How Oaklanders Feel About Cop Reductions

We aren’t going to pretend to have a magic wind that wipes out Oakland’s $31 million-plus budget gap, and so are focused on what decisions will be made by the City Council.  Like many of you, we hope our police department doesn’t get completely eviscerated.

At this stage, Council members Jean Quan, Jane Brunner and Ignacio De La Fuente have identified tough-love cuts.  Before meeting in chambers, the Council has sponsored a few budget forums, encouraging a little bit of citizen participation and feedback.

The Oakland Budget Challenge also was updated, which enables you to work with budgeting levers.  What interested us most were  quantified responses to this question:  Should the City reduce the number of sworn police officers by July 1st?

  • 31.4% – Do not cut Oakland police officers
  • 22.2% – Reduce by having police contribute to their pensions
  • 15.1% – Cut officers and restore if parcel tax passes in November
  • 20.7% – Cut 2x number of officers if parcel tax doesn’t pass
  • 10.7% – Modify Measure Y to keep 63 officers, if below 739 officers

So a third of Oaklanders who took this challenge want to keep the police officers, and another 15 percent said to cut officers now but restore headcount if a special parcel tax passes.  (From everything we have read, that parcel tax isn’t exactly popular.)

Now the City Council must close the deficit, whether their choices are politically popular or not.  After the death-by-a-thousand-cuts process, we wonder how the job will get done.

The Die Is Cast

Not that the Oakland City Council members are like Julius Caesar, but they declared “the die is cast” and proceeded across their Budget Rubicon last night.

We think they closed the 2009-2010 budget gap.  After some hand-wringing, seven council reps voted and one abstained for a final round of cuts.  [And they agreed to vote on the rest in two weeks.]  There’s plenty of unfinished business, like working with union negotiators, but few options right this minute.

The Council will vote voted to shave 15 percent from elected officials’ budgets, which includes the mayor, attorney, auditor, council reps and their aides.  In addition, the city planners were hit hard.

During this current budget year, there had to be a place to save another $4 million because this gap wasn’t going to magically disappear.  And another $35 million needs to be hunted down during the next fiscal year, so the clock was running out.

After months of delay, Council President Jane Brunner admitted, “we’re all going to suffer together.”  Not pretty but necessary.

Updates:  Please see voting clarifications above, thanks to V Smoothe and Max Allstadt.  (March 3rd Update)  The Council finally voted for the 15 percent cuts from elected officials’ budgets.  (April 1st Update)

School Budget Horse In Lead

If we were calling a horse race between the Oakland’s School Board and City Council, then the school horse would be in the lead right now.  Both horses are making their way around the race track and keeping pace, yet the school steed is already thinking ahead to next year.  We do know they are both woefully underfed and would enjoy stopping for some apples or sugar cubes.

Comparing These Horses

From a budget process perspective, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is ahead; their board and administrators are already working on how to save a whopping $39 million next year.  Meanwhile, the Oakland City Council still needs to wrap up the current year’s $9 million gap, and then will address their $25 million shortfall next year.

Oakland Schools have asked citizens to take this survey about budget priorities, and reported 500 responses a full week ago.  The City Council didn’t conduct a survey, but Make Oakland Better Now! volunteers took that mantle and 140 responses were received last week.

When it comes to meetings, the school and city council horses are neck and neck.  There are many school outreach meetings, with a few about next year’s budget.  The council members communicated about shortfalls during earlier rounds, but didn’t hold meetings about closing this fiscal year.

Caring About Oakland Schools

Anyway, we would like to focus on the schools here and now.  As you may know, there are serious financially-related questions and no good answers:  What are the ideal class sizes?  How do we balance the empty and full schools?  What personnel cuts could be made?  And what’s happening with teacher pay?

Montclarions manage around the problems at their well-performing elementary and middle schools.  Parents are quite involved locally, starting with tight teacher-principal communications.  They try to make noise about the poorly-maintained schools and grounds.  To improve or offer programs, parents are active fundraisers.  All in all, the kids learn, grow and prosper.

