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Related Categories: East Bay | Education & Student Activism
Oakland Community Fights Racist School Closures
by Bill Hackwell (hckwll [at] cs.com)
Wednesday Feb 11th, 2004 10:38 AM
Oakland Schools Already in Crisis Now Face Closures of 6 Schools
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On February 4, parents, teachers, students, community members and their supporters rallied outside the state office building in Oakland to fight the projected closure of five public schools. The four elementary schools and one elementary / middle school are comprised of predominantly African American and Latino students. The closures would force approximately 1,000 students to travel long distances from their homes to new, already over crowded, schools. Working parents would have to fear for the safety of their children who will have to cross some of Oakland' busiest streets if the closures take place. Each of the schools is part of Oakland's "small schools" program, implemented by the community in 1999 to help raise student achievement levels. All five schools have raised their test scores over the past three years. The Coalition Against School Closures has formed to fight the closures and raise the community’s demand for equal quality education.

Despite the public outcry, state school administrator Randolph Ward insists the schools must be closed in the name of “fiscal solvency.” Ward is the unelected Trustee of Oakland schools, brought in in June, when the state of California took over the economically struggling local school district and stripped the Oakland school board of its authority. His first act was to impose a 4% wage cut on Oakland teachers and lay off more than 60 school custodians. Ward is notorious for his 6-year reign over the Compton schools in Los Angeles. His austerity programs there froze the wages of the worst paid teachers in the Los Angeles area and busted the school bus drivers union. He is on record prefering the hiring of Emergency Credentialed teachers over veteran teachers, another union-busting and cost-cutting tactic. In 1998 he imposed one of the harshest implementations in the state of the anti-immigrant Proposition 227 law on the majority Latino Compton schools. Ward has also been a registered member of the right-wing libertarian American Independent Party, which advocates stripping away affirmative action and bilingual education.

Ward, who makes over $250,000 a year in his new Oakland position, was recommended by Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, the magnate of the racist gentrification of Oakland’s oppressed communities. Ward is rumored to be planning a sell-off of the Oakland Public Schools Administration building, which sits on valuable lakeside property, to Oakland developers. The Feb. 4 rally marched to city hall to meet with Jerry Brown, where security guards promptly blocked the doors to protect the mayor from the community.

As the capitalist crisis leads to local budget crunches across the country, more and more cities are implementing cuts in vital services, including school closures from Boston to Detroit to San Jose. The Oakland school closures are estimated to save $1.28 million. Meanwhile, the corporations that dominate downtown Oakland continue to reap huge profits. Golden West Financial / World Savings made $953 million in profits last year, and Clorox made $320 million. (Clorox also won a $8.79 million contract in Iraq.)

After 1,000 angry parents and community members turned out to a hearing on Jan. 8, Ward backtracked and took 8 of the 13 proposed schools off the chopping block. But the community is continuing the fight to save the remaining 5 schools, kick Ward out of Oakland, and demand their right to equal education.

-Nancy Mitchell