Angry crowd protests proposed $15M Oakland school budget cuts

An angry crowd of Oakland parents, teachers and students rallied outside the Oakland Unified District school voard budget meeting Monday before entering the room with signs and loud chants saying "Cut from the top."

The anger was over a proposed $15.1 million in cuts the board voted last week to make in the wake of the discovery that the district had overspent over the last several years; much of that money was spent on high-priced consultants under former Supt. Antwan Wilson, who left in February for Washington, D.C.. About $5 million of that could come directly from the schools, and parents think this isn't fair. 

"We have to say this money needs to go to our schools, no cuts to any schools," said Tania Kappner, and Oakland Educators Association member.

"This is my 5th year teaching at East Oakland Pride Elementary School and every year there's been less resources, there's been less support," said Adarene Hoag, a special education teacher.

"These children are already dealing with crimes, they're waking up with bullets by their house. They got to see people, their own parents get killed. All of these children are at risk children," said Melody Davis, an Oakland grandparent who says the children should not bear the consequences of bad budget decisions.

Some 300 people filled the room. Many say they blame the board for not having better oversight over the budget.

A state oversight report says the district has overspent and the new Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, a former Oakland teacher and principal, said she understands the community concerns. 

She explained that the state requires that the district have a 2 percent reserve to be fiscally solvent and that amounts to just over $1.2 million. 

The superintendent said funding has decreased because enrollment has decreased, and agreed that the central administration office should be trimmed to reflect the new lower enrollment levels. She says those cuts alone would not be sufficient and she explained why she proposed a target of $15.1 million in cuts.

"Not only do we need to budget for what we need for our students, for our reserves, any good healthy district needs to make sure they put away above the minimum reserve," said Johnson-Trammell.

Johnson-Trammell also said increased spending on Oakland athletics, mental health services, libraries, and other programs was done without focus on balancing the budget.

"There were some decisions made in the last two years in terms of doing the best for students but not taking into account we can't spend and not re-prioritize." said Johnson-Trammell.

"I'm here to echo the message that equity has to be front and center as she and the rest of the school board move forward in any cuts that are made," said Vivian Chang, an Oakland parent.

"Our district needs to address the lack of transparency around processes, around hiring and around financial responsibility," said Clarissa Doutherd, an Oakland parent with a child in Laurel Elementary School.

"We still have not made a final decision, so that's really key for people. We have not made a final decision on anything," said Roseann Torres, the OUSD Board director for District 5.

The board says they encourage people to go to the OUSD fiscal transparency website to make suggestions for budget solutions.   

The next meeting is set for Dec. 6  when the Budget and Finance Committee is expected to get details on any budget cut proposals.

They expect to have a final vote on Dec. 13.