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School board considers three charter renewals, approves bond measure

on November 26, 2019

In a supermajority vote, the West Contra Costa County School Board on Wednesday night approved a $575 million school construction bond to be placed on the March 2020 election ballot.

Board President Tom Panas cast the sole “no” vote on the November 20 resolution, explaining that he supported a bond for the November 2020 ballot but not for March.

“I’m all in favor of doing this bond. I just think that right now it’s a mistake,” he told the board, adding that voters need more time. Given the current holiday season, he added, the bond campaign would most likely not get started until January.

Despite its ballot inclusion, the school construction bond will still need 55% approval from voters in order to pass.

In other action, the board heard passionate testimony on the issue of charter school renewal.

Parents, teachers and students from three charter schools, all up for renewal, filled the auditorium at the Levonya DeJean Middle School. Many of these attendees gave public statements to defend their schools. Among the three schools, the largest turnout was for Richmond College Prep (RCP), which had over 15 parents, students, and faculty engage in public comment on its behalf.

Richmond College Prep Chief Educational Officer Peppina Liano speaking to board members.

One faculty member included Peppina Liano, chief educational officer at RCP. “There is no reason why the board should tell us ‘No, you can’t educate them,” Liano told Richmond Confidential.

“[RCP] started with 20 students. Now we have 600. And every teacher has an instructional aide. And the parents, you heard. The parents… it’s just an emotional thing, because they believe in what we do… and we can count on them,” Liano stated.

“I don’t always agree with things that the school thinks, but if we at least have our own voice, we can voice our opinion and come together with a solution,” said RCP parent, Daveetta Shepherd, to Richmond Confidential. “I think coming together and creating a solution that fits parents, students, and staff needs would be best as a whole.”

Some charter school parents said sending their kids to a district school was not an option.

“See the families behind me?” said John Henry High School parent, Gabriella Rodriguez, to the board. “If our school was to close, they would not go back to the failing district schools . . . Please keep John Henