Where should OUSD look to cut?

Oakland school officials say they will likely have to cut $12.5 million this school year and another $29.6 million for 2009-10 — under the governor’s January budget proposal.

Yes, our fine state is now apparently $41.7 billion in the hole and just weeks away from a cash flow crisis.

The school district’s grim summary last night included the following “suggested actions,” among others: to reduce energy costs, impose a central office hiring freeze, freeze out-of-state travel, cut back on employee overtime, scrutinize contracts paid from the general purpose fund, and reduce the amount of money given to schools.


Interim superintendent Roberta Mayor said that in the past, principals had a `use it or lose it’ spending mentality, and for good reason. Whatever money their schools didn’t spend by the end of the year went straight back to the central office, to be redistributed across the district.

That’s changed. Now, schools will get back 80 percent of what they don’t spend, which is supposed to encourage principals to save money. They’ll need it; each school might take a cut of up to 5 percent next year, said OUSD’s new CFO, Vernon Hal.

If you look at the financial update presentation I mentioned earlier, you’ll notice quite a few question marks and TBDs. The board is holding a public retreat on Saturday, Jan. 24 — location also TBD — to discuss more concrete proposals. I’ll post more details when I get them.

What are the least painful cuts OUSD can make?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Harold

    I hope they don’t destroy the Arts Programs – again.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Thanks for the info Katy. Keep us posted. 30 million is huge. I just checked their website and the total unrestricted revenue (???) was $256 million. That means more than 10% of the budget must be cut.

    I don’t think this will be painless at all. You asked the question correctly though – What are the least painful cuts OUSD can make?

    I don’t have any answers, but I’m sure some will be screaming bloody murder soon enough. I wouldn’t want to be part of the 10%, but it’s gotta come from somewhere. Thinking money grew on trees in the yards of overpriced homes is how we got in this mess.

  • skyline parent

    I don’t have an answer to the question asked, but am guessing that the fact that the teachers’ contract needs to be negotiated this year does not bode well for OEA members. It won’t be the least painful cut, and may be one of the most painful possible, but it may come from the teachers – via lack of raises, pay cuts, increased class sizes, etc… all of which affect students.

    I have had children in OUSD schools for the past 18 years and feel saddened that the takeover (5 years? ago) by the state and the protracted strike (13 years ago) were not even the bottom. It seems that we are now there.

  • Ex-OUSD staff

    All the cuts up to “reduce money given to schools” look like a good idea because they follow the fundamental principle of keeping cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. Eliminating the practice of taking away unspent money at the end of the year is a great idea. Under the old system principals would tell staff there was money left at the end of the year and it had to be spent within days – not a good way to maximize the effectiveness of what minimal funds you do have. Since those expenses were not part of an overall educational plan or budget and purchases were often redundant or unnecessary. As a teacher, what was really frustrating to me, is that that money would show up at the END of the year, two weeks before summer.

  • Maria Ku

    Well, all my kids (one – elementary, one – middle school) get from the district is the building and the teachers salaries, oh, yeah, and $20 per year of GATE funds. We, parents, pay for everything in school. In elementary schools there are more PTA employees than district employees.

    I just came back from the PTA meeting where, VERY reluctantly, we approved another salary – for the yard duty supervisor. We did this because district does not pay for anyone to supervise 330 kids during lunch recess. Teachers are not to be touched – they’re at lunch, and the principal said “Sorry, I feel for you, but if you think you need a yard supervisor, pay for it from your own pocket.” We didn’t want to, but we had to.

    Our elementary school doesn’t even get any funds for books to be bought for the library. We do have a library with a librarian, but all out of PTA funds.
    Etc etc.

    I feel safe – there is nothing OUSD can cut from my children.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Maria Ku:

    One reason your school may not be getting funding for library books is that library money can be spent for anything. That means your SSC passes a budget and your library funding may pay for Sports4Kids recess games. I mention Sports4Kids as when I view online the General Consent Report of the State Administrator he frequently passes on expenditure for Sports4Kids that the source of the money is Library funding.

    To see where your library funding went check with your Principal and the school budget.

    Jim Mordecai

  • John

    Mary Ku:

    I found this CA Administrative Code 5552 language, “establishing who may supervise playgrounds,” integrated into a number of current California school board policy statements.

    “Where playground supervision is not otherwise provided, the principal of each school shall provide for the supervision by certificated employees of the conduct and safety, and for the direction of the play, of the pupils of the school who are on the school grounds during recess and other intermissions and before and after school.”

    Perhaps this doesn’t apply to your school because your PTA IS “otherwise” providing supervision during recess.

    Perhaps a chat on this issue with OUSD’s office of Risk Management would be helpful?

