What You Should Know About the Oakland Unified School District’s Budget for the Upcoming School Year

The Oakland school board adopted a budget for the 2017-18 school year that includes over half a billion dollars in general funds, which pays for the Oakland Unified School District’s K-12 education expenses. This was a hard financial year for the District. Faced with a deficit, the District had to make significant cuts to balance its budget.

Our network has been working to ensure that the District keeps cuts as far from students as possible in the budget for the upcoming school year, 2017-18. The board listened. Direct cuts to schools were kept to a minimum, while the majority of the cuts were made to the central office.

In this blog, we’ll provide an overview of the budget, the cuts, student enrollment, and the “reserve” or emergency funds.

The headlines:

  • The total budget: The District’s general fund budget includes $524.9 million for K-12 education expenses, which is the majority of the District’s budget. This is slightly higher than the budget for the last school year due in part to Measure G1 and a one-time increase in state funding coming out of the Governor’s May Revise budget. There were also reductions in other funding sources.
  • Budget Cuts: The District cut about $22.6 million from its budget for the 2017-18 school year. The majority of the cuts—77 percent—were made to the central office, and 23 percent were made to schools. Although most of the cuts are from the central office, they will nonetheless impact school services.
  • Emergency funds: The District is planning to end the next school year with the board mandated financial reserve of 3 percent of its budget. However, as the District “closes the books” on the 2016-17 school year in the coming months, program spending overages and a decrease in revenue could jeopardize the District’s ability to meet the board’s mandate, or possibly even the state requirement.
  • Student Enrollment: For state funding purposes, the District is predicting that student enrollment will remain at 35,040 in the upcoming school year.

A Deeper Look at the Budget Cuts

Deep cuts to the budget were needed in order to rebuild the financial reserve to the state minimum, account for increasing expenses such as pensions, and prepare for flat or decreasing federal and state funding.

The budget reflects $17.3 million in cuts to central office budgets. Some of these cuts seem likely to have direct impacts on school site services, for example the reductions to the Teaching & Learning, Post-Secondary Readiness, and Student Assignment offices. A full list of central budget cuts can be found here.

The District also cut $5.3 million from school budgets. These cuts are primarily driven by three factors: overstaffing in the previous school year; nine schools getting less federal funding for after-school programs; and the District moving the management of Measure G library funds from school budgets to the central office budget. It is unclear if there will be an actual reduction in Measure G resources allocated. Also, more information is needed about how individual schools will be impacted by these cuts and how those impacts may vary from school to school.

While the District ultimately listened to the community’s call to keep cuts far from students, the budget turmoil from this year created instability for both students and educators across Oakland. Plans were disrupted, trust eroded, and confidence was shaken. In the coming years, it will be critical to improve the broken systems and process that exposed Oakland’s students and educators to this level of uncertainty.

The coming years will be marked by flat funding and increased expenses. This means that leaders at all levels must come together to ensure that the District remains financially stable. The District and our community will be faced with many difficult decisions and we must approach those decisions as an opportunity to improve how we provide equitable educational opportunities for all students. If we balk and do what is easy instead of what is right and difficult, students will suffer. We cannot allow that to happen for Oakland students.

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