District Leaders Say Schools May Face $15-21 Million in Budget Cuts Next Year

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OUSD Board of Education. Photo by Ken Epstein.

The Oakland Unified School District (OIUSD) has announced it may cut $15.5 million from its budget for the next school year, signifying there is no end in sight to proposed austerity measures including school closures that state officials have promised would lead eventually to a better day for Oakland students.

“In order to balance the budget for 2020-21, OUSD will have to change how it uses its resources. The (Multi-Year Projection) shows that OUSD needs to reduce expenses and/or increase revenue by at least $15.5 million for next year,” according to a public statement released this week, “First Interim Report: An Important Budget Update.”

Adding in further expenditures for other employee raises, new student laptop computers and a new central kitchen that has long been in the works “brings to approximately $21 million our estimate of how much OUSD needs to reduce expenses and/or increase revenue for 2020-21,” according to the statement.

The Oakland school board will discuss these budget proposals “no later than February,” according to the OUSD statement, and “the board will vote on the reductions soon thereafter.”

Though not mentioned in the district press release, these cuts are unfolding under the guidance of the state operating through the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), the Alameda County Office of Education and a state-appointed trustee with veto power under the district’s financial decisions.

Enhanced state authority over the district’s operations, including pressures to close schools, was granted by AB 1840, which was passed last year with the backing of then Gov. Jerry Brown and Oakland’s representatives in the State Legislature. FCMAT itself was involved in the drafting of the legislation.

In its statement, the district blamed its continuing shortfalls on state school funding that does not keep up with the district’s growing expenses.

“While state funding continues to increase, the increases are modest at best and woefully insufficient given how fast our expenses are rising,” the statement said.

“The bottom line is that funding is increasing a little, but our necessary and imposed expenses are continuing to rise faster. In order to balance the budget, will have to–like every year–prioritize how we spend our resources,” according to the statement.

Major local expenses, according to the district, are employee pension costs, which are expected to increase by $3 million next year, as well as teacher and other employee wage increases that were negotiated as a result of the teachers’ strike in February, though “these raises were long overdue.”

District expenses for providing special education are also expected to grow by $2.9 million next year. Operated at a heavy cost to Oakland and other school district, special education programs represent an “unfunded mandate,” which means they are required by law but not covered by state or federal funds.

Not alone in facing financial austerity, the Sacramento Unified School District is currently in the news as it struggles to come to grips with a $27 million deficit. The district is under pressure from FCMAT and the state auditor to cut teachers’ salaries and benefits.

According to a state audit, cited by the Sacramento Bee, the Sacramento school district could save millions of dollars by “cutting salaries by 2 percent, increasing teacher’s contributions to retiree health benefits and capping the district’s payment toward employee health care benefits at 90 percent.”

At present the district pays 100 percent of health costs.

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