A sudden school closure in Oakland

photo by Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

All year long, people have been complaining about the Oakland school board’s decision to close five elementary schools — and how they did it.

Almost everyone who goes through a school closure must suffer to some degree, regardless of the process or the timing. But as I reported the story I wrote today about the closure of Civicorps Elementary School, a publicly funded, independently-run charter school in North Oakland, I couldn’t help but think back to OUSD’s much-derided process.

First: There was a process. I’ve lost track of how many meetings I’ve covered in OUSD this year on the subject of school closure and student placement. I would have run through my newsroom’s entire paper stash had I printed every document the district produced to make its case to the public about the need to close schools, and to justify which ones it chose.

I’m not saying OUSD did the right thing or not by closing schools, or that there weren’t major problems along the way (See: Lazear Elementary). But the board made its decision on Oct. 27, about 10 months before the start of the next school year. Displaced families received priority when choosing their Plan B. Because the OUSD school board members are elected, members of the public are free to vote them out of office if they feel misrepresented.

Now, take Civicorps Elementary. The Civicorps governing board (an appointed body which oversees the charter elementary school as well as an academy and job-training program for high school dropouts) held a board-only retreat in February and decided it might be best to disassociate the elementary school from the organization, for financial and strategic-planning reasons.

When it didn’t prove feasible to make such a major transition in a matter of months — turning the school into an independent charter or having another charter management organization absorb it, either of which would require the approval of OUSD — the Civicorps board called a special meeting and voted to close the elementary school. That was May 8.

Until word got out about the special board meeting, a few days beforehand, no one at the school seemed to know that closure was even under consideration.

As for documentation and public notice: As of this afternoon, the agenda and minutes from last week’s closure meeting had not been posted on the board’s web page. No supporting documents, no public hearings, no announcement.

After more than 10 years in operation, the school will be gone in a flash.

Katy Murphy

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

  • OUSD Parent

    I feel sick for these kids and their families. If there is any way to track these kids to see where they land up next fall? I think that would be a valid story. What kind of support will the families get in finding a new school?

  • Jim Mordecai

    This action of closing a school without notice and posting of agenda is wrong but also violation of the Brown Act on procedures and requirements for holding open meetings and making decisions in public.

    The statement that charter schools are public schools is not true if this type of action is allowed to stand. Legally a public school cannot be closed without publicly made decision.

    What is need is legal action to make the governance accountable and do over in public their decision to close the Civic Corp elementary school or not.

    Jim Mordecai

  • ILoveTeachers

    I’ve heard that OUSD is offering the Civicorps students and families special sessions to check out openings in OUSD schools AND presenting to Civicorps teachers about applying for positions in OUSD once all of the reassignments of existing teachers is complete. Nice way to demonstrate care for children and staff in a difficult time.

  • Alex

    Just to clear the record, the agenda was appropriately posted in accordance in the Brown Act. I happened upon it when I heard the school was evaluating its options.

  • Katy Murphy

    Was it posted online? If so, I wonder why it was later removed. I believe the agenda was posted at the school, as well.

  • Cranky Teacher

    How ironic:

    “About Us

    We are a public charter school founded on academic rigor, creativity and purpose. Our young scholars engage in learning through dynamic experiences grounded in an atmosphere of MUTUAL RESPECT AND TRUST.”

    [caps emphasis mine]

  • Katy Murphy

    I’ve solved the mystery (though not the root communications issue): Civicorps only posts its agendas before the meeting takes place. And it only posts the minutes after they’ve been approved by the board at the following meeting, so there is a lag.

  • Lisa

    Alex– Just curious…Where was the agenda posted appropriately where you just “happened” upon it?? The Brown Act requires it be posted in a place where it can be accessed by the public 24/7.
    The special board meeting was called and an email was sent out by CEO Alan Lessik to the board members and staff dept heads on Wednesday, May 2. The public was never notified.

