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Should School District Part with Hercules, Pinole? Board Chief Asks in Wake of Measure K Defeat

The board president of the West Contra Costa school district said Wednesday it's time to consider separation from Hercules and Pinole, which had the strongest opposition to the defeated Measure K parcel tax for schools.

Following the defeat of Measure K, the schools parcel tax, school board President Charles Ramsey said Wednesday it's time to consider whether two cities where support wasn't strong – Hercules and Pinole – should be separated from the West Contra Costa school district.

Ramsey acknowledged that the failure of Measure K could affect class size, but he said the financial impact will be buffered by the continuation of the existing parcel tax for schools and . Of more important concern, he said, is the district's composition regarding Pinole and Hercules.

"The bigger issue is: Is it time for Hercules and Pinole to form their own district?" he said. "I believe it's time to have that conversation."

He pointed to the lower rate of support in those two cities for Measure K. The measure failed to achieve the two-thirds yes vote needed to pass, receiving 64.59 percent of 30,559 votes cast in  for all jurisdictions. A large number of ballots have yet to be counted, but they are not expected to alter the defeat.

El Cerrito led west county cities in the percent who voted yes, with 71.57 percent, followed by Richmond with 66.06 percent and San Pablo with 65.21 percent, according to a Patch tabulation of precinct-by-precinct results provided by the Contra Costa County Elections Division. Unincorporated Kensington registered 81.73 approval.

The lowest support was seen in Hercules where 54.15 percent voted yes, while Pinole turned in 57.99 percent approval.

Ramsey also said that neither city council in Pinole or Hercules endorsed the measure, and that only one council member in the two cities – Pete Murray of Pinole – supported it.

The El Cerrito City Council endorsed Measure K on April 17, and several council members from El Cerrito, Richmond and San Pablo signed on as individual endorsers.

Ramsey also cited the attempt by Hercules in 2005 – led by Sue Pricco of that city – to secede from the West Contra Costa Unified School District and join the neighboring John Swett district. He noted also that Pricco signed the ballot argument against Measure K.

"It's apparent to me that they aren't supportive of the district," Ramsey said of Hercules and Pinole.

If the votes from Pinole and Hercules were substracted from the total reported in semi-official results, a Patch calculation shows the approval rate for Measure K would rise to 66.61 percent, close enough to victory that the addition of yet uncounted votes might push it over the line.

Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder Steve Weir said a sizable number of ballots remain to be counted countywide: including 28,229 vote-by-mail ballots and 3,622 provisional ballots whose validity needs to be verified. The semi-official results show 160,108 cast in the county as a whole, for a voter turnout of 30.78 percent.

Weir said he doesn't have a count of how many uncounted ballots there are in the area where votes were cast for Measure K, but he said he doesn't consider the election close and wouldn't expect the remaining ballots to affect the outcome.

The Measure K election took place in 117 of the county's 646 precincts.

Weir said there's no reason to believe that the remaining ballots would contain a large enough preponderance of yes votes to make a difference.

"It's very unlikely that there are enough votes out there to overcome the deficit," he said. He said the elections division hopes to release the remaining vote-by-mail ballot results on Friday.

Measure K would have raised the current parcel tax of 7.2 cents per square foot of building area to 10.2 cents a square foot. It would also have extended the tax to June 30, 2017. The current levy expires June 30, 2014.

The school board placed the measure on the ballot in part to reduce class sizes in high school and middle school and maintain lower class sizes in grades K-2.

Ramsey said school athletics, counselors and librarians will not be affected because of the existing parcel tax will continue and also because the district is now free of $1.4 million in annual debt payments with the end of the 21-year state loan.

Some supporters of Measure K have suggested placing it on the ballot again in November, saying it will have a better chance of passage then because of the traditionally higher voter turnout in a Presidential election.

Ramsey said that decision is up to the board but that he's not optimistic about the prospect, noting that an earlier parcel tax measure for West Contra Costa schools on the November 2010 ballot received only 59.36 percent approval when the turnout was 66.07 percent.

The deadline for submitting a measure for the November ballot is Aug. 10.

