Competing for attention: Moldy portables, broken heaters and a 90-yard football field

Improving Oakland’s school facilities will be a major focus for the district in the coming months. The long-awaited Facilities Master Plan is up for a vote on May 23. Then, on June 13, the board reviews the proposed language for a $475 million bond measure that might go on the November ballot.

Gene Bregman, a market researcher hired by OUSD, reported at tonight’s school board meeting that he was “very encouraged” by the results of his firm’s telephone poll about a possible bond election.

Tim White, who heads the district’s facilities department (which has created this website for the master plan), said that, over the years, the district has received many millions of dollars for upgrades in addition to local taxpayer-funded bond money — mostly in the form of matching grants.

Maybe White can do that again if the bond is approved this fall, at least to some degree. But the fact remains that, despite the money Oakland taxpayers have already raised for capital improvements, the district’s list of needs totals $1.536 billion. That’s three times the amount of the as-yet hypothetical bond revenues.

Will Fremont High School in East Oakland get a football field with a full 100 yards, and building to replace some of its rotting portable classrooms? Will West Oakland schools — slated to be a hub for science, technology, engineering and math activity — be outfitted accordingly? Will the district create a new central kitchen and renovate smaller ones so kids can eat more nutritious food? Make its buildings better able to withstand a massive earthquake?

Nidya Baez, a 2003 graduate of Fremont High who became a teacher and recently returned to her alma mater to work, told the school board and administration that a beautiful new school would attract more students from the neighborhood; now, the majority of teenagers in the area go elsewhere. As I reported Tuesday, Fremont is undergoing an academic overhaul and simultaneously grappling with neighborhood violence and campus security. The dingy facilities and general physical environment, which some liken to a prison, is another concern.

“We need a modern library, we need a student center, we need a building to walk into (when you enter the school) … and finally we need a stadium,” Baez said. “We are not happy with our 90-yard football field; we cannot play like this.”

The district administration has identified $86.6 million in needed improvements for Fremont High. We’ll soon see which projects make the cut for the bond measure project list. Those recommendations are expected to be presented at the June board meeting.

You can find the list of projects (“Facility Master Plan Projects Pipeline”) here, as well as the master plan draft. Do you think the board should float a bond measure in November? What about an accompanying parcel tax to raise $2 million a year to maintain the new facilities? (I think it would amount to $20 per parcel per year, but that’s something else I need to check. It might be a moot point, as some board members were only interested in a bond measure.)

Katy Murphy

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

  • On the Fence

    There are many schools for which beautification and updating would help with aesthetics and function, however, let’s be clear, that is not the primary reason why the majority of neighborhood families are not choosing Fremont High.

    I’d love to see Edna Brewer someday have a green turf field on one of its expanses of blacktop for school sports and safe running during PE. And I’ve heard some valid comments that the yard area has a prison-like look with lots of blacktop and not enough greenery, despite the stellar work by parent groups to beautify the periphery of the school. For a few parents, the aethethics may sway them away from the school, but not many. Edna Brewer is attracting more students then it can accomodate, and is earning the reputation of a school neighborhood parents increasingly choose for middle school, blacktop and all.

  • Adams Point Mama

    Katy, I saw this list yesterday on the GO website, and I’m very confused — there are a lot of schools listed here that I’ve never heard of and that don’t appear in ‘Our Schools’ on the OUSD website: Wittier, Washington, Foster, Lowell, Havenscourt, Simmons, Burbank. Is this for all of Alameda County and are these schools in differnt districts? Also, it’s odd that Maxwell Park is on the list since it was closed.

  • Adams Point Mama

    Also, I agree with On the Fence — facility improvements are nice, but they don’t move the needle. Instead, why can’t the district invest in smaller class sizes/more teachers? Or support teachers, PE, music, art, foreign language, playground monitors, counselors, GATE support, etc. — the things the PTAs pay for because the district says they can’t afford to.