  • Mara

    As a Civicorps Elementary school parent I can tell you that OUSD has stepped up and has been accessible to ‘help’ with the transition. However we are months past the initial lottery selection process and OUSD will not place our children now. Once our paperwork is submitted it will be weeks — possibly months, running into the start of the next school year — before we know where our children will be placed. Our teachers are suddenly unemployed, our students and families are abruptly displaced by the hasty and irresponsible decision by the Board. And yes, CrankyTeacher, you are absolutely right, the Board’s decision goes against everything their organization claims to stand for. I know the elementary school stood for those principles. Unfortunately the Board apparently does not practice what they preach. It is shameful what the Board has done.

  • Tara

    As a Civicorps Elementary School staff member, I am completely disheartened by the Board of Director’s decision to close the school especially without transparency. The organization as a whole has always had finanical difficulties and has been terrily mismananged. The elementary school made great strides in the last two years. Our students were doing well academically. We gained 43 points in the California State Testing assessments (STAR). Additionally, in June, we went through a rigorous charter renewal process with OUSD and part of that process was to prove finanical sustainability; which we did. Our charter was renewed for a five-year period. At that time, the Board told us that we had their full support. Ironically, that is the same Board that voted at a Special Board meeting on May 8th to shut our doors at the end of this year.
    In February, there were rumblings about separating from Civicorps. But we were told that “closure was not an option”. In 3 short months, the Board declared us not financially viable. We asked for compromise, not closure. There were many proposals that the Board would not even look at, let alone, consider.
    Now 150 students and their families have been displaced and are left to figure out where they will be next year. As well as, 17 staff members. The Board made a very hasty decision and did not think about the fallout. Completely unethical and irresponsible.

  • Evan Specter, Black Pine Circle School Parent

    This feels like an echo of the closure of the Windrush School this year (view the story & distraught comments on “The Patch” http://bit.ly/Ku9f5x). My heart goes out to the kids, and the teachers, and the families scrambling to find a new ‘home’ for their child’s education. Ouch.

    I came across this news story and I want to encourage Civicorps families to take a look at the school where I send my kids. Black Pine Circle is an independent school in West Berkeley, 40 years young, that shares Civicorps’ belief in balancing academics & arts. Respect for the environment is woven into the curriculum (e.g. spending a week camping at the Headlands). It’s one of the more affordable independent schools around (yet it’s intellectually vibrant with teachers that care deeply about reaching every child), and there is significant financial aid available. I know there are still some openings in various elementary grades. http://www.blackpinecircle.org

  • Alex

    It was on the website of the parent organization.

  • Marcia

    This unfortunate saga exemplifies reason no. 587 to oppose charter schools: they drain resources from public systems not only by selectively siphoning off students but the public system has to devote resources to cleaning up the mess created when a charter implodes for whatever reason.

  • Tara

    Thanks, Alex. But, the Parent Organization is a separate entity. They put it on their facebook page, so that parents would know. That is not a proper agenda posting by the organization, in accordance to the Brown Act.

  • Yazstremski

    @Evan…please define “more affordable” and “significant” financial aid….Thanks

  • anon

    Just to clear up a misconception–Charter schools are public schools. When a child leaves for a charter school the money follows that child. Proponents say this benefits the public school system by instilling a sense of accountability into the system regarding its services to the student and parents and its fiscal obligations.

  • Charter School Supporter

    Charter schools are funded by state, local and federal funds at the same level and in the same way that non-charter public schools are. In general, both revenues and expenses follow the student. When a student attends a charter school, the charter school is now responsible for providing that student’s education, and therefore incurs the expenses of the teacher, facility, textbooks and supplies. Funding for that student therefore goes to the entity that is providing the education: namely, the charter school rather than to the non-charter public school that student would otherwise have attended.

