Oakland school board to review consolidation plan, as parents demand input

Six schools are being considered for elimination, along with other schools that could merge or downsize by the end of this academic year, according to the finalized consolidation recommendations that are being presented to Oakland Unified School Board on Monday.

OUSD's Chief Business Officer Lisa Grant-Dawson sent a letter to parents Thursday, noting that many schools are "unsustainably small." 

Underenrollment across the district, along with deferred maintenance costs on school facilities has created a budget deficit forecast at nearly $20 million over the next two years. 

Additionally, Grant-Dawson said that the money being spent on teacher salaries is greater than 85 percent of what California's largest districts spend on teacher salaries, "yet teachers have the lowest average salary and the fewest years of teaching experience."

Closing some schools, merging others, and truncating La Escuelita, a K-8 school, down to K-5, would be part of the first of two phases being considered to not only cut costs, but re-invest the money into educational and extracurricular programs. 

The first phase would occur at the end of this academic year, and the second phase, which would close two additional schools, truncate Hillcrest K-8 school down to K-5, and merge others would occur after the 2023-2024 academic year.

MORE: OUSD considers closing up to 13 schools permanently, school board member says

Carl B. Munck Elementary, with 180 students and one special day class for students with special needs, would close in phase 1. 

Despite the financial situation, many families are still insistent on keeping their neighborhood schools open. 

Max Pezold, a second grader with special needs, thrives at Munck. 

His dad says relocating to a school 1.7 miles away would be difficult, as it took years to find the right fit for Max. 

He worries his son's progress at school would be undone.

"We get pushed around," Carl Pezold said. "This is the fourth school he's been in, and he's only eight years old."

Pezold and Mabel Kimble, whose son is in second grade at Munck, want parents to be included in the discussions the board is having, noting that there are other factors and costs the school may not be factoring into their decisions. 

For instance, they ask if there an additional cost for extra buses needed to take more students on longer routes to school.

"We understand these budget falls, but don't just close things down just cause that's the easiest response for your board," Kimble said.

Pezold has no doubt the consolidation decisions are tough, and need to be considered, but without input from the community.

It will "lead to a lot of pain for a lot of people, it's going to lead to a lot of disarray, and it's going to probably cost the board a lot more money than they think," he said. 

The bottom line, in dollars and cents, just doesn't add up, according to Mike Hutchinson, OUSD school board director for district 5, who opposes consolidating schools.

"The community is not dumb, we don't want to bankrupt our school district," Hutchinson said. "If these are things that we need to do, then we need to have a process to do it the right way."