“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.


Our newly elected, progressive OUSD Board majority just reversed school closures. Now it’s time to get to work to realize our vision of a community led, anti-racist, people-over-profit centered school district.


Brookfield students showed up for the vote to keep their school open! Photo credit to Corrin Haskell

On Wednesday night, in the first official act of the new progressive majority, the Oakland Unified School District (“OUSD”) Board of Directors voted to rescind planned closures of 5 elementary schools and 1 middle school program at the end of this school year. Students, parents, educators and community were on hand to witness newly elected board members Jennifer Brouhard and Valarie Bachelor join with sitting directors VanCedric Williams and Mike Hutchinson to fulfill the mandate of the 67% of voters who supported their platform of ending school closures which target schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods and destroy communities while fueling the gentrification of Oakland. 

The fight is not over. No sooner was the vote complete than the Alameda County trustee Luz Cazares, appointed to oversee OUSD’s finances, informed OUSD that they reserved the right to stay and rescind the board’s action to end school closures, because OUSD did not provide a Fiscal Impact Analysis as required by its own board bylaws prior to the vote.

District staff should have prepared that Analysis as soon as the matter was introduced by Director (now President) Hutchinson on November 30th, but failed to do so, and it appears that both Director Sam Davis and Director Hutchinson, who had each declared their intention to become board President, allowed staff to delay the Fiscal Impact Analysis until January 25th. This was done despite the urgency of needing to fix the enrollment system immediately to include the targeted schools and begin the budget development for school sites. That willingness to delay and worsen the harm to students led to Director Williams being elected president and immediately calling a special meeting for Wednesday, January 11th for a vote on the rescission resolution, which passed. President Williams’ decision to act immediately to help the targeted school communities jump start planning their futures was also a rebuke against the deliberate slow rolling by staff and politicking by board members. We are grateful for his leadership and for putting students first.

It is now up to District staff to prepare the necessary analysis so that we can avoid action by the County trustee and move on with the planning for how we support the targeted schools to repair the harm done by years of uncertainty and underinvestment. We must also rethink our solvency strategies to ensure we are no longer balancing our budget on the backs of our most vulnerable students. We must restructure our district from a top heavy, consultant-dependent “business model” to a district built from the bottom up, where we prioritize students and classrooms in true Community Schools. We must push our city, county and state leaders to support us in creating a district that serves the whole child, addressing community needs so that students are prepared to learn and excel in life. It is possible to educate students in equitably funded neighborhood public schools with staff who are valued and paid a living wage. 

OUSD receives more money per student than almost any other large school district. It is time we invested those funds in the classrooms where they belong. Let’s get to work.

Why did Alameda County Superintendent Monroe reward managers with huge Covid stipends?

Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Karen Monroe paid up to $22,500 each in Covid related stipends to some of her highest paid managers and political contributors. That’s a problem.

In a fascinating series of meetings by the Alameda County Board of Education (ACBOE), we have learned that Alameda County Superintendent of Schools (Superintendent) L. K. Monroe’s office quietly, and without informing the ACBOE as required by law, paid $527,800 in Covid related stipends to employees, more than half of which went to 16 managers in amounts ranging from $15,000 to $22,500. Further, we learned that the Superintendent’s office has resisted publicly accounting for these expenditures, which the Superintendent now says were a “mistake,” to the ACBOE as required by Ed Code section 1302. That is very troubling, and we should be very concerned about this misuse of taxpayer dollars and hold Superintendent Monroe accountable for this failure by voting in the upcoming June election and NOT rewarding her with another term in office. 

The County Superintendent position is an elected office, unlike what we have in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) where our elected school board hires (and can fire) the superintendent. Superintendent Monroe is currently running for re-election in Alameda County on the June ballot, and unlike her last re-election campaign where she ran unopposed, she is now forced to actively campaign against a very strong challenger, Alysse Castro. This all comes at a very bad time for Superintendent Monroe, which may explain why these payments were not brought before the ACBOE in the first place, and why  it has been so difficult for the ACBOE to get the answers needed to understand who decided to make these exorbitant payments to upper managers instead of those educators and staff who work with students directly. 

Now that Superintendent Monroe finally provided the list of staffers who received these exorbitant payments and the amounts, we can dig a little deeper and when we did, we discovered that at least half of these staffers who received large Covid stipends ALSO contributed to Monroe’s re-election campaign. In all, 11 ACOE employees made political contributions to Monroe’s campaign, and she awarded 9 of them this enormous discretionary stipend. That is simply shocking. 

Superintendent Monroe also oversees OUSD’s budget, demanding OUSD close schools instead of rightsizing its own bloated administration. That’s also a problem.

The Alameda County Office of Education also oversees the Oakland Unified’s budget and has required OUSD to move forward with school closures that disproportionately harm Black students in a process that is flawed, discriminatory and possibly illegal. Superintendent Monroe threatened to withhold approval of OUSD’s budget and block access to additional state funds if OUSD didn’t execute this plan, claiming she is all about fiscal transparency and accountability. We now know that is not what she is all about. 

In fact, Superintendent Monroe has been approving OUSD’s budgets since she was first elected in 2014, during a time when OUSD’s administrative office grew by 550%; when OUSD paid a consultant $30,000 a month to oversee his own contract; and when OUSD mismanaged funds, covered it up and faced criticism and more from the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) and the Alameda County Grand Jury. Superintendent Monroe continued to approve OUSD budgets during all of those times, yet threatened to withhold approval if OUSD didn’t continue its racially discriminatory plan to close schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods. Superintendent Monroe should be held to account for that as well.

OUSD continues to overspend on central administrators as compared to districts locally and statewide. In fact, if OUSD “rightsized” its administration the way that Karen Monroe demands that it rightsize the number of schools, OUSD could save in excess of $15 million per year. Yet Superintendent Monroe doesn’t demand that from OUSD. And now we know why – Superintendent Monroe suffers from the same philosophy as OUSD in imagining that central managers deserve more than the educators and staff who work directly with students. 

It is time to hold Superintendent Monroe accountable for the misspending of Covid relief funds and the harm she has done while “overseeing” OUSD’s budget. Vote on (or by) June 7th.

#ACOE #OUSD #Budget #Covid #Transparency #Accountability #Vote