  • A Charter School Employee

    School districts and charter schools are provided resources based on their enrollment and attendance. The fact is that tens of thousands of parents have already left the OUSD schools for private schools and parochial schools. Charter schools provide an option for families who wish to stay in the public school system.
    Charters can have a positive financial impact on our community and on the district by stabilizing and in some cases revitalizing neighborhoods, increasing property values, and most importantly, producing graduates who are prepared for career, college and citizenship.

  • Katy Murphy

    Just a friendly reminder to use the same handle (if you remember it!) in all of your posts. Otherwise, it looks like there’s several people making a comment, rather than one.

    The added bonus is that your posts should appear automatically after the first time, as long as you use the same email and only a couple of links.

  • Diana Lopez

    I’m not surprised by the way the Civicorps Board of Directors voted considering what they had at stake! Four out of the five board members who voted “yes” to shut down the elementary school stand to personally benefit financially.

    Here’s a pop quiz for you!
    1. Which board member owns the building that the Civicorps Schools home office leases on Mrytle St.?
    2. Which board member is a founder of an organization that Civicorps Schools pays yearly dues to?
    3. Which board member represented Civicorps Schools when they terminated the founder of Civicorps Schools and his firm still represents Civicorps Schools in employee litigation?
    4. Which board member works for an organization that has a HUGE contract with Civicorps Schools’ Academy program?
    Anyone who can answer all of the questions correctly gets a gold star!!

  • Marcia

    While charter schools certainly are supported with public money, they’re publicly funded private schools. A public institution is accountable to the public and does not–cannot–pick and choose which members of the public it will serve; it’s responsible for serving everyone in its constituency. How well a public institution does that may be open to debate, but that’s its responsibility.

    Charter schools are not publicly accountable, nor are they responsible for educating all children. I do believe that as originally conceived charter schools would have been part of the public system, just offering different approaches. However, the charter concept was hijacked by the forces that first pushed vouchers and, when that didn’t work, sought an alternative way to undermine the public sector.

    To those who contend charter schools are public: want to buy my bridge in Brooklyn?

  • Lisa Capuano Oler

    @ 21

    Wholeheartedly agreed.
    Over the years I also have been the recipient teacher of students “encouraged” to leave a charter school. I too have seen parents encouraged to take their students with special needs to a school ” more suited to accommodate ”
    them. I have had children, many more than a few, come to our school because a parent felt so harassed by the school because the teacher would call home over the least little thing.
    Charter schools receive money based on enrollment and attendance, yes, but are not held to the same level of accountability are Public Schools. Most obviously is the case in point here.
    Katy, I love that private schools are now using your blog for advertising.
    There are plenty of great OUSD schools for our students. It is the commute that is becoming at issue for parents: Burckhalter, Kaiser, Peralta, Cleveland, Montclair, Thornhill, Redwood Heights,Lincoln, Hillcrest,Grass Valley, Sequoia, to name a few.

  • Nextset

    Lisa: The schools you list, are any of them High Schools or Jr Highs?

    In my experience this is the point that problems become clear and distinct with dull or mentally ill and mentally disordered students.

    Historically such students are removed from “real” schools and placed in Continuation Schools. The process complained of here is that OUSD is the local Continuation School and sush undesirables are merely being routed to the place established for them.

  • Teaches at Oakland School

    Black Pine Circle is $18,200 a year up to grade 6, and 2000 over that for 6-8. That is REALLY expensive and even with financial aid, way beyond the means of most of the public school families. Their “scholarships cover 5-7% of the tuition.

  • Cranky Teacher

    A friend avers: “There are three ways to make a lot of money in the ghetto: Be a preacher, sell drugs or open a charter school.”

  • Steven Weinberg

    I found it interesting that the Civicorps Board tried to find another charter provider to take over their school, but failed. A recent article in Education Week said that many charter groups were not interested in expanding in California because of the low per student funding in the state. Some people claim that California school funding is adequate, and the only problems are bureaucracy and unions. The experiences of charter schools shows that that contention is untrue.
    Without the passage of the tax measure this fall, things will get much worse for all public schools, including charters.

