Category: School closures

Parents Ask: “Who’s Behind Roots School Closure?”

“Who are really the key players here. It appears board members don’t have any control,” said a Roots parent

Roots International Academy parent leaders Sylvia Ornelas and Adelaida B Rios, with teacher Quinn Ranahan and a contingent of Roots students at the march and rally for public education in Oakland, Saturday, Jan. 12. Photo by Mona Lisa Treviño.

 

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District is moving full throttle with the closing of Roots International Academy, even though the proposal has not yet been approved by the Board of Education and though the district so far has not determined how much money closing the school would save, if any.

Nor does the district provide answers why the up to 24 schools that are being considered for closure are in flatland East Oakland and West Oakland neighborhoods. None of those affected are Oakland’s 44 charter schools or schools that serve more affluent students.

Studies about the wave of closures across the country, which have hit predominately Black and Latino schools, indicate that school districts save no money and that the long-lasting effects are detrimental to the education of students who are displaced as well as those who attend the receiving schools.

A big question about the closing of Roots, located at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland, is one about democracy: Who made the decision to close the school if it is not the elected school board.

School district officials say that the decision to close the school in June means they have to move ahead quickly, so Roots students will have other schools to attend in the fall. The board is scheduled to discuss the issue on Jan. 23 and make the final decision Jan .28 at a special meeting.

According to OUSD spokesman John Sasaki, “Staff is making a recommendation, and the school board will make the final decision.”

However, the administration  seems to have been decided the issue without waiting for the board to act on its recommendation. Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell met with the Roots community in December, the week before the holiday break, to notify teachers and parents that their school would close.

The district is already starting to counsel students and parents about other schools in East Oakland they can attend next year instead of Roots. No decision has been announced about paying for bus transportation for the families.

And CCPA (Coliseum College Prep Academy), the more favored public school that shares the campus with Roots, called a meeting this week about what to do with all the extra classroom space once Roots shuts down.

“Parents are invited to give input about CCPA’s expansion plan. Roots is scheduled to close next year, and CCPA is planning to grow to serve more students in the community,” according to a CCPA newsletter. The CCPA administration told parents the school is not willing to take more than about a half dozen current Roots students.

“What’s the real deal? Who made the decision? Asked Sylvia Ornelas, a parent leader at Roots.

“We’re not getting any answers,” she said.  “Who are really the key players here? It appears the board members don’t have any control.”

The Oakland Post this week filed a Public Records Act (PRA) Request with the district asking for communications related to Roots and other school closings.

In addition to communications and reports by district officials, the PRA requested said, “The documents should include exchanges with the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), the Alameda County Office of Education, Oakland’s state-appointed trustee, representatives of the State Department of Education and atate legislators and representatives of GO Public School, Educate78, New Schools Venture Fund and the California Charter School Association.”

Asked why the district objects to sending current Roots students to CCPA, which would minimize disruption of the tightknit Roots school community, District spokesman Sasaki emphasized that the merging of the two adjacent schools would have a harmful impact on students.

“Merging the two schools was not an option as that would have been too disruptive for all the students, families and staff,” he said

Presumably, displacing Roots families to schools around East Oakland – Elmhurst Community, Greenleaf, Madison Park Upper and Urban Promise Academy, according to the district – would not disrupt the educational stability of those schools or the displaced students.

Sasaki said the reason for closing Roots has to do with saving money and efficiency:

“All the changes the district is look at are aimed at making the district function more efficiently with better schools while saving money. The changes for Roots have to do with declining enrollment and problems with staff retention.”

However, Sasaki says the district still not know how much will be saved by closing the school.

“The district is still working to determine what the savings will be  with the closure of Roots,” according to KQED, citing an email from Sasaki.

In a strong statement of support for Roots, Oakland Education Association (OEA) President Keith Brown said:

“Our association firmly believes that every student deserves a quality public education. So, we are dismayed by discussion of school closures and consolidations,  particularly in Black and Brown neighborhoods. We should be building up our community schools, not shutting them down.”

