After Abrupt Budget Cuts, Oakland Schools Financial Officer Resigns

Oakland Unified School District board directors Aimee Eng (left), Roseann Torres, Shanthi Gonzales, Jody London, Nina Senn and James Harris listen to students during a meeting at La Escuelita Education Center in Oakland on Dec. 13, 2017. The school board approved $9 million in midyear budget cuts. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)

A top financial official criticized for his handling of the Oakland Unified School District’s budget is resigning.

Senior business officer Vernon Hal leaves amid a deep deficit that led to $9 million in abrupt midyear cuts.

In a statement, OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell praised Hal, who himself graduated from an Oakland high school, for his many years of service.

“He worked for the District twice, starting the second time in 2008. In the years since, he helped steer the District back into local control, he helped us regain our bond rating and he helped refinance our bonds, saving Oakland taxpayers millions of dollars. For all that and much more, we are grateful,” Johnson-Trammell wrote.

Oakland Board of Education member Jody London says Hal’s was a big job and will leave a sizable vacancy.

“It does definitely leave a big void when someone who has that much institutional knowledge and history leaves; at the same time, these types of departures also present opportunities to rebuild and restructure,” London says.

London stopped short of criticizing Hal for the district’s current predicament, saying “there’s no one person or set of events responsible.”

At a board meeting earlier this year, Che Phinnessee did not hesitate to point fingers at top officials, including Hal.

Phinnessee is a parent of a sixth-grader at Montera Middle School and a third-grader at REACH Academy. As the district grappled with millions in cuts to school administration and individual sites — and eventually decided to go ahead with them — she expressed frustration that Hal was absent.

“The person in charge of OUSD finances is not even here. … He’s been a problem for so long, Vernon Hal,” Phinnessee said.

Trish Gorham is president of the Oakland Education Association, the union representing Oakland teachers. She says Hal had been out of sight for months, as the crisis unfolded, and that his official resignation is part of the clean sweep that the district needs in order to recover.

“If Superintendent Johnson-Trammell really wants to build and rebuild trust in the district,” says Gorham, “then she has to build that on a foundation that is not riddled with the past mistakes of bad judgment, and Vernon Hal was a part of that.”

An OUSD spokesman says the district hopes to hire for a new streamlined position soon.

After Abrupt Budget Cuts, Oakland Schools Financial Officer Resigns 3 January,2018Sara Hossaini

Author

Sara Hossaini

Sara Hossaini comes to general assignment reporting at KQED after two winters reporting at Wyoming Public Radio. She holds a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her radio romance began after a bitter breakup with documentary film (Ok, maybe it’s still complicated). Her first simultaneous jobs in San Francisco were as Associate Producer on a PBS film series through the Center for Asian American Media and as a butler. She likes to trot, plot and make things with her hands.

Email: shossaini@kqed.org

Twitter: @sarastrummer

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