Pro-charter school PACs flood West Contra Costa school board elections with spending

on October 30, 2014

Richmond’s City Council and Mayoral races won’t be the only hot topics at the polls Tuesday, and Chevron isn’t the only entity flooding money into this year’s campaigns.

Two pro-charter school PACs and one pro-charter school couple have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a School Board race that has not received much attention from financial contributors elsewhere.

In an open letter called “Our Schools Are Not For Sale,” a group of 28 parents from the WCCUSD (West Contra Costa Unified School District) voiced their concerns regarding charter schools and the influx of “campaign money from deep-pocketed charter school supporters.”

“Charter schools concern us because they siphon off students and money from the other schools in the district, without sharing the challenges of educating ALL students,” the letter stated.

This November, three out of five seats on the WCCUSD Board of Education are open for election. There are ten candidates in the race. Two of the candidates, Elaine Merriweather and Madeline Kronenberg, are incumbents.

The California Charter School Association, and its subsidiary PAC, has spent over $200,000 in independent expenditures on the school board campaign so far.

Stephen Chamberlin, the retired owner of a real estate development firm, and his wife Susan, have contributed a combined $4000 to the campaigns of Liz Block, Valerie Cuevas, Raquel Donoso, and Elaine Merriweather.

Chamberlin and his wife are also the founders of Education Matters, a pro-charter school PAC, to which they have donated $250,000 of their own money. Education Matters, in turn, has spent over $100,000 on the race.

Two of the School Board candidates, Liz Block and Valerie Cuevas, have received direct contributions from Susan and Stephen Chamberlin and have benefitted indirectly through the PACs’ independent expenditures.

Charter Spending Stats

In a statement to Richmond Confidential, Block wrote, “I am not a ‘charter person.’ I am not a ‘district’ person, despite a long career as a district educator. I am a students and student-outcomes person.”

Cuevas stated, “I do not support school vouchers nor do I support for-profit charter education providers. However, I also believe that the parental demand for charter options in our district will not cease as long we fail to adequately see improvement of chronically low performing schools.”

Despite only vaguely allying themselves with charter schools, Liz Block and Valerie Cuevas have benefitted from about $130,000 and $85,000, respectively, in independent expenditures from Education Matters and the California Charter School Association.

In 2013, of the nineteen public elementary schools in Richmond, Richmond College Preparatory – a charter school – held the highest Academic Performance Index score (API), with 828 points. Peres and Valley View Elementary schools – which are not charter schools – came in second and third, with 816 and 815 API points, respectively.

School Board incumbent Madeline Kronenberg has faced the brunt of the PACs’ opposition spending – in total, the California Charter School Association has spent over $100,000 in campaign literature and mailings opposing Kronenberg, and Education Matters has spent just under $25,000 doing the same.

Kronenberg has raised just over $62,000 in contributions for her campaigns, or around half the amount the PACs have spent on her opposition.

Publically against charter schools, Kronenberg argues that the charter school application process pulls engaged families and students out of neighborhood schools, to the success of the charter schools and detriment of neighborhood schools.

“I would expect every school that has 100% engaged parents to outperform schools without that benefit,” said Kronenberg.

The concern among some parents is that big-money corporations and PACs believe they can buy their way into the city.

Addressing the pro-charter school PACs, WCCUSD parents wrote, “We can tell you that no magic bullet is going to solve the challenges of public education. Rather, creating success in public schools means rolling up your sleeves and working with your child’s teachers, administrators, and district staff on behalf of all students.”

 

 

30 Comments

  1. Linda Ruiz Lozito on October 30, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    I was asked to post this by Gloria Scoggins:

    Former WCCUSD Principal Speaks Out

    As a former principal in the West Contra Costa School District (WCCUSD) with grandchildren attending district schools, I cannot remain on the sidelines any longer, and neither should you. Many parents and guardians locally are increasingly concerned about the quality and challenges in our schools, and the resulting impact on our students’ abilities to compete in the larger society.

    The district’s academic performance ranking is one of the lowest in the State, especially for African Americans and other students of color. The blaming-the-victim mentality must stop. The data show that out of nine East Bay school districts, the WCCUSD had the highest property tax rate and the lowest student academic performance. New school buildings are nice, but we should be able to have both with the existing generosity of taxpayers: nice and safe school buildings and an education for our children that prepares them with career and college-level skills.

    I fear the district’s focus since 1999 has been on construction bonds — over $1.6 billion and counting; more than any K-12 district in California except for the much larger Los Angeles and San Diego districts. Furthermore, our communities are now awaiting the outcomes of a federal investigation into the bond program

    Paul Abramson, construction expert, reports that the average new high school in the region, including California, cost about $43.5 million for 1,250 students. The projected cost for the 1,300 students at one district high school is projected to come in at $250 million. At the same time, current board members approved about $21 million to build a sparkling new football stadium for El Cerrito High School, while they say other students are attending seismically unsafe and asbestos-riddled buildings. We need Trustees that have the right priorities for all students.

    The record shows that incumbent Madeline Kronenberg over the years received more than $200,000 in campaign money from construction companies and others who stand to benefit from more and more expenditures on buildings. Ms. Kronenberg is up for re-election next week and faces stiff opposition from strong candidates who have experience in education and the support of those who wish to see a focus on academics. Ms. Kronenberg was among the few with big outside corporate donations; and she opposed campaign limits and reform. Today, she’s crying foul when the playing field is leveled with donors and strong grassroots support of other candidates.

    Change takes courage; it is much easier to go along with the status quo and to sit passively on the sidelines. The stakes are too high to do that. That’s why I am supporting Liz Block, Val Cuevas and Ayana Kirkland Young for the West Contra Costa school board. They are advocating for an excellent education and safety for all students. Change won’t come overnight, but this is the kind of leadership we need to get started. Take a stand for our students, support Valerie Cuevas, Liz Block and Ayana Kirkland Young on November 4.

