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School closure update, and rumors

By Katy Murphy
Friday, September 26th, 2008 at 3:47 pm in buildings, enrollment, families, finances, OUSD central office, School board news, small schools.

It might be weeks or even months until the district releases the names of the schools that might close at the end of the 2008-09 year, OUSD spokesman Troy Flint told me today.

According to the original timeline, the list of potential closures was going be created Oct. 2 and 3, and released the following week. But now, the school board isn’t even scheduled to vote on the proposed closure criteria until Oct. 8. Staff haven’t determined when the school names will be made public, Flint said.

In other closure news: You might have seen a “Keep Kaiser Elementary Open” petition circulating online — apparently, because the high-performing hills school is smaller than the district’s “optimal size” of 360 for elementary schools (Kaiser Elementary had 252 students in 2007-08, according to the California Department of Education). Some parents started a blog about it, too.

Flint says it’s just a rumor, and that staff have yet to create the list to begin with. I’m sure a little preemptive organizing couldn’t hurt, though.

When do you think the district should release the names of the schools being considered for closure?

image from Andaley’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

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  • hills parent

    It is time now to look at our surrounding school districts to see that success can occur at larger schools, meaning less cost for administrators, utilities, custodial, etc. It is no wonder that Oakland has fiscal problems. Continuing with smaller schools will only cost the district more dollars. Sure, it appears to be more desirable for families and children. However, does it insure a better quality of education? Not in my experience, that’s for sure.

  • anon

    I tend to believe he’s right that they haven’t finalized the list yet, given that the community meetings set out to vet the criteria for the list. It’s also worth noting that school size is by no means the only criterion on the list—academic performance was another, for instance, and while Kaiser might not meet the first, it certainly meets the second. Honestly, I don’t see OUSD closing high-performing schools right now—even if they do cost more to run, the true “cost” of closing them—losing many of those students from the district entirely—is much higher. It’s not a direct relationship. I sort of presumed that was why they set the matrix up the way they did—so if they opt to close a “right-size” school with issues over a small school performing well, they can use a point system of some sort to explain why. Good for them, for once.

  • Jose, Former Student

    When is OUDS going to close the low performing charter schools?

  • Lisa

    My students will report in their school newspaper this week that the average API score of the four small schools on the Fremont Federation campus is 100 points higher than the API when Fremont was one large school. Each school is doing better than Fremont High used to do, although there is a gap of 119 points between the highest and lowest APIs on campus. Okay, even the top API isn’t stellar, and people who like to criticize OUSD will find bad things to say about our APIs, but it seems that small is better than big in Fremont’s case.

  • http://growpublic.blogspot.com Ann

    Kaiser Elementary meets the proposed criteria for closure. Kaiser is over 50% African American and one less than 10 school in the State where African American students like my children score over 800 on the API. Almost one third of the school students qualify for free or reduced fee lunches. It is the only Hills school with this kind of economic and racial diversity.

    If over 80% of the children at Kaiser came from the affluent neighborhood around the school, Kaiser would not be slated for closure.

    Shame of the school board for proposing criteria that target school which serve African American students in Oakland.

  • http://www.savekaiserelementary.blogspot.com Mitsu Fisher

    Kaiser is a great school that is closing the achievement gap. So, explain to me again why it’s being closed. Once again Oakland is preparing to shoot itself in the foot by letting the bureaucrats jam a bad idea through.

    Fight back.

    Go to:www.savekaiserelementary.blogspot.com.

  • John

    Ann:

    Ann: So a school that “meet the proposed criteria for closure” should NOT be closed if it: (a) is over “50% African American with “children that score over 800 on the API” and where (b) “almost one third of the school students qualify for free or reduced fee lunches;” and, (c) reflects a unique economic and racial diversity for a hills school.

    Can you provide an example where an Oakland school meeting closure criteria was not cosed or slated for closure because it exists in an “affluent” Oakland neighborhood? I sure can’t. I’m willing to keep an open mind on the subject – are you?

    Perhaps school closures have more to do with district economics and factors other than affluence or racism? Just a thought.

  • Katy Murphy

    Ann and Mitsu: Aside from the potential closure criteria — which, theoretically, won’t be established by the school board until Oct. 8 — who or what has led you to believe that Kaiser is being closed? (That’s not a rhetorical question.)

  • anon

    Huh?? Kaiser is not scheduled for closure. *No* schools have been scheduled for closure yet. If you look at the criteria, you’ll see that while Kaiser meets one criterion—size—it does not meet many of the other criteria, which include the number of African-American students or reduced/free lunch students (because those groups have been especially impacted by closures in the recent past) and academic performance. I’d be surprised to see it make the list given the many other schools that meet most/all criteria. Please—read before you write. (In fact, I expect that OUSD set up this multi-faceted list in part to avoid being boxed into closing schools like Kaiser that might make “economic” sense to close when they meet so many other District objectives.)

  • Catherine

    Isn’t Hillcrest a “small school?” If a small school without representation of free or reduced priced lunches and children of color is the criteria why wouldn’t Hillcrest qualify to at least be considered for closure.

