“When they say cut back, we say fight back!” chanted over 100 protestors who filled the school board meeting at La Escuelita Elementary School on Monday night. As the board called for a closed recess before the start of the meeting, protestors took over the stage and voiced their opinions about the district’s goal of cutting $15.1 million from the school budget this year in order to maintain a mandated reserve, and ensure the district will have enough money for emergency situations.
“There will be no vote this session,” said School Board President James Harris, speaking at the start of the meeting. Harris informed everyone that the goal of the meeting would be to discuss the effects of this process, and to understand the changes that these cuts would have both in the Central Office Department and at school sites.
The protestors included student representatives from elementary to high schools, including Alliance Academy, Oakland High School, Fremont High School, Oakland Technical High School and Castlemont High School. Many teachers and education advocates were also present, as well as parents of Oakland students, whose concerns included outdated textbooks, public safety issues, teachers not having the proper resources to educate children, and overcrowded classrooms.
Emily Macy, an Oakland High School social studies teacher, came to the meeting to see how the decision of the school board would not only influence her, and her students, but also her daughter, who is in the fifth grade. “Our principal at our school has already communicated to us that if these budget cuts are to go through, we will stand to lose $350,000, and I can’t even begin to imagine what that would even look like,” said Macy, sounding concerned.
Macy said she is also worried about class sizes becoming larger if the budget cuts affect the number of full-time teachers available. “As a parent, I have already felt this, because at my daughter’s school site they were supposedly under-enrolled at 19 students, and they lost their P.E. teacher in the middle of the school year. The children were in tears, and it was a devastating impact on our students,” said Macy.
Trinity Jacob, a sophomore at Oakland Technical High School, said she was at the meeting to fight for not only her education, but for the future education of the many students who will follow in her footsteps. “Stop cutting from public schools. Many public schools in Oakland do not have the funding to help our students, and when we do have the money, it is cut to the benefits of upper class administrators. Although we do respect them, we believe we should have respect as well,” said Jacob.
Jacob said it is important for the school board to remember that “when you cut from one generation, you cut from multitudes of generations after that. I know that it is a difficult decision, but we need to consider the people that it affects the most, which is the youth.”
“It is our job to hear you and respond. We need to go through this together if we are going to create a school district that supports our students,” said Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell
as she prepared to deliver the “2017-2018 Mid-Year Adjustments” report. Johnson-Trammell identified Oakland as being one of 40 California school districts that has a strong possibility of not meeting financial obligations, and said the district is preparing for approximately 150 layoffs, not including other possible cuts to the budget. “I understand the hurt and frustration. We must do better as a district so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again,” said Johnson-Trammell.
The county mandates that the school must keep a minimum reserve of 2 percent of its budget, which is to only be used in emergency situations. “We have to take seriously the budget of having above the 2 percent minimum so we have a place to draw money from, because we don’t have that luxury right now. Our goal should be improving our systems for budget monitoring,” said Johnson-Trammell.
She said that the $15.1 million in cuts would not only restore that financial reserve, but give the district the ability to put money back into a self-insurance fund that has been depleting over the past few years. She said the targeted $15.1 million will be broken down with $1.2 million going towards the reserves, $7.2 million to increase the reserve, $4.7 million for restricted programs, and $2 million for the self-insurance fund.
Johnson-Trammell also said that the district has priorities, including the needs of special education students. The funding for special education has nearly doubled in 10 years to over $50 million annually. From 2004 to 2005, the school district’s share of the special education cost was 32 percent, she said. The remainder of the cost came from the state and federal. However, they are now sharing 60 percent of the special education cost, while the state and federal combined share 40 percent.
“We have a structural problem of how we get our most vulnerable students to school, and how we educate them,” said Harris.
Johnson-Trammell also reported that enrollment within Oakland public schools from the school years 2003-04 to 2016-17 has declined from 50,000 to 36,000 students, which has led to a decline in resources that the district receives from the state. “It is impossible to not have any of the reductions not hit schools at all,” said Johnson-Trammell, who added that the district’s central office is aiming to cut $9.5 million from their own office. Another $5.6 million will be coming from cuts at Oakland school sites.
Johnson-Trammell said the cuts would lead to the layoffs of custodians, classified support staff, mental health workers, nurses and school managers. But community members said they opposed personnel cuts like these. “You want to make more cuts that will take away from our mental health services? These things are not luxury. They are a right. I demand that you find an equitable solution that does not impact the resources that we need the most,” said Alana Rust, a junior from Oakland High School.
“Sometimes I feel like my school is forgotten and does not matter. I need to see you engaging with teachers, schools, and parents. It is your responsibility to fix this problem. I have heard several teachers tell students that they have brought supplies with their own money. They don’t get paid enough to do that,” said Karla Briseno, a senior at Castlemont High School. “I demand an apology from the school board members. Central Office makes so much money, but you want to cut jobs from the bottom.”
Johnson-Trammell told community members that the Central Office Department staffs important positions such as payroll, accountants, and other positions needed for essential district functions. “We are looking for ways on how can we become a smaller office, but we fund services held at OUSD schools such as school safety, mental health, janitors, school security officers. Central Office is more than just management. We are trying to be as thoughtful as we can be when making cuts to school,” said Johnson-Trammell.
The board will meet again on December 6 to consider a revised resolution and recommendations on what would happen if cuts were to be made. It will make a final decision on December 13.
In other school board business, the board approved a motion to construct new facilities, and start new programs that focus on technical career opportunities for students, at Fremont High School. Madison High School will also receive more support towards starting engineering and architecture programs for students at their school.