    Gloria Scoggins, retired WCCUSD Principal
    BIO
    Gloria Scoggins is a native of Richmond and has been active in the field of education for 42 years.
    After retiring from WCCUSD, Gloria has lectured Teacher Education classes and supervises interns and student teachers pursuing a teaching career. She is currently a Field Instructor at Loyola Marymount University and a University Supervisor at California State University, East Bay.



    • Jess on November 2, 2014 at 11:56 am

      I appreciate tremendously the info in Gloria Scoggins post about the current board’s obsession with construction bonds. Thanks for the facts and figures. Fascinating how much more our high school is costing to build than those in other districts. But Gloria, what about all the charter school money being spent on Liz Block’s and Valerie Cuevas behalf? If you’re concerned about big money buying influence….



  2. Linda Ruiz Lozito on October 30, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    The letter mentioned above, was sent around by email by parents that seem to have their kids in schools El Cerrito & Kensington. Here is the response I sent to David Whitenack and Joanna Pace yesterday:

    I feel this written piece (pasted below in email from Facebook) has much misinformation. I will try to clarify just a few points.

    Firstly, I came to know Liz Block and Valerie Cuevas before they were thinking of running for school board. They are ethical and care about students. Scottie Smith and I met with Ms. Cuevas over lunch to attempt to talk her into running. She had helped to provide data for a Blackboard group event on “African American Student Achievement”. I attended 12 various forums and have NEVER heard either one say anything about favoring charters over regular district schools. The only rhetoric like that has come from the camp of the candidates with the heavy construction interest backing. I believe that Liz Block & Valerie Cuevas will be very good for the school board – they have integrity, educational knowledge and will prioritize education. I have also been impressed with another candidate from Hercules, Ayana Kirkland Young, and think she would also be very good. As far as I know there has not ever been representation from Hercule/Pinole area on the school board.

    If I have been totally hoodwinked and they try to turn the district into a charter district – then I will be the first one drafting up a recall petition!

    SPECIAL INTEREST BACKING
    WCCUSD school board members have been taking large contributions from construction interests for many years.

    Over the years Madeline Kronenberg has received well over $200 thousand dollars in contributions from constructions interests that are profiting off of the $1.63 billion dollar bond program. Typically a school board candidate raises just a few thousand for a campaign. So, this might be the first time in WCCUSD history that someone might have more backing than Ramsey-Kronenberg. So far, Madeline has around $97K for this election (99% is from construction interests benefitting from the bond program AND most of those qualify for no-bid contracts).

    Peter Chau has $39,850 of which 98% of his contributions come from construction related interests – AND he is on the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee! At the Crescent Park neighborhood candidate forum Mr.Chau wanted one of the district’s project managers (Mr. Blackmon of Amanco) to represent him at the forum. During closing remarks at the Richmond HS candidate forum Mr. Chau said something about his contributions being mainly from working families and unions–98% are from construction interests.

    In 2010 Charles Ramsey raised $101,650, Madeline Kronenberg around $70,000 (I didn’t add up late contributions) – $15,000 was from the bond manager: the Seville Group “SGI”.

    In 2006 Madeline received around $60,000 in contributions- again mainly from construction interests and I believe she was on the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee during this! – $20,000 was from the Seville Group “SGI”. In 2006 Charles Ramsey received $132,350.

    Because of Gov Code 4526 Professional Services such as Construction management (SGI, Amanco), Architects, Engineers – do not have to be lowest bid, no-bid contracts.

    The WCCUSD bond management company is SGI. Rene Flores the Seville Group Inc. “SGI” president made a plea deal with the San Diego D.A. in the Sweetwater school district corruption case. http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/apr/26/another-contractor-pleads-guilty-corruption/

    WCCUSD school board president Charles Ramsey testimony to the San Diego Criminal Grand Jury – See page 81 (document page 2893.1): http://media.utsandiego.com/news/documents/2013/06/07/Volume18.pdf

    ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE OF WCCUSD SCHOOLS
    Overall El Cerrito & Kensington has schools that are outperforming other areas in this large diverse district.

    Examples of other schools:
    • Lincoln Elementary was missing a third grade teacher for the first 5 weeks of this school year AND did not get a teacher until parents and students spoke at a school board meeting.
    http://richmondconfidential.org/2014/09/26/after-five-weeks-of-substitutes-3rd-graders-at-lincoln-elementary-school-finally-have-a-permanent-teacher/
    • Nystrom Elementary has been in “PI” Program Improvement status since 1998. The WCCUSD calls PI schools “Focus Schools” …which means it has consistently failed to meet student achievement goals. 2013 % proficient/advanced in English/Language Arts = 20%, 2013 % proficient/advanced in Math = 25%”
    https://www.aclusocal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Complaint.pdf

    Ed Trust West pulled academic performance data from the CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION “CDE”.
    WCCUSD is consistently one of the lowest performing districts in California for low-income & students of color.
    • 2013 = 149 out of 149 districts. 69% of students in WCCUSD were low-income.
    • 2012 = 148 out of 148 districts. 66% of students in WCCUSD were low-income.
    • 2011 = 145 out of 147 districts. 68% of students in WCCUSD were low-income.
    • 2010 = 145 out of 146 districts. 66% of students in WCCUSD were low-income.

    Sincerely,
    Linda Ruiz-Lozito



  3. Lola T. on October 30, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    Wow. I’m really surprised to read a story like this and you didn’t even get another perspective! Not one comment from the grassroots folks who are desperately seeking change for our kids.

    Maybe you didn’t see the response from the Chamberlins yesterday. In fact, doesn’t even look like you asked for their perspective. Are you aware that more than $2.5M have been driven to the campaign coffers and bond measures by the large construction corporate interests?



    • Linda Ruiz Lozito on October 30, 2014 at 9:34 pm

      I agree with Lola. I have volunteered with grassroots people and I am a parent of two WCCUSD students.

