Board meets tonight to discuss budget cuts

Even if you can’t make it to the 6 p.m. special meeting tonight at the Oakland school district office (1025 Second Ave.), you might want to take a look at the presentation district staff have prepared, which will likely be the basis for the board’s discussion.

Much of the information has already been out there; I believe this is an opportunity for board members to weigh in on budget cuts for next year.

In the appendix, you’ll find the average class sizes and total number of teachers at individual schools — as well as the money that each school might gain or lose if the district decided to tie the school funding formula to certain class sizes.

This is all leading up to two big meetings: On Dec. 9,  Superintendent Tony Smith lays out his recommendations for 11 schools with low enrollment, low test scores or both. (i.e. closures/mergers/other options). On Dec. 16, Smith will present a proposal for cutting the 2010-2011 general purpose fund by $27 million, or about 10 percent.

According to staff’s calculations, the minimum number of students needed for a school to “break even” on its fixed costs and teacher salaries is 317 for elementary schools, 476 for middle schools and 602 for high schools. And that’s assuming average class sizes are 27, 32 and 32, which is about six students larger than the current averages.

Twenty-nine of Oakland’s elementary schools (48 percent), 12 of its middle schools (71 percent) and 15 of its high schools (83 percent) are smaller than that — in some cases, by design.

Some of you have shared your thoughts on class sizes, school size and budget cuts, but maybe you came up with some new ideas during the Thanksgiving break.

What would you do if you were the superintendent or CFO of Oakland Unified and faced a deficit of $27 million?

Katy Murphy

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

  • harlemmoon

    I’d start with an honest, comprehensive, district-wide assessment of every program, every school, every consultant and every other expenditure.
    Rather than swinging an axe across the board, as many an administrator is wont to do, focus laser-like on the things that AREN’T working. These are the programs, people, etc., that should be done away with first. It makes little sense to toss out everything- particularly when some things actually DO work.
    Next, fine-tune processes. That is, determine how the work of the district can be improved with an over-haul – one that typically involves fewer people as the process is streamlined and updated (making better use of technology).
    Also, I’d look to other districts to determine best practices around budget tightening. Districts don’t operate in a vacuum; get out there and learn what strategies are being used to make smart decisions around expenditures, cutbacks, etc.

  • TheTruthHurts

    I was halfway through a longer post and then realized, I agree with Harlemmoon. We should be taking a look at best practices and think long-term. We all know the state’s not going to have money next year either. Probably the same after that too. All Districts need to be thinking about how to weather the storm and position themselves for when the sun comes out again.

  • cranky teacher

    I honestly don’t see a ton a fat from my perspective. People complain about downtown, but I’m not sure if you can get big money out of shaving some admin jobs.

    I think you have to really think about freezing spending on some of the big ticket items: Facilities, textbooks, outside consultants.

    I’m not saying those things aren’t important, but I think they are LESS essential than teacher retention, class size and support staff like counselors, nurses and extracurricular, pre-school and adult ed programs.

    But then, I never really got the idea of seismic retrofitting for billions, creating mega-rich contractors, when the kids inside the building haven’t had a good meal that day, can’t read or do math and have had a string of substitutes “teaching” them all year.

    The reality is, though, that the money is “bucketed” so that I imagine Smith’s hands are tied on a lot of the decisions. Facilities, for example, may be untouchable as “use-it-or-lose-it” monies.