The Oakland school board asked the City Council not to sell the property to the charter school
By Ken Epstein
Thirty-six people were signed up to speak at this week’s City Council meeting for and against the proposed sale of public land to an out-of-state developer to build a large charter school in the Fruitvale District.
However, the council pulled the item from the agenda, indicating that they needed to talk first to the school district before selling the parcel.
“We received notice from the Oakland Unified School District that we would confer on this matter. I think it is prudent for us to do so before undertaking action. I would ask that we defer action on this and bring it back to (the Rules Committee) for rescheduling,” said Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney.
Though councilmembers did not discuss or vote on the issue, speakers went ahead with their public comments.
Supporting the sale were children, parents, teachers and administrators of Aspire Eres Academy, a charter elementary school serving 217 students, currently located near Fremont High School in East Oakland.
They are seeking to build a new home for their school, which is too small and in poor physical condition.
Kimi Kean, Bay Area Superintendent at Aspire Public (Charter) Schools, said that students at Eres Academy “have waited far
too long for an acceptable facility… They need and deserve a new facility.”
She said Aspire has an ongoing working relationship with the city staff to build the school.
“We have been honored to collaborate with the City of Oakland for the last three years to develop a state of the art facility,” she said.
Opposing the sale were school activists, leaders of the Oakland teachers’ union who supported affordable housing at the site and teachers and families from district schools that would be negatively impacted if the large new charter was built near their schools, as well as the Oakland Board of Education.
“I want to thank you for postponing the vote tonight,” said School Board President Aimee Eng, who summarized a resolution passed by the board on June 27 opposing the city’s sale of the land for a charter school.
“The school board does not support the sale of the property for the purpose of building an education complex that would house 620 students, which is triple the size of the current school population,” she said.
In the nearby area to the proposed school site, “there are already 18 district and charter schools, serving a similar population,” she said. “The demographic data also does not support the need for a school this large.”
A school district analysis indicates that a high number of families in the area already go to neighborhood schools. A huge new school at that location would directly compete with existing schools in the area, she said.
Pamela Long, a veteran teacher at International Community School, said, “I support their need for a new building, but we are asking that it not be two short blocks from our thriving schools.
The land should be used for affordable housing, she said.
Bethany Meyer, a special education teacher and member of the executive board of the teachers’ union, said, “This charter school is going to take about 625 students out of the school district, which is about $7 million in lost revenue.”
“From what I am reading, the city stands to gain about $200,000 from the sale, which doesn’t seem to justify the amount of opposition you’re going to be facing,” she said.
School activist Mike Hutchinson said, “It is the not the responsibility of the City Council to sell (Aspire charter schools) public property, a parcel that was never put out to competitive bid.”
The parcel first had an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with the city in October 2015, but “there’s no record of that ENA being extended,” Hutchinson said.
The original ENA included affordable housing on this parcel, and the developer has already knocked down existing affordable housing on adjacent property to make room for this project, he said.