Eleven of Oakland’s 80 public schools are being closed, merged, or having their programs reduced during the next two years.
Despite massive community protests ranging from hunger strikes to town halls to marches and rallies, two Oakland schools, Parker K-8 and Community Day, are on this year’s hit list and will be closed in June. An additional five other schools, originally proposed to be closed this year, will be closed in June 2023 — Korematsu, Horace Mann, Brookfield, Carl B. Munck and Grass Valley. Rise Community and New Highland Academy will be merged in 2022, and Hillcrest and La Escuelita will decrease the number of grades they teach.
Ninety-three percent of the students in the schools scheduled for closure are identified as lower-income, English learners or foster youth, as compared to 80 percent for the district as a whole. 43 percent of the students in the targeted schools are Black, which is double the percentage in the district as a whole. No school which has greater percentage of white students than the rest of the district is targeted for closure.
Poor Magazine and the Homefulness community is part of the fight to save the schools including, Parker. Tiny wrote,
“This is a family school, they are tearing families apart. We have to make sure this school stays open for K-8 students. The School Board didn’t do an equity analysis on these schools before they put them on a list for closure,” said Misty, a warrior known for her work with Moms4Housing as she stood outside Parker Elementary School, a powerful comeUnity school located in Deep East (Occupied Huchuin) Oakland, which along with so many more schools in majority Black and Brown neighborhoods are facing the insanity of sudden closure .
Oakland is not unique. A number of factors are wrecking public schools all over the country. The first is a concerted decades-long campaign to privatize public education – including vouchers and charter schools. Now using the buzzword of “critical race theory” the racist, anti queer/trans, pro-prayer-in-school right wing “community” is sick of the ideas that could possibly be available in public schools. They prefer that old time religion. For over thirty years, legislation and court decisions have undermined public education and supported “parental choice.” This has bled enrollment from public schools and diverted public school funds.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated school underfunding. In California, public schools were closed for much of 2020. Schools attempted to continue education through distance learning, generally online. For elementary school kids, this meant a loss of school as childcare for working parents. Teachers were required to work long hours, often doing double shifts to cover online classes. Online learning required internet and computers, which oddly enough were not as widely available in poor communities, particularly low income communities of color. Oakland and other Bay Area school districts purchased and distributed laptops to students, and in some cases arranged for free or low-rate internet access, and this helped improve access, but as of May 2021, according to the Public Policy Institute of california, “nearly 40% of low-income students still lack reliable internet access; so do a third of Black and Latino students.”
When schools reopened by state mandate at the end of the summer 2021, the schools had done nothing, or less, to improve ventilation or other conditions that might reduce the risk of disease. The now-forgotten omicron outbreak from November 2021 to January 2022, led to quarantines and local shutdowns, which impacted daily attendance. California’s school funding levels depend on average daily attendance (ADA), not enrollment. For the current school year, the legislature allowed districts to use pre-pandemic attendance. But this year’s funding will be based on current attendance. While the declines in enrollment and attendance may be temporary, the effects of the millions to tens of millions of dollars in cuts per school district will cut services, teachers, and schools, which will not be easily restored.
Meanwhile, the state is expected to end this fiscal year (June 30 2022) with over ten billion dollars in budget surplus, and the state projects even more surplus in the fiscal year starting July 1, a surplus that will be so large that money may end up creating tax breaks or rebates to the people who least need them.
Community Day is the one school in Oakland available to students who have been expelled from other schools. It is scheduled to close in June. The school community – students, parents, staff and neighbors, have demanded the school be kept open, particularly since there will not be time to transition all of the students to other schools. Zack Haber reported that John Yee, president of the OUSD board, is pushing to build housing on the site. Yee and Joshua Simon, a real estate developer and a major player in housing policy (read YIMBY), visited the site on February 25, without even signing in at the school.
Closure of a school is the first condition that must be met before a district declares the land to be “surplus” and therefore available for sale or lease. The money to be gotten from closing a school is a factor the California Board of Education recommends in “Closing a School Best Practices Guide”, which states that in choosing which school to close, a district should consider “Value – if maximizing revenue from the sale or lease of surplus schools is integral to decisions regarding which school to close, then, of course, a property appraisal and assessment of the interests in and proposed uses for the property are vital…”
Daly City Community Garden
The Daly City Community Garden, now scheduled for destruction as part of the serramonte del rey (SDR) project, is an example of how districts, local government, and real estate developers have worked together to turn public school properties into market rate housing, sometimes with just enough projected “affordable housing” to claim it meets state and local requirements.
In April of last year, the jefferson union high school district (juhsd) published a plan to build over 1100 apartments on a site that formerly had been occupied by the serramonte high school. Serramonte high school was closed in 1981, but was briefly reopened in 1993-1995. It then became the administration building for the district. A separate project to create 122 units of “workforce [staff] housing,” was approved in 2020 and is being built on a different part of the site. Although the staff housing project had been claimed as providing 100 percent “affordable” housing, a report by Daly City staff found that only 12 units would meet city and state requirements. The 1100 newly proposed units are all market rate, except for approximately 110 units that would be affordable (up to 120 percent of area median income), not low income (up to 80 percent of AMI).