Published January 19, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Teachers Demand State Increase School Funding

“The state owes OUSD – I stand in solidarity with you,” said Senator Nancy Skinner

East Bay teachers and supporters march through the streets of Oakland, Jan. 12. Shown are California Teachers Association Secretary Treasurer David Goldberg (third from left) and Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown (fourth from left). Photo by Amir Saadi.

 

By Zack Haber

As Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) teachers prepare for a possible strike, many teachers, students, and community members are showing support for their demand to increase public education funding.

On Saturday, Jan. 12, several thousand East Bay teachers and their supporters gathered at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater and marched to Oakland City Hall for a “Rally to Fund Public Education Now,” organized by the Oakland Education Association (OEA).

Many in the enthusiastic crowd wore #RedforEd t-shirts and carried signs reading, “Fight for the Schools Students Deserve” and “Ready to Strike.”

At Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall, musicians showed support by playing brass instruments and drums while union leaders and educators led chants such as “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Where did all the teachers go?” – addressing OEA’s concern that because OUSD teachers are paid so much less than neighboring districts, between 20-25 percent of Oakland teachers leave every year.

“We’re fighting for essential resources for our students, smaller class size, investment in student supports, and we’re fighting for a living wage to keep good teachers in Oakland,” OEA president Keith Brown, a Bret Harte Middle School teacher.

Brown said OUSD would be able to raise teacher salaries if the district cuts its spending on central office administrators and outside consultants, and stops handing over students, state funding and school sites to charter schools. He also called on the state to increase funding for the long term health of public education.

“We want to have a competitive salary so people stop leaving the district,” said physical education teacher Toussaint Stewart, who added that positive long term relationships with teachers are crucial for young people.

“It’s traumatizing for our kids when so many of their teachers leave,” he said.

The City Hall rally was organized by The East Bay Coalition for Public Education, which called for increased funding for all East Bay schools with a special focus on Oakland, and was supported by over a dozen local teachers unions.

Speakers also spoke out against OUSD’s proposal to cut 24 schools. Teachers and parents from Roots International Academy in East Oakland have been pushing for a dialogue with Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammel and the school board since December, when Trammel announced that Roots was closing.

The Roots’ speakers said their school needs increased funding, not closure. They want the district to strengthen their neighborhood school, not scatter students and families to other schools throughout East Oakland.

One of the speakers was David Goldberg, Secretary Treasurer of the California Teachers Association, who flew up from Los Angeles to show solidarity.

He said the teachers’ fight for better salaries and the students’ fight for a better education are inseparable.

“Our struggle for dignity for our teachers has to be connected to our struggle for social justice for our students,” said Goldberg.

In her remarks, East Bay Senator Nancy Skinner said the state has contributed to the financial difficulties OUSD is currently facing, including the state takeover in 2003.

“The state owes OUSD,” said Skinner. “I stand in solidarity with you.

Published January 18, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Roots’ Families Tell School Board, ‘Don’t Close Our School’

Teachers’ union President Keith Brown (right, in green shirt) speaks in solidarity with Roots‘ families and teachers at Wednesday night’s school board meeting.  The parents, students and teachers from Roots International Academy at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland turned out for the Oakland Board of Education meeting to stand up in defense of their neighborhood school. The district administration is moving forward, without waiting for school board approval or consultation with the families, with plans to shut down the school and scatter the students to neighboring schools. Photo by Ken Epstein

Roots’ students stand up for their school. Photo by Ken Epstein.

Published January 13, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

School District Considers Sharing Individual Student Data with Charter Industry Company

An Oakland teacher prepares posters for upcoming teacher protests. Photo by Bethany Nickless Meyer.

By Ken Epstein

Oakland public school par­ents were shocked to learn this week that the school district is considering a data-sharing agreement with a charter school industry nonprofit group.

The proposal on this week’s Board of Education agenda would share student personal information with the nonprofit “Oakland Enrolls,” which runs the enrollment program for nearly all Oakland’s char­ter schools and has a board of directors compromised almost entirely of local charter school leaders.

An Oakland teacher prepares posters for upcoming teacher protests.

After a flurry of community complaints, the proposal was pulled from this Wednesday’s board agenda, according to Board President Aimee Eng.

