Oakland city leaders ask California to eliminate OUSD's debt to prevent closures

The heated debate on whether to close a number of Oakland school buildings is now getting the attention of city leaders.

Specifically, Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, Council President Nikki Bas, Councilmember Carroll Fife and President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao are introducing a resolution to aid Oakland schools.

In response to the threat of Oakland school closures, their resolution calls upon Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature to eliminate Oakland Unified’s outstanding state debt to prevent closures.

They are also asking that the legislature amend state law to revise the Average Daily Attendance formula to remove penalizing schools when children are sick. 

With California anticipating a $45.7 billion surplus for the 2022-23 fiscal year, the city leaders said in a joint news release that eliminating OUSD’s remaining state debt would require "an infinitesimal amount, less than one fifteenth of a percent, of the state’s operating surplus." 

The city leaders' response comes after Oakland Unified's superintendent says the school closures and consolidations are needed to save millions over dollars over the next two years.

"Like many Oakland parents, I am outraged by these proposed closures and it is absolutely essential the state step in to save Oakland schools and ensure our students get a quality education," Thao said in a statement. "Anything less than immediate action could result in irreversible damage to our public schools, their staff, and Oakland’s students."

MORE: Hunger Strike: Extreme measures employed in battle to keep Oakland schools open

"We operate more schools than resources can support," said OUSD Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell said at a community meeting. "We now have 19 out of 51 elementary schools that are currently underenrolled. As you all know declining enrollment leads to less ongoing revenue for our district. For the last 20 years we have been addressing our structural deficit using one strategy primarily: reducing resources, cutting staff, and shifting into one-time funds that expire."

The district presented the numbers saying up to $15 million could be saved every year by closing school buildings. The superintendent says that money could be used to reinvest in teachers and services and break a cycle of overspending.

OUSD said they are running 80 district-run schools serving 33,000 students. 

To compare, Fremont Unified has 42 schools serving 34,000 students. San Jose Unified has 41 schools that serve 30,000 students. Stockton has 48 schools serving 35,000 students. 

Since releasing a list of schools to close parents and staff from those schools have held some form of protest every day.

Earlier this week, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the proposal to close the schools sounds painful, but it could be the right thing to do.

"I absolutely empathize with the absolute terror that parents have when they face any type of disruption for their students," Schaaf told KTVU. "But I want to give this proposal a chance, I hope people analyze it and I hope they see the possibility for better outcomes for students, educators and families." 

Schaaf has no authority over the decision.

MORE: Oakland schools don't have enough students and closures are necessary, district says

Many parents and staff accuse the school district of targeting majority Black communities as many of the schools on the list for potential closure are majority Black schools. 

The district says they chose schools on its list because of their declining enrollment. 

Protests were held Friday morning at Brookfield and Carl B. Munck elementary schools. More are planned throughout the weekend.

Parents in front of Munck Elementary demanded it not be closed at the end of the school year. "Right now is the time to yell and yell loud," said Carl Pezoid, whose autistic child attends the school. Displacement's gonna stunt his development. He's got profound learning disabilities and he's on the autism spectrum. He's really thriving and we're concerned."

"I don't know what happens, because we have been given no lead time to figure out anything," said another parent, Anne Santos.

A final vote is scheduled for Tuesday evening.

KTVU's Rob Roth contributed to this story.