Oakland Unified’s controversial school closure plan continued to dominate the discussion during Wednesday night’s school board meeting, just days after the board voted at an emergency meeting on Friday night to reject a proposal to delay the plan until next year.
Director Shanthi Gonzales started the meeting by calling out what she described as “abusive behavior” targeting herself and other school board members who’ve supported the plan. She complained that she was not able to participate in the emergency meeting last Friday because of intimidation directed at her. “This is unacceptable,” she said, “and tonight, if people continue to engage in abusive behavior, I will not participate in the board meeting.”
In recent days, community members opposed to the district’s consolidation plan—which will close, merge, or downsize 11 schools over the next two years—have held protests in front of the homes of several school board members who are in favor of consolidations, including Gonzales, and directors Sam Davis and Gary Yee. Late last Friday, following the board’s emergency meeting, it was reported that Yee’s home was vandalized after protesters had marched to his home.
Two schools scheduled for closure this year, Parker K-8 and Community Day School, are in District 6, which Gonzales represents. Several community members living in that district attended the virtual board meeting on Wednesday and expressed disappointment in Gonzales’s decision to not participate in Friday’s emergency session. “If you don’t want to be here representing your community, you should step down now,” said a parent from Parker Elementary.
Dozens of community members dialed into the meeting on Zoom during the public comment portion and spoke against the closure plan. Some called for a recall of the school board members supporting the plan. “We’ve already told you how we felt. You disregarded it,” said one community member.
Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and OUSD staff provided an update on how school transfers will work for students displaced by closures. Impacted families are already being contacted about “opportunity tickets,” which will give students from closed schools priority enrollment in other schools for the 2022-23 academic year, ahead of neighborhood students.
The deadline for families from affected schools to apply for enrollment at new schools has been extended to the end of February, and families should expect to receive their offer letters by March 10.
OUSD Chief Academic Officer Sondra Aguilera reported that 62% of families at Parker K-8 have already returned their applications to transfer to a different school next year.
District staff also presented the school board on Wednesday with an update on its Local Control and Accountability Plan, a one-time state fund given to local school districts to provide relief during the pandemic. OUSD will carry $10.4 million in LCAP money into next year.
Director VanCedric Williams said the money is an opportunity to keep schools open and unaffected through the 2022-23 school year. “We can actually go to La Escuelita, call the parents to the school, have a sit-down and let the parents know what we can do for them,” suggested Williams.
Gonzales, who brought forward the school closure resolution with Board President Gary Yee, disagreed. Pushing off the closures and consolidations for another year, she said, would only harm other district schools in the long run. “This idea that we should continue to use some of this money to continue subsidization is just robbing, robbing the rest of the schools,” she said.
School board members did vote on Wednesday to adopt an authorization to write to Alameda County Superintendent L.K Monroe requesting she remove OUSD as an “ongoing concern.” Last November, Monroe sent a letter to OUSD saying if it did not address its financial problems by cutting costs, the county would increase its oversight and possibly withhold salaries from school board members and Superintendent Johnson-Trammell. In Oakland, school board members are compensated $826 per month.
An amendment by Director Williams to invite Superintendent Monroe, Alameda County Trustee Luz Cázares, and a representative of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to give a presentation at an OUSD board meeting in March, was also adopted.
Opponents of the school consolidation plan vowed to continue their fight.
As the meeting approached 1 a.m., director Mike Hutchinson put forward a new resolution to delay the closures of Community Day School and Parker K-8, and the grade truncation at La Escuelita, which are planned for this year. “We just saw all these budget presentations today and we know we can afford it,” he said.
About a dozen community members made public comments against the school closures following Hutchinson’s resolution, which will be put to a vote at a future school board meeting.
“I expect this to be agendized at the next meeting [and] that’s what the community expects,” said Hutchinson to his colleagues on the board. “If you want to do the same thing again and vote down, then you probably will do that again. But then we’ll introduce it again.”