A happy, anti-climatic ending for small schools

There was plenty of drama leading up to the school board meeting tonight. The television trucks outside the Oakland Tech auditorium, the cameras, the crowd. Fittingly, the board members, the superintendent and the state administrator were on stage, under brutally bright lights, while the audience sat in relative darkness.

“This is not a show, it’s a meeting,” board member Greg Hodge said in an unsuccessful attempt to even out the lighting.

But it was a show, as these kinds of meetings often are. In this case — to everyone’s relief (except, maybe, for some of the journalists) — it was an anti-climatic one.

“It’s simply not the case that we’ll be closing schools on a big scale tonight or in the future,” School Board President David Kakishiba said right at the outset, just as I told you he would.

The moment Kakishiba pushed the whole “right-sizing” notion aside, the tension in the crowd dissipated. But by the time the dozens of speakers had spoken their minds, it was getting late, and the audience had thinned. Some stayed to hear how the board aims to shore up the district’s fiscal health, but not many.

Some of the ideas aired tonight: recruit more students, cut central office costs, get the state to forgive Oakland’s massive debt, reduce truancy.

Do you think they could work, and how? What are your ideas?

Read the full Trib story here.

photos by Ray Chavez/Oakland Tribune

Katy Murphy

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

  • Jim Mordecai

    My idea is to vote NO on Measure N and support legislation that puts a hold on creating more Oakland charter schools.

    The drain on enrollment of each new charter school is well documented and puts increasing stress on an already stressed budget.

    The State Administrator, Vincent Matthews, has a conflict of interest when it comes to charter schools (he is a former Edison Charter School Principal). Last night he stated when encouraging voters to approve Measure N that 15% of Measure N to be given to charter schools was placed in the Measure because it is an equity issue. By equity issue he explained that some of the voters approving a raise for Oakland Public Schools teachers would get no benefit because their children are in charter schools.

    I question that State Administrator’s job is to bring equity to charter school parents that are Oakland property owners. State Administrator is not a judge nor a legislator.

    I also find it an abuse of State Administrator’s official power that when he sought to bring equity to corporate charter school parents that he hide the fact that money was going to charter schools from the public and Oakland voters. If you check your voter pamphlet you’ll not find mentioned that Measure N includes 15% to be given to charter schools.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Sue

    Excuse me Jim, the voter guide contains the full text of the measure, so the 15% to charter schools is in there. The 15% is also included in the analysis.

    But very few voters read their guides cover-to-cover like I do, so I’ll agree that most people will miss it, since they only read the one-paragraph summary at the top of the first page – if that much.

  • former hills parent

    The school board should have furthered the discussion about closing small schools. Otherwise OUSD will continue to be in debt. They must be more courageous and not always give in.

  • communicator

    Small schools are not automatically good schools. Rather, small schools DO have several opportunities they might not otherwise have to BE better schools than they would otherwise be, especially with expert technical assistance available to these schools through the non-profit Oakland Small Schools Foundation. What does OSSF add to the small schools equation? Expert planning, organizational guidance and accountability, among other things. Otherwise, small may just be … small.

  • Catherine

    Why not close big schools that will not or cannot close the achievement GAP –

    Also, some of the larger schools require security guards which adds to costs – check out which schools have more security guards than librarians and you will find schools that are not, for the most part, educating their students to the minimum required standards.

  • Polly

    I really think this is how the parents of OUSD get apathetic. How can you take people down such a painful road and consistently say… nevermind we aren’t doing that.

    We don’t have the energy for so many false alarms. Its very difficult to keep up with what the BOD is going to do without having to guess what they are thinking.

  • turner

    Why close any schools at all?

    Schools are not the problem. We need places for teachers to esducate the students. That is where the revenue is generated. All this talk about schools is “premature”, as Kakishiba says.

    Downsize the central office. It is top heavy. Too many administrators earning 6-figure salaries. Getting rid of 8 of them making $125k a year would net $1 million.

    Why do we have a state administrator and a superintendent? Their salaries with benefits and perks are at least $500k.
    Freeze unnecessary expenses (travel & conference).

    Dismiss all consultants (no point in hiring 6 figure personnel tghen hiring outside consultants as well).

    The Categorical money needs to be spent…on schools. Too often, Oakland has had a negative general fund balance but a huge balance in the categorical programs. Money that the State and Feds send Oakland for school use is not being used…In some cases, it is being returned.

    Clean up the central office budget before you start talking about closing schools. Closing schools is an expensive affair financially and emotionally and not worth it in the end. It should only be carried out as a last resort.


