OAKLAND -- Residents bracing for a second wave of school closures, wondering if their neighborhood school will still exist in 2013, should heed this news: Round 2 has been canceled.

The downsizing plan announced in 2011 -- expected to last for two to three years -- has ended after just one.

In October, the Oakland school board voted to close five elementary schools and merge a number of others, reducing the number by about a dozen. Originally, Superintendent Tony Smith had said the district, which operated nearly 100 schools for 38,000 students, needed to close 20 to 30 to get its finances in order. That target has since changed.

"Currently, I have no intention, and I don't think it's going to be necessary next year, for more closures," Smith told a group of teachers gathered at Youth UpRising last week as he spoke about the merger underway on the Castlemont High School campus.

The reason behind the change? This coming school year, for the first time in more than a decade, the Oakland Unified administration expects to have a budget without a structural deficit. In other words, the district plans to spend the same amount of money it takes in, without having to borrow from one program to cover another. When Smith came to Oakland Unified in 2009, his chief financial officer -- also new to his position -- estimated that imbalance to be $40 million.


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"Our financial situation has changed the equation, and that's why we're not looking at another round of closures this year," spokesman Troy Flint said.

As of Friday, that development hadn't been formally announced to the public. While Flint was careful to say that the administration might still consider the merger of some schools that share a campus, such decisions would be mainly for academic and social reasons, he said.

Flint credited Vernon Hal, deputy superintendent of business services and operations, for helping to put the district on stable ground. It's been nearly a decade since the Oakland school district's infamous fiscal meltdown, multimillion-dollar bailout loans and state financial takeover, and the district is still making annual payments of about $6 million on its debt. The school board regained most of its governing authority in July 2009, when Smith began leading the district after a series of state administrators. It could be another decade before Oakland Unified repays what it owes and emerges fully from state receivership.

"We're still in a difficult spot financially, but we're light years ahead of where we were," Flint said.

Meanwhile, teachers and families at Lakeview, Lazear, Maxwell Park, Marshall and Santa Fe, which are slated to close in June, have been searching for new jobs and new schools. Lazear parents have filed a petition to become an independent charter school, saying there isn't enough room for all of their children at other schools in the Fruitvale neighborhood.

At a public meeting March 28, the school board will discuss what to do with the properties that will be emptied at the end of the school year. It's expected to consider, among other proposals, whether to move the district offices at 2111 International Blvd. to Lakeview Elementary, near Lake Merritt.

Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at IBAbuzz.com/education. Follow her at Twitter.com/katymurphy.