With Nidya Baez at Fremont High's Womens' Empowerment Rally for students to celebrate Womens' History Month
Over the last four years, I have spent my time doing three main things.
1. I have built my capacity to oversee OUSD's budget and finances. I now have a strong understanding of our problems and concrete ideas about how to solve them, and both the courage and the familiarity with the tools now, to take action on those ideas. A few examples include:
- I authored an Enrollment Impact Analysis policy that requires the board to be given data that details the revenue impact of decisions the board is asked to make, such as authorizing a new charter school, closing a school, co-locating a charter school via Prop 39, etc. Since enrollment is the primary driver of revenue for OUSD, this tool is helping us to make better financial decisions on behalf of the district.
- I authored a resolution requiring staff to devise a plan for stabilizing OUSD's enrollment, which has been falling steadily for nearly 20 years. A lack of planning and implementation tracking is one of the key issues facing our district. This plan called for (among other things) moving to online registration, which is already boosting the number of families participating in our enrollment system, which should lead to increased enrollment.
- Through serving on (and now chairing) the Budget & Finance Committee, I am bringing forth policies that will help to stabilize our district financially, such as the Fiscal Reserves policy that requires us to rebuild our reserve, an insurance policy against future budget cuts, and a Structurally Balanced Budget policy, which stops the long-term, irresponsible practice of using one-time funds to hire staff and commit to long-term expenses.
- Building the capacity of the entire board when it comes to fiscal oversight was identified as an issue in the FCMAT report. There is very little investment of time or money in this currently. I believe that we need a staff member to support the board's efforts in this area, but the board voted down the position I proposed, so I have a resolution before the board now requiring the Superintendent to come up with a plan for building the board's skills in this area. I have built my skills through meeting frequently with mentors, through serving on the Budget & Finance Committee and through training from the Government Finance Officers Association, but this has been on my own initiative, not through training provided to the board as a whole. I hope to change this by dedicating more staff and board time to intentional skill-building around fiscal oversight.
2. I have educated myself about our district and built strong relationships at every level. I know that the things that have happened before I was on the School Board created the culture and practices in the district today, and are therefore important for me to understand. I also know that strong relationships, even with people that I disagree with, are critical to the success of the school district. Therefore I have spent a lot of my time focused on these things. Some examples:
- I hold monthly community forums that bring in (mostly) Oakland experts to share their expertise on issues such as Special Education, Family Engagement, Improving Attendance, the Impact of Common Enrollment Systems in Other School Districts, Learning from the Small Schools Movement, Oakland's History with School Closures, and School Mergers, What we Can Do about Teacher Turnover, and lots more. These sessions have helped me to understand our challenges, and also ways to address them, and have given voice to parents, students, teachers and other staff, folks who often feel left out of district decision-making.
- I hold monthly office hours to make myself available to constituents to talk about any education issue they want to, with no fixed agenda or time limits.
- I meet regularly with teachers, administrators, principals, parents, students and community members, just to build the relationship, understand their hopes for our district, what brought them into education, and how we can work together to do better for our students. These relationships provide me with information that I would not otherwise get about how things are working in the district, and allow me to better serve my constituents.
3. I have organized to get more people involved in the school district, and to protect the common good, our democratically-controlled schools. I believe in democratically-controlled schools, but the system only works if people are asked to participate, and have sufficient information to participate. I am proud that much of my time has been spent organizing with parents and others to improve the quality of our schools, as well as to preserve the common good in our public schools. Some examples include:
- Organizing with parents and community members to prevent Frick Middle School from being turned over to a charter school. These efforts not only kept Frick under democratic control, because of the redesign process and new leadership, the students are getting a better education now, too.
- Organizing with parents, teachers and community to prevent our previous Superintendent from creating a common enrollment system between OUSD and charter schools. In other school districts, this has led to rapid declines in enrollment in the public school system, causing serious financial problems for public school districts like Newark, NJ.
- Organizing with special education parents and teachers for a better experience for SPED students and the teachers who teach them. This is a heavier lift because the challenges in just filling all of our SPED teaching positions and addressing the rapid growth in the SPED population make it hard to find time to reflect, plan and organize for change, but we are slowing doing it anyway.
- Organizing with OUSD parents for more equitable schools. Most of the parent organizing at the district level in OUSD has historically not focused on middle class parents, who have instead tended to focus on the needs of their own students or schools. Several of these parents reached out to me about their desire to work together across the district for more equity between and inside schools, and we have been working for nearly two years now on efforts to improve equity and integration within OUSD. Our next event is on June 2 - stay tuned!
- Organizing with teachers and administrators for greater charter accountability and to prevent the growth of charter schools. For two years now, I have been organizing with Educators for Democratic Schools for change to the state laws that govern charter schools to foster more local control and greater accountability, and to build the political will locally to protect and preserve democratic control of schools in Oakland. This work is important because the growth of charter schools negatively impacts OUSD's financial ability to serve our students, and undermines the common good (one system responsible for serving all students equitably). This work is starting to bear fruit, which is exciting.
There are things I wish I had done differently for sure, but all in all, I'm proud of how I have used my first term on the board, and believe that I am poised to be much more effective now that I know the ropes (writing and monitoring board policies, attempting to amend wasteful contracts that come before the board, understanding our budget and the drivers of revenue). I hope District 6 voters and others will support my campaign for four more years.