Are Oakland Public Schools Being Displaced by Local Charters?

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Photo courtesy of the NY Times

Oakland teachers, parents and students who are dedicated to maintaining and improving their schools are increasingly finding themselves in conflict with a school district leadership that is committed to turning over more space at their schools to charter school operators.

For the next school year, 14 charter schools, which are eligible for district space under the state law called Prop. 39, are requesting facilities at district schools, many of which will be required to “co-locate” charters on their campuses.

Among the impacted schools are Westlake Middle School, located on Harrison Street across from Whole Foods, which is being required to co-locate with Downtown Charter Academy; and Lafayette Elementary School in West Oakland, which may have to evacuate its campus and move to another site to make room for KIPP Bridge Charter.

Other schools listed as potential co-location sites include Allendale Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary, Garfield Elementary, Markham Elementary, Montera Middle, Bret Harte Middle, Roosevelt Middle, Fremont High and Skyline High, according to a resolution the school is expected to consider on March 23.

Many Oakland schools have some empty classrooms due to declining enrollment, caused by the displacement of low-income families who are renters. The growth of charters also causes compounding loss of enrollment at local schools, as elementary schools turn in charters, removing schools from the district, which would normally feed students into neighborhood middle schools and high schools.

The classroom space that a public school would need to expand enrollment will be used instead to “co-locate” charters that are competing with them for students.

Parents and teachers interviewed by the Post are uncertain whether they have any legal grounds to challenge the disruption of their campuses.

They fear that veteran teachers, students and families will abandon their schools as declining revenue and student populations decimate programs and eliminate the space to offer new programs.

At present, there are already 17 charter schools located on Oakland public school campuses.

Increasing the pressure on the school district on behalf of charters, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) filed a lawsuit this week against the Oakland Unified school District (OUSD) for failing to comply with Prop. 39.

“Despite clear obligations under the law, OUSD continues to prioritize district students and administrators over charter students within OUSD who attend charter schools, one of the largest charter school student populations in California,” according to Robin Doran of the California Charter Schools Association.

The Westlake Middle School community stood at the Wednesday School Board meeting to demontrate their solidarity with principal Misha Karigaca, who the distict is removing from the school. Photo by Ken Epstein.

At Wednesday’s school board meeting, a large group from Westlake Middle School came out to protest the removal of their beloved principal Misha Karigaca.

Not only are they being forced to co-locate Downtown Charter Academy on their campus – which will be extremely disruptive to Westlake – the district is also taking away their trusted school site leader, which in effect is a body blow to their school at a time when they most need solid, stable leadership, according to the Westlake community.

Speaking to Supt. Antwan Wilson and Board of Education members, Westlake student Leon Jones read a petition signed by more than 200 students.

“We believe in our school. We believe in our teachers. We also believe in our principal,” Jones said.

Said parent Kimlynh E. Chun, “The core, the heart, the basic culture that makes the school function is what is being attacked here – everything that cannot be put on paper.”

“I hope you will change your position. It’s not too late,” said parent Tandra DeBose.

“I don’t believe in Prop. 39. It’s an unjust law.”

Another Westlake teacher told the board she had worked at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, which was closed and then given to a charter. Then she taught at Lakeview Elementary, which was closed. Now the same process seems to be occurring at Westlake.

Responding to the community, Supt. Wilson said, “I understand how difficult it is. I appreciate your passion. However, we are where we are.”

He said the district would soon hold a meeting so the Westlake community can have input on the selection of a new principal, who will be picked in April.

Wilson also said the district would organize a “visioning” meeting so the community could talk about what characteristics they want to see in a school leader and what programs they want to see at their school.

“Why are you fixing something that is not broken?” Shouted someone from the audience.

The Lafayette Elementary School community learned about the possible Prop. 39 impact on their school on Thursday, Feb. 18 at a meeting at their school that was attended by about 25 people.

They were told that the school had two options for “sharing space” with a charter school, should the charter accept the offer extended under Prop. 39 rules.

Option one is that Lafayette could occupy part of the school and share space with KIPP Bridge Charter. Option two is for Lafayette to move to the Lowell campus with West Oakland Middle School and the KIPP program would take over the Lafayette campus.

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