Theresa Harrington/EdSource Today
Oakland Unified students who are members of the Asian Pacific Islander Student Achievement program wear gags over their mouths to show the school board they feel their concerns about cuts to the program are not being heard on March 4, 2019.

After discussing for months how to make budget cuts to pay for teachers’ raises and balance its budget, the Oakland school board on Monday voted to slash $20.2 million next year and lay off more than 100 employees.

Board member Jody London said the district could not give teachers the raises it agreed to in settling the recent strike without making the cuts. Teachers were on strike for seven days through last Friday, seeking higher pay, smaller class sizes and greater student supports.

“Unless this board reduces the budget for next year,” London said, “there is not the funding to give the raise.”

Many speakers at the Monday meeting called London’s comment rhetoric to pit teachers against those who were affected by the cuts and layoffs, including students who had advocated for three programs they said were priorities, and “classified” workers such as secretaries, computer technicians and school security officers. The positions affected include about 49 central office managers, 33 support staff members, 21 clerical workers, three counselors, three teachers, one police officer and one analyst.

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“Shame on you for linking a layoff of our classified brothers and sisters to the teachers getting a well-deserved raise,” said Mike Dunlap, a former Oakland Technical High School teacher. “We are united.”

Students reacted angrily to the board’s 4-3 vote against a proposal by student board member Yota Omosowho and board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge, which would have saved the Restorative Justice, Asian Pacific Islander Student Achievement program and five foster case manager positions next year by dipping into the district’s reserve funds.  Omosowho and Hinton Hodge said the funds would likely be replenished with funding in the governor’s May revised 2019-20 budget. While Hinton Hodge and two other board members supported this idea, four board members said they weren’t comfortable doing this because of the district’s past history of falling below the state-mandated 2 percent reserve, which could subject it to another state takeover.

Video: Oakland Unified students are protesting cuts by the school board in programs to help foster students and Asian Pacific Islanders and to Restorative Justice, a program that teaches students how to resolve conflicts.

“I have lost all faith or trust in this board right now,” said Omosowho, fighting back tears, after the vote as the meeting room erupted with cries of disbelief from frustrated students. “I honestly think we should not even be talking to them. Let’s take it to the state. Let’s take it to the county. Let’s take it to people who actually care about us because this board isn’t listening to us.”

Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said she has had conversations with officials from Alameda County, the city and philanthropic partners to try to continue funding for the programs, but it has not yet been confirmed. Board President Aimee Eng said it would be unwise to count on money that isn’t guaranteed.

“However,” Eng said, “I pledge to work alongside the superintendent to find funds to support these target areas.”

The board then voted 4-3 to approve the $20.2 million in cuts, which included the three programs identified by students, along with cuts to central administration, and $3 million in cuts to schools. The plan also includes about $1.6 million in cost savings and revenue generation.

The budget reductions will also help the district build its reserve up to 3 percent and is expected to help close an anticipated deficit. However, the actual amount of the deficit was not made clear by staff.

The votes came after more than 100 speakers including students, teachers and parents pleaded with the board for nearly three hours to save their programs or positions. Several speakers said they would prefer to see the district cut police officers to save the Restorative Justice program, which teaches students how to peacefully resolve conflicts. The speakers said the program is more helpful to students than the police force. And some students threatened to follow in their teachers’ footsteps by going on strike themselves if the board didn’t save their programs.

Librarians also objected to the district’s decision to change the way library funding from the Measure G parcel tax is dispersed to schools. Previously, the money was doled out based on grant applications to the neediest schools.

Although the district says it has too many schools and not enough students, some parents and students also objected to the district’s long-term plan to close up to 24 schools, arguing that research shows school closures do not save money in the long run and often do not benefit students.

Some members of the a parent and student committee that advises the district on the creation of its Local Control and Accountability Plan that sets goals and actions intended to help low-income students, foster youth and English learners said they had not been given adequate information by staff about how the budget cuts would affect the plan or those students. Alan Pursell, a member of the group, said the board should not vote on the cuts until those concerns had been addressed in writing.

The budget plan intends to reallocate LCFF funds “to support educator retention and compensation.” But since these supplemental funds are supposed to directly support the district’s most needy students, board member James Harris said he could not support the plan.

