Demanding budget transparency, the Oakland Board of Education voted this week to postpone making $14 million in cuts that staff was recommending for next school year, saying they wanted administrators to answer questions about how the district got into its current financial mess and to explain the real impact of vaguely worded cuts on departments, schools and services.
The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) board voted 5-2 at a special budget meeting Wednesday night to postpone the decision to move ahead on the cuts.
All the board members said they recognized that cuts would have to be made in order to maintain the district’s solvency to avoid a repeat of the state takeover of 2003- 2009.
Outgoing Supt. Antwan Wilson was not at the meeting. Interim Supt. Devin Dillon sat in Wilson’s seat.
Voting against approving the resolution without further discussion and information were Boardmembers Jody London, Shanthi Gonzales, Roseann Torres, Nina Senn and Aimee Eng.
Those who voted to accept the staff recommended cuts immediately were Jumoke Hinton Hodge and Board President James Harris.
The postponed resolution called for staff to prepare $14 million in budget cuts in next year’s budget, including $8.5 million in poorly explained cuts from central office budgets.
According to the administration, the $14 million in reductions will pay for the impacts of a loss of enrollment of 1,000 students this year.
In addition, state revenue will be flat, though the district will have to pay for increased pension costs, rising utility bills and growth in costs of services.
At last week’s school board meeting, staff had recommended cuts at school sites, including the merging of a number of small schools that are physically located near each other.
However, by Wednesday night’s meeting, staff had canceled those recommendations.
By consensus, the board supported a proposal by Boardmember Eng telling staff to not come back with any school site cuts in next year’s budget.
The proposed merging or consolidation of schools was postponed until the 2018-2019 school year.
Eliminated were proposals to raise the bar on how many students would have to attend a school before it could qualify for an assistant principal or hire classified staff. Also eliminated was a proposal to eliminate some custodian positions.
In addition to the cuts next year, staff has already unilaterally ordered a soft freeze on the budget for this year, which means that schools and programs cannot use their unspent resources to hire additional staff, purchase materials or contract for services without central office approval.
The administration is hoping to save between $8.5 and $11 million this year to pay for Special Education cost overruns, increase the district’s financial reserves that have been depleted over the past few years and purchase new financial software to replace the inadequate system that is currently in place.
Over the next 18 months, administrators say the district must reduce expenses in the general fund expenses between $22.5 million and $25 million.