OAKLAND, Calif. – It’s one thing if a public school district lands on the financial rocks by overspending on things that benefit students – like quality teachers.
The second scenario has left the perpetually-troubled Oakland, California school district in a financial mess.
The district scrambled to cover a $15.1 million budget deficit in the recently-completed school year, according to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The financial shortfall forced the various schools in the district, and the central administration office, “to slash expenditures even though the academic year is (only) half over,” the Chronicle reported.
“Without immediate action, and with another $11 million in cuts needed to balance next year’s budget, the district is at risk of a state takeover — again.”
What’s the cause of the trouble? Spending far too much tax money on the wrong priorities.
“In 2014, the district budgeted $7.1 million for consulting services, but ultimately spent $22.6 million that year,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported in a November 2017 story. “Last year, the board budgeted $10.4 million for supervisors and administrators but spent $22.3 million.
“The exception to that trend was in the category of books and supplies. In 2016, the district planned to spend $20.1 million on such materials, but spent only $6.8 million.”
The architect of the mess was apparently former Oakland Superintendent Antwan Wilson, who amazingly was chosen to become the new chancellor of the Washington, D.C. school district, despite all the problems he left behind in Oakland.
“According to one of the numerous financial reports presented Monday night to the school board’s Budget and Finance Committee, total spending for classified (non-teaching) supervisors and administrators grew by 69 percent during Supt. Wilson’s administration, July 2014 – January 2017,” the Oakland Post reported.
“Classified spending was at $13.1 million in the final year of previous Supt. Tony Smith’s administration (2013-2014), and rose to $22.3 million in 2016-2017.
“Spending for administrators and supervisors with teaching certificates grew 44 percent – from $13.9 million in 2013-2014 to $20 million last school year. Spending in that category exceeded the approved budget by $4 million in 2015-2016 and $1 million last year.
“In the category of professional and consulting services, spending grew 25 percent from $22.7 million in 2013-2014 to $28.3 million in 2016-2017.”
Of course, public school apologists always argue that skilled administrators are crucial for a district’s success, and they’ve become far more expensive in recent years.
But Kyla Johnson-Trammell, who succeeded Wilson as Oakland’s superintendent, said that need must be balanced with financial reality.
“Our schools need the best leadership we can find, but we must find and keep those leaders while working within our means,” Johnson-Trammell was quoted as saying by the Oakland Post. “It is our duty to ensure that we are operating in as efficient and cost-effective way as possible.”
It sounds like the Oakland district may have finally found a leader with some financial sense. Here’s hoping she’s able to tackle the ugly money problems and redirect dollars to where they belong – in the classroom.