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.