Chevron announced $1 million in grants for six local initiatives in job training and science education on Monday. Recipients include the West Contra Costa Unified School District and Contra Costa College.
“[We’re] happy to contribute a total of $1 million – that’s easy to say, $1 million,” said refinery General Manager Nigel Hearne at a reception for the winners. The grant announcement was Hearne’s first public act since taking over from former general manager Mike Coyle in September.
About a dozen members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance picketed the reception. The protesters held signs condemning Chevron’s property tax appeal, currently under way in Martinez, which, if successful, could require that the county and city refund up to $58 million.
This is the third year that Chevron has showered $1 million on local organizations as part of its California Partnership, launched in 2009. In its first year, Chevron focused on programs related to economic development in Richmond. Since 2010, the company has dedicated half the pot to programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in West County schools.
This time around, the Contra Costa College Foundation received $100,000, which it will use to bring 150 local students onto campus to take STEM classes not offered by their high schools, said Seti Sidharta, who runs the College’s Center for Science Excellence.
Brian Molina, 16, who lives in Richmond, arrived — on crutches — to testify to the impact of these programs. Molina participated in the College’s METAS mentoring program for Latino students, and was accepted into Middle College, a small high school on the Contra Costa College campus, which allows students to take college courses. “You know how high schools say, ‘we care about you?’” Molina said, “Here they do.” Asked what he might study after high school, Molina ticked off a list of interests: chemistry, biology, music, math, astrophysics and engineering.
The West Contra Costa Unified School District also received $200,000 for a new initiative to overhaul math education. Philip Gonsalves, who was hired this year as director of curriculum and instruction for mathematics, said his goal is to transform how math is taught. “We expect kids to remember math,” he said. “I want them to feel it.”
The district will use the grant to hire two Algebra I coaches to help math teachers incorporate the new curriculum.
Other recipients include Catholic Charities of the East Bay, Solar Richmond, the Stride Center, and the Contra Costa Economic Partnership.
During the question and answer session after the grants were announced, Joseph Puleo, of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, asked Hearne to explain the thinking behind the refinery’s property tax appeal, “Which, if you are successful, will totally devastate the social safety net,” said Puleo.
Hearne demurred, saying he preferred to keep the session focused on the grant awardees. After the reception, Heather Kulp, the refinery’s public affairs manager, said that the refinery had not yet asked for any money back. Chevron first wants to establish “what is a fair and accurate means for valuing the refinery,” she said. Then, if there is a refund, the refinery will work with the county and cities to negotiate the terms.
Asked what he thought of protesters’ accusations that Chevron was giving with one hand while taking away with the other, Hearne said, “Are we really taking, or have we already given over and above what our equitable tax base is?”