Debbie Weeks June 08, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Each district would pay for their own superintendent, not both. And a smaller district for Kensington and El Cerrito would mean less administration, not more. I think that is one of the points made. A smaller district would have less fat and we would have more control
Kathy A. June 08, 2012 at 03:45 PM
There would be very significant costs to dividing the district. I shudder to think of the legal fees and administrative costs. Is that how we want to spend district money? Especially since the concern is that the district needs more money to move toward better serving all its students? It is not as easy as telling the schools in a couple of cities to take a hike. There are a great many legal items which would require attention -- ownership of property, financial obligations, employment matters, pensions, contractors, insurance coverage, the legal organization and rules governing each district, etc. These are just thoughts off the top of my head; since I know virtually nothing about the laws affecting school districts, there are probably plenty of other details. Even if everybody was in agreement about every action and consequence of splitting the district, it would still be an administrative nightmare which would also require a good deal of attorney attention. But it doesn't take a psychic to guess that there would be disagreements; hammering those out takes time and money, and litigation takes even more time and money.
Rocky June 08, 2012 at 04:06 PM
It would be worth it if our property values would go back up and we could send our kids to school with more confidence.
Giorgio C. June 08, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Why not fix the schools that those are transferring from. We should care about those kids who are trapped in them!
Rocky June 08, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Ahhh Marguerite, yes I do know what has been going on in Albany. I think it is completely appropriate for kids that live in El Cerrito to go to El Cerrito schools. Why should we all have to pack up and leave once our kids reach Junior High? I know the education would be better with smaller class sizes and El Cerrito and Kensington showed by their votes how much they value education and they are the parents I want to work with to make a new, fantastic school district in the east bay. Furthermore, I must once again point out our property values would go up. The reason why our property values are low is because of the school district.
Rocky June 08, 2012 at 04:43 PM
I would be willing to volunteer. Sign me up!
Kathy A. June 08, 2012 at 04:47 PM
It's not all about property values. The district is supposed to use its money for educating our community's kids. If we are worried about the effective use of money, paying lawyers for a long battle does not seem like the most effective use. I agree with Todd Groves and others about working on policies and moving the board to make the schools more effective for all the kids. And I agree with many comments noting how close this vote was, even though 2/3 was needed to pass. A greater informational effort and/or bigger voter turnout could easily make up the small gap.
Carl M June 08, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Paul -- Have you considered the possibility that there may only be *DISECONOMIES* of scale in education? Board meetings that turn into circuses and run past midnight; one policy for all schools regardless; alienated parents who feel they cannot affect their kids' school. "Flexibility?" large districts only have the sort of flexibility that comes from extra layers of bureaucracy and policy debates with implacably divided constituencies. I find it hard even to imagine a huge school district being described as "excellent" ? YES proposition 13 is the seminal catastrophe from which are predicament follows, and yes in a democracy a mere majority would carry the day on tax issues but that concrete is poured. The question now is would smaller districts be better able to manage fewer schools and raise tax revenue? Clearly an "El Kensito" school district would. So would Richmond alone at least by the measure K results. Would Pinole-Hercules ? maybe.
Carl M June 08, 2012 at 05:14 PM
I agree with Todd also, that working with what we have is crucial and reorganization might be a distraction. BUT splitting the district could also unlock a great deal of energy on the part of parents who are alienated by the present condition of the district. Despairing parents spend their energies trying to help their own kids and/or in trying move out of the district. Hope is sorely lacking among parents of poorly served students in what might become the "El Kensito" School District.
Ira Sharenow June 08, 2012 at 05:19 PM
I think the WCCUSD is too diverse and its constituency has conflicting demands with a very limited budget. From reading other reader comments, the district has never done well, so a few million dollars more will not fix the underlying problems. In any case I support smaller local districts. Good luck to those who seek to form a new district. Perhaps joining up with the existing Albany district would be a better idea. It will take a considerable effort by skilled leaders. Perhaps people can start by running candidates in the upcoming school board elections. At the very least candidates should be contacted about whether they support El Cerrito and Kensington breaking away. Do current city officials in El Cerrito and Kensington support this method for enhancing property values? My impression is all the schools physically located within El Cerrito and Kensington would belong to the new district. The actual details will be important and would have to be carefully researched. I just called up the California Department of Education. The expert is Larry Shirey 916-822-1468. He is the field representative for district reorganization. The unit is Charter Apportionments and District Reorganization within the division of School Fiscal Services. He will be in on Monday. Good luck!