Then many parents speak loudly through their actions:  moving their children into private middle and high schools.  If these students stayed in the public system, then they would likely go to Oakland Tech or Skyline High.  (Skyline keeps churning principals annually, apply now.)  If we’re not there, then interest naturally wanes.

Getting On The Soapbox

Yet we all should be considering the greater good of public education.  Regardless of dysfunction, our school budget horse needs enough sustenance to keep trotting along – and that means “weighing in” on what we value in free schooling.

Oakland’s schools are infamous (!) for their budget travails before the recession.  We had the special situation of state-controlled schools due to our problems.  It’s good to be in control locally once again, and installing our new superintendent was a critical step forward.  However Tony Smith has to rely on a functioning school board and energized citizens.

On the board, Montclarions are represented by Director Gary Yee.  He was also elected vice president of the board, back in May.  As a quick introduction, Yee’s a long-time educator and administrator who most recently served as vice chancellor of Peralta Community Colleges.  (Read Yee’s biographies on LinkedIn and OUSD site.)

City-wide school administration just isn’t top-of-mind for most Montclarions.  It’s easier to tune into the schools which are located nearby.  But some locals must be concerned about Oakland’s school budget, and maybe we’re trotting (sorry) with the wrong herd.  What are your priorities related to the schools?

More info:  Please read The Education Report by Tribune reporter Katy Murphy, which covers the beat regularly.  Comments following Murphy’s posts are often insightful.  Link to Great Oakland Public Schools, to keep up with the school board and more.  Also check out the Oakland Unified School District, including their recent survey.  For the latest school news, visit the OUSD’s twitter account.

Across The Board Cuts, Except Cops

After Make Oakland Better Now! asked locals what steps should be taken to close the City of Oakland’s budget gap, we wondered what would happen next.  Finding another $9 million-plus this fiscal year isn’t an easy task for novices or experts, but our opinions do matter.

Well, the people have spoken:  at least 140 survey-takers shared their opinions.  According to Bruce Nye, who heads MOBN!, the results boiled down to making cuts as equally as possible.  However police and public safety were functions that needed protection, in the short term.

MOBN! intended to share Oaklanders’ priorities with the City Council before they met on budget decisions.  Thus a recommendations letter was emailed to Council members yesterday, which first acknowledged constraints in the short-term and then provided specific direction signals.

Don’t touch public safety:

  • The topic of reducing sworn law enforcement personnel should be off the table.
  • The minimal savings that could be achieved through reducing civilian personnel in the Oakland Police Department constitute a false economy.
  • The city’s immediate fiscal problems cannot, for the most part, be solved by eliminating programs.

Do share the pain elsewhere:

  • Oakland must balance its budget with significant, across-the-board reductions in personnel costs in every non-public safety function in the city.
  • Combined salary and benefit costs are far out of line with the market, and far exceed what the city can afford.
  • Accomplish [cuts] through a very wrenching combination of lay-offs, salary reductions, more early retirements, and a major restructuring of benefits.
  • While even severe cuts to the council’s and mayor’s offices (and to employee parking) would provide only minimal benefit…it is a representative message to deliver.

Next up?  We suggest you mark your calendars for February 16th, when the City Council will meet and wrestle with gap-closure choices.  If you tune into KTOP (Comcast Channel 10) at 5pm, then you’ll see this cliffhanger play out all night.

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Closing The Budget Gaps, Maturely

Lately, the members of Make Oakland Better Now! have been putting their water glasses against the walls of Oakland homes and public places.  They are eager to learn what everyone thinks about closing this year’s budget gaps, currently pegged at $9 million.

MOBN doesn’t have any political axes to grind, but does want to communicate collective thoughts to the Oakland City Council before they make final budget cuts on February 16th.  MOBN leader Bruce Nye let us know that all Oaklanders may cast their ballots, through Friday at 5pm:  vote here.

What’s in this budget priorities ballot?  You’ll be able to support or oppose specific public safety, personnel and other cuts as well as revenue-generating (tax) measures.   Then you’ll be able to offer your own suggestions, too.

We encourage you to cast your ballot, and rest assured your opinions will be presented clearly to all the City Council members.  Although Oakland’s dealing with Hobson’s Choices, it’s better to consider the possibilities than remain part of the silent majority.