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Oakland school closure savings estimate is missing something

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Jane Tyska/Oakland Tribune

In June and again in July, I asked the Oakland school district for a breakdown of the net savings from the five elementary school closures, taking into account the conversion of one of those schools — Lazear Elementary — into an independently run charter school.

Unlike the other two charter conversions, Lazear became a charter simply so it could remain open, so the fiscal impact of that change — the loss of enrollment and per-student funding — is inextricably tied to the decision to close it in the first place.

I’ve yet to receive a response for my request, specifically, but the district has produced a cost-savings analysis that’s left me scratching my head. Reading the document, which estimates a $2 million annual savings from the five school closures — as advertised last fall — it’s as if the Lazear conversion never happened.

In fact, the analysis lists a $490,000 savings for Lazear — when, just a few months ago, the superintendent and his staff warned that if the school became a charter, the loss of per-student funding to OUSD would cost the district $1.4 million.

I asked Troy Flint, the district spokesman, about the Lazear factor and reminded him about my earlier request. He responded, “No adjustments to budget projections were made relative to to the Lazear conversion.”

How is that possible? The district was able to make budget projections (net losses) as a result of the other two charter conversions, ASCEND and Learning Without Limits. Why would Lazear be treated differently?

I’ve asked Flint again for further clarification. As I reported earlier this summer, some news reporters received an email from the communications department in June, saying the closure savings were actually closer to $6 million — not $2 million, as we reported. (An email to our summer intern read: “I noticed in today’s article on the Lakeview sit-in that you attributed a statement estimating $2 million in savings from the school closures to Superintendent Tony Smith. The Superintendent objects to this characterization …”)

As it turns out, $5.8 million was merely the total of those elementary schools’ budgets, not a net savings. The district’s own fiscal analysis puts the savings back at about $2 million. I wonder if it will ever be adjusted to reflect what happened with Lazear. If the school’s conversion was truly a wash, financially, that would be worthy of noting as well.

The district’s analysis also tells us what happened with the employees at the five schools: 44 of the 51 teachers were placed in other positions; three retired, two resigned, one is on leave, and one has applied for a leadership position. Of the 14 non-teaching staff, 12 were reassigned, one retired, and one was laid off because of the closures.

The document also explains which offices will be moved to the Lakeview Elementary School campus; the headquarters on Second Avenue isn’t moving, as I’ve heard some suggest. The departments taking up residence at Lakeview provide family and student support services: after-school programs, student assignment and bilingual testing, translation services, health and wellness, juvenile justice transition center support, etc.

Here are the school-by-school net savings amounts listed in the document:

School Name/Net Savings (unrestricted funds)
Lakeview — $.38 million
Lazear — $.49 million
Marshall — $.34 million
Maxwell Park — $.45 million
Santa Fe — $.37 million
Total — $2.03 million

Oakland school closure analysis

Katy Murphy

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

  • Jenna

    They will not change the budget projections because the assets do not know what the liabilities are doing any more than the income knows what the expenses are doing.

    If you need evidence look the the special education budget debacle.

    I used to think the school board and the school adminstration were being dishonest or had lack of transparency. After the last three power pont presentations and two board meetings I realize they are not giving you, or us, the information because they simply do not know and are not experienced enough to run a school district well. I transferred my boys out to two other school districts near my job and the district shows the budget in their presentations. They show what progress has been made and where they are making mistakes because they know. I don’t think Oakland knows about money, why students drop out in middle school, why they lose students after fifth grade and why students don’t graduate. They just guess and if they cannot make a reasonably intelligent guess they simply ignore you, us and the students.

  • Katy Murphy

    I’ve since talked to Troy Flint, who said the district is not disputing that Lazear’s charter conversion will negatively affect the school closure savings estimate. He said the question is only by how much.

    Flint said he was told there was too much uncertainty to put a number on it, as it’s not known exactly how many kids from Lazear will attend the new charter school vs. the OUSD schools to which they were assigned.

    District staffers had no qualms about assigning a number in April, when the school board was deciding whether or not to approve Lazear’s charter. Why now?

    I also find it odd that a development so potentially significant didn’t warrant so much as an asterisk on the analysis, which was dated July 16.

  • A coding error

    Plus when they gave enrollment numbers to the board for the vote on Lazear, the figures were inflated/distorted. They played fearmongering, as it was well-known that this had become somehow a power and reassurance test for Smith. The Board was starting to be hesitant about his recommendations… and not taking them.
    As in many areas, they simply and plainly improvise, and then communicate poorly. Principals and other leadership staff often find out about the district matters in this blog, if they do.
    @Jenna: totally agreed. They simply do not know. Because they are too new… or they have been there too long.

