Opinion: Why is OUSD Ignoring a Possible Source of Cash?

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The Oakland Unified School District Board of Directors must make some difficult and hard choices that involves the District’s finances, personnel and governance. The District is also challenged to make decisions which directly impact the quality of education for the 50,000 K-12 students attending the 124 public schools operating within the District.

Earlier this Spring, the Oakland Unified School Board approved large budget cuts while neglecting a source of revenue and investment from the State. In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 51 which authorized $9 billion in bonds to fund improvement and construction of school facilities, and which included $500 million dollars to be allocated to charter schools. In 2017 the OUSD Board approved the applications from nine charter schools that ended up receiving over $175 million in facility modernization funds awarded to these schools by the State of California. These dollars will go towards modernizing and improving District campuses with zero cost to the District, lowering the backlog of repairs and future costs to their capital improvement program. To access this ‘free’ funding, the OUSD Board simply needs to approve the long-term charter facility use agreements. But the District must approve these agreements soon or stand to lose the $175 million.

The nine charter schools that received this funding are long-standing and established members of the Oakland school community. They represent nearly 5,000 students (and their parents) who deserve stable and adequate facilities. Ninety percent of the students in these nine charter schools are eligible for free or reduced meals based on their family low-income status and over 80 percent are students of color. These students deserve to attend classes that have functioning heaters and adequate plumbing in buildings that are compliant with current building codes. When the District approves these long-term agreements, it will signal to Oakland communities that these charters matter, and that their students deserve to learn in a facility befitting a high-quality academic program.

After entering in a long-term agreement, the District will eliminate its responsibility for maintenance and capital improvements of that school site, shifting that burden on the charter schools. Additionally, District staff will no longer need to negotiate yearly with schools over facilities use agreements through the Prop 39 process – a process which takes up considerable time and staff resources that could be better used on other issues. The District has talked about a future facilities bond, but why further burden tax payers when they already have approved statewide school facilities money?

The agreements benefit OUSD and the greater Oakland community in several ways: providing revenue through leases, investment through state bond funds, and reducing costs and liabilities by entering long-term agreements. We urge all concerned citizens to call the OUSD Board of Directors offices at 510-879-8200 and request that they approve the lease agreements with the nine charter schools so the facility improvements can be made. Our students deserve no less.

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