      The letter mentioned above, was sent around by email by parents that seem to have their kids in schools El Cerrito & Kensington. Here is the response I sent to David Whitenack and Joanna Pace yesterday:

      I feel this written piece (pasted below in email from Facebook) has much misinformation. I will try to clarify just a few points.

      Firstly, I came to know Liz Block and Valerie Cuevas before they were thinking of running for school board. They are ethical and care about students. Scottie Smith and I met with Ms. Cuevas over lunch to attempt to talk her into running. She had helped to provide data for a Blackboard group event on “African American Student Achievement”. I attended 12 various forums and have NEVER heard either one say anything about favoring charters over regular district schools. The only rhetoric like that has come from the camp of the candidates with the heavy construction interest backing. I believe that Liz Block & Valerie Cuevas will be very good for the school board – they have integrity, educational knowledge and will prioritize education. I have also been impressed with another candidate from Hercules, Ayana Kirkland Young, and think she would also be very good. As far as I know there has not ever been representation from Hercule/Pinole area on the school board.

      If I have been totally hoodwinked and they try to turn the district into a charter district – then I will be the first one drafting up a recall petition!

      SPECIAL INTEREST BACKING
      WCCUSD school board members have been taking large contributions from construction interests for many years.

      Over the years Madeline Kronenberg has received well over $200 thousand dollars in contributions from constructions interests that are profiting off of the $1.63 billion dollar bond program. Typically a school board candidate raises just a few thousand for a campaign. So, this might be the first time in WCCUSD history that someone might have more backing than Ramsey-Kronenberg. So far, Madeline has around $97K for this election (99% is from construction interests benefitting from the bond program AND most of those qualify for no-bid contracts).

      Peter Chau has $39,850 of which 98% of his contributions come from construction related interests – AND he is on the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee! At the Crescent Park neighborhood candidate forum Mr.Chau wanted one of the district’s project managers (Mr. Blackmon of Amanco) to represent him at the forum. During closing remarks at the Richmond HS candidate forum Mr. Chau said something about his contributions being mainly from working families and unions–98% are from construction interests.

      In 2010 Charles Ramsey raised $101,650, Madeline Kronenberg around $70,000 (I didn’t add up late contributions) – $15,000 was from the bond manager: the Seville Group “SGI”.

      In 2006 Madeline received around $60,000 in contributions- again mainly from construction interests and I believe she was on the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee during this! – $20,000 was from the Seville Group “SGI”. In 2006 Charles Ramsey received $132,350.

      Because of Gov Code 4526 Professional Services such as Construction management (SGI, Amanco), Architects, Engineers – do not have to be lowest bid, no-bid contracts.

      The WCCUSD bond management company is SGI. Rene Flores the Seville Group Inc. “SGI” president made a plea deal with the San Diego D.A. in the Sweetwater school district corruption case. http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/apr/26/another-contractor-pleads-guilty-corruption/

      WCCUSD school board president Charles Ramsey testimony to the San Diego Criminal Grand Jury – See page 81 (document page 2893.1):http://media.utsandiego.com/news/documents/2013/06/07/Volume18.pdf

      ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE OF WCCUSD SCHOOLS
      Overall El Cerrito & Kensington has schools that are outperforming other areas in this large diverse district.

      Examples of other schools:
      • Lincoln Elementary was missing a third grade teacher for the first 5 weeks of this school year AND did not get a teacher until parents and students spoke at a school board meeting.
      http://richmondconfidential.org/2014/09/26/after-five-weeks-of-substitutes-3rd-graders-at-lincoln-elementary-school-finally-have-a-permanent-teacher/
      • Nystrom Elementary has been in “PI” Program Improvement status since 1998. The WCCUSD calls PI schools “Focus Schools” …which means it has consistently failed to meet student achievement goals. 2013 % proficient/advanced in English/Language Arts = 20%, 2013 % proficient/advanced in Math = 25%”
      https://www.aclusocal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Complaint.pdf

      Ed Trust West pulled academic performance data from the CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION “CDE”.
      WCCUSD is consistently one of the lowest performing districts in California for low-income & students of color.
      • 2013 = 149 out of 149 districts. 69% of students in WCCUSD were low-income.
      • 2012 = 148 out of 148 districts. 66% of students in WCCUSD were low-income.
      • 2011 = 145 out of 147 districts. 68% of students in WCCUSD were low-income.
      • 2010 = 145 out of 146 districts. 66% of students in WCCUSD were low-income.



  4. Tamara Brown on October 30, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    This is the response from the Chamberlins that Lola T is talking about. The Chamberlins should add the Richmond Confidential to their listserv because it’s clear they are indifferent to the facts.

    To: Our Friends and Neighbors
    From: Susan and Steve Chamberlin, Richmond Residents

    There is much discussion surrounding this year’s elections, including the school board races. Honest debate is healthy, and we want to be clear about our involvement. We have nothing to hide.

    We think school board leadership is incredibly important, as do many others in our community: parents, teachers, community leaders and organizations, and other residents. Many people before us vetted the candidates and, in solidarity, decided to support strong, ethical leaders. We are standing alongside these individuals, and donating significantly to give voice to the group.

    In hopes of honoring the current healthy debate, we also wanted to address a few statements made by Madeline Kronenberg and Peter Chau.

    THE STATEMENT: “Corporate outsiders (are) trying to destroy our public schools….and BUY the school board.” – Madeline Kronenberg, as posted on her website

    THE FACTS: For more than a decade, construction companies across the state have funneled over $2.5 million into the West Contra Costa bond measures and school board races. Madeline Kronenberg and Peter Chau have been the recipients of their largess. In fact, this election season, Madeline has reported about $100,000, primarily from big outside construction companies. All of these firms directly or indirectly do business with the district. Most people consider this to be “pay for play.”

    Let’s be clear: Madeline opposed campaign finance reform for WCCUSD in 2010 that would have limited campaign contributions. So who exactly are the corporate outsiders, and who exactly has been trying to buy the elections? You decide.