“We need to get more clarity from staff about how student information (will be protect­ed)” and perhaps strengthen the protections in the proposed contract with Open Enrolls, she said.

Eng said the issue may come back to the board at its next meeting on Jan. 23.  According to district spokesman John Sasaki, the purpose of gathering information is so that the district will know which stu­dents are applying to both charter schools and district schools in order to improve planning and staffing at the beginning of the school year.

“This information is not to be used for recruiting students to charter schools,” Sasaki said. “It is legal to exchange this infor­mation was long as you have a (signed) Memorandum of Under­standing.”

“(However), we will let parents opt out of if it if they wish,” he said.

The resolution on this week’s agenda was placed on the school board’s consent calendar, which is reserved for non-controversial items that are generally approved without discussion.

The data-sharing agreement data may include individual stu­dent information collected by the district such as: name, address, telephone Listing, ethnicity or race, nationality, participation in officially recognized activities and sports and the most recent previous education institution attended by the student.

While the contract with Oakland Enroll says the data can only be used for specific purposes, parents are concerned about the legality of letting personal information outside of the district’s control and the potential for data mining, selling information to private companies, a scandal involving supposedly “reputable” companies that is currently in the media.

“I would say that the danger for our students and families are not just getting advertisements thrown at them later,” said Jane Nyland, a parent and member of board of the Skyline High School PTSAs.

“This digital information is connected to the student forever,” she said. “Personal information gets sold off and sold off and sold off. You have no idea who has it.”

Added parent Ann Swinburn, “This agreement is an indication that the district is not actually serious about achieving financial stability for our kids because giving personal information for ev­ery student in the district to the charter school industry will fur­ther threaten the district with enrollment loss, and further erode parents’ trust in OUSD.”

Oakland Enrolls and OUSD both use enrollment software de­veloped by SchoolMint, a company that In addition to OUSD serves several of the nation’s largest school districts including Chicago Public Schools and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

SchoolMint, which was recently purchased by Hero K12. A press release in 2017 said, “Hero K12, which is backed by BV Investment Partners, has acquired San Francisco-based School­Mint, a provider of mobile and online enrollment and school choice systems for PreK-12 public, charter and private schools. SchoolMint’s backers included Runa Capital, Reach Capital (New Schools), Fresco Capital, Govtech Fund, Kapor Capital, Crosslink Capital, Maiden Lane Ventures and CSC Upshot.”

Hero K12’s applications are used to track student discipline records. “A complete, digital solution for tardy and attendance improvement, HeroReady brings accuracy to and radically sim­plifies the process for the front office,” according to the Hero K12 website.

This data sharing proposal is one of the steps OUSD is tak­ing to merge functions of the school district with the privately managed charter industry based on Board Policy 6006, adopted in June, which was crafted by GO Public Schools – an Oakland-based, charter school industry-funded organization.

BP 6006 is policy designed to convert Oakland to a “portfo­lio school district “ – a controversial model that has led to rapid charter school proliferation in other districts like New Orleans, Indianapolis and Denver.

Published January 11, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Oakland Teachers Are Getting Ready to Strike as Contract Fight Escalates

Educators across the state are demanding more funding for California’s underfunded public schools

Rally for Oakland teachers

Starting this week with solidarity events before school Friday and a huge rally Saturday of educators from many East Bay districts in Oakland, the Oakland Education Association (OEA) is escalating its contract fight and is strongly considering a strike authorization vote by the end of this month.

Living wages to end teacher turnover, smaller class sizes and more resources for the district’s 37,000 students remain the OEA union’s urgent priorities. OEA is demanding a 12 percent raise over three years, while the district is only offering 5 percent.

In addition, educators and parents will also spoke out, Wednesday, Jan. 9, at the Oakland Unified School District school board meeting about the district’s disrespectful ongoing plans to close up to 24 neighborhood school sites in the next few years, many in low-income areas. Parents and teachers have launched a petition to save Roots International Academy and all of the targeted schools. Roots middle school could close in June.

