Distress expressed by Oakland children over possibility of school closures

It's a civics and budget lesson that is painful for many Oakland students.

"If my school closed. I would be very sad because my school is like a second home to me," said Breanna Swan, an Oakland third grader, who at one point broke into tears. "I feel empathy for the students who are going to get closed schools. Thank you."

The distress was deeply felt. As the school board in its first meeting of 2019 grapples with a projected budget deficit that could reach $30 million. 

In the past 15 years, student enrollment has sharply decreased from about 54,000 students to 37,000 students. 

School closures are possible, but the district staff say they won't have a list until next month. 

Students wearing orange ribbons came from Roots International Academy in East Oakland, hoping their voices might save their school.

"It breaks my heart to hear about my school being shut down. My school has taught me to be strong, to be persistent," said one student.

There was also anger from parents and teachers who want more transparency and blame the board for years of bad decisions.

"The current budget situation is obviously generations of bad leadership and I like feel my students are having to pay for all this really bad leadership," said Fatimah Salahuddin, an OUSD teacher at Roots International Academy. 

"I'm very upset at the board because the board's job is to do oversight," said Kiera Swan, a parent of two OUSD students

Many said they want more communication about criteria for deciding what schools to close. 

Also, teachers are in contract negotiations and the president of the Oakland Education Association says this could impact teachers' abilities to maintain a living wage.

"We ought to make sure that The additional revenue coming from the state is going to the students and not to those outside consultants or central office administrators," said Keith Brown, the president of the Oakland Education Association.

The district spokesman, however says cuts must go beyond the central office. 

"Central office is going to have more cuts coming up. No question about it it. but in order to reach  the numbers we have to reach, we have to do other things as well," said John Sasaki, OUSD communications director.

Sasaki says enrollment and revenues in 2019 won't differ much from last year, but costs such as pensions and services are increasing. 

"This is not only about us saving money, this is not only about consolidating a couple campuses, it is about ensuring there's a high quality education for every student in this district no matter where they live," Sasaki said, "When we consolidate our resources that will be much easier to accomplish."

The OEA is planning a march and rally for Saturday. People will meet at the Lake Merritt amphitheater at 11 a.m. and then march to City Hall for a noon rally.