The OUSD deficit: Labor weighs in

[Math Alert! While proofreading this entry for print publication, my editor actually tallied up the list of cuts proposed here. Unless I’m missing something, it adds up to more than $43 million, not the $35 million listed in the presentation.]

Seven unions that make up the Oakland Schools Labor Coalition say they have the answer to the Oakland school district’s budget woes: They have identified $35 million to cut from the school district’s general purpose fund. The presentation is posted on Wednesday night’s Oakland school board agenda.

The unions propose the following cutbacks:

  • $10 million in “excess administrators.” (The state has a maximum administrator-to-teacher ratio, and OUSD was fined $1.3 million for having 78 too many administrators in the 2006-07 school year. The unions rounded that number up to 80 and multiplied by $125,000 to reach $10 million.)
  • $10 million in “unmandated testing”
  • $4.6 million by reducing the district’s reserves by half, down to 1 percent of the budget. This would require a waiver, as the state requires districts to have a 2 percent reserve.
  • $7 million by (somehow) getting the district’s loan repayments to the state waived
  • $ 1 million by consolidating three to four schools.
  • $317,500 by eliminating the state trustee position, held by former State Administrator Vincent Matthews
  • A $1.2 million contract with the New Teacher Project
  • $5 million in parcel tax money used for coaching and professional development for teachers — and, in some cases, for principals
  • $5 million in consultants

Which parts of the proposal do you agree with? Do you think it would be wise for OUSD to reduce its reserves for financial uncertainty?

Katy Murphy

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

  • TheTruthHurts

    This is a constructive development. I could quibble with the math of eliminating 80 administrators and only 3-4 schools, but at least there is a constructive effort to solve the problem. I think employee organizations everywhere should take a hard look at the books and see if they have a better idea. What harm could come from that?

    My only concern is I thought the District said they needed to cut $38 million and this only shows $35 million (of which pigs might fly before the loan is waived or Matthews works for free).

    BTW, where’s the money for a raise?

  • Katy Murphy

    Interesting points.

    I can – sort of – address one of your questions. The district’s CFO recently revised his projections; last I heard, he’s estimating the district will need to cut roughly $37 million from its $250 million general purpose fund.

    Even so, there is a gap between that figure and the labor proposal.

  • district employee

    Several of the items on this list are (fully or partially) funded with restricted funds or categorical funds.

    While it would be nice to be able to eliminate these expenses and put the money directly toward filling the hole in the general fund, that’s not really possible.

    One example is the $1.2 million contract with The New Teacher Project. Funded by Measure G (parcel tax) funds, the oversight committee has stipulated that the funds be used to fund recruitment and retention efforts, but cannot fund staff directly.

    I do appreciate labor’s attempt to come to the table with a counter proposal. Sad, though, that their leadership doesn’t seem to be grounded in full understanding of the constraints under which OUSD operates.

  • Jim Mordecai

    I suggest that Matthews position be cut in half as he could provide oversight of two districts as he does not have to work every day in a district to provide adequate oversight.

    It might agreeable for Oakland not to have a state trustee, but there is no economic advantage for the state to eliminate the terms of the take-over that by law require a trustee until the state loan is repaid. Actually, it is the bank that is carrying the note for the $82 million that is still owed. For the state to foregive the debt it would have to fund the $82 million. Not likely to happen in the current economic situation of the state.

    The District must pay the cost of Matthews state trustee salary because of the terms of the take-over. The State has little pratical need to eliminate the position. However, the term of office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, currently held by Jack O’Connell, is soon up. It would be politically wise for the Board to get a commitment from the major candidates to move to make trusteeships throughout the state half-time jobs when possible as a good government practice and might even pick up a few votes when addressing audience from districts under state trusteeship.

    A trustee could oversee two nearby districts as in Oakland and Vallejo for a full-time salary. Official actions happen at the Board meetings and a trustee could coordinate the date that regular meetings of each district’s board meetings take place so no two meetings are on the same day. Electronic agendas allows the trustee to keep track of actions in two places without having to be present.

    By-the-way, what are the salaries of the collection of trustees throughout the state and is Oakland paying more or less than the average? Anybody know?

