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School Board Takes Step Toward New Parcel Tax Measure in November

At a special Monday night meeting in El Cerrito, the West Contra Costa school board voted 4-0 to survey public opinion on another possible parcel tax election. The proposed Measure K parcel tax for schools narrowly lost in last month's election.

The West Contra Costa Unified School District board voted Monday night to conduct a survey to gauge support for a parcel tax measure on the November ballot.

The vote was 4-0, with Elaine Merriweather absent.

Superintendent Bruce Harter opened the discussion by asking the board to consider whether to pursue a parcel tax, which would raise money for operations, or a bond measure, which would raise money to rebuild schools not covered by earlier bond measures, or both. Also up for discussion was when a measure should go on the ballot.

Thirty-two people spoke on the item at , held at Harding Elementary School in El Cerrito. The majority of the speakers urged the board to make academic concerns like keeping classes as small as possible and retaining programs such as libraries the priority by pursuing a parcel tax. Although several noted that buildings are important too, no one spoke in favor of a bond measure only at this time or of putting both on the ballot at the same time.

The schools listed at the board meeting and in the agenda as still needing to be upgraded are Grant, Olinda, Shannon, Kennedy, Lake, Collins, and Crespi. All but the last two were slated for closure at one time, but the agenda notes “with a projection for stable to increased enrollment and with the current favorable bidding market” that the district may want to now consider upgrading them. (The agenda is attached to this article.)

Board member Tony Thurmond thanked the community for turning out for the meeting and suggested that it was helpful to have held a meeting in a different location than the usual one (DeJean Middle School in Richmond). He and member Antonio Medrano called for hosting town-hall type meetings in other parts of the district such as Pinole and Hercules to give residents there a chance to share their views.

Measure K, the parcel tax measure that narrowly missed the required two-thirds on the June ballot with , garnered much stronger support in the southern end of the district than in the northern. Several speakers urged the board to look carefully at why Measure K fell short, including why support was weaker in Pinole and Hercules than in El Cerrito and Kensington. (A table showing Measure K results by community can be found at the bottom of this article.)

“What have you learned from the defeat of Measure K?” asked the first speaker, Kensington parent Leslie Reckler.

Some speakers suggested the survey focus on finding out more about the concerns of residents in the northern part of the district and gaining their support.

 “I know why Pinole, Hercules, El Sobrante and San Pablo did not pass this,” said Jeff Rubin of Pinole. Residents of the northern part of the distrct, he said, “are fed up with the pathetic academic performance of their children.”

While board members appeared supportive of a November parcel tax measure, the actual vote is expected Aug. 1, after the survey results are available and before an Aug. 10 deadline.

Some speakers suggested that the school district run a different type of campaign this time, with fewer big donations and slick fliers and more small contributions and grassroots campaigning by parents and other community members.

“I think we need a different strategy,” said Kensington parent Anna Porter.

Michael Parker of Richmond told the board that the campaign must get out the message that “the future of our community is at stake.”

“We cannot depend on the state to fund our schools,” said retired teacher Eduardo Martinez of Richmond. “We can only depend on ourselves.” He called for more face-to-face campaigning, with parents going “anywhere, everywhere,” including PTA and City Council meetings.

Board President Charles Ramsey, who has done the bulk of the fundraising for the bond and parcel tax measures in recent years, agreed to support the consensus of the board and speakers in voting to support the survey but suggested people may be “romanticizing” grassroots campaigning. He noted the difficulty of running a campaign in a largely low-income district spread over five cities plus unincorporated areas.  He said the campaign will have little choice but to run a different kind of campaign, because with so many recent school campaigns he doesn’t expect this one to draw the amount of contributions past efforts have.

One of the last speakers was George Harris, a former school board member who moved to San Diego in 2005 and was in the area to visit family.  “After a close defeat," said Harris, “no one takes it harder than board members." He recalled that the district came back to pass a parcel tax in 2004 right after a failed measure.

