Oakland, Detroit Deal with School Closures

Despite enrollments declining in Oakland, more schools are open than in 2000, prompting calls for shutdowns and opening the door to criticism.

Even though there are 30% fewer kids attending public schools in the city of Oakland today than in the year 2000, there are still 15 more schools operating in the Oakland Unified School District than there were a decade ago. According to the ContraCostaTimes’ The Education Report column by Katy Murphy, the average number of students attending each school had nearly halved since the same year. The change is attributed to a combination of factors: from falling population levels in the city, to the growing popularity of the state-funded charter schools.

Although, at one point, Oakland was forced to open new schools in order to deal with overcrowding issues that resulted from a population spike, now the district finds itself in the opposite position: choosing which schools to shutter in order to save money. Just recently OUSD announced the closure of five schools, four of them serving mainly African-American students. Alice Spearman, a lawmaker from East Oakland, accused the district of targeting minority schools for closure.

“I have 21 schools in my district, and the only schools you chose to pick on were the ones that were predominantly African American,” Spearman said last night to the superintendent. “You’ve got to look at the other group,” she said.

Over the past ten years, Oakland went through several waves of school closings. Some ended up being reopened again later, like the Washington Elementary, and some get merged into a single school or are forced to share a building. Others, like East Oakland Community High School and Youth Empowerment School, were relocated into the former premises of the King Estates Middle Schools and are now themselves being considered for closure.

Oakland isn’t the only city forced to make tough choices in the face of population drop. Detroit, a city that was one of the hardest hit by the current recession, is also being forced to shutter schools. After a recent state takeover of the Detroit Public Schools, the newly appointed head Roy Roberts, who is a former GM executive, told school officials and administrators that they should expect a number of schools to close over the coming year. The Huffington Post reports that Roberts plans to carry out the plans of his predecessor Robert Bobb’s to shut down at least 45 of DTS schools.

In addition to school closures, the district faces major staff cuts. Under Roberts’ deficit-elimination plan, DPS would fire 1,500 teachers over the next five years. The enrollment crisis, Roberts said, explains that decision, too.

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