Outgoing Oakland superintendent recommends $20M in budget cuts

OAKLAND (BCN) - Rising costs and static revenue has led the Oakland Unified School District to have to trim more than $20 million from its budget in the next fiscal year.

Outgoing schools Superintendent Antwan Wilson will discuss the proposed cuts, which will affect both schools and administration spending, at a school board meeting this evening. While he says the district is not facing a "large looming deficit," the district has some "difficult choices to make."

"This year, OUSD is facing a more challenging budget environment," Wilson wrote in a letter Tuesday. "With enrollment down and uncertainty around future state and federal funding levels for education, the projected increase is less than in the past three years."

Budgets could become even tighter in coming years. Gov. Jerry Brown also announced on Tuesday that his proposed budget had to contend with a projected $2 billion deficit and with the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, federal assistance to local schools could be significantly diminished.

The projected budget from the school for the 2017-18 school year is $410.9 million, up only slightly from the $409.7 million budget for the 2016-17 school year. Meanwhile, expenditures such as teacher salaries have been increasing, going from 54 percent of the of the district's general fund in 2012-13 to 57 percent in 2015-16.

Wilson is recommending $21.6 million in reductions but says that those cuts will not affect the district's investment in education.

The proposed cuts include reorganizing programs at up to six shared campuses, reductions in administrative staff, including 19 fewer assistant principals, and employing five fewer custodians.

As much as $10 million in cuts could come to central infrastructure costs, which have been steadily decreasing as a proportion of the budget over the last four years.

Raises for teachers will be paid for by Measure G1, a $120 parcel tax approved by Oakland voters in November that is expected to raise $12.4 million annually. It will also pay for enhanced middle school art, music and language programs.

It's not the first time Oakland schools have faced financial trouble. The district is also continuing to pay off a $100 million loan it received from the state in 2003, taking $6 million from its budget each year. Back then, the district had racked up $82 million in debt over two years due to accounting errors.

Despite the difficult financial situation, Wilson, who is leaving the district to take over schools in Washington, D.C., touted the progress Oakland schools have made over the last four years, increasing spending in students and schools, including a jump in per-pupil spending from $5,789 to $7,164.

"The district has come a long way to improve our financial picture," Wilson said. "Since 2014, we invested more resources in schools, academics and employees and completed fiscal audits that helped us to earn a top tier credit rating. In addition, an independent auditor has signed off on our books for the past two years."

Deputy Superintendent Devin Dillon will take over as interim superintendent when Wilson leaves in February.


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