Marty June 08, 2012 at 05:48 PM
I think most who attended yesterday's promotion ceremony for Portola reflected on the great things that are happening there; I know I did. I would reassure those who are thinking of leaving the district that their children are not exotic, hot-house flowers that can only thrive in posh schools. There is a benefit in being around others who come from diffierent backgrounds. However, I also reflected on how it is mainly the EC and Kensington parents (mostly moms) who volunteered to set up the gym, organize the party, breakfast and other social and academic enrichment activities. So there is a persistent sense of disengagement that makes one feel, unless they have the soul of a missionary, Why bother? The board has not been able to facilitate a community wide dialogue on the future of the distrct(s?). Perhaps some ouside foundation or agency could do so. People are tired of the board coming hat-in-hand (hat bought by construction interests) for another tax. Sure money is needed, but so are fresh perpectives and creative thinking.
Debbie Weeks June 08, 2012 at 05:52 PM
It would be great to join up with Albany School District, but it's been thought of before and would of been done had we not been two completely different County's.
Debbie Weeks June 08, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Let's not loose sight of what made the vote close. Getting a buy in now from Hercules and Pinole will be very challenging. If you go to the Pinole Patch Blog you will find that over 90% of the posts state that they want to leave the district. What was an up hill battle to get buy in has more than likely turned into a major mountain to climb.
Valerie Snider June 08, 2012 at 06:11 PM
Christina, you've overlooked some obvious points. First, our district has several Assistant Superintendents, so we're already paying multiple superintendent salaries. Second, the recouped ADA money (now lost because of residents who go out of the district) would more than pay for the superintendent's salary. And, there could possibly be additional savings from not having to pay for SROs.
Ira Sharenow June 08, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Perhaps El Cerrito people should be networking with the Pinole people. Pinole and communities in that area would have a district. El Cerrito and Kensington would have a different district (possibly with Albany). In the meantime, supporters of this proposal from the various areas could work together to support school board candidates. There are two seats up for re-election this fall.
Amy deHart June 08, 2012 at 08:41 PM
This is a bit off topic, but I was wondering: I'm not familiar with the features/size of the Windrush campus, but since it is being sold (http://elcerrito.patch.com/articles/windrush-school-in-el-cerrito-holds-last-graduation-with-lots-of-smiles), would it make any sense/save money for the district to buy that campus as the new middle school, instead of rebuilding Portola on the Castro Elementary site? Then we'd still have Castro, too. I've heard K enrollment at ALL the EC elementary schools are full this year, so it would help to still have Castro. The construction companies that donate all the money for these measure campaigns might not be happy about it, but it seems like it would be a cheaper option for the district. Then again, it would probably require significant modification of Windrush classrooms, since they must have been designed for MUCH smaller class sizes.
Marty June 08, 2012 at 09:10 PM
Amy, it is not off-topic. I suggested the district look into this on this forum awhile ago. Nada. Their lack of vision and inability to think creatively to explore solutions other than tax and spend are reasons I voted against the measure, although it was a difficult choice. The Windrush site may be be inadequate, but that options should be explored before spending $60 million at Castro, no? I even suggested the city could sell bonds to improve WR in exchange for the district-owned Castro land which could be re-purposed for park, community center, etc. However, the die is cast, the construction interests want their payback ( those campaign contributions are not without strings attached) so construction will go forward. (BTW the Castro site doesn't meet DOE acreage standards either, unless the field is included, which WCCUSD says is not--we'll see.)
Amy Kang June 08, 2012 at 09:16 PM
@Amy, there was discussion of the potential created by a newly vacated Windrush last fall, on the many threads about Windrush's hard times. If memory serves, the capacity for Windrush is about 400 max, while Portola serves 500. There's that, and the fact that Windrush doesn't have athletic fields, and all that LEED certification stuff might make the price tag too big. It's an interesting proposition, though. Windrush is a beautiful property and I hope it doesn't stay vacant for too long.
Valerie Snider June 08, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Amy, several people have had the same thought. As far as classroom sizes goes, in the district schools a kindergarten classroom is the same size as a high school classroom; so my guess is the WR classrooms would be the same size as any in the district schools. I don't know if the site would work for the new Portola campus, but you're right that the construction companies would not be happy about being denied the "right" to receive taxpayer money in exchange for building a new school. If the district could shave millions dollars off the school construction program, maybe a future parcel tax would have a better chance of passing.
