School closures in Oakland could be avoided under a new bill being considered in the state Assembly.

Assemblymember Mia Bonta, D-Oakland, introduced Assembly Bill 1912, which while it doesn’t stop the closure and consolidation plan Oakland school board members voted on this past Wednesday, could pave the way for avoiding it.

Assemblymember Mia Bonta. (Photo by Jeff Walters/Office of Assemblmember Bonta via Bay City News)

The bill also gives more time for the school district to show that it is solvent financially.

Bonta said her bill gives OUSD “a little grace” so they don’t have to make “potentially irreversible” decisions affecting mainly Black and Hispanic students during the pandemic.

Under Bonta’s bill, the school district would have another year to decide whether to consolidate schools.

Oakland teachers argue that the schools now slated for closure this year and next serve mainly Black students and that the school district has a pattern of aiming to close schools in Black and Hispanic communities.

The school district is planning this year to close Community Day School and Parker K-8 School, while eliminating grades six to eight at La Escuelita School and merging Rise Community School and New Highland Academy.

Next year, the district plans to close Carl Munck Elementary, Brookfield Elementary, Grass Valley Elementary, Horace Mann Elementary, and Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy. The district also plans to eliminate grades six to eight at Hillcrest Elementary School, which serves K-8 students now.

The school district’s plan is meant to address an expected budget deficit.

Funding to avoid school closures

“This kind of change is extremely difficult and upsetting to students, staff, and families,” OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammel said in a statement. “A stable school can be a second home for many students and the closure of any school is a major disruption.”

Bonta’s bill sends OUSD about $10 million that was in the prior year’s state budget, without an obligation to close or consolidate its schools, as is now required.

A spokesman for the school district was not immediately available to say how the district might use the money.

Oakland students, teachers, and residents as well as elected leaders like Bonta, who is running for reelection, and City Council President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao, who is running for mayor, oppose closing the schools.

Thousands listened to public comment and the school board’s contentious vote at its Feb. 8 meeting that ran into the wee hours of the following morning. Hundreds more people were not allowed to comment before the vote.

“None of these school closures is justified,” school board member Mike Hutchinson said this past Wednesday at a news conference about the school board’s decision. Hutchinson voted against the action by the board.

Sam Davis, Aimee Eng, Gary Yee and Shanthi Gonzales voted in favor, Samantha Pal, Clifford Thompson, and Natalie Gallegos Chavez abstained and VanCedric Williams also voted no.

Keith Burbank, Bay City News

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.