Oakland school district approves nearly $22 million in budget cuts

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The Oakland Unified School District voted 4-3 Monday to make $21.75 million in cuts to the districts 2019-20 budget. 

District officials say cuts are needed because the district faces a $56 million budget shortfall by 2020-21 if no reductions are made. 

The cuts were strongly opposed by dozens of students, teacher and community members who attended the three-hour public hearing Monday. 

The board was scheduled to vote on the cuts last Wednesday but that meeting and a subsequent one planned for Friday were postponed due to strikers forming picket lines around the planned sites.

This comes after a 7-day strike. It’s now back to work for teachers now that an agreement has been reached between the teacher’s union and the school district.

“We’re very excited that everyone is back in school today,” said Oakland Unified School District spokesperson John Sasaki. “We know that teachers are very happy to be back with their students. Students are happy to be learning again.”

Sasaki says the new contract represent a 14 percent total compensation increase for teachers.

“It is a four-year deal,” Sasaki explains. “The first year is for 2017-2018 which is last year. it’s a percent bonus. In each successive year, there is a raise of three percent this year. Three percent next year. A total of 5 percent the year after that broken into two parts.”

“It is a good contract that addresses many things,” says the president of the Oakland Education Association, Keith Brown.

“There will be more investments in student support,” Brown said. “Also there will be smaller class size, especially in high needs areas and also it addresses moving closer to a living wage.”

A majority of the teachers voted yes for the new contract but not all of them.

Skyline High School ceramics teacher Donna Salonga is one of them.

“They’re going to be cutting a lot of programs that are really important to our kids,” Salonga says.

However, Sasaki says there was no other way to increase teachers pay without making budget cuts.

“Some of that are cuts that were going to take place anyway because that’s the kind of state that we are in as a district but the majority of it was certainly the increases in pay,” Sasaki says.

Officials at OUSD and the teacher’s union say they are both hoping for additional funding from the governor’s office to save school programs like Restorative Justice and African American Male Achievement.

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