  • Oaklandotter

    The types of projects prioritized should be improvements we can all support, seismic work, replacement of 30-50 year of portables, removing dry rot, basic electrical and plumbing work that is need, project related to implementing the strategic plan and grounds upgrades. The facilities staff have worked hard to be transparent and data driven. Hopefully a thoughtful needs/equity approach can continue rather than a favorite projects/ each board member fiefdom approach. However, coordination with other silo’s in OUSD needs to be improved, Schools that are closed should not be on the list, a center piece of the plan is a regional approach but school lists per region don’t even match current region lists for the district- throwing off their classroom counts by grade level and region, and planning about grade level shifts have been suspended.

  • Nextset

    There are Charter Schools (6-9th grade?) near me in downtown office buildings. They march the kids to nearby public parks and plazas every day for exercise. Other Charters are in commercial buildings not far away. Private for profit colleges have set up in strip malls along the freeways.

    Sorry, I’m not impressed that in the current economic climate we have to worry about the public schools having any football fields.

    These old facilities can all be closed and sold off. They’d be better in private hands anyway.

    Relocate the public classrooms to rented commercial buildings. At the rate the failing urban schools are going they won’t need so much capacity in the future anyway.

    California is collapsing. It’s time to realize what’s happening and deal with it. Our cities are being flooded with state prisoners because the prisons are flushing them out and closing capacity. We do not need, under these circumstances, to spend capital improvement money here when we have plenty of commercial office space and the abandoned (or emptying) malls. We can use them for classrooms. Run administration through the internet – just like the Jr Colleges are now doing.

    So no more bond money to rehab the crumbling urban secondary schools. The party is over and the sooner the urban educrats face reality the better for them and for their students. There is plenty of suitable classroom space – and parking – in the abandoned commercial properties in and around the urban areas. Go rent it.

    Brave New World.

  • Katy Murphy

    Those are the names of campuses in OUSD — mostly, of schools that have been closed and reopened/renamed. Foster is no longer a school (the district has offices/programs there), but otherwise they all house at least one OUSD school.

    Whittier is home to Greenleaf Elementary (East Oakland). Washington, to Sankofa Academy (North Oakland). Lowell, to West Oakland Middle School and KIPP Bridge Charter. Havenscourt = ROOTS and Coliseum College Prep (66th and International). Calvin Simmons = United for Success and Life Academy (35th Ave).

    OUSD plans to move Melrose Leadership Academy (two-way language immersion elementary, plus a middle school) into the Maxwell Park building. The new Urban Montessori Charter School will move into the nearby campus where MLA is right now.

    To add to the naming confusion: That campus, on Brann Street, is also known as the Sherman site. Sherman Elementary was closed in 2007.

  • Oaklandotter

    Other school site confusion exists, for example Edna Brewer is listed as being in Region 1 in the Facilities plan but is listed in Region 2 on the Regional Zone map and list on OUSD’s website.

  • Adams Point Mama

    Thanks, Katy. How confusing!

  • Anon

    I was confused by this too. Several of the closed school sites are listed; I know that some of them are already slated for new OUSD uses, so that makes sense. But I haven’t yet heard (or maybe I missed?) proposed uses for others. Specifically, Santa Fe is slated not only for seismic improvements, but also for solar panels…?? (I am all for OUSD maintaining facilities if there are plans for them to be revenue generating in the near future…just wondering if the public can be privy to those plans!)

    Also, for Piedmont Avenue, I see that OUSD is shouldering some of the cost for the new library (where the Piedmont Avenue OPL branch will be moving soon). Is this because they will maintain this building into the future for school uses once the Piedmont branch has a more permanent home, or is there another shared arrangement of some sort? I would have expected OPL to have borne that cost.

  • Peach

    Is there an OUSD school on the Burbank campus?

  • livegreen

    I agree with some of the confusion over closed sights, or those that have been renamed. Noel Gallo mtd the same thing last night, & it’s a good point.

    But this is about more than aesthetics. It’s about having SAFE facilities, getting rid of really old portables, and upgrading academic facilities. There are some real needs out there and they are legit. When prospective parents come in to some of these facilities they turn around and walk back out.