  • Nextset

    What does “the gap” have to do with closing schools? Dull students need schools too.

  • political corrector

    Oakland will be in severe debt again, you watch. Remember, OUSD is the originator of the super bailout, not wall street!

    Is it true Jim Moredaci is just a sub? Wow, and we wonder why this city is the state is in. That is like having the janitor speak for a schools academic program!

    I know some will say “whats wrong with that”?

    To quote Oaklands own Too Short- “Oakland is the City of dopes cant be saved by John the Pope.”

  • Catherine

    Small schools are achieving the learning that many large schools are not able to achieve. A school like Kaiser is teaching students of color at similar levels of those white and Asian students.

    Schools large like Lakeview, Fruitvale and Garfield don’t even come close – they value security guards more than librarians. Both are funded – just ask the schools how many times per week the students at the schools listed above see guards and how many times a week they see a librarian. Guards are not helping kids learn – it could be argued they are not keeping things any safer than other school adults (like librarians) who care about children.

  • Jim Mordecai


    You are right that the 15% is mentioned in the County Counsel’s analysis of Measure N, and in the argument in support of Measure N.

    I fear that many voters will not (unlike you) read beyond the boxed statement. And, I also fear, that seeing the statement in the voter pamphlet that there was no argument in opposition to Measure N submitted will encourage voters to pass Measure N. Although there is no argument printed there is growing opposition to Measure N.

    And, although the framed question mentions the parcel tax is to support successful charter schools (however that is defined), it would be an easy mistake for a voter, reading his/her voter information pamphlet, to think that the parcel tax money for corporate charter schools had to be used exclusively on charter school teacher salaries.

    If I had written an argument against Measure N, I would first question why requested parcel taxes for the Oakland Public Schools, and money for the Oakland Charter Schools, had to be combined. Why can’t Oakland’s corporate charter schools ask Oakland’s voters for a charter school tax money on their own?

    Then I would raise the issue of what $1.8 million dollars a year for successful corporate charter schools will do in increasing interest in starting up more charter schools in Oakland, and thereby, decreasing enrollment, further putting stress on an already stressed budget.

    As I mentioned in my earlier post State Administrator Vincent Matthews feels that including charter schools is an issue of equity. However, nowhere in the laws enacted around the State loan, and State take-over, is mentioned the issue of charter school equity. This is obvious a role that was self-defined.

    At last night’s meeting he mentioned that Measure N is designed to close the gap between San Francisco teacher pay and Oakland teacher pay. So why did he leave out the charter school teachers? San Francisco wrote its parcel tax and included charter schools but the money is to be spent for teacher salaries and not charter school programs (whatever that means).

    Also, San Francisco’s parcel tax language was for more money, $195 per parcel while Oakland is asking for $120, and for twice as many years. Plus, the parcel tax is indexed for inflation over those 20 years.

    Oakland’s parcel tax was not designed by State Administrator Matthews to keep up with San Francisco’s parcel tax despite his words about closing the gap in teachers’ pay.

    That Measure N falls short in closing the gap in competitive teacher pay is just one of the many reasons I have listed above for voting NO on Measure N.

    Jim Mordecai
    Oakland Substitute Teacher

  • Alison

    Judging or targeting schools on their ratio of security guards to librarians is arbitrary and illogical. At the middle school where I teach, students laugh and joke with the security guards. Yes, their job is safety which often means addressing discipline issues. However, they are also members of the school community who support students and teachers in their work. One of my students this year wrote a poem that stated that one of our security guards is a role model for him.

    We also have a fabulous librarian who supports literacy across the school and provides a safe, comfortable place for students to read and work.

    Please don’t make blanket statements about schools. All students have different needs and the more positive adults you can have at an Oakland middle school, the better. The ratio of security guards to librarians certainly isn’t a deciding factor in student achievement.

  • Catherine


    My point is – of the three “flat land” schools I visit to bring free books, each elementary school has a minimum of two guards and no librarians. All schools have declining test scores, all schools have SLIP money which includes money for a librarian.

    In elementary school a good librarian can make the difference between the great majority of the kids reading for pleasure or NOT. In addtion, going to the library gives kids an opportunity to hear a story read to them (at least at our elementary school all children are read to by the librarian).

    And, a measure of learning is the number and quality of books a children have access to daily.

  • N. Peterson

    Closing schools??? The kindergarten class sizes in flatland schools east of Fruitvale are pushing 28!!Why doesn’t the district hire more teachers and open new kinder classes? This will impact these schools for years to come. It’s time for parents to start protesting these sneaky increases in class sizes. This is a bad policy that has got to stop.