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 Contra Costa County 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.

Steve July 05, 2012 at 12:28 AM
A couple starting places: http://www.wccusd-bond-oversight.com/ http://www.wccusdbondprogram.com/ I haven't dug through them but completely, yet, so far I am wishing for more detail.
Ira Sharenow July 05, 2012 at 12:30 AM
Some documents from the Google search: West Contra Costa Unified School District Measure D http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/West_Contra_Costa_Unified_School_District_bond_proposition,_Measure_D_%28June_2010%29 http://www.wccusd.net/cms/lib03/CA01001466/Centricity/domain/20/community%20budget%20advisory%20committee/CBAC%20Annual%20Resolution%20Signed%2010-11.pdf http://www.tbwb.com/campaigns_05.htm http://www.wccusdbondprogram.com/index.php?name=Content&pid=14 http://www.wccusd.net/cms/lib03/CA01001466/Centricity/Domain/20/Financial%20Audits/Measure%20DJD%20Performance%20Bond%20Audit%206-30-2011.pdf http://www.wccusd.net/cms/lib03/CA01001466/Centricity/Domain/20/Measures_MDJ_Bond_Audit.pdf http://www.wccusd.net/cms/lib03/CA01001466/Centricity/Domain/20/Financial%20Audits/Measures%20M-D-J-rpt-2011-revised%20final%5B1%5D.pdf
Steve July 05, 2012 at 12:38 AM
As far as I can tell from the synopsis provided that ERIC report is nearly a quarter century old. I would like to back up a couple steps and ask what is an "administrator." Lacking any definition, I assume that administrators are those with supervisory responsibility. The link was to a record describing the paper and so is unusable for reference but I find it difficult to believe that a 1,200-student high-school can run smoothly with a single principal who directly manages the entire faculty, janitorial-staff, maintenance-staff, food and lunch staff, outside-vendor management, etc. It's ironic that we are repeatedly told that there will be "no expenses for administrators" yet the lack of administrators was one of the flaws outlined at City College.
Valerie Snider July 05, 2012 at 12:54 AM
If I'm not mistaken, all of the above links relate to the bond measures, not the parcel tax. When a request was made of Sheri Gamba (Assoc. Superintendent of Finance) for information about the parcel tax reports her response was, "The parcel tax is part of the general fund, therefore the independent audit of the school district includes those funds. The parcel tax is not called out as a separate item in the audit. The audit is available on our website." I scrolled through the most recent audit report on the website (97 pages) and didn't see anything that would appear to comply with the ballot language for a "report detailing the amount of funds collected and expended." Maybe I missed that part. Couldn't Ms. Gamba have said, "You'll find the information about the parcel tax income and expenditures on page X." However, I believe a separate, parcel tax report is required. Also, the funds are to be kept "separate and apart from other accounts in the district." Are they?
Susan July 05, 2012 at 04:19 AM
Sylivia FYI, regarding the new El Cerrito High Theatre: Are you aware that the theatre is being used and rented by other groups in the community? I just saw a performance by the professional Berkeley Shakespeare Co. They used to perform in Berkeley, but because the theatre is designed so well they are paying to perform there. So are other professional performance groups. And as for the physical/physics lab: it is staffed primarily by Mr. Fabini who is the most fabulous dedicated brilliant professional, experienced science teacher in the District. You just can't get any better teaching science than Bob Fabini. He is in the new lab and he serves it well. Just fyi, for all of us, "hearsay" only goes so far. what you all hear is sometimes far from the truth.
Michael O'Connor July 05, 2012 at 05:10 AM
The theater has existed for three years. Seven or eight years ago, the ECHS theater instructor worked secretly with WLC, the architects for ECHS, Bill Savidge, then the head district engineer for school reconstruction, and an unnamed former Superintendent, to build a tiny useless theater at the new school. After the mendacity of the new campus ECHS planning process was exposed, the new, useful theater was part of the price paid by the WCCUSD for it's attempt to shortchange the people of El Cerrito once again. This dying school district does not, nor has it ever, cared about El Cerrito and it's residents. When the WCCUSD finally withers away, the school buildings will still be there. Until then, it's up to the parents to demand changes. Good luck.