    I know some of them and they have either gone to private school or moved out of Oakland, further decimating Oakland’s tax base. Which hurts everyone.

  • Renae Briggs

    keep the trees and grass… please give us one water fountain that actually works and some paper towels and soap in the restrooms.

    Most of the school campuses in OUSD are basically “hillbilly shacks” Instead of improvements to 100 rotting campuses…. they need to raze most of the sites and build just a few REAL school buildings.

  • Lisa Capuano Oler

    The children at Fremont High deserve what any decent High School has. Actually, if the building and grounds were nicer I am sure more kids would go to school and stay in school. Never underestimate the effect the environment has upon people. It really speaks to whether or not we value the children who go there. Get rid of this top heavy bureaucracy we have downtown. Put those people in classrooms. Get rid of all these consultants. and beautify all the schools. Some sites are such a disgrace in the flatlands.

    Burbank now houses the Preschool Diagnostic Center and some Special Ed classes. When they closed Tilden that is where they relocated some of it.

  • http://theresalozach.com Theresa Lozac’h

    Yes Peach – there is an OUSD school at the Burbank campus. It is a wonderful Preschool center primarily for children with special needs. Many of the children from the old Tilden campus were moved there when Tilden was closed. It is a shining star of a program in OUSD thanks in a large part to the administrator, Christie Anderson. You should check it out sometime!

  • http://www.movingforwardedu.com Lacy Asbill

    FYI–At the board meeting on Wednesday, there was mention that the Santa Fe site will be rented to Emery Unified for a few years, in what was described as a high-revenue generating lease.

  • Lisa Capuano Oler

    The students and children do not benefit from “high revenue” renting out of OUSD schools. The only people who benefit are the administrators downtown who get to collect the money and pay eachother well. Schools close and parents must drive all over to get their kids to yet another school. Teachers lose jobs and downtown gets to play “property manager” instead of being a school district in the work of educating our children. Why not close all the schools and rent them out to other districts and charters? Maybe the administration would do a better job as property managers of some HOAs .

  • http://PetervonEhrenkrook Peter von Ehrenkrook

    I’ve been waiting for Katy to post something about this, but it’s old news already. A charter near Santa Fe, Civicorps, just closed its own elementary school site and 153 + students are now without a designated school for next year. They were, in large part, students from the Santa Fe area, and over the last few years Civicorps was partially responsible for the loss of enrollment at Santa Fe. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could go to Santa Fe in the fall instead of trying to find a spot at one of the other nearby charters, or traveling to Sankofa or Emerson like our Santa Fe students will need to do next fall….

  • Oakland Teacher

    Peter – where did you hear that Civicorp Elementary was closing? Do you know the reason why?

    This is the first I have heard of that news.

  • Katy Murphy

    I didn’t find an announcement on the Civicorps website, but it’s on the governing board’s agenda this coming Wednesday. The board has set aside 20 minutes for an update on the charter elementary school’s closure.

    A record of the closure decision doesn’t appear to be posted online in the governing board minutes, though maybe I just missed it. The only other reference I saw was from a March 21 board meeting (the last agenda/minutes posted): a K-5 transition committee had been formed to explore the possibility of having another charter management organization, or OUSD, run the elementary school. It didn’t explain why.

    The December meeting’s minutes mention some concerns about the organization’s strategic plan not including the elementary school.

    Civicorps Elementary has 155 students, and 130 in grades k-4. Enrollment dropped sharply after the 2009-10 school year (by about 25 percent), so it’s quite possible the school is struggling financially.

  • http://PetervonEhrenkrook Peter von Ehrenkrook

    Selections from the website below:


    There was no warning all year the school might close* & only a few days notice of the upcoming vote!

    Voting at a time the afterschool program is still running, in the middle of the week, off-site (5pm Tuesday 5/8 at 101 Myrtle Street Oakland Ca) obviously limits the ability of those directly affected to be involved

    It’s unprofessional & unethical to decide the fate of next year with only a few weeks left this year to prepare (*minutes from this year’s meetings available at above link)

    It’s too late to apply to any schools next year, which can cause problems on multiple fronts:

    Transportation ~ as the window for “options” closed months ago, students will be randomly assigned to schools which could be a significant distance from their home &/or cause complicated commutes.