The Oakland educators’ showdown comes as more than 30,000 Los Angeles Unified School District educators represented by the United Teachers Los Angeles union are mobilizing for a potential strike on Monday, Jan. 14, in the nation’s second-largest school district.

After seven Oakland mediation sessions and working a year and a half without a contract, Oakland educators are considering all options to protect public schools, said OEA President Keith Brown.

“Educators in Oakland are ready to fight for the public schools our students and our community deserve,” Brown said. “We are tired of being undervalued and disrespected at the bargaining table. We are being loud and clear about our priorities. We demand a living wage, lower class sizes and the resources our students want and need.”

The union expects to take the final steps this month in the bargaining process before it can legally strike – a fact-finding hearing by a state-appointed neutral and a strike authorization vote that would allow OEA leaders to call a strike.

Local teachers’ unions statewide are organizing a #RedForEd Day of Action on Friday, Jan. 11in solidarity potential looming strikes by the Oakland Education Association and United Teachers Los Angeles.

Many teachers will wear red, joining parents or students and starting the school day by walking in together.

Also in support of Oakland and Los Angeles Unified teachers – and calling for more funding for California’s underfunded public-school system – hundreds of East Bay educators from many school districts will converge for a rally at noon Saturday, Jan. 12, at the Oakland City Hall Frank Ogawa Plaza.

The rally is organized by the East Bay Coalition of Public Educators, a group of at least 13 CTA union chapters that will be joined by parents and students. The Oakland contingent will meet at 11 a.m. at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater, and then march at 11:30 a.m. to the nearby rally.

In a special community solidarity event, the OEA is hosting three days of a public “art build for public education” to show support for Oakland educators during their potential strike. The art could be used in rallies, marches and picketing.

The family events are all at the OEA offices, 272 East 12th St., Oakland, 94606. Local food vendors will offer meals. These events will be held from 4-10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18, and then from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 19-20.

For more details, call OEA at (510) 763-4020 or go to www.OaklandEA.org

Posted January 9, 2019 in Oakland Crossings

Roots Families Heat Up Fight to Save Their Neighborhood School

Roots International Academy in East Oaklad

By Ken Epstein

Students, parents and teach­ers at Roots International Academy in East Oakland are reacting with shock and deter­mination since learning right before the holiday break that their neighborhood middle school will be closed in June.

Responding to Oakland Unified School District Su­perintendent Kyla Johnson- Trammell and her staff, who held a meeting at the school on December 18 to announce the closing, an eighth-grader at the school wrote a letter to the superintendent, accusing the district of “destroying/interfer­ing with our education and our relationships with our teachers and peers.”

Students at Roots

“You (aren’t) closing Roots about equality,” the student wrote. “It’s about money, the money you are supposed to pro­vide, but you are not providing. You provide (it) for CCPA and OUSD schools in the hills.” CCPA is the better funded school that shares the campus with Roots at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard.

The district has already closed 15 schools in the last dozen years or so. Once the justifications were no longer needed, nobody mentioned anything about the closings saving any money, improv­ing the quality of the remain­ing schools nor the poor test scores of many the charter schools that replaced the pub­lic schools.

One teacher at Roots told the Oakland Post that she does not buy the arguments she has heard that Roots is a failing school. District officials and local charter school propo­nents frequently justify school closing based on statistical analysis of test scores.

Students at Roots

“We don’t feel it’s a failing school,” she said. “They’re displacing a community, a community that is often over­looked and underserved.”

More resources go to fa­vored schools than those that are neglected, which can be seen at the school next door that shares the campus with Roots, according to the teacher. The other school even has wa­ter fountains that work better, she said. “You can see the dif­ference in how they’re served by the district.”

Student athletes at Roots International Academy

Speaking on “Education To­day,” a program on radio station KPFA 94.1 FM, Roots parents Addy Rios and Silvia Ornelas explained what Roots means to them and their children.

“For me as a parent, it was devastating,” said Rios. “My kid still doesn’t comprehend or doesn’t want to believe (it).”

She said her son is doing well at the school. “It’s a good school. With the help of us, the parents, he is doing really good (in) his classes, with his teach­ers and his classmates,” Rios said. “I don’t understand why they are saying that it’s going to be closed because it’s not doing good. We asked questions, but just don’t have an answer.”

