School board reflects on racial, economic disparities in new state test scores
on October 8, 2015
West Contra Costa County school trustees confronted new test scores Wednesday, October 8, showing a persistent achievement gap by race, income and language status among students. Trustees also took an important though preliminary step toward investigating allegations of financial mismanagement of the district’s school bond construction program.
The West Contra Costa Unified school board heard a report from staff about the new state test results, released about a month ago, which showed a persistent achievement gap between African-American and Latino students and their white and Asian American classmates.
Trustee Val Cuevas said the scores show the district is failing to help the students who need the most assistance.
“Yes these are new tests, but when I hear our kids aren’t reading at grade level, that’s not new. I heard that last year,” she said. “Ultimately when I see these scores the only thing I think about is that they’re never a reflection of our children. These scores are always a reflection of us, the adults.”
Cuevas said for each school with high levels of African-American and Latino students, she wants to know how the district will support teachers and the staff to help these students.
Nia Rashidchi, assistant superintendent in the district, said each school is undertaking in-depth analysis of the results to see what changes need to be made in the classroom. Instructional leadership teams made up of teachers and administrators at each school is expected to turn in “smart goals” by October 30 saying what steps they will take to improve student’s scores.
Following the discussion about test results, the board took up another sort of challenge: addressing possible misuse of funds for school construction.
Board members voted to approve an independent accounting firm to perform a “forensic audit” of the district’s $1.6 billion school bond construction program. Such an audit evaluates financial information for use as evidence in court.
The selected firm, Vicenti, Lloyd and Stutzman LLP, will be paid $127,010 from bond funds to investigate a whistleblower’s allegations of financial mismanagement by the district.
“Public trust in WCCUSD is at stake,” said district parent Ben Steinberg.
The first phase of the audit starts next week. The assessment is expected to finish six weeks after the auditing team receives all documentation.
“It is your job to ensure that every hard earned dollar made by the tax payers is spent wisely, efficiently and in compliance with the law,” said district parent Valerie Snider.
James Kawahara, the lawyer providing legal advice to the district, said it will be up to the district to determine what further investigation is needed, based upon the recommendation of the forensic audit team.
Although the audit is costly, trustee Liz Block said it’s important to know if there was financial mismanagement because so much money has been spent in the bond program already.
Earlier in the meeting, board members also heard from district parents and educators urging the district to offer better pay increases, as the district and the local teacher’s union are set to restart contract negotiations soon.
As board president Todd Groves called the meeting to order, about 100 audience members dressed in green held up bright yellow signs saying, “WCCUSD Teachers, Reward, Retain, Respect.”
“I still don’t feel the teachers are being heard,” said Kristen Cason, a first grade teacher at Kensington Elementary. “We want comparable raises with other Bay Area schools.”
Teachers voted down a tentative agreement on September 14, saying the offered pay increases were unfairly allocated. Amanda Henderson, president of United Teachers of Richmond, said they introduced a new bargaining team to union members earlier on Wednesday. The union hopes to restart negotiations in two weeks.
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