“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.


A Guide for Parents and Guardians – Preparing for a possible Teacher Strike

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The teachers of the Oakland Education Association just took a momentous vote to authorize a strike if OUSD does not meet their demands, and with 84% of all Oakland teachers voting, 95% voted to authorize a strike. That does not mean that they will be on strike immediately, but it does mean that they could announce a strike any time after February 15th. We know from seeing what happened in Los Angeles that the key to a successful strike is for teachers and OUSD families to stay united. Here is a comprehensive list of things that parents and guardians can do to support our teachers now and during a strike.

Phase 1: How can we support our teachers right now?

Get Visible! Show your support for teachers

  • Sport one of these 8 1/2 x 11 signs in their car, home, business: We Stand with Teachers signs
  • While every parent will have to make their own decision about what they will do, and this will not be an easy decision for many parents, the single most supportive thing we can do as parents is keep our kids home in the event of a strike (more on this, and alternative childcare ideas below). One thing you can do is to use a supportive frame on their Facebook page as a signal to OUSD that you will keep your child home in the event of a strike in English or Spanish. You can then save the picture and upload it as your twitter and/or instagram profile pic!
  • A Sequoia parent is selling awesome t-shirts and hoodies in support of teachers, with the proceeds going to the strike assistance fund for teachers who ARE NOT BEING PAID during a strike, to give them some support if needed: www.hellaheartteachers.com

Get Talking! Spread the word with other parents and neighbors

  • Host a house party: One great way to spread the word is to host a house party for others to learn more. This could include neighbors, particularly if you/they live near a school. The host would be responsible to find about 10 attendees, provide light snacks and speak from a parent’s perspective. We have resources to help on that and may be able to find a teacher to come speak, depending on availability. Anyone interested in hosting/co-hosting or attending a house party can fill out this form put together by the East Bay DSA: House Party Interest Form
  • Talk to parents at your school! The strike will be most effective (and shortest) if 100% engaged parents do not cross the picket line in the event of a strike by keeping their children out of school. Don’t assume other parents know, be SURE they know! Teachers have put together answers to some frequently asked questions for parents here: Teachers Answer Parent Questions. (More information on how parents can address childcare during the strike below.)
  • Share information over school communication lines: many schools have yahoo groups or other communication platforms – use those to connect with parents and share important information supporting our teachers.
  • Get others involved – the education of children is something everyone cares about. Talk to your neighbors, retired folks and anyone else who you think might be interested in learning more about what teachers are asking for and how they can help.
  • Get Connected! Parents United will be updating our website and posting on Facebook and Twitter, so be sure to follow/like us for more info. You should also join the Facebook Group Oakland Parents Supporting Teachers to share information and ideas with other teacher-supporting parents, and invite others you know to also Stand with Oakland Teachers. This was a powerful organizing tool in the recent (and very successful) strike in Los Angeles! To get updates directly from OEA, send an email to StandWithOaklandTeachers@gmail.com and follow them on Facebook.

Get Political! Let elected officials know you stand with our teachers

  • Put pressure on the school board to settle a fair contract with our teachers. The board needs to know that parents will stand with teachers in the event of a strike, and that they will NOT send their kids to school. Every parent will need to make the best decision for their family, and there is more information on this below, but no kids means no money, and the District will take seriously that loss of funding.  Parents should send this message directly to the board members: in the event of a strike, my child will not attend school! Sample script and contact info here: Call the Board – I will not cross the Picket Line.

Get Generous! Donate to help our students and teachers in the event of a strike

  • “Bread for Ed” is a fundraising effort set up by the Democratic Socialists of America – East Bay to raise money to cover the costs of providing meals to those students who rely on school lunches for nutrition (and also will feed teachers on the picket line, in conjunction with other programs). Please donate if you can and share widely on Facebook, witter and via email. The link to donate is here.
  • Teacher fund: You can also donate to a Teacher assistance fund to help already underpaid teachers cope with the financial hardship created by a strike – cuz they don’t get paid!! The link to donate is here and share widely!

Phase 2: How do parents get “Strike Ready”?

