The OUSD administration explains its error
A data entry error has caused Oakland Unified School District to budget $7.6 million more than it meant to for the next school year and now, realizing the mistake, it is asking schools to subtract that amount, or about $50,000 per school, from next year's planning.
The error is in a preliminary budget. However, already strapped schools and teachers are worried the error may mean cuts. Members of the Oakland Education Association union turned out in force to Wednesday's Board of Education meeting to object to the district asking schools to trim their expected budgets.
While it was not discussed at the meeting, the district has said in a letter to school principals that to make sure it ends up with a balanced budget, the district must subtract the amount in error from 2013-14 budgets.
"They are demoralizing teachers and scaring parents," Oakland High School teacher and OEA Treasurer Ben Visnick said. "Every time you make cuts you lose ADA " he added, referring to the loss of students, which in turn means the loss of revenue from the state based on Average Daily Attendance or ADA.
He said the district should use reserves or find some other way to keep the extra $7.6 million in the budget to avoid disruption at schools.
"Why can't they find a way to cover this?" Visnick asked.
He said each time the district talks about reducing funds, parents pull their kids out of the district. Since about 85 percent of the revenue to the district comes from the state, dispersed on a per pupil basis, OUSD stands to lose money with each student that leaves the district.
OUSD Communications Director Troy Flint said the sum in question is a number that was entered twice in the budget and represented projected utility expenses. Flint said utility bills are paid by the district, not by the school sties, and rescinding it or subtracting it from projections should not therefore affect schools' spending plans.
"The error, although a stupid blunder, did not actually impact the amount of money Futures (School) or other sites will receive for the 2013-14 school year and rescinding it is not really a cut since the school never had the money in the first place," he said in an email sent to a teacher at Futures Elementary School as well as to this reporter.
But he acknowledged that site administrators looking at the whole budgets for their sites might have anticipated more.
"Why it hurts is that principals may have looked at the inflated number for the total budget summary - which is a picture of expenses related to the site (but not necessarily paid for by the site), determined that they had more money to work with," Flint explained.
OUSD has in recent years consolidated schools and transferred teachers to save money and balance its budget as its enrollment declined and state funding decreased. California reduced education funding for four consecutive years until this year and Oakland in turn experienced steep budget cuts. This school year, some teachers were transferred after school already began, one of numerous things that have angered the teachers union.
The school district's current budget is $230 million, so $7.6 million is in some ways a drop in the bucket. But the sum per school is enough to pay the salary of one teacher -or not.