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GUEST OPINION: The Real Winners Must be Our Students

on November 4, 2014


The Richmond Confidential story on the school board election in West Contra Costa Unified School District (Pro-charter school PACs flood West Contra Costa school board elections.) leaves me puzzled. After 15 years of teaching at Cal Berkeley myself, I applaud the experience these young journalists are gaining. Still, our students and families depend on you to ensure the story is complete and balanced.

While telling readers about “pro-charter” money flooding into West Contra Costa school board elections, your reporters make no mention of the fact that Madeline Kronenburg, an incumbent board member running for re-election, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions over the years from construction and engineering firms who are school district vendors.

We have a rich and diverse community, and that requires us to be respectful of the varying perspectives that exist – not just the parents who penned that letter, with all due respect. The many comments that I see posted on that article do a better job than I could ever do to put a voice to the many families – from Richmond, San Pablo, Pinole, Hercules and beyond – who desperately want and need change.

We have to be careful to avoid diverting attention from the real issue. Until there is campaign finance reform in our community, which Ms. Kronenburg has opposed, we have to create a more level playing field. It cannot be the supporters of the status quo alone who are heard. It cannot be the district vendors alone who get involved.

The facts here are pretty plain. Whoever wins or loses in the school board election, we must ensure that it’s our students who ultimately come out ahead. That starts with getting honest about the challenges we face. We need more great schools and quality options for families. There are no silver bullets, but we should encourage and support our great educators – both inside the traditional public schools and in the public charter schools – to advance solutions that meet parents’ demand for great schools.

The charter schools are performing well in our district and serving a disproportionate number of economically disadvantaged students and children of color. At the same time, we have some fantastic district schools, teachers and principals. We should support what’s working for our kids, and not divide ourselves across false lines. Our Foundation supports programs at the district, and also to a lesser degree, at some public charter schools in the community. We care only about what works for our students, especially those who most depend on a transformational educational experience.

Regardless of the election results, for the sake of the students and taxpayers, let’s get serious about the challenges that exist, and then come together to focus on solutions for all students across our communities. That’s the most important win in the end.

Steve Chamberlin is a Richmond resident and retired Haas School of Business Adjunct Professor


  1. Giorgio Cosentino on November 4, 2014 at 6:05 am

    I wanted campaign reform and asked Mrs. Kronenberg if she would adopt campaign contribution limits. She said “no”, citing the fact that candidates are also competing with the endorsements of the teachers union (UTR), the one political entity that seems to be escaping scrutiny during this discussion. Like Mrs. Kronenberg said, an endorsement from UTR results in many big, glossy mailers that the average candidate cannot afford. The same kinds of mailers generated by the Charter Association. The $1300 cost of a ballot statement alone is a reminder that democracy is not free. This year, ironically, Kronenberg has the support of UTR, but that has not always been the case. UTR is a political employee organization fighting for teachers first, including job protections that any reasonable person would find excessive. I say this as a former UTR member. Now, UTR is endorsing the status quo, Kronenberg and Merriweather. UTR is ignoring the calls for change, and not all of those calls are pro-charter voices. Many parents are terrible parents, some not even wanting the very children they are now responsible for nurturing. These same parents are not interested in PTAs, SSCs, board meetings, or even this election. These same parents will not enter charter lotteries for their child. Some parents simply don’t have the wherewithal to advocate for their child. Personally, I will vote for those candidates who are committed to providing a quality education for ALL of our children, irrespective of parent engagement. Having said that, I do expect our candidates to have a track record of engagement with our school district.

  2. Ben on November 4, 2014 at 9:24 am

    The primary purpose of a school is to educate children. All the other good things that a school does are secondary to that goal. For too long, the WCCUSD has not made anything more than, at best, marginal improvements in educating our community’s children and by many measures the WCCUSD is lagging.

    We need new vision and academic leadership to try to turn things around in our district. The current leadership is too beholden to big money construction interests to focus on the improvements required.

    That’s why I’m voting for Block, Cuevas, and Young. Let’s focus on our primary purpose: educating children.