    Scheduling ~ all schools do not offer the same extended care options & with random assignments that could create an incredible obstacle for families who don’t luck into something that works for them

    Financial ~ in addition to the possibility of extra expenses for commutes & extended care fees, different dress codes could quite literally require an entire new wardrobe which might not be affordable

    Culture ~ the school was deemed to have “different than curricula offered at other… schools” in order for it’s charter to be renewed, is it fair to expect students to adjust to something else without any preparation?


  • http://PetervonEhrenkrook Peter von Ehrenkrook

    The agenda for the May 8th Special Board Meeting has been removed from the Civicorps website.

    I viewed it on May 9th, and it included the school closure on the agenda.

  • http://PetervonEhrenkrook Peter von Ehrenkrook

    Curioser and curiouser….

    The link above for change.org doesn’t work now either. I was able to relocate the page by going to Education and searching under “civicorps”. The following instructions were requested of those who would like to support keeping Civicorps Elementary open:

    “Like” our Facebook page for updates, to share your story, & help the media

    Thank you to all of our supporters! The Board of Directors claimed they /are/ reading your comments & have been invited (just like you are) to join participate on our Facebook page at


    Media which already expressed an interest in our story as it was developing as well as future interest will benefit from a more centralized data collection place & the page will be updated with various resources, so please “like” us by clicking the link below or copying & pasting the address above.

    More at facebook.com

    Posted By civicorps ptc Petition Organizer
    May 09, 2012

  • http://PetervonEhrenkrook Peter von Ehrenkrook

    Posted on Yelp:

    Civicorps Elementary School – CLOSED

    Category: Elementary Schools [Edit]

    1086 Alcatraz Ave
    (between Herzog St & Salem St)
    Oakland, CA 94608
    Neighborhood: North Oakland

    (510) 420-3701

  • http://PetervonEhrenkrook Peter von Ehrenkrook

    Posted on Facebook on Thursday, May 10th:

    Save Civicorps

    Thursday via mobile.

    Tomorrow from 5-6pm OUSD enrollment options will be discussed with David Montes de Oca & families on site at the school (from 4-5 he’ll speak with staff re: employment options within OUSD)

  • Observer

    To the pro-privatization of public school systems via charter contingent, take note. This is a prime example of the reality of the lack of accountability exhibited by charters. These kids are not placed and likely many of them will have no idea where to go until into the school year since they are now at the very bottom of the heap. This district is no scrambling to try and accomodate and likely will be blamed for the fiasco by pro-charter types here. And how many are incoming kindergartners? I know they had tours because since I toured the school myself 5 years ago, I receive notices of tours for the potential new students and I did this year.

    As an addition, in the 4 years I have been a parent at our school, I have seen at least 5 children with special needs brought to our school because they could not be served in that community. Of course, we are required to accomodate and bring in specialists to help these kids. But when they come in late and the parents are not prepared to work with the school or do not know how to seek an IEP, it can be weeks before a child receives the help.

    And this is the goal of the superintendent for schools in Oakland? Oh, we’re not working out so we’re closing. Good luck!

  • J.R.

    I actually don’t know anyone who is pro privatization, more like pro-what works. I realize you might have been comfortable with mediocre to poor performance, but that just is not good enough. The education system was not built to push and excel, it was built for comfort, and with comfort comes indifference and the nonchalant attitude. Do you know what it takes to be most improved urban school district, it takes having been way below proficient in performance. Public school people failed themselves and their children, and gave the charters the opportunity to plant seeds here.

