“Chop from the Top” is not a meaningless catch phrase, and here’s why.

The Oakland Unified School District (“OUSD”) Superintendent and Board of Education President introduced a series of “Budget Adjustments” in a joint letter on 2/27/2023 that they claim are needed to fund badly needed compensation increases for our educators and other union staff. The Attachment A list of “Adjustments” includes (as best as we could make sense of it) the following categories of adjustments:

While the OUSD Board had been talking about reprioritizing the budget since the beginning of the year, it was the first time that the public and perhaps some members of the board had seen some of the “Budget Adjustments” including the plan to lay off nearly a hundred of our lowest paid employees, most of whom work directly with students as special education paraprofessionals, restorative justice facilitators, case managers, early literacy tutors and a safety position created during the implementation of the George Floyd Resolution. Also a huge surprise (given the board’s decision just a month before to overturn planned school closures and mergers) was the plan to merge “at least ten schools” to save $2.5 million. Directors VanCedric Williams, Valarie Bachelor and Jennifer Brouhard have been clear during their campaigns and since that they will not balance the budget by laying off our lowest paid union workers or by closing or merging schools, especially without any prior community agreement. So it was no surprise that these three board members did not support the package of cuts and voted no. For more on that vote check out our blog post from earlier this week.

OUSD has a historic opportunity to fundamentally transform our district in service of students by “chopping from the top”

“Chop from the top” doesn’t mean letting a few folks go, it means reorganizing departments (fewer people) and restructuring senior central office salaries to bring us in line with neighboring districts, and now is the time to get started. We have historic reserves and one time Covid dollars that can be used to free up funds to give teachers and other union workers raises (because they are vastly underpaid) while we work on restructuring the central office to run more efficiently with fewer dollars. We are very pleased to have read in the presentation that some of that work has begun. For instance, the enrollment department is reorganizing both the way it is funded and help it deliver services more efficiently:

OUSD Budget Adjustments Attachment A page 7

According to the presentation, OUSD is also planning to eliminate the entire Chief of Staff office at the end of the 2024-25 school year, and to collapse the Business and Operations offices together (which is how we have functioned in the past) over the next few years. While we applaud these changes, and we are looking forward to full implementation, the Chief of Staff’s office is not paid with General Fund revenues (and is therefore those funds are not available to push to school sites), nor is the Chief Business Officer (who is paid from AB1840 funds), so we need to do more.

OUSD has too many supervisors who are paid too much

Every district in California reports data to the state, and for expenditures, every district reports them in the same way – by using “Object Codes” to identify the type of expenditure. That data is all publicly available on the http://www.ed-data.org/ website, and much of the data we use comes from that site. Object Code 2300 is defined as “Classified Supervisors’ and Administrators’ Salaries – Full-time, part-time, and prorated portions of salaries of supervisory personnel who are business managers, controllers, directors, chief accountants, accounting supervisors, purchasing agents, site administrators, assistant superintendents, and superintendents. Include stipends for governing board members and personnel commission members.” This does not include Principals (who are “certificated”) but can include Community School Managers. For the most part, however, it represents central supervisory staff.

The statewide average for the cost to a district for Object Code 2300 Supervisory staff is $172 per Average Daily Attendance (“ADA”) which is the number of students attending on a given day (so essentially $172 per regularly attending student). For OUSD, that cost is $1000 per student, or 591% above average of all districts.

This 591% number is not an anomaly, although it is down slightly from our high of 675% in 2016-17 under previous Superintendent Antwan Wilson. It reflects both the NUMBER of employees (high) and the COST of those employees’ salary and benefits (also high).

What do some other districts look like in terms of both the number of upper admin and their salaries? We compared West Contra Costa Unified (Richmond area) and Santa Ana Unified in Southern California that OUSD has used for the “number of schools” comparison) to see what it looks like and found that if we staffed similar to those districts, with fewer employees making less money, we could save $20 million per year.

But what about OUSD itself over time. We know that the percentage of statewide average was always high (438% in 2012) but what has changed to cause our growth to jump to 591%? The cost of OUSD’s central staffing in 2012 was $12,609,196 (which is $16,683,075.46 if you adjust for inflation), whereas today it is more than $30 million (twice as much) while the number of staffers has grown 60%. So the number of people we employ in central office supervisory positions has grown by 60% while the amount that we pay them has grown by 100%.

It’s expensive in the Bay Area, so let’s look at our neighbor’s spending on Object Code 2300.

We spend more than twice as much of our Unrestricted General Fund on Object Code 2300 (Supervisory Classified) as neighboring districts (and four times the state average). And what about our spending on teachers?

We pay significantly less of our budget to teachers than other districts do, and according to the Oakland Education Association (“OEA”) Oakland teacher salaries are almost 23% below the median in Alameda County.

The “We have more central administrators than other districts because we operate more schools” excuse doesn’t work

Board members and staff often say that we have more schools per ADA than other school districts and that is why we have so many central supervisors. So we looked at districts with similar numbers or more of schools, and we still have far more administrative costs than those districts which serve more students than we do.

While operating more schools can result in some additional expenses, it is clearly not what is driving this huge overspend gap. .

OUSD staff and board members also use the excuse of Community Schools to explain the disparities in Object Code 2300, saying we spend so much more because we have 50 some community school managers in Object Code 2300, and it is true that if we did not have Community School Managers we would reduce our overall spending in this category. The bad news is that we still would be at three times the state average of spending, and we would still be spending a minimum of twice as much as our neighbors on this object code. And now, other districts will be adding their own community school managers since the state is making additional money available for them (and for ours).