“I came here in deep conflict,” he said, adding that he was upset that different groups within the district were “fighting for resources.” He agreed with many speakers who said the district should seek more money from the state, but added: “Have we damaged the relationships so much that we can’t do that in partnership?”

The board faced a deadline to act on the budget cuts by AB 1840, a bill passed last year that could provide the district with a state bailout that would help cover a portion of its deficit. The state had set a March 1 deadline for the district to provide both short-term and long-term plans to the Alameda County Office and state showing progress it is making toward maintaining fiscal solvency.

The Fiscal Management and Assistance Team, or FCMAT, a state agency that monitors districts’ budgets, submitted a report to the state on Friday evaluating Oakland Unified’s financial status. However, the report noted:

“On the evening of Feb. 28, 2019, the district reached a tentative agreement with the Oakland Education Association. This report was finalized prior to the settlement, and FCMAT/Alameda COE staff will need time to analyze the impact of the settlement on the deficit calculation. An update to this letter will be done as soon as the data is available to incorporate.”

Although the district has said since July that it was facing a $30 million deficit, the FCMAT report shows the district is operating with a deficit of nearly $9 million this year and projects deficits of $6.4 million next year and $15.7 million in 2020-21. This does not include the teachers’ raises or other costs related to the strike settlement.

These numbers will be updated when the district presents its multiyear projections to the board next month and again after the governor releases his May revised budget for 2019-20. At that time, the state will determine how much of the district’s deficit it may be willing to cover, up to 75 percent, according to AB 1840.

Editor’s Note: As a special project, EdSource is tracking developments this year in the Oakland Unified and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts as a way to illustrate some of the most urgent challenges facing many urban districts in California. West Contra Costa Unified includes Richmond, El Cerrito and several other East Bay communities.

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  1. Frank 2 months ago2 months ago

    Why don’t they do a Golden Handshake to save money. I’m sure there’s enough employees close to retirement that would accept a fair offer.

  2. el 9 months ago9 months ago

    Given that the board has no way to create new revenue, I would love to see more of this community energy directed at finding new funding sources - lobbying Sacramento, lobbying money in the community, lobbying voters statewide - to support the programs we all agree are essential. I am happy for the teachers to get well deserved raises but honestly very concerned about what is going to happen to them in three years when … Read More

    Given that the board has no way to create new revenue, I would love to see more of this community energy directed at finding new funding sources – lobbying Sacramento, lobbying money in the community, lobbying voters statewide – to support the programs we all agree are essential. I am happy for the teachers to get well deserved raises but honestly very concerned about what is going to happen to them in three years when the optimistic projections required to make the budget appear viable now don’t pan out.

    Pennsylvania of all places manages to average $16k a student when we are only funding $12k as a statewide average. Meanwhile, the California legislature has passed several expensive unfunded mandates for schools, including the very high pension contributions and the raise to minimum wage. Those were good things but districts are apparently supposed to pay for them with unicorn dust and puppies, which we grow in our spare time. This is the fundamental problem here, and nothing the OUSD board can do can change that.

    Replies

    • Alan Pursell 9 months ago9 months ago

      The board does have a way to create more revenue, it can work to make OUSD attractive to Oakland parents and students by providing services that the charters can’t offer. 100 students is $1,000,000 in funding. Instead, they moan and make themselves look like a failing product that no one wants to go to, close schools, cut desired services, and wonder why attendance is dropping. There is currently 1 OUSD school for an average of … Read More

      The board does have a way to create more revenue, it can work to make OUSD attractive to Oakland parents and students by providing services that the charters can’t offer. 100 students is $1,000,000 in funding. Instead, they moan and make themselves look like a failing product that no one wants to go to, close schools, cut desired services, and wonder why attendance is dropping.

      There is currently 1 OUSD school for an average of around 415 Oakland students. Charters have an average of 315 per school, and yet the charters say they need more space.

  3. Townie 9 months ago9 months ago

    Do you know the origins of AB 1840? From what I understand it was passed in September of 2018 and first introduced to the budget committee in January 2018. I was wondering who wrote and sponsored this bill? Why was the bill introduced this way. Also, the way I understand it, the $35 million offered by the state was contingent on the cuts to be made by OUSD by March 1 … Read More

    Do you know the origins of AB 1840? From what I understand it was passed in September of 2018 and first introduced to the budget committee in January 2018. I was wondering who wrote and sponsored this bill? Why was the bill introduced this way.

