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School board seeks to keep elementary schools open

Submitted by on 1, October 1, 2010 – 5:00 am10 Comments

Members of Alameda’s Board of Education said Thursday they don’t plan to consider closing elementary schools to help balance their budget next year in the absence of a fresh parcel tax. They want staff to hone a proposal to close the district’s middle schools, leaving the district with two 7-12 high schools and moving sixth graders into elementary schools.

“Keeping all the neighborhood elementary schools – it just has to happen. That’s what the essence of Alameda is to me,” board president Ron Mooney said Thursday night during a public hearing that saw close to 400 people pack the Lincoln Middle School gym – the board’s third meeting in less than a week. He and three other board members said they didn’t want to look at closing elementary schools next year.

Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer said she didn’t have enough information to offer an opinion on which of the closure scenarios district staff presented she wished to move forward on. She said she wants to focus on promoting and improving the district’s program so the district can draw families who have enrolled their children in private and charter schools.

Spencer, who has been accused by some of pitting parents from Washington and nearby Franklin elementary schools against each other after arguing that Franklin should be closed and students there sent to Washington, struck a more conciliatory tone Thursday.

“I think all of us need to work together to solve this problem,” she said of the district’s financial crisis.

Some of the district’s proposals for closing schools contemplated shuttering Washington Elementary School a year ahead of other elementary schools, a move parents said would force their children to endure two elementary school moves in two years. The school’s PTA president proposed setting up a K-8 magnet at the school instead.

“Let’s look at what Washington can be, and not just shut it down,” Trustee Tracy Jensen said.

The school board is considering a host of school closure and consolidation scenarios in the wake of the defeat of the Measure E parcel tax in June and budget reductions that could reach $20 million over the course of the next three years. Almost all of the options on the table envision shuttering the district’s middle schools in 2011 and placing those students in the district’s elementary and high schools or reconfiguring Encinal and Alameda high schools to accommodate middle and high school students. Most of the district’s existing elementary schools would be closed the following year and the students placed into five larger schools of about 1,000 students each.

The proposals would only cover a fraction of the deficit district officials anticipate they’ll need to close over the next two years – a deficit that includes the sunset of the Measure A and Measure H parcel taxes in 2012.

Some scenarios envision moving ninth graders to Paden Elementary, while another considers putting all of the Island’s high schoolers – about 3,000 students – into Alameda High, a move district officials would have to place 18 portables and bathrooms on campus to accommodate.

Parents and teachers asked district officials whether they had looked into the traffic the closures would generate as students were forced to travel further to get to school. And they asked whether the district would really save the money officials said they’d save by closing schools.

Still, others who attended Thursday’s meeting said the district should see its current money troubles – and efforts to construct a parcel tax to help solve them – as an opportunity to explain why Alameda’s public schools are worth saving.

“Instead of focusing on what we need to cut, we need to highlight what we need to save,” Jeni Marr, a media center teacher at Amelia Earhart Elementary, said.

Parents and teachers from Washington pleaded for their school to remain open, and they took great pains to try to avoid the divisiveness that has begun to bubble up over the closure plans. Franklin parents, in turn, sought to dispel the notion that they are wealthy and politically connected and that their school stayed off the chopping block next year as a result.

“As a Washington parent, it’s easy to stand up here and say, ‘close Paden, close Franklin. And put them all in our school.’ But we are sensitive that the easiest solution for us is not easiest for other schools,” Washington parent Emily Lloyd said. “(But) closing Washington would scatter our community across the West End.”

Washington PTA president Lorrie Murray said administrators’ decision to install Judy Goodwin as principal offered families a structure, warm environment and sense of optimism after a revolving-door of principals. Then parents got the word that they were first on the list of elementary schools that could be closed.

“You can’t imagine how devastating a blow that was to us. We’re the first to go no matter what,” Murray said.

Murray said she’s working on a proposal to turn Washington into a K-8 magnet school, an idea that Ruby Bridges Elementary’s PTA president, Greg Mauldin, rose to support. District officials had included the idea of opening a magnet in their five-year master plan for the district. Start-up costs for such a school would cost an estimated $250 per student, according to calculations included in the plan.

