Los Angeles Times Editorial Board: Want to know the wrong way to close schools? Just look to Oakland
The LA Times editorial board looks at the current upheaval in Oakland and declares it a poorly managed mess.
Amid ongoing community protests, the Oakland Unified School District board voted Tuesday to close seven schools and merge two more over the next two years to reduce the operating deficit. There’s no doubt the district had to do something serious about its finances. It has been through two separate periods of irresponsible spending that landed it in serious deficit. It received a couple of bailouts from the state and is still in state receivership.
Its enrollment, like those in districts statewide, is in steady decline, and it’s operating twice as many schools as other Bay Area districts with similar student populations. As a November warning letter from the Alameda County Office of Education noted, the district was expanding its staff even as its student population was dropping markedly each year.
In fact, Oakland Unified officials had plenty of warning that bad times were coming but didn’t seem to take this seriously enough until the letter arrived. And then they compounded their failure by notifying students and their families only in late January about the schools they were planning to close. The closures disproportionately affected Black neighborhoods; none of them were schools where white students are overrepresented relative to the district’s racial and ethnic composition.
What wasn’t being talked about in these recent weeks was the possibility of creative alternatives, such as seeking community service providers to rent space on its campuses, many of which serve as neighborhood hubs. Nor was there adequate time for the multiple public hearings that should have taken place before Tuesday’s vote or extensive consultation with the affected communities about how the school district could at least soften the blow. And why didn’t state officials, who still have fiscal oversight of the school district, raise the alarm and get this process started earlier?