Oakland considers closing small schools


About 300 people turned out for the school board meeting. The district owes $86 million to the state because of an emergency bailout five years ago. On top of that, expenditures are rising, and no new revenue is coming in.

The news was grim. Oakland Unified School District barely has enough money in its emergency reserve fund to afford one month's payroll. In the last decade enrollment has dropped 30 percent, a decrease of 15,000 students.

"And yet today we more schools serving fewer students than we did a decade ago," said Roberta Mayor, the Oakland Unified School District superintendent.

By next year the district says it will face an $18 million shortfall. Now there's talk of possibly closing 10 to 17 small schools. The small schools movement was touted as the answer for Oakland's poor test scores and research shows the schools are improving even though many of them are still performing below national standards under the No Child Left Behind law.

"As a small school we get one on one contact with our teachers. We build relationships. We go further. Our teachers actually have time to talk to us, to understand how we learn," said Molaika Heel, from Castlemont High School.

Wednesday night, the school board said it will not close any small schools for now, but many parents, teachers and students felt they still had to make a passionate stand.

"They have for the first time, the African American population there has achieved higher than 700. It's one of six schools in the whole state. So you look at us and you give us the power to help you," said Barbara Liepe, a parent.

The school board agreed to create a partnership with parents and teachers. Together they'll try to implement alternative strategies which include: leasing school district property, decreasing utility usage, recruiting students to increase enrollment, and increasing daily attendance. A one-percent improvement in attendance will earn an additional $2.1 million from state.

Now it's time to get down to some creative financing. No hard deadlines are in place, but they'll have to get together, crunch the numbers, and make it work in order to balance next year's budget.

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