School board vice president Mike McMahon said he’s focused on getting a parcel tax passed in the spring so the district can avoid elementary school closures and to buy district leaders time to think about restructuring Alameda’s secondary schools. He said the district needs to be clear about what’s at stake if a tax is not passed, and it needs to outline clear priorities for spending the money, including maintaining K-3 class sizes at 25 students per teacher. And parents asked for more detail on how much money the district would ask for, and for what.

Superintendent Kirsten Vital said district officials are working to assemble a list of things a parcel tax would pay for.

“Clearly, the parcel tax would pay for the items this community values most dearly,” Vital said.


  • Nick B says:

    A truly interesting evening, one that made me love my community even more.

    But it was just baffling how disconnected the superintendent office proved. Kids and teachers were certainly not addressed in their presentation, which was extremely poor and obviously biased. Looked like someone, who didn’t want to do it, was tasked with putting numbers in buckets in different idiotic configurations just to push the only sensible one (option 1 phase 1 only), but didn’t go deep in the details and in the logistical issues behing their mega-concepts (traffic, student security, lunch hours, need for additional vice-principals and staff, etc.).

    Some people from the audience mentioned the high salaries of the admin staff. Good people deserve good salaries. Underachievers deserve the opposite. So whoever allowed Option 3B to even be on this presentation needs a big paycut. Either they are idiots, or they think we are. Either way they are not a good use of our tax dollars. 3000 teenagers at Alameda High School, REALLY? adding 18 prefab boxes somewhere in there to support all this, while closing a central brick and mortar location with a 750+ student capacity?

    Did they really think this through and saw no show-stopper in there? They really thought “heh, there’s an option, we’ll worry about details later”? Or did they think “hey, there’s a scary one, it’ll support our real agenda, let’s make it option 3”?

    Simply baffling, and that’s just an example. Another good one: all 9th grader at Paden, just after telling us less transitions is better. Cheap tactics if you ask me….

    The best question of the night was “when are we getting the answers to our questions”? of course, it didn’t get an answer. I hope someone took notes and will post the answers on the AUSD website. Because questions without answers would be a waste of 400 people’s time. Michele, any way to know if/when we’ll get the answers? Thank you.

  • David Howard says:

    A 2007 Demographics Study paid for by AUSD showed the AUSD-defined capacity of all the schools. I reproduce one page of that, for the elementary schools, at the link below.

    Note that in their presentation, AUSD is talking about enrollment figures, and not capacity. That’s flat out wrong, if not dishonest.

    The capacity of each school facility should be a primary determinant in whether the facility stays open or is shuttered. The cost savings come from the economies-of-scale resulting from using larger facilities. It’s not about “Franklin School” or “Washington School” – it is, or it should be, about the cost effectiveness of operating the facilities at 1433 San Antonio and 825 Taylor, respectively.


    This study shows 1433 San Antonio (Franklin) as having the lowest capacity of all the elementary schools. This may have changed, with the addition of portables, since 2007, but portables have a shorter life span than brick and mortar class rooms.

    825 Taylor (Washington) has 10 more classrooms than Franklin, and none of them are portables.

    How can the District justify a proposal to close 825 Taylor while keeping 1433 San Antonio operating? For that matter, how can the District continue to justify operating the facility at 1433 San Antonio at all, given the high expense/student ratio of that facility? How can the District justify the great disparity between the smallest elementary school facility and the largest?

    Trish Spencer was right, the answer is “politics.” Washington parents don’t have the same deep pockets as Franklin parents, which Mooney, McMahon and friends need to tap for election money. Mooney took $5,000 from SunCal in May of this year, and subsequently spent $20,000 with EMC Research, a political polling/research firm based in Oakland. He’s not saying what exactly the money was spent on.

    As for the schools, the reality is its likely that some elementary schools are going to close even if a parcel tax passes. I’m told that private schools are already getting calls from parents asking about placement for next September. Those decisions need to be made in the January-March time frame of next year, if not sooner, before the slots fill up.

