Oakland School District Faces Budget Shortfall

(L to R) School Boardmember Jody London, Supt. Antwan Wilson and Board President James Harris at a school board meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein.

(L to R) School Boardmember Jody London, Supt. Antwan Wilson and Board President James Harris at a school board meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein.

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.


  1. That is not a good news for the people of district Oakland. School budget of this district shortfall and they can not complete a lot of educational project. It’s very big problem and government must take a serious notice to resolve this issue as soon as possible. Members of education system of this district worry about it. We can not compromise with education in any case.

  2. Sonja Travick

    We need details immediately!!! The press must do hardcore investigative work promptly and lay the facts out to the citizen, students and parents of OUSD. I feel like we’ve been had!!!! Get me some damn facts!!!

  3. D'jango

    The Leadership of this district has no credibility. Wilson was a horrible choice and the board should be held accountable.
    In 2 years we have watched this district fall apart under his leadership. This district was much better off pre-Tony Smith.

    Get some good leadership and stop looking for an outside saviors.
    The good people leave this district, pushed out by the corrupt. The corrupt and self serving are left in power to experiment with our children’s lives and loot the district for cash.

  4. Raleigh mclemore

    How much did he make? What was his personal stake of the deficit? While billionaires may want to run the district like a “business” how does a twenty five million deficit work? Maybe we should run the district as a “school district” and not a place for folks to siphon tax money?

  5. Jim Mordecai

    Board Bylaws make it the responsibility of the Board’s Superintendent to select a parliamentarian; a required Superintendent’s duty that Antwan Wilson never fulfilled.

    So what happened was when hit by the surprise of their Superintendent leaving for D.C. the Board decisions about an interim superintendent and a search firm, all policy decisions that were violations of the Brown Act but lacking counsel on how to proceed to deal with the crisis of their Superintendent leaving made decisions in closed sessions that either should have been immediately reported or should have been decisions reached in public.

    The first act of an interim Oakland Superintendent should be to provide the Board with a parliamentarian knowledgeable of the Brown Act and of course parliamentary procedures.

  6. Cole Carter

    I guess Mr Wilson really was not the brilliant innovator everyone proclaimed him to be when he took the position. You would think him hiring HIS WIFE as a part of his executive team could have been a sign that “everything that glitters is not gold”.

    • Kim Davis

      For clarity, I do not believe Mr Wilson hired his wife for his executive team, I think you are talking about his hiring of the husband and wife team of Allen and Yana Smith, both of whom have now left the district (and strangely, both of whom received a moving allowance despite operating one household).

  7. Jim Mordecai

    Mike: The Board has named an interim superintendent in a press release. But, in fact the Board has taken no official action to hire Devin Dillion, the person the Board President introduced as the Board’s interim superintendent. The Board has not voted for Ms. Dillion to be its interim superintendent. There is no legal obligation for the Board to stick with Ms. Dillion. She is likely to become interim Superintendent but anything can happen.

  8. Mike Hutchinson

    Can we now say that Superintendent Antwan Wilson was a complete failure in Oakland. On top of everything else he is leaving our city’s school with a $30,000,000 structural deficit. So why has the school board secretly hired an interim superintendent to continue his work? Unacceptable.

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