With election, OUSD board could have votes needed to overturn school closures
on November 30, 2022
Two of the three newly elected Oakland Unified school board members say they want to reverse this year’s controversial decision to close schools. That means the board could have the majority needed to rescind the motion.
Jennifer Brouhard, who was elected in District 2, and Valarie Bachelor, who was elected in District 6, are against the closures. Current members Mike Hutchinson and VanCedric Williams consistently have been opposed to the closures. Combined, they will make up the majority of the board in January.
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When Nick Resnick, who was elected in District 4, was asked how he would vote on such a motion, Resnick did not answer definitively, though he said he believes that having fewer schools to focus on can be vital to getting more resources and programs to schools across the district. He also said he hopes to build equitable curriculums and stabilize the budget.
“If that means consolidating some sites back together that were broken up in the small school movement, then it might mean that,” Resnick said. “It’s our job to do that in a way that respects community, that respects our most marginalized communities, and also gives parents and teachers a voice.”
Hutchinson, who represents District 5, has two years left on his term. But when the board’s districts were changed after the 2020 Census, Hutchinson’s home shifted to District 4. This month, he ran and lost in District 4, coming in third against Resnick and Pecolia Manig.
Hutchinson and Williams cast the only dissenting votes in February when the board voted to shrink, merge or close 11 schools over the course of two years. The decision came in response to Alameda County Superintendent L.K. Monroe’s letter to the board last November about possible budget shortfalls and OUSD’s consecutive declines in enrollment.
At the end of 2021-2022 school year, two schools were closed, two merged, and one downsized. The schools served vulnerable and underrepresented communities, including Community Day, the district’s only school for expelled students and Parker K-8, which predominantly served Black and brown students.
Five schools are scheduled to close at the end of this school year: Brookfield Elementary in District 7, Carl B. Munck Elementary in District 6, Grass Valley Elementary in District 7, Horace Mann Elementary in District 5, and Korematsu Discovery Academy in District 7. Hillcrest K-8, in District 4, will lose its middle school.
The decision sparked a community outcry, including protests, a hunger strike and proposals such as the “Community, Not Closures” plan, which asked the district to take a new approach to school changes and to rescind the upcoming closures. In addition, parents occupied Parker K-8 for 125 days, providing a summer program for children and helping to transition students whose schools have closed.
“School closures are really only done in Black and brown communities,” Brouhard said. “For parents who are in communities where there’s economic uncertainty anyway, to add educational uncertainty is criminal.”
Bachelor said it’s the board’s job to ensure students, staff and parents have the necessary resources and “not to think of what is the cheapest way to do it.”
Hutchinson did not respond to Oakland North’s requests for comment.
Brouhard and Bachelor said they will present a resolution to reverse all school closures and begin a plan to effectively fund all schools. They also plan to call for an independent audit of the district budget to provide transparency on how money has been spent and to pinpoint where money should be invested.
“I think the budget really does represent your moral compass for the board,” Brouhard said. “It really has to be talked about as a whole group together.”
Resnick said he hopes to collaborate with board members to navigate the future despite differing views.
“I believe our hearts ultimately want children to be more successful,” Resnick said. “I hope that with compassion and reciprocal respect we can make small movements together.”
Brouhard and Bachelor are hopeful that the school closure decision can be reversed as soon as January, which is when they take office.
“This is about our children’s education and we can’t continue to just under-resource, underserve and close our way out of this situation,” Bachelor said. “That is what I believe is creating such a dangerous environment in Oakland, where we’re seeing a lot of violence happening because we’re not stabilizing our school district.
(Update: On Dec. 28, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters acknowledged a tabulating mistake that affected the election outcome in District 4; and Hutchinson said the county had notified him that he — not Resnick — was the winner.)
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