roosevelt middle school sign next to school building
Roosevelt Middle School could receive $70.6 million in renovations if a bond is approved. Credit: Pete Rosos

Oakland’s school board members unanimously approved a bond measure Monday night that will raise nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars for construction projects and building improvements across the district.

The $735 million bond measure will be placed on the November ballot where it will need support from at least 55% of voters.

Since many of Oakland’s schools are older, renovations and updates are a constant need, said board member Gary Yee, who chairs the facilities committee.

To prepare for a possible bond vote, district staff created a list of recommended projects totaling $735 million, which is the maximum amount the district can ask for in a bond election. The board had identified $3.5 billion in total renovation needs in a facilities master plan released in April. 

The bond would pay for system-wide improvements, previously approved projects that have not been completed, and other projects considered a high need.

“The need in Oakland is not unique. Every district in the state has the same problem. That we have not, as a state or even as a country, invested well enough in our schools,” said board president Jody London.

Although the current board approved the bond project list, it could still be subject to change if it is passed by voters. In November, four of the seven board members are giving up their seats, and a new majority will begin terms in January that can make changes to the project priorities and bond implementation. 

“I’m concerned about over-promising and over-budgeting things that are never going to be finished,” said Director Roseann Torres, whose term ends in January. “These decisions are not going to be ours to make in just a few months when all of this is really going down after November.”

On the approved project list is a proposed $200 million toward district-wide initiatives, including basic repairs at all campuses, and devices and infrastructure to improve virtual learning. 

Another significant investment would be a proposed $75 million for McClymonds High School, to renovate and expand the campus to include more grade levels. McClymonds, established in 1915, enrolls about 350 students in West Oakland and also houses the district’s adult education office. McClymonds also received funds from two previous school bond measures, in 2006 and 2012, to make upgrades to its library, create more energy-efficient buildings, and expand resources for the school’s science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) programs. 

In February, McClymonds was shut down after the cancer-causing chemical trichloroethylene was found in the campus groundwater. In March, preliminary tests showed that the chemical was not also present in the air, but the school remained closed for the rest of the semester because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Other school renovations included in the budget are projects at Coliseum College Prep Academy, Skyline High School, Roosevelt Middle School, Melrose Leadership Academy, Elmhurst United Middle School, and Garfield Elementary School.

District officials are also considering a plan to relocate the central administrative offices, currently at 1000 Broadway in downtown Oakland, to the Cole Middle School building at 1011 Union St. in West Oakland. OUSD pays millions of dollars in rent each year at 1000 Broadway, district spokesman John Sasaki said. 

The move must happen by August 2022, when the district’s lease is up on its downtown office, Yee said. The downtown office space was always intended to be temporary; the district offices moved there in 2013 when the previous building at 1025 Second Ave. flooded.

“Those buildings would have to be renovated and prepared for staff to be there that aren’t instructing classes,” Sasaki said. “To really handle the entirety of the central office, I think the possibility is rebuilding it as an entirely different facility.”

Officials included funding to create an alternative, career, and technical education center at the old administrative building on Second Avenue, which will be named for former superintendent Marcus Foster, who was assassinated in 1973 by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a militant group. 

“The SLA did not win. They assassinated him but his work continues on,” said Yee, who began working in OUSD as a teacher in 1973, the year that Foster was killed. 

Cole Middle School is currently used as the headquarters for the school police department, which was defunded last week.

This story was updated on June 29 after the school board voted to approve the bond measure and place it on the November ballot.

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.