Oakland Unified school board slashes $22M from budget following teacher strike

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Oakland students and teachers returned to the classroom on Monday after a 7-day strike, as the school board met at a boisterous three-hour meeting filled with hundreds of protestors and ended up slashing more than $22 million in cuts to remain fiscally solvent.

The board voted 4-3 to trim the budget, which did away with restorative justice programs, social services targeted to helping students in foster care and school service officers. The cuts will save $11.9 million by eliminating about 90 jobs in administrative offices and $3.75 million by laying off 58 support service employees such as restorative justice facilitators and security officers. The rest of the savings would come from renegotiating contracts, reducing operational expenses, using more grant money and slashing schools’ discretionary funds. (To see a list of cuts, click here.

The majority of the board said they had no choice. 

"The raise the teachers ratified yesterday is dependent on the school board making the reductions we're talking about here," said school board vice president Jody London, as the crowd booed and jeered. "The community may disagree, the community may not like that."

Several hundred upset and passionate students, educators, parents and their supporters lined up one by one before the board at La Escuelita Elementary School's multipurpose room to express their feelings. Some spoke eloquently. Others shouted and took personal jabs at members of the board. Still other students covered their mouths with red cloths to symbolize that the district wasn't listening to them. "No cuts to schools!" they shouted. 

"I have lost all faith or trust in this board right now. I don't feel like talking to them. Let's take it to the state!" shouted Yota Omo Sowho, a student director. 

Students said they are working together to take their fight to Oakland City Hall and the state Capitol in an effort to save their school programs. One student even suggested a student strike would be the only way to secure their resources. 

The student angst comes after the teachers' union approved an 11 percent salary hike over four years with a one-time 3 percent bonus in a vote Sunday.  It wasn't immediately clear how much that was going to cost the Oakland Unified School District.

The board had long planned to make these cuts as the district was already facing financial woes.

School board president Aimee Eng said that the reduction plan had assumed that there would be some sort of teacher compensation package built in and so the district didn't need to make any more additional cuts at this point. 

Eng added that these services are indeed important and the school board is trying to get the city of Oakland and Alameda County to help contribute to some of the social services aspects of the programs, such as programs to support students who are in foster care. 

"It's not over," fellow board member Roseanne Torres said. "We're going to ask for the funding because there is still funding out there." 

Eng also pointed out that the teacher compensation package is structured "creatively," so that the majority of the payout will come at the end of the end of year four. It will be at this point, she said, that the district will have to find more revenue.

 "But we are optimistic," Eng said.

While the new teacher contract passed, it didn’t soar through with overwhelming support. 

With more than 70 percent of the Oakland Education Association casting ballots on Sunday, 64 percent voted yes for a retroactive 3 percent bonus covering the 2017-18 school year and 58 approved salary raises for the 2018-19 and 2020-21 school years totaling 11 percent over the term of the contract.

Some teachers are still worried about a promise to stop all school closures and the fact that the school board can’t by law limit more charter schools.  “I wouldn’t say I’m really happy about it,” teacher Connie Lam said. “It doesn’t address all the concerns I had.” 

Earlier this month, several Democrats introduced a package of bills to impose severe restrictions on the growth of charter schools, EdSource reported.

For her part, Oakland Mayor Schaaf told Mornings on 2 on Monday that as a mother of two, she was "very glad to see my kids getting up this morning ready for school. They missed their teachers so much."

But she said the prolonged strike should wake up Californians to see that the state has a great structural deficit in funding public education starting with with the death of Prop. 13 in 1978.

"There are systematic things that got us into this mess," she said. "We need to fight for public education and adjust the tax structure." 


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