Proposed amendment to budget cuts shot down
Byline: Selim Jones
During an OUSD board meeting on Monday, March 4th, in which over twenty million dollars was eventually cut from beloved programs such as restorative justice despite mass protests from students, teachers and community members, school board directors proposed an amendment that would’ve prevented those programs being cut.
This amendment was proposed by Oakland High senior and school board student director Yota Omosowho, along with board director Jumoke Hinton Hodge. It would’ve taking money out of OUSD’s reserve in order to protect programs students so passionately defended. The amendment was voted down 4 to 3, despite the fact that Omosowho thought she had four votes promised to her.
“Students don’t feel safe relying on the city and the board to make a decision regarding RJ,” said Omosowho to her fellow board members during the debate over whether to vote on the amendment or not. “Students have showed leadership, and in this moment, I’m just asking y’all to take a risk. If y’all do this, we’re going to back you up at the city level and at the county level. Y’all just need to show you’re committed to us.“
Omosowho eventually walked out of the meeting after James Harris and other board members voted down her amendment.
This meeting came a day after a new deal was reached between the Oakland Education Association and OUSD, ending a week long strike. The new contract promises teachers an 11% raise over four years, among other things.
The meeting lasted over four hours, with the majority of that time being spent with community members and students and lining up to speak their peace to the board members. Multiple times, after chants of ‘shame!’ and personal references to certain board members and their families, president Aimee Eng threatened to recess the meeting.
“How is cutting our programs going to benefit anybody?” said Glenda Serrano, a student at Life Learning Academy. “Why were the students sacrificed?
The cuts Omosowho’s amendment would have prevented included cuts to RJ, APISA, and foster youth supports.
OUSD faces a $9 million deficit this year, $6 million next year and $15.7 million the following year, according to an independent analysis done by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team.
Despite certain board members saying these cuts were necessary to help pay for the new teacher contract, Oakland High English teacher and union rep Miles Murray says that’s not true. According to Murray, these cuts were being proposed far before the strike started. He also accused the board of trying to pit the students against their teachers.
Harris, the board member who allegedly promised Omosowho his vote and then backed out, expressed regret he mislead her. “I feel bad that I left the impression with Yota that I was an absolute yes for the amendment,” Harris wrote in an email. “As I have said since last year, I do not support these cuts from dollars marked for foster youth, culture support groups, and restorative justice, and have repeatedly asked for alternative measures.
“While the proposed amendments preserve some elements, they decimate other areas of school budgets with no plan to restore. In my opinion, this does not address the larger issues with this whole process of cuts and budget reductions.”
Omosowho isn’t the only board member who was surprised by Harris’s decision. Roseann Torres, a board member who voted yes on the amendment, remembers feeling “shocked” when he voted no.
While Omosowho’s amendment was shot down, multiple board members were impressed by the thoroughness and bravery the O-High senior showed. Many students passionately expressed the need for more student representation in budget decisions, and people like Omosowho seem to be leading the way.