State to send Oakland school district millions of dollars if mandated benchmarks are met

The Oakland Unified School District is set to receive millions of dollars from the state to help with its financial crisis, but with strings attached.

Speaking outside of La Escuelita Elementary School, OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said the assistance is a financial relief package that is unprecedented. She said the district must meet certain short term and long term financial benchmarks to receive the funding. The bill also gives OUSD the option to sell or lease surplus property.

“Our goal in three years is that we are financially healthy,” Johnson-Trammell said. 

Governor Jerry Brown recently signed the Education Trailer Bill, AB 1840, which will provide millions to the cash strapped district. OUSD has forecasted more than $30 million in cuts for the 2019-2020 school year and potentially $60 million for the 2020-2021 school year. 

The funding from the state would give OUSD a portion to cover the shortfall. In the first year, the state will cover up to 75% of the deficit, in the second year, it will be up to 50% and in the third year, up to 25%. 

“We need to figure out how to make up the difference because this is essentially backfilling a deficit that we have forecasted,” Nina Senn, OUSD Director of District 4, said.

The district must work with county and state officials to adopt multi-year financial plans and eventually right size the district by making tough decisions.

“It does mean we have to seriously look at staffing and also the elephant in the room, which is looking at the number of schools we have in relation to enrollment,” Johnson-Trammell said.

She said the state grant is different from when the state took over the district in 2003 due to the strict requirements set by the state that must be met.

“In order to receive the appropriations, we have to meet the conditions and show we're making progress and so if we don't meet them we likely won't receive the money. We take this very seriously,” Senn added.

The district must meet its first benchmark on March 1, 2019.