In March, Superintendent Tony Smith and Deputy Superintendent Vernon Hal announced that the Oakland schools would be structural deficit-free for the first time in at least a decade, a major milestone for a district that’s often defined by its fiscal failings.
Then (and I don’t know exactly when), they discovered it: A coding error in the special education budget. As I understand it, a stream of one-time funds expired, but money kept flowing to the program afterward, from the district’s general fund. It took awhile for OUSD’s financial services team to catch on, apparently, because someone from special ed had erroneously indicated that the source of those continued funds was state revenue growth — which didn’t exist — rather than the OUSD general fund.
The upshot: OUSD is discovering, in late May, that it has $8 million less than it thought. The coding error was about $5.7 million. Add to that $2.2 million in increased transportation costs projected since the last interim financial report and a few smaller ticket items.
You can find the news story about it here. I should note that I still probably have a lot of the same questions you do.
This doesn’t look to be a short-term emergency, as it stands right now — at least, in the practical, paying-the-bills sense. As long as the district keeps receiving formerly special-purpose funds, like adult education money, to fill the holes in its general fund, it will still have a surplus. What it does mean, however, is more cuts down the line.
The board’s — and Hal’s — reactions to this are interesting to watch. (Smith wasn’t at the meeting; Jody London said he was out of town on district business.) You can catch it here. If that link doesn’t work, go here and click on the video tab next to item #12-1346.
A piece of irony I noted in the story: The district had cut an accounting position from the special education department (and maybe others), leaving it to one person to manage a $75 million budget. Financial services is recommending one of those positions — even an accounting clerk — be reinstated, saying it’s too much for one person to handle.