Charles Cowens July 05, 2012 at 07:12 AM
Michael, what would have been the motive for "the ECHS theater instructor" to conspire with district officials and consultants to build "a tiny useless theater" at ECHS?
Michael O'Connor July 05, 2012 at 04:15 PM
He believed that a small theater was all that was needed. He was repeatedly asked to attend community meetings which were SUPPOSED to be providing input to plans for the new school. He was informed by the others mentioned that his attendance would only serve to open to public scrutiny plans that had already been decided. He therefore naver attended a single PUBLIC meeting. The superintendent at tha time felt slighted by the ECHS faculty. She had been promised complete control of the school rebuilding process within the WCCUSD Bond programs. Her petty revenge motive did not align well with the publicly stated openness of the process presented by the elected Board. Todd you must remember that we are talking about the WCCUSD.
Giorgio C. July 06, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Steve, I believe this refers to the central office management staff. I have an audit document that possibly lists them, so will review this when I can.
Giorgio C. July 06, 2012 at 01:19 PM
A quote from the district performance audit dated 12/16/11: www.wccusd.net/cms/.../FINAL_WCCUSD_Report__121611.docx "The District also places an over-reliance on construction management firms to perform the budgeting and cash flow functions of the projects." Ok, let me get this straight. Two board members received a combined amount of over $150,000.00 in campaign contributions, much of it from developers who ultimately landed contracts with the districts. We then let those same developers perform the budgeting and cash-flow functions of the projects? And when these two board members were asked to consider campaign contribution limits, they were not interested in doing so? Am I understanding all of this correctly? Our board members might be good, honest people, but even they have to admit that this looks bad. Do we have to call in the Grand Jury to get folks to do the right thing? Please tell me this isn't as bad as it looks. http://www.cc-courts.org/_data/n_0003/resources/live/grandJuryComplaint.pdf
Marty July 06, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Giorgio, a few years ago the LA Times ran a series on the LA community colleges bond construction program and the outside advisors hired to oversee it. They discussed "body shops" where the construction managment firm has offices in the client's facility, and the lines are blurred as to who is working for whom. I don't remember if it was our Seville Group (who have offices at WCCUSD Bissell facilites HQ in Richmond). The arrangment here may be above-board and legal, but as you say, the potential for conflicts of interest are enormous. Unfortuantely, the SF Chron and CoCo Times don't do this kind of investigative reporting.
Ira Sharenow July 06, 2012 at 04:13 PM
When investigative reporters write exposes it is often because someone or a group of people have given them substantial leads. Many people have made great comments, but I see a need for a group of people to do more. The group could gather information and then write op eds in Patch. They could also run for office. The group could also try to get El Cerrito and Kensington to split off from the heterogeneous WCCUSD. I have not studied the school district, but I find it difficult to believe that the district can be well-functioning for years to come.
Valerie Snider July 06, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Ramsey and Kronenberg are still pushing for a bond measure in November. Bond measures can only be on the ballot in even years; but Ramsey can't wait until 2014 for another bond. He needs to pay back his building industry supporters who reluctantly contributed to the failed parcel tax based on his promise of another bond in 2012 (and the assurance that any future contracts would go to them).
Tamsen July 06, 2012 at 08:27 PM
I hate to admit it, but I think Valerie is right. Ramsey gets HUGE donations from his builders, who he then hires to build new schools. This has been going on for years. A few people have tried to look into it, and Ramsey has either stopped the meeting (when someone brings it up), or something like that, so it's hushed up. For years and years, Kronenberg votes exactly as Ramsey does. So, yes, I think Valerie is right. The question is, what do we do about it? Anything, or prove him wrong by make our Grassroots Campaign for the Parcel Tax a success?