  • Jim Mordecai

    I don’t understand how a charter school authorized by OUSD can allow another charter to take over their school?

    A charter is granted for one organization and it isn’t something that is transferable.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Oakland Teacher

    This closure is not that surprising given the school’s history of dismissing principals and teachers at the end of the day, with no warning, no notice. Now they have done the same thing to their students/families.

  • Christopher Scheer

    Sorry to piggyback on this unrelated article, but thought the community might want to see these stories by Skyline journalism students about two of our seniors who have died within the past month:

    Alan Blueford

    Tay Tabeson

  • Nextset

    Christopher Scheer: Thanks for posting these articles. I hope every such article is posted.

    Death is out there for everyone. It comes faster to those who are indifferent to it’s risk factors.

    Being a thug is a mighty risk factor. Public Schools should teach it’s products about the things most likely to destroy their lives prematurely and coach them to shun high risk factors and anyone who indulges in them. That doesn’t mean teens can’t get themselves killed. Many will. But at least if they are dancing on thin ice there should be no illusions about what they have done and about the people around them who enabled it and egged them on.

    As far as the car wrecks – It’s amazing I and all my friends avoided wrecks growing up in the east bay. I can say I know of no DUIs among my friends. Nowadays it’s common for DUI behavior to flourish in the 16 to 25 age group. My generation somehow seemed to plan drinking back then – it happened, but with preparation(sleepovers, designated drivers) . Maybe booze is easier to come by now. I tend to think that planning of all kinds is just not done the way it used to be. Maybe it was early training by violent nuns and violent parents that got us into planning mode. The Nuns are gone and Parents now don’t use theraputic violence as much as they should have. I think we were brought up better than the current products.

    As far as sympathy for anyone properly killed by the police – you lost me at “Gold Grills”. The police kill thugs during the commission of their crimes so that we don’t have to ourselves. Nonetheless I am aware of incredible gun buying among law abiding people lately.

    Many good people I know are ready, willing and able to shoot a thug during the commission of a violent crime. You can even take classes on when to shoot at the local Jr College (gun courses). I took the class. We had long discussions of when you shoot and when you wait (for the green light over their head to turn on?). I am unhappy that black “youth” are kept so unaware of what is out there waiting for them when they do commit violent crime. They can be killed summarily during their commission of a violent crime. No discussion, not warning shots. In (Jr College 832PC) class we were severely coached never to fire warning shots and to always bracket the target in the kill zone.

    I talk to people who say they can’t jog anymore for being attacked by stray pit bulls. Their attitude toward thugs is the same as toward their pit bulls. No mercy. When an attack comes the response has already been thought out. So you can imagine how the police train and practice shooting. The have to go into thug encounters as their jobs, they can’t refuse the encounter. There is no illusion about how feral these thugs are, they get to know them well.

    My black family has always had handguns and long guns back to the early 20th century. They were ready for any attackers black or white. Funny, the potential white attackers are not foremost in our minds nowadays and we’re black. I remember several black women in the 1960s in Oakland keeping loaded handguns in their purses. And they (properly) used them. Oakland was a blast in the 1960s you know. When we got blacks into the Oakland Police Management in the mid 20th Century they quietly issued CCWs to blacks. That way you could stick around and make a statement instead of always leaving and not reporting an incident.

    Don’t think any of this is anything new. Commit a violent crime – or go looking like you are – and expect someone to shoot you dead. Police or Civillian. And don’t expect any decent people to cry over your body.

    So don’t be a thug. You’ll last a lot longer. We should teach this in school. Along with hand washing and teeth brushing.

    Brave New World.

    And by that I mean some people are having problems and some people seem to be born not to have such problems. We no longer train people of all walks for social mobility. It’s a Caste system now. Too Bad.

  • P. D’Antonio

    The elementary school kids and I are sitting here going “Hoot!” “Hoot!” “Hoot!”

  • justine lewis

    The board messed up the opportunity to learn about whats the school is about.