A standing-room-only crowd of 400 angry and tearful parents, children and teachers railed against the Oakland school board Tuesday night as it pushed forward a proposal to close five elementary schools and eliminate eight others through consolidation.
After about four hours of emotional public comment, the board members sent the plan out to the community for a month of public comment at school sites before they take an expected final vote on the mergers and closures in late October.
"You're psychologically damaging these children," said Mercedes Harrison, whose grandchildren attend Lakeview Elementary, one of the five on the closure list. "Kindergartners and first-graders, how do you explain this to them? How do you say, 'They're closing your school because it's not good enough?' "
Superintendent Tony Smith said his plan would save the district more than $2 million annually and bring the number of Oakland schools more closely in line with districts of similar size.
Oakland has 101 schools for 38,000 students, compared with San Jose Unified, which has 52 schools serving 32,000 students.
Yet similar districts with fewer schools are outperforming Oakland, Smith said Tuesday.
"The real reason for this is we have too many schools for the number of children we have," Smith said to a chorus of boos. "If we were outperforming those districts, that would be one thing."
Parents, however, countered that the board should consider shutting down district-authorized, low-performing charter schools that have drained the schools of 8,000 children over the last decade. Others criticized the district for recommending only the closure of schools in the flatlands, which are predominantly African American or Hispanic.