    Although, as I’ve observed in other areas of education, when funding is short compliance with legistative mandate gets shorted. If the PTA gets to the point of no longer wanting, or being able, to pay for yard supervision perhaps the names and phone numbers of personal injury attorneys (with the above Ad Code quote) could be circulated to parents for easy access in case their child sustains any kind of injury during reccess. I discovered several seeking to make a buck on potentially attributable to inadequate school yard supervision). It could be a real (school site & down town) OUSD administrator attention getter.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Last Wednesday the State Administrator approved expending $221,395 to pay to Chabot Space and Science Center.

    It is not that there is no value in such expenditure but this is a serious financial crisis and the priority of some or all the funding can be challenged.

    $5,000 to host two OUSD dinners with Scientists; one for upper elementary and one for secondary. “Each end of the year event will include 200 teachers, students, and local scientists for an evening of food and conversation around the field of science.”

    Why not as an alternative hold the conversation at one of the high schools with food prepared by one of the cooking classes and save the $5,000.

    $5,000 for renting space at the Chabot Space and Science Center for the yearly science fair. Again space might be found in OUSD or a business might want the event to attract customers.

    $28,895 Summer Professional Development. The State provides professional development money and if it cannot afford it this year why should OUSD?

    $45,000 Climate Change Summer Institute for 20 OUSD teachers. This PD costs $2,200 per teacher. But, the teachers do get to take back climate science kits for their schools and to boot follow-up sessions will be held during the next school year.

    $27,500 Earth Science Outreach program for grades 3-5. 50-minute class delivered to various middle school 6th grades serving up to 2500 students. Surely an enriching experience if concepts are not successfully being presented in class and the 2500 students is fairly accurate an estimate.

    $110,000 Field Trip programs at $11.00 a student admission charge waving admission for 10,000 students.
    There is no information as to how many students’ admissions were waived last year for OUSD although I sent an email to State Administrator Matthews. The language of up to 10,000 means that any less than 10,000 students attending the cost per student increases from $11.00 a student. And, I am not sure how the 10,000 and 1 student OUSD field trip would be handled.

    The issue here is not that programs are useful or desired but can money be spent in the same way during this financial crisis.

    I would argue that site based decision making has to be stopped. The amount of money spent on education by California has fallen, according to Ed Week from a ranking of 46 to 47 and with the current budget crisis in Sacramento I anticipating California dropping further. The State Administrator is continuing to budget in the same fashion and it doesn’t make sense because times have changed from the best and worst of times to merely the worst of times and State Administrator Matthews does not seem to have gotten the email.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Judy

    This is amazing. My school district has stopped all such events immediately. No frills allowed. How does OUSD justify this spending? Who is watching the dollars? Why isn’t there a spending freeze of everything except only the bare essentials, as is occurring in surrounding school districts? OUSD out of control once again!!!!!

  • Jim Mordecai


    Watching the dollars in Oakland has been so problematic that it was taken over by the State of California.

    Unfortunately, under State administration watching the dollars has also been problematic.

    After 5 years of State control the State Administrator issued a contract with a 3rd party for an performance audit over the cash accounting system of the District. The cost of doing the audit and training OUSD personnel to change so as to bring procedures for following the money up to County acceptable accounting standards started at $100,000 and the cost of the work of two 3rd party auditors and trainers will, by May 2009, almost double to $180,000. This money will be taken from the general fund.

    A criticism of the State Administration might be how come it has taken it so long to address the issue of how money is handled?

    Taken from the agenda of January 14, 2009 State Administrator and/or Board of Education meeting:

    Financial Management
    08-3235 Amendment No. 1, MOU – Performance Audit – Vavrinek, Trine, Day & Co., LLP – Payroll and Cash Accounts –
    Financial Services
    Oakland Unified School District Page 22 Printed on 1/ 11/09
    State Administrator and/or Board of Agenda (Long) January 14, 2009
    Approval by the State Administrator of Amendment No. 1, Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), between District and Vavrinek, Trine, Day & Co., LLP, Palo Alto, California, adding the provision of staff training and technical assistance to the Scope of Work, to the latter’s engagement evaluating the internal controls over recording and monitoring payroll transactions and related reconciliation of liability and cash accounts in County Treasury prepared by the Alameda County Office of Education and with District bank accounts for the 2007-08 fiscal year, at an additional cost not to exceed $80,000.00, increasing the MOU cost from a not to exceed amount of $100,000.00 to a not to exceed
    amount of $180,000.00, for the period June 1, 2008 through May 31, 2009. All other terms and conditions of the MOU remain in full force and effect.
    Funding Source: General Purpose
    Attachments: Document(s)
    08-3244 Amendment, No. 1, Professional Services Contract –

    Jim Mordecai

  • Nancy

    Does anyone know if the reserve funds were ever replenished during State control these past years?

