The Oakland school district on Wednesday night unanimously passed a budget for the upcoming school year — a conservative plan that included deep cuts and extra cash reserves to help cushion the district against the state’s volatile funding stream.
The school district’s total budget for 2011-12 is projected to be $472.8 million, down from $650.5 million in 2010-11. More than three-quarters of the decline — $136 million of the $178 million drop — is construction related. That’s because the district has used much of its voter-approved bond money. So (Can you tell where this is going?) board members are already talking about asking Oakland taxpayers to support another levy, possibly next year.
The school district’s general fund is smaller, too, without federal stimulus funds to mitigate years of state cutbacks: $376 million, down from $412 million in 2010-11.
To balance the budget, OUSD relied even more heavily this year on (previously protected) adult education funds. More than 90 percent of adult education’s ongoing state funding will be diverted to other purposes. While GED programming will be funded at the same levels as this past year, the district will end its high school diploma program and others, such as citizenship classes and ESL for refugees, said Brigitte Marshall, director of Oakland’s adult education programs.
Oakland’s popular family literacy program will continue, but with less funding than it had in 2010-11 — and likely in a different form and without many of its teachers. Marshall said those teachers had been laid off.
Carlene Naylor, the district’s state-appointed trustee, said that while the state budget — for now — provides k-12 education the same amount of money as it did the previous year, that is based on highly optimistic projections about the amount of revenue the state will collect in the 2011-12 fiscal year. If those revenues fall significantly short of projections, California schools will automatically be hit with major mid-year cuts of up to $1.5 billion, probably in February, she said.
An education-specific budget bill enacted this week would allow — but not mandate — school districts to cover those cuts by slicing seven days off the end of the school year. Each district would need to negotiate such a change with its unions if it decided to do so, Naylor said.
“Basically you’re going to operate the school year for seven months before you know whether you’ll get the funding included in the state budget,” Naylor told the board.
On a final note, OUSD’s long-term debt still looms large. The district owes $74 million on state emergency loans that resulted from its infamous fiscal meltdown of 2002-03, and another $10 million for the early retirement package it offered this year.