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FAQs on Bay Farm Middle School and Other Program Considerations

As AUSD, the Board, and the Bay Farm community continue to discuss options for the school’s middle school program, we know that some people are upset and many people have questions.  The enrollment and budget factors involved in this consideration are fairly complex, so we have developed this FAQ to help community members understand some of what we’re looking at as we consider options for using our resources effectively, efficiently, and equitably.

Again, we are in full recognition that these proposals are difficult for stakeholders for a variety of reasons, and will strive to continuously improve our outreach on these critical issues.

Please note that this FAQ also has several questions about options for Maya Lin School and Earhart Elementary School, at the bottom. In addition, we will updating this document regularly to address emergent questions and data.

Bay Farm School

Why is AUSD considering phasing out Bay Farm School’s 6-8 program?

Over the last seven years, enrollment in the Bay Farm Middle School has steadily declined. This is reflected in both the 6th grade enrollment (which is not filling to capacity) and the number of students who leave after their 6th or 7th grade year, as shown in the graph below.

graph of enrollment

 While this graph does not show enrollment numbers for 2023-24, we do know that as of January 23, 55 fifth graders have applied to the middle school program. That breaks down into 25 current Bay Farm 5th graders, 26 AUSD students through open enrollment, and 4 students who reside in Alameda but are currently not enrolled in an AUSD school. Many families who have applied for Bay Farm Middle School have also applied for other middle school options. Families will be sent an acceptance letter for Bay Farm and any other program they have applied to and been accepted. They will have to accept their spot within two weeks. Once families commit to Bay Farm middle school it becomes their zoned middle school.

Why is that a problem?

Like districts and charter schools across the state, AUSD is experiencing declining enrollment and continuing to grapple with erratic and insufficient funding from the state government.  At the same time, AUSD is committed to reallocating and stabilizing funding across all sites so as to better support all students and staff, including those who traditionally have experienced inequitable opportunities and outcomes.

To ready the district for potential reductions in resources and better support all students, district leaders are evaluating programs and expenses system-wide, with a goal of:

1.     Discontinuing programs that are not cost-effective or effective and redistributing resources. We understand that ending programs can be difficult and upsetting.  In exchange for ending small or ineffective programs, however, we are proposing adding more middle and high school counselors, a longer-day program for all kindergartners, more collaboration time for teachers, and the continued pursuit of better funding for ongoing salary and benefits for educators district-wide, so that we can attract and retain the best staff across our schools. In other words, in order to serve more students more equitably, we are proposing restructuring and reallocating resources in a way that progressively frees up some revenue to stabilize or extend crucial programs and supports.

2.     Establishing equitable distribution of resources to fund our base program. By “base program” we mean fundamental resources provided at each school (or across each grade level) such as student-teacher ratios, student-admin ratios, and basic curricula and programs. General funds should be used on these base programs, not unique school programs.

How is this related to Bay Farm School’s 6-8 program?

Because of the low enrollment and high attrition, the average class sizes in Bay Farm’s middle school program hover around 23:1 as compared to our average middle school class size of 30 to 32 at other sites.

Unfortunately, based on current enrollment declines, we expect that enrollment in the Bay Farm program will continue to shrink, which will make the program even smaller and contribute to more inefficiencies at other middle schools.

What’s wrong with having a small program?

It’s not a question of right or wrong in our view, but whether we can and should support a few singular programs at this point in time with revenue that can better fund or stabilize additional needs and supports in places that serve much larger numbers of students.

Put another way, small programs can be more expensive to run when one examines class size and overall enrollment than larger programs. 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.

In addition, offering one program with small class sizes and a small student-to-counselor ratio to some students, while other middle school students are in larger classes and have less access to counselors, is inherently inequitable.

Finally, with declining enrollment across our middle schools, we need to consider whether we a) need and b) can support so many middle school programs in one district.

Doesn’t the fact that Bay Farm accepts students from all over the district make it equitable?

Bay Farm is open to middle school students from across the district, yes. This is called “open enrollment.” But geography makes the Bay Farm program inaccessible to many students -- both because of the distance and the lack of bus service. As such, a student who lives in central or west Alameda would have a harder time getting to the program, especially if their parent/guardian could not drive them. Wood Middle and Encinal Jr. Jets also offer open enrollment.

If the Bay Farm 6-8 program closes, what happens to the students who are enrolled there?

AUSD would not close the program all at once. Instead, it would phase out the program over two years, so that all students who are currently enrolled in Bay Farm’s middle school can finish their time there and graduate as 8th graders. We just won’t be accepting new students in the program.

Do Lincoln and Wood have room for Bay Farm students?

Every Bay Farm 6-8 student will be able to enroll in their zoned middle school, whether it’s Lincoln, Jr. Jets, or Wood Middle School.

Why did AUSD commit to constructing a classroom building at Bay Farm if the middle school program is going to close?