    Those parents that move their kids to a private school, instead of waiting for the consolidation process to work itself through, or for the parcel tax… how hard do you think they’re going to campaign for a parcel tax in March?

    McMahon is wrong if he thinks that wielding the “axe” is going to scare people into passing a new parcel tax. It’s actually having the opposite effect – it’s scaring them out of AUSD altogether. To top it off, AUSD cried wolf with Measure E, threatening school closures if it didn’t pass, none of which have been realized yet.

    It’s long overdue for the District to stop running fear-based campaigns.

  • Juan says:

    What is really sad is to realize that no matter what happens locally, the battle for quality public education is being lost at higher levels of government. I’ve heard friends who are renting consider a move to other localities, but they don’t realize that whatever advantages they have in, say, Walnut Creek, are just temporary, as the demolition of public education continues everywhere.
    Parcel taxes and school closures/consolidation are a short term semi-“solution” (just like the amputation of a limb could be considered a solution) to budget cuts from the state and the sickening Bushobama funding priorities, i.e., trillions of dollars to save banks and fund wars and let everything else go to pot.
    Unfortunately, Americans have become absolutely de-politicized and respond only to the show business version of political debates and policy options. Thus, the Tea Party rises as the “new voice” of political dissent against the status quo. Come November, the Democratic party will get the whipping they so thoroughly deserve, and a whole bunch of “new faces” and “outsiders” will join congress and the state legislatures, and everything that matters will remain jut the same: the country will continue to slide into third world status, with the top 10% getting richer and richer and a bloated and absolutely useless (in the sense of unable to fulfill its missions) military still taking a bigger slice of the national budget than everything else put together.
    With such a scenario, there is in fact very little parents can do: resign to a public
    education that gets worse every year or, for those who can, and while they can afford it, private schools. The alternative is to grab the torches and pitchforks and fundamentally change, for real, the way government works. Don’t hold your breath for that one.

  • Alamama says:

    Although David Howard appears to be hell-bent on turning this into an issue of Washington vs. Franklin, he seems to be missing the big picture. If he had bothered to stick around after his rant last night, he would have learned that the most likely option for consolidation is Option 1 which will close Washington, but will also close Franklin and Otis and Edison and Paden and Bay Farm at the SAME TIME. So the issue is not Washington vs. Franklin. The issue is what are we going to do to deal with the deficit the District faces. As for Mr. Howard’s insinuation that Washington is going to close even if we pass a parcel tax, that is pure speculation. The amount that might be raised by a parcel tax and the priorities on which any parcel tax money might be spent has yet to be determined, so any attempts to drive a wedge in the community on that basis right now is pure hyperbole. Besides, what’s the point of this wedge? To defeat the parcel tax? Are the kids at Washington really going to be better off if no parcel tax is passed and they’re crowded into classes of 32:1 at all grade levels in schools with 1000+ students? Are any of our students going to be well served in that scenario?

    Fortunately, many community members, including Washington’s PTA president, understand that we are facing a crisis that is going to affect our entire community. Unless we pass a parcel tax or our fairy godmother rains money on Alameda in the next few months, schools will close under every scenario, starting with consolidation of the middle and high schools in the Fall of 2011. Elementary school closures will follow in the Fall of 2012. Although last night it became apparent that there is strong opposition to school closures, we have to remember that if the District uses money to keep neighborhood schools open, cuts will have to be made elsewhere. There is a finite and shrinking pool of available money, so if we use dollars to keep neighborhood schools open, that will mean that those dollars have to be taken from someplace else. It’s an educational Sophie’s Choice. Do we sacrifice AP classes, counseling, art, music, athletics and other programs? Do we ask the teachers to further cut their pay after they agreed to furlough days this year? Do we further cut instructional days? Do we close Woodstock? Do we eliminate adult education? Every choice is excrutiating and will profoundly affect the quality of life here in our community.

    Unfotunately, these decisions have to be made now. The District is required by law to present a balanced budget for the next three years. If we cannot balance our budget, we risk state takeover of our schools which will deprive us of any say in how our schools are run. Do we really want Sacramento telling us how to run Alameda’s schools?

