HAYWARD, Calif. - More than 100 people gathered for a rally outside Hayward Unified School District headquarters on Wednesday to decry the potential closure of a handful of schools.
The rally was held ahead of a special school board meeting where the district’s board of education was to consider taking action on the school closures or make changes to the recommended closures. District spokeswoman Dionicia Ramos Ledesma said the potential closures were necessary to address declining enrollment and the cost of aging facilities.
"We understand the loss of schools closures in the community and we are ready to help people through the transition," Ramos Ledesma said.
She noted that the district has faced declining enrollment since 2004, but the pandemic accelerated students leaving. The district can accommodate more than 24,000 students, but only 18,000 are currently enrolled. Projections show the enrollment will keep declining and could reach a threshold of 16,000 students in future years.
"In the last two years we lost 2,000 students and about 65% of those students who left the district did so because their families moved out of the Bay Area completely," Ramos Ledesma said.
Less students in the district mean it receives less funding from the State of California. Ramos Ledesma said the district also has aging facilities which come with a price tag of $900 million. It’s why the district is proposing to close four schools, relocate eight facilities, and change boundaries and programs.
"Part of this plan is to bring Pre-K and T-K to all our elementary schools... and not have to worry about broken heaters and fire alarms, and safety issues," she said.
Lannel Johnigan with the HUSD Chapter of SEIU 1021 would like the district to reconsider.
"I hope they take a pause and re-evaluate," Johnigan said. "If they need to close schools fine, but I would like for them to sit down with us and have us at the beginning of the conversation, not at the end when you’ve already made a decision."
Johnigan said he learned of the district’s plans roughly six weeks ago and felt caught off guard.
Deisy Bates, a special education interpreter and president of her union, AEOTE, feels the schools in jeopardy of closing should be given extra attention instead of being closed.
"We want them to listen to us for the first time, really pay attention to what we have to say," Bates said. "We have been saying the same thing throughout the town hall meetings and we have not been heard."
The Hayward Unified School District provided the following documents which illustrate which boundaries would change and how the initial recommendations were revised to potential close less schools and facilities after hearing from the public in the past several weeks.