The Oakland Unified School District has extended the contract of school finance consultant Luz Cazares, who will serve as the districts ’s interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for the rest of the school year at a cost to the district of $32,000 a month or $192,000 to the end of June.
The district has had to deal with financial instability, losing many of its key finance administrators in the past year, while at the same time facing huge parent and teacher protests over ongoing budget cuts and school closures. At present, the district is not saying how many schools it plans to close, though in the past officials estimated the number to be as high as 24. The Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) has urged the district to eliminate as many as 36 schools.
Cazares was originally hired for the first half of the school year, from July to December, for $176,000, according to a news report, making her total pay for the 2019-2020 school year $368,000.
“Ms. Cazares is a professional school finance consultant and is not available for hire, so we are fortunate that she has the availability to continue to serve OUSD for the remainder of the school year,” said District Spokesperson John Sasaki.
“The Board of Education has yet to approve the contract extension. The directors will vote on it next month,” he said.
Part of her salary, $120,000, will be offset “with private (philanthropic) dollars,” Sasaki said.
Cazares will lead the district’s budget, accounting, strategic reserves, payroll, procurement and accounts payable functions, according to Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell, in a Dec. 19 internal memo to administrators.
“Luz brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in leading districts through deep financial challenges and developing budgets that reflect…. best budgeting practices that align to the district’s priorities,” said Johnson-Trammell.
Responding to news of Cazares’ new contract was parent advocate Mona Lisa Treviño, a member of the parent/student advisory committee of the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) committee.
“Many of us don’t make her monthly salary in a year. Who makes this kind of money in the district off of our kids? It’s an outrage,” she said.
Treviño criticized the district for lack of fiscal transparency, saying the administration keeps changing the budget numbers it uses to justify cuts, while the public is kept in the dark about the role of outside agencies that influence decision making: the County Office of Education and the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT).
“Policy after policy gets passed from up top, while the public and our schools are excluded from the plans, and still there’s no stability in sight,” she said.
“The public has the right to know who is mandating these expenditures, especially at a time when our school sites have faced and continue to face harmful cuts.”
Cazares is founder of Lucid Partnerships in Alameda, a consulting firm that specializes in school budget and management services. She has worked in Chicago Public School as a financial analyst, the Massachusetts Department of Education as a fiscal management supervisor, deputy superintendent of business services in Pleasanton Unified School district and CFO in Alameda City Unified.
She was hired in July with the idea that she would work alongside a new CFO, who would be hired in September, according to reports. However, that did not happen.
“One of the key criteria is to get operations in a place in which somebody would come in and take over and kind of lead from that place,” said OUSD Chief Systems Service Officer Preston Thomas, who signed the contract in July with Cazares on behalf of the district.
Thomas, quoted in EdSource, said Cazares would help the district make a transition to a new finance chief, avoiding the “hard, abrupt stops” that have impacted the OUSD when other top financial administrators resigned. Thomas acknowledged that there exists only a small pool qualified finance officers, and the position may be difficult to fill.
According to Thomas, the Alameda County Office of Education has provided internal fiscal support to the district, at least through December. With Cazares on board, “OUSD is now leading the overall financial improvements with technical assistance from the county on key projects,” said Sasaki,
He said the money paid to the county for these services did not come directly from OUSD but rather through AB 1840 — a state law that provides some limited extra funding to OUSD in exchange for the district’s pledge to cut program costs and reduce the number of school sites through property sales, long term leases, closures/consolidations.
Going forward, Thomas will not have budget responsibilities, according to Supt. Johnson-Tramell.
“(He) will remain supervisor and leader of Nutrition Services, Instructional Technology, Warehouse, Duplication, Risk Management and Transportation,” she said.
“Now that the financial team has stabilized …. Thomas will be focused on other critical operations such as the highly anticipated start-up of the Central Kitchen,” added Sasaki.