Emeryville parents and residents have done a lot to try and convince the Emeryville School District Board of Trustees to save Anna Yates Elementary School. For several years, dissenters have publicly and privately raised their objections to the Board’s plan to combine grades K-12 on one campus and close Anna Yates. A letter signed by 12 residents, including current PTO members and the former presidents of both the PTO and the District’s Board of Trustees, was sent to Board members last May urging them to keep Anna Yates students where they are. Meanwhile, more than 60 people signed a Change.org petition in support of that letter and many made comments next to their signatures explaining their reasons for wanting to save Anna Yates. The school recently underwent a renovation costing almost $9 million.
In response, this is what the Board of Education has done: Nothing.
So it came as no surprise to parents and residents attending last Monday’s Board meeting when – after detailed presentations and impassioned pleas to preserve Anna Yates – the Board again did nothing.
Actually, this is what they did:
- Appeared friendly, open, and smiled a lot
- Listened politely to each speaker (until 3 minutes was up)
- Responded (for a lot longer than 3 minutes) by giving their arguments in support of abandoning Anna Yates
- First reading of a resolution to appoint a task force to ponder what to do with the Anna Yates building once it’s abandoned
- Agreed to beef up their public relations efforts
- Practiced public relations by mingling with audience members during a break to say hello and shake hands and
- Thank them all for coming …
What they didn’t do:
- Address in any meaningful way the objections raised by the audience, particularly those related to money
- Agree to take another look at their plan and consider keeping Anna Yates operating as an elementary school
- Genuinely and respectfully acknowledge speakers’ concerns and what will be lost with the closing of Anna Yates
Brian Carver, a lawyer and professor at UC Berkeley who has two children in the school district, gave a thorough and detailed presentation listing the main reasons parents and residents object to closing Anna Yates. Click here for the text of his comments, and here for his PowerPoint presentation. These were his key points:
- History: A school has been located at the site since 1886, 10 years before Emeryville incorporated as a city
- The site at 41st between San Pablo Avenue and Adeline Street is ideal for a school. It’s in a neighborhood near two main arterial streets, but is not on a main street. This provides a nice balance of convenience and seclusion.
- Recent multi-million dollar upgrade at Anna Yates has made the school inviting and attractive, at a scale welcoming to families. The small size is especially reassuring to parents of new kindergarteners. Parents get the sense they could get to know everyone at the school and that their child would be safe there.
- The data: The Board argues that this new K-12 campus is best for the students based on the best “data.” But in this case, the data is not conclusive. While it shows that some students experience achievement drops after a transition (from one school to another), it does not show an absence of solutions to that transitional drop, or whether its effect is anything more than temporary. More importantly, there is contradictory data that grade configuration itself (ie K-12) is not what matters for student achievement.
- Fiscal concerns, of which there are many:
- The District just spent $9 million to upgrade Anna Yates, to then abandon it for a new expensive campus.
- Measure J’s $95 million in construction bonds (which will go toward paying for the new K-12 campus on the site of the existing high school, which will be torn down) maxes out Emeryville’s bonding capacity and city taxpayers will be paying these bonds off for the next 40 years.
- Construction of the new campus and the entire Emeryville Center of Community Life (ECCL) is no longer fiscally sound. Emeryville’s assessed valuation declined by 6.62%, significantly decreasing the District’s ability to issue the approved bonds. Just recently, the State Department of Finance withdrew the $22 million slated to fund the city portion of ECCL, which was to include a recreation center, social services offices, and other community facilities.
- The envisioned $120 million dollar project currently has only $48.5 million in funding.
Despite all these reasons, Carver said, the “project seems to march on … with no realistic assessment of the stark reality we now face.”
Resident Joan Strasser was sympathetic to the Board in making her plea that they rethink their grand plan for the Emeryville Center of Community Life: “Sometimes we have to dig deep into ourselves,” she said. “I know how difficult it can be to give up our dreams. But, sometimes, a new door can open.”
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