Oakland must close schools to improve education quality

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No one likes losing their convenient neighborhood schools. But when money is tight, the quality of education in classrooms is more important than proximity to home.

That’s why parents and school board administrators in Oakland should heed the seriousness of the district’s fiscal mess and set an example for the children by supporting responsible fiscal management, which includes closing costly and small schools. ineffective.

On Tuesday, the school board will consider closing eight of the district’s 80 schools over the next two years, merging four and eliminating grades 6-8 classes at two elementary schools. It was time.

Opponents argue that school closures will cause an exodus of students. In fact, parents who can afford it have been pulling their kids out of Oakland schools for decades, not because of the distance to neighborhood campuses, but because of the poor quality of education.

After 20 years of reckless spending, the district is at a crossroads: administrators must choose between providing quality education or perpetuating a system of underutilized schools. They can’t have both. There is not enough money.

Alameda County Schools Superintendent Karen Monroe warned in November that the Oakland School District may not meet its financial obligations for current and future fiscal years. A State Management and Crisis Assistance Team analyst reported in January that the district had a structural budget shortfall of more than $60 million a year.

One of the causes of the fiscal quagmire is the number of campuses, as District Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell explained to the board in January. Average enrollment in Oakland schools is the lowest of California’s 50 largest districts. Keeping small schools open creates unnecessary administrative and maintenance costs.

We also need more teachers. In effect, the additional schools spread students across more campuses, leaving the district with fewer students to fill each school’s classrooms. As a result, Oakland must hire more teachers in the district to serve the same number of children.

This inefficiency, in turn, is one of the reasons why Oakland, despite being one of the 50 best-funded districts in the state, has the lowest average teacher salary and therefore attracts the least instructors. experienced.

Certainly, closing small schools alone will not cover the district’s structural budget deficit. The belt-tightening must also include district-wide staff reductions to match revenues with expenses.

Most districts downsize and close schools when student enrollment and subsequent revenue declines. Not Oakland. Although enrollment has steadily declined over the past decade, school staffing levels have increased.

Yet mention of school closures has sparked protests and political paralysis of school boards. Parents and administrators even accuse the California Department of Education and the Alameda County Office of Education of forcing the district to make cuts.

But that conveniently ignores that the state and county oversight was part of two deals to save the district from insolvency. The district still owes money from a $100 million loan in 2003, when it was unable to meet its financial obligations. And the district took tens of millions more from the state after it nearly went bankrupt in 2017.

Now the district is heading for a fiscal cliff again. Clearly, district managers are unable to manage the money responsibly themselves. Rather than welcoming the necessary financial supervision that serves as a bulwark against insolvency, they fought it. Fortunately, they weren’t successful.

It has been clear for more than a decade that school closures must be part of the financial solution. But the outcry from parents has left administrators reluctant to make tough calls.

School closures are abrupt and immediately noticeable, while the deterioration of education is gradual. Parents are rallying politically to keep schools open, but they’re failing to make the same impassioned demands for a quality education, even as Oakland’s test scores lag far behind the rest of Alameda County or the rest of the state. ‘State.

It’s time to reset the district’s priorities. Valuable funds should be spent on improving education, even if that means some children have to travel further to get to school.

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