Set up or join a school site Strike Organizing squad

  • Some school sites will already have started planning, and others will need a parent to take the lead. Check in with a teacher at your child’s school, if your school has had a meeting with teachers about the contract, they may already have a list of interested parents. If not, talk with other parents you know, set up a time to meet and invite other parents using your school’s communication platform and/or on Facebook
  • The important thing here is to share the load. Teachers will be busy teaching, preparing for a strike and ultimately on the picket line, so it is up to parents to organize. Form committees to cover tasks such as solidarity schools, food distribution, picket line staffing and teacher appreciations. Select one person to act as the Parent Strike Team Leader, to coordinate with the Teacher leader and the Union. 
  • Get started now! The strike could come anytime after February 15th, so the time is now!

Organize a “Solidarity School” or child-care co-op

  • It is critical that parents keep their kids out of school during the entirety of the strike, which we hope will mean a short-as-is-possible strike! We understand that this will be very difficult for many families, and every family will need to do what is best for them. We know that some people have flexible work schedules, family to help out and the ability to work from home, and if that is you, you should start thinking about what you will do with your own children. Definitely plan to have your child spend some time on the picket line with you – it means a lot to teachers and will help your children contextualize what is happening.
  • Not everyone will be able to have their kids with them and will need a safe place for their children while they work. As a community, we can help by organizing “Solidarity Schools” – parent organized, parent run – at local churches, rec centers or libraries, or by setting up shared childcare in our homes (i.e. – I take 5 kids in my home on Monday and Tuesday, you do on Wednesday and another parent the rest of the week).
  • The teachers union is working with the Oakland Public Libraries and Rec Centers to ensure that those spaces are open and available, and they will provide more information as they have it. They are also talking to churches across the city, and again, that information will be shared with Strike teams. In Los Angeles, museums, zoos and other child friendly locales organized special events during the strike – and we will keep you posted if that happens here in Oakland.
  • If you have a connection with a church or business that might be able to help, reach out to them directly.
  • OEA or individual teachers may be able to provide some curriculum, but just as with breaks during the year, you can always supplement with special projects, online education sites and good old fashioned times tables (or whatever is age appropriate!)

Help with food procurement and distribution

  • DSA East Bay is raising funds to buy and centrally or regionally distribute food for students who depend on school meals for nutrition through their “Bread for Ed” fundraiser
  • Parents can help connect their site to the distribution by volunteering to be the school site coordinator – connect with your Strike Team leaders to sign up
  • Beyond that, if you have a connection with a food producer or distributor, or grocery store or restaurant that might be willing to make donations to your site, work with your Strike squad leaders to coordinate.

Create a Picket-Line schedule for parents

  • It’s not just teachers on the picket line, parents and students should join as well. Having parents and students on the picket line will show the district that we are all united behind our teachers’ demands, and will help keep our teachers’ spirits up!
  • Create a picket line schedule to ensure that there are a significant group of parents, students and supporters on the line at all times
  • If you can, it is also nice to bring snacks or water/coffee/tea for teachers who will be on the line most of the day!

Phase 3: What happens during a strike?

Keep your child OUT OF SCHOOL for the entire duration of the strike! This is the single most important thing you can do – UNBREAKABLE solidarity between teachers and OUSD families is the single most important element for this strike to be successful. In addition, the loss of revenue it causes will be an important incentive to the District to come back to the table with a fair contract offer.

Join teachers on the picket line, and bring snacks! It is important to support teachers on the picket line, and teachers gotta eat!

Participate in rallies that OEA organizes, because there is strength in numbers!  OEA and Parents United will keep you posted on whatever events are planned leading up to and during a strike.

If you live near a school offer your home for teachers to use the bathroom, refill water bottles, charge phones, etc

Take pictures and post on social media with the hashtags #Unite4OaklandKids and #OEA and be sure to add your school site!

No one wants a strike, the teachers (who will be giving up their pay) least of all, but if we stand in solidarity with our teachers as they fight for fair pay and better learning conditions for kids, we will build the Schools our Oakland Students Deserve!