Parents and teachers attend a meeting Monday at Manzanita Community School calling on school board members to keep budget cuts away from school sites. Photo by Ken Epstein
Parents, students and teachers from around Oakland held a meeting this week with Board of Education members to hear answers to questions about the impact on students and schools of the growing deficit facing Oakland Unified School District (OUSD).
Of the seven representatives on the board, Amy Eng, Shanthi Gonzales, Roseann Torres and Jumoke Hinton Hodge attended the meeting Monday evening at Manzanita Community School in the Fruitvale District.
Parent speakers demanded that board members honor their promises to keep cuts away from school sites, avoid teacher consolidations and combined grade level classes.
Some said they want to avoid a state takeover of the district, which has led to many of the continuing difficulties that the school district is experiencing.
At the same time, some members of the school community are concerned that school closures may not turn out to an expedient way to cut costs but instead to be a cover for property sales or a takeover by charter schools.
In response to parent requests for a blunt report on the deficit, Boardmember Eng presented an overview of district finances. She said next school year´s deficit was projected until two weeks to $14 million, but is now estimated to have increased by $9.3 million, totaling over $23 million.
In addition, the district is struggling to remain solvent in the current 2016-2017 school year. Now in the midst of a strict spending freeze, OUSD is seeking to save between $8 million and $10 million by the end of June to maintain a mandatory 2 percent reserve and avoid a loss of local control.
Boardmember Eng said the deficit began in September when district staff learned that it had to borrow $2.8 million from the reserve fund to cover a shortfall that was discovered in the 2015-2016 budget.
She pointed out that the community demand to cut central office expenses and protect school site spending can sometimes be misleading. A number of positions that are funded as central office, she said, are staff who provide services to students at school sites.
About three-quarters of the budget office staff has resigned, she said, and therefore the district is struggling to produce a report about the causes of the deficit, which will probably be ready in August.
Mona Traviño, an organizer of the Monday meeting, was pleased that so many parents from around the city came out to speak with board members.
“I think some of the school board members are deeply disturbed about what has happened, but they don’t know what to do,” she said.
However, schools and students remain in a precarious situation she said. “We still have no guarantee that they are going to keep the cuts away from school sites and services. The board needs to to know that we are not going to let children and schools pay for their mismanagement.”