New budget numbers revealed to the public this week suggest that it may have been premature to celebrate the Oakland school district's return to fiscal solvency.
Just two months after the district administration announced it had wiped out the structural deficit, fiscal analysts estimate the district has roughly $8 million less than it thought -- largely because of rising special education transportation costs and a budgeting error in the same department amounting to $5.7 million.
The district has enough money to pay its bills for the rest of the year, and likely next year, Deputy Superintendent Vernon Hal reported on Wednesday night. But unless further cuts are made, the district will continue to spend more general-purpose revenue than it is taking in.
"This is disturbing to me," school board member Alice Spearman told Hal, as the board took in the numbers in the latest progress report. "It didn't look like this the last time. How did we get here?"
Hal said a coding error made in the special education department was to blame for most of the discrepancy. For years, the district had relied heavily on a one-time funding stream to fund special education programs. But when that so-called "soft money" expired, the expenditures continued, unbeknown to the district's financial services department, explained the district's new budget director, Kathleen Clow, and former budget director, Gloria Gamblin.