Smith: the $27m cut is only the beginning

Very soon, the Oakland school district’s superintendent and board will have to figure out where to cut $27 million from a $250 million pot of general purpose funds.

But the challenge won’t stop there, Superintendent Tony Smith said last night. Smith said he expected the district will have to cut $80 to $100 million in the next three or four years as the state budget crisis continues.

“This is not about holding our breath. This is not simply about doing business as usual, and feeling like we can get through this and hang on,” Smith said. He added, “In these conditions you can either turn away from each other, hold on tight to what you have and defend it, or we can figure out how to work together and be a community.”

Smith made those remarks at a special board meeting last night in which CFO Vernon Hal walked the school board members (and interested members of the public) through the district’s complex budget. I wasn’t able to make it in person, but I watched the video. Here are some highlights:

Downsizing downtown: Although schools receive about 70 percent of the general purpose dollars, the central office is slated to absorb 70 percent of the cut, Hal said. That would mean a 4.5 percent cut for schools, compared to a nearly 28 percent cut downtown (which, of course, includes some of the services provided to schools). Again, we’re talking about general purpose money — not all funds.

Adult education and other grant programs are in the mix: Included in the $250 million pot is $33 million in state funding streams that were once protected, or “restricted” — but which school districts can now use however they see fit. Among those programs are adult education ($11.5 million), GATE and class size reduction for high school students (but not kindergarten through third grade). You can see the whole list of these “Tier III” programs on Slide 6 of the budget presentation.

The scoop on consultants: The money Oakland Unified has spent on outside consultants, rather than on staff, has been a huge bone of contention with the teachers union, whose contract expired more than a year ago and who have been asked to take a 3 percent pay cut. Hal devoted a slide to the issue (# 25, if you’d like to see more detail). He reported that the district and its schools spent $58 million on consultants in 2008-09, of which about $12 million (including $1 million to Oakland police) came from general purpose funds.

If you have a couple hours to spare and want to sharpen your OUSD budgetary expertise (I’m sure many people fit this description), just go here, and click on the video button next to the Oct. 26 meeting.

Katy Murphy

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

  • TheTruthHurts

    Thanks Katy. Your comments remind me how daunting a task it is to involve the public in the details of running a successful school District. After working a long day, frankly, the last thing I want is to look at video of our school board. But, as a concerned citizen, that’s exactly what I’m supposed to do. I hope there are others who make that personal sacrifice to bring about the “community” Mr. Smith speaks about.

  • cranky teacher

    $58 million in ONE academic year?!


    Well, cut that out and you’re more than halfway to $100 million! Yeah!

  • Concerned Parent

    One of the benchmarks of this country was education. When my father came to the US in the early 1900’s education was considered and investment in our countries future.

    Lets also note that the Obama administration claims that education is a focus for the next 4 year.

    With that, I see cuts EVERY year, you have districts that are running so lean and parents who are constantly making up for the deficits through their fundraising efforts, time, and personal money.

    The schools and the parents are becoming so efficient at survival that the district and the state just see it as another easy budget cut.

    I understand the problem with the economic downturn but why is it acceptable to deprive our children of a good education?

    My advice: Go back to SACRAMENTO and tell them that the taxpayers find this UNACCEPTABLE!!!!

  • Lee O. Cherry

    Besides consulting expenditures to police, what are the remaining expenditures of $57 million for consultants?

    I also suggest that some schools be consolidated like Washington Elementary and Peralta Elementary, both of North Oakland. Also, McClymonds should be closed on placed in “caretaker” status because of its very low enrollment.

  • cranky teacher

    I’m an old-line liberal who believes in that classic bumper sticker about the Air Force holding bakesales, but I do believe we could be a lot more efficient with the money we do get if so much wasn’t wasted pleasing D.C., Sacramento and the education companies.

    One teacher/parent crisis plan:

    No new textbooks — expensive and overrated and underutilized. (Fresh copies full of color pictures does not increase learning).
    No new curriculum — expensive and overrated and underutilized. (If it’s needed, pay veteran teachers who know our students to work in the summer.)
    Less “professional development” — expensive and overrated and underutilized. (Stop paying high-priced consultants to tell us the obvious.)
    Cut top staff — expensive and overrated and underutilized. (NeXOs? Do we really need them? Put that money into more assistant principals, so that teacher’s can be properly evaluated.)
    Give charters less public money, befitting their quasi-private status. (I’d still give them some; they spice up the mix.)

    DO put the new-found money in the hands of principals, teachers and other professionals at the sites: Smaller class sizes, more mental and health services, more and better support staff.
    For accountability: Hire more and better detectives/accountants to monitor the use of all money.
    For accountability: Increase transparency at all levels to the media and community.

    Also, why does the district have to pay for police protection? Aren’t the schools part of the city?

  • Katy Murphy

    Here’s some historical background on OUSD’s police force, which the district disbanded in 2001 but was court-ordered to reinstate (from a story I wrote in January 2007):

    Oakland’s school police department, one of the oldest in the country, was established in 1957 as a security force. It later attained police status, but its structure continued to change over the years. In the early 1990s, the officers worked closely with city police. But in the late 1990s, the school district decided to expand its police force and make it more autonomous.

    In 2001, shortly after signing a contract with its officers, district officials shut the department down, arguing that it was expensive and ineffective. At the time, according to Roy Combs, the district’s legal counsel, the department cost about $2.5 million a year.

    But the Public Employment Relations Board — and later, the state Supreme Court — agreed that the 12 laid-off officers had been shortchanged. The state board determined that Oakland school officials hired the services of the city police department without allowing the union to negotiate the decision.