HAYWARD | Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney says the city is going nowhere fast unless it improves its consistently flagging schools.

“We’re at the bottom,” said Sweeney, while pointing to a chart before residents Wednesday at a neighborhood state of the city address. “We’re the lowest performing school in Alameda County. Take a long look at that. This is a big problem.”

State of the City, Jan. 30, Southland Mall
PHOTO/Natalia Aldana

If the city’s schools could merely rise to the level of its neighbor, Castro Valley, roughly in the middle of the pack among Academic Performance Index (API) scores in Alameda County, Sweeney believes many of the city’s financial ills could be instantly solved. “I would wager if Hayward schools were performing, at say, the levels Castro Valley schools are,” he said, “we wouldn’t have a structural deficit and you’re houses are probably worth $100,000 or more and our future is probably limitless.”

Like most cities, a majority of Hayward’s annual revenue comes from sales and property taxes. The steep decline of both in the past few years is a major reason why Hayward plowed ahead with deep cuts to services and staff following some of the largest deficits in the county.

Hayward’s moribund, but potentially prosperous downtown, however, may be the victim of “unrealistic expectations” when it comes property owners’ demands for rent, Sweeney said. While the city’s industrial areas may offer businesses bargains, Sweeney believes downtown property owners, some of whom live locally, he forcefully noted, are holding out for greater rent demands, while empty storefronts are scattered across the city.

When it comes to education, the Hayward Unified School District has been at or near the bottom in student API scores for the last five years, says Sweeney, yet the mayor and City Council’s hands are tied in making more than incremental progress since the school district is overseen by a separate elected school board. “However,” said Sweeney, “it’s on all of us, because we put those people in office.”

But, Sweeney is skeptical about the current leadership at the school district led by Superintendent Donald Evans. “I’m not sure the school district is clear about their priorities.” He added he is unsure there is accountability from the school superintendent down to teachers on a clear directions for the school district.

The schools will not improve, says Sweeney, unless residents communicate with the school board in a “vigorous manner” and parents strive to take a more hands-on role in their children’s education. “There needs to be a constituency that is willing to raise holy hell,” Sweeney said. “If there is not, then it’s going to be tough.” However, Sweeney noted the lack of outrage by residents over the affair last year between two sitting school board members, which allowed the board to virtually run out the clock without ever dealing with the issue in a public manner.

“We now have two new members who could make a difference, but, we’ll see,” said Sweeney, referencing Annette Walker and John Taylor. “I think we all try to be hopeful after each election, but how many times have we been burned?”