Families from Lazear Elementary protest their school’s potential closure in October 2011. Photo by Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group
For a short moment today, I thought the OUSD administration had given the public a full accounting of where students from recently closed elementary schools ended up this fall — more specifically, how many of the children at Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe remained in the district.
It’s been the subject of speculation for months, as student enrollment is closely tied to the amount of funding a school district receives from the state. If a school district loses too many students after it closes schools, it also stands to lose the savings underlying the whole plan.
The text at the top of Slide #6 on the enrollment presentation suggests that everything went according to plan — that only 19 percent of the affected left the district, about the national average. What’s more, it notes that the steep enrollment drop that crept up on the Oakland school district this fall had little to do with the restructuring plan.
The slide reads: “Percent of student loss from closed elementary schools is slightly lower than national average closure loss (20%). Total student loss represents small portion of total enrollment loss for OUSD in 2012-13.”
Then I saw the four bar graphs, one for each of the elementary schools on the closure list — except for one that’s nowhere to be found: Lazear Elementary.
photo by Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group
Oakland, you’re not alone.
I found this story in Education Week about school closures in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. to be incredibly relevant to what I’ve observed here. It raises many of the points and questions that Oakland residents and school officials have been grappling with for years. (This particular story is subscription-only.)
The writer, Jaclyn Zubrzycki, touches on charter schools, gentrification, race, enrollment declines, and the reasons districts close schools: when they have fewer students and/or financial pressures — or in response to the idea (advanced by the federal government in its School Improvement Grant program) of closing schools as a way to create new and better opportunities for students.
Oakland Unified’s own Troy Flint even gets the ending quote, after he’s quoted as saying that all students from closed schools were placed in a higher performing school:
“Ideally, no one would want to go down that path,” said Mr. Flint, the Oakland spokesman, “but sometimes you have to endure some pain as part of a restructuring process to create something better and more sustainable.”
I’m still asking for the school closure analysis; I’m told it will be coming soon.
This spring, Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith heralded the elimination of a $40 million structural deficit that he had inherited when he came to OUSD in 2009. Soon thereafter, his financial services team discovered a multimillion-dollar shortfall, which was followed by major reductions in the proposed special education budget for 2012-13 and other adjustments.
Then, last Friday, the administration made the deficit-eradication claim once again. A public statement about the Lakeview Elementary School sit-in, which is now in its second week, said that the closure of Lakeview and other elementary schools had allowed the district to “eliminate a $40 million structural deficit…”
If you look at Slide #23 in the budget presentation (second-to-last link), and your eyes automatically run to the highlighted green line, that sure looks to be the case: You see a $665,071 surplus. But scan a bit further down and you’ll find a different number — a structural deficit of $10.28 million. Continue Reading