The Oakland school board's once-united front on school closings has continued to splinter. At Wednesday night's meeting, at least three board members emphasized that a proposal to close five elementary schools was not set in stone.
One trustee, Noel Gallo, called it "a mistake."
On Oct. 26, the seven-member panel is scheduled to decide whether to close Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe elementary schools. A less controversial part of the recommendation is the merger of a number of middle and high schools, a process already underway on the Fremont and Castlemont high school campuses.
For years, school district leaders have said that Oakland Unified runs too many campuses for its 38,000 students, stretching its resources too thin. Enrollment has stabilized in recent years, but the district educates about 30 percent fewer children than it did in 2000. Thousands of school-age residents have moved out of the city or enrolled in public charter schools that operate independently of the school district.
Superintendent Tony Smith estimates that the district would save $2 million a year by closing the five elementary schools, and he has signaled that he is likely to propose more closures next year. Parents and teachers who came to Wednesday night's school board meeting said that sum wasn't enough to justify the disruption and pain of closing schools.
Gallo agreed, drawing a standing ovation.
"We tried to do the right thing, but it turned into a mistake," he said.
Jody London, the new board president, offered a less popular view.
"I think it's important to acknowledge that there are many people in the general community who believe that we operate too many schools in Oakland," she said.
Before she could continue, a number of people in the thinned-out audience began shouting, prompting her to call a recess.
Gary Yee, the former board president, seemed to be on the same page as London. He reminded Gallo that the school board directed Smith to reduce the number of schools in the district. The board also approved the criteria for school closures, which placed a heavy emphasis on population density and protected schools that already were undergoing major changes.
Alice Spearman, the trustee who represents Marshall Elementary School, said she hadn't understood the implications of that important vote when she took it.
"We voted on the criteria at 10:30 at night," she said. "I doubt many of us read the criteria."