Giorgio C. July 06, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Draft a grand jury complaint, but give the board a chance to respond first. Submit if not pleased with the response. Just one option. There are others.
Valerie Snider July 06, 2012 at 11:08 PM
Can we make the parcel tax campaign a success if it has to compete with a bond measure? Bond measures are easier to pass (55% is needed v. 2/3 for a parcel tax). Why are Ramsey and Kronenberg so willing to sacrifice academics in favor of upgrading schools that had previously been slated for closure? Enrollment is down and the district operates in the red. Shouldn't we divert local tax dollars to improve education? It's hard to believe that after Ramsey's "defeat" last Monday, he won't give up. The five bond measures that have passed ($1.3 billion) should have been enough to upgrade every school in the district if we had a competitive bidding process.
Giorgio C. July 07, 2012 at 02:22 AM
I think we need to hear the voices of the district staff who are responsible for academics. We need to review their reports and recommendations. Are Kronenberg and Ramsey ignoring any recommendations with respect to academics? The school board are not experts. They are the average citizen, and yes, some of them have taught. They are not managers. They are our representatives. Yet somehow President Ramsey has taken on the appearance of a district manager. This causes me some concern. The district must be run by the qualified professionals, not by the amateurs. Where can we find reports and recommendations and requests from each WCCUSD department head? Or does everything flow through the one voice of the Superintendent?
Ira Sharenow July 07, 2012 at 03:44 AM
You can make open records requests of WCCUSD through Debbie Haynie. For legal support there is the California First Amendment Coalition and other similar organizations. http://www.firstamendmentcoalition.org/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Amendment_Coalition http://www.thefirstamendment.org/ Debbie Haynie Executive Secretary to the Superintendent West Contra Costa Unified School District 1108 Bissell Avenue Richmond, CA 94801 Phone: 510-231-1103 Fax: 510-236-6784 dhaynie@wccusd.net
John Stashik July 07, 2012 at 04:35 AM
Passing all these ballot issues would be a breeze if the people stuck paying for them had good, steady employment. Look at history. As wages and job security decline so go tax hike measures. The working class (the people who pay for everything), need the money to do that. Trying to make rent each month and cover normal bills doesn't leave much for tax hikes. Just keeping up with current taxes is a huge problem. Politicians: focus on the real problem.
L July 07, 2012 at 01:44 PM
There isn't an adjective in the dictionary that would not apply to Charles Ramsey. Egotistical, smart, generous, connected, informed, caring, childish, seasoned - on and on. The man defies description. He's not up for re-election, and the reality is, we need him right now. I am hoping you can look past this and stay with us to make our schools and our community a better place.
Giorgio C. July 07, 2012 at 02:25 PM
L, I would prefer to not spend any time on these distractions. We truly do need to fund our schools and that is where we need to focus. Having said that, why are campaign contribution limits too much to ask for? Currently, I have requested the following information to be posted on the WCCUSD website: 1. The district total number of teachers with full credential. 2. The district total number of teachers without full credential. 3. These same numbers for each school site. I publicly requested this at the recent board meeting after not receiving a reply to my query from one of the HR Directors I had contacted. I will be one of the strongest advocates for our kids in every school in the district, but I need the numbers that I am entitled to per state law. We need to see exactly what we are getting for each dollar we have spent. This isn't case-building against the district. This is case-building against the state of California.
Giorgio C. July 07, 2012 at 02:57 PM
We need a WCCUSD education investigative reporter. The Contra Costa Times has an education reporter, Theresa Harrington, who even has an investigative blog for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. She follows up on everyone's concerns and is actually part of the blog dialogue. The WCCUSD community could use something like this.
Michael O'Connor July 07, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Reporter covering the WCCUSD? Not a chance. There is little money here to draw a struggling industries' resources. The Interwebs are your best hope. In an earlier post in the Patch, someone urged each of the posters here to drag others into the discussion. That is your only chance to make any difference.