Jean Eger June 08, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Kids who go to school alongside other children of different skin color and cultural background are much better prepared for adult life in the real world than kids who don't have that experience. As far as the election goes, it usually comes down to whether or not the proponents of the tax explained it well enough to the voters, whether they identified the voters who were for it and then whether they got out the vote in election day. It's too easy for Ramsey to make a scapegoat out of one woman who probably does not have as much power as he says she does. He probably did not even attempt to present his side of the issue to those voters. If he had tried a little harder, she would have been campaigning for his POV.
Debbie Weeks June 08, 2012 at 09:30 PM
The school district has already invested way to much timemoney into the Castro Site to look at other options now. Because the safty standards for Private Schools is Different for public schools, the district would have to start a feasibility study and environmental study from scratch. Throw in the cost of Drawings citizen complants and labor contacts, we're looking and huge costs and another 3 to 5 year wait before we have another middle school. And it's not likely that the district can run a community center at Castro nor the city as the State cutbacks are causing them to do some major slashing of services.
Debbie Weeks June 08, 2012 at 09:33 PM
But I'm sounding so negative and I apologize for that. Your creative brainstorming and willingness to share ideas is so needed so thank you for that
Jean Eger June 08, 2012 at 09:37 PM
It should not surprise anyone that Mr Ramsey tries to blame some woman for the failure of what is really his responsibility to accomplish. In preschool they teach the kids to blame the person closest to them for their own actions when they sing "Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Not me, tis thee." My own parents lovedvthis one. They put me up on the kitchen counter when I was a toddler and explained to me that I had gone in there in the middle of the night and fooled around with the combination lock until i got the cupboard open so I could get a cookie. It was very convenient for them to have a child to blame for what they were doing.
Valerie Snider June 08, 2012 at 09:50 PM
The 2011/2012 enrollment at Portola was well below 500. There are only 7th and 8th grades, and the 8th grade class had 212 students. Also, LaVonya DeJean middle schools (newly rebuilt) is under-enrolled. So, it's feasible to have a 400 student Portola campus.
Giorgio C. June 08, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Why did Harter allow the teacher union to make lupine hills in Hercules into an apalling circus spectacle? That is where many votes were lost. Pathetic.
Ira Sharenow June 09, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Elections will soon be upon us, so it will soon be a great time to ask the candidates questions, so today I decided to get an early start and asked a question of the two incumbents who are up for re-election. I am pleased to say that Antonio Medrano has already responded. His answer is below. --- Ira, I will be running again in November. I do not support the idea of breaking up the district. In what ever configuration. No one from Pinole has rasied that idea, and now that we are building them a new high school. Would they pick up the expenses of the new school? District bonds are providing the funds for that project. El Cerrito and Kensington? Do they want just the El Cerrito and Kensington residents to attend their schools? And would they pick up the tab for the new Portola? Much to think about. Hope to get your endorsement. en solidaridad, Antonio Medrano School Board Member WCCUSD --- I just sent the following response Antonio, Of the students currently attending El Cerrito HS, what percentage lives in El Cerrito or Kensington? Of the El Cerrito and Kensington residents of high school age who are actually in high school somewhere, what percentage are attending ECHS? Some other WCCUSD school? Some other public school? Some private school? Thanks again for your thoughtful response. Ira PS Can you please tell me the location of your campaign finance reports?
Annie R. June 13, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Charles Ramsey would never go for Windrush as a middle school site. It wouldn't benefit his cronies financially as much as new construction.
Michael O'Connor June 13, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Windrush could not even be considered as a middle school. The old building is not compliant and the site is too small. California public schools are very regulated. Private schools, almost anything goes.
www.raymonddennen@yahoo.com July 02, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Right on Betty. The district (WCCUSD) still needs to work on down to earth communication. Listen to constituents concerns, facilitate and bring about closure to those concerns. The district listens but rarely acts. The supposition is that Hercules and Pinole have had concerns but they may have not received adequate answers. Maybe the answers could not bring about closure for them.
Giorgio C. March 14, 2013 at 04:52 AM
President Kronenberg, It is time to give each city its own representation within the WCCUSD. The current system is not fair. Mr. Ramsey suggested revisiting the idea of secession for two cities, but we know the County Board of Ed will not allow this, so I am offering a solution. This will lead to increased support for the district. I will present my idea at the next board meeting. Although this idea was suggested before, we now have much stronger evidence supporting the need for this change, that evidence being the words of the most powerful person in our school district. My letter posted on the CC Times here http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2013/03/13/wccusd-resident-pushes-for-city-reps-on-board/

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