There are a lot of moving parts around the budget for Oakland schools and we wanted to give you an update on some new developments since our last blog on this topic.
In an effort to understand and advocate for keeping cuts away from students, GO has been having meetings and conversations with principals, district staff, board members, and community members, while also poring over the 150+ page interim budget report and past budget presentations. At the end of this post is a link to a quick assessment of how the District got to this place.
On Wednesday, January 18 a board meeting convened at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the 2016-17 budget and board priorities.
First, the hopeful news. The District will present a new budget proposal and related board resolution for consideration. This happened because of (1) direction from the Board of Education and community input, and (2) the release of the Governor’s budget which gave the District additional information about the support it will receive from the state. We would like to especially acknowledge the leadership of Directors Aimee Eng and Shanthi Gonzales who have been asking important questions, pressing for more nuanced options, and asking for greater transparency.
The resolution going before the Board yesterday contained the following changes to the original budget proposal for next year:
- Eliminates school consolidations for next year (but a promise to open that conversation for possible action in the 2018-19 school year)
- Eliminates cuts to Assistant Principals and non-teaching staff such as administrative staff at schools.
- Eliminates cuts to base allocation funding at school sites.
- Reduces cuts in central offices to $8.5 million. While full details are not yet available, the proposed cuts will be made from the following offices:
- Office of the Chief Academic Officer (approximately $1.4 million);
- Office of the Chief of Schools (approximately $1.6 million);
- Office of the Chief of Staff (approximately $1.1 million);
- Office of the Senior Business Officer (approximately $4.4 million); and
- Decreases the number of teachers next year due to lower student enrollment ($5.5 million)
Additionally, the Board is establishing an ad hoc budget committee to better understand the budget and financial position.
However, areas for ongoing concern include the following:
- Not enough time or information for sound decisions: The presentation giving the rationale for these changes was not public even 24 hours in advance of the meeting. The community, and presumably, the Board of Education has neither the time, nor depth of information, necessary to weigh these important decisions.
- Inadequate analysis of impact on school services: Without additional information, it is not clear if the cuts have been closely reviewed to minimize impact on services and resources for students at schools. The first proposal clearly lacked that analysis.
- Services and resources for students at schools: For example, every year, after schools receive their budgets, they can appeal for additional staff or money to meet the needs of their students. These appeals add up to approximately $5 million for the current year. One proposal was to greatly reduce the amount available for these appeals. This is definitely a school site-based cut and the impact is unclear in terms of what will be lost. It is projected that the biggest impact will be at very small schools and middle/high schools. The cuts to middle and high schools could undermine the purpose of investing parcel tax dollars at those schools to provide additional learning opportunities for students.
- Unclear implications of Alameda County budget letter: Alameda County recently issued a letter raising questions about the District’s first interim report, downgrading it from “Positive” to “Qualified,” and promising more oversight. It is unclear how the County’s concerns will impact this budget process.
- Unclear impact of cuts and new funding allocations: The impact of the proposed changes is unclear. Why is $7.5 million in new funding for special education the correct estimate and what is the trade off for giving more or less? Central office provides important services to our schools and we need to be clear about intended, and potential unintended, consequences of significant cuts.
There are substantial costs to mismanaging this process:
- There are financial costs — as schools react by spending down money in service of students before the budget is adopted or any fiscal management protocols are implemented.
- There are staff morale and retention costs — as this type of experience can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and/or is the impetus to finally start taking those recruiting calls from neighboring school districts and charter schools.
- There are enrollment costs — as families wanting to commit to a district school hesitate in light of the news about fiscal uncertainty, while trying to enroll in the best school for their children.
Recognizing that this is critically important and complicated work, we call on the Board and District to work as quickly, inclusively, and diligently as possible to make these critical decisions in the best interest of students and families.
We will continue to the provide accurate information as quickly as possible. And, given the complexity and impact on students, we would love to hear more from the community about their perspectives and questions.
In case it is helpful, our team also has compiled background on the Oakland school district’s previous budgets and their implications for the 2017-18 budget.