At its February 14 meeting, the Board of Education voted to phase out sixth through eighth grades at Bay Farm School (BFS) over two years by not assigning a sixth-grade class for the next school year. Students currently enrolled can finish there and graduate as eighth graders. The Board also voted to incrementally change the funding source for innovative programs at Maya Lin and Earhart elementary schools from the General Fund to alternate sources such as Proposition 28 funds.
Arguing for phasing out sixth through eighth grades at BFS and shifting the funding source for innovative programs, Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi said:
- AUSD operates more schools than similar-sized districts.
- District enrollment is declining and is expected to outpace increases in students from new housing.
- AUSD spends more per special education student relative to the rest of the county
- Employee salaries and benefits are not competitive.
- Numerous services are currently not funded through stable sources. The District lacks a full-day kindergarten, an elementary school schedule driven by instructional goals rather than limited specialist staffing, and structures to support African American student outcomes. Many counselors are funded with limited-term dollars, and the District would like to expand student mental health services.
- New money received is offset by increasing costs. Increases in the Consumer Price Index and state pension costs result in little new revenue remaining to address programming and compensation.
Superintendent Scuderi noted that the Board and staff discussed budget priorities back in 2018 and comments at that time raised questions about whether AUSD offered too many schools.
Twenty-nine speakers commented. Most argued for delaying the closure of Bay Farm School’s middle school grades, but some voiced support. Some asked the District to define its alternate funding sources for the innovative elementary programs before cutting general funding.
Many argued AUSD was not following the California Department of Education’s Best Practices Guide for closing a school. Neil said the guide called for an independent district advisory committee, and Daria added that the guide recommended a longer process. Martin noted that the Board was making a decision five weeks after publicly proposing closure on January 10. He said, “This is not how a public entity should operate.” Erica agreed this created a “rupture of trust.”
Conversely, Alex noted that the initial approval for BFS middle school grades stipulated a minimum of 60 students in sixth grade each year; BFS has met that target only twice. Andrew argued that BFS’s middle school grades disproportionately use resources, and Sarah wanted to fund full-day kindergarten and more counselors.
Board Vice President Megan Sweet said the challenges Scuderi discussed aren’t new and had been discussed in 2018. She added they weren’t voting to close BFS but to roll back grades six through eight, which had opened on the condition that the program be cost-neutral. However, she noted, the school has been unable to maintain sufficient enrollment despite outreach to fifth graders. She said the strength of a K-8 program is that students have continuity for that period, but given that many BFS fifth graders leave for other middle schools, the school isn’t realizing its vision.
Student Board Member Vinnie Camarillo said he understood there were discussions in 2018, but there should have been communication starting at the beginning of the current school year. Board Member Ryan LaLonde agreed that the topic of cuts needs to be more transparent. While Board Member Gary Lym agreed on the need for phase-out, he wanted to delay it by one year to give parents time to transition.
President of the Board of Education Heather Little said the 2018 Board had discussed the issues but chose to push them down the road, resulting in significant fiscal implications. Board Member Jennifer Williams added that the Bay Farm PTA has long struggled to address BFS’s low enrollment in sixth through eighth grades without success.
The Board voted 4-1 to phase out BFS sixth through eighth grades over the next two years, with Board Member Lym voting against it. The Board also voted to incrementally change the funding source for innovative programs at Maya Lin and Earhart elementary schools from the General Fund to alternate sources, with Board Member LaLonde voting against the change for Maya Lin.
AUSD indicates that the District will support families enrolled in next year’s BFS sixth grade program at the District’s other middle school options. The District says it will redirect savings from the phase-out to full-day kindergarten, elementary school specialist staffing to help struggling students, and maintaining and possibly expanding the number of middle and high school counselors.
Contributing writer Karin K. Jensen covers boards and commissions for the Alameda Post. Contact her via [email protected]. Her writing is collected at https://linktr.ee/karinkjensen and https://alamedapost.com/Karin-K-Jensen.