Community Questions School Closings

By Ken A. Epstein

schools.jpgParents and teachers packed into the community meeting at Claremont Middle School Monday evening, seeking information and expressing misgivings about the possible closing of their schools.
“What is going to happen to our kids?  We can’t jump them from one district to another. Our children are going to go into the street? What is going to happen to them?” Asked a parent of elementary age children.
Despite reassurances by State Administrator Vince Mathews that nothing has yet been decided and that the process is transparent, many worried that the decision to close schools was already made.
“Some people think that it is window dressing, that it is a done deal,” said David McCrossan, a parent at Kaiser Elementary School. “It’s not very transparent, and it seems rushed.”
Matthews said that the district was seeking community input at six public meeting. “This information will be given to the school board, and it will determine how to proceed forward, of if we proceed forward.”
He said that the decision on which schools may be closed would be made before the end of October. However, at least some board members are suggesting that the process be extended to two years, allowing for a full year of discussion before a final decision is made.
The district is looking at closing between 10 and 17 schools, arguing that Oakland has many small schools that are too costly to maintain and not big enough to support a range of academic programs. Based on a number of criteria, the board is empowered to develop a list of schools that could be shut down or merged. The actual closings would take place in July.
A number of people echoed the concern that the process is too rushed.  “Our school had four or five days notice of this meeting, for our parents to understand why we are having this meeting,” said a school staff member.  “How are you really going to get into the community and have a community conversation?”