Members of the OUSD board of directors sit behind the dais during the first meeting of the 2023-2024 school year on Aug. 9, 2023. Credit: Amir Aziz

The Oakland Unified School District’s central office could undergo a major overhaul over the next few years to improve communication and become more efficient at delivering services to schools. 

The firm Public Works LLC analyzed OUSD’s central office departments overseeing areas like academics, special education, English language learner programs, early childhood education, community schools, the office of equity, and research and data. The final report makes nearly 50 recommendations, including consolidating schools, eliminating more than two dozen positions, and creating six new positions. 

The report comes at a time when the district is working towards sustainability and balancing its budget sheets to accommodate newly negotiated teacher raises while also accounting for declining revenues due to lowering enrollment and attendance.

“In order to achieve a large amount of the staffing reductions and cost savings that we’re talking about, you’ll need to have fewer schools,” said Eric Schnurer, the founder and president of Public Works LLC. “Compared with other districts, OUSD is somewhat more sizable in terms of the number of schools you have relative to the number of students. In other words, you have a much larger number of very small schools with few students compared to your peer districts.”

The agency evaluated OUSD through interviews, focus groups, and surveys of OUSD staff, analyzed district data, and compared OUSD with Fontana, Sacramento City, San Jose, and West Contra Costa school districts. The analysis was commissioned by the district’s county trustee, who is monitoring OUSD finances while the district is in state receivership. 

The report is just the first step in reorganizing the central office. Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and her staff will create an implementation plan that could include some or all of the recommendations. If all the recommendations are implemented, OUSD is projected to save about $3.5 million in staffing costs. 

Restructuring and reducing costs at the central office has been a goal of some school board directors, who say that reductions should be made there before cuts at school sites. But many board directors are opposed to consolidating schools.

“The first thing that we do as a district is, we balance our budget on the backs of our kids,” said District 3 Director VanCedric Williams. “We close schools to say that’s going to solve it. We’ve closed 18 schools in 20 years and we still have this high ratio of students to administrators.”

School board directors Jennifer Brouhard, Valarie Bachelor, and Board President Mike Hutchinson have all expressed their opposition to closing schools. Directors Sam Davis and Clifford Thompson have previously supported closing schools. Last year, OUSD closed Parker K-8 and Community Day School, merged RISE Community School and New Highland Academy, and eliminated the middle school at La Escuelita. The closures sparked months of widespread protests by many OUSD educators, students, and families. 

In January, following the addition of newly elected directors Brouhard and Bachelor, the school board voted to rescind a plan to shutter five more schools this year.

Over the next few months, district staff will take the recommendations from Public Works LLC and devise a plan to implement changes at the central office. By December, staff will come back to present the proposals for approval. In the spring, the board will focus on developing the budget for the 2024-2025 school year, which district officials have said will require major adjustments to stay solvent. 

“I think what the survey data and the restructuring reveals is that perhaps we are not positioned to support what schools need at their school sites,” said OUSD’s chief academic officer Sondra Aguilera. “That’s the interrogation that we need to do and then make the adjustments.”

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.