  3. Todd Groves on November 4, 2014 at 11:36 am

    As a current WCCUSD trustee and long time district volunteer, I want to publicly thank Steve and Susan Chamberlin for advancing education as a central issue for our community. In my two years on this board, I have seen a relentless effort to probe root issues and improve student outcomes. WCCUSD today is in the best shape of my two decade tenure as a district parent. I heartily endorse Steve’s call to unify around finding solutions to our challenges, and will continue to work toward this end.

    • Marklee on November 5, 2014 at 3:25 pm

      Glad that you are shuffling back from the Baghdad-Bob-style spittle-spraying class warfare rants that you were launching earlier in the campaign. An actual apology (to the challengers, those who supported them, and to district families who want leadership not rhetoric) would be more to the point, if you recall your missives like this

      Some district residents and parents are perfectly happy. But many clearly think that the district needs to dramatically heighten its efforts and emphasis on instructional quality and outcomes, and needs to listen to and respect parents. You could argue that the district is making headway on the former. But the latter, well, you have personally shown a huge amount of active disrespect for the large body of parents who don’t think the district is serving our kids.

      You and your fellow board members have a lot of work to do, and an apology for your own role would be a good place to start.

    • Bobbie Dowling on November 7, 2014 at 9:01 pm

      Will the real Todd Groves please stand up?
      This is not how you represented your opinion on the Chamberlain activism in other venues when you were talking to parents of kids in school now.

      How about asking a question: How does it feel, Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain, to have spent more than $100k (double the annual salary of the average West County parent) on angry political mail that didn’t accomplish its objective rather than spending it on our kids’ education in West County?

      • Linda Ruiz Lozito on November 10, 2014 at 5:22 pm

        How much did Chevron spend on Madeline Kronenberg and Peter Chau? The construction interests have spent over $3 million in WCCUSD elections — they have sponsored many school board members. There is a current investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission – the have subpoenaed Charles Ramsey ($150K + $350K) and Madeline Kronenberg ($100K). — And the district wants to spend HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS of education dollars to hire attorneys for them — Why isn’t the district’s insurance covering this?

  4. Gimme Abreak on November 4, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    The simple fact that district approved charter schools are targeting communities and students to maximize the amount of LCAP funds they will receive speaks for itself..

    Charters are not a blanket answer to the lack of parental engagement and more than ever they are pulling at the very funds that are meant to support public schools and the students that attend them.

    Charters are “FOR PROFIT” organizations at the end of the day. Someone is profiting, is it really the students.

    The “community” is too divided on how funds should be spent. Where will the money from LCAP funds really end up? I am curious what overall percentage of LCAP goes to charter vs. public schools.

    This is only one small piece of the pie here, but it is a telling piece.

    • Linda Ruiz Lozito on November 13, 2014 at 8:56 pm

      I don’t think anyone is thinking that charters are the answer. I think they offer lifeboats to some students to a the sinking ship that is (sadly) our district. If the educational outcomes were better in our district schools, parents wouldn’t be sending their kids to charters schools. All the charter schools within the district are NON-PROFIT, are FREE PUBLIC schools and are serving WCCUSD students.
      Lincoln Elementary was missing a third grade teacher for the first 5 weeks of the school year. Nystrom Elementary has been in Program Improvement since 1998. 4 out of 58 schools met their APY goals. Etcetera. Parents just want the best for their children. We are funny that way.

  5. […] Check out a response from Stephen Chamberlain, co-founder of Education Matters, on other spending in the WCCC school board race and the track record of charter schools in Richmond. […]

  6. max on November 5, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    How many of these so called “reformers” are people of color? Charter schools teach black and brown kids and are led by white rich people.

    These CMO corporate charters as they are called, use our People to fill Their pockets and guilt so they can retain theIr dominance over communities such as LA, Oakland and now on their view of society and retain their power even though they are now the minority.

    Its disgusting. …..the group that backed the charter groups are developers for gods sake!

    Whit money, white pwespectives and power. …prove me wrong! Get ready.

