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Oakland School District Officials Grapple With Budget Shortfall, Declining Enrollment

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- Oakland Unified School District is looking at consolidating, reconfiguring or even closing some schools. The district says they have to make some tough decisions to bridge budget deficits in the coming years.

OUSD has not said exactly how many schools and which schools will be affected. They will release a report in February which will name many of the schools affected.

So far, the district has only confirmed that Roots Middle School in East Oakland is facing closure. Many students there are upset that this will likely be their final school year there.

"A little disrespectful because from what I've seen, they have not been inside our classrooms to see our study sessions or what we've been learning about," said 8th grader Roberto Gutierrez. He says district educators should have talked to students and parents first before recommending Roots for closure.

Gutierrez says he really likes the school and credits his teachers for helping him improve his grades, "when I was in 5th grade, my SRI reading score was, like, under 600. This school really helped me get over 1,000."

His brother, 4th grader Jesus Gutierrez, is also disappointed with the potential closure. The elementary student was hoping eventually to attend Roots.

"If I go somewhere further, it's probably going to be more difficult 'cause it's going to take longer," said Jesus Gutierrez.

OUSD currently runs 86 schools. The district says it's looking to merge and possibly close some of them due to declining enrollment.

"While we have too many schools for not enough students, we have a budget deficit we have to deal with. So we have to right-size the district," said OUSD spokesman John Sasaki.

Sasaki said that, in the past 15 years, enrollment has dropped from roughly 51,000 to 37,000 students. The district lost a lot of students to charter schools. Also, housing prices pushed many families out of Oakland.

"It's not just about saving money, it's about consolidating resources so that we can produce better results."

But parents say the changes will cause big disruptions. Many parents fear kids will be transferred to schools farther away. Many students in Oakland come from low-income families. They say any additional transportation costs to get to- and from school will be a burden.

"It's going to be heartbreaking and a headache all the way around. Like I said, for me, I have to find another school," said parent Ricky Hackett, whose daughter is a 7th grader at Roots.

District educators say the downsizing process will last for quite a few years. The OUSD school board plans to vote and make a final decision on this latest round of school mergers and closures in May.

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