The parents of Lazear Elementary School in Oakland are famous for their fight. They went on strike in the 1990s to protest substandard facilities -- and again in 2010, saying the district was acting far too slowly to remove a bad teacher.

So last fall, after the Oakland school board voted to close the Fruitvale-area school as part of a downsizing plan, it was no surprise when the parents announced that they planned to open a charter school in its place. Most of the children at Lazear walk to school, and they said there weren't enough spaces in nearby schools to accommodate them.

During a meeting in late March, the school board appeared to signal its support for their cause, especially in light of transportation concerns. But on Wednesday night, Lazear parents learned their struggle wasn't over. In a split vote, the Oakland school board voted down the charter petition.

"I know the tide has shifted," Hae-Sin Thomas, director of the Education for Change charter management organization, told the board before the decision. "I've been in this district long enough to know when tides shift."

The financial impact of a proposed charter school is not grounds for denying its petition under California charter school law.


Advertisement

But, based on the school board members' public remarks Wednesday, a fiscal analysis released this week by the district's financial services department appeared to influence the vote.

If Lazear became a charter school, according to the analysis, the district would lose more than $1.4 million in state funding. Superintendent Tony Smith told the board that Lazear's charter conversion would wipe out any additional money that the district was planning to give its schools in 2012-13 as a result of the school closure savings.

As Smith was quick to note, the school district's charter schools office did originally conclude that the Lazear petition for a K-8, science-focused school didn't meet its standards.

Still, parents and charter advocates -- and even board member Alice Spearman -- have argued that the board should not have considered the fiscal impact of the conversion.

"I think it was pretty clear that the decision was made based on fiscal considerations," said Kate Nicol, of the Oakland Charter School Collaborative.

While no course of action had been decided, she said, "It's a cause for grave concern when there's flagrant disregard for the law."

Many a tear was shed during the meeting, and not just from parents. Board member Jumoke Hinton-Hodge -- who nevertheless voted against the charter -- became choked up as she expressed her frustrations with how families were treated in the post-closure transition process.

Spearman, who often votes against charters, took the side of the Lazear families.

"This community has fought and dug and scraped and carried on for over 20 years to maintain that little piece of dirt next to the freeway, next to the gas station. I don't know why," she said. "But that's how that community is."

Olga Gonzalez, who has three children at Lazear and a fourth about to start kindergarten, said the apparent rationale behind the decision stung. "Just seeing them change their minds over the numbers -- that's heartbreaking," she said.

Gonzalez said it was likely the parents would appeal the decision to the county board of education.

"We don't ever take 'no's,' " she said. "We'll keep going."

Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at www.IBAbuzz.com/education. Follow her at Twitter.com/katymurphy.