Category: School closures

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

Defend and Transform Oakland’s Public Schools

More than 100 teachers, parents and community members attended a community assembly Sunday, Dec. 9 to discuss the fight for a living wage for teachers and other school employees and “for schools our students deserve.” Photo by Ken Epstein.

 By Post Staff

The Post Salon co-sponsored a community dialogue on schools Sunday, Dec. 9. along with Oakland Public Education Network (OPEN), Educators for Democratic Schools, the New McClymonds Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee of Parents and Education.

Speaking at the meeting were Oakland teachers, parents and community leaders concerned about low teacher salaries, upcoming budget cuts and the threat of closing schools and selling or leasing the campuses to charter schools.

Mike Hutchinson from OPEN said, “There’s only one way to stop this. That’s to organize.” And he presented information to indicate that the district is not really in a deficit. Taylor Wallace explained why the state does not have Black and Latino teachers and called for changing this serious situation. Oakland teacher Megan Bumpus represented the Oakland Education Association and explained the teachers’ struggle with the school district.

Among ideas presented at the Salon was a brief draft program that includes demands on the State of California, which bears much of the responsibility for Oakland’s problems.
While the district may be guilty of misspending, it is the State of California that is responsible for funding and is depriving the public schools of the money they need to serve the needs of Oakland children.

And it is the State that decides who is allowed to teach and creates obstacles that keep some of the best young teachers out of the classroom.

More than 100 teachers, parents and community members attended a community assembly Sunday, Dec. 9 to discuss the fight for a living wage for teachers and other school employees and “for schools our students deserve.” Photo by Ken Epstein.

At the end of the dialogue, participants adopted a motion to hold a press conference at the State Building in January.

Draft of a People’s Program:

  1. No public school closings. Closing schools does not save money. It hurts kids and neighborhoods.
  2. No sale of public property. A major element of privatization is selling off the legacy of publicly owned property and institutions left to us by earlier generations of Oaklanders.
  3. No budget cuts to the schools. California is one of the richest economies in the world. It has a budget surplus, a Democratic majority in the legislature, and the capacity to fully fund schools.
  4. End the teacher shortage and the lack of Black, Latino, indigenous and Asian teachers by eliminating such barriers as multiple standardized tests and multiple fees and by reforming the non-elected, unrepresentative State Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
  5. Rescind the remainder of the debt imposed on Oakland by the State legislature 15 years ago and spent by state-appointed administrators without input from Oakland residents
  6. A living wage for all school employees. A first-year teacher, a custodian, a school secretary should all be able to live in the city where they work, if they wish to do so. That’s a “community school.”
  7. End the discrimination against schools below the 580 freeway.
  8. FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team) out of Oakland. Democratic control of our school budget and school governance.
  9. Open the books of the Ed Fund, which was created by non-elected State Administrators and does not provide transparency.
  10. Reduce class sizes, standardized testing, test prep, age-inappropriate expectations, unnecessary bureaucracy, and mid-year consolidations. Engage parents and teachers in a collaborative recreation of special education and the education of immigrant and emergent bilingual students.

If you have thoughts or comments on this draft program, send an email to Salonpost02@gmail.com

 

Published December 15, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Oakland Unified Looks at Closing Up to 24 School

School board members Shanthi Gonzales, Nina Senn, Jumoke Hinton Hodge and Aimee Eng.

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District’s Board of Education is moving ahead with a “Community of Schools Policy” that will mean closing as many as 24 schools over the next several years, arguing that these closures are the best way to improve the quality and equity of schools across the district.

Pushing the district to make the cuts have been a number of outside agencies – a state-supported nonprofit called Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), which has been pushing for school closures in Oakland for almost 20 years; a state-appointed trustee who has the authority to “stay and rescind” district budget decisions; the Alameda County Office of Education; and pro-charter groups like GO Public Schools, stand to reap the benefits of the reductions.

“OUSD will need to operate fewer schools. OUSD currently operates too many district-run schools for the number of students we serve,” according to a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) produced by the district.

The number and names of schools that will be closed or “consolidated” will not be made public until February when the board releases a “final Citywide Map” that will include the number and location of “surplus properties,” which may be offered for sale.

District officials have gingerly approached the prospect of shutting down and merging schools, one of the most explosive concerns in Oakland that over the years has mobilized the angry opposition of parents, students, teachers and school communities.

Adding to the potential for conflict, other budget-related issues are coming to a head – the possibility of a teachers’ strike for a new contract in the next few months and the already approved budget cuts of $30 million that will deeply impact school site programs.

The district says it is not committed at this point to closing all 24 of the 87 schools it currently operates.  The reduction of the number of schools by 24 would leave the district with the estimated minimum number of schools it would need operate, say officials.

Closing 24 schools would give the district the minimum number of schools it needs to serve all of its students over the next five years, according to the FAQ.

A recent report from the district does not name 24 schools but identifies them by grade level and location:

  • One high school in East Oakland;
  • Six middle schools, including five in East Oakland and one in West Oakland, and:
  • 17 elementary and K-8 schools, including 14 in East Oakland, two in Central Oakland and one in West Oakland.

Significantly, no closings are proposed for sites that serve hill areas and more affluent students.  Schools that are protected from the threat of closure include: Claremont Middle, Edna Brewer Middle, Oakland Technical High, Hillcrest (K-8), Piedmont Avenue (K-5), Peralta (K-5), Chabot (K-5) and Glenview (K-5).

Officials optimistically say these reductions will produce greater educational equity among remaining schools “long-term sustainability” of the school system.  However, judging by the past aggressive tactics of the charter school industry, there is a hat there is a real possibility that existing or new charter schools would take over the vacated schools, leasing or purchasing the properties, and push he district into a cycle of declining student population and loss of revenue.

Currently 45 charter schools operate in Oakland, serving about one-third of the students in the city. These schools are publicly funded, diverting resources from public schools, but they are privately managed. They are not bound by most of the state Education Code and operate with little oversight.

State regulations for establishing new charters allow them to appeal to the county board of education and the state board of education of the district denies their petition.

The district’s proposal does not examine the performance of charters nor place any of them on the list of possible closures.

Adding to pressure on the district, a recently passed law, supported by Governor Jerry Brown and Oakland elected state representatives, requires the district to cut programs and close schools as a way to obtain temporary extra state funding.

Published November 28, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post