The school year may be over, but opposition to permanent school closures in Oakland remains high, as an occupation at Parker elementary enters its third week. At Wednesday night’s Oakland Unified School District board meeting, families participating in the protest at Parker and their supporters called on board members to reverse the closures they approved four months ago.
The OUSD board has several major decisions left to make before taking a summer recess in July, including approving a budget for the 2022-2023 school year, placing a parcel tax on the November ballot, and appointing a new director to represent District 6. Reversing the school closure decision seems unlikely, despite the pleas from dozens of community members who’ve showed up at every board meeting since February.
“Since these brave parents in East Oakland moved in and started their 24/7 sit-in, they’ve provided classes, nutritious meals, and a safe space for the kids in the community to be,” said community member Rebecca Ruiz during Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s extremely distrustful and devastating for you to close Parker and other neighborhood schools. Please keep Parker open. It’s an attack on East Oakland to close it.”
Earlier this week, the coalition of parents and community members sitting in at Parker held a press conference where they presented their demands. The demonstration will continue, they said, unless the school district rescinds the closure of Parker K-8 and the elimination of the middle school grades at La Escuelita, and establishes an in-person program for expelled students who would have attended Community Day, an alternative school that was also closed by the district this year.
OUSD released a statement last week demanding that the group at Parker leave the school and “find a different and safer means of expressing their disagreement with a decision that was made almost four months ago.” The district listed specific safety concerns, such as students roller skating without safety equipment.
In late February, after the board voted to close Parker K-8 and Community Day School and shrink La Escuelita from a K-8 to an elementary school this year, District 5 Director Mike Hutchinson introduced a resolution to postpone those school changes for another year. That resolution has not been put back on the agenda for a vote.
“We’re working around the clock to make sure that this school stays in our community,” said Parker parent Azlinah Tambu on Wednesday. “If the government won’t do something right for us, then it’s time for us to take a stand.”
Those opposed to the closures are also looking to the fall, when three seats will be up for election and candidates’ stances on school closures will be a focus. District 2 Director Aimee Eng and District 4 Director Gary Yee have not said whether they will run again. The District 6 seat, vacated by Shanthi Gonzales last month, will also be open. All three directors had voted in favor of the closure plan. District 5 Director Hutchinson, who has opposed the closures, announced that he’ll be running in District 4 this year because Oakland’s newly adopted district map placed his address there.
Other District 4 candidates include Pecolia Manigo, the executive director of Bay Area PLAN, a parent advocacy group, and chair of OUSD’s Black Students and Families Thriving Task Force, and Nick Resnick, a former teacher and CEO of Inquiry By Design, a curriculum agency. Kyra Mungia, deputy director of education for Mayor Libby Schaaf, has filed to run in District 6.
Tambu, the Parker parent who has emerged as one of the leading voices in the protest there, is also one of nine applicants who applied for the vacant District 6 seat. Next week, the board will meet to review the applications and decide whom to interview. Whoever is appointed will represent District 6 until January, when the new elected official will be sworn in.
Also likely to be on the November ballot is a measure asking voters to extend a tax to support OUSD’s college and career pathways for high school students. In November 2014, Oakland voters approved Measure N, which raises about $12 million per year for Oakland high schools with goals of improving the district’s graduation rate, lowering the drop-out rate, help students be more prepared for college, and reduce disparities in pathway enrollment between student groups.
Over the past 8 years, OUSD’s dropout rate has decreased by 11%, the graduation rate has increased by nearly 12%, and more graduating students are eligible for admission to California’s public four-year universities.
Career pathways have existed in OUSD schools for decades, and Measure N allowed those programs—there is now at least one in every OUSD high school—to expand and increase enrollment. Students enrolled in pathways like computer science, engineering, law and social justice, architecture, fashion and design, or visual and performing arts, take classes about their industry, get placed in internships, and learn from people who work in those fields.
Several teachers, students, and OUSD staff on Wednesday urged the board to place Measure N on the ballot again.
“Because of Measure N, I had an opportunity to be exposed to computer science as a young Latinx female,” said Amanda Diaz, a recent graduate from Coliseum College Prep Academy. “Us women are really underrepresented in the tech industry, which is why I believe it’s important for young students to be taught and have the opportunity to learn more about computer science.”
The OUSD board is expected to vote at its June 22 meeting to place the Measure N reauthorization on the November ballot. An OUSD working group of teachers, staff, and members of the Measure N commission have recommended that the parcel tax ballot measure call for an extension of 14 years, with the same tax structure of $120 per parcel.
“If this measure is not renewed, we could lose a lot of the progress we’ve made reducing dropout rates, increasing graduation rates, increasing college eligibility, the dual enrollment classes, the internships, the pathways, all the student supports,” said District 1 Director Sam Davis. “There’s so much richness to Measure N, and it’s really in peril if we’re not able to continue this work.”
Director Hutchinson pushed the board to think more carefully about asking voters to authorize another tax. OUSD currently has three parcel taxes, including Measure N, that add $435 to the tax bills of individual residents each year. Voters also approved a school bond in November 2020 that will raise $735 million for facilities.
“We can’t just tax, tax, tax our own community, especially when all of these dollars aren’t even going to OUSD,” Hutchinson said, pointing out that some of the Measure N funding also supports charter schools. “We need to think this through and look at how much funding we need to generate to provide these programs as our starting point, instead of locking ourselves into a parcel tax.”