    THE STATEMENT: The Chamberlins are trying to “unseat me and put in a team that will work to change everything we’ve been building in the district over the past eight years.” – Madeline Kronenberg, as posted on her Facebook page

    THE FACTS: We have to concede, in some ways, that this is true. We would like to improve a few things:

    · Our children’s academic performance: Our schools and students used to out-perform Oakland (an admittedly low bar), yet the Oakland schools leapfrogged our overall academic performance in 2010. This is not progress.
    · Our children’s college readiness: More than HALF of our high school graduates don’t meet the basic admissions requirements to even apply to the Cal State or University of California systems, as reported by the California Department of Education. This is unacceptable.
    · Our prioritization of facility improvements: Yes, our new school buildings are beautiful. But the current board leadership has prioritized extravagant facilities (like the $21 million football stadium for El Cerrito High School) while students in Richmond still learn in windowless classrooms. Our bond program is over 15 years old. How did this happen under our school board’s watch?

    THE STATEMENT: “They (California Charter School Association) are targeting races across the state to make sure we have charter-friendly school boards.” – Madeline Kronenberg, as posted on her Facebook page

    THE FACTS: This too is partly true, except in this race, the charter association does not have “pro-charter” candidates. Yes, Liz Block and Valerie Cuevas appear to be open to parents having quality educational options, but above all, they’re focused on district schools, ensuring instruction – not construction – is the number one priority. Both have deep experience in improving district schools and that’s why the leaders of the BlackBoard are supporting them, along with teachers and families who want something better for their kids. It’s also why the Contra Costa Times called Liz Block, Valerie Cuevas and Raquel Donoso (another great candidate), “a trio that deserves your votes….Indeed, it’s been a long time since the district has had trustees of their caliber. Residents deserve a better school board.”

    THE STATEMENT: “For-Profit Charter Schools…” – Peter Chau, a reference made repeatedly at candidate forums

    THE FACTS: This is just flat wrong. There are eight public charter schools in the district boundaries. All eight are run by education not-for-profits.

    THE STATEMENT: “Charters are not required to hold public board meetings…so there is no possibility of transparency…” – Madeline Kronenberg at the Contra Costa Times endorsement interview

    THE FACTS: Surely, after eight years on the school board, Madeline must know this is patently false. The California Education Code is clear on this matter. Directly from the state website, “Although charter schools are exempt from most laws applicable to school districts, they are not exempt from laws that generally apply to public agencies, including the legal requirement to hold open meetings.” California Government Code Section 54950 et. seq.

    THE STATEMENT: Public charter schools “leave a concentration of our most disadvantaged and challenged families in our neighborhood schools … [but] 83% [of charter schools perform] the same or below the traditional schools – only 17% are better…” – Madeline Kronenberg, as posted on her website

    THE FACTS: Let’s talk about the charter schools in our district. Families here are choosing among five charter schools that have been around long enough to have state test results.
    · The state standard for schools is an 800 in the Academic Performance Index
    · Of ALL the middle and high schools in the district, only five schools reached the state goal of 800; four are charter schools and one is the selective Middle College High
    · The charter schools here are required by state law to be non-selective and have open enrollment via a public lottery; these schools work hard to recruit those students that most rely on a transformational educational experience
    · The local charter schools also, in total, have higher shares of disadvantaged students and students of color than the district

    So, yes, the charter schools here are performing well. It’s no surprise that every charter school in the district currently has a waitlist. And for those charter schools that are not performing well, the district and the county can close them, and they should. All kids deserve a great school.

    Let’s remember, the charter-district debate is a diversion. Parents just want their children to have access to an excellent education. There are some great district schools with tremendous leaders and teachers doing amazing things; we should celebrate these schools and honor these educators. In addition, there are great charter schools with an impressive track record. All our kids deserve to have access to schools like these.

    We will continue to support what works for kids. We’re a retired couple who has been fortunate late in life, and we’ve committed to try to support positive change for kids in our own community. Some people may not like every donation or investment we make on behalf of kids, but we’ll continue to listen and learn.

    The best interest of students will always be our North Star.

    Thank you for reading.



    • Giorgio Cosentino on November 1, 2014 at 6:30 pm

      The CC Times endorsed Raquel Donoso without even questioning her “yes” vote on Measure H? Much of this election has been about concerns regarding the bond program. Even the CC Times raised concerns about the bond program, opposing Measure H, telling voters to vote NO. We want to elect folks who have been paying close attention to our district. I want to repair our schools, too, but to vote yes on more tax measures before getting the answers to our questions does not seem wise to me. The credibility of the CC Times is suspect.



  5. scottie smith on October 30, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    This story is a one sided effort to paint a “poor kronenberg” picture in order to promote the status quo. The letter mentioned in the article has been going around on email trying to get signatures from people in Richmond and other cities rather than just the El Cerrito folks to validate it, with little or no support from us. If the reporters had done more research they could have written an article that reflected what other parents think of the status quo, and particularly parents of color, which is “the status quo it must go”. Therefore, if the reporters wish to do a balance article, I and others would be more than happy to share our thoughts.

    I agree with Gloria, there is a great need for change in the District. This article has not focus on the real issues of education in the WCCUSD, and the lack of academic progress for many students of the District under the leadership of the incumbents. It tries to pit one group against the other, with the fear of charter schools (which are public schools) against the larger public system.

    If the reporters really wanted a true story they should have read the data put out by the California Department of Education of the academic performance of students in the District under the leadership of the incumbents. They could have review the campaign contributions of this and past years to the candidates from the construction and other contractors that do business with the District.

    While this type of propaganda continues to support Kronenberg and others receiving her type of funding our children will continue to rank at the bottom in academic achievement. I support Valeria Cuevas and Liz Block, people that has educational expertise and care about the needs of all students over the construction interest.