    • Linda Ruiz Lozito on November 5, 2014 at 4:50 pm

      Over 3 million dollars has been poured into wccusd elections by construction interests. Facilites are costing many times the average, the US Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the bond program, we are one of the lowest performing districts in California– wake up and smell the corruption. I welcome the Chambetlins if they can break up the strangle hold the construction interests have over our district.

      • Gimme Abreak on November 5, 2014 at 7:38 pm

        Is it a crime for a district with aging schools to have facilities built to code?

        Construction is not a bad thing. However a school district with low test scores and new leadership is a fragile thing.

        Private and FOR PROFIT/agencies have designs on the WCCUSD. These aren’t even the first signs. It started as soon as the COMMUNITY approved bond measures.
        How long til the the charters are demanding half of the facilities at Korematsu Middle or even Kennedy High.

        It’s not a question of IF but WHEN at this stage..

        It has happened in New Jersey, it has happened in Los Angeles, and New Orleans.

        The time is now for the COMMUNITY exert control over the money and they decided to spend.

        Attend School Board Meetings. Make your voice and opinion heard. Or suffer the consequences of silence.

        “Those who would trade in their freedom for their securities deserve neither, and will lose both.”
        Benjamin Franklin loosely paraphrased.

        • Linda Ruiz Lozito on November 13, 2014 at 8:43 pm

          The schools are costing up to several times the average — this is not just up to code. There is no budget controls in place — when Bill Fay discussed this at a CBOC meeting the District’s engineer agreed — shortly after this Fay was “resigned” effective Sept 2015 – with about a year’s salary and benefits. There is no priority list to fix schools. They are spending $21 million on a stadium for El Cerrito HS yet they say they haven’t fixed basic safety at flatland schools. This is unacceptable! The Feds are investigating. The school board’s president has his brother retained to represent him with a Securities and Exchange Commission subpoena, at last night’s school board meeting it was discussed as a routine consent item that his brother’s firm might have already gone through the first $150,000 and wanted an additional $350,000 – this is to respond to a subpoena for data? Apparently Madeline Kronenberg has received a “contact” for a phone call and the school board approved $100,000 for her to hire attorneys so (I guess) she can return the phone call? All the charter schools in the district are non-profit. Parents wouldn’t want to send their kids to charter schools if their local schools were performing decently. Lincoln Elementary was missing a third grade teacher for the first 5 weeks of the school year. Nystrom Elementary has been in Program Improvement since 1998. 4 out of 58 schools met their APY goals. This is very sad. Parents want their kids to get a good education — that is more important than if El Cerrito HS has a performance theater that seats 600 and a $21 million dollar stadium. School facilities should be safe, but that doesn’t seem a top priority and education should be our number one priority.

          • Gimme Abreak on November 19, 2014 at 5:01 pm

            “There is no priority list to fix schools. They are spending $21 million on a stadium for El Cerrito HS yet they say they haven’t fixed basic safety at flatland schools.”
            Yes, Thank you for emphasizing my point. The WCCUSD is trying to to fix safety issues at flatland schools.
            However, every charter that comes in to grab money from the collective public funds prevents the district from making improvements at said schools.

            To the crooked Board members good riddance.

            The numbers are out there to twist the argument either direction. Somehow for hundreds of years the USA survived and thrived without charter schools.

            To make the argument that Charters are not for profit is missing the point. Many Charters are targeting the very communities that will receive the majority of LCAP funding. English Learners, Low Income Families, Foster Children. They are going after the money.

            It’s as plain as day.

            Great, the charters get the money to spend on the special populations without public over sight to guide how that money is actually spent.

            Something is not right about that equation…

            To argue about one school site is an attempt to obfuscate the larger issue…

  7. Itaia Muxaic de Ricart on November 9, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    I saw the saga on Bill Moyers PBS program – both last week with Sen. Sanders and this Sunday with Gayle McLaughlin. I have brought both programs to the attention of journalists in Latin America and Europe to whom Chevron is already of interest due to the process in South America.

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