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Back to school for OUSD Board of Education

on September 16, 2008

After-school programs, proposed new charter schools and a “closing of the books” top the Board of Education’s first regular meeting of the new school board, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Put into state receivership five years ago, the Oakland Unified School District is close to regaining full authority. The Board’s agenda for Wednesday’s 4:00 meeting is packed with programs and initiatives intended to improve student performance and district financial stability. By focusing on those two goals, the Board moves closer to being completely out of state receivership by the end of the school year.

“The closing of the books and a review of the last two years is a priority for the Board,” said Oakland Unified School District spokesperson Troy Flint. “The last two barriers for the district to emerge from state control are financial results and pupil achievement.”

In the area of student achievement, after-school services are prominent on the Board’s upcoming agenda. Funded by the After School Education and Safety (ASES) Grant, these programs provide services like tutoring, arts, recreation and family leadership to 16 of the District’s 109 schools.

ASES is a state-funded program that aims to provide educational and arts enrichment programs to students during non-school hours. Partnerships between private organizations, which provide activities on school grounds, and the District is one premise of the grant funding which runs for the school year. Approval for the the term and cost of the agreements is on the Board’s agenda for Wednesday.

Also on the agenda is the New Teacher Project (TNTP). The TNTP program, run by the nonprofit of the same name, works with districts to recruit and retain teachers. The quarter of a million dollars needed to establish the partnership and launch the program in OUSD, is funded in large part by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

“Financial matters are a great concern,” Flint said. “To assure the long term sustainability of the District, the staff has created a multi-year sustainability plan.”

Flint added that emerging from the last two categories of state receivership, Pupil Achievement and Financial Management, depends on a good financial report.

Maintaining full authority over the District depends not only on a favorable immediate financial report, but also a long-term plan for responsible spending.

The first step in that process requires the Board to file the unaudited annual statement of all receipts and expenditures of the district for the last fiscal year, which they will do at their first meeting.

Another part of the District’s financial stability will involve a critical look at the District’s “small schools movement,” said Flint.

“While smaller schools provide a more intimate environment and foster student accomplishment, small schools are not as efficient,” said Flint.

The Oakland small schools movement was created in 1990 in an attempt to lower class and school size. But the movement is now coming under scrutiny as the District looks at ways to achieve its goal of financial stability.

“In an effort to steadily recover,” Flint said, “we have to look at the impact of having small schools and whether they are sustainable.

“In the upcoming year,” Flint says, “We will be exploring how we can operate tiny schools. We will be talking to the community through a series of meetings to get their input.”

The Board will also be facing two charter school items at Wednesday’s meeting. Public hearings for the American Indian Public Charter School and the KIPP Bridge Charter School appear toward the end of the agenda.

In addition to addressing the immediate matters of charter approval, the Board will also be taking a critical look at charter schools and “whether growth has been beneficial,” said Flint.

In their closed session, the Board will meet with labor negotiators to continue ongoing discussions.

“Some of the contracts expired last summer and spring,” said Flint, “and we have been meeting regularly with the unions trying to reach accommodations. Because of the sensitive nature of the talks, said Flint, “we meet in closed sessions and provide public updates.”

Other items on the agenda include school modernization and facility repair along with reviews and revisions for upcoming school building projects. Many of the projects, like the Oakland High Modernization Project require extensive architecture fees, some of which the Board must approve before the project can continue.

The meeting is scheduled to be held in the board room of Oakland Unified’s headquarters at 1025 2nd Avenue.

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