    Oh, because it’s our district sacred cow, that’s why. Because it’s in a wealthy area. Because it’s K – 8. Because the children will perform no matter what because they meet the criteria: older, educated parents who have money.

  • Sue

    I must be missing something – Kaiser Elementary is supposed to be unique in being a hills school with economic and racial diversity?

    What about Carl B. Munck then? It’s in the hills, and it’s very diverse racially and economically – a Title I Academic Excellence winner last year.

    It’s great to be proud of the school one’s children attend, but I think too many of us are drinking the kool-aid, and don’t know/believe that there are any successful schools in the district besides their own.

  • Art

    I do think this raises an interesting ethical question, though: given that the district should ultimately be striving for every school being a successful school, logic suggests that if you have to close schools, you close the ones that aren’t working. The problem is that many of the schools that aren’t working are in the city’s poorest neighborhoods (no small part of why they’re not working—they have very different challenges than the Hillcrests of the world). So which is more important—closing a successful school in a higher end neighborhood to avoid putting the same under-resourced kids in that situation time and time again, or preserving those schools that are working even if it means most/all of the schools you close are in poor communities of color? (I don’t know that there is a “solution” per se—just interested to know what folks think!)

  • Katy Murphy

    Here is a long statement by school board member — and City Council candidate — Kerry Hamill about the district’s efforts to cut costs by closing schools:

    “Statement From School Board Member Kerry Hamill on the district’s “Path To Fiscal Sustainability” Program

    Under the guise of cost savings and maintaining a balanced budget, State Administrator Vince Matthews and new Superintendent Roberta Mayor have outlined a “tough love” strategy focused on a broad school closures plan that is incendiary, counterproductive and begs opposition. The approach has sparked a level of panic across the district that will – sadly – make it impossible to have a thoughtful conversation about some tough decisions ahead.

    A series of meetings began last week across Oakland – ostensibly to explore solutions to the district’s tough financial future. But school closings is the only cost-saving strategy being explored in the district’s presentation, which suggests that we close between 5-15 schools this year – and also identifies 53 schools of our portfolio of 108 as falling below “our target programmatic enrollment size.” Many of the small schools in this mix are among the highest performing and most popular schools in our city – Peralta and Kaiser and La Escuelita elementary schools, Ascend K-8 school and Life Academy High School.

    These schools do not cost more per student to operate. They are outstanding academic performers and every seat at the school is full. But they made the list because they don’t conform to a boilerplate school size supported by “research” and the “experts,” according to the district’s report. These small schools have been lumped together and identified as a problem. To what end? I have no idea. But I do know this – not one of the schools I just mentioned will be closed by the School Board anytime soon. We are creating tension and distraction for no good reason.

    Join me in opposing a strategy that looks primarily at wholesale school closings as a means to guarantee future fiscal stability. Call your school Board member, attend the last 2 engagement meetings that have been scheduled on this topic, and plan to attend the School Board meetings scheduled for this fall when key decisions are scheduled to be made.

    Those of us who live in the world of schools know that the district’s budget is under tremendous pressure – yet learning keeps improving. The Administration’ s presentations did a fine job of outlining progress over the last five years. In an era of constant upheaval, our staff and families have done more with less. We have tripled the number of schools that perform above 700 on the state’s Academic Performance Index (out of a possible score of 1000). The number of schools below 500 has gone from 42 to 4. Oakland has defined itself with the largest gains of any large urban school district in the last 6 years. Unfortunately, no analysis was offered during the meeting as to the successful best practices which contributed to better performance. This information is critical as we shape future budgets, and should be clarified.

    The report also presented some sobering facts about the local hit that our public schools will continue to take because of lingering state deficits and our never ending enrollment decline.

    The state budget this year did not include any cost of living increases for staff. Our current year budget is balanced without raises, and our costs are projected to rise $18M this year because of inflation, step and column increases to teachers, higher energy costs, etc.

    We currently serve 37,000 students in Oakland public schools, down from the 54,000 students we served 10 years ago. Since the state pays the district according to the number of students served, the enrollment loss has cost us an average of $14.5M/yr for the last three years.

    The School Board and State Administrator cut or downsized $21M in programs this year to balance the budget. We are literally cutting lean muscle tissue from the system – custodians, attendance clerks, campus security guards and teaching assistants for special education classrooms. The serious nature of our financial struggle cannot be stated strongly enough.

    The bad news does not justify our staff going off the deep end by identifying 53 schools as a problem because they don’t conform to someone else’s “formula.” The School Board must challenge our staff to present a full range of options as we explore the future. We should consider:

    Better uses of the Redevelopment Agency funds that come through the city to schools
    Energy savings – both short and long term
    Selling surplus property
    Closing schools ONLY IF they fall outside the range of average school spending, they are significantly underenrolled and/or student academic achievement is below comparable schools without improvement
    Increasing attendance, especially at the high school level
    Voter initiatives which allow us to put local dollars on the salary schedule

    We have tough conversations ahead. I hope that we can manage them by discussing a range of options.

    Additional Engagement Meetings Scheduled include:

    9/29 Montera Middle School – 6 – 8 pm
    9/30 Frick Middle School 6-8 pm”