Two words came up at tonight’s school board meeting that might sound uncomfortably familiar to those of you who watched OUSD’s financial house implode in 2002 and 2003: Cash flow.
As I listened to the discussion (and the tone of everyone’s voice), it became clear to me that school officials don’t just have to figure out a way to balance the budget in the face of multimillion-dollar cuts. They need to plan, right now, for the possibility that the state — if unable to resolve its mounting fiscal problems — does not make payments to school districts at some point in the coming months.
“We do need to take a very careful look at the cash flow,” interim superintendent Roberta Mayor said. “If the district runs out of cash, that’s a major, major problem.”
With monthly payouts averaging $38 million, however, it’s not like OUSD can survive on its squirreled-away savings for long.
For now, Mayor said, OUSD is putting a freeze on out-of-state travel; holding onto some of its special-purpose money with the hope that the state will allow districts to spend it however they want; and encouraging all employees to take a vacation during winter break, among other energy-saving measures.
Then there is the question of cuts — potentially $12 million next semester, and more for the next school year. Vernon Hal, Oakland’s new CFO, said he planned to break down the budget by department and type of planned expenditure so everyone can see exactly how money is being spent.
Seems pretty basic, doesn’t it? But when I talked to school board president David Kakishiba this week, he said board members don’t even know how much each department spends, and on what.
OK, you’ve reached the end of my ominous dispatch. I hope to come back with some better news in the near future.