    Jim Mordecai

  • aly

    the administrator reduction seems counterproductive to me at a time when the argument on the strike board is about the difficulty of evaluating out poor teachers. i don’t think people realize how much work it is to run a school and the constant meetings, paperwork and discipline an administrator is given to take care of. if there are more of them at a site, the daily work can be divided up and the principal can actually have time to evaluate and support educators. teachers are not evaluated and visited consistently because there is not enough time in a day. there needs to be some support system in place that eliminates paperwork chores from the desk of the principal to free them up. it seems that for now, the AP system is a reasonable fix to that IF the open time results in more evals.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Honestly, $317K for a guy who has no real job description? Obscene.

    Didn’t he jump from principal in the failed Edison corporation schools to a year at Broad Academy and then a year in San Diego and then up to the top of OUSD?

    Woah, this guy can really bounce!

    But seriously, I threw up in my mouth a little when I read his salary.

    Salary, governor of California: $212,179.
    Salary, California superintendent of instruction: $184,000.
    Salary, average OUSD teacher: $47, 451.
    Salary, state administrator of OUSD, $317, 500.

    Hey, Vincent — whaddyasay you get on DonorsChoose.org tonight and throw a few bones back to teachers begging for money for their starved classrooms tonight?

  • J.R.

    I guess leather chair shiners need jobs too(and they don’t work cheap)!

  • Jim Mordecai

    District Employee:

    I have been attending meetings of the Measure G Oversight Committee and do not observe the Committee ruling as yet on any of the purposes for spending Measure G money. And, I certainly did not observe the present Oversight Committee ruling that the New Teacher Project conforms to the purpose mention in the ballot language of “recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers”.

    Common sense would rule out spending money on the New Teacher Project because the Project is not recruiting “highly qualified teachers” but the purpose of the New Teacher Project is to make recruits highly qualified. However, it is up to the members of the Measure G Parcel Tax Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee to issue a report indicating if the New Teacher Project contract to recruit less than “highly qualified teachers” conforms to the specific purpose authorized by the ballot language of Measure G that calls for “recruiting highly qualified teachers.”

    The Measure G money budgeted this year for the New Teacher Project is for a little more than half of the $1.2 million–$843,876. The additional money contracted with the Project must come from other funding sources. For example, I found the same group, The New Teacher Project, is paid a consulting contract to train Special Education teachers and is funded out of Special Education money. Perhaps there are other such contracts that I have not found that the Unions included in their suggested $1.2 million cut.

    Your statement about the limits of spending Measure G money are correct. The ballot language only allows Measure G parcel tax money to be spent for the specific purposes mention on the ballot. However, if the money from Measure G provided to the New Teacher Project was shifted to pay for an increase in Oakland teacher salaries that would fall within the purpose of “retaining teachers” language of the ballot Measure. And, increasing teacher salaries was what many voters were told was one of the purposes of the parcel tax.

    The ballot language also provided that the Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee rules on whether the money was spent only for the purposes stated on the ballot. It would be up to the Oversight Committee to rule on whether spending Measure G parcel tax money on teacher salary increases was an authorized expenditure when it makes it annual report.

    Your assertion that Measure G money “cannot fund staff directly” is only an assertion. The Oversight Committee has not yet placed such an assertion in writing.

    And, in your paragraph below you implied that all $1.2 million spent on the New Teacher Project is funded by Measure G. But, some, if not all the money that is restricted can be shifted to pay for a teacher salary increase. For example, the $309,391 money that was contracted to the New Teacher Project would mean $309,391 special education funding could be redirected toward funding pay raises of special education teachers. I believe your statement below misleads as to the possibility of redirecting the District budget to raise Oakland teachers’ salaries and you purposely left off the part that a purpose of Measure G was to “retain highly qualified teachers”.

    “One example is the $1.2 million contract with The New Teacher Project. Funded by Measure G (parcel tax) funds, the oversight committee has stipulated that the funds be used to fund recruitment and retention efforts, but cannot fund staff directly.”

    Jim Mordecai

  • Sarah


    The New Teacher Project (TNTP) recruits and trains 60-80 Oakland Teaching Fellows (OTFs) each year, which are almost exclusively Math, Science, and Special Ed. Before OTF, these subject areas were frequently unfilled by September. Now, OUSD has been completely (or very close) to fully staffed in those areas, at the beginning of each school year, which is a direct impact from TNTP.

    Unless we can find another high-quality organization to do that job, we can’t lose them.

  • Jim Mordecai


    The issue is not that training the untrained is not important–it is. The issue is that the Oakland voters voted for one thing and a contract with The New Teacher Project is another thing–spending Measure G parcel tax money on unqualified teachers instead of highly qualified teachers as stated in the ballot measure.

