Tensions boiled over at the final OUSD board meeting of the school year last night when the directors voted 4-2 against a resolution that would have reversed the board’s prior decision to close schools—a decision that has been met with intense opposition over the past five months, leading to protests outside of school board members’ homes and the ongoing occupation of one shuttered school building. As a result, the closures of Parker K-8, Community Day School, and La Escuelita middle school are going forward.
Those against the permanent school closures say the decision will only strengthen their opposition and are turning their attention to the fall school board elections and organizing with families whose schools are being closed next year.
“If you think your decisions are putting our kids and communities first, keep thinking,” said Rochelle Jenkins, a mom of two current Parker students and one Parker graduate. “There’s no amount of money and there’s no price big enough for you guys to do this to our kids. Our kids are worth more than money.”
In January, after receiving a warning from Alameda County Superintendent L.K. Monroe regarding OUSD’s budget problems, the board voted to have Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell bring forward a list of schools that could be closed by 2023 to balance the budget and make the district eligible for $10 million in one-time state funding. In February, the board approved a plan that would close, merge, or shrink 11 schools over two years: Parker K-8 and Community Day School would close this year, and Brookfield, Carl B. Munck, Grass Valley, Horace Mann, and Korematsu elementary schools would close next year. Hillcrest K-8 and La Escuelita would lose their middle school grades and become K-5 schools, and RISE Community School would be consolidated with New Highland Academy.
The approved plan was a scaled-back version of the original proposal, which would have brought several more mergers and the closure of Prescott Elementary in West Oakland.
“For us to really build the community schools with the resources and services that our school sites need, it takes resources. And we all know what drives resources is enrollment and (average daily attendance),” said District 2 Director Aimee Eng, who voted in favor of the closure plan. “Enrollment drives funding at sites, and we don’t have sufficient resources for even base-level funding in some of our schools, so we have to subsidize them. Beyond that, we are not providing a whole host of wraparound services that we know our students need and our families deserve.”
While some community members disagree about the district’s financial health, believing budget imbalances are not bad enough to require school closures, they also raised concerns over how rushed the process of selecting schools was, and the lack of meaningful engagement with school communities before and after announcing the plan. The schools that are being closed, which district officials said were targeted because of their low enrollments, serve disproportionate numbers of Black, Latino, and special education students. Families have urged the school board to follow its own policies of meeting with school communities for a year and analyzing equity impacts of closures before making a decision.
Beyond protests, the closure plan has also prompted lawsuits and an unfair labor practice charge by the teachers’ union.
The “Community, Not Closures” plan, submitted by families at Parker K-8, points to the $66 million in grant funding for community schools and an increase in general school district funding from the state’s budget surplus that the district could use to help keep schools open.
“It is a selfless resolution that does not just focus on one or two schools. It focuses on all of the schools and districts affected by these closures,” said Maria Pirner, a teacher at Korematsu Discovery Academy. “If nothing else, you should glean from these comments that people are connected to their schools and not to the district.”
While OUSD is on stable financial footing now, the board approved the budget for the 2022-2023 school year that projects lower reserves in the future. OUSD received about $283 million in one-time COVID-relief funding that must be spent by 2024, which has masked some budget gaps, chief business officer Lisa Grant-Dawson said.
Enrollment and attendance are also down, which will lead to decreased revenue in future years since a majority of district funding from the state is based on student attendance rates.
“For the unrestricted general fund, we are going to need additional reductions and/or revenue increases,” she said Wednesday. “What’s not in the budget are many of the elements in the governor’s proposal because it has not been specifically laid out.”