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FIA Exclusive Blog

The OUSD board reversed its decision to close five schools at the end of this school year, doing so at a time when the district is having its finances closely scrutinized as it is still paying back a loan to the state from going into receivership two decades ago. Instead of closing at the end of this school year, as the Oaklandside reports: “Brookfield Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary, Grass Valley Elementary, Horace Mann Elementary, and Korematsu Discovery Academy will stay open, and Hillcrest K-8, which would have lost its middle school, will remain intact.”

How can OUSD afford to keep these schools open? We explore in the latest FIA exclusive blog.

Why did the board vote to close schools in the first place?

On February 8, 2022, the Oakland Unified School District voted to close two schools at the end of the school year, and five more schools the following year. At the end of the school year, Parker Elementary and Community Day School closed. Brookfield, Carl B. Munck, Grass Valley, Horace Mann, and Korematsu Discovery Academy were slated to close at the end of the 2022-23 school year (Prescott would stay open, though it was on the initial closure list and used in the staff report graphic below).

The high cost to run the schools and their comparably low academic performance are key reasons cited by the district why those schools were selected to close. According to a January 31, 2022 school board presentation by OUSD staff, per-student expenditures at seven schools all outpaced revenues by more than $1,000 per student:

The total cost to the district was not included in the report, so we looked up each school’s student population in 2022 on the California School Dashboard and did the math. It works out to a total of $3.06 million. (This is in addition to the staffing and facilities costs, which we’ll get to later.)

  • Prescott: $2,269 x 102 students: $231,438
  • Brookfield: $1,062 x 197 students: $209,214
  • Carl Munck: $2,277 x 202 students: $459,954
  • Parker: $3,052 x 227 students: $692,804
  • Grass Valley: $2,649 x 207 students: $548,343
  • Horace Mann: $2,274 x 199 students: $452,526
  • Koramtsu: $2,205 x 213 students: $469,665

New board votes to rescind closures

At its first meeting, the new OUSD board voted to reverse any school closures in January 2023. Board members have cited campaign promises to voters as reasons why they undertook this vote without first hearing how much it would cost. The board now has many tough financial questions to ask about what will get funded.

At its January 25 meeting this year, OUSD staff presented a report on the impacts of rescinding school closures (with staff noting it had not been alerted in time to have the report ready for January 11 when the board voted to rescind the closures). The staff report notes that because of the decision to rescind:

  • Enrollment is expected to be negatively impacted. OUSD will continue to face declining enrollment, now with more under-enrolled schools as well.
  • Budget challenges will increase, with ongoing staffing costs of $5.14 million, an increase in the number of schools requiring a subsidy from other schools because they are not self-sufficient, and putting in jeopardy a $10 million grant OUSD was awarded from the state for improving budget practices and “rightsizing.”
  • Improving and maintaining school facilities will suffer, as the district will not be able to reduce the cost of facilities needs by an expected $82.9 million, and improvement dollars will be spread thin across more schools. (see graphic below)
  • Expect more Prop 39 offers for charter schools, as the district looks to utilize space for outstanding needs by co-locating charter and district schools on the same campus that could have been made available with the additional space.

More budget turbulence 

In February, the board appeared to move the district a step closer to financial independence (and paying off the state loan three years early) with a positive audit. Still, the district is hardly on stable financial ground. OUSD lost 2,000 students during the pandemic – and $30 million annually – leading Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and Board President Mike Hutchinson to encourage the board to pass a budget adjustment resolution and reduce and eliminate some positions. The budget woes also put school mergers and consolidations back up for discussion by the board.

The board then did not vote to approve budget cuts, hindering that progress. Board members Sam Davis and Clif Thompson then wrote an opinion piece in the East Bay Times, writing “that progress is threatened by the rigid stance from some vocal advocates that we should not close any schools, even when they are too small to adequately support their students.”

The budget challenges look to only be increasing. As the board and district now turn to negotiations with the Oakland Education Association for a new contract for teachers, OEA is proposing a 23% salary increase, which the district says will cost an additional $250 million annually.

Who is talking about quality schools?

Missing from the conversation is any discussion about quality – what does keeping these schools open, or closing them – mean for the number of quality schools available for Oakland students? At FIA, we are laser-focused on quality schools because in Oakland they are hard to find, especially for underserved Black and Latinx students.

Our recent report, The Unspoken Pandemic, (the only report looking at Oakland student data during the pandemic) notes the catastrophic reading and math numbers for Black and Latinx students in Oakland public schools: just 1 in 10 are on grade level in either math or reading.

Will the recently approved mergers, and moves the board approves in the future regarding closing or consolidating schools, do anything to improve the quality of public schools in Oakland? Or will conversations about quality continue to get ignored?

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