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Oakland Unified Votes to Close Five Schools

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Jennifer Inez Ward/Oakland Local

A few hundred concerned residents, teachers, parents and school officials showed up to discuss both the closings and the restructuring of the schools.

In a meeting that went well into the night, Oakland Unified School District board members -- in a 5 to 2 vote -- approved a new restructuring package Wednesday that includes the closing of five elementary schools.

Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell and Santa Fe elementary schools will now shut their doors by the end of the school year in June 2012. The move is expected to save OUSD a little more than $2 million and will affect about 882 students.

Under the restructuring plan, several small high schools will be absorbed into the larger high schools where they currently reside. Those schools affected include East Oakland School for the Arts, Leadership Preparatory Academy, Mandela Academy and Media Academy.

Kaiser Elementary and Burckhalter Elementary, which had been on the closure list at one point, got a reprieve from closure. Those schools will merge together in order to boost the enrollment of up to at least 380 students.

Two middle schools, Sobrante Park and Madison, will begin to develop a grade configuration plan to serve students in grades Pre-K through 12.

The district said closing schools is an unfortunate action the district must take because its resources are stretched too thin. Oakland Unified currently has 101 schools, significantly more than comparable districts in the state. OUSD said money saved in the closings will go towards other, better performing schools.

Over the last several weeks, the OUSD board has held its meetings at three different high schools to ensure greater participation. However, with Occupy Oakland events raging downtown concurrently Wednesday night, only a few hundred concerned residents, teachers, parents and school officials showed up to discuss both the closings and the restructuring of the schools, a vast decrease from previous meetings.

Many speakers at the meeting said they believe that the process was unfair, particularly against students of color in the flatlands.

"When they're closing all of these schools with mostly black and Latino students, I think that's a big problem," Rakeem Richard, an after school program teacher at Lakeview Elementary, said. "This is basically gentrification. What are we going to do? Can we depend on our public school system?"

Other Oaklanders worried about the transition process laid out by the district.

"I just don't believe the district needs to be closing all of these schools," Marilyn Davis, a volunteer at Santa Fe Elementary said. "The whole thing seems
rushed."

For example, in the area of transitioning students from closed schools to, "higher performing schools", OUSD expects it will actually use money from the closures to pay for any shuttle service needed for students who have transportation challenges. How much the district may have to shell out to pay for a specialized service like that remains unclear.

In fact, there are few specifics about how the transition process will work, other than parents and students will be given top priority in the schools option process and will be provided with "on-site assistance in the transition process."

Although the district says it will save money by the closures, in an earlier restructuring plan report, officials acknowledge that at least initially, there may be some loss of students connected with the closures.

Parallel to the school closings discussion is the proposed succession of at least eight schools, including ASCEND, Learning Without Limits and Lazear Elementary School. These schools have now filed the paperwork to break away from OUSD and become private charter schools. Officials from these schools said they were frustrated by the districts inability to provide adequate resources and support for their programs.

OUSD Board Director Noel Gallo said he anticipates there will be many more schools that will petition to break away from the district and become a private charter school.

Both Gallo and director Alice Spearman voiced strong opposition to the school closing plan.

"I don't believe in closing schools for financial reasons," he said.

Source: Oakland Local [http://m.oaklandlocal.com/article/oakland-unified-votes-close-all-5-schools-proposed-june]

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