Recent protest at Oakland Board of Education meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein.
The Oakland Board of Education slashed $9 million from its budget this week, reversing about 40 percent of proposed cuts in the face of an outpouring of protest from parents, teachers and students at school sites.
The board voted 6 to 1 Wednesday evening in favor of the cuts, with District 5 Boardmember Roseann Torres voting no.
“These mid-year budget cuts were difficult for our school sites and staff but necessary to ensure solvency,” said Aimee Eng, the chair of the board Budget and Finance Committee.
“As we prepare the 2018-2019 budget, we will have an opportunity to look at how to prioritize funding to the school sites and radically reorganize central office services,” she said.
The cost-saving measures are designed to ensure Oakland Unified School District stays afloat – to avoid a repeat of the six-year state takeover of the district, which ended eight years ago.
The mid-year cuts have been painful and disruptive to school sites. Hundreds of students, parents, educators and other school employees have protested at recent board meetings.
The school board had originally planned to slash $15.1 million from this year’s budget, which would have resulted in layoffs of as many as 300 administrators and low-wage employees, including custodians and clerical workers.
The $9 million in reductions passed by the board represent $5.2 million in cuts from the central office budget and $3.8 million from school-site revenue.
How the savings will be utilized:
- $1.1 million to restore the reserve for economic uncertainty to the state mandated minimum;
- $4 million that will be held in reserve for economic uncertainty, such as arbitration awards and audit findings; and,
- $3.9 million to support specific needs, such as food services and annual expenses for special education programs, which regularly exceeds the funding OUSD receives from the state.
School site reductions will hit supplies, employees with extended contracts and overtime. Numbers of employees will be reduced by not filling some vacancies, eliminating classified positons and reducing some positions from fulltime to part-time. In the central office 60.7 full-time positions will be cut, resulting in layoffs of 23 employees. Additionally, an equivalent of 15.8 full time positions will be eliminated by reducing employee hours.
“The reality in our state is that we choose how we want to fund our schools, and we in Oakland live in that reality,” Board President James Harris said in an interview with the Oakland Post, pointing to insufficient state funding for basic school services.
“In the last three years, we were able to deliver a lot of extra funds to schools, and that anything has to be taken off the table really hurts my heart,” he said. “But we have to take this hit so we don’t do this again.”
Christopher Learned, Oakland’s newly appointed state trustee, is working closely with the district’s school board and administration. He says the district is making the adjustments that are necessary to maintain stability.
“I believe they are going to do it,” he said. “It’s going to be painful, this year especially. I think the district is getting a handle on doing quite a bit better job on how they do their budget and how they monitor the budget.”