  6. Ayana Kirkland Young on October 30, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    My response when I was forwarded the letter, “Our Schools Are Not For Sale;”

    I received the email from the El Cerrito parents, by forwarded email, and although I am a candidate I am also a concerned, (disgruntled according to Don Gosney, but anyway,) parent as well. As a parent I want what’s best for my children including a quality education, but I believe that all children should have a quality education. Every two years new school board candidates promise to do this for us, but nothing has changed other than the amount of schools that have been re-built or upgraded. The quality of education however has gotten worse, teachers are still underpaid with little resources, and the high schools are still not safe. I live in Hercules, and pay a lot of money in property taxes to this school district, but it seems like such a waste, as I have to hope someone doesn’t try and jump my son while he is at school trying to learn. I’m concerned about all the negativity on both sides because it confuses people. However the focus of this district, specifically in the opinion of Pinole and Hercules parents, has not been on educating students. That’s what needs to change, the district has got to get it together and really start educating students. I’m glad that El Cerrito parents feel like that what’s happening for their city, but it is not happening for us. This means something has to change. Am I that change,I can definitely help create that change, but it absolutely needs to happen for students who are in other cities like mine.

    The letter states in part,
    “We urge you to vote for candidates who know our district, have attended school in our district
    and have sent their kids to schools in our district, and understand that our schools must educate
    ALL students. Finally, we urge you to vote for neighborhood schools and the candidates who
    have not taken money from charter school funders. Vote for Chau, Kronenberg, and Phillips for
    West Contra Costa Unified School District Governing Board.”

    Boy do I agree with voting for candidates who know our district, but they can’t possibly think someone is capable of this job simply because they went to school in this district. Neither Mr. Phillips nor Mr. Chau know what it’s like to send their children to these schools, this is why they are so anti-Charter School. They don’t know and obviously don’t care that parents want and need options in a school district such as ours! Mr. Phillips’ children are too young and Mr. Chau doesn’t have any. Additionally, at least Mr. Phillips has been in the classroom, Mr. Chau has no idea what a teacher deals with as he has never been in a classroom. Also a couple of the candidates endorsed in the letter have taken thousands and thousands of dollars from those who would benefit from a continued facilities focus. Maybe El Cerritio parents can afford to pay more property taxes if we continue down this road, but it’s really starting to become a hardship for my family.

    I’m glad that those parents are concerned and are trying to get the word out, but the the words put out should be the truth, or else it does an injustice for children. I am also very concerned about the candidates who are using this position as a springboard for their political career, as this also does our students an injustice.

    So why did I respond to this letter, I guess so I could say, “vote for me?” (smile), I have experience as a teacher, I went to school in this district from first grade until graduation and I have 4 children attending school in the district, I know many, many teachers and parents who have and keep encouraging me to stay positive because they know I will advocate for them and their children just as I do for my own. I really do know the district…. Of course I would love your votes, but this issue of educating students and keeping them safe is bigger than my or anyone else’s candidacy. I hope everyone will consider that before voting.
    Best,

    Ayana Kirkland Young



    • Lisa on November 2, 2014 at 8:55 am

      Ms. Young,

      You just lost my vote. Your contempt for these parents who also want what is best for all students is almost palpable. Based on your comment, we’ll be eliminating Ms. Cuevas and Ms. Block as well. Ms. Cuevas has no children and Ms. Block educated hers in elite private schools. You obviously see the world in one way and won’t entertain other views. Good luck.



      • John Cundiff on November 2, 2014 at 10:16 am

        Lisa, I doubt you were on the fence to begin with. You are what we call in the business a “concern troll,” someone who pretends to be on the fence and open to other opinions, but is not. I bet you had your mind made up before you even knew about any of the other candidates. My guess? You are a parent from Kensington or the hills who wants to keep the status quo in place because it serves you the best. Our district is unfairly and unequally run. We need representation for ALL our students, not just the Kensington mother’s group that has been propagating this online nonsense and fake troll campaign as you have. Ayana, if it’s any consolation, you just won my vote. Thanks for your honesty, and for sticking your neck out.



    • Giorgio Cosentino on November 2, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      Ayana,
      Four of your seven kids are attending school in this district. I’d like to hear about the experiences your other three kids had for sake of comparison. You are in a unique position to have this additional perspective.



  7. Linda Ruiz Lozito on October 30, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    The letter mentioned in this article was sent around by email by El Cerrito parents. Here is the response I sent to David Whitenack and Joanna Pace yesterday:

    I feel this written piece (pasted below in email from Facebook) has much misinformation. I will try to clarify just a few points.

    Firstly, I came to know Liz Block and Valerie Cuevas before they were thinking of running for school board. They are ethical and care about students. Scottie Smith and I met with Ms. Cuevas over lunch to attempt to talk her into running. She had helped to provide data for a Blackboard group event on “African American Student Achievement”. I attended 12 various forums and have NEVER heard either one say anything about favoring charters over regular district schools. The only rhetoric like that has come from the camp of the candidates with the heavy construction interest backing. I believe that Liz Block & Valerie Cuevas will be very good for the school board – they have integrity, educational knowledge and will prioritize education. I have also been impressed with another candidate from Hercules, Ayana Kirkland Young, and think she would also be very good. As far as I know there has not ever been representation from Hercule/Pinole area on the school board.

    If I have been totally hoodwinked and they try to turn the district
    into a charter district – then I will be the first one drafting up a
    recall petition!

    SPECIAL INTEREST BACKING

    WCCUSD school board members have been taking large contributions from construction interests for many years.

    Over the years Madeline Kronenberg has received well over $200 thousand dollars in contributions from constructions interests that are profiting off of the $1.63 billion dollar bond program. Typically a school board candidate raises just a few thousand for a campaign. SO, THIS MIGHT BE THE FIRST TIME IN WCCUSD HISTORY THAT SOMEONE MIGHT HAVE MORE BACKING THAN RAMSEY-KRONENBERG. So far, Madeline has around $97K for this election (99% is from construction interests benefitting from the bond program AND most of those qualify for no-bid contracts).

