School Board Votes to End Bay Farm Middle School

Google Images -- The AUSD Board of Education voted, 4-1, to eliminate the middle school at Bay Farm School after the 2024-2025 school year.
Google Images -- The AUSD Board of Education voted, 4-1, to eliminate the middle school at Bay Farm School after the 2024-2025 school year.

School Board Votes to End Bay Farm Middle School

At its Feb. 14 meeting, the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Education voted, 4-1, to phase out the middle school program at Bay Farm School (BFS).

According to the phase out plan, BFS will not offer sixth grade classes for the 2023-24 school year. Current sixth and seventh graders will be able to complete middle school at BFS during the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 school years.

At the meeting, AUSD Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi gave a presentation in favor of the phase out plan. His presentation included six resource challenges AUSD faces:
• Operating more schools and programs than similar-sized districts.
• Declining district enrollment.
• Higher than average special education costs.
• Keeping employee salaries and health benefits competitive.
• Needs and services such as a full-day kindergarten program, expanded mental health services for all AUSD students and more that are currently not funded through stable sources.
• Higher costs offsetting increases in new money.

As a result, the district questioned whether they should offer four middle school programs and if the benefits of BFS’ small K-8 program outweighed other district-wide needs.

Current enrollment figures at BFS show the middle school program, particularly the sixth-grade class, is far short of its student capacity. According to AUSD, BFS’s sixth-grade capacity is 64 students. However, there are just 48 sixth graders at BFS for the 2022-2023 school year and the district believes this number will continue to decline. According to a California Department of Education report, AUSD offers 11 schools for K-8 students that average 519 students per school. The Alameda County average is 549 students per k-8 school, and if you exclude Oakland and Hayward, it's 610 students per school.

AUSD released a FAQ report last month, detailing why small class sizes are financially problematic.

“Small programs can be more expensive to run when one examines class size and overall enrollment than larger programs,” stated AUSD. “That’s because a middle school class with only 22 students and a class with 32 students require the same level of staffing and infrastructure.”

AUSD said it will save between $300,000 to $500,000 if they close Bay Farm Middle School.

Scuderi and the board believe this money could be used to increase employee salaries and fund more equitable programs across the district such as special education programs and structures to support African American student outcomes.

More than a dozen community members spoke at the meeting. Most speakers wanted the district to delay the middle school closure.

“Along with two other parents I put forward a proposal to Superintendent Scuderi to delay this vote by one to two years and use the time to follow the state's best practice guide for school closures,” said Neil Dandavati, a parent of a BFS student. “The guide asks for the formation of an independent district advisory committee with a broad set of stakeholders to gather facts, weigh multiple factors and look at non-school closure options.”

However, AUSD Board President Heather Little reiterated that the district is not closing BFS, just eliminating the middle school program so they don't need to uphold the state's guideline.

AUSD Board member Gary Lym provided the lone dissenting vote.

“I would feel more comfortable if the community had more time to engage with the district or discuss a transition plan that takes effect in the 2024-25 school year,” Lym said. “I would like to keep the program intact for an additional year as we meet in the future to discuss the viability of a key program and whether it's at Bay farm or elsewhere on the island.”

Many speakers also expressed frustration with the perceived sudden decision to close the middle school at BFS and a lack of communication from the board to the school community. While Scuderi took responsibility for the lack of communication, AUSD Board member Jennifer Williams said this issue was not sudden and had been discussed for years.

“For folks to say they've been blindsided by this recommendation or that the program needs more time to grow, I respectfully disagree,” said Williams. “No one is questioning the efficacy of this program. But we are looking at budget decisions that impact an entire district of kids, not just a small number of families.”

In 2018, the board voted to forego a decision whether to close the program. A few speakers supported the middle school closure.

“I think at 137 students, the Bay Farm Middle School program hasn’t over the past decade met its enrollment targets and it's disproportionately using scarce resources,” said Andrew Wiedler, president of Encinal PTA. “We'd love to welcome impacted families to our campus and be part of the solution.”

AUSD will support students currently enrolled in next year’s BFS sixth-grade program to enroll in one of the district’s other middle schools. At the meeting, the board also voted to end the use of general funds for innovative programs at Amelia Earhart School and Maya Lin School.