  • Jim Mordecai


    Replenishing the reserve fund is misleading. Each budget is required by Ed Code to have a certain percentage of the budget in reserve

    First few years after the State take-over the District was unable to construct a budget that provided for a
    reserve that proved sufficient to make it to the end of the year.

    Understand that if the District submits a balanced budget in May for the next year and the State then
    cuts back like it is doing this year with midyear cuts, a reserve is then at risk.

    The required reserve at first was 3% of the budget but in recent years, I believe, it has been reduced to 2%.

    I also believe that the District has managed to come up with budgets in the last two years that included a 2% reserve; and, actually had money left over when the books were closed.

    The budget again this year, I believe, met the 2% requirement but the Governor has announced midyear cuts that, if followed, will present a challenge and cut into the reserve approximately $1.7 million.

    The District estimates the Governor will come in with a midyear cut for Oakland of $12.4 million for Oakland.

    At its January 14, 2009 meeting, the District finance officer showed a power point with $10,735,000 in anticipated cuts. The District reserve having to cover $1.7 million of the anticipated cut.

    The purpose of a reserve is to met challenges such as a Governor’s midyear cuts.

    The District is planning on budgeting for the next two years and trying to anticipate what the Governor will cut.

    But, those future budgets will have the required reserve built into each of the budgets.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Skyline teacher

    So, GM and the banks that got us into this mess can get a federal bailout but our state schools can’t? Huh.

  • Nextset

    I’m sort of thinking aloud here.. I can argue the position that the social status of the kids is the best indicator of the cleanliness of the bathrooms, the condition of the physical plant as well as the payscales/working conditions of the teaching staff at a school or school district. I have long held the thought that OUSD and districts like them actually hold the students in low regard which is why they won’t discipline them or teach them life skills that would push up their earning power and survival rates. Piedmont USD holds their kids in higher regard than OUSD and probably has expulsions & clean bathrooms, etc to make that point.

    So how will ghetto school districts react to a budget crisis? Probably by collapsing the school district completely rather than triage or shrink things to keep a smaller number of students doing well.

    Compare what the college districts are doing. They are limiting enrollment to preserve core qualities. It remains to be seen if they can do that fast enough and severely enough.

    In the secondary schools certain students are largely gone anyway by graduation time. They drop out. Will the districts identify those students from 9th grade who have the best chances of completing school and start shifting resources to them and away from those who are going to jail or going to die soon anyway? (In other words bring back the A, B and C track). Not going to happen. Even though we can identify those students most likely to go to jail and stay there. The urban public secondary schools would just as soon crash and burn the whole thing rather than triage. Students are fungible to them, all the same.

    OUSD will likely terminate all special programs & advanced ed, go to general ed only, then increase class size to whatever it takes to match payroll budget. The higher functioning students will leave for homeschooling and internet high schools as soon as feasible. Those who remain may want to bring their own TP. As far as the teachers, well – I wouldn’t work there.

    Bailouts aren’t going to work for long. The federal government will soon not be able to print money fast enough and the state can’t print it at all.

  • Susan

    OUSD must cut the cost of NExOs (Network Executive Officers). These individuals (many are consultants, not OUSD employees) are rarely seen on school sites and represent spending money far, far away from students. Currently they are trying desperately to justify their existence by creating more and more paperwork that consumes teacher professional development time and is in no way benefitting students. Analyzing test scores over and over, despite teacher input that these tests are not valid reports of student gains, is a waste of time. OUSD must chop from the top and NExOs are a perfect place to start. Their salaries are exorbitant and not justifiable. Someone please look into the total cost to the district of these useless individuals!

  • Pingback: Some light TV for your Saturday - The Education Report - Katy Murphy covers what’s going on in the Oakland schools()

  • John

    Judy: Your questions are good and well aged. Yes, “How does OUSD justify this spending? Who is watching the dollars? OUSD out of control once again!!!!” Your questions and observation also apply to OUSD’s host city, where fiscal irresponsibility reigns, objective criticism is shunned, and taking cost effective result oriented action is compromised or muted by anemic logic and a feel good social philosophy that places form over substance giving deference, position, and tax dollars to the racially qualified. It thrives in Oakland and other urban landscapes from sea to shining sea, and has now taken up residence in the oval office.

    Now take off your hat and brains and show some respect, one of its spokespersons has something Oakland to say:


    If it makes you angry, shut up and pay your tax increases. If you’re not a tax payer and a pedigreed member of the diversity club be happy, but never ever be satisfied!