    So the question that we now face is one that we have to face as a community. Can we pass a parcel tax that will mitigate these cuts? If not, what are we willing to cut? These are not questions that will be answered to anyone’s satisfaction if we go to war within our community. So please, let’s knock off the incendiary rhetoric and address these hard questions in a constructive and civil manner.

    (And if you’re interested, please visit http://www.alamedasos.org to find out how you can help with the next parcel tax campaign. Contributions of time and money will both be needed if we hope to get pass a parcel tax.)

  • David Howard says:

    Alamama! You were there last night? You should have introduced yourself! I don’t bite unless you explicitly ask me to, and tell me precisely where.

    Yes, option 1, phase II would close Washington and Franklin. But the goal of the district clearly is to stop at Phase I, and keep all 10 elementary schools open in hopes of passing a parcel tax to maintain the status quo.

    The status quo preserves the existing inequities in Alameda’s school system – wealthy parents in the Gold Coast and East-end of Alameda (Franklin, Edison, Otis schools) get small public schools (AUSD defined capacity for Franklin makes it the smallest school by capacity) with lots of money, and which are run almost like private schools by the parents, paid for by everyone in Alameda, including lower-income parents in the West-end, who are about to lose the WCDC before-school care programs, and who have to send their kids to larger schools. (BTW, the District seems to be doing their very best to resist the help from the City to keep the WCDC programs open. Supposedly Mike McMahon declared as long ago as January that WCDC would close.)

    Can Alameda taxpayers really, honestly, continue to afford 10 elementary school campuses for a declining enrollment? And 17 campuses – high school, elementary, charter, middle, adult, etc? How can the District justify keeping open 10 elementary schools at such a divergent range of expense/student across all 10?

    I presume that Alamama has not talked extensively with West-end parents as I have to learn the prevailing sentiment among parents at Haight, Washington, and other west-end schools. West-end parents are tired of seeing their tax dollars subsidize small schools in wealthier neighborhoods. And, yes, the correct measure of “small” or “large” is capacity, not enrollment.

    I have no problem with a parcel tax on principle – clearly Measures A and H need to be replaced, but the past taxes and proposals have invariably disproportionately benefited those wealthy parents with kids in small, predominantly white and asian elementary schools, at the expense of lower-income parents that send their kids to larger more diverse schools. That hardly fits with the Districts motto of “Equity and Excellence for all” or with modern-day sensibilities of what’s equitable, moral and right.

    Past measures have been grossly unfair to taxpayers as well – Alameda town Center pays 1/2 cent per square foot of land, while small business owners on Park St. and Webster pay 15 cents per square foot.

    The chief opponents to Measure E have proposed their own idea of a fair tax, and it’s available online at the link below. Sadly, the District seems to be un-interested.


    A parcel tax that is more equitable than either Measure E or Measure H, and progressive, (no tax cap, a common, linear structure for all property owners, roughly approximated to ability to pay), would have a good chance of passing with little opposition. Anything else is bound to fail.

  • Publius says:

    You’re getting warmer, Howard, but you still don’t know what you’re talking about. On the plus side, you’re down to 154 mil feet, almost realistic (btw you never thanked me for helping you last week):


    But much larger was the negative of “possessory interest.” You’re seemingly infatuated with the idea that it can apply to federal property, as you state on the Action Alameda page:


    But it doesn’t/can’t/never will apply. Take a read:

    (b) Taxable Possessory Interests. “Taxable possessory interests” are possessory interests in publicly-owned
    real property. Excluded from the meaning of “taxable possessory interests”, however, are any possessory
    interests in real property located within an area to which the United States has exclusive jurisdiction concerning
    taxation. Such areas are commonly referred to as federal enclaves.

    You know where I got that? It’s posted on both Action Alameda and AFT’s pages. Repeat: no possessory interest at the base.

    For a guy who desperatley, pathetically needs to be the smartest man in the room, you are striking out. Keep sharpening your pencil, someday you’ll get that right number.

  • Alamama says:


    The way that you characterize the schools is misleading. Your description would lead readers to believe that the East End is full of small boutique schools filled with champagne swilling bon vivants while West End students are relegated to huge factory-like campuses. How about we look at the facts?