Ornelas said Roots has been a great fit for her daughter. “It’s a smaller school (than her previ­ous school) where she didn’t get the necessary attention. With her teachers at Roots, all the staff is so committed to ev­ery single student who walks through those doors.”

In the mornings, she said, the teachers and staff mem­bers “greet the kids with a high five, a hug, a handshake, a smile on their faces. Every single child feels accepted at Roots.

“The school district is try­ing to take it away from our kids.”

Rios said the real reason for closing of schools in Oakland has to do with “money, gentri­fication.”

“They’re going to sell the (schools) to build housing, which is going to be very expensive, for the techs and everybody (who) is going to come and replace us and push us out,” she said.

The message they are giv­ing to the kids is that they are no good, that “they don’t de­serve education, they don’t de­serve to have a public school,” said Rios.

The parents said there is no community engagement: no­body is listening to them, not the superintendent, not the school board, not even Shanthi Gonzales, who is supposed to represent Roots families on the board of education.

At the December 18 meet­ing, Gonzales said she support­ed closing Roots but would not answer the parents’ questions or even look directly at them, according to the parents.

Added Ornelas, “This is a public school – it is not private­ly owned. t’s not funded by bil­lionaires. They need to answer our questions before taking such drastic measures. “

According to a message on her email account, Board­member Gonzales is out of the country and not available for comment until late Janu­ary. Questions emailed to the district were not answered be­cause most staff are on holiday break, according to OUSD Communications Director John Sasaki.

In an email newsletter dated December 30, Supt. Johnson- Trammell said, “The effort to re-imagine OUSD relates di­rectly to the work we are doing to address the Community of Schools Board Policy, which is moving forward towards a right-sized district with the aim of offering a high qual­ity school in every neighbor­hood…In order to right-size, changes will be made that will be challenging.”

The Roots community is are asking for people to attend the school board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 5 p.m., at La Escuelita Education Center, 1050 2nd Ave. in Oakland.

Published January 4, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Community Reacts to Proposed Wave of School Closures

Social studies classroom at Roots International Academy at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland.

 

By Ken Epstein

The announcement that the Oakland Unified School District is planning to close up to 24 schools in the next few years, starting with Roots International Academy in East Oakland in June, is stirring concern throughout the city.

“We need to protect and strengthen our public schools, including to protect neighborhood schools for the

Rebecca Kaplan

areas being proposed disproportionate closures,” said Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan.

Though names of most of the schools facing closure have not yet been released, they are all located in poorer neighborhoods in East and West Oakland. None are located in the more affluent Oakland hills, and none are charter schools.

Councilmember Noel Gallo, who represents the Fruitvale District in East Oakland, says the school district needs to do a better job of improving performance and marketing its schools to the local families.

Noel Gallo

“I know we’ve got to balance the budget, but we have to be very selective in what schools we choose to close – because we are going to lose more families. I’ve seen that in the past,” said Gallo, who served 20 years on the school board before being elected to the City Council.

Newly elected Councilmember Loren Taylor represents District 6, which is where Roots Academy is located, is reaching out to learn more about the issue.

“I know there are some financial realities, but it’s important that we look at the needs of the community in all the planning,” said Taylor. “I’m in the

process of meeting with school board members and members of the school community so I can have a

fuller perspective on what’s going on.”

Loren Taylor

Esther Goolsby, a community leader and longtime East Oakland resident, says she is deeply concerned that OUSD is closing public schools, promoting charter schools and preparing to sell public school property to

private investors.

“What do they want to do with this land?” she asked. “I’m sure they already have plans. They want housing for the new people with the new money.”

“Who are the people (in the school district, the city and the state) who are making these decisions? What are their morals and their values?” she asked. “They talk about an Oakland Promise, but none of their actions change this cycle (of school neglect) that has been happening for years.”

Esther Goolsby

The only way to change the situation will be through community organizing, said Goolsby.

Pamela Drake of the Wellstone Democratic Club and the Block-by-Block Organizing Network said she has seen the district close schools and cut educational programs for years.

