School Board Eyes New Ballot Measure – Special Meeting Monday

Following the narrow defeat of the Measure K parcel tax for schools on June 5, the West Contra Costa school board will hold a special meeting Monday in El Cerrito on whether to survey public opinion on a new measure in November.

Facing an anticipated budget shortfall and a deadline for getting measures on the November ballot, the school board of the West Contra Costa Unified School District is considering whether to return to voters with another revenue measure.

The board has called a special meeting for 6:30 p.m. Monday at Harding Elementary School in El Cerrito to decide whether to conduct a public opinion survey for another potential parcel tax or a bond measure or both.

The move follows the parcel tax for schools in the June 5 primary election. The measure needed two-thirds of the votes to win and fell short with 65.52 percent, according to final returns from the Contra Costa County Elections Division.

"The Board has had to consider the impact of the loss of parcel tax funds on top of the devastating impact of the loss of $40 million in revenue over the last three years and the potential loss of another $12-13 million if the state tax measures (proposed by Gov. Brown on the November ballot) are not successful," says the agenda for the Monday board meeting. (The agenda is attached to this article.)

The meeting was proposed by board President Charles Ramsey.

Measure K won more than two-thirds in El Cerrito, Kensington and Richmond, and less than two-thirds in El Sobrante, Hercules, Pinole and San Pablo, according to a Patch tabulation of the final returns. A table below shows the exact totals and percent approval for each community.

The measure was intended in part to preserve smaller class sizes in the lowest three grades, K-2. Following its defeat, the school board this past Wednesday approved an increase in class size for those three grades as part of the fiscal 2012-13 budget. (For details, please see a separate Patch article published today on the board vote.)

Measure K would have raised an estimated $4 million a year by increasing the current parcel tax of 7.2 cents per square foot of building area to 10.2 cents. It would also have extended the tax for an additional three years past its current expiration date of June 30, 2014.

The current tax was first adopted by voters in 2004 and renewed with 79-percent voter approval in 2008. 

A parcel tax measure for West Contra Costa schools on the November 2010 ballot lost, receiving 59.36 percent approval. It needed two-thirds.

The board is also considering whether to place a bond measure on the ballot in November to upgrade seven schools that were not included in the previous bond measure passed in 2010. 

The list of schools that would be upgraded, along with more details about the proposed parcel tax and bond measures, can be found on the attached agenda for the meeting.

The deadline for placing measures on the November ballot is Aug. 10.

Final results of Measure K

These community totals and percent approval rates were tabulated by Patch from precinct-by-precinct totals listed in the elections results reports on the county's Elections Division Web site.

Yes No Total % Yes Kensington 1755 382 2137 82.12 El Cerrito 4764 1804 6568 72.53 Richmond 8828 4345 13173 67.02 San Pablo 1431 753 2184 65.52 El Sobrante 1304 1006 2310 56.45 Hercules 2001 1632 3633 55.08 Pinole 2013 1674 3687 54.60 All voters 23928 12594 36522 65.52

Note: the totals for all voters are greater than for the seven communities combined because they include unincorporated areas that are not part of these seven jurisdictions.

