Will an Oakland school’s campus become housing?
Despite massive public pushback, Oakland’s only expulsion school is set for closure. Staff there are worried the site could be developed into housing. Their worries could be justified, as OUSD spokesperson said Board of Education President Gary Yee is looking into such a project.
Staff who work at Community Day School, which Oakland Unified School District’s Board has scheduled for closure at the end of the academic year, expressed frustration to this reporter about the possibility of the site’s campus being developed into housing. According to OUSD Director of Communication John Sasaki, Board president Gary Yee has been looking to develop the site.
“Board President Gary Yee has been open about his desire to look at the Community Day School site as a possible location for the creation of educator housing,” Sasaki wrote in an email to this reporter. “He continues to explore that idea.”
Yee visited the site during school hours on February 25. Joshua Simon, whose work history includes real estate development and consulting for non-profit organizations, accompanied him.
Yee did not respond to two emails requesting his comment on this story that included questions related to his visit to the school. Simon stated that he did not join Yee during the site visit in any professional capacity.
“As a person with a career of working on nonprofit community benefit projects, I am often asked for my advice,” he wrote in an email to this reporter. “In this case, I had no advice to give. I met with Mr. Yee as a private citizen.”
School Administrative Assistant Sandra Backer said neither Yee nor Simon signed in to the school’s visitor log book. Staff members objected to the duo coming onto campus unannounced and without signing.
“It was very disrespectful and showed a disregard for the policy and safety of our school,” said Community Day English Teacher Vernon ‘Trey’ Keeve III. “If you’re visiting a public school grounds, the first thing you should do is sign in.”
Rachel Machtinger, a therapist who works at the school said she “felt angry about them thinking they were just entitled to come onto the campus unannounced.”
In an email Yee sent to Community Days’ principal, which was then forwarded to staff, Yee apologized and stated “It was insensitive of me to come during the school day and without letting you know in advance.”
Keeve speculated that Yee was checking out the land for a possible development project. This upset Keeve, in part because Yee had not visited the school in recent months, as the board was considering whether or not to close the school.
“It felt like a blatant slap in the face,” Keeve said. “So he has time to come by and survey the land but he doesn’t have time to visit us and see the work we do here? When you consider where our campus is located, it would be a great view if anything gets built there.”
Community Day sits in Oakland’s Leona Heights neighborhood, which features a park in a densely forested redwood groove.
To create housing on its 17 acre campus, Community Day would first have to be closed. Workers and a student at the school have spoken out recently against their schools’ planned closure, saying that the site serves a unique purpose that can’t be replaced. Community Day is the only school in Oakland that expelled students can attend in person as they work to clear their expulsion with the district.
Recently thousands of community members have been pushing back against school closures in Oakland, including Community Day’s. Since five Board Directors, including Yee, voted to formally request the district recommend a list of schools for consolidation in mid-January, they’ve seen pushback from staff, parents, students and community members in the form of protests, teacher and student walkouts, a hunger strike, and over a thousand e-comments and comments against closures before and during meetings. The community has specifically objected to the closures disproportionate effect on Black and Latinx students. Two Board Directors, Mike Hutchinson and VanCedric Williams, have also repeatedly voted against closures. During meetings last month, despite the pushback, the board voted to close, merge or downsize 11 schools over the next two years and then voted against a resolution to delay considering closures set to occur at end of this school year for an additional year.
After the votes, pushback has continued in the hopes that school closures still can be stopped. On March 5, hundreds took to the streets to protest the planned closure of Oakland schools. Oakland’s Education Association is also continuing to pursue legal action to stop the closures by filing an unfair labor practice charge accusing the district of violating a deal they reached in 2019 that requires a one year engagement process before any closures can occur.
To lease or sell Community Day’s campus for housing, the district would also need to form a new 7–11 Committee of community members who would then have to declare its campus as surplus property. There is a recent history of the district forming such a committee, declaring OUSD property as surplus, and then leasing property for housing.
A 7–11 Committee was formed in 2019 and met from May through December of that year. In 9–1 and 6–4 decisions, that committee voted to declare two vacant OUSD properties, a former adult school and a former child development center, as “surplus.” On June 30 of last year, OUSD’s Board then voted 5–2, with Yee voting yes, to lease these properties for 65 years to Eagle Environmental Construction Inc., a private company who plans to construct market rate units, a job training site for residents, and subsidized housing. The lease stipulates at least half of housing units will be set aside for OUSD employees. Members of Oakland Education Association and SEIU Local 1021 spoke out against the lease during that meeting.
Machtinger, along with Keeve, expressed displeasure at the idea of turning Community Day’s campus into housing and coupling that plan with educator housing. Machtinger felt that profit could be a main motivating factor in such a development.
“It feels dubious to me because it’s such attractive real estate,” she said.
Keeve felt that creating educator housing wouldn’t address the root cause of teacher’s not making a livable wage in Oakland.
“If there’s ever something capitalism would do, it would be to create ‘teacher housing,’” they said. “Teachers should just be paid a livable wage for the places they live in. It seems like a weird band-aid to put on that gaping wound.”
Keeve said they thought living in “teacher housing” would make it difficult to create a separation between work and leisure. They wouldn’t want to live around a group of people who do the same job as them because it would remind them of work.
“I love my colleges and collaborating with other educators while I’m at work,” they said. “But I also create boundaries.”
These days, the future of Community Day remains unclear, Yee has not publicly declared any plans to pursue housing on the site, and Keeve remains focused on teaching.
“Right now I just want the students to have a good time and get the things they need before the school year ends, and this place could close down,” they said.
Notes: A similar version of this story will be published by the Post News Group soon. Ken Epstein helped to edit this story.