“Year after year, the parents go begging for schools they love and the teachers the love,” said Drake. “I hate to see a school closed that teachers and parents care about. It seems a real tragedy.”

Sylvester Hodges, a former school board member and president of the McClymonds High School Centennial Alumni Committee, says the school board and district administration are betraying their responsibility to the public.

“They are giving up on public education,” he said. “They are selling or giving up on public schools. They are helping to destroy the school system that was designed for the public.”

The growth of charter schools nationally and locally represents a “reversal of integration,” creating a new school system that is “separate and unequal,” he said.

“School officials are contracting out their responsibilities,” Hodges continued. “I think they should all resign from their positions. They are not qualified to handle the problems facing the Oakland
schools.”

The teachers’ union, the Oakland Education (OEA), says school closings are a threat to the continued existence of public education as the district moves into high gear in its merger with charter school

Pamela Drake

organizations, noting that Oakland is now in danger of following in the footsteps of New Orleans.

“The privatizers on the New Orleans school board handed the very last public school in the city over to a charter company (in December). There are no more public schools left in New Orleans,” according to statement on Facebook released by the OEA.

“Wonder why OUSD is threatening to close 24 public schools in the flatlands when our city’s population is growing? The same people who privatized New Orleans schools have their sights set on Oakland and are trying to push our public school system past the point of no return,” the OEA statement said.

“We won’t let them privatize our schools. We will fight for justice, equity and democracy. We will fight for the schools our students deserve.”

By the Oakland Post’s deadline, Mayor Libby Schaaf, a charter school supporter, did not respond to request for a comment on school closures.

Published January 3, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

School District Wants to Close Roots International Academy This School Year

Holiday Robocall upsets parents and teachers at East Oakland middle school

Roots International Academy football team. Roots is a neighborhood middle school located at the old campus of Havenscourt Middle School at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard.

B Ken Epstein

As students and teachers were celebrating and preparing for the holiday winter break, officials of the Oakland Unified School District held a meeting at Roots International Academy to tell families and teachers that their school will be closed at the end of the current school year.

The announcement on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 18 – only four days before the start of the holidays – was delivered by Supt. Kyla Johnson Trammell, a team of central

Roots is a neighborhood middle school at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland. The school shares a campus with a much better funded sixth through 12th-grade school, Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA), which make may take over the entire site if Roots closes.

The district’s decision, re­peated in a robocall to the entire school community on Friday – the last school day of the year, was blunt. The school will be closed and the students dispersed to other schools throughout the district. Students were promised an “opportunity ticket,” a pledge they would be able to enroll at a higher preforming school else­where in the district.

Without waiting for Roots or public input, the Board of Edu­cation is scheduled to start the process of closing the school at its first meeting after the win­ter break on Wednesday, Jan. 9, making the final decision on Jan. 23.

The large turnout at Tuesday’s meeting was surprising, accord­ing to people at the school. More than 100 parents, students and teachers took time from their holiday preparations to come to the meeting to speak out against the district’s rushed decision.

Reacting with surprise and anger, speakers expressed their concern that the district was making the decision without consulting them. They said the district is disrupting their children’s education and destroying their school community.

The district bears responsibility for neglecting and under-funding Roots for years, as well as frequently disrupting the school by chang­ing principals and removing staff and teachers, they said.

“They told the staff and community (at the Tuesday meeting) … that they would displace our neighborhood kids to schools that are not in their community,” said Roots teacher Quinn Ranahan in a Facebook post.

“The district told us that community voice(s) would not have anything to do with their choice as to whether to close a neigh­borhood public school,” Ranahan said. “School Board Rep. Shanthi Gonzales verbally committed to closing Roots without reason.”

“OUSD, how can you close a school you never fully funded?” she asked.

Silvia Ornelas, an eighth-grade parent who is active at the school, asked why the district is not answering the school community’s questions.

