Oakland superintendent talks of closing schools


There's always controversy when you talk about closing schools and it can be hard on parents. In the 60s, the Oakland community really spread out and many schools were built as people moved to these neighborhoods. Then in the late 1990s we saw the small school movement thrive in Oakland, and that added more schools. Then came the charter schools. Right now Oakland has far more schools than it can afford.

Oakland has 101 schools serving more than 38,000 students. Compare that with other Bay Area districts: Mount Diablo Unified has 55 schools for 34,000 students and San Jose Unified has 52 schools for 32,000 students.

Oakland's superintendent says quality is lost when you have that many schools.

"When your resources are spread so thin, it doesn't allow you to have the proper investments in human capital, in infrastructure make sure there's a quality program in every neighborhood," said Oakland Unified spokesperson Troy Flint.

By law districts must allocate 55 percent of their funds to teacher salaries and instructional aids, but Oakland never hits that target because the district spends part that money on keeping all those schools open. So the school board will now decide how many schools it must close. It's always been a controversial issue among parents and communities.

"The president, the government, has money for wars and other things, but don't have money for their students," said parent Cynthia Leon.

For years Oakland has led the small school movement, but with declining enrollment that now means 19 schools have fewer than 200 students. The Oakland teachers union agrees some schools will have to close.

"We would like to see that number one, there be equity. That we don't end up again with the situation that we had 10-15 years ago where hill schools had small schools and the resources and flatland schools don't," said Betty Olson Jones from the Oakland Education Association.

No school has been officially targeted, but the district says it will probably come up with a list of 15 for next year -- 30 over the next three years.

"You have to have some idea where those students are going, you have to get them in other programs that are going to be suitable, ideally better than the ones that we're leaving. You're going to have to provide more support to those schools," said Flint.

"I'm definitely going to stand up and fight and do whatever it takes to get them a better education," said parent Bobby Frazier.

According to the district, closing a school means it can save between $200,000 and $400,000. The school board will meet on Wednesday night to begin talks on the matter, but no decision is expected until October.

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