There is one election in Oakland this year, for the District 5 school board and election day is tomorrow, Tuesday November 7. With a divided board, the person elected will have the opportunity to cast a deciding vote. With so much at stake, we wanted to hear directly from the candidates so voters and the public can better understand their views and plans for their time in office. Students will be those most affected by the decisions the board makes, so we collected student questions from the Oakland Youth Commission to ask candidates Sasha Ritzie-Hernandez and Jorge Lerma. Look out for one more post on restorative justice. Here’s what the candidates had to say about school safety, graduation rates, charter schools, and the school to prison pipeline.
What is your stance on school closures, and how do you plan to vote on future proposals regarding consolidations?
I do not like the idea of school closures whatsoever. The reason why I say that is because historically it has never proved that we’ve been able to save a significant amount of money by closing our schools. But what we can see is the harm that our school closures have had in the Oakland community, and I’m one of them. Just recently, this is not an OUSD school, but my university closed, which is Holy Names University. I met my wife there, I got my degree there, I was so happy that I had a university in our town that had an incredible education department that was a pipeline for teachers in Oakland. I know firsthand, just recently, what an impact closing schools can have. From visiting schools to just seeing the trauma, just seeing the, I don’t know if I’m trying to look for the right word, because what I’m hearing from schools, specifically when they share campuses, is this fear of merger, because our schools are different, they all have their own identity, they have their own culture, they have their own personality. I’m not comfortable with our students fearing that their school won’t be open, that this is not going to be long term, that we continue to lose the trust of our families. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with school closures unless there’s a very robust community engagement process where we don’t tell the community that we’re closing their schools right at the end of the school year when they can no longer organize, because I’ve been part of that, too. I’ve been supporting the anti-closure movement for a while now. I think that robust community engagement will be necessary if there are going to be any closures. Impact analysis should also be conducted. I don’t think any school should be closed unless we hear directly from the community how this will impact their lives. In addition to that, I don’t think that OUSD in the past had a solid plan on how to support the students transition, and those transitions, we lose a lot of students to charter schools. So if we have a merger, those two schools don’t always see eye to eye so a lot of our students end up not going to the next school, which is something that happened with Roots and CCPA. I don’t want to see more students leave our district as a result of the lack of engagement of our families and community or because we don’t have a solid plan on how we are going to retain our students, because that is something that I have never seen from OUSD, have a solid plan on how to engage community or how to retain our students when there’s a school closure. Most importantly, historically, Oakland has closed majority Black and Brown schools. There has to be an equitable way to do this, and it doesn’t always have to come at the expense of Black and Brown students.
I understand. I don’t look forward to school closures. I’m not promoting school closures. Because I understand the schools, the real estate that they’re on, where they’re located, is a legacy issue. It’s a gift from when Oakland was more of an industrial city, when it was an agricultural center and we had these large tracts of land, and we had the population to sustain the schools. But that’s no longer the case. People are leaving Oakland because of the high rents. The jobs are no longer industrial jobs. We have a problem with gentrification. We have an issue with high rents. We’re losing children in the inner city. We need to reinvest in schools to keep them open, because as I said earlier, when students leave a school because the parents feel that it’s low achieving, or underperforming, and they go across town to take their student to another school, while they’re not doing it intentionally, schools are kept open because every student represents a monetary resource (it’s about $15,000, more or less). So when a student leaves a particular school, or the family leaves the location, they also take what represents as a financial resource to another school. So no, I don’t look forward to closing schools, but there may be a way to repurpose our schools, so that if they need to be modified or changed, they can continue to serve the community as clinics, as training sites, as parent education sites, small hospitals. What I like to see is the school sites themselves become a place where maybe we can consider housing for the homeless, or we can consider housing for our employees classified and certificated. It’s a complicated issue. Am I going to run to close the school? No, there’s got to be a lot of study and research. If we have to do it, how can we do it in the way that most benefits the community and least hurts our students?