All of this data leads to one conclusion that we have known for some time: we are top heavy, and compared to other districts we short change our students by investing too much in central office and not enough in the classroom. OUSD is the only district we could find that spend more on Central Office supervisors (2300) than on school administrators (1300). That needs to change.

Tell the Board to adopt “Budget Adjustments” that prioritize our classrooms. No Cuts to Schools. No Layoffs of Staff at Sites. And no surprise mergers.

It’s time to stop making excuses for why we are so top heavy and do something about it. Tell your OUSD Board Directors to “Chop from the Top” by reorganizing and restructuring departments and salaries to downsize both the number of people and their overall cost to our kids. It’s time to get real about bringing compensation for our educators and other represented staff up to at least the county average so we can recruit and retain great teachers and site staff who can afford to live in Oakland. And tell them we are not going to fund raises on the backs of our lowest paid workers or our kids.

Contact the board via email:

  • Sam.Davis@ousd.org
  • Jennifer.Brouhard@ousd.org
  • VanCedric.Williams@ousd.org
  • Mike.Hutchinson@ousd.org
  • Valarie.Bachelor@ousd.org
  • Clifford.Thompson@ousd.org
  • linh.le@ousd.org
  • natalie.gallegoschavez@ousd.org

Voting with your values: Thank you OUSD Board Directors Williams, Brouhard and Bachelor for standing firm and voting against school mergers and layoffs of our classified staff that support our most vulnerable students

Last night at a special board meeting, the Oakland Unified School District (“OUSD”) Board of Education considered a series of “budget adjustments” that Board President Mike Hutchinson and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell stated in a letter were necessary to fund ongoing investments in alignment with district priorities. We learned for the first time that President Hutchinson and Superintendent Johnson-Trammell intended to “merge at least ten schools” in order to achieve a purported $2.5 million in staffing costs (by eliminating 5 principals, 1 teachers and about 11 site staff.) In addition, the plan included laying off a net 98.88 “FTE” (full time employee equivalents), nearly all of them our lowest paid workers who work directly with students, such as case managers, literacy tutors, restorative justice facilitators and special education staff. Just 4 employees are “confidential” or unrepresented employees who generally cost far more in wages and benefits to the district and usually are not directly interacting with students. You can see the entire presentation on OUSD’s website.

Although OUSD did not assign numbers to the staff layoffs it appears to be somewhere in the $8 million range and includes the School Security Coordinator that was added by the George Floyd Resolution implementation. The total reductions total about $21 million (including $2.5 million achieved by merging schools) plus “funding shifts” to either restricted funds ($15 million) or one-time funds ($11 million – which will eventually go away and so cannot be used to pay ongoing expenses like key salaries) for a total of about $39 million in proposed general fund savings. There were some small changes to central staffing, but absolutely not the kind of systemic reform needed.

Directors Brouhard, Bachelor and Williams stood firmly with the community and our critical classified staff who support students every day.

The two new board directors Jennifer Brouhard (district 2) and Valarie Bachelor (district 6) were elected because they promised to stand with students, educators and community against school closures and with our most vulnerable children, teachers and staff. Director Williams (district 3) was elected in 2020 on that same platform, as was now Board President Mike Hutchinson (district 5). So it should not have been a surprise to district staff that this Board would demand a different kind of budget balancing, one that looked for creative ways to restructure spending, especially at central office, to keep any adjustments as far from children and the people that work with them every day as possible. After overturning school mergers and closures in January, it should have been crystal clear that unexpected school mergers or closures of “at least” ten schools would not fly. Yet the budget adjustments that Superintendent Johnson-Trammell and Board President Hutchinson co-sponsored (according to the joint letter issued 24 hours before the vote was scheduled) were from the same draconian cuts and closure playbook that has been used over and over again in OUSD and has resulted in a district that values high paid administrators and outsourcing to consultants over classrooms and kids. The Board did not pass the “reduction” package presented, with President Hutchinson and Vice President Thompson voting in favor of the cuts and unidentified school mergers, Director Davis abstaining and Directors Brouhard, Bachelor and Williams voting no.

Just last year, President Hutchinson voted against a similar budget reduction scenario that involved school closures and mergers, plus more than 100 classified staff reductions.

We all know that OUSD must balance its budget and also that OUSD cannot use one time money to fund ongoing raises for its staff. But as this video from March 9th, 2022 shows, there are many ways to balance a budget in accordance with your values, and President Hutchinson was clear on those values just a year ago. At that time, faced with “budget reductions” that included school closures and the elimination of classified staff, then Director Hutchinson pulled the same “budget and staff reduction” item last year as they did last night, and made clear that he stood AGAINST school closures and voting to cut employees and staff:

“I expect everyone who’s watching in the community to know, to pay attention and to remember, because people aren’t allowed to say they’re friends of … labor [while cutting staff]. We’re sitting school board directors, all that matters is our votes. And you won’t ever be able to escape your voting record. Nobody is going to forget these votes … to close our schools, to cut employees, at a time when we see we’re running a budget surplus.”

See Director Hutchinson’s comments here:


We know that President Hutchinson has a great deal of responsibility as the President of the Board, but he must exercise his power in accordance with the values he has always espoused, and upon which he was elected. We therefore ask President Hutchinson to work with Directors Williams, Brouhard and Bachelor to find the funds necessary to meet our District priorities, including providing raises to all represented staff, in alignment with the values that we know that they all have in common, without closing or merging schools (especially without deep community participation beforehand) and without eliminating key health, safety, special Education and other positions that serve our students directly and are among the lowest paid employees in this district. We are counting on you all working together to revamp and reorganize our district to align with our shared student centered vision.

The entire discussion and vote from March 9, 2022 can be found at the link below.