OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The Oakland Unified School District board voted 4-3 on Monday to make $21.75 million in cuts to the district’s budget for the 2019-20 school year amid loud protests by students who had walked out of class.
Oakland school superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammel said the cuts are necessary because the district faces a $56 million budget shortfall by the 2020-21 year if no reductions are made.
In approving the cuts, the school board went against the wishes of dozens of students, teachers and community members who unanimously opposed the cuts at a rancorous three-hour public hearing at the meeting at La Escuelita Elementary School at 1025 Second Ave.
Several hundred Oakland students who had staged a sick out to protest the cuts marched to La Escuelita and packed into the boisterous school board meeting Monday. Chanting “Hey hey! Ho ho! Budget cuts have to go!” they demanded that program cuts and school closings not be used to fund the raises given in a new teachers contract.
A strike by Oakland teachers officially ended Sunday when the new contract was ratified by 64 percent of the district’s more than 3,000 teachers. The new deal includes an 11 percent pay raise for teachers over three years, a one-time 3-percent bonus and class size reductions
Now, district officials must determine how to fund the contract. Among the options are staff layoffs, consolidating schools and cutting back some programs.
“When you’re talking about the structural deficit that we as a district have, we could cut everybody at the top. Everybody. And we still wouldn’t be able to cover our structural deficit,” said Oakland Unified School District spokesman John Sasaki. “So a lot more has to happen.”
The crowd was boisterous inside the jammed packed auditorium, cheering speakers and jeering and booing district officials.
Some students told KPIX that they believe the teacher’s contract sold them out.
Many students said the adults abandoned them when the school board voted to cut programs that help some of the most vulnerable students in the district.
The cuts will eliminate the restorative justice program, gut an Asian Pacific Islander support program, lay off all five foster youth case managers, and take money away from school libraries.
“The teachers said it was for the students and not just for money, but they settled only for money,” said Skyline High sophomore Azhar Aleadani.
Students swarmed to the front of the gym where the meeting was held following the vote, prompting school board president Aimee Eng to call for a 10-minute recess.
“We must have a level of respect if we are going to continue the meeting here,” Eng said.
One by one students walked up to the microphone to emotionally plead with the board not to make deep cuts at their schools.
“I can’t express the anger I feel right now,” said Life Learning Academy senior Glenda Serrano. “How is cutting our programs going to benefit anybody? Why were the students sacrificed?”
“We are out here fighting for every student in Oakland,” a senior at Oakland Tech told the board. “With that said our battle is not done. Our battle is nowhere near done.”
The teachers union says they’re not leaving the students behind. They plan to ask lawmakers for money to fund vital programs that were cut today.
“Of course this is not a sell-out contract,” said Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown. “This puts us in positive direction.”
Claremont Middle School teacher Jhunehl Fortaleza told KPIX she watched the school board meeting online with her history students in class Monday.
“Honestly, [the vote] was disgusting. It was disheartening,” said Fortaleza. “I hate that the school board is using our salary increase as an excuse to cut these programs because those are the kids we care about the most and those are the kids that we’re always looking out for in our classrooms. I understand why [students] feel betrayed. I just hope they don’t think it’s the teachers who betrayed them.”
Hours earlier, teachers who had been on the picket line since walking out on strike on Feb. 21st welcomed students back to their classrooms. Among them was first grade teacher Bob Creek at La Escuelita Elementary School.
“I didn’t sign up to be on strike, that’s not why I’m teaching,” Creek told KPIX 5. “But it is absolutely necessary if we’re going to get more support for public education, more support for the teachers.”
But Creek, like others, said the fight now will move to keeping the resources necessary to do his job in place.
“I feel very strongly that we have under invested in education for decades,” he said. “And this one contract does not rectify that; it’s a good start, but it is just a start.”
The board initially was scheduled to vote on the budget cuts last Wednesday but that meeting and a second meeting scheduled for Friday were both postponed because striking teachers and their supporters formed picket lines to prevent board members and others from entering the meeting site.
School district officials weren’t immediately available for comment on how many teachers and students returned to school on Monday.
© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.