West Oakland’s empty classroom seats

Here’s a sobering statistic: Of the 2,890-plus Oakland Unified students who live in West Oakland, 1,270 attend schools in other parts of the city, according to school district data.

That’s 44 percent, and it doesn’t count children who go to public charter schools or private schools — or to Berkeley Unified, for that matter.

What to do? A new group of city, school and county officials and community leaders has formed to revitalize public schools in West Oakland during a time of ongoing budget cuts ($27 million out of next year’s OUSD budget).

The group is called the West Oakland Brain Trust, and it was convened this fall by school board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge, who represents District 3.

Some of OUSD’s top dogs came to its Tuesday morning meeting. Superintendent Tony Smith, CFO Vernon Hall and Chief Academic Officer Brad Stam gave this detailed presentation about enrollment and academic performance at each West Oakland school. According to the data, all of West Oakland’s 1,021 elementary schoolchildren — who now attend four district schools — could fit into three schools (2.59 schools, to be exact).

The enrollment challenges are particularly severe at the high school level: Of the 769 Oakland Unified students who live in West Oakland, just 409 attend BEST or EXCEL high schools at McClymonds, the only comprehensive high school campus in District 3. That’s 53 percent.

Hinton Hodge said she wanted to examine how the district’s unusual budgeting system, Results-Based Budgeting, “works in some cases and not in others” — namely, those with low or declining enrollment — and whether it could be tweaked. She said the school board would soon get into “nitty, gritty” budget discussions, such as what would happen if the district increased its average class size from 21 to 24.

Smith said he was especially concerned about West Oakland and five other areas in the city: North Oakland, San Antonio, Sobrante Park, East Oakland’s MacArthur corridor and the area around the Fremont high school campus.

The superintendent gave a speech about the importance of coming together and working to create a brighter future for all children and families. His remarks were rousing, as usual, but I didn’t hear many concrete solutions.

What are yours?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Jim Mordecai

    Two points. Results Based Budgeting (RBB) was studied a few years ago in a comparison study between Oakland’s budgeting and San Francisco’s budgeting that uses a student weighted formula for delivering funding to school sites.

    An important point made in the study is that Oakland, unlike San Francisco’s budget approach to weighted student budgeting at school sites, provides extra money for attendance. The study said that tying extra money per school site budget to student testing did not raise attendance and therefore that approach should be dropped. So far the cost of the study has been paid but nothing in the way of changing Oakland’s budgeting policy has taken place. The schools with poverty issues are continuing to be hurt by receiving less money while the Board continues ignoring this study.

    Second point is that by reading about the “support” the District is providing West Oakland schools there are repeated mentioning of math coaches. However, this is support that does not cost anything. Good trick.

    Jim Mordecai

  • http://www.cpa.com len raphael

    fill in more of the reasoning and background. is the assumption that the schools are so bad that the kids parents chose to ship them out of district? if so, is the main problem with that the wasted time kids spend traveling back and forth, or is overcrowding at the other schools?

  • Katy Murphy

    I think the problem in West Oakland is similar to the problem facing the school district as a whole: Declining enrollment, whatever its causes, means less funding for those schools or districts that are losing students.

    That, in turn, often means school closures, layoffs or increasingly stretched resources at shrinking schools.

    Of course, as was noted on Monday, if every child who lived in West Oakland was to return to his or her neighborhood school (from another OUSD school), other schools outside of West Oakland would see an enrollment decline.

  • Steven Weinberg

    The West Oakland Brain Trust should ask the OUSD Research Department to compile a report on the educational outcomes (graduation rate, test scores, etc.) of students who leave West Oakland schools to attend schools elsewhere in the district. Parents transfer their students to schools outside the community because they hope their students will get a better education. Knowing whether the students actually do better would be a key piece of information to have in dealing with this problem.

  • Reality Check

    Parents don’t have time to waste waiting for a report. As with any (semi) free market, they are freely choosing to move their children. Every year a parent wastes having their child in a sub-standard learning environment is a wasted year. Add enough wasted years – 1?, 2? and the child will never catch up or excel.

  • Cranky Teacher

    I hear enrollment across the district is actually up this year, probably because of the recession. I definitely have transfer students from private schools who say the parents could no longer afford tuition.

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    Ms. Katy, why are families in West Oakland sending their children to school in other parts of town? The two-academy plan at McClymonds was weird from the outset, because McClymonds has been underenrolled for as long as I can remember.

    But now that it’s effectively one school again, what can we be doing to make Mac the 9-12 Educational Flagship of the West Oakland?

    I don’t agree that any “flight” of Westside kids to Westside schools would necessarily decrease enrollment elsewhere. At Oakland High, for instance, enrollment had to be cut off this year (yet again, I think) due to limited space. If all the O-Hi students who lived in the West went back to their neighborhood high school, I question whether O-Hi would empty out for long.

    That’s certainly not to suggest that kids from outside Funktown can’t be Wildcats too, but something’s out of kilter. For one thing, in terms of basic design, Oakland High is one of the uglier school buildings in town. This year there’s significant, much-needed construction going on, meaning portables on the basketball courts, forklifts and cranes everywhere, big ugly nets, big ugly trucks, noise, dust…and I love O-Hi, but even when this is all over, there will still be the little tiny crackerbox classrooms with nary a window nor vent to the outside world.

    McClymonds, though, is an architectural gem! HUGE classrooms, gorgeous woodwork, windows for miles around, STAGES and built-in shelves and cubbyholes and lofts in the rooms…someone could write a book about the care that was taken building that school. Rivals any building at UC Berkeley. Beyond that, we all have the same educational standards, use the same textbooks, no question about the faculty’s dedication, etc. And yet Mac is standing half empty, while children who live in that neighborhood are traveling all over town to go to school elsewhere.

    Why? Some kind of pragmatic shift is needed here, so parents, teachers, neighbors, students, Grandmoms, what’s the missing piece of this puzzle?

    (Grandmoms rule!)