Ira Sharenow July 07, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Maybe the East Bay Express will do a follow up, especially if there is another bond measure. http://www.eastbayexpress.com/ebx/shiny-buildings-shady-dealings/Content?oid=2812513 I think that LBL is going to build in Richmond. What impact will that have on the schools? http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/UC-picks-Richmond-for-Lawrence-Berkeley-lab-campus-2675669.php But where is the organization in EC/Kensington? EC/Ken support bond measures like they are giving to charity. Many do not actually send their kids to the local high school. In the end just having discussions on Patch and getting an annual article in some local paper will not achieve very much if there is no grassroots organization that will work hard to bring change.
Giorgio C. July 08, 2012 at 04:21 AM
I have just been told that the CC Times WCCUSD reporter was laid off due to budget cuts, but there is now a freelancer who is covering the WCCUSD meetings. If we have anything newsworthy for them, we should give them a holler.
L July 08, 2012 at 01:51 PM
G.C. , my comment was directed to Mike C., who I hope can look past a distasteful first experience and stay with us to change it for the better. The last thing I want is for him to pack up his family and move away.
Giorgio C. July 08, 2012 at 02:55 PM
L, What can we do to help parents whose situation is immediate. Their children are in the classroom today. They cannot wait for change. Instead of transferring out of the district, are there things that we or the district can do to address their immediate concerns. For example, if a parent is about to transfer because of lack of AP science classes, can the citizens of a city put together a volunteer after-school AP-level science program? What do we have to do to address the immediate needs of our parents-children?
Michael O'Connor July 08, 2012 at 03:59 PM
East Bay Express? Never say never. LBL? Maybe a few more "Arlington" residents who will send their kids where they send their kids. ( Some years ago a mostly fictional version movie called Coach Carter came out about a very good Richmond High basketball team. All of the other high schools in the WCCUSD were named EXCEPT for El Cerrito. A fictional Arlington High School was created. I never came across anyone who would explain for the record that editorial choice. Feel the WCCUSD love yet? ) Bingo. Perhaps if folks considered the huge hit property values are taking for having a perpetually weak schools? Who knows? I beat the drums for weeks to get the ECHS building plans overturned and revised with a decent compromise. People will respond, but it takes a toll.
Ira Sharenow July 08, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Albany High school is just a few blocks from ECHS. If someone is looking for an above average program, it seems to be much easier to just transfer to AHS. Albany is actively seeking transfers. Over on Albany Patch a number of people have commented that that vast number of WCCUSD transfers are not paying Albany’s $725 parcel tax, but the rejoinder (which may not be valid) is those transfers help keep Albany’s AP programming running at a relatively high level. Most ECHS students are not from El Cerrito, so that is a disincentive for someone who wants to volunteer at a local school. At least WCCUSD seems to be open minded about letting non-credentialed teachers teach. This way a retired scientist or engineer who wants to give back to his/her community does not face the obstacle of taking a large number of “soft” courses. I know that in fields such as mathematics subject matter knowledge is very important. Perhaps the district can recruit people with quantitative talent to become teachers and then just wave the education credit requirement.
Giorgio C. July 21, 2012 at 05:20 PM
To any CBAC staff or meeting attendees, Does anyone have a copy of the April 26th meeting minutes. It appears they were approved at the May 31st meeting, but have not been posted. Was there any discussion on April 26th about the specifics regarding how $1,920,000.00 was spent on Class Size Reduction? I do not see such details on the Parcel Tax Expenditure Budget document that was reviewed and approved during this meeting. For those who do not know, there is a Special Board Meeting this Monday night. Agenda http://www.wccusd.net/cms/lib03/CA01001466/Centricity/Domain/1/20120723_BOE_AgendaSpMtg.pdf

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