West Contra Costa school board meets for a six-hour, packed discussion on charter schools
on January 23, 2015
On Wednesday night, West Contra Costa Unified School District’s (WCCUSD) first board of education meeting of the year was packed with chatty bouncy children, a sea of blue shirt-wearing Caliber Beta Academy teachers, and people holding orange public comment sheets.
Newly-elected school board president Todd Groves began the meeting promptly at 6:30 pm as eager parents and teachers waited to discuss pressing topics on the agenda, such as the charter petition renewal of Richmond College Preparatory Schools (RCPS), and the options for new campuses for three charter schools: Benito Juarez Elementary, John Henry High School, and Caliber Beta Academy.
In accordance with Proposition 39, which voters passed in 2012, school districts are required to provide charter schools with district-owned facilities that are “at least reasonably equivalent to facilities provided to a school district’s own students.” For the 2015-16 school year, Benito Juarez Elementary, John Henry High School, and Caliber Beta Academy have requested facilities. While the high school is requesting its first campus, both the elementary school and Caliber Beta Academy are currently operating, but are asking for more suitable and permanent facilities. The preliminary options the district has proposed are the first round of facility and locations the district plans to offer the charter schools for the upcoming school year.
The public comment session ended rather quickly after only four speakers, and the board began to move through the agenda’s action items regarding the location offers to the three charter schools. Nearly 30 people handed in a public comment sheet in support of Caliber Beta Academy School finding a permanent home. After the school moved into a temporary facility last year, many pled for a permanent school that would keep the K-7 campus members together and safe.
“We need a single campus that reflects our desire for our cohesive program that follows our students from their first experience in the classroom and prepares them for high school and beyond,” said Caliber second grade teacher Katie Klinger. “It is essential to have a large, safe, unified school site for all of our Caliber kids to continue this training. One school, one family, one site.”
With the “one school, one family, one site” mantra displayed across their blue shirts, teachers, parents, and students came forward to express their appreciation of the school. A few teachers mentioned that their current facility lacked basic necessities such as proper water fountains and electricity. “I can’t believe it meets Prop. 39 standards,” said newly-elected board member Elizabeth Block. “So I follow Caliber with some concern and some feeling that we need to make it up to them.”
For the 2014-15 school year, Caliber is being housed in a temporary facility, costing the district nearly $600,000 from its general fund.
As the 2015-16 school year approaches, the district has prosed that Caliber be relocated from its temporary campus at Stege Elementary School to a site behind Kennedy High School that is currently being occupied by Coronado Elementary School. By May, construction of the new Coronado school is to reach completion, allowing Caliber to move in for the 2015-16 school year.
The district’s proposal to the John Henry and Benito Juarez schools is to share the campus that is currently occupied by the Leadership Public High school at 12th Street and Maine. This proposal is also only for the 2015-16 school year, as the Nystrom Elementary campus, which is currently under construction and where the Leadership campus currently exists, continues to reach completion.
The district is required to provide a written preliminary offer to the requests by February 1. The deadline for final offers for the charters is April 1. The board will review the proposed final agreements prior to the final deadline.
The board also discussed the renewal of Richmond College Preparatory Schools’ (RCPS) charter petition. The group submitted an initial charter petition in July, 2005, and was approved by the governing board in November. In July, 2010, the board voted to grant a renewal. RCPS members hope the board plans to do the same on March 4.
“There’s a lot of controversy around charter schools,” said RCPS founder David Rosenthal. “I am not pro-charter, I am not against it. I am for good schools.”
According to the 2013 Academic Performance Index (API) scores, which measure the year-over-year growth in academic performance for California schools, RCPS is the highest-ranked in Richmond and fourth in the district. In 2014, the California Department of Education recognized RCPS with the Award of Excellence.
The RCPS supporters’ presentation on the school’s success was followed by a string of testimonies highlighting the importance of RCPS to community members.
As the room slowly emptied and fell to a hush, the board delved into the rest of the agenda, starting with a lengthy discussion of the budget, a preliminary conversation about district and labor union negotiations, a unanimous approval to continue the operation of previously-approved charter schools—Aspire Elementary and College Preparatory, and John Henry High School—and a resolution to encourage activities and celebrations for African-American History Month.
Newly-elected member Valerie Cuevas wrapped up the meeting with thoughts on working together through opposition, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.: “We must learn to walk together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
The next school board meeting is scheduled for February 11..
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