School District Wants to Sell School Property to Build Apartments

"We are not surplus," said teachers and communit members who went to the Oakland school district's surplus facilities committee meeting Monday night. Photo by Ken Epstein

“We are not surplus,” said teachers and communit members who went to the Oakland school district’s surplus facilities committee meeting Monday night. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken A. Epstein

Some teachers and community members are promising to fight an Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) plan to sell the site of Dewey Academy at East 12th and Second Avenue to developers to build a high-rise apartment complex.

“Dewey does not need to be relocated for condos,” said Erica Bryant, a Dewey teacher who spoke Monday evening at the meeting of the “7-11” surplus facilities committee the district set up to advise it on the sale of the property.

The school district wants to sell Dewey to raise money to build a new administration building. The district is also offering a long-term lease to developers for the joint use of three acres occupied by the decrepit Paul Robeson Administration building at 1025 Second Ave., which has been vacant since January 2013 as a result of water damage.

A local developer, Urban Core Integral, has already made an offer to OUSD for the Dewey site and the rest of the property.

The City of Oakland has an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with Urban Core to build a 24-story apartment building on a city parcel by Lake Merritt and next door to Dewey.

Under the leadership of interim Supt. Gary Yee, the development plan is on a fast track. As required by state law for public property sales, the district in May established the 7-11 surplus facility committee.

A Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to seek proposals from developers was issued this week. The deadline for proposals is Aug. 15, and the Board of Education is scheduled to rule on the final proposal on Sept. 24.

Dewey Academy is a continuation high school in Oakland, which for many years has created a nurturing environment where students with academic difficulties – mostly students of color – have a second chance to earn a high school diploma. This year, the school graduated over 130 students.

The district is promising that Dewey’s move will be temporary, offering space at closed schools at Lakeview Elementary or Santa Fe Elementary and at Fremont High. A new school will eventually be built downtown next to a new administration building, said Supt. Yee.

But opponents say these offers are insensitive to the dangers to young people from one part of Oakland traveling to another part of the city that is claimed by a street gang. The opponents also say the move would disrupt the education of students who may already have a history of truancy or other academic difficulties.

Wary that district commitments might not be honored, the school’s supporters note that Supt. Yee is interim and about to be replaced by a newly hired superintendent, Antwan Wilson from Denver.

Words like “’surplus are code words for land grabs and displacement. You guys are in for a fight,” said George Galvis, speaking Monday at the 7-11 committee.

Galvis operates an afterschool program at Dewey and heads an Oakland nonprofit, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ).

“As a child I already understand all this. These are human beings. This is their education, not just some cell phone you can replace,” said 9-year-old Ayacaxtli, Galvis’ daughter.

Dewey teacher Erica Bryant in an interview with the Post also expressed her reservations that the move would be temporary. People at the school have heard they will have to move before the 2015-2016 school year begins.

“It’s one of my fears, that once we’re out of that space, we’re not going to be able to go back to Dewey.   Our goal is to make sure that we can stay where we are,” she said.

Speaking after the meeting Monday, Supt. Yee said the district is under time constraints to sell property and find a new location for its administration building because insurance is currently paying for a temporary district headquarters in an office building at 11th and Broadway in downtown Oakland.

“We only have 25 months before we have to move,” Yee said.

To raise the money for a new headquarters, the district must examine all the options that are submitted by developers and come to a decision, he said.

“It is really incumbent on me to move forward and provide to the board the options that we have to restore the administrative structure and provide adequate space for our children,” said Yee.

According to city staff, the high rise next to Dewey has not yet been approved. Urban Core Integral has signed an ENA, which means the company still must seek state environmental approvals for the project. The process, including another public hearing, could take until December.

A completed proposal will still have to be approved by the Planning Commission and the City Council.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 27, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)