Part of this construction project included destroying a community garden that had been started in 2001 for juhsd students, and developed into a community garden. It is the only community garden in daly city. Daly city is a community that used to be predominantly working and middle class, and which, like the rest of the Bay Area, has been under huge gentrification pressure. It is a densely populated area, with a large immigrant population. It has one of the smallest “urban canopies” (trees) in the area, only 3.5%. The garden has about 15 percent of the existing trees in daly city and is reported to be home to the mission blue butterfly, an endangered species. It also contains a natural wetland (bog).
The gardeners and 4 Daly City have been joined by other community groups including the Serramonte Ridge Renters Association, JUHSD Alumni for Green Schools, Preservation Ancient Traditional Indigenous Lands, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter, Pacifica Social Justice, Youth vs Apocalypse, the Palestinian Youth Movement and Gay Shame, as well as many individual indigenous people. Like much of san mateo county, daly city is unceded land of the Raymatush Olone people, a people that is not recognized by the u.s. government.
Daly city has an “inclusionary housing ordinance” which requires new housing to include 10 percent very low income and low income units, that are distributed throughout the project, and are built at the same time as the rest of the project. The SDR development does not propose any low or very low income housing. Ninety percent of the 110 “affordable” units would be located in one plot of the project, which is planned to be built at some future date. The project has not applied for or obtained any funding for low income housing units. Nonetheless in February the daly city city council gave preliminary approval for the project.
The union for the juhsd employees is strongly supporting the project saying it is the only way that teachers will get a raise. According to most estimates (the district refuses to disclose the finances of the proposal) the district would not make any money off the project for at least 10 years after approval. The developers and juhsd claim that the garden, which they plan to destroy before any more construction takes place, will be replaced by double the amount of “green space” by which they mean the lawns between buildings.
This is probably a good time to mention that california has a number of laws that are intended to limit cities, counties and “special districts” from giving away public lands to private interests. There are specific restrictions in the education code on selling or leasing school property, including that land must first be made available for use for low-income housing and for park and recreation purposes. Other conditions may be waived by the state department of education. Sales or lease of other public lands are supposed to comply with california’s “surplus lands act” but enforcement of any of these provisions, or the california environmental quality act, requires community groups to raise tens of thousands of dollars for multi-year lawsuits, while the government entity involved defends with public money.
Critics of the juhsd proposal, including us, have pointed out that juhsd has not followed the laws in many ways, that the project does not meet local or state criteria for affordable housing, and that the city gave preliminary approval for the project prior to even getting an environmental impact report. The city and the juhsd have also failed to provide public records.
As with so much that we do, it’s a bambi vs. godzilla struggle. The local press is in love with the idea of using school land to both fund education and develop more housing for people who can “afford” $3500-$5000 per month rent or more.
And developers are using these same tactics everywhere, often with the same consultants. For example, in san jose, the oak grove school district voted this year to sell the former Glider Elementary School to developer True Life Companies for $26.6 million. When the district closed the school in 2018, they said they would not sell the land but in 2020 decided to sell.
According to the San Jose Spotlight, San Jose community advocates have pointed to a specific conflict of interest in the deal, since dominic dutra, the school district’s consultant, is a real estate agent, and receives a commission from the sale. The community has been raising money to fund a lawsuit, and are also going to petition the city council to stop the sale.
Victory on E12th Street
On March 2, the Oakland city council voted 5-3 to stop the sale of the public land on East 12th Street to private developers who planned to build 360 units of predominantly market rate housing on the site. The Save E12th Coalition formed in 2014. A couple of years later, the East 12th St. Alliance formed, and came to include SEIU 1021, California Nurses Association, Oakland Education Association, Urban Strategies Council, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Causa Justa::Just Cause, Oakland Community Organizations, People of Color Sustainable Housing Network, and Urban Habitat. In 2016 the Alliance developed a “people’s proposal” for the site. Several lawsuits were also filed because the proposed project violated california’s surplus lands act.
After the March 2 vote, the Save E12th Coalition sent the following email after the victory at city council:
Dear supporters of the Save E12th Coalition!!!
💥 Seven+ years of organizing has paid off!!
💥 Last night the City Council cast a decisive 5 to 3 vote denying the 6th extension to the luxury tower development on the East 12th St Remainder Parcel, and committing once and for all to affordable housing on this public land!!
💥 We started this PUBLIC LAND FOR PUBLIC GOOD fight in 2014 and along the way lifted the voices of our communities, we organized for Oakland to stem displacement and gentrification, and worked to prioritize dignified and affordable housing for those who need it most.
💥 Along the way our efforts inspired the public lands policy for Oakland, contributed to improving conditions for our houseless neighbors, said no to luxury towers on public land, and said yes to maximizing affordable housing on E12th St!
💥 It took a lot of us to get here. Neighbors, organizers, union reps, legal teams, journalists, architects, landscape architects, planners, radical developers, students, movement chefs, artists, & entertainers, and city council members all worked tirelessly.
💥 All throughout we always insisted on maximizing affordable housing on E12th St and WE WON!! Thank you for all of your support over the years!
The city council has not committed to any alternate proposal, and we can be sure that there will be plenty of profiteers on the way. But congratulations to Save E12 on their victory!