Authorizes the Oakland Unified School District to issue $735 million in general obligation bonds for capital improvements and building acquisition.
What the Measure Would Do
Measure Y would authorize the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) to issue $735 million in general obligation bonds to repair, upgrade, expand and retrofit existing school buildings. The district plans to dedicate funds to the following purposes:
- Expanding, modernizing, renovating or constructing new buildings at school sites across the district; projects could include renovated classrooms, kitchens, cafeterias, community service facilities and other education facilities1
- Upgrading sites for seismic safety and compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act
- Making improvements to current administrative offices, community partner sites and administrative housing and consolidating or expanding school sites
The bonds would be paid back by a tax levied on property within Oakland through Fiscal Year 2049–2050. The bond is expected to raise the annual property taxes of homeowners an average of $53 per $100,000 of assessed value.
The Oakland Unified School District includes 85 K-12 schools and 23 administrative, warehouse and other education sites. Many of these sites are in disrepair, which led to the 2012 passage of Measure B, a $435 million bond to fund the construction, repair and renovation of school facilities.2 In 2018, OUSD returned to voters with Measure J, an approved $475 million bond to fund similar capital projects.3
By the end of 2018, the district was $170 million over budget for Measure J construction projects due to delays and scope changes, which halted several projects from moving forward.4 In 2019, the Alameda County Grand Jury reported on OUSD’s poor financial management and its lack of commitment to a comprehensive, long-range plan. The report identified poor board leadership managing OUSD’s capital program and the use of Measure J funds to pay high-cost rent for the district’s central administrative office.5
OUSD has since implemented recommendations outlined in the Grand Jury Report, which included creating the 2019 Facilities Master Plan. The plan identified $3.4 billion of needed improvements for building upgrades6 across the district, which Measure Y would partially address. Additionally, OUSD expanded the powers of its oversight committee and improved systems to help board members stay informed about budget and finance matters. As part of its fiscal reform efforts, OUSD hopes to leverage Measure Y funds for matching state funds. State education grants are often provided as matching dollars for local bond revenue that must already be in place.7 If Measure Y passes, OUSD would be better positioned to secure future dollars.
Aside from capital planning, OUSD has faced other financial mismanagement challenges. The district has received a bailout from the state of California to avoid bankruptcy and has struggled with budget shortfalls in recent years. However, the district has successfully reduced deficits slightly in the last year and has brought in new leadership.
Under California Proposition 39 (2000), school bonds require 55% voter approval to pass. If passed, Measure Y would continue the facility improvements started with Measure J and finish uncompleted projects from the earlier measure.
OUSD primarily serves children from low-income communities and communities of color. As of 2019, 71% of OUSD students received free and reduced-price meals, 31% spoke English as a second language,8 46% identified as Latino and 23% identified as African American.9 If managed appropriately, Measure Y investments in the Oakland public school system could lead to better learning environments for students from historically oppressed Oakland communities. In its proposed expenditure plan, OUSD has prioritized 63% of its projects outside of Districts 1 and 4, Oakland’s highest-income areas. The prioritization of projects in lower-income districts would direct the measure’s funding to neighborhoods with greater need for investment.10
- Measure Y would support much-needed infrastructure upgrades for school buildings that are decades old. Many OUSD buildings are crumbling, unsafe and unprepared for a major earthquake, putting large numbers of Oakland’s school children at risk of injury.
- Measure Y’s expenditure plan appropriately directs the majority of bond funding to the schools with the highest needs in the district (counter to past measures, when the district planned projects in high-income areas in order to drum up voter support).
- In creating a new revenue source for capital improvements, Measure Y would allow OUSD to apply for potential matching state funds, magnifying the voters’ investments.
- Bond measures are a fiscally responsible use of public funds for long-term investments such as building improvements.
- Despite recent management reforms, OUSD’s poor track record raises concerns about whether it can successfully manage a program of this magnitude without wasting funds.
OUSD buildings are in serious need of repair and renovation. While SPUR is concerned with OUSD’s history of poor financial management, we are encouraged by recent steps the district has taken to improve transparency and accountability. Measure Y funds would benefit schools in some of the Oakland communities with the greatest need, within a school district that serves primarily low-income students and students of color. Without this measure, OUSD’s students will return to failing and unsafe facilities at a time when the disparities in education are at risk of widening further. On balance, SPUR believes this measure is worthy of support.
1. For a full list of proposed school sites, see: Oakland Unified School District, “Bond Projects,” 2020, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/6961901/OUSD-Bond-Projects.pdf
2. OUSD, “Measure B,” 2012, http://ousdmasterplan.mkthinkstrategy.info/measure-b.html
3. League of Women Voters of California Education Fund, “Measure J,” 2012, http://www.smartvoter.org/2012/11/06/ca/alm/meas/J/
4. Theresa Harrington, “Oakland Unified Lacks Funds to Pay for All Capital Projects So Board Halts Some,” EdSource, August 23, 2018, https://edsource.org/2018/oakland-unified-lacks-funds-to-pay-for-all-ca…
5. Alameda County Grand Jury, The Oakland Unified School District’s Broken Administrative Culture – Millions Wasted Every Year, 2019, http://grandjury.acgov.org/grandjury-assets/docs/2018-2019/OUSD%20Broke…
6. OUSD, OUSD 2020 Facilities Master Plan, April 2020, https://www.ousd.org/cms/lib/CA01001176/Centricity/Domain/95/Facilities…
7. Ricardo Cano, “Data Exclusive: With California School Bonds, the Rich Get Richer and the Poor, Not So Much,” CalMatters, June 23, 2020, https://calmatters.org/education/2018/10/california-school-bonds-favor-…
9. OUSD, Department of Research, Assessment and Data, “Public-Facing Enrollment Dashboard Is Now Updated with Official Figures for 2018–2019,” http://www.ousddata.org/announcements/public-facing-enrollment-dashboard-is-now-updated-with-official-figures-for-2018-19
10. Darwin BondGraham, “District Elections: The Surprising History Explaining How We Vote in Oakland,” The Oaklandside, September 29, 2020, https://oaklandside.org/2020/09/29/district-elections-the-surprising-hi…