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No more magic tricks: meeting Thursday on Oakland school cuts

The state’s budget crisis has put the Oakland school district in a bind; CFO Vernon Hal announced last week that he had “run out of magic tricks.” While federal stimulus funds have helped avoid catastrophe, the district’s working 2009-10 budget is still a half-million in the red.

At 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, the board and state administrator hold a public meeting to discuss what to do before the final budget is adopted on June 24. Should the district…

  1. Close schools targeted for a gradual phase-out? Estimated savings ~ $1 million
  2. Snatch $1 million from the adult school’s ending fund balance? (staff is leaning toward this)
  3. Reduce School Resource Officers?
  4. Delay purchase of English Language Arts instructional materials?

Another topic that might come up on Thursday: class sizes.

If OUSD’s average class size of 25 grew by just one student, it would save $5 million, according to Chief Financial Officer Vernon Hal. Hal also says that Oakland has the fifth-smallest average class size of districts with over 20,000 students.

Should Oakland allow its class sizes to get bigger – and if so, should the be determined by each school, or centrally?

You can find Hal’s budget presentation from last week here. Page 38 shows how the Oakland school district stacks up to others in California, by class size, number of schools and number of students. You can see where they’re going with this…

image from Marcin Whichary’s photostream at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

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

  • harlemmoon

    Magic tricks! Is that what he was doing all this time? Sheesh, I actually thought he was doing finance and budgeting.
    Well, as we shouldn’t expect him to pull any more rabbits out of his, uh, hat, perhaps he can now get down to the real business of making the tough and necessary cuts in all the appropriate OUSD, uh, quarters.

  • seenitbefore

    All I can say is… I’m glad that art and music classes are not on the short list of classes to be eliminated….. at least for now.

  • Oakland Teacher

    For many schools, music and art classes are already gone. Remember that with site based budgeting, schools decide how to spend their money on a site by site basis. Not all schools can afford those classes.

    Oftentimes, schools must make the hard choice between things like social workers, paying for psychologist time, school security officers, smaller class sizes in grades beyond K-3, intervention teachers, reading coaches and art/music or other elective programs. In elementary schools, a strong, active parent presence helps to ensure those programs stay in place if they are valued over the other needs. That is not to say they are more valuable; it is a shame that schools ever have to choose!

  • harlemmoon

    San Jose officials closed an $83 million budget shortfall. Surely, Hal the Magician can come up with a creative way to find $500,000. C’mon, Hal, what do ya say. One more trick.