After weeks of threatening the closure of seven Oakland childhood development centers, the Oakland Unified School District announced Friday that five of the seven centers will remain open until at least the end of December.
The decision to maintain operations at the five centers came after district staff identified $2.1 million in unspent, unrestricted funds from last year’s budget.
“After June 30, we begin closing the books for the fiscal year,” said Troy Flint, OUSD director of public relations. “This usually takes several months to complete, but we expedited the process in order to find money to support early childhood education.”
Childhood development centers provide free early education and afterschool care to Oakland preschoolers and students in grades K-3. These centers came under fire in May, when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed massive budget cuts to early childhood education across the state. To date, the school district’s total funding has been cut by $110 million this year.
According to Flint, Jefferson, Manzanita, Piedmont Avenue, Hintil Kuu Ca and Sequoia childhood development centers will continue normal operation through the end of the calendar year. Santa Fe and Golden Gate are still slated to close the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug. 31.
“In order to keep the maximum number of sites open, we had to close two that were, basically, draining funds from the overall pot,” said Flint.
Enrollments at Santa Fe and Golden Gate are the smallest of the seven childhood development centers. Flint said the less than 100 students currently served at Santa Fe and Golden Gate will be transferred to other locations in the district. Nearly 800 students would have been forced out were all seven centers to close. Currently, there are 31 childhood development centers in the district. Staff at Santa Fe and Golden Gate have been both reassigned and laid off.
Beginning on Wednesday, students from the Santa Fe center will receive care at Santa Fe Elementary School, while those currently at Golden Gate will be transferred to other sites. As of Friday, Flint was not able to confirm where Golden Gate students would be transferred and how that would be determined. However, he advised that staff at Golden Gate will be able to offer that information to parents on Monday and Tuesday.
While Friday’s news came as a victory for some, many said they were disheartened by the closure of the two centers. “I really don’t want my center to close,” said Macie Malachi, mother of a six-year-old Golden Gate student. “It’s very convenient for me. I know the teachers, and I don’t worry at all while I’m at work.”
Malachi, who lives in walking distance of Golden Gate, is concerned about her son traveling from school to the center. “The staff at Golden Gate walked him from his school to the center,” said Malachi. “I don’t know where I am going to send him at this point.”
Maria Mosley, single mother of two boys who attend Golden Gate, expressed similar sentiments. Mosley’s children, who are five and seven, also take advantage of Golden Gate staff walking them from their school to the center.
“This area is drug turf. I know, when my kids are here, they’re safe. I don’t know what I’m going to do when the center closes,” said Mosley.
Since the district initially announced plans to close the childhood development centers in June, community members have rallied together to support the maintenance of these facilities. Local organizations, such as the Oakland Education Association, Oakland Parents Together and By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), have led many of these efforts. On Friday afternoon, BAMN staged a small sit-in at the Golden Gate Childhood Development Center in response to the closing.
“Unless we have something in writing, we’re fighting to keep open every single one of the seven centers,” said Yvette Felarca, a national organizer for BAMN. “We will definitely be here until we get in writing that it’s staying open.”
Felarca, along with two other BAMN members, brought food and sleeping bags to Golden Gate just as the center was preparing to close for the weekend. Oakland police officers arrived at the center shortly thereafter and the group vacated the premises peacefully hours later.
Despite these efforts, Flint said the outpouring of concern from the community is not the reason the district sought to identify funding for early childhood education. Flint called BAMN’s sit-in on Friday “misguided” and a “disappointment.” “We didn’t need a prompt from the community,” he said prior to the sit-in. “We all agree that protecting the most vulnerable members of our community is essential.”
Flint discouraged any hope that the district will find funds in the coming days to keep the Golden Gate and Santa Fe centers open. “A great hope is that, by December, state budget will have been passed and we can revisit opening the centers,” said Flint. “For now, we are kicking the can down the road.”