  • Observer


    But Charters, even Oakland, are not working. In fact, they are working less often than the public schools. We know this: there have been numerous studies on this. There are some charters that test high and there are publics that test high. You have to take a step back when you take into account the charters, especially the ones that appear to be performing well via test scores, refuse to accept students with any learning disabilities or behavioral issues at all and the public schools are required to educate these students. My school is a top, a “10” on the for profit rating website parents memorize when school shopping. And we do it with doors open to those with IEPs. There are LOTS of special needs children at my school that came from charters where they were DUMPED. There are quite a few that came from “top” private schools (Head Royce, EBI, Aurora to name a few that I am aware of) where the parents tried in vain to pay for the additional support services on top of tuition only to be told that they would have to pay…more. No one ever tells parents of children with special needs in private schools that all the support services they are expected to pay thousands of dollars extra for are available FOR FREE in the public schools. And the special needs teachers in public schools? Better trained, better educated, more experienced, more supported and better paid than those contracted by private schools. Dirty secret.

    We also have a very pro-union staff, experienced—-dare I say it—-OLDER teachers that, I’m sure, many here who are enjoying sitting back and watching the public education systems collapse (in fact, rooting for it) would deem dead weight due to their tenure, high pay (by teacher standards) and pensions.

    Yes, we have a strong parent community that is heavily involved. Do we teach the classes? No. We are simply a support system. We could be replaced in a heart beat by an AIDE in every classroom. That is ALL that is truly needed in each and every classroom of 25-32 kids. An aide, a teacher’s assistant. And supervisors at recess and lunch. What is truly needed on campuses from Elementary to high school is staff. There are not enough adults on campus at any given time. There were once upon a time, now instead of more able-bodied and minded adults we get more administrators and contracted agency employees working downtown.

    So if you’re all about “what works”, champion that. Because MORE STAFF ON SITE is what works. The schools that are successful have filled the void with parents. The ones who don’t have that community flonder.

  • J.R.

    More staff on site costs more money(engagement with the students, and involvement of the parents is what works), and more extra money is not currently available even though OUSD is better funded than other districts of similar size. I could really care less regarding the debate about younger teachers vs older teachers> I care about the best teachers who work hard irregardless of time served. I agree more staff works(when it is the right staff, who want to be there). I have had my fill of teachers that just don’t care(thank goodness there aren’t a majority of them). If money were the defining factor of quality then OUSD,and LAUSD would be among the best, and not among the worst.



    The taxpayers(what little there are)are just tapped out.


  • dj

    JR is right. Let’s hire 22 year olds, work them to death and dump them before they get tenure. That way we can avoid any of them peskily telling the parents what their rights are. It’s cheaper and we can control them better. Nothing inspires people like fear and poverty. Right Walmart? As far as the facilities, what the heck do these kids and parents want? If they want a nice building, they should go to prison. Schools are not money makers, they are money pits. Prisons, on the other hand, are being privatized and contribute to the capitial of businesses.

  • J.R.

    Yeah, that’s what I said………..

  • Catherine

    Why does Oakland always want to have it now pay for it later? Why can’t we behave more responsively? Oklahoma City has a 1 cent sales tax, plans their projects and asks for a renewal when one project is complete and they want to begin another. This keeps everyone, or nearly everyone, honest, on time and on budget. And there is no lingering bond payments.

    I wonder if Oakland schools would be willing to hand over the project to a responsible group of citizens to manage money they receive for buildings. I simply do not trust the district to keep on budget, and on time.

    No more bond money. We pay for it as we go or I vote no. I would vote for an additional sales tax. I would be more likely to vote for an even larger sales tax if a citizens group controlled the projects and the funding.

  • J.R.

    Oakland wants to follow the example of Los Angeles(go figure). Bonds are attractive because all California taxpayers are then obligated to match the bond money dollar for dollar.Oakland homeowners already get reamed, so why not?


    If you want to know how the system sucks money out of taxpayers multiple times simultaneously, just watch this:


  • Catherine

    J.R. – What we are basically saying is that Oakland as a city does not know how to, does not want to, or chooses not to take care of their own city and schools. They want to complete autonomy – no state intervention, no state control, not state auditing, but YES to state money.

    As a city we look like irresponsible, spoiled children.

  • J.R.

    That’s why it’s past time for the adults(taxpayers) who carry the financial burden, to speak out loud in opposition to business as usual.