OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — School closures, budget cuts and a teacher strike are all possibilities as the Oakland Unified School District faces a deficit of up to $30 million. Students said that what really hangs in the balance is their future, not just their education.

Oakland’s Roots Academy and up to 24 other public schools are in danger of shutting down, which would impact many jobs and the lives of several students.

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“One of our demands is for them to support college and career readiness. If that’s not supported, I don’t think any graduating senior will feel like they’re ready for life after high school. Ready to get a job, or even go to college and be in that dynamic,” said Jonathan Piper, a senior at Skyline High School.

Piper and other student leaders are worried because of what changes might occur due to the budget cuts. On Wednesday evening, the school board will hear how that is proposed to happen—the changes could include school closures and program funding cuts.

It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s the reality the district faces, officials said.

“We are going to do as much as we can to keep the cuts as far away from the students as possible. That being said, there’s a lot of cuts that are going to have to be made,” said John Sasaki, a spokesman for OUSD.

“We’re always working with out students. We’re always trying to find the best way forward,” he said.

Knowing that, these student leaders came up with priorities of their own to let the board know where they stand. They understand the math, but hope their input will avoid a negative impact on the classroom.

Their priorities are student leadership, teacher quality and retention, college and career programs along with mental health and wellness.

“If these are cut, there will be more suspension, more dropouts. Students won’t be eligible for college in the four years they have in high school and there’s a whole multitude of things that can go wrong if we don’t see action,” said Piper.

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Wednesday night’s meeting was the first in a series; on Jan. 28, the district will decide which middle school(s) to cut and on Jan. 30, the budget will be finalized.

Angry students, teachers and parents stormed into the meeting and shut it down before forming a circle to share their experiences and demand answers from board members.

Roseann Torres was one board member who was swayed by the protests. “I vote for Roots to stay open,” she said.

School Board president Jody London would not share her vote.

Despite the chants at a protest earlier in the day, teachers said the school closures are a tipping point in the battle against the district.

“We’re ready to strike for that because we cannot take the disrespect to equal rights for Oakland,” said Tania Keppner, a teacher at Oakland Tech.

The school district said Oakland teachers haven’t been coming back to the bargaining table to discuss a potential raise; they may vote to go on strike in February.

 

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KPIX 5 reporters Emily Turner and Christin Ayers contributed to this story.