  • EffectsofReform

    Keep with it, Katy. Get the answer. Insist on an answer.

  • Nontcair

    The departments taking up residence at Lakeview provide family and student support services: after-school programs, student assignment and bilingual testing, translation services, health and wellness, juvenile justice transition center support, etc.

    With the possible exception of “student assignment”, what do any of these functions have to do with teaching Johnny how to read?

  • Mike Hutchinson candidate for Oakland school board district 5

    The district has changed there numbers numerous times during the school closure process. It is very difficult to believe any information the district releases as it is often plagued by errors and mistruths. The district stated all year that closing the 5 schools would save 2-3 million. It was only when faced with the media coverage from the sit-in at Lakeview that the started reporting that the savings was 6 million. Again how can we believe The district when the numbers are always changing. So this year they closed 5 schools, displaced 1000 students, to save a little more than 2 million dollars, which is less than 1% of the operating budget. I would never call that responsible management.

  • livegreen

    There might b a good reason, but I don’t understand why all these services need to b at Lakeview? Where were they before and why do they need a new location?

    Also, why not just sell that building and use the proceeds to help OUSD, teachers and students?

  • Nontcair

    I’ll concede that there are *reasons* though certainly none of them good.

    The reasons have to do with bureaucracy’s natural tendancy to expand and the nature of political institutions to be staffed by friends-of-friends holding secure (lifetime) employment at inflated wages.

    Why not just use the proceeds to reduce our property tax burden?

  • start over

    Sell a couple properties. Pay off debt to the state.

    New Contract with all employees that increases salaries, limits long-term liabilities/benefits.

    Give all schools 3 years to get their act together or be closed down. Test scores, safety, stability, etc… use whatever metrix makes sense to the school board since they are the people we voted to figure it out. Should be simple. They can spend the 3 years complaining in vain or actually trying to improve the school. Choice is theirs.

    Charter Schools should be held to the same standard. District should limit applications and instead, make it a lottery only venture.

    Make board members full-time employees

    Invite your 15 best principals to go to the 10 worst schools. Let them invite a few teachers to come along – and pay them both bonuses.

    Invest heavily in adult ed for parents with kids k-2.
    Make parent ed pipeline for district jobs: yard supervision, coaches, cafeteria, etc… even teachers and principals. Why not?

    Make k-8 schools commonplace.

    Allow teachers to vote on a contract that would pay bonuses for student achievement. Let teachers decide.

    Post a security guard outside Tony Smith’s home. Anybody protesting should be given the boot.

  • Whole picture

    Hi Nontcait,

    After school programs provide enrichment and academic programs=supports teaching Johnny how to read.

    Bilingual testing, assesses a non native English speaking students English language skills so that
    he/she can recurve the English reading and speaking support they need=teaching Johnny how to read.

    Translations services translates all community parent info materials, like registration packets, tutoring info etc inton5 languages=supporting teaching Johnny how to read.

    Health and Wellness provides health and wellness services, kids have a harder time learning how to read if they are in pain= supporting teaching Johnny how to read.

    JJ transition I believe means make sure the child sent to JJ is receiving instruction= teaching Johnny how to read.

  • Nontcair

    The Optometry Dept tracks the diopters in student glasses. Good eyesight is essential for teaching Johnny how to read.

    The Nutrition Dept tracks the number of calories each student consumes in 24 hours. Good eating habits are essential for teaching Johnny how to read.

    The Landscaping Dept ensures that the grounds are verdant and tranquil. Pleasant surroundings are essential for teaching Johnny how to read.

    No matter how ridiculous the mission some bureaucrat can probably come up with a rationale for why it’s not only necessary but absolutely indispensable.

  • Elementary Teacher

    @nontcair- I’m curious to know exactly how much these departments directly impact children. For example, someone is sitting trying to figure out how many calories are in school lunches? Have you seen those lunches? They’re not very nutricious and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the younger kids in the school should not get the same amount of food as the older ones, but why don’t they differentiate the food? Teachers are expected to differentiate instruction. And I find it funny that we have a bilingual department that supposedly does testing. Really? I teach at a bilingual school and I had 2 newcomers in my class this year- I’ve never seen anyone outside of our staff and families work with our kids to support their language.

    Katy- can you find out more about all these new positions at the district admin levels? I was at trainings this summer and a lot of lci departments have doubled in size and they’ve added more departments/ positions at the district level. I’m guessing any money saved on school closures has been used up.