OUSD Considers Moving Forward with New Complex

Tuesday December 11, 2007

The Oakland Unified School District interim state administrator and—with one notable exception—the members of Oakland’s Board of Education have agreed to take up consideration of a proposed $75.5 million education complex on the east lake site currently occupied by the district’s aging and earthquake-unsafe administrative headquarters and five district-run education institutions. 

District officials are scheduled to hear a final report on the proposed financing for the complex at the administrator-board meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 12, beginning at approximately 6 p.m., at the district headquarters at 1025 2nd Ave. in Oakland. 

If approved, the proposed Second Avenue Educational Complex would completely rebuild four of the five educational institutions on the 8.25 acre site—La Escuelita Elementary, MetWest High School, Centro Infantil Child Development Center, and Yuk Yau Child Development Center—as well as the current administration complex.  

Dewey High School, the fifth school on the site, is housed in a relatively new building. The rebuilding of the new administrative complex is not included in the $75.5 million price tag of the complex.  

“No schools owned by the district are in as dilapidated condition as those four schools are,” Board President David Kakishiba said when the issue came before the board last month. “It’s an embarrassment to the district, and it’s less than a football field away from our administrative headquarters. It’s indicative of the worst images of OUSD.” 

A large group of parent and student supporters of the complex held signs and gave testimony in favor of the project during the meeting. 

Under the district’s state receivership, interim state administrator Vincent Matthews has sole and final approval of the project, but he has said that he will do so only after the board takes an advisory vote on the matter. 

Funding for the complex is expected to come from OUSD Measure A and Measure B facilities bond monies. In 2003, the district set aside $22 million for the rebuilding of La Escuelita from Measure A, and although Measure B monies are more restricted because the bond measure passed with a list of proposed projects, OUSD Facilities Manager Timothy White told board members last month that the district “has some latitude” in setting new Measure B projects. 

District staff members said that the district may qualify for approximately $50 million in state school modernization money which it had previously thought it was ineligible for, some of which could be used for the education complex. White also said that the additional money could come from developer fees from the proposed Oak To Ninth housing and commercial complex, which will be served by La Escuelita.  

OUSD’s state administration was criticized by board members and the public for failing to request developer fees from the Oak To Ninth project when the project was first considered and approved by the Oakland City Council. The district may get a second chance at requesting those fees, however, now that a Superior Court judge has ruled that Oak To Ninth must go back through the Oakland Planning Commission and Oakland City Council approval process due to deficiencies in the project’s Environmental Impact Report. 

Board members have been almost all universally supportive of the project, which was introduced by board member Noel Gallo last spring during the height of the controversy over State Superintendent Jack O’Connell’s decision to sell the east lake property to an east coast developer to help pay down the district’s debt to the state. O’Connell later broke off negotiations with the developer after intense opposition to the proposed sale throughout Oakland, and then state administrator Kimberly Statham agreed to move forward with Gallo’s proposal for developing the property. 

The sole exception to board support has been Board Member Kerry Hamill, who was skeptical of the project when it was first proposed last spring. Hamill said at the time that she thought the district should sell at least some of the east lake property to help the district get back on its financial feet. 

Criticizing the lack of specific funding sources when the proposal was presented to the interim administrator and board last week, Hamill said, “I’d feel more comfortable if we had a more detailed financing plan and breakdown. There is a very emotional and passionate group of parents here tonight concerned about the four schools on the proposed site. But we have to be concerned about the 90 additional schools in the district, and whether this project will jeopardize the financing of those.”