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.