OAKLAND -- Opponents of Oakland Unified's school closure plan tried every angle to stop the board from approving it. They challenged the savings estimates. They appealed to board members' consciences and their political ambitions. They begged for more analysis and a delayed vote.
It didn't work. On Wednesday night, after a long and contentious meeting peppered with references to the Occupy Oakland movement, the board voted to close five elementary schools: Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe.
School board members Noel Gallo and Alice Spearman cast the dissenting votes.
"Superintendent, I just can't go with it," Spearman said, noting that her daughters and granddaughters attended Marshall. "It's not in me."
Most of the people who had packed the Oakland Technical High School auditorium for the marathon session were long gone by the time the school board made its decision, but a few dozen people remained to hear the verdict.
"I can't say that I'm surprised, but I did hold out a little bit of hope," said Pam Chinn-Scoffern, who teaches at Lakeview, one of the five schools slated for closure.
The district administration has estimated the closures will result in a savings of roughly $2 million a year, or an additional $50 for each student in the district.
The restructuring plan also includes mergers that are already under way: the small high schools on the Fremont and Castlemont campuses in East Oakland;
Superintendent Tony Smith told the crowd that the district simply can't fund or manage the number of schools it operates -- nearly 100 for 38,000 students. In addition to a declining number of students and reductions in state education funding, he said, the district must repay the state $6 million each year for the $100 million bailout loans extended during the school district's 2003 financial meltdown and state takeover.
Smith noted that he appeared in that same auditorium at Oakland Tech in the spring of 2009, as a candidate for superintendent.
Back then, he said, members of the public asked him what he would do to restore fiscal solvency and an academic focus to the district. That's what this plan will do, he said.
"Having too many underfunded schools is not a good strategy," Smith said.
David Montes de Oca, who directs the district's Quality Community Schools Development group, said the families of displaced children entering grades 1 to 5 next year will have first pick of the open seats at schools of their choice.
Such assurances did not appear to provide much solace to the angry crowd. Some questioned if the district would even hit its $2 million savings projections, especially if it uses general fund dollars to help pay for the students' transportation to their new schools.
Erica Persons, 8, was asleep just after 11 p.m. when the board made the decision. She and her friend Donaven Kelley, 9, who attend Marshall, said they were saddened by the news.
"It's just hard to go away from a school you've been raised in, really," Erica said.