Parents voice their anger about school closures, move to recall OUSD board members
on December 15, 2011
More than a hundred parents and teachers packed the Oakland Unified School District’s boardroom for Wednesday night’s meeting, with dozens more watching from the 4th floor overflow room, following a march from Laney College earlier that afternoon.
The topic of contention: school closures. Parents who are angry about the board’s October decision to close 5 Oakland elementary schools presented the board with individual petitions showing hundreds of signatures, part of an effort to recall the five board members.
The recall petition targets OUSD Board President Jody London, Vice President Jumoke Hinton Hodge, as well as members Gary Yee, Christopher Dobbins and David Kakishiba, who all voted to close Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe elementary schools on October 26. The closing of these schools is expected to save the OUSD $2 million a year, according to a report from district CFO Vernon Hal.
The first few hours of the school board meeting consisted of a routine rundown of agenda items ranging from charter schools petitioning to expand their student bodies to a tribute to the McClymonds High School football team, but most of the attendees were there to discuss school closures. Frustrated parents, teachers and member of the Occupy protest dominated the public comment period, speaking against the shuttering of schools and expressing concern for the more than 900 students who will need to relocated next year.
“Parents are being left with a tough choice of where to send their kids now,” said Rob Rooke, whose two daughters are attending Maxwell Park Elementary School. “Many of them don’t want to send their kids to another school that may end up closing the year after.”
“We were left out, no one talked to us,” said Mercedes Harrison, a parent with two daughters attending Lakeview Elementary. “No one talked to us about the closing and now I have to figure where to send my kids.”
Joel Velasquez, a member of the Concerned Parent and Community Coalition (CPACC), the group responsible for organizing the recall effort, used his time at the microphone to present the board with the five manila envelopes containing the recall petitions. “Oakland residents demand to have more of a strong leadership and sensitivity toward our students,” he said at the podium, to the cheers from the crowd. “The community is screaming out to the board members to listen.”
“It’s great to see so many people standing up to this,” said Rooke, who is also a CPACC member. “This is a message that closing schools is not an answer, so we need to find people that reflect the feelings of the people they serve.”
The recall effort did not come as a surprise to the board members, who have been threatened with recalls since the discussions about school closures arose earlier this year. “They’ve been coming to our board meeting and threatened to recall us since this whole issue came up,” said London, who is up for re-election next year, along with Board Vice President Jumoke Hinton Hodge. “If they want us gone, it’s their democratic right to exercise.”
But the presentation of last night’s recall petition would only be a first step. School board members are elected officials and the signatures gathered will need to be verified by the county election office. CPACC is currently working with the NAACP to gather the more than 1,000 signatures per district needed in order to get the recall measures onto next year’s ballot.
“If the board can’t represent our interest and find a way to keep our schools open,” said Velasquez ,“We have to find others who will.”
The OUSD board considered several factors when deciding which schools to close, including enrollment numbers, facility capacity, the number of students who live in the neighborhood, the financial state of the school, and its academic performance. The closures are part of the Oakland Unified School District’s plan to close a currently undetermined number of schools. Previous estimates place that number between 20-to-30.
”We know that there will be more closures, but the final number is still being determined,” district spokesman Troy Flint said in an interview with Oakland North earlier Wednesday “The district made a decision that reflects the hard reality of our situation specifically and the predicaments faced by public education in California generally.”
The school district is currently in the process of restructuring school attendance boundary areas for families who live near the schools slated for closure, since the schools will be closing after the 2011-2012 school year. This includes trying to relocate the 906 students who will find themselves without a school next year.
“No one wants to close schools, but the money just isn’t there so we have to make difficult choices,” said London. “We’re in a really tough position, but it’s a necessary decision.”
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I count myself among the Oakland residents who support the school closures. As a friend of an OPS teacher and volunteer, I have heard many stories about the terrible administration and waste of schools. By reducing the number of schools, hopefully we can increase the quality of the education in the remaining schools.
I’d like to see less money going to administrators and more to the teachers and classrooms. While I sympathize with the disruption of having to change schools, reducing the number of schools is a good way to achieve this.