First public forum gives voters glimpse of WCCUSD school board candidates

The seven candidates for two seats on the WCCUSD Board of Education field questions at a public forum on September 20. Photo by Marian Davidson.

The seven candidates for two seats on the WCCUSD Board of Education field questions at a public forum on September 20. Photo by Marian Davidson.

Seven candidates are vying for two positions on the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) Board of Education this election cycle. In a public forum at Lovonya DeJean Middle School on Monday, the candidates discussed school teacher retention and student performance, funding, the recent forensic audit of the district’s bond program and the growth of charter schools.

This year’s candidates are Don Gosney, Antonio Alvarez Medrano, Tom Panas, Mister Phillips, Miriam Stephanie Sequeira, Carlos Taboada and Ayana Kirkland Young.

Over the past two years, WCCUSD California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance scores and college entrance exam scores have lagged behind both county and state averages. Candidates agreed that providing greater support to teachers, both in the classroom and through better compensation, would bolster student scores and performance.

Medrano, Panas, Sequeira, Taboada and Young said it was important to listen to the needs of teachers.

“We have caring teachers eager to give personal attention to students,” said Taboada, a former WCCUSD teacher and parent. “We want competitive salaries and benefits, and small class sizes.”

Medrano, a former teacher and WCCUSD school board trustee from 2008-2012, said the district often trains teachers “and then they end up leaving us.”

Gosney, co-director of The Ivy League Connection scholarship program and retired senior general foreman and union president, said it could be difficult to find the funds to better compensate teachers, but that finding ways to “attract teachers and get them to stick around” is key to improving student performance and test scores.

Phillips said he believes low test scores are a result of low morale and expectations for students throughout the district. Better compensation for teachers would improve the school climate and classroom experience for students, he said.

“We cannot expect a high level, or an extremely high level, of service from people who are disaffected,” said Phillips, an attorney, Richmond High School alumnus and WCCUSD parent.

Voters will decide whether or not to continue a parcel tax for the school system, Measure T, on the Nov. 8 ballot. All candidates discussed the need to continue the tax, which brings nearly $10 million to the school system each year.

“If we don’t pay for our students, who’s going to do it?” said Young, an attorney, Pinole High School alumna and WCCUSD parent. She added that the district “cannot afford to cut any other funding.”

While Sequeira said funds could possibly be “moved around” to make up for funds lost if Measure T is not passed, other candidates said programs would have to be cut.

Medrano, Panas and Phillips said the district would have to prioritize spending for programs, and that programs such as arts and sports could suffer.

“It’s going to be a really hard and difficult, painful process,” said Panas, a retired chief financial officer and certified public accountant, parent of two WCCUSD graduates and district volunteer.

Candidates voiced opposing positions on the recent financial forensic audit of the district’s bond program.

Medrano, Phillips and Sequeira stood in support of the audit as an important step toward transparency to the community.

“This district has been known to lose trust in the community,” said Sequeira, a WCCUSD parent and district volunteer. The audit, she added, allowed a glimpse behind “closed doors.”

Panas said the audit provided the system with a clear set of recommendations to improve practices and internal controls in the district.

“I haven’t really seen any recommendations that came out of the forensic audit that I didn’t agree with,” he said.

Gosney, Taboada and Young opposed the audit. Taboada and Young said the approximately $1 million spent on the audit could have been used for other purposes, such as programs or teacher salaries.

Gosney called the audit report “flawed” and “incomplete,” adding that the auditors “didn’t even talk to some of the key people.”

Both the number of charter schools in the district and their enrollment have grown over the past few years. There are currently 12 charter schools in the district, with 11 of them in Richmond alone.

“The reason there’s a demand for them is our district hasn’t given our kids what they need, point blank,” said Phillips.

The public forum was the first of three hosted by WCCUSD and the West Contra Costa League of Women Voters. The next forums will be hosted at Pinole Middle School on October 13 at 6:30 p.m. and at Korematsu Middle School on October 24 at 6:30 p.m.

8 Comments

  1. W. Berger

    Damn shame the public can’t get the schools they are paying dearly for. And, or course, it doesn’t help to have the schools vandalized.

    I’ll vote for whomever can bring the greatest scrutiny to the table so future tax money is well spent.

    • Need Experienced Leaders

      Then you want to vote for Panas– retired CPA and Chief Financial Officer, chairs the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee.

      • Ayana Young

        Tom Panas supports corporate charters who receive part of the district tax money but do not have to tell you, the public, what they do with the money because they are a private entity. How is that bringing the greatest scrutiny about our tax dollars? It’s actually allowing just the opposite.

  2. Need Experienced Leaders

    Taboada and Young are incorrect– the money spent for the audit came from the bond funds, which are only available for school construction. We need Board members with enough experience and know-how to run the District. They should know better.

    • Ayana Young

      Only 38% of that audit can be paid for with bond money. The remaining had to come from the general budget; which is how we pay for teachers and programs for schools on the bottom of the LCAP list.

  3. Don Gosney

    Actually, it’s 38% from the General Fund and 62% from the Bond Program.

    I’m the one that for the past year have been telling the Board, the District and the CBOC that their funding for this audit could not come from the Bond Program and I was stymied by the CBOC Executive Committee and ignored by the Board. Even District officials said they had a letter from their attorneys saying the funding could come from the Bond Program but they couldn’t show the letter to anyone because attorney/client privilege applied. Finally, on August 19th a letter from another District attorney clarified things. At $700 and hour, what do you think that letter cost the District?

    Even though the Board authorized a tad under a million dollars for this audit, they borrowed the money from the Bond Program–that’s $1.4 million in interest. Plus, they spent about a quarter million dollars on attorney fees and many thousands of manhours of staff time.

    By the time we finish paying for this audit, we may spend as much as $3 million. And THAT’s what I’ve been railing against. Could that money have been sent more judiciously? I believe it could have been.

    I’m especially incensed that no one in a position of authority could ever say what the end game was for this overpriced audit. They’ve hinted in a round about way about suing people and taking people to court without checking on the statute of limitations (virtually all have expired). So how do the kind get a better education because of this audit?

  4. Don Gosney

    I hope that the Richmond Confidential does a series of stories about who may be trying to buy this election. To date, organizations affiliated with charter schools have spent on behalf of one candidate more than $32,000 (nearly a thousand dollars per day) and have contributed directly to that same candidate nearly $20,000. Another candidate has had more than $20,000 spent on her behalf by charter school PACs.

    Both use the same campaign treasurer out of Sacramento (the first candidate actually changed treasurers to be with this person). There’s nothing yet posted showing that either are paying for this accounting firm out of their own resources.

    Two years ago charter organizations spent $646,000 to get ‘their’ candidates elected.

    It would be great if our news gathering organizations could use their resources to try to root out what’s going on here. Surely these organizations aren’t trying to buy the elections, are they?

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