Oakland voters will have many decisions to make this fall about the large number of measures that will be on the ballot (17 statewide and 9 locally). I wanted to take this opportunity to share a little about one of them, Measure G1, which is a $120 parcel tax that would fund staff salary increases and middle school improvement in Oakland.
The board is trying to address two critical challenges facing our district with this parcel tax. The first is the teacher shortage facing California and the country. Fewer and fewer people are going into teaching, at the same time that a large wave of teacher retirement is going on. At the same time, we in Oakland have a harder time recruiting teachers because we cannot pay as much as many of the surrounding school districts.
While state funding for education was increasing for the last few years as a result of Prop 30 and the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), we were able to pass along much of those additional resources to staff in the form of long-overdue salary increases. Now that the economy is slowing down and LCFF has been close to fully funded, we can no longer expect those additional resources each year.
Using the additional LCFF dollars for salary increases has allowed us to move from the bottom quartile of teacher salaries countywide to the middle of the pack. That is a great accomplishment, but we really need to be closer to the top of the list in order to be competitive and attract the quality of teachers that our students need. This parcel tax would provide the resources that we need to become more competitive with nearby school districts when it comes to salaries.
Another big issue that we need to address as a district is the loss of students that we regularly experience between 5th and 6th grade. This is a complex problem with many causes, but we know that our middle schools need more resources in order to become schools that will be attractive and enticing to Oakland students and families as they move on to middle school. The additional revenues would allow us to restore some of the electives that have gradually been reduced, such as art, music and languages, and equally important from my perspective, our middle schools would be able to create offerings that allow them to address the unique needs of their students.
What is exciting to me about how the parcel tax will work is that it will facilitate the building of school capacity. Middle school teams (called "school governance teams") will need to write a plan in order to receive their parcel tax funds. Their plans will need need to identify the major challenges facing the school, and the strategies they have chosen to address those challenges.
This type of planning process builds the understanding of school communities and parents of the challenges facing their students, as well as their muscles to consistently reflect on and work to improve the experience and outcomes for students. So while the additional resources for middle schools are critical, even more important for my purposes is the process by which schools will receive their resources, which will continue to build school capacity to improve their school over time.
This process is similar to the process that schools go through to plan and apply for Measure N funds to resource their schools' Linked Learning programs, and our school communities have already learned a great deal from the process.
Charter schools are included in Measure G1, just as they were in Measure N. Many people know that I do not believe that charter schools are the answer to how we provide a quality education to every student in every Oakland neighborhood. Recent reports from the ACLU of Southern California and the Alameda County Grand Jury have expressed a concern I share about charter school practices that exclude many of our most vulnerable students - special education students, African American students and English Language Learners.
So while I share these concerns about charter schools and recognize that more resources for charter schools means less resources for OUSD schools, there are two reasons that I support this parcel tax anyway.
The first is that charter school parents are homeowners and pay parcel taxes too, and to exclude people who pay the tax from benefitting from it does not sit quite right with me.
There is also simple practicality. Charter school students are now over 25% of the students in Oakland, and they have a powerful ally in the California Charter School Association (CCSA). In California, as a result of Prop 13, it takes a 2/3 vote to get parcel taxes and bond measures passed. It would be much harder to get this measure passed if excluded a large percentage of students with a well-organized and resourced ally such as CCSA.
The charter school issue is an important one, but it is even more important that our schools have the resources they need to attract and retain teachers and to make their middle school offerings stronger. If we focus on those things, it will help us to reduce the demand for charter school alternatives.
I hope that those of you reading this will consider supporting Measure G1. I will be sharing opportunities to learn more about Measure G1 on the events calendar over the coming months, and if you want to talk with me about it, you can come to office hours on September 16 at 4:30 pm at the MLK Jr. Library (6833 International Blvd).