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School board recognizes Richmond High School soccer, discusses charters schools and bond money

on March 19, 2015

The West Contra Costa Unified School District’s school board meeting Wednesday night included discussion of the need to find a home for Caliber Beta charter schools, updates on the district’s bond program, and recognizing the Richmond High School soccer team.

The night started on a light note with a video representing the achievements of the Oilers soccer team. Not only did the team win the championship in the 2014-15 North Coast Section Division 2 soccer league, but the players have done well academically. The video highlighted the challenges the players overcame individually and together, both on and off the soccer field. Both the team and their coaches received a standing ovation for their hard work.

As the board moved down the agenda, the auditorium at Lovonya DeJean Middle School was, for the third time this spring, filled with a sea of blue shirt-wearing Caliber Beta Academy teachers, students, and staff. In October, 2013, Caliber administrators submitted a request for Proposition 39 facilities for the 2015-2016 school year, asking for the district to provide a new permanent facility for their school. Proposition 39, which voters passed in 2012, requires school districts to provide charter schools with district-owned facilities that are “at least reasonably equivalent to facilities provided to a school district’s own students.”

Last November, Caliber students, parents, and staff begin attending school board meetings in hopes of getting a permanent home for their school. Caliber currently operates both elementary and middle schools. For the 2014-15 school year, Caliber is being housed in a temporary facility at Stege Elementary School, which is costing the district nearly $600,000 from its general fund. At the first school board meeting of the year, a few teachers mentioned that their current facility lacked basic necessities, such as properly working water fountains and electricity.

By January 30, the district made a preliminary offer of facilities to Caliber, which included relocating it from its temporary campus to a site behind Kennedy High School that is currently being occupied by Coronado Elementary School. At the last school board meeting that month, Caliber staff were told that by May, construction of the new Coronado school will reach completion, allowing Caliber to move in for the 2015-16 school year.

Meeting a February 1 deadline, both Caliber staff and the district agreed to the site—as long as a few changes were made to accommodate the number of Caliber students.

The details of the district’s final offer to Caliber were announced at Wednesday night’s meeting. The district will provide playgrounds for kindergarten and grades 4 to 6, plus 24 classrooms, including 3 kindergarten rooms. The campus will also include four offices, a cafeteria and kitchen, parking spaces, six additional portables, furniture and technology comparable to what is provided this year at Caliber’s current campus. As permitted by Proposition 39, Caliber will pay a facilities use fee of $5.13 per square foot for the building space.

But this space will not be a permanent home for Caliber, because the site was not intended for the school to stay there more than one school year. With no other facilities currently available, the district decided this was the best option until construction of a new school finishes and opens up additional space.

At Wednesday’s meeting, with the “one school, one family, one site” slogan displayed across their blue shirts, Caliber community members came forward once again to discuss how disgruntled they were with not getting a permanent facility. “We were traded a temporary facility for another temporary facility,” said a man who identified himself as Mr. Rodriguez, a parent and Richmond High School alumnus. “So it is like a Band-Aid on top of a Band-Aid.”

School board Trustee Valerie Cuevas seemed just as frustrated as the Caliber community, holding a ten-minute dialogue with Lisa LeBlanc, the associate superintendent for facilities and the bond program. The two discussed why the process of getting a permanent facility for Caliber has been so difficult and why this has not clearly been translated to the Caliber community, ending with Cuevas suggesting that “We are not speaking the same language as Caliber.”

As the district develops a new master facilities plan, its bond program has become a hot topic once again. The plan includes ideas on how to effectively build facilities within the district. According to The Contra Costa Times, at Tuesday’s facility meeting LeBlanc proposed that the district solicit proposals from outside firms to complete the new master plan, using the remaining bond funds to rebuild all the schools planned.

But this may cost more money. The $135 million allocated from bond series C and B was approved by voters in 2010 and 2012, respectively. Since, the district has used the funds to build a number of facilities. As funds run low, the school board’s Wednesday night’s agenda announced that they are extending the work and have agreed to extending current contracts that amount to over $1.8 million.

The construction projects the district needs to extend include work on Coronado Elementary’s new school; De Anza High School’s Linked Learning building; Montalvin Manor Elementary’s classroom building; Kennedy High’s Richmond swim center; Ohlone Elementary’s portable removal playground; Sylvester Greenwood Academy & Leadership Public Schools; Nystrom Elementary’s classroom renovation and Pinole Middle School’s new playfield.

As this school year moves toward a close, the facilities subcommittee is working on successful long-range plan for the next school year. LeBlanc plans to bring a facilities master plan to the next school board meeting on April 1..

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