Oakland school board approves $14 million cut from district’s budget

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The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Board of Education approved a plan to cut $14 million from the district’s 2017-2018 budget during a meeting Wednesday evening. The move came amid recent scrutiny of the district’s finances and projections of continued falling enrollment.

The plan, presented by OUSD senior business officer Vernon Hal, lays out spending prioritization guidelines and will balance the 2017-2018 budget largely by making staffing cuts. The majority of cuts will be to the district’s central office.

Of the $14 million in budget reductions, $8.5 million will come from the central office. Roughly $500,000 will be cut from office supplies and $4 million from services, such as paying for consultants and transportation, Hal said in his presentation.

The remaining $4 million reduction will come from personnel cuts, including eliminating $3.2 million in management positions and $800,000 in support staff positions.

“It’s still painful. We’re still going to feel this,” OUSD Interim Superintendent Dr. Devin Dillon said. “These are our people.”

Another $5.5 million will be reduced due to declining enrollment. Enrollment in district-run schools has declined by nearly 500 students since the 2014-2015 academic year, and Hal said it is projected to continue to decline further in the 2017-2018 academic year.

According to Hal, appropriate staffing adjustments were not made for the current academic year. “It was done a little, not a lot,” he said, estimating 40 positions should have been cut compared to the six that were actually eliminated.

Hal refuted reports that the OUSD is looking at a nearly $30 million budget deficit in the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The district had proposed nearly $30 million in excess spending, but of that, more than $13 million were merely “wish list” items, Hal said in a post-meeting interview.

The remaining $14 million are necessary expenditures, Hal said, requiring the district to cut funding from elsewhere in the budget.

The funding prioritization plan also suggested rerouting $4.2 million into support for teachers, foster youth and English language learner (ELL) programs, college and career readiness and credit recovery.

“In order to increase in an area, we have to decrease in another area,” Hal said. “This is not a deficit situation, this is a priority situation.”

About $500,000 in cuts will come from reducing the number of school safety officers from 20 to 10. More than $3.6 million will come from a reduction in appeals, in which schools request and are granted additional teachers and staff assigned to school sites as needed.

This year schools were granted 101 appeals. Next year’s target number of granted appeals is 60, Hal said.

Letters will be sent to employees affected by the cuts on March 15, Hal said.

More than 30 members of the public spoke in opposition to funding cuts, especially those that may affect the classroom. “To cut the appeal is just going to raise the class sizes even further,” said Mark Airgood, a special education teacher at Edna Brewer Middle School, adding he already sees overcrowding in special education classrooms.

MetWest High School teacher Whitney Dwyer also requested the district preserve small class sizes, noting small class sizes work at MetWest. “It’s not time to cut what’s going well,” Dwyer said.

Pecolia Manigo, executive director of Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network, said budgeting based on inaccurate enrollment projections is “a mistake on the part of the district.”

“School sites are paying for this mistake right now,” she said.

MetWest High School junior Alva Martinez asked the board of education to avoid cutting classroom teachers’ jobs, noting the positive influence teachers have had on her life. “I found my voice that was hidden,” she said. “They pushed me to be my best and they never gave up on me.”

The OUSD Board of Education unanimously voted in favor of the prioritization plan.

“We do not take lightly what we just did,” said board president James Harris (District 7). “This process is not over just because we made a resolution.”

In other business, the school board saw a presentation of the proposed 2017-2018 California education budget, approved charter renewals for Arise High School and American Indian Public Charter School II, and heard the first reading of a policy to accept and support Oakland Promise, a college and career readiness program in partnership with the City of Oakland.

The goal of Oakland Promise is to triple the number of Oakland students who graduate from college in 10 years. The program aims to inspire and support students through creating a college-going culture in schools and providing both monetary and college guidance resources.

Supporting Oakland Promise would require a $1.5 million commitment from the school district to fund “knowledgeable staff” to foster a college going culture at schools and for school “future centers” that will provide resources for students to plan their college or career futures beyond high school, said Bernard McCune, OUSD deputy chief of post-secondary readiness and Oakland Promise Steering Committee member.

“It’s our responsibility as a district that we need to do anyway,” McCune said.

Numerous students, teachers and parents spoke both in favor and against supporting Oakland Promise.

Valentina Vigil, with Frick Impact Academy, said she was the first college graduate in her family and therefore supports the mission of Oakland Promise. “I know with the right resources and the right support, all kids can achieve their goals,” she said.

Jamarcus, an elementary school student at Frick Impact Academy, said Oakland Promise has inspired him to strive for college, specifically Howard University.

Castlemont High School co-principal William Chavarin noted the positive change Oakland Promise has made in his school’s culture. “Our students are very excited,” he said. “They’re rushing to school, they’re rushing to classes.”

But current OUSD parent Talmera Richardson and former OUSD parent Kimberley Trujillo both questioned the choice to support Oakland Promise in the face of the district’s budget cuts.

“You guys have to back that up in the classroom,” Trujillo said to the school board, arguing that the college-going culture can be built in the classroom. “Do not cut anything that is going to the classroom.”

Richardson said, like Trujillo, she’s “ready to see some action” and results to back up Oakland Promise. She challenged the board members to consider a pay cut rather than other budget cuts in order to fund additional programs.

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