Roots parent Silvia Ornelas plays the robocall she received from the school district announcing that her child’s school would be closed in June. To view  a video of Ornelas playing the robo-message, go to www.facebook.com/pelesmom/videos/10218240051741630/UzpfSTY2ODI3ODMxNzoxMDE1NjI1MTU5MDg2ODMxOA/

“Why are they targeting Roots so quickly? What’s the rush?” Asked Ornelas.

“We’re trying to get the answers for our community,” she said. “People are devastated, parents and students alike. It’s heartbreak­ing. There are no clear answers.”

“Our kids need a one-on-one connection with adults,” she said. “They need to know they have somebody they can talk to. At Roots they have it. If they go to a bigger school, many of them will fall through the cracks.”

In statement to the Post, district spokesman John Sasaki said, “The plan is to absorb many students into the adjacent Coliseum College Prep Academy. All other students will receive an opportunity ticket which will give them priority placement to a higher performing mid­dle school.”

The Oakland Post has heard from staff that only a handful of stu­dents will be able to transfer to CCPA. The district so far not ex­plained whether the “Opportunity Ticket” amounts to more than a vague promise, which “higher preforming” schools students will be made available or why Roots cannot be merged with CCPA.

Last year, Roots had 309 students, 29 percent African American and 60 percent Latino, according to state statistics. The student popu­lation may have fallen last school year after an infestation of rats or mice led parents to pull 40 to 60 children from the school.

Megan Bumpus, a member of the Oakland Teachers Association (OEA) executive board, questioned why the district is ignoring its own community engagement plan for closing up to 24 schools in the next few years.

“Getting a robocall at the start of winter break announcing that your child’s school is closing is not community engagement,” Bum­pus said.

“Saying that there’s a three-year Blueprint process with a Board vote but then officially announcing that a school is closing in a few months without following the plan creates mistrust in a system de­signed to fail students of color in targeted neighborhoods,” she said.

The Roots community is are asking for people to attend the school board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 5:30 p.m., at La Escuelita Edu­cation Center, 1050 2nd Ave. in Oakland.

Published December 29, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

State needs to help maintain, not close, Oakland schools

Roots International Academy, a middle school at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland, is slated to be closed at the end of the school year.

The Oakland school district is considering closing 24 more public schools. Oakland has already closed 15 schools, even though the city population is growing.

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

An extensive study of public school closures, conducted by the National Education Policy Center, indicates that closing schools in urban communities does not save money and causes the greatest harm to the lowest income students. Closures do not save money on buildings, because the district may be forced to give the closed facility to a charter school, and the school to which students are transferred often needs renovation to accommodate the transferring students.

Closing schools disrupts the lives of children and drives more students out of the district, resulting in lower enrollment and further budget problems. A 2012 audit of Washington, D.C.’s closure of 23 schools found that the cost of the closures was $39 million, four times what the district was expected to save.

In Oakland, the school closings are especially unfair. Of the 24 threatened schools, all are in the low-income flatland neighborhoods; zero are in the affluent hill area; and zero are charter schools. The 15 schools that were already closed are also in the lower-income areas. When these facts are raised the hand-wringing begins. “We know these are difficult decisions, but…”

These are not difficult decisions. They are wrong and unnecessary decisions. So who is making them?

In 2003, the state took over the Oakland school district, a step which has since been condemned by many. The district argued that it did not need a loan because it could borrow from its own construction bonds, a step which had been taken by other districts.

At the insistence of then-state Sen. Don Perata, the state imposed a $100 million loan which was three times more than the highest estimate of the district deficit. The power of the elected school board was removed; a series of state administrators had total authority over the funds with no input from anyone in Oakland. Most of the money was spent on items that had nothing to do with the stated purpose of the takeover — correcting the finances.

And, by the end of the takeover period, the district’s finances were in worse shape than before the state took control.

Yet the state continued its power over the district through the non-elected, Bakersfield-based Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team and a state trustee. With all this “help,” the district now owes $40 million, which is more than the highest estimate of what Oakland needed in 2003.

There are other ways that the state makes both the financial and educational situation difficult. The state is in charge of who gets to teach. Its nonelected, nearly invisible Commission on Teacher Credentialing increases bureaucratic requirements, tests and fees almost every year, leading to an artificial teacher shortage, particularly of Latino and African American teachers who are least likely to afford the extra time and money required to jump through the ever-expanding series of hoops. A school with a constantly rotating set of temporary teachers is unlikely to be the first choice of parents.

