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.//ousd.granicus.com/player/clip/2079?view_id=4&redirect=true&h=f32620b03e4695551650b1fde5b5945a&entrytime=24480&stoptime=25027&autostart=0&embed=1