    These cuts mean the loss of many jobs that “we can’t lose…”

    Would not logic dictate that OUSD start hiring highly qualified teachers because these cuts has placed on the job market highly qualified teachers seeking jobs that in the past were hard to fill?

    I believe that TNTP views itself as having that secret sauce that makes their training special, but can the District afford to pay for that special sauce during this depression and continuing cuts?

    Jim Mordecai

  • Cranky Teacher

    Not sure of the legal ins and outs, but I would add that I think OTF is doing a great job of getting some sharp, tough young teachers in here. This is totally anecdotal, of course, based on the 10-15 I’ve worked with.

  • Katy Murphy

    Math Alert! While proofreading this entry for print publication, my editor actually tallied up the list of cuts in this proposal — something I should have done to begin with.

    Unless we’re even worse at math than we thought, the unions came up with more than $43 million in would-be reductions, not the $35 million listed in the presentation.

    Are we missing something?

  • Oakland Educator

    Katy: It adds up to more than $44 million, no? Maybe that’s the necessary leeway since it is unlikely that all items would be cut or cut completely.

    Aly: What is the benefit of more evaluations? The current evaluation system is inconsistent, punitive, and anti-tenure. It promotes turnover and lowers morale. If the evaluation process were collaborative, reciprocal (i.e., teachers evaluate administrators, too, as state ed code allows), and encouraging of retention, I would understand your point. The current system, however, consists of administrators swooping in for 15 minutes and claiming to have caught seasoned professionals unprepared, resulting in specious 45-day improvement plans. NExOs are directing administrators to give 1’s and 2’s (below satisfactory) to get rid of tenured teachers because, as one administrator put it, “rookies are cheaper.”

    Sarah & Cranky: I agree many OTF teachers do a great job, too, and vacancies in the fall are certainly to be avoided. However, we’d reduce vacancies if the district paid a competitive rate. It’s Econ 101: Artificial price ceilings (i.e., below-market wages) cause job surpluses. If OUSD compensated teachers appropriately, there would be higher retention, and we wouldn’t need to hire so many rookies. Raising the ceiling would, of course, require cutting some of the fat listed above. And OTF is different from TFA, though they’re under the same umbrella; OTF fills high-need positions, while TFAs seem to get a lot of humanities placements, keeping out teachers who have completed traditional credentialing programs.

  • Harold

    please, please, please, cite the (section) of the ed. code, that allows Teachers to evaluate Administrators.

  • Ivette


    Aside from OTF, the contract with The New Teacher Project includes a Middle School Staffing Initiative, which focuses exclusively on recruiting highly qualified teachers and ensuring that every middle school is fully staffed on the first day of school. The MSSI also develops retention strategies for highly qualified teachers already in OUSD.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Harold, I don’t know from Ed Code, but I do know that in another California district, we were respectfully asked to fill out evaluation forms for our administrators each year. What was done with these, I don’t know. I haven’t been given anything like that in a half-decade here.

    Doesn’t really matter, I guess, since they come and go so fast anyway!

  • Cranky Teacher

    Oakland Educator, it seems your criticism of the evaluation process is more about the implementation than what is laid out in the contract. In fact, what you describe would be in clear violation of the contract — for example, teachers must be notified ahead of time for the formal visits, and 15 minutes is not an acceptable amount of time for an observation.

    Hence, the need for active union representation at each of OUSD’s 138 schools…

  • J.R.

    The current system, however, consists of administrators swooping in for 15 minutes and claiming to have caught seasoned professionals unprepared, resulting in specious 45-day improvement plans. NExOs are directing administrators to give 1’s and 2’s (below satisfactory) to get rid of tenured teachers because, as one administrator put it, “rookies are cheaper.”

    If this anecdotal and factually incorrect charge is being made, where then, are the swarms of unemployed tenured teachers. This is not happening anywhere in this state. It is nothing more than an overly exaggerated false charge. I would rather err to the side of kids and remove the questionable teachers, because we don’t owe them teachers a job, but we owe every child an excellent shot at an education. It’s very simple really.

