Tonight, the Oakland school board voted to block Lazear Elementary School from becoming a charter school (with Spearman and Gallo dissenting).
Lazear is one of five elementary schools slated to close in June as part of a school district downsizing plan. To keep it open, parents submitted an application to become an independently run charter school at the same location.
Most of the students at Lazear walk to school, and there weren’t enough spaces in nearby schools in the Fruitvale area to accommodate the children. Less than half got their first-choice alternative, and only about two-thirds got their top two choices.
In late March, Oakland school district’s charter schools office recommended the school board reject the petition, saying it failed to meet its quality standards. The school board tabled the decision, though, and directed staff to negotiate a partnership charter agreement, a la ASCEND and Learning Without Limits. Until this week, it appeared the board was ready to go for it.
Then came the numbers. According to a fiscal analysis by district staff, approving the charter would cost OUSD $1.4 million, as the savings from the closure had already been factored into the 2012-13 budget. Superintendent Tony Smith said the conversion would wipe out the additional 5 percent per-student funding allocation that he said would be given to remaining OUSD schools as a result of those savings.
State law doesn’t let districts include fiscal considerations in their charter decisions. Smith noted the fiscal impact, but was careful to add: “But really at the root of this, it didn’t meet the quality standards that the charter office holds.”
Many a tear was shed during the meeting, and not just from parents. Board member Jumoke Hinton-Hodge got choked up (though she voted against the charter), saying she was not happy with how families were treated in the post-closure transition process. Hae-Sin Kim Thomas, executive director of the Education for Change charter management organization, broke down during her public comment.
“I know the tide has shifted,” she said, a few minutes before the vote. “I’ve been in this district long enough to know when tides shift.”
Alice Spearman, who often votes against charters, accused the district of playing dirty with Lazear.
“This community has fought and dug and scraped and carried on for over 20 years to maintain that little piece of dirt next to the freeway, next to the gas station. I don’t know why,” she said. “But that’s how that community is.”
When the votes came in, the room was quiet. Thomas walked out of the room before the vote, after it became clear from the members’ comments what the outcome would be.
I’m writing more about this tomorrow. But I know the parents at Lazear well enough to guess that the story isn’t over.