On November 13th, Genesis hosted its second Community Forum with leaders from the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and AC Transit at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Oakland. The issue at hand: whether or not transit lines to Montera Middle School and Skyline High School will be restored. We gave the audience the opportunity to write their questions on blue pieces of paper, which I read during the Q & A portion of the meeting. From a Youth intern’s perspective, a simple yes or no from the directors would have sufficed. However, a discussion about youth transit quickly spiraled into a conversation about budget and legislation. I noticed that two issues were brought up consistently: the "MOU" and the SB 527. What are with these numbers and letters and what in the world do they have to do with youth transit in Oakland? Well, as someone who is new to Genesis work, I’ve done a little bit of research to help the average Joe connect the dots.
What is an MOU? Why was it established between AC Transit and OUSD?
An MOU, or memorandum of understanding, is a formal partnership between two parties. AC Transit and OUSD established an MOU based on the 1997 Assembly Bill 2972, a state funding program for home-to-school transportation. Per the agreement laid out in the MOU, the District agreed to pay AC Transit $2.225 million annually for services with funding provided for by the State of California. This agreement has allowed for facilitating payment of supplemental transportation for Oakland students--particularly those to Skyline High School, Montera Middle School and Community Day School.
Why did OUSD terminate the original MOU?
In January 2017, OUSD ended the 20-year-old agreement with AC Transit, essentially deciding not to pay AC Transit for supplemental bus services to these schools. The official notice sent by senior business officer Vernon Hal (4.10.17 Exhibits, page 21) includes the following as some of the main reasons:
The MOU was deemed no longer valid by OUSD after the enactment of a new system of state funding in 2013--known as the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The LCFF fundamentally changed how school districts in California are funded. The LCFF is supposed to ensure state funding based on the demographics of the student population, particularly the number of English Learners and Low-income students. Because of this new system, funds provided by AB 2972 were halted and this completely changed the game in terms of cost coverage for transportation services. With the complete overhaul of the old system, OUSD interpreted the terms of the agreement established under the MOU to be no longer in effect and therefore stopped paying the $2.225 million to AC Transit.
OUSD believes that its district is treated unfairly. No other school district has an MOU in place with AC Transit, but other districts also receive supplemental services. However, AC Transit asserts that the supplemental services in Oakland are significantly larger than those of other districts and are only made possible by the state funding allocated through the MOU.
To summarize, OUSD pulled out of their formal agreement with AC transit partly because of a lack of funding from the state. Its current dire financial situation makes it so that they are unable to pay money that they owe to AC Transit as stated in the MOU. The issue comes down to a need for a new stream of funding, which brings our focus to SB 527--part 2 of this Blog Series. Stay Tuned!