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Notes from the school closure meeting

By Katy Murphy
Wednesday, October 26th, 2011 at 6:47 pm in school closures.

The Oakland school board is expected to vote tonight on a proposal to close five elementary schools and to merge others. I’ll be updating this periodically throughout the night.

Want to watch it live? Go here. – Katy

11:05: The five elementary schools will close. The board voted 5-2 to approve the resolution. “You will pay the price!” someone just yelled.

10:55: Alice Spearman says, “Superintendent, I just can’t go with it. It’s not in me.”

“But the fact remains, we do have to close some schools.”

10:10: The board secretary just called 44 (or maybe it was 34) more speaker cards. The crowd has thinned out. Most of the children are gone by now. It’s past their bedtime!

9:15: The following exchange will give you a sense of the tone of the meeting and the kinds of exchanges happening between the board (mostly, Jody London, the board president) and the audience:

A public speaker starts talking.

London: “Please introduce yourself.”

Man: “I am a citizen. Quiet now.” (laughter)

Citizen: “I’m putting you guys on notice right now. What your vote is is going to decide your future.”

8:25: The Oakland teachers union officers read a statement opposing the closures: “We call on the district to abandon their plan and work with the many teachers, students and community leaders who have come to the past few board meetings with creative ideas for keeping their schools open.”

8:10: Public comment has begun. Little boy from Lazear Elementary: “I really love the school. It’s like the best thing that ever happened to me.”

8:00: Noel Gallo draws his third standing ovation as he questions the ability and/or willingness of district staff to do what they say they’re going to do.

Gary Yee stands up and yells into the mic to Gallo: “You’ve been here for 19 years. What have you done about it?”

7:55: It sounded like David Montes de Oca said that children entering grades 1 to 5 in 2012 would be placed in their top-choice schools before other students in OUSD enter the Options process. Jody London asked how the transition of displaced students would affect the current options priorities, and I think that was his response. I need to follow up and clarify. (He talks really fast!)

7:25: People are simultaneously making lots of noise and complaining they can’t hear.

7:20: Noel Gallo is speechifying. He’s drawing his second standing ovation right now.

“I don’t believe that closing schools for financial reasons is a good reason to close schools,” he said.

Oh, and he says he doesn’t believe the budget numbers staff is presenting, either.

7:15: Alice Spearman asks, “So we’re going to use some of the savings to pay for a shuttle bus? … So we’re going to close a school, but we’re going to use part of a savings to provide transportation…?”

7:05: Board President Jody London said the board’s initial discussion would last about an hour. Then public comment. It’s hard to hear what they’re talking about. Some people are leaving; others are chatting.

“Don’t leave, Oakland!” a couple of people have said to the people walking out the door.

The crowd is getting restless.

“Get to the point!” someone yells.

“Vote!”

Why would anyone want the board to vote before the public has had a chance to speak?

7:00: Vernon Hal, deputy superintendent, says savings from the closures and mergers will “free up” about $50 per student.

6:55: David Montes de Oca, who heads the district’s Quality Community Schools Development group, says they are evaluating transportation needs. If the schools close, he says, they will consider providing shuttle service.

6:50: Superintendent Tony Smith notes that as a candidate for the superintendent post in 2009, he took questions in this same auditorium about how he’d restore fiscal solvency and an academic focus to the Oakland school district. He reiterated that the school board directed his staff to make closure recommendations

“Having too many underfunded schools is not a good strategy,” he said.

6:45: The board secretary, Edgar Rakestraw, is reading the school closure resolution. Acoustics are bad in the Oakland Tech auditorium. People are shouting that they can’t hear.

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  • Special Education Parent

    Burckhalter and Burbank were mentioned as growing or taking in other schools. Where is this district’s memory?! Burbank took in all of the Pre-k Special Ed programs after Tilden was closed and incorporated the diagnostic center. (This is only Burbank’s second year.) Burckhalter has Pre-k to 5 autism classrooms and also took many of the students from Tilden. To compound all of this, the closure of Marshall will eliminate a K to 5 line-up of Special Day classrooms. If the existence of these classrooms and programs is not mentioned and highlighted by the Board members and other District leaders, they do not represent my child or other children with Special Needs. Will those programs and students continue to be pushed out as has historically been the case?

    It is difficult to view these Board proceedings tonight. Given my child’s challenges, I cannot always be present to speak out. I must place my faith on others to carry our voices where we cannot bring them ourselves. When I can, I will join my voice and actions to those of other families to carve out a decent and inclusive education for all children.

  • Special Education Parent

    5 schools have been foreclosed tonight.

    As the mother of a child with autism, I know intimately how difficult it can be for children to feel safe when they are uprooted. My hope tonight is that we hear this decision as a call to action. In our schools, about how carefully we attend to the most basic needs of children. Beyond, about how we will challenge those forces at the root of tonight’s decision.

    Let’s get our children’s money back.

  • del

    That’s a classic comment by Spearman that explains why we’re in this mess. Basically, she’s saying “I know what I have to do but I’m not going to do it.” I’m glad Yee called Gallo on his consistent choice to do nothing but go where the political winds blow him.
    I don’t think anyone WANTS to close schools… but where is the money to keep them open? What is plan b?

  • Parent

    Del,

    How about the 8.8 million dollars OUSD is giving to Sankofa and it’s 140, non-neighborhood students to expand it’s location 2 blocks from Peralta and 5 blocks from Sante Fe to K-8? That’s just for starters.

  • Katy Murphy

    Sankofa had 212 students on the 20th day of school, according to an enrollment spreadsheet I requested from OUSD.

  • Richard Allums

    What office is Mr. gallo unnig for? He is a politician of the extraordinaire- the typical Oakland type politico!

    I love how he proudly dons the shirt of Lazear a school that has miseducated parents, and students for years! Politicized parents does NOT equal good school Mr. Gallo. They destroy.

  • Turanga_teach

    With respect, 8.8 million divided by 212 instead of by 140 is still a wee bit above our typical per-student expenditure…I do sometimes wonder why some commitments made in flusher times get honored while others are, perhaps understandably, set aside these days.

  • Parent

    The commitment to re-structure Sankofa was made this year.

    You’re right Katy it is higher, but you are including the Pre-k.

  • Oakland Teacher

    How many of Sankofa’s students are from the neighborhood? I thought that was supposed to be a major criteria of determining closures. It does not make sense to close schools with most of the students living nearby, while at the same time pouring money into schools with a much lower percentage of neighborhood children.

  • Katy Murphy

    The enrollment number I cited — 212 — was for grades k-5. The spreadsheet broke the numbers down by grade level and did not include pre-k.