  • aly

    oakland educator and cranky: your points are exactly why i support the idea of a system that allows more APs to handle daily tasks so that principals can spend more than 15 minutes per class and make the evaluation process something that ISN’T threatening or meaningless. the problem is that there is so much on the plates of admin it makes giving meaningful feedback to all teachers extremely difficult.

    while i am not anti-union, i don’t see how union representation at a school creates more time in an administrator’s day to get in classrooms.

    the entire system asks too much of the people doing the daily work. teachers AND administrators work far beyond their contract hours, and still always have more to do. it is unfortunate that these demands have pushed people apart when ultimately they are all there for the same reason- students.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Aly, what cracks me up (not just in school districts) is the silly us vs. them among labor and management. Invariably, the principal was a teacher. This is true in most unionized environments. Yet, as soon as the principal “goes to the dark side” they are immediately evil or something. It’s just silly.

    Of course some abuse authority, but these are the same people in the “sisterhood” the day before. When I posted this same thought elsewhere here, I got some gibberish about most principals not teaching for very long before the switch. HOGWASH!!

    OUSD seems to have young everything now, but in most districts and in OUSD’s history, principals were experienced teachers. What I’ve observed (in OUSD and elsewhere) is teaching is a solitary profession. When the solitary teacher becomes a principal, she now comes face to face with the high and low performers. That can be a shock and what’s worse, she’s now responsible for dealing with it. That’s tough for many who make the switch.

    I agree, most employees in school districts make less than they would in the private sector. Nobody worthy of serving the students works the official hours. What’s silly is all the internal fingerpointing.

    If I were to believe any conspiracy theory, it would be divide and conquer amongst the employees. They make it so easy as if the source of lack of funding was internal or under any of their direct control. Some evildoer at the state level (or probably Reagan’s economic/policy advisor) is sitting somewhere laughing at all these crabs in a barrel while bankers head to the Caymans.

  • Harold

    Administrators have a union too. In my twenty years in education, i can’t tell you how many “burnt out” Teachers have told me they were enrolling in Admin School because they were tired of the classroom (burned out)!

  • Chris

    Why not think outside the box really, and ask -what does the County Office of Education do and how much do they get in all of this money grab?

    Just a thought- and if I hear training- then why is so much of OUSD’s budget going to consultant and coaches?

  • Another District Employee

    Has anyone actually researched the costs that the OEA associates with these items? I know for a fact that nowhere near $10 million gets spent on “unmandated testing” which I’m assuming are the internal district assessments that many teachers find so useful but that the OEA has always hated. A (very) small fraction at best. Has anyone actually had the nerve to ask OEA where it gets these figures? Unfortunately for OEA, repeating an inaccurate statement many times still does not have the effect of making it true.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thank you – I actually meant to follow up on the “unmandated testing” assertion. At the board meeting on Wednesday, CFO Vernon Hal put those costs at about $1.1 million — not $10 million.

    Betty Olson-Jones, who delivered that portion of the labor council’s presentation, said the true number was probably “somewhere in between.” She said her (much larger) estimate included staff time, coaching and test prep, but I believe she acknowledged that the initial number presented on the slide wasn’t accurate.

  • concerned parent

    I’d like to see OUSD and OEA sit down and agree on the facts and numbers. It seems that OUSD’s financial information is not well understood by OEA or the community.

    And I have seen alot of abuses of the “performance evaluations” at schools, much more than in other sectors. Usually by inexperienced Principals, some of whom are retaliating. For example, Montera Middle school, where at least one teacher is suing over this and other issues. (The Principal there was successfully sued for harrassment by 3 teachers at his last placement in Lodi, resulting in a settlement paid by that district of $250k. So why did OUSD hire him knowing about the suit?)

    We need principals who are not only past teachers, but good managers…..the OUSD website does not cite this as an important qualification.

  • Another District Employee

    Thanks, Katy – FYI – $1.1 million is more closer to the entire budget of that department, which takes care of many other things in addition to “unmandated testing”. For instance – testing mandated by the stae and federal government.

  • TheTruthHurts

    @Concerned parent. I could not agree with you more about good managers as principals. Not necessarily the same skills as a good teacher though.

    As for agreeing on facts and numbers, the state requires disclosure of all this public information and has it online going back over a decade. http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us/welcome.asp

    Don’t know how they could disagree on the numbers, maybe its the “interpretation” of what the numbers mean???

    I think what I hear OEA saying the District has money it’s spending on other “non-essentials” that could be diverted to teachers. However, in the document they presented, they site things like loan forgiveness and state administrator salaries that seem highly unlikely to be diverted. I have no idea about “unmandated” testing, but if they are counting time spent on it I don’t understand how not doing the testing frees up actual cash that’s already going into salary anyway (unless you fire the associated employees who happen to be teachers).