As Supt. Antwan Wilson prepares to leave for a new job, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is facing a looming budget deficit of more than $20 million.
School officials are already looking at severe cuts to programs at school sites and reduction of central office staff and services this year and next school year.
News about the pending deficit is being widely discussed at school sites, and highly placed OUSD officials have confirmed the deficit to the Post, speaking on condition of anonymity.
However, the district has not yet acknowledged the deficit and has given itself a “positive” or clean bill of financial health in the First Interim Financial Report it submitted this week to the Alameda County Office of Education, a report that is required by state law.
Asked by the Post about the deficit, the superintendent’s communications office replied, “Our leadership team is currently engaged in a process to ensure our budget reflects our priorities and our mission of serving all students and eliminating inequity.” The office did not respond to questions about the size of the deficit.
Speaking at the board meeting Wednesday, Senior Business Officer Vernon Hal acknowledged that the second interim report to the county in April is likely to be “qualified,” reflecting the district’s structural budget issues.
Supt. Antwan Wilson told the board Wednesday he has been hearing people around the district speaking about a “budget crisis,” but emphasized that those words are “inappropriate.”
“We have some adjustments to make,” he said, pointing to the need to cut central office administrators to redirect money to costly parts of the budget, including special education, foster student and “newcomer immigrant programs.”
Boardmember Jodie London was more explicit.
“We all know we’re heading into a hard time in terms of our budget. These are hard decisions that we will have to make and that we were elected to make,” she said.
Board President James Harris said, “Efficiency is what we will have to seek in this year to come, (which) will be a difficult budget cycle.”
Boardmember Roseann Torres said the problem is not just due to programs like special education, which are required by state and federal law but is tied to the administration’s over-spending.
“We don’t need more outside consultants, we don’t need to double the salaries of classified supervisors,” she said pointing to the large increase in the numbers of top level employees and cost of the district’s communications department.
One official told the Post that under Wilson, central office departments have been reduced in total numbers, such as the payroll department which has gone from 13 to six employees.
But at the same time, the numbers of cabinet level officials and directors and their pay have grown dramatically.
One observer criticized the school board for refusing to lay the blame for the deficit at Wilson’s feet, saying the deficit was created during his two-and-a-half year tenure in Oakland.
Joanna Lougin, executive director of United Administrators Oakland Schools, the union which represents principals and middle level district administrators, told the Post that she originally heard the district had a $31 million deficit and is now hearing that the deficit is between $24 million and $26 million.
“Whether it’s $31 million or $24 million to $26 million, somebody needs to answer” for mishandling the budget, she said. “If they are going to have major cuts, (it should not be) the employees, teachers, administrators. They are the ones who do all the work that gets done,” not top administrators who are in charge of making the cuts, Lougin said.
Trish Gorham, head of the Oakland Education Association, the teachers, said she did not have any confirmation of the deficit. “I have heard (some) panic from the school sites, which expect their budgets to be frozen,” she said.
“It’s going to be painful. This year’s budget is going to be dramatically different from the one next year,” a top official in the district told the Post.
OUSD had a $37 million deficit in 2003 when it was taken over by the state, which suspended local control and imposed a trustee to run the district.