    Peter Chau has $39,850 of which 98% of his contributions come from construction related interests – AND he is on the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee! At the Crescent Park neighborhood candidate forum Mr.Chau wanted one of the district’s project managers (Mr. Blackmon of Amanco) to represent him at the forum. During closing remarks at the Richmond HS candidate forum Mr. Chau said something about his contributions being mainly from working families and unions–98% are from construction interests.

    In 2010 Charles Ramsey raised $101,650, Madeline Kronenberg around $70,000 (I didn’t add up late contributions) – $15,000 was from the bond manager: the Seville Group “SGI”.

    In 2006 Madeline received around $60,000 in contributions- again mainly from construction interests and I believe she was on the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee during this! –$20,000 was from the Seville Group “SGI”. In 2006 Charles Ramsey received $132,350.

    Because of Gov Code 4526 Professional Services such as Construction management (SGI, Amanco), Architects, Engineers – do not have to be lowest bid, no-bid contracts.

    The WCCUSD bond management company is SGI. Rene Flores the Seville Group Inc. “SGI” president made a plea deal with the San Diego D.A. in the Sweetwater school district corruption case. http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/apr/26/another-contractor-pleads-guilty-corruption/

    WCCUSD school board president Charles Ramsey testimony to the San Diego Criminal Grand Jury – See page 81 (document page 2893.1): http://media.utsandiego.com/news/documents/2013/06/07/Volume18.pdf

    ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE OF WCCUSD SCHOOLS

    Overall El Cerrito & Kensington has schools that are outperforming other areas in this large diverse district.

    Examples of other schools:

    • Lincoln Elementary was missing a third grade teacher for the first 5 weeks of this school year AND did not get a teacher until parents and students spoke at a school board meeting.
    http://richmondconfidential.org/2014/09/26/after-five-weeks-of-substitutes-3rd-graders-at-lincoln-elementary-school-finally-have-a-permanent-teacher/

    • Nystrom Elementary has been in “PI” Program Improvement status since 1998. The WCCUSD calls PI schools “Focus Schools” …which means it has consistently failed to meet student achievement goals. 2013 % proficient/advanced in English/Language Arts = 20%, 2013 % proficient/advanced in Math = 25%”
    https://www.aclusocal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Complaint.pdf

    Ed Trust West pulled academic performance data from the CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION “CDE”.
    WCCUSD is consistently one of the lowest performing districts in California for low-income & students of color.
    • 2013 = 149 out of 149 districts. 69% of students in WCCUSD were low-income.
    • 2012 = 148 out of 148 districts. 66% of students in WCCUSD were low-income.
    • 2011 = 145 out of 147 districts. 68% of students in WCCUSD were low-income.
    • 2010 = 145 out of 146 districts. 66% of students in WCCUSD were low-income.



  8. Fatima on October 30, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    Interesting that the Richmond Confidential wants to highlight a biased perspective of the candidates. When the parents talk about rolling up sleeves and getting to work – where are the administrators during this time? Do any of the parents who signed this document come from impoverished communities, cultures, or have been disenfranchised? Have these people visited or invested time in schools such as Nystrom, Stege, Coronado, Kennedy High, Richmond High, or any of the other POORLY RANKED SCHOOLS? If the schools are so great it doesn’t matter how many charters infiltrate the system, parents will not register their kids. So if these parents are so concerned about charter schools I challenge them to enroll their kids at one of the poorly ranked schools and be satisfied while they lack the resources to enroll their kids in private school, travel, and engage in cultural experiences. So in essence these parents are saying settle for less and deal with it while those who reside in the zones of Kensington, Madera and Harding thrive while others can barely afford or engage in enrichment activities, school supplies, science night, literacy night, math night. If the board is so concerned about charter schools, show us how great your schools are BUT do NOT tell parents that they do not have the RIGHT to seek a quality education if they are impoverished. Do not tell us we need to settle for what you GIVE us.

    I’m unclear what the purpose of this document is besides to undermine the fact that none of the incumbents can truly state or document their effectiveness to create an equitable, quality educational system for ALL students. That is the purpose of the Board – not to focus on contributions because there are documents that highlight corporate contributions THEY received for years while our district continued to decline in performance and ranking (WCCUSD did not even make the top 500 in the state). If the incumbents have effectively done their jobs to improve the QUALITY of education, provided a safe and inclusive learning environment for ALL students, listened to parents (I sent them an email about the JROTC program and the role of the CBAC but none of them responded – so I guess once voted in they do not listen to the district’s committee members or parents), and held administrators and teachers ACCOUNTABLE then the supporters of the incumbents would make this a priority to advocate for their respective parties. Since their focus is the tens of thousands of dollars allocated to support potential candidates, let’s talk about the school improvement selection process, millions of money spent on abnormally high interest rates and the lack of knowledge on how much money the taxpayers will truly spend on construction bonds. Let’s talk the facts – incumbents tell us what you have done over the past 2 years.



  9. Ben on October 31, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Unfortunately, I do not believe that this article meets the journalistic standards of Richmond Confidential. Any story needs to present both sides of an issue, and this article egregiously fails to do this. The result is more of an editorial than an expository article.

    Of greater importance, I fear that the article reveals that the journalists don’t yet understand the fundamental issues that face residents of this District. Are children getting a good education in the WCCUSD? Are our educational leaders providing that to them or not? Why has there been so much construction money donated to “chosen” school board candidates and what effect does that have on educational priorities? These are very important issues. For the first time, people in this community are finally standing up to say, “Enough!” We’re tired of the endless and extravagant debt that has occurred that was done virtually nothing to improve education.

    As a final note, most of the signatories on that letter that is cited in the article are from the hills. Schools in the hills are very, very different than the schools in the flatlands. I am weary of neighborhood school supporters who only consider their neighborhood and don’t give a darn about anyone else in the community (including the flatlands), so long as their kids are ok. If some of those families magically were relocated to the flatlands, I have a very strong suspicion that most of them would be rushing to exit their neighborhood public school in favor of private or charter school alternatives.



