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Oakland Unified School District

District Partner 2007, 2015-2017

ERS is partnering with Oakland Unified School District to improve the budget development process so that annual budgets are transparent, collaborative, and tightly aligned to district priorities; we are also supporting a cohort of high schools in redesigning how they organize people, time, and money for student success. See how Oakland is addressing what we call the "triple squeeze"a set of challenges they inherited and that require sustained, strategic action and political will to address.

“Oakland is a great American city, and our students deserve access to quality schools in their neighborhoods and to be taught and inspired by adults committed to their success."
- Antwan Wilson, former Superintendent, OUSD

District Facts

Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) serves 37,000 students in the Bay Area, of which 73% qualify for free and reduced price lunch, and 30% are English language learners. In 2014 OUSD adopted Pathway to Excellence 2015-2020, a new strategic plan which emphasizes building effective talent (i.e., teachers and leaders), district accountability, and quality community schools. OUSD will pursue these goals under California’s new Local Control Funding Formula, which grants districts greater flexibility and some new resources to meet the needs of targeted students.

Work Focus


  • Oakland Citywide Resource Study: Build a rich fact-base that looks at student need, resource levels, and resource use in OUSD and Oakland charter schools. The intent of this fact base is to help stakeholders engage in a productive conversation about how to optimize its investment in public education and ensure that every student has access to an excellent education.

  • Budget Development Process Review: Work closely with the Chief Financial Officer and  Budget Office to assess and revise the district’s budget development process so that the budget aligns to the district’s strategic priorities, is transparent, reflects a collaborative effort from all departments and community input, and is coordinated with the creation of the state-mandated Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP).

  • Strategic School Design Cohort: Support seven OUSD high schools (serving 60% of OUSD high school students) in assessing their needs and organizing people, time, and money to ensure all students can access the courses required for graduation, that teachers have sufficient collaborative planning time, that students with exceptional needs are well served, and other concerns. Help OUSD central office staff create “School Resource Use Reports” that allow principals to understand how they currently use resources.


  • Resource MapConduct interviews with district staff as well as deep-dive analyses of 2014-2015 expenditures, course schedule, and other data to better understand how OUSD uses its resources, with a specific focus on the areas of Funding, Teaching, and School Design.
  • School System 20/20 Assessment: Survey OUSD’s structures and policies, as well as the actual use of resources like people, time, and money, across seven areas (including Teaching, Leadership, Funding, and others); compare to best practices backed by research and ERS’ experience with districts.


  • District Spending: Identify central cost-cutting opportunities by comparing OUSD's central spending to other districts.
  • Funding: Explore ways to maximize the use of categorical funds.
  • Resource Use: Provide tools and training about research on effective resource use in schools to help inform and improve the process of creating and reviewing school budgets.

Findings and Outcomes

From the 2016-2017 project:

  • Increased understanding and dialogue between the district and charter sector: Over several sessions, district and charter school stakeholders gained knowledge about citywide resource challenges and had productive conversations about how to maximize education investment in a strategic and equitable manner. ERS served as a facilitating partner with a Steering Committee of Oakland district and charter leaders and education advocates.

  • Praise for the revised budget development process: Katema Ballentine, OUSD’s budget director, has commented, "This [ERS facilitated budget prioritization process] was better. This was thoughtful; it wasn't a fight of what's mine and what's yours. We aren't working out with 100% but I feel good about the thoughtfulness of what we came up with."

From the 2015-2016 project

  • Ensuring all students can graduate high school: ERS analysis identified that only 54% of high schools were set up to ensure that a “typical” student could graduate in four years and meet the requirements for entry in the University of California system. This was because students faced limits on the number of credits they could take, were often under-scheduled, and possibly might face challenges in passing their courses within four years. OUSD committed to focusing on this issue in the following year.
  • Understanding spending trends: The ERS analysis highlighted that per-pupil spending is lower than in a comparison set of districts nationwide, that spending on self-contained/“special day” classrooms is higher, and that under-enrolled schools make it difficult to provide students with a complete set of services. OUSD is committed to increasing academic spending, placing services closer to schools, and improve marketing and communications to increase enrollment. See the Superintendent’s Budget Recommendations for Fiscal Year 2017-2018.

From the 2007 project:

  • Resource Use: In very small schools, principals could not use their resources as flexibly, meaning that the “results-based budgeting” strategy didn't work as well for them.

  • Resource Use-Small Schools: Because OUSD had a number of very small schools, that diverted resources from instruction to school operations and administration. In response, OUSD decided to develop a minimum school size policy to better manage sub-scale schools.

  • Resource Use-Enrollment: From this work we developed a framework to understand how enrollment decline affects how urban districts use their resources. ERS then shared this new framework with the broader reform community.

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