Despite budget crisis, Oakland Unified may give teachers 12% raise

With 95 percent of Oakland Unified teachers already having approved a strike that appears likely to begin Tuesday, the school district could face weeks of turmoil – unless, like Los Angeles Unified leaders did last month, Oakland Unified agrees to give substantial raises to teachers. But there are outside experts that think the district can’t afford to provide the raises.

The teachers union – the Oakland Education Association – wants a 12 percent increase phased in over three years. The district has offered a 5 percent raise over three years. The union and district have been unable to agree on a contract since the last one expired in 2017.

That’s at least partly because Oakland Unified is in a financial bind that is worse than many other districts. It has the same problem as other districts in dealing with the increasingly heavy annual cost of the Legislature’s 2014 bailout of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. The bailout – phased in from 2014 to 2021 – requires school districts to increase by more than 130 percent their annual contributions to CalSTRS.

But Oakland Unified also has seen among the sharpest enrollment drops of any state school district, falling from 54,000 to 37,000 since 2003. Because state funds depend on average daily attendance, this has wiped out many non-mandatory programs.

Schools kept open despite huge drop in enrollment

Yet Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and other district officials have been leery of closing schools because of parents’ concerns, leaving nearly 11,000 empty seats in often half-full schools. They’ve also failed to significantly reduce administration and support staff even as enrollment has dropped by more than 30 percent.

That may change soon. According to a Bay Area News Group report, to free up money for raises for the district’s 3,000 teachers, the Oakland school board is prepared to lay off 90 administrators and nearly 60 school support workers to generate annual savings of $21.75 million. Oakland Unified officials say that this will not only pave the way for labor peace, it will help reduce the district’s structural deficit, which is otherwise on track to top $56 million by the 2020-21 school year. They have also vowed to follow through on staff recommendations that 24 schools be closed.

But a 2017 analysis by a state agency that helps school districts in financial distress raises a question that most local coverage of Oakland Unified doesn’t address: Can district staff be trusted to competently manage its $500 million-plus budget?

After looking at district budget information dating back to 2010, the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) depicted the district as on track to a “fiscal emergency” because of its slowness to acknowledge, much less respond to, obvious problems. It noted that the school board had approved pay raises – including boosts of about 15 percent for teachers from June 2014 to January 2017 – without first identifying how they would be funded. FCMAT also cited “constant turnover” in key positions; a lack of district supervision of how schools deal with spending decisions; and an “abundance of budget exceptions granted to sites and departments that overspend.”

District hoping for emergency state loan

In the short term, the district has taken steps to secure an emergency state loan of $34.7 million. But as the EdSource website reported in September, the district still hasn’t fully paid off the $100 million emergency state loan it got in 2003.

State officials may feel that for political reasons, they have no choice but to help Oakland Unified again. But as FCMAT and others have noted, the district’s enrollment is expected to keep plunging – even as pension obligations keep growing. A 12 percent raise for teachers would only make achieving fiscal stability even more daunting for district leaders.

L.A. Unified school board members heard similar warnings last month, but chose to provide a 6 percent raise to teachers  just shy of the 6.5 percent the teachers union had wanted.

1 comment

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  1. Joe
    Joe 16 February, 2019, 17:53

    Ah come on, it’s “fer da childern” doncha know?

    It’s only a matter of time before the try another bond measure.

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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