Even if the middle school program is phased out, Bay Farm School needs a new classroom building to replace aging portables on that site.

How much money will AUSD save?

We expect to save $300,000 to $500,000 closing the Bay Farm 6-8 program.  That covers the cost of the extra teachers we need to employ there due to the small class sizes at Bay Farm, as well as a part-time counselor, and extra custodial services.

Won’t you still have to employ the teachers, just at other sites?

Most likely we will need some but not all. That’s because we’ll be able to fill classes to the contractual capacity at the larger schools, which means a similar number of students can be supported with fewer staff at those sites.

Why isn’t AUSD willing to spend $300,000 on this school?

The problem is that we are using money from our general fund to provide a small school experience to a very small number of students. Technically, general fund money should only be used for base programs that all schools share, not a special program at one school.

In addition, we need to look at how we use our resources across the district to benefit the most students. WMS, for example, can accommodate another 150 students, and we are currently investing some $50 million in modernization there. Considering a phase-out of the Bay Farm Middle School program is the first step in trying to look at greater efficiencies and stabilizing our base costs across AUSD.

Why hasn’t AUSD promoted Bay Farm’s middle school program more?

AUSD promotes the open enrollment window for all schools. It does not provide extra promotion for certain programs.

Isn’t AUSD worried about losing student enrollment if it closes the Bay Farm middle school program?

Families should always choose the program that best suits their children. And historically, quite a few students leave AUSD after 5th grade and then return after 9th grade. The existence of the Bay Farm middle school program has not stopped that attrition. Moreover, a number of Bay Farm middle school students already leave after their 6th grade year.

I heard that non-AUSD students aren’t allowed to enroll in Bay Farm’s 6-8 program. Is that true?  

Non-AUSD students are definitely allowed to enroll in the Bay Farm 6-8 program and on the same timeline as AUSD students. After being accepted into Bay Farm, non-AUSD students need to enroll in AUSD (later in the spring) but this does not affect their ability or timeline for enrolling in the Bay Farm 6-8 program.

How can you say enrollment has dropped when there is always a waiting list?

While some years back there may have been temporary waiting lists, over the last several years, Bay Farm has accepted all students who wanted to attend the middle school program, and 6th grade enrollment has continued to drop; in addition, those 6th grade cohort/class sizes have declined steadily by 8th grade consistently for the past 7 school years.

Bay Farm has the highest ratio of IEP to administrators than any other school.  Why don’t you think about that kind of inclusion and equity?

This information is incorrect. Bay Farm’s middle school program has the same IEP to administrator ratio as Lincoln and Wood Middle School.

Why weren’t Bay Farm parents and staff consulted on this decision?

We'd like to emphasize that this decision has not yet been made and won’t be made until the February 14 Board of Education meeting. The idea of phasing out Bay Farm’s middle school program was first suggested to the Board of Education at its January 10 meeting. The idea will be revisited and discussed at the January 24 Board meeting. Superintendent Scuderi has also met with staff and has scheduled a staff and family meeting on January 26.  

Why can’t you zone Bay Farm Middle School to be the program for Bay Farm and Earhart students?

We are not seeing a strong interest in the Bay Farm Middle School from families of Bay Farm and Earhart 5th graders. For instance, as of January 23, 2023, only 25 Bay Farm 5th graders (of 78 total) had enrolled in the school's middle school program, and only seven Earhart 5th graders (of 89 total) had enrolled. That is not enough interest to zone all Earhart and Bay Farm students for the Bay Farm 6-8 program.

More broadly, AUSD is currently trying to decrease system-wide inefficiencies. To designate Bay Farm as a zoned middle school means providing a comprehensive middle school for Bay Farm School and Earhart Elementary School students, which in turn would entail upgrading the Bay Farm middle school program substantially and at a greater cost. That expansion would include adding electives (and staff for electives) as well as facilities expansions and upgrades.

This will create more inefficiencies in our program at a time when we think we may already have too many middle school programs for our population currently.

Maya Lin School

What changes are being proposed for Maya Lin School?

The district supports the art program at Maya Lin School but hopes that together, the district and site can identify alternative funding for the program as it is currently funded with general funds. Technically, general funds should be used on base programming across all sites, not additional or exclusive staffing at select sites.

Earhart Elementary School

What is being proposed for Earhart?

As with Maya Lin School, district staff support the music/science program at Earhart but would like to identify alternative funding, as it is currently funded by general funds. Technically, general funds should be used on base programming across all sites, not additional or exclusive staffing at select sites.

Aren’t innovative programs funded by the parcel tax?

The 2011 Measure A parcel tax, as well as its successor - Measure B1, provided funds for setting up innovative programs. However, that allocation was only meant to pilot the programs for the first three years, not sustain them in perpetuity. After the initial three-year pilot, these innovative programs are meant to be self-sustaining and not drawing money from our general fund.