Grand jury report finds Oakland Unified School District is failing its students

In a scathing report, the Alameda County grand jury accuses the Oakland Unified School District of having a broken culture, concluding the district is not doing justice for its 36,000 students in 87 public schools.

"It isn't like you can point to this one thing and say, 'Oh, they did this one wrong.' It's pervasive," said Ray Souza, a member of the Alameda County grand jury.

The report, released on Monday, cites a range of problems including mismanagement, favoritism, disregard for authority among mid-level management, and a lack of accountability.

Financial instability was also highlighted, the grand jury finding Oakland Unified wastes millions of dollars, pointing to "lax competitive bidding practices" and poor contract management.

One example was nine OUSD building projects halted in 2018 because of overspending, including a construction project at Fremont High School which was $51 million over budget.

"These kids deserve an education and there's money there to do it. It's just not being used properly," said Souza.

"If ethical norms are ignored year after year and few, if any, are held accountable for questionable conduct, then a broken culture emerges," the report concluded.

The grand jury found the recent settlement ending a teacher's strike "will certainly add" to the district's financial burden. Teacher raises will cost the district $65 million over four years, which required the board to identify $21.7 million in cuts to ensure the district maintains state-mandates reserves, the jurors found.

Plus, the grand jury found that OUSD's revenues were $16,154 per student. Then, the jury looked at 37 other school districts and found that the median revenue per student at those  districts was $11,869. That means, the grand jury found, that Oakland students receive $4,285 more revenue per student than the median, placing the district in the top five for revenue. Palo Alto ranked number 1, receiving more than $20,000 per student. 

The grand jury found that Oakland ranked last on spending for certified teacher salaries, fourth for spending money on contractors and consultants. OUSD spent more than $55.7 million on professional and consulting services and operating expenditures, three times the statewide average per student.

It found part of the problem is a lack of continuity.

Oakland Unified has had nine superintendents since 2003, or roughly one new boss every year and a half.

Oakland's School Board President, Aimee Eng, in a statement said, "Coming out of an intense few years during which we wrestled with fiscal stresses including mid-year budget cuts and an employee strike, this report raises important questions. Many of the issues are familiar, but we will use this report to face these issues head on and improve how we operate."

Eng added the district takes the grand jury report seriously and will be reviewing it and then prepare a formal response within 90 days.

KTVU's Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.