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.

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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