  10. EM on October 31, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Dear Hannah and Zainab: That’s a really nice looking bar graph you came up with. How about now you make one showing the contributions from construction and architecture firms into Madeline Kronenberg’s campaign each time she has run for school board? Don’t forget to include Perter Chau too and please make a bar for Charles Ramsey just for old times sakes. Maybe because you’re doing your investigative work from a Berkeley coffee shop somewhere on Telegraph you don’t care about digging into what’s really happening to us in West Contra Costa Unified, especially in our Richmond schools but this is really irresponsible journalism.
    I grew up in Richmond and attended Coronado Elementary and Dejean Middle School. By the time I was in 8th grade, it became clear that I was falling behind with the most basic reading, math and science concepts. My mom knew that if she continued to send me to district-run schools, especially during my high school years, I would never make it to college. I consider myself lucky to have been able to attend Leadership Public Schools – Richmond. Here’s something you and everyone who is critical of Charter Public Schools needs to understand. The traditional district school system was not designed to serve low-income people of color so it’s no wonder it has been failing us for decades, before and after Brown v. Board of Ed, to this very day. What we need to preserve and protect is “public education” but if the system delivering that public education is failing us, we should be innovative and responsible enough to change it for the kids stuck in failing district-run schools. As Hannah mentioned in a previous article (http://richmondconfidential.org/2014/10/24/majority-of-richmond-graduates-dont-meet-admission-requirements-for-states-public-universities) the percentage of students that are eligible to attend a UC/CSU is less than 50% in all high schools in this district for the year of 2012-2013. In Leadership Public School- Richmond that same year 89.5% of their students were eligible to attend a UC/CSU, so why not instead of making this a charter vs traditional school we take a look at the academic performance outcomes and see what is better for our students academically. Families like mine should be able to opt out from having their public education delivered by the district, and choose to have another entity deliver said public education if they do a much better job at it.
    My mom chose to have a NON-PROFIT charter management operator deliver my free public high school education and I’m tired of having privileged, middle class, El Cerrito parents demonize us for that decision. Their relationship with district schools is different from our relationship with district-run schools, and if that’s where they want to send their kids it’s up to them, but don’t make the decision for all of us. As for Steven and Susan Chamberlin, thank you for helping make this school board race a fair one. This is the first time in a long time that anyone with a kids first agenda can run for school board and actually have a shot at winning. Before this year, no one could run for school board and raise enough money to compete with the outrageous contributions from outside construction firms. The unethical pay to play transactions that have controlled the school board races in the past have finally been challenged. Thank you Chamberlins, thank you CCSA, thank you to everyone standing up to the status quo. Thank you to everyone who agrees that it’s time we put kids first.



  11. Tamara Brown on October 31, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    I really appreciate Ayana’s response to this article. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting her in person and hearing her speak at different candidate forums. She is smart, bold, fair, and it’s clear her number one priority is student achievement. It would be a dream come true if Liz, Val, and Ayana took the 3 seats on the school board! Fingers crossed.



  12. EM on October 31, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    I grew up in Richmond and attended Coronado Elementary and Dejean Middle School. By the time I was in 8th grade, it became clear that I was falling behind with the most basic reading, math and science concepts. My mom knew that if she continued to send me to district-run schools, especially during my high school years, I would never make it to college. I consider myself lucky to have been able to attend Leadership Public Schools – Richmond. Here’s something you and everyone who is critical of Charter Public Schools needs to understand. The traditional district school system was not designed to serve low-income people of color so it’s no wonder it has been failing us for decades, before and after Brown v. Board of Ed, to this very day. What we need to preserve and protect is “public education” but if the system delivering that public education is failing us, we should be innovative and responsible enough to change it for the kids stuck in failing district-run schools. As it was mentioned in a previous article,the percentage of students that are eligible to attend a UC/CSU is less than 50% in all high schools in this district for the year of 2012-2013. In Leadership Public School- Richmond that same year 89.5% of their students were eligible to attend a UC/CSU, so why not instead of making this a charter vs traditional school we take a look at the academic performance outcomes and see what is better for our students academically. Families like mine should be able to opt out from having their public education delivered by the district, and choose to have another entity deliver said public education if they do a much better job at it.
    My mom chose to have a NON-PROFIT charter management operator deliver my free public high school education and I’m tired of having privileged, middle class, El Cerrito parents demonize us for that decision. Their relationship with district schools is different from our relationship with district-run schools, and if that’s where they want to send their kids it’s up to them, but don’t make the decision for all of us. As for Steven and Susan Chamberlin, thank you for helping make this school board race a fair one. This is the first time in a long time that anyone with a kids first agenda can run for school board and actually have a shot at winning. Before this year, no one could run for school board and raise enough money to compete with the outrageous contributions from outside construction firms. The unethical pay to play transactions that have controlled the school board races in the past have finally been challenged. Thank you Chamberlins, thank you CCSA, thank you to everyone standing up to the status quo. Thank you to everyone who agrees that it’s time we put kids first.



  13. Giorgio Cosentino on November 1, 2014 at 10:51 am

    The charter school issue is not a diversion as some claim. It is relevant to the choices we make regarding how to proceed with our district. Personally, I want every school and every classroom in the district to be successful. I want us to have maximum control over this process. Teachers Unions might not like some of my ideas and neither do charter advocates. This district should have been declared a “state of emergency” with something akin to the implementation of martial law. Instead, we have everyone jumping ship. Some of the charter life rafts will make it to shore, but some of the charter schools will also sink, as we have already seen. We need everyone to come together, but now it appears this task has become one of herding cats. Maybe the only hope for each parent is to do the best you can with your child under you roof.



    • Mister Phillips on November 1, 2014 at 11:13 pm

      Do not lose hope, Giorgio. Things will get better.



      • Giorgio Cosentino on November 2, 2014 at 4:22 pm

        Thanks, Mister!



