As the school board comes back into session, and it’s most strategically important decisions loom. You have to ask whether they will actually do something besides bickering into inaction. Early signs are troubling. One example can illuminate the whole situation.
A District With Immense Wealth that Can’t Pay the Bills
OUSD is one the largest landowners in the City, it has several sites that are not used at all by anyone, the district pays upkeep on these buildings. One of these properties, 1025 2nd Ave, is prime real estate, and other sites are too. It also has 12,000 empty seats in the buildings it does use, 10% of its land is totally undeveloped, and half of its 525 acres is outdoor space associated with schools. The real estate market is as hot as it has ever been. They are sitting on billions of dollars in property, some of it completely unused, and yet the district is broke.
We also have a housing crisis, for our staff and families. And who has land—OUSD.
But when the so called 7-11 Committee met to discuss the surplussing of land for other uses. What did we hear?
That the critics were going to “shut it down,” just like the last time OUSD tried to use its surplus land. We heard wild conspiracy theories about how OUSD deliberately flooded its own offices, so they could presumably sit empty for years and the district could to pay rent for 1000 Broadway, where they currently are. And we got a fight over the minutes of the last meeting.
After 15 minutes of that, I had to stop watching. I have seen this trainwreck before, and it always ends the same way. OUSD is locked in conflict and can’t make any decisions—which means we just keep ambling aimlessly into financial and academic ruin.
Meanwhile you have other districts like San Francisco Unified, that just did housing for youth facing extreme challenges, and rent a piece of their land for $2,500,000 a year to the Westfield Mall. They also used a school site for homeless family housing. There a lot of creative partnerships out there that can benefit the district and the students and families, and leaving these resources idle just seems idiotic.
But Oakland would rather sit and pay for empty buildings, money by the way that is diverted from classrooms, and do more of nothing. Meanwhile we are still in an academic and financial crisis, not to mention the housing crisis.
It’s well documented how classified staff can’t afford to live anywhere near Oakland, that 50% of kids that age out of foster care are homeless 6 months later, that 70% of the homeless in Oakland are Black, and that we have over a 1,000 unhoused students in OUSD.
So having 50 acres of totally undeveloped land, multiple empty buildings, and 12,000 empty seats should help solve some of these problems.
Shame on us if we can’t put the resources to work for our children, families and staff. And shame on the Board and the 7-11 Committee if they allow this to be one more missed opportunity, whose cost will be borne by the children and families that can least afford to do so.