N, which voters passed in 2014 as a parcel tax to fund college and career preparedness.

The comments have been overwhelmingly positive. Almost all students in 10th-12th grade at every high school are now in career pathways, focused on areas such as engineering, design, health, education, etc. This work has raised graduation rates across Oakland and for most demographic groups.

For example, at Skyline High School, we heard appreciation from students that the career pathways provide a smaller ‘home base’ community within the large comprehensive high school setting, which is especially helpful coming back from the isolation of the pandemic. 

At other schools, students expressed appreciation for the opportunity to explore a career path, whether or not they decided to pursue it after graduation, because of what the experience taught them about themselves.

Over 800 students per year get the opportunity to do workplace internships thanks to Measure N. At last Friday’s discussion with intern hosts, I learned that not only have many students’ lives been changed by these great experiences, but the employers have also benefited. 

The logo for the Museum of Children’s Art (MoCHA) was designed by a student from Oakland High. At EBMUD, student interns provided valuable feedback on reaching the immigrant community. And many students have come back to their schools as employees, including some of the union skilled trades construction workers that rebuilt Fremont High School. This is truly a win-win for Oakland.

Measure N expires soon so the Board will be polling voters and deciding when to put a renewal measure on the ballot.

You can hear and read student and teacher testimony about OUSD’s many high school pathways on this page.


Other Updates:

  • AC Transit is increasing service back to 85% of pre-pandemic levels. Read more at this link.

  • If you would like to help Oakland Unified make good use of its funding, please get in touch with me about serving on the Measure G Oversight Committee which meets once a month (currently over Zoom).

  • The Oakland Redistricting Commission is redrawing the lines that designate city council/school board districts. The next meeting is on Dec. 13 with a final decision on Dec. 30. You can view the maps and learn more on their website.

  • Please join me in making an end-of-year donation to support our schools in greatest need. Last year, the volunteer-organized Equity Fund for OUSD Schools raised $150,000 which was entirely donated to ten schools in the flatlands of Oakland that are working to overcome the legacy of racism and educational deprivation in our city. They deserve our support! You can donate by clicking this link.

 


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  • Sam Davis