    The two schools with the largest capacity are Earhart and Bay Farm — two schools filled with East End champagne swillers. The smallest school is Franklin (which you questionably characterize as an “East End school” even though it is, in fact, west of Haight, which you characterize as a “West End school”), but then there is a cluster of schools with similar capacity (Edison and Otis on the East End and Paden and Washington on the West End.) So it’s hardly fair to say that West End parents are subsidizing East End schools. There are large schools and small schools all over Alameda. So even though I reject the notion that anyone is “subsidizing” anyone else, it would be just as fair to say that East End parents are subsidizing Paden and Washington as it is to say that West End parents are subsidizing Edison and Otis. (These numbers are taken from a study done by AUSD that can be found here: http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=r_4jKHGEwpfkfpJB9Xb_cwA&output=html)

    And if you’re hoping for greater racial and economic diversity at the schools (a concept I commend), consolidation won’t necessarily help. The champagne swillers at Edison and Otis will just end up swilling champagne together at Lincoln. They won’t be going to Washington or Ruby Bridges, so it won’t make Washington or Ruby Bridges any more economically diverse. If the intention is to make all the schools similarly diverse in terms of race or economics, then it will require students to travel from the West End to the East End and vice versa. I think many parents, including many on the West End, would object to having to a scheme that requires cross-town travel for elementary aged kids. In fact, for many economically disadvantaged parents, it would probably be a hardship.

    In short, your theory about how school consolidation will level the playing field by changing demographics has no relationship to reality. It will only preserve the demographic status quo in larger schools with larger classes. (And just to make it absolutely clear, I’m not saying that the status quo is acceptable, I’m saying that school consolidation, larger classes and program cuts are not the answer.)

    As for your discussion of the parcel tax, I suspect that the new tax will very much mirror the structure you suggest. When that happens, I’m sure that Alameda Save our Schools will welcome your contribution, endorsement and volunteer efforts to pass the tax.

  • Hot R says:

    Someone on another site commented that Alameda has about 100 bloggers who absolutely hate each other and drive the political commentary. I agree with this.

    Hate the Sup., hate the school board, hate the teacher’s unions, hate the staffers, hate the coverup, hate the opposition…

    The best things for kids is to have small schools with low class sizes close to home. Thus keeping elementary schools open is wise. But because the parcel tax did not pass the District must do some consolidation. A balance must be struck. One high school doesn’t make sense because we don’t have room. One middle school doesn’t make sense because of traffic problems. Thus the scenario to make both the high schools 7-12 is probably best. From an educational point of view, this will give high schools a chance to do some very needed articulation with their middle school counterparts, better preparing the middle school kids for the rigors of high school.

    Please think back to your elementary school days and remember the kids come first.

  • NewToAlameda says:

    Has anyone run the numbers to examine the effect that students leaving the public school system will have on all of these scenarios? My understanding is that all the closure scenarios contemplate that the same number of students will enroll in the Alameda public schools, but if a statistically significant percentage of families opt out of public school altogether, the expected funding for AUSD goes down and the numbers may still be unworkable.

    This is why closure of schools like Franklin and Edison is such a hot button issue. A decent number of families who use these schools could probably find the money in their household budgets to go to private school. If they opt out, it means less funding for everyone who is left in the system. And the current uncertainty is more likely to make people just run. I’m lucky enough to have a child who is still several years away from school age, so I can afford to wait and see how things turn out before making any decisions about where she should enroll. But others aren’t so lucky.

  • Neal_J says:

    And now for something completely different:

    The incumbent school board has proven incapable of either managing its resources and thoughtful planning (beyond pure scare tactics and a seemingly never-ending string of parcel taxes). Surely, the former and present school board have done NOTHING to adddress the State funding formula that has not increased per-pupil spending despite the departure of the NAS a decade ago.

    Given that, why NOT allow the state to take over the schools?

    Since local control has produced few successes, perhaps a State-appointed administrator might (a) manage the district better and/or (b) secure additional State funds.

    Surely, a state administrator couldn’t do much worse than the current crew.

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