Oakland Unified superintendent recommends laying off more than 68 staffers to close budget gap

February 4, 2020

Oakland Unified Budget and Finance Committee members Shanthi Gonzales, left, and James Harris discuss proposed budget cuts on Feb. 3, 2020.

Oakland Unified Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell has proposed to lay off more than 68 staffers to come up with more than half of the $21.5 million that the district says it needs to cut from next year’s budget.

Johnson-Trammell said the layoffs could save up to $12.3 million in the district’s 2020-21 budget. The district would have to come up with $9.7 million in additional cuts to offset rising costs and to give raises to non-teaching staff unions with whom the district is currently negotiating new contracts. The figure also includes new spending for technology and creating a central kitchen.

The three members of the board’s Budget and Finance Committee, which heard the proposal for the first time Monday, raised concerns about across-the-board cuts to schools, with committee members saying they would prefer an “equity-based” formula for calculating cuts so that low-income schools would not suffer the brunt of the reductions. They also asked for a school-by-school analysis of how the cuts would impact each site by dollar amount, as well as by positions to be eliminated.

Some members of the public urged the board to cut the district’s police force, saying the district doesn’t need it and could instead hire a few school security officers to help monitor student safety. Principals said cutting clerical staffers and assistant principals would place a greater burden on principals, which could result in more turnover.

District staff expects to solicit input via online surveys and to present more ideas for cuts to the board Feb. 12.

Luz Cazares, interim CFO and Preston Thomas, chief systems and services officer presented the proposal as a first step to getting reactions from board members. The full seven-member board is expected to review procedures for prioritizing cuts on Wednesday, then give feedback on the developing plan Feb. 12 and vote on it Feb. 26 or March 11.

Theresa Harrington/EdSource

Luz Cazares, interim CFO for Oakland Unified, presents a budget proposal to the district’s Budget and Finance Committee on Feb. 3, 2020.

If the board approves the layoffs, notices for teachers and other staff members with teaching credentials will be sent out by March 15. Classified employees without credentials must get 60 days notice. The proposed layoff of 68 workers does not include cuts at the schools, such as clerical workers and assistant principals.

The plan includes “staff’s current best thinking on potential efficiencies, shifts and reductions to ensure the district is fiscally solvent for 2020-21 and maintains its 3 percent reserve,” according to Johnson-Trammell and Cazares, in a memo to the committee.

The board agreed in December that it needed to cut $21.5 million from its 2020-21 budget to pay for ongoing expenditures, which include rising costs for special education and pension obligations, along with $6 million in part to cover raises for employees of the five unions who are demanding salary increases similar to what teachers received last year. But it did not identify where to make the cuts.

The teachers union negotiated an 11 percent salary increase and a 3 percent bonus to end its seven-day strike. The board later approved raises for the Service Employees Union International, or SEIU, which represents classified positions such as clerical workers, instructional assistants and campus security officers. Board members have publicly stated that they want to give the district’s other workers raises as well.

Total proposed layoffs include positions from the central office: 28 from the academics department, 27 from business and operations, seven from the district’s department that handles personnel issues and six from the superintendent’s office. Although specific positions were not identified in the presentation, they include reductions to communications management, police support, administrative support for the superintendent and board, teacher coaches and peer assistants, recruitment for non-teaching positions and clerical support in operations and talent. In addition, the proposal would reduce the number of managers directing the following: academic innovations; instructional technology; library services; English language learner services; a conflict resolution program called restorative justice; behavioral health services; discipline and attendance; college and career services; supports for families and new employees; and research, data and assessment. 

Reductions in the personnel department are expected to increase “the workload of the remaining staff two-fold, impacting frequency of school visits with principals, support with discipline, tenure affirmation and evaluations,” according to the presentation. In business and operations, streamlining of duties and administrative reductions are expected to impact the district’s ability to launch Saturday school for struggling students and the launch of a new central kitchen expected to prepare lunches for all schools districtwide.

Cuts to instructional technology are expected to result in delays for school support, “risk of data errors,” and reduced access to software systems districtwide, according to the presentation. Other cuts would be made to help “streamline” management and redistribute workloads. 

The balance of the proposed cuts include $3 million schools receive for discretionary spending, $1.5 million for school clerical support and $1.3 million to reduce the number of assistant principals.

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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