Betty Buginas June 30, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Anonymous, I agree with everything else in your comment, but people shouldn’t have to go to board meetings to know what is going on in the district. It’s not an efficient way to get answers to specific questions – the structure is very limiting. (Just as one example, note the comments under the article about the new Madera principal where even those of us at the meeting didn’t get much information on all the new appointments announced.) If the district did a more consistent job of informational communication all the time and not just pushing the information it wants to get out right before an election, and giving people true opportunities for input, we could easily pick up another percentage point or two in a parcel tax measure. As voters we also have a responsibility and that is to make sure our elected representatives and top district officials know we are frustrated by the poor communication by emailing them (charamsey@comcast.net amedrano3@sbcglobal.net mkronen@aol.com elainemerriweather@gmail.com tony@tonythurmond.com BHarter@wccusd.net) or speaking up at public meetings.
Giorgio C. June 30, 2012 at 05:37 PM
You are correct that our schools (especially WCCUSD) are in a crisis. Our current Superintendent and School Board have failed to communicate this to the citizens by previously not making very difficult decisions, the incomplete SARC document being just one example. If the Superintendent (the Quality Manager) clearly articulated the serious consequences of the inability to attract and retain experienced qualified teachers, then people would have gotten the message sooner that a crisis has existed. Instead, he further cut from the medical benefits of future teachers, impairing teacher recruitment and retention even further, but we have our athletic programs and Adult School. The Superintendent should be 100% transparent (SARC) about what our current dollars are getting us with respect to our education professionals and the consequences of turnover illustrated with very specific examples. It should be made clear to us that we get what we pay for. Make the district priority and the November ballot about teacher quality. If there is money left over for athletics, great.
TT June 30, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Susan, Unfortunately parents in El Cerrito and Kensington overwhelmingly DON"T agree with your town about how to fund schools. Sorry. Having kindergarten class sizes go to 28 with teacher salaries at $40k per year is totally unacceptable. We don't need to respect that. It shows no respect for teachers. This is not "the people have spoken." This is, sorry, we don't agree with Hercules.
TT June 30, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Every good district in the state of California has a parcel tax. Albany. Schools in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Prop 13 has stripped our schools down to the barest bones. We are 49 in the nation for per capita spending on students. Us and Mississippi, still a deeply racist and impoverished state, hanging out in last place. I don't know how we can face our children. This has nothing to do with slick brochures. It has to do with voter stinginess.
TT June 30, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Egads, Ruby. Really? You're after the district for using shiny paper on a political campaign?! Really? Yes, I'm sure some janky copies from copy central would entice voters. Maybe we should complain about the school district using these darn new fangled computer thingies and ask them just to teach with an abacus under a tree.
TT June 30, 2012 at 07:17 PM
In every normal state 50 percent is majority. We live in a dysfunctional stingy state where for schools 66 percent is majority for more funding. So guess what? We have really impoverished kids. And really impoverished schools. EVEN SO WE GOT 65.6 percent of this vote. SO PLEASE DON"T SAY THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN. What the people are saying is DON"T STARVE OUR KIDS, don't starve their schools.
TT June 30, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Betty: Sounds like you're also bemoaning the lack of good regional journalism. We have a regional district, but no regional paper that serves us. Charles is being heroic here, but we have to combat a regional system with something incredibly local. I don't know how to solve this exactly, but I do think in an ideal world we'd post our school stories in Pinole and Hercules and get their stories. And we'd find a way to start holding the district accountable together.
CC June 30, 2012 at 07:46 PM
School districts should not behave like charities and keep asking for handouts. Voters can choose to express their "raw stinginess" as Anonymous puerilely complained above. It's their money, and evidently they want to keep it or use it in a different manner. Begging so soon after an initial denial is foolhardy. Stop wasting money on consultants and agencies. While you're at it, eliminate other boondoggles and low-return/impact programs like traveling to conferences, adult education, and school libraries (move into the 21st century already)!
TT June 30, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Yes, while you're at it, eliminate books, buildings, teachers. And start using totally made up words like "puerilely". That will surely make you sound edumicated.
TT June 30, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Perhaps you could even start speaking ostrich, since you seem to have so little regard for the human condition of going to school or being a professional educator, and so liittle perspective on what's at stake in getting educated. Every man (or bird) for himself. SQUAWK.
TT June 30, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Last point: WHEN WE are the 49th state per capita for student spending-- ahead of only Mississippi, an impoverished and deeply racist state, I can attribute it to nothing but a series of stinginesses, beginning with prop 13 and leading to the implication that teachers don't deserve decent salaries or to go to improve their skills at conferences and adults who need to retrain for a rapidly shifting economy don't deserve adult education, and people don't deserve more than cheap photocopies and children don't deserve to have small classes and schools don't deserve money. I'm sorry. We seem stingy to me. It's not called "HANDOUTS". It's called supporting the future. Investing in the very people I assume you hope will one day help support you.
