The Board of Education of the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) announced that it will not move forward with the sale of Adams Middle School to Caliber Schools for $60,000 after a vote held during a closed-door meeting at Lovonya DeJean Middle School earlier this month.
In an open forum leading to the vote, community members and union representatives addressed the board. With the exception of members of the Carpenters Union, none supported the sale to the charter school organization, which is looking to house students who attend the Caliber Beta: Academy.
Adams Middle School, which was in operation for approximately 50 years, has the capacity to serve up to 1200 students, according to WCCUSD. It has been closed since 2009, when a structural engineering report raised concerns regarding the seismic safety of the three-story building. The report, produced by Dasse Structural Engineers, found that “the structure could experience significant and likely irreparable damage in a moderate earthquake.”
WCCUSD also said Adams was closed because of budget cuts.
The Dasse Report estimated that the construction of a temporary campus for Adams Middle School students would cost $5.4 million, and that associated relocation costs would total approximately $300,000.
Caliber Schools’ Caliber Beta: Academy started in 2014, with 270 students. This academic year, the school is operating out of temporary portable classrooms on the asphalt at the edge of the Kennedy High School campus. Last year, it operated out of a smaller temporary site at Stege Elementary School. WCCUSD spent $600,000 to house the school last year.
The gulf between that figure and Adams’ proposed sale price angered representatives of the teachers union who attended the meeting, which was held on September 7.
“We believe we are selling a very great property for only $60,000 and we are not making anything back,” said United Teachers of Richmond President Demetrio Gonzalez.
Teachers and union members also argued that Caliber: Beta Academy, which currently serves 700 students but hopes to serve 1400, hasn’t earned the right to grow.
“The public schools are the vestiges of true public involvement,” said Susan Wehlre, who has taught in Richmond schools for the past 30 years. “The charter program does not have the kind of oversight that public schools have, because they can decide who to take and who not to take,” she said.
Moreover, when children in charter schools don’t perform well, “they send them back to the district schools,” said Jill Alridge of the District Employees Union Local 21.
Tim Lipscomb, coordinator of the Carpenters Local Union 152, said they chose to support the sale because Caliber schools co-founder Ron Beller had signed an agreement that would have made the union the general contractor for the renovation of the school.
Gonzalez accused the carpenters union of switching their position on the school’s sale at the last minute, while addressing the board.
Community members who attended the meeting also voiced anger over the potential sale.
“If the government put the money they put in charter schools into public schools, there would be no need for charter schools,” said local resident Arto Rinteala.
Two candidates running for local office this fall, school board candidate Carlos Taboada and city council candidate Melvin Willis, voiced opposition, too.
“Caliber is looking to make profit off of education,” said Willis during the meeting.
Anure Mcgee, a student who has attended both public and charter schools, spoke up in support of Caliber. “Charter schools are small, so they are able to get to everyone and help everyone,” she said. “The district schools are big, there are so many students they can’t get to everyone.”
Under Proposition 39 and Education Code 47614, the district is legally obligated to provide charter schools with facilities that are “reasonably equivalent” to those used by students at district-operated schools.
WCCUSD Superintendent Matthew Duffy said that he understands the Caliber school’s “housing needs” and will work to find “a solution that works for both organizations.”