My Hardest Vote to Date

The December vote on mid-year budget cuts was probably the hardest vote I've made since I've been on the board. I ran for the School Board in order to make our school district and schools stronger, not to inflict budget cuts on schools and the district. I wanted to share my reasoning and some reflections with constituents because I know my vote in particular was disappointing and surprising for many people.

At the end of the day, my vote was based on my belief that what happened to our school district during the period of state receivership was overwhelmingly negative for OUSD: the rapid growth of charter schools, the hasty, careless and disrespectful closure of schools and the exclusion of Oaklanders from decision-making about our schools, which still affects the culture of our district to this day. Worst of all, the district was in no better shape when we regained local control than when the state took over. The problems identified by FCMAT are the same problems we face today, only now we have to pay the state back for the loan they gave us at that time.

I believed (and still believe) that the mid-year cuts that I joined the majority of the board in voting to authorize were necessary to avoid putting our students, staff and families through that experience again. In addition to that, I had several other considerations to weigh.

OUSD has a new Superintendent, and the mid-year cuts were the first big thing she has had to do since becoming Superintendent. Several long-time observers have told me, and I have felt myself, that OUSD is poised for major progress for the first time in a long time. We have a Superintendent with a long-term, demonstrated commitment to Oakland, a board with experience under their belt, and a shared focus between the board and the Superintendent on shifting our budget to meet our priorities for student achievement. I had to weigh my desire to show support for her in this first big decision against my desire to avoid cuts to schools.

The Superintendent made several changes to the composition of the cuts to address several concerns that I shared with her and with constituents: a concern about an inequitable distribution of layoffs (the original list would have left managers and executives largely untouched while greatly impacting lower-paid workers), a concern about the lack of connection between our goals for student achievement and who was initially slated to be laid off, and a concern about a maldistribution of cuts to schools relative to the central office. The final iteration of the cuts was better in all of these areas, even if it was not the way the cuts would look if it were only me that had to vote to approve it. I had to weigh whether to support a deal that was much improved because my input around equity and "students first" was meaningfully reflected in the final version.

Every document and decision approved by the board is the result of compromise. I provided input to the Superintendent and so did my colleagues and hundreds of community members as well. On the final list of cuts and layoffs were several positions and cuts that I personally object to, for instance I hoped all along that cuts to schools would be avoidable, and some of the central positions are positions (and people) that I like and support. I had to weigh whether to support the deal, knowing that each of my colleagues has their own set of people/positions they care about, and different ideas about the contributions of central staff relative to school site staff, and whether my objections might have tanked the entire package of cuts. It is not easy for a Superintendent to come up with a compromise package the entire board can live with.

Finally, I felt that we have to start operating differently as a district. The culture of our district has been to avoid the hard decisions, to put them off for another day, and the end result of that has been chaos: two subsequent years of mid-year budget cuts, an unaccountable district where people have been allowed to "do their own thing" financially and there have not been consequences, and ultimately, a serious threat of state receivership hanging over us constantly. The vote for me was largely, yes, about avoiding state receivership this year, but also about putting a stop to the culture of "we'll figure it out later." I don't want to wonder in June if we'll be in state receivership; I want our staff and students to know that we have taken the necessary steps to retain local control.

It is important to me that constituents know that I really looked at these cuts from all the angles. I went back to staff numerous times with different proposals and requesting information, for example, about what could be saved if all non-essential staff in central were reduced to 80% time for the rest of the school year, what the cuts would look like if we were to focus on management employees rather than the line staff who work directly with students, what it would look like if the cuts were mapped to our student achievement goals, and what it would look like if the cuts were directed solely at the central administration. None of these proposals were workable, either because of a lack of political will on the board, or because it wouldn't get us to the number that we needed to reach.
Input from the community was also incorporated in the final version of the cuts; some consulting/contracts were cancelled or reduced, and I will be using the Budget & Finance Committee in the coming year to continue to examine this issue, as well as the issue of central staff salaries, the Police budget and, most importantly, what do the central offices look like in other districts with 36,000 students? I have heard from our new State Trustee and numerous others that we have layers of staff that other districts of our size do not have. I look forward to continuing to work with the community through the Budget & Finance Committee to identify additional areas of improvement and work to make OUSD into the district our students, families and staff deserve.

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  • commented 2018-01-15 10:49:25 -0800
    to say i’m disappointed is an understatement. i have either kids or grandkids in ousd since the 70’s and while there have certainly been some improvements, the foundation is still not solid. same bs from the district, same behavior, same mis-management, same excuses. when the district was in receivership, things didn’t get better yet the district learned no lessons from that experience. saying we have the same problems really says nothing changed. having a new superintendent, and ousd has had many which the school board has hired, only shows the boards lack of judgement in the past. showing support for the new superintendent or avoiding cuts should have been a no-brainer. and while i believe in giving people a chance, the fact that she made changes because of your rightful concerns about the inequitable layoffs. is not reassuring. you say you had to support the deal or fear maybe tanking it. well if that was the only choices you had, you could have voted no. i believe the lack of political will has alot to do with the priorities not being those areas that are directly school/student related. ousd has always been top heavy, layers of central admin staff and leans towards cuts to direct student services.
    i know you didn’t make your decision lightly and i greatly admire you putting your reasons in a public forum. it does not go un-noticed the work and effort you have put into making ousd a better place and the transparency in which you have done it, but i respectfully believe you and the others who voted for theses cuts are wrong. being in the majority doesn’t make anything right. take care