School `right-sizing’ is upon us

In May, we learned that Oakland Unified’s financial team was recommending the closure or merger of 10-17 schools because of declining enrollment. Well, those tough discussions are about to happen. Starting tomorrow.

During a special meeting, which starts at 5 p.m. tomorrow night (That will probably be 5 p.m. sharp — the interim supe, Roberta Mayor, seems to run a pretty tight ship), the board discusses the district’s long-term plan and the question of school size.

Here’s a quote I pulled from the presentation. Feel free to respond to these questions:

What is a right-sized school? There are programmatic considerations: Can a school be
too small to offer the programs all students should be able to access? Can a school be too
small to allow for professional learning communities to flourish? Can a school be too small
to allow flexibility in placement of students?

The time-line of this “right-sizing” business (oh, that term again!) should play out like this, if the plan isn’t derailed somehow, like last year:

  • Sept. 3 – School board discusses closure/merger criteria.
  • Sept. 8-18 – Five district-wide community forums on school size (I have requested the schedule and will post it when I get it).
  • Oct. 1 – School board votes on closure criteria
  • Oct. 2-3 – Staff creates the list of schools to be possibly closed or merged.
  • Oct. 8 – The board votes on that list of schools.
  • October and November – More community meetings…
  • Dec. 3 – Presentation of the final “right-sizing plan.”
  • Dec. 17 – The board votes on the plan (and the potential closures).
  • July 2009 – The changes take effect.

Here is the full presentation, which includes some hints as to how staff might be leaning, some optimal school sizes, etc. You might check out Slides 12-14, which compare sample budgets of two elementary, middle and high schools of different sizes.

What are your thoughts? Are there schools — intentionally small, or otherwise — that are so small that they just aren’t able to offer enough to students? Do you agree that school closures are fiscally prudent for a district with such dramatically declining enrollment? If so, how do you decide how small is too small?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • cranky teacher

    I think the size issue is cover. In the past it seems to have been a way to get rid of schools for other reasons. Those reasons may be good or not, but this doesn’t seem honest.

    There are great schools in this country with less than 100 students.

  • Anonymous

    They do have a point, though—there are some fixed costs associated with operating a school that make small schools less cost-effective, however strong they are (unless they’re sharing a larger site with another small school—which is certainly a solution to explore). It does look like the criteria include the school’s academic performance/strength, too, though, so I doubt we’ll see the small top-performing schools closing anytime soon…..

  • 2nd year teacher

    Thanks for posting this information, Katy. How did the meeting go today?

    As someone who works in a small school, it’s a little heart-breaking and very frustrating to hear of these impending closures. There is so much about small schools that cannot be captured by test scores (which is what we’re really talking about when we say “performance”). Being a first year teacher in Oakland is a hard job, but it was working in a small school with a great community and a strong professional environment that brought me back for the 2nd year.

    It seems to me that most small schools in Oakland actually aren’t as small when they’re at intended capacity as the ones profiled in the presentation. And it makes sense to me as well for schools sharing campuses to share some costs, but I’ve actually heard that it is these schools that are at greater risk of consolidation or “right-sizing.”

    I appreciate the information posted here! It will be crucial to keep information lines open for community members to voice their support of small schools when the community forums are held later this school year.

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  • Beverly

    Does anybody know anything about the closure status of Elmhurst Middle School?