Oakland schools to send out layoff notices after board cuts $20M

Oakland schools will send layoff notices this month to nearly 100 staff  in preparation for the next school year. 

A package of about $20 million in cuts was approved late Wednesday night by a 6-0 vote, with one trustee abstaining. 

The school board wrestled with the decision until almost 11 p.m., after hearing emotional appeals from opponents. 

Many implored the board to save money instead by defunding the school police force. 

"It's clear to me you guys are for the "school to prison pipeline," one mom said during the public comment period. "The libraries are not filled with librarians and our kids are being treated as criminals."  

The meeting drew a large turnout of parents, staff and activisits.

Under state law, if layoffs are to occur next year, the notices must go out by March 15. 

"Being insolvent is not an option," said Oakland School Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, who called the process agonizing and the reductions painful. "Even though we tried to keep cuts as far away from students as possible there will still be impacts to schools." 

Oakland weathered a week-long teachers strike a year ago that ended in raises for them, followed by cuts and consolidations.  

An appointed trustee overseeing school finances spoke optimistically about the new round of cuts, calling them a "big step forward"- making the district more streamlined and efficient. 

But employees at school headquarters, facing possible layoff, expressed dismay. 

"Our lives matter, let's be fair, we talk about equity so let's have equity in this process," implored one woman, who said she worked in the finance office. 

The position of library manager for the district is also on the block.

"Anything that affects the central office is going to trickle down to students," said Trish Belenson, who listened in the audience alongside another school librarian. 

They are worried for their bosses job. 

"Who would hire librarians, help with professional development, manage the catalog and work with vendors?" wondered librarian Rebecca Edwards. 

Critics are also concerned about losing assistant principals and school office staff. 

"The main part of your school is the administration so where does that leave the kids?", said Betty Ware, who has two grandchildren in Oakland schools. 

"The only cut that is acceptable to me is to cut the budget for the police, that's it."

For several years, a group called the Black Organizing Project has been lobbying for the school police force to be disbanded, saving the district some $2 million annually. 

In some cases, OPD would fill the gap as needed, or less expensive security guards would be hired.

"We want to re-purpose those funds to things that are actually going to benefit children," said Jessica Black of BOP. "Teachers should actually be able to make copies and have books." 

But by a 4-3 vote, the board rejected an amendment that would have defunded police. 

It did however, vote in favor of dipping into reserves for more than $1 million to help ease the personnel cuts at school sites. 

Oakland is not alone grappling with a shortfall.

Board President Jody London noted San Francisco public schools face $31 million in cuts, and West Contra Costa County Schools, $48 million.