Brookfield students showed up for the vote to keep their school open! Photo credit to Corrin Haskell
On Wednesday night, in the first official act of the new progressive majority, the Oakland Unified School District (“OUSD”) Board of Directors voted to rescind planned closures of 5 elementary schools and 1 middle school program at the end of this school year. Students, parents, educators and community were on hand to witness newly elected board members Jennifer Brouhard and Valarie Bachelor join with sitting directors VanCedric Williams and Mike Hutchinson to fulfill the mandate of the 67% of voters who supported their platform of ending school closures which target schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods and destroy communities while fueling the gentrification of Oakland.
The fight is not over. No sooner was the vote complete than the Alameda County trustee Luz Cazares, appointed to oversee OUSD’s finances, informed OUSD that they reserved the right to stay and rescind the board’s action to end school closures, because OUSD did not provide a Fiscal Impact Analysis as required by its own board bylaws prior to the vote.
District staff should have prepared that Analysis as soon as the matter was introduced by Director (now President) Hutchinson on November 30th, but failed to do so, and it appears that both Director Sam Davis and Director Hutchinson, who had each declared their intention to become board President, allowed staff to delay the Fiscal Impact Analysis until January 25th. This was done despite the urgency of needing to fix the enrollment system immediately to include the targeted schools and begin the budget development for school sites. That willingness to delay and worsen the harm to students led to Director Williams being elected president and immediately calling a special meeting for Wednesday, January 11th for a vote on the rescission resolution, which passed. President Williams’ decision to act immediately to help the targeted school communities jump start planning their futures was also a rebuke against the deliberate slow rolling by staff and politicking by board members. We are grateful for his leadership and for putting students first.
It is now up to District staff to prepare the necessary analysis so that we can avoid action by the County trustee and move on with the planning for how we support the targeted schools to repair the harm done by years of uncertainty and underinvestment. We must also rethink our solvency strategies to ensure we are no longer balancing our budget on the backs of our most vulnerable students. We must restructure our district from a top heavy, consultant-dependent “business model” to a district built from the bottom up, where we prioritize students and classrooms in true Community Schools. We must push our city, county and state leaders to support us in creating a district that serves the whole child, addressing community needs so that students are prepared to learn and excel in life. It is possible to educate students in equitably funded neighborhood public schools with staff who are valued and paid a living wage.
OUSD receives more money per student than almost any other large school district. It is time we invested those funds in the classrooms where they belong. Let’s get to work.