This is a sampling of the Education Report, Katy Murphy's blog on Oakland schools. Read more, see pictures and post comments at www.ibabuzz.com/education.
Jan. 27: On Wednesday, state Administrator Vincent Matthews is expected to order a gradual phaseout of Paul Robeson School of Visual and Performing Arts — the very same Oakland high school whose closure he announced in December.
Why the repeat? A possible Brown Act violation. The district might not have given enough public notice before deciding Robeson's fate the first time around, so it's on the agenda again. (Matthews compared it to Barack Obama's oath of office redo, saying it was done "out of an abundance of caution.")
In a piece that Robeson teacher Craig Gordon wrote for a teachers e-mail group and forwarded to me, he argues that central office administrators undermined the school's success by diverting students to other small schools on East Oakland's Fremont High School campus. He also takes issue with how quickly the decision went down:
"They plan to close our school this Wednesday night, Jan. 28, without one word of warning to our school community. Not a phone call to our principal, not a meeting with our School Site Council, not anything. Some of you may have heard that the Board already closed Robeson in December, but they did it illegally, so now they're doing it again, a little more legally but no less immorally."
Gordon also raises an equity question. The enrollment policy issues affecting the district's more affluent hills schools "warranted 39 meetings over 16 months with members of these school communities," he wrote. "For the East Oakland community of Robeson High, not even a phone call."
Noel Gallo, a school board member who represents East Oakland's Fruitvale area, says district staff members did meet with Robeson teachers, students and parents last fall. He said it became clear to him then that Robeson hasn't provided the level of "performance, care, discipline, motivation and growth" that the students deserve.
Robeson's estimated four-year dropout rate is 64 percent, one of the highest in the district. The dropout estimates of the other three Fremont schools range from 21 percent (Mandela High) to 43 percent (Media Academy); the Oakland district's average is 36 percent.
Gallo said he thinks it's in the students' best interest to close the small high school, since the financially strapped district won't provide the extra resources needed to improve it.
"We make too many excuses for failure," Gallo said.
Do you agree? Is OUSD doing the right thing for students by closing a struggling school, or is it failing them by abandoning its investment?
Jan. 26: A central office hiring freeze, closure of the Oakland Truancy Attendance Program, cuts to special education and to schools, and fewer academic coaches are among the ways the district's staff proposes to shrink the district's general purpose spending by about $29 million in 2009-10.
To put that in perspective, the district's general purpose budget — also known as "unrestricted" money, meaning it can be spent on any school program — is currently $230 million. (You can find a copy of the proposal on the blog.)
With some exceptions, the proposal doesn't spell out which programs and departments might be axed entirely and which might be funded from a different pot. It says, for example, that the central office would shoulder 77 percent of the general purpose cuts — a reduction of a whopping 42 percent. But some of those central office programs might be funded through other grants, so it's hard to tell at this point what the bottom line will be.
Oakland's new CFO, Vernon Hal, presents the proposal at tonight's board meeting, 1025 Second Ave., if you want to ask questions or add your two cents.
Note: Closed session starts at 5 p.m. instead of 4 p.m.