  14. Giorgio Cosentino on November 1, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Here is a previous comment that I completely sympathize with:
    “So, yes, the charter schools here are performing well. It’s no surprise that every charter school in the district currently has a waitlist. And for those charter schools that are not performing well, the district and the county can close them, and they should. All kids deserve a great school.”
    Two issues I have a problem with. First, the wait list. Those waiting students will continue to perish or succumb to a failing system. If your child is a waiting student TODAY, how are we going to rescue him or her? Second, for any charter school that is closed, this means we now have additional victims, that their education was compromised.

    Raquel Donoso referred to a “structural” problem with the district. We need a major think-outside-the-box, overhaul, complete with replacing staff if necessary. Isn’t that what they did at DeAnza? This district needs to be rescued in a manner of D-Day, liberating the district from failure. A charter “wait list” is not an immediate response for kids in our classrooms TODAY.

    Let’s make this D-Day, folks! Keep the effort moving forward after election day. Those who do not get elected must stay involved with this effort. We need them. First order of business within 30 days, each WCCUSD community should set up an Education Command Center. Then, hold a meeting, asking for reports from your SSCs and your LCAP rep. Invite City Council members. Review High School WASC documents. Next, present your assessment of the situation to the new school board. Demand a response.
    Onward!



  15. Craig L. on November 1, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    The Chamberlains claim:

    ” In fact, this election season, Madeline has reported about $100,000, primarily from big outside construction companies. All of these firms directly or indirectly do business with the district. Most people consider this to be “pay for play.””

    Does this mean that since the pro charter PACs are paying 3x as much they expect to play 3x as much?

    So far my household has received 18 large glossy fliers from Education Matters and California Charter Schools Association. All either for Block and Cuevas or smearing Kronenberg, or both.

    This is more than all the rest of the political mailings we have received put together.

    The level of imbalance and strong handedness presented by these two Charter school PACs has ruined the creditability of Block and Cuevas.



    • Bill Bradsky on November 2, 2014 at 12:35 am

      How is it fair to compare something that Block and Cuevas have no control over, Independent Expenditures, and something that Madeline Kronenberg and Peter Chau have total control over, taking money from construction companies? Why is a company based out of Pasadena donating thousands of dollars to these two candidates (Kronenberg and Chau)? Last I checked the number of non-construction company donors for Chau is still in the single digits. Where do you think he’s getting all his money from? At least Steve Chamberlin lives in Richmond and donates to other local causes.



    • Linda Ruiz Lozito on November 7, 2014 at 4:19 pm

      I got glossy mailers from CHEVRON for Kronenberg and Chau

      Secretary of State website now shows Chevron’ Moving Forward PAC-
      … Madeline Kronenberg and Peter Chau for West Contra Costa School Board; Richmond Working Families for Jobs 2014
      http://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/Campaign/Committees/Detail.aspx?id=1372270



  16. Giorgio Cosentino on November 1, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Are parents ready to do their part? Some truly are doing so, but some not so. Last year, at the Hercules Math Night event, only two parents showed up. We have Site Councils that say they cannot recruit parents to join. Parents scream if we kick disruptive students out of the classroom and they scream if we do not kick disruptive students out of the classroom, while children who are trying to learn cannot because of the disruptions and the school board’s hands are tied by the parents who fight over which is the best solution to this problem. Not all discipline issues are the result of trouble at home. Not all problems are addressed by Restorative Justice programs. In some cases, you just have spoiled kids who will not even try to take advantage of what education we are trying to offer them. Even during a budget crisis, we do not want to do without after school sports or spirit days and dances. We say that the money spent on sports is well-spent because it keeps a few kids in school. Two years ago, two visiting students from Europe shadowed some of our students and then reported to the school board how many fun things our students do in our school district, that in their country, they just focus on getting their diploma. And our parents can’t get motivated to show up to Math Night? No problem. I had the pleasure of talking with district math staff almost completely by myself. Great team, by the way! I guess sports teams are more important than our math teams. Do you get my point? We all need to step up. To those of you who have, good job! To those who can’t, we need to get you the resources. To those who are able, but choose not to, I hope you are not complaining. The school board can’t do it all for us.



  17. Denise Sangster on November 1, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    The existing Board members have essentially mortgaged the future of public school education with the $1+ Billion in debt that the US Securities Exchange Commission is now investigating. The existing Board needs to go.

    I am 100% public school educated: kindergarten through grad school. I am committed to public schools. We do not have Board members that have done their job for children and it is time for change.

    There were significant fears in Oakland when former Mayor Jerry Brown, now California Governor, started the first charter school. It helped bring change at the Board and school administration. I had first hand experience watching it as an Oakland resident. Today, these schools compliment the traditional public schools. What is concerning to me is to see the 50+ neighbor kids board buses or jump in carpools to Bart to head to the Oakland charter schools or head to public schools in Berkeley or Albany–or private school.

    We need to clean out the bad WCCUSD Board leadership, raise the performance of the Existing schools, and better support our teachers.

    The “enemy” are the construction companies/architects/and others with conflicting interests that have bought the school board for the last 10 years with THEIR spending over $3 million. Why? Just look at the cost over runs at El Cerrito High School: $7 million budget and now costs have swelled to over $21 million and who has directly benefited? The construction companies, architects, and others that funded many of today’s WCCUSD Board members. Shameful!

    The status quo needs to change. We need to do better for children.



  18. […] This article originally appeared on KQED’s News Associate site Richmond Confidential. […]



  19. Linda Ruiz Lozito on November 4, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    CHEVRON BACKED!?! Madeline Kronenberg has made a big deal about corporate money HOWEVER two mailers came in the mail yesterday – one for Madeline Kronenberg and one for Peter Chau – from “Working Families for Jobs 2014” – is a PAC name used by CHEVRON & has Local 342’s address in Concord. http://richmondworkingfamilies.com/
    http://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/Misc/filerSearch.aspx?SEARCH=working+families+for+jobs+2014+



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Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.

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