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 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.
“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.”
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.”
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
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 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.