And then there are the charter school laws, which do not allow a district to control how many charters open within its jurisdiction and will not allow districts to close any of them.

The State of California is the fifth largest economy in the world. It has a super-majority of Democrats in its Legislature and a large budget surplus. Yet for 15 years, it has played the role of hostile mortgage-holder to the Oakland schools.

The State of California needs to rescind the remaining debt, help the district maintain rather than close its community schools, and reform the laws that make quality education for nonaffluent Californians impossible. We hope that newly elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond will take up that task.

Kitty Kelly Epstein is an education professor and the author of two books about Oakland.

Published December 19, 2018 in the San Francisco Chronicle


Opinion: School Board Plan to Close Flatland Schools Is a Rerun of a Failed Policy

 

Protest in 2012 against closing Lakeview Elementary School on Grand Avenue near Lake Merritt. District said the school was next to the 580 freeway, and it was unhealthy for any students to go there.  Site now houses a charter school. Photo courtesy of indybay.org

By Mike Hutchinson

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD school board has released the first draft a proposal it calls the “Citywide Plan,” which would reduce the number of schools in Oakland by 24 through a combination of closures and mergers.

Mike Hutchinson

The school board, which released the draft in November, will vote on the final plan by March 1 and soon will be announcing the names of the first schools to be closed.

Under the plan, half of the schools in East Oakland will be closed while none of the most privileged schools in the hills will be closed.  The school board says OUSD has too many schools and must “right size” the district by closing schools, which will enable them to “expand access to quality.”

In evaluating the exaggerated claims of those who justify closing schools, it is important to take a look back at the 2011-12 school year, the last time Oakland experienced the trauma of mass school closures.

At that time, Lazear, Maxwell Park, Marshall, Lakeview, and Santa Fe elementary schools were closed, displacing over 1,000 students and nearly 200 teachers and support staff.  The schools, which were all 50-100 years old, had been valued anchors of their neighborhoods and were closed despite huge community opposition.

After the school board voted 5-2 to close those five schools, the community continued to fight the decision culminating in a 17-day sit-in/occupation at Lakeview that started on the last day of school.

The school board gave a variety of reasons for why the school closures were needed in 2012.  They said that the district had a structural deficit of $30 million and that they needed to close the schools to balance the budget.

However, other options for changing the budget priorities were never looked at, like limiting the use of consultants or reducing the central administration.  They said the district had too many schools and too many empty classrooms and that they needed to close schools that were under-enrolled. But Oakland is not a shrinking city, and the district controls enrollment through the central office.

OUSD promised that students from closed schools would receive free transportation and have the option to attend a higher performing school, but that never materialized.

Ultimately, the five schools closed in 2012 were in fact never really closed. Rather, neighborhood public schools were replaced by three private charter schools and one K-8 Spanish dual immersion, and one campus is being used to house Glenview Elementary while that school’s facility is being rebuilt.

In fact, all five “closed” schools are still open, only the previous students and families have been displaced.

The reasons given for the closures in 2012, structural deficit and too many schools, are the same reasons now being given to justify the Citywide Plan.

It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now.  No one – not the school board, the state trustee or the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), has produced any evidence to show that closing those neighborhood schools saved the district any money.

In 2012, the school board made promises to the community that they didn’t honor, so how can we believe them now?

The results are clear: schools were never really closed, but neighborhood schools were displaced, only to be replaced by schools neighborhood families can’t attend.

Since California law will allow most of the closed public schools to be converted into charter schools. the end result of the Citywide Plan may make OUSD a majority charter school district.

Given all of this, why does the school board want to close and merge 24 schools over the next five years?  It’s not too late to stop this latest attempt to close our schools.

Please come to the Jan. 9 school board meeting and join our call for no cuts and no closures.

Mike Hutchinson is a spokesperson of Oakland Public Education Network (OPEN).

Published Dec. 22, 1018, courtesy of the Oakland Post