The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) school board has released the first draft of 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.
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.
Defending the school closures in 2012, the school board said the district had a structural deficit of $30 million and that they needed to close the schools to balance the budget.
However, other options 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?
Schools were never really closed, but neighborhood schools were displaced, only to be replaced by schools neighborhood families can’t attend.
Mike Hutchinson is a spokesperson of Oakland Public Education Network (OPEN).