    Also, the way I understand it, the $35 million offered by the state was contingent on the cuts to be made by OUSD by March 1 of 2019. I assume the decisions for these cuts were made prior to the tentative labor agreement made on March 1 of 2019 so how could the cuts and labor agreement be related. Did the school board factor in the labor agreement at the same time they made decisions on the cuts? If so, then the labor agreement should have been made before the strike.

    Who knew what and when did they know it?

    Replies

    • Theresa Harrington 9 months ago9 months ago

      Here's a previous story I wrote about AB 1840: https://edsource.org/2018/california-poised-to-help-oakland-and-inglewood-dig-out-of-budget-deficits-but-with-strings-attached/601848. Assemblyman Rob Bonta and then-Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (now state Superintendent of Public Schools) worked with state Sen. Nancy Skinner on the bill. The state Dept. of Finance also had a hand in drafting it, in consultation with FCMAT. The district originally wanted to have its $6 million a year loan payment waived for a few years to help balance its budget, but the state wanted … Read More

      Here’s a previous story I wrote about AB 1840: https://edsource.org/2018/california-poised-to-help-oakland-and-inglewood-dig-out-of-budget-deficits-but-with-strings-attached/601848. Assemblyman Rob Bonta and then-Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (now state Superintendent of Public Schools) worked with state Sen. Nancy Skinner on the bill. The state Dept. of Finance also had a hand in drafting it, in consultation with FCMAT. The district originally wanted to have its $6 million a year loan payment waived for a few years to help balance its budget, but the state wanted to tie strings to state aid by requiring short and long-term plans and requiring that budget cuts be made to show that the board is capable of making tough decisions in the interest of maintaining the district’s fiscal solvency. The cuts were originally proposed to help increase the district’s reserve, cut down on its deficit and provide money for teachers’ raises. However, during negotiations, the district did not reveal how much of the cuts were for the deficit and what amount was intended for raises. After the settlement was reached, the superintendent announced that the planned cuts would cover the costs of the contract for this year and next year. However, the board still hasn’t received a budget report showing how the settlement and budget cuts affect the bottom line for the next three years. A report detailing that is expected later this month.

  4. SD Parent 9 months ago9 months ago

    London's words may be unpopular, but they are accurate. In a closed system of funding (e.g. school district budget), increased spending in one area (e.g. employee pay raises) results in decreased spending in other areas (e.g. employee jobs and the student programs and services they provide). So unless another additional revenue sources are identified, when employees demand higher pay, they should know that they will be negatively impacting some employees' jobs and student … Read More

    London’s words may be unpopular, but they are accurate. In a closed system of funding (e.g. school district budget), increased spending in one area (e.g. employee pay raises) results in decreased spending in other areas (e.g. employee jobs and the student programs and services they provide). So unless another additional revenue sources are identified, when employees demand higher pay, they should know that they will be negatively impacting some employees’ jobs and student programs/services.

    Perhaps collective bargaining should include the transparency of what, exactly, would be cut to pay for the increased cost up front rather than the usual two-step process of promising cost increases and then later determining how to pay for them (when it’s too late to make a change).

    Replies

    • Todd Maddison 9 months ago9 months ago

      Unfortunately the simple fact that money has to come from somewhere seems to be lost on most in these arguments. We'd all like raises, but in the real world, one knows that the money for them has to come from something, and if revenue is declining, that means cuts elsewhere. Your point about identifying the funding sources is dead on. The process of approving a new collective bargaining agreement actually requires - under AB … Read More

      Unfortunately the simple fact that money has to come from somewhere seems to be lost on most in these arguments.

      We’d all like raises, but in the real world, one knows that the money for them has to come from something, and if revenue is declining, that means cuts elsewhere.

      Your point about identifying the funding sources is dead on. The process of approving a new collective bargaining agreement actually requires – under AB 1200 – a “Collective Bargaining Disclosure” be filed with the COE. That disclosure has a section in it that requires they indicate if other programs are services will need to be cut to enable payment of increased costs due to the agreement.

      Unfortunately almost every single one of those that I’ve seen has “NA” or something similar in that slot, but yet they continue to be approved by the Board and the COE, even though everyone knows cuts will need to come somewhere.

      Perhaps those disclosures should actually be enforced by our COE’s, at least?