Despite the fact Oakland schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of technology equipment to theft in the past few years, security hadn't improved enough to prevent $26,000 worth of laptops from being stolen last weekend.

Without forcing entry, someone broke into EXCEL High School at McClymonds over the weekend and stole 18 Macintosh laptop computers from a locked case in a teacher's classroom.

Some Oakland schools have security cameras and alarm systems, but EXCEL isn't among those with cameras. Short on cash, the school district can't provide more security for all its campuses, said school district spokesperson Alex Katz.

"There are very limited resources, and we also have 118 school sites," Katz said. "If someone is really determined to break into a school and steal from children, there isn't much we can do to stop them."

The theft is one of many among Oakland schools in the past few years.

In 2002, computers were taken from Montera Junior High School and James Madison Elementary School, and 40 laptops were stolen from Castlemont High School.

In 2003, there was a rash of school break-ins at schools such as Webster Academy, and Brookfield, Parker, Woodland, Lockwood and Melrose elementary schools.

In 2004, 10 computers and other technology equipment were stolen from Allendale Elementary School. And the same year, Melrose Leadership Academy had its laptop computers stolen, just to have their replacements stolen again soon thereafter.


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Earlier this year, thieves stole computers from the district's downtown student computer lab. Security is so minimal, Katz said, that the thieves were able to load up a truck in the afternoon.

Although the district can't afford more security, it's determined to use its police resources to catch the thieves who stole EXCEL's computers, Katz said.

Anyone with information about the crime can call the district's police department at (510) 879-3670.

"Whether or not we get the equipment back, we want to go after these guys," Katz said.

Officers at the Oakland Police Department haven't yet received any tips, but they're confident they will make progress toward solving the crime, said Sgt. Jack Peterson.It's important to take into account that the thief probably knows the school well since there was no forced entry and one of the school's keys is missing, Peterson said.

"We definitely have a suspicion of who it could be," he said. "Someone definitely had knowledge."

Oakland police try to keep up with all the school break-ins, but without an increase in security on site, campuses will continue to be hot spots for theft, Peterson said.

"It's a huge problem," he said. "The schools are an easy target."

Elmhurst has been broken into about 15 times this year, and most of the other schools in the district are broken into regularly, he said.

The weekend computer theft at EXCEL is similar to a break-in at the campus in 2001 when 19 laptops, worth a total of about $30,000, were stolen.

After the weekend theft, teacher Nancy Lai found the laptops missing Monday morning from her classroom. The theft was traumatic for both teachers and students, she said.

"A lot of them have expressed shock, disappointment and anger about this happening," Lai said. "Yet again, we are thwarted."

EXCEL senior Nathifa Wright said she's tired of seeing students' resources ruined or stolen.

"I don't know how we're going to get new computers for next year," she said. "We can't even have anything because people will mess it up."

The school had fundraisers throughout the fall semester to buy the computers, and without insurance to cover the full cost, students will be left without the technology they need to finish senior projects, said Yetunde Reeves, principal at EXCEL.

"That was literally every cent of money we had as a school," she said.

This year at EXCEL, teachers' laptops have been stolen, overhead projectors have been taken, and Tuesday someone smashed all the keyboards in the school's computer lab, Reeves said.

"We're not able to see the bigger picture because we're constantly up against thieves," she said. "It's crippled our school."

But without more security, Reeves can't keep worrying about the thefts, she said.

"I'm done with it, because I would be what-if-ing until the cows come home," she said. "I have a school to run."

Anyone with information about the thefts at EXCEL can call the district's police department at (510) 879-3670.

Contact Jennifer Scholtes at jmscholtes@angnewspapers.com