The Oakland Unified School Board voted 4-2 last week to close seven schools, merge two others, and reduce some classes over the next two years. The decision came in spite of large protests, a teacher hunger strike, and pleas from city leaders who have asked the governor to intervene.
The changes, which are aimed at reducing the budget by $50 million, will mostly impact children of color.
“This is the most offensive thing I’ve ever seen,” said Oakland Unified School District Trustee Mike Hutchinson, who opposed the plan. “The lawsuits are going to be filed tomorrow. I hope you all are ready for the action you just unleashed. The lid’s about to come off this city.”
VanCedric Williams was the other dissenting trustee.
Oakland Unified has said it faces a $90 million shortfall without intervention. It has suffered from years of declining enrollment — a trend that has gone into overdrive since the pandemic began. The district has been under pressure from the Alameda County Board of Education to slash costs. And yet, the BOE passed a resolution last week criticizing OUSD for rushing the closures without an equity impact analysis or thorough engagement with families.
The district received a $100 million loan from the state in 2003, which it still hasn’t paid off. City and state representatives have unsuccessfully called on the state to forgive the debt.
This week, city leaders will try again. Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, Council President Nikki Bas, Councilmember Carroll Fife, and President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao have introduced a resolution that calls on Gov. Newsom and the State Legislature to eliminate OUSD’s outstanding debt and alter the Average Daily Attendance formula. It’s on the agenda for Tuesday, Feb. 15.
“While the State of California is celebrating a record budget surplus, Oakland schools are being forced to close due to state debt and funding formulas that don’t recognize the impacts of COVID-19. These schools serve thousands of Oakland students, most in underserved black and brown neighborhoods,” said Council President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao. “Like many Oakland parents, I am outraged by these proposed closures and it is absolutely essential the state step in to save Oakland schools and ensure our students get a quality education. Anything less than immediate action could result in irreversible damage to our public schools, their staff, and Oakland’s students.”
Meanwhile, a health crisis may be looming for the two teachers who have vowed not to eat unless OUSD reverses its decision. One of the educators, Moses Obolade, was taken to an emergency room last Tuesday on his eighth day of the strike. At a news conference, the physicians treating the two educators warned that their health was declining and could lead to permanent damage.
Read more about the pending closures and community reactions at EdSource.