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OAKLAND -- Parents, teachers and children packed the auditorium of Oakland High School on Tuesday night to express their frustration, sadness and outrage about a school district plan to save $2 million by closing five elementary schools.

When the Oakland school board opened the public hearing, President Gary Yee did a calculation: If each person spoke for two minutes, the public comment period could last for nearly four hours.

As the board discussed how to proceed, the overflow crowd could be heard chanting outside the door: "Save our schools! Save our schools!"

On the list are Lakeview, near Lake Merritt; Lazear, in the Fruitvale area; Maxwell Park, near Mills College; Thurgood Marshall, in the East Oakland hills; and Santa Fe, in North Oakland.

The board is expected to make a final decision by Oct. 26 and possibly as soon as Oct. 12.

Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith began the meeting by making a case for the closures. The Oakland school district operates about 100 schools for 38,000 students -- 20 to 30 schools too many in a time of diminishing state resources, the superintendent has said.

While the district's enrollment has recently stabilized, it dropped sharply in the past decade from a peak of more than 50,000. About one in six of the city's public schoolchildren now attend a charter school.

Showing a slide that compared Oakland to other school districts, Smith said, "We have to figure out how to better use our resources, to release them from being spread so thin."


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The audience didn't buy the rationale. Shutting down schools, they said, would cause children and families to suffer. Transportation challenges, special education programming, safety concerns and poor alternatives for families were some of the many arguments made against the proposal.

"Please don't pretend you're making education better for our kids by doing that," said Rob Rooke, whose children attend Maxwell Park Elementary. "You're not."

Henry Hitz, director of Oakland Parents Together advocacy group, drew applause when he encouraged the board to take a different tack to its fiscal problems: to bring more families into the school district.

"The savings are illusory," Hitz said about the estimated $2 million. "In most cases, the closed schools will fall into the hands of charter schools, which will siphon off more students from OUSD and more money."

If the school board approves the superintendent's recommendations, the district will have closed five schools and merged others by the fall of 2012, reducing the number by 12.

But if the administration's goal is to close 20 to 30 schools, it won't be the last such decision. A year from now, the school board might be holding a similar meeting, with outraged families from a different set of schools.

"There'll be another conversation next year for certain," said Troy Flint, a spokesman for the school district.