Ira Sharenow June 30, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Are WCCUSD meetings shown live on the web? If not, why not? I wonder if board members and administrators will show up to Wednesday's EC July 4 celebration.
Giorgio C. June 30, 2012 at 09:15 PM
As a Hercules parent and former Richmond teacher who would love to teach in Richmond again some day, I expect full transparency and accountability from the WCCUSD. I voted yes on K and will do it again, but the district has not convinced everyone and the district-board-superintendent need to share the blame for this. You actually have some district teachers making $35,000.00 year while others are making $75,000.00 within the same district. The starting pay needs to be higher. The distribution of resources in this district needs to be scrutinized as what I see is far from equitable. Why aren't the teachers protesting the missing data on the School Accountability Report Cards? If our district is relying too heavily on those teachers who are not fully credentialed, then we all need to know this. How can we blame the citizens when the district is not 100% transparent? I would like to suggest quickly forming a Pinole-Hercules WCCUSD Information committee for the purpose of ensuring that the voters truly do have all of the facts and answers to their concerns and complaints. This could be done in 2 town hall meetings thrown together asap. AFTERWARDS, we can conduct a survey to see if the opinion-support from these 2 cities for such a measure has changed. I would post this suggestion on the Hercules/Pinole Patch, but the article is only posted here. Contact me if you are interested. Thanks. Giorgio Cosentino gcosentino1964@gmail.com
TT June 30, 2012 at 09:41 PM
George: Again, is there a way for you to post on Hercules patch that this conversation is happening here? Part of the problem is that we are the 20th biggest district in the state and we don't have a way of talking TOGETHER about shared values-- we're trying to make sense of a very big regional school district in very small increments- i e at the town level. This disempowers us -- we don't have a shared space to voice our concerns. I think the transparency issue is a huge problem-- can you start to call that meeting in Hercules and keep Charles Buress posted? Charles, if there were significant school meetings in Hercules, could we treat them as relevant news for El Cerritans? ETC.
Local Mom June 30, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Putting the measure on the ballot in November is a terrible idea. It needs to wait until June to avoid the hordes of conservatives coming out for the presidential election. It also needs retooling... that's a separate discussion, I guess.
Giorgio C. June 30, 2012 at 10:27 PM
Good point.
John Stashik July 01, 2012 at 01:26 AM
Don't pick on dysfunctional Hercules. The poor city is a mess thanks to some corrupt City Hall doings. The citizens did not make the mess. Give Hercules a break. As for a tax hike, they have better chances of approval when voters have decent paying jobs. Voting between a higher tax and paying the rent is a tough call. Politicians ought to focus on job creation and business friendly policies. Then school taxes would pass easily.
CC July 01, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Tess, a dictionary is a book. Try using one. A school district whose forecasted budget has outpaced the CPI year over year will inevitably end up in a deficit. It should not be up to the homeowners to bailout the poor short and long term planning. The administrators must be held both accountable and responsible for their lack of financial common sense. Granted, if these people actually knew how to handle money they probably would have better paying jobs. Paying teachers more is not a panacea (Tess, you can look that word up as well while you have your moldy Webster's open). New York City is a prime example of how uncorrelated pay is with performance. G.C., I do agree with you that $35k is ridiculous as a salary. You could make more working as an administrative assistant. Before the board decides to bring this back to the voters, they better make sure every one of their expense items can be justified in a lean and mean economy. And Tess, your type of histrionics and "supporting the future" argument are just shallow propaganda. Measure K and others like it are necessary in order to deal with the gigantic amount of money the pensions and benefits of retirees are costing the district. This is about "supporting the past". Nothing wrong with that-people who worked hard should get what was promised to them. However, that means cuts have to be made elsewhere.
Giorgio C. July 01, 2012 at 03:54 AM
Not only will the new teachers make dirt for salary, they will not receive medical benefits for their family, unlike those currently employed by the district. Yet our district tasked with the responsibility of education k-12 graders has the money for Adult School and athletic programs? I value sports, but if the money isn't there, it isn't there. I want a new Superintendent. One who understands that the classroom is the priority. Everything else will have to wait. Also table the $300,000.00 (at least) per year sabbaticals we are giving to 10 teachers each year. Again, what part of "broke" does our district not understand? Also review the compensation of the school board per the Grand Jury's request and also the campaign contributions received by school board members from developers who landed contracts with the district. And please explain to me the musical chair routine regarding our school principals.
karen July 01, 2012 at 03:59 AM
Actually what is needed is that traditional journalists need to inform- there are nearly 29,000 students impacted here. The Chronicle reports on Oakland schools, SF schools, and largely ignores WCCUSD. The Contra Costa Times/West County Times should be presenting well-researched stories on the challenges our public schools face. How can we encourage California Watch to look at local politics/school board issues? Berkeley is in our back yard...its school of journalism should yield one reporter interested in following WCCUSD students. It's hard for patches to try to fill the void...they can end up being petty chain letters for the opinionated; not resources to form an opinion.
TT July 01, 2012 at 05:02 AM
Petty chain letters indeed! Some people just seem to need to resort to being rude. I won't bother to mention their names. A journalist might be something we could also look for as a team or a group of parents--; journalists can be brought into a story but they need cultivation like anyone else. If transparency is a problem, good journalism helps demand accountability. But-- there would need to be a meaty enough venue to have that journalism published and a meaty enough story to generate readership. One good instance is Christina Boufis's article CALIFORNIA READING, about El Cerrito High under the No Child Left Behind Act. Very good reading and thought provoking. And yes, educated journalism rises the debate above, say, slightly ignorant sounding mudslinging about the worth of basic textbooks.
