OUSD school board members sitting behind the dais
Oakland Unified School District board members and superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell at the first in-person board meeting in 18 months on August 11, 2021 in Oakland, Calif. Credit: Kathryn Styer Martínez

Tensions flared at the Oakland Unified School District board meeting on Wednesday night, over the board’s decision to allow several charter schools to use the campuses of district schools, some of which were closed in recent years and others that are still open. The agreements come at a time when Oakland families and community members are still actively opposing the district’s two-year plan to close and consolidate more schools.

The board approved a two-year lease for AIMS College Prep High School at the former campus of Lakeview Elementary on Grand Avenue, a one-year lease for Learning without Limits Charter School at the former Jefferson Elementary campus on 40th Avenue, and offered Lazear Charter Academy in Fruitvale the option of extending its current lease another 20 years to 2055. 

Another charter, East Bay Innovation Academy, was offered classroom space at two OUSD sites, and the board also sought an April 1 deadline extension for giving classroom space to Yu Ming Charter School. 

Opponents of those actions questioned the boards’ priorities in offering space to charter schools, which are independent public schools run by their own boards and charter management organizations. The district is moving to close seven schools over the next two years, and those sites could be offered up to charter schools in the future.

“The last thought that any board member should be having is extending any facility to a charter school when we can’t get our own kids in spaces and keep our own communities together,” said Phyllis Copes, a grandmother of OUSD students and president of the SEIU 1021 union. “Your main focus should be on your OUSD students and parents, families, and communities. Get that right before you even think about going and accepting outside charter schools.”

Proposition 39, approved by California voters in 2000, requires that public school facilities are shared fairly among all public school students, including those in charter schools. That means school districts like Oakland Unified have to make their vacant facilities and empty classroom space available to Oakland charter schools that request them. But Proposition 39 agreements are limited to one year, and some charter schools pursue longer lease agreements for OUSD space instead. OUSD can charge charter schools for using its facilities. 

Oakland Unified currently has leases with 16 charter schools, and many of them are located on the campuses of OUSD schools that have closed. The district expects to earn about $2.3 million from those leases this year.  

In addition to leasing empty campuses, charter schools, through Proposition 39, can also petition districts to co-locate, or share a campus with a district school where there are unused classrooms. One such proposal, for Yu Ming Charter School to use classrooms at East Oakland Pride and Markham elementary schools, prompted much discussion from the board and comments from the community on Wednesday.

East Oakland Pride and Markham are both designated as “welcoming schools” in the district’s closure and consolidation plan, which means they’re expected to enroll many of the students from closing schools, like Parker K-8 this year and Horace Mann Elementary next year. 

“They’re supposed to accommodate dozens more students and work out a co-location, which is a huge body of work. It’s everything—bell schedules, recess, traffic flow, everything,” said Director Shanthi Gonzales, who represents District 6 where both welcoming schools are located. “It’s an unreasonable expectation.”

Yu Ming, a bilingual Mandarin school that has three campuses in North and West Oakland, was initially authorized by the Alameda County Board of Education, so OUSD does not have oversight over that school. The county school board recently approved an increase in Yu Ming’s enrollment, and the school requested additional OUSD space through Proposition 39, before finding a private site in San Leandro. But Alameda County denied the move to San Leandro, which left Yu Ming with the option of taking space at Markham and East Oakland Pride. 

During Wednesday’s meeting, the OUSD school board approved a resolution asking the county board to reconsider its decision to deny Yu Ming’s relocation to San Leandro, so that it won’t need to use Oakland classrooms. The board also denied Yu Ming’s proposal to lease space at Markham and East Oakland Pride and is asking Yu Ming for an extension of the April 1 deadline that districts have to make Proposition 39 offers. During that time, district staff will come up with an alternative Proposition 39 offer for the charter that doesn’t include sites that will also be welcoming students from closing schools.

“This is not an ideal situation for us or Yu Ming,” said District 2 Director Aimee Eng, who proposed the resolution asking Alameda County to reconsider its decision. “I do believe it is the county’s responsibility, as a county-authorized school, to come up with a viable solution that takes into consideration the impact of the decision on OUSD.”

Measure Y improvements, and the plan for 1000 Broadway

The board also greenlit a plan to start renovations on OUSD facilities using money from Measure Y, a $735 million bond approved by voters in 2020. The plan will use $200 million of the bond money to make district-wide improvements, including athletic facilities, accessibility upgrades, security and safety upgrades, and energy efficiency. 

District staff also asked the board to approve an allocation of $5 million from Measure Y to continue paying rent on OUSD’s downtown administrative office through August 2023. 

After the school district headquarters flooded in 2013, the office moved to Cole Middle School in West Oakland, and then to the current downtown location on 1000 Broadway. Both locations were meant to be temporary until the district could renovate a new site for the central office, which houses the superintendent and other administrators, as well as human resources, finance and payroll, legal, and academic staff. Measure Y included $50 million to renovate the Cole Middle School campus, which housed the school district’s police department until it was disbanded in 2020, for that purpose.

But last year, the board paused the Cole project to consider a plan to disperse the central staff of about 270 to various OUSD sites and spent the Cole money on other improvements. A few months later, the board changed its mind and recommitted to turning the middle school into the new district headquarters. 

The project was initially expected to be completed in August 2022, which is when OUSD’s current lease downtown is set to expire. Now, in part because of the board’s decisions, the project isn’t expected to be completed until August 2023. 

The additional $5 million will cover rent, storage costs, relocating staff within 1000 Broadway, and contingencies. Since 2015, OUSD has spent about $21.5 million to rent the downtown office space. 

“I’m really concerned about this,” said Director VanCedric Williams, who had supported the plan to relocate central staff to school campuses. “I want to always try to be positive in this regard, but we really have to keep our eye on the costs. We made choices that we can’t go back on.”

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.