RJ July 01, 2012 at 05:03 AM
It is time that we begin to acknowledge that free public education is a myth. Families that can afford a private school education are paying for the service. Why shouldn't all families with school age children be asked to afford their share of the burden? As taxpayers we are already supporting the effort. Why should we be asked to pay more into a system fraught with misappropriations? If these families become fully invested then there is a greater chance that school districts will be brought to answer for their true responsibilties. Who is being miserly? If you want skilled teachers with experience step up and pay them.
TT July 01, 2012 at 06:16 AM
Public education is not a myth for the kids going to our schools. It is a daily reality and is often the only shot they have. When our schools suck, which unfortunately, they often do because they are systemically underfunded, they and we all suffer. We are living through a time when certain forces want to make us believe that any public good-- roads, basic worker's rights, public parks, even the air we all must breathe-- should be privatized. No man is an island, said John Donne, but these forces want to seduce us with island-ism-- telling us that we're essentially alone, that we each have to fight fight fight to buy our own little islands- of education, of cleanliness, and of air, of transport. We share nothing in common and the only people worth caring about are those that can buy themselves into the same clubs we do. Beyond, are the wolves-- and if we fall to them, we must deserve it. This is nonsense, complete nonsense. RJ, enjoy the fact that you can send your kids to a good school. Congratulations. I hope that you feel truly grateful for the privilege of being able to provide this way. The rich and the lucky will always be able to buy more. Bully for them. But it's what the rest of us can reasonably be expected to buy and what quality of good we believe we should provide for all of us is what's at stake. Public education is a good, and it's a good we'd get a lot more out of if we weren't at the end of 30 years of disinvestment.
TT July 01, 2012 at 06:21 AM
Every day I watch my students come to CAL full of hope. They came from public schools and scrappy places without books and rough edged places and they are entering one of the world's most amazing-- (even if cash strapped) institutions-- and in it, despite how much money their parents did or did not have, these kids are being given a shot at life-- really making it in life-- the chance to open any door they want. We need to build institutions that make each of our kids feel as if there really is a dream- not high schools starved for toilet paper and basic repairs and teachers who are themselves living paycheck to paycheck. If WCCUSD is broken, let's reconfigure or fix it. We can't really afford not to.
CC July 01, 2012 at 06:53 AM
"If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for, but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong. If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires." - Robert Heinlein
RJ July 02, 2012 at 04:02 AM
The response by TT to my posting hints at my view as elitist. My family's ability to afford an independent school education for our children has little to do with wealth or luck. It has everything to do with sacrifice and hard work. It began with my parents' desire that I have a greater opportunity than they were afforded. Yes, I have seen a dream and I strive to realize it each day. As a racial minority, I have risen above the obstacles of prejudice, economic disadvantage and lack of emotional support. Mine is not a view ignorant of the struggle. I am clear on the demands required to succeed. Your prior reflection on the flight of good families points to the breakdown in WCCUSD that I refuse to support. Just this past May I witnessed two Kensington neighbors move to Orinda and Piedmont to seek relief.
RJ July 02, 2012 at 04:39 AM
Lastly, I would state that I find my family far from isolated on an island nor mislead by the arguments of uniformed fools as reader, CC, infers In their post of Mr. Heinlein' quotation. Within my community I am working diligently with families from Richmond, South Berkeley and Hercules to provide a rich learning enivironment for all of our children. Two of these families is of Mexican ancestry and the third biracial. Each family works hard every day to give their children the step up they think they deserve. This is not about avoiding taxes. It is about making choices that are meaningful to each family. Rarely have I seen a problem solved by throwing money at it.
Amy deHart July 03, 2012 at 05:39 AM
I attended the meeting tonight, and found the comments and conduct of board President Charles Ramsey absolutely appalling. After instructing another board member to motion for the vote, waiting for it to be seconded, he then starts his rambling and confusing monologue, basically (I think???) saying this time around us demanding parents better get out our thick Sharpies and poster board, because he's not going to be leading the charge of a campaign, since this isn't HIS idea of the right way to proceed. What is? I still have no idea.
Giorgio C. July 03, 2012 at 05:50 AM
Mr. Ramsey thumbed his nose at the educational process that we are all part of. We attended to learn and to communicate. At some point, he decided we were not worth his time. He was acting like a child who did not have their way. There was too much emphasis on the "I."
TT July 03, 2012 at 03:37 PM
His behavior was appalling. I was horrified and totally depressed. RJ: So, as well as being talented, you've been lucky. You haven't been hit by a car or fired at a strange moment or have had any thing out of your control happen to you. This doesn't make you elitest, it makes you lucky. But the public sector exists because we don't penalize our kids for how lucky (or even talented) their parents are. We try to give each group of kids a new shot. The fact that our district is failing our kids does not mean that public education is a doomed. It means that we need to try harder to get what we need for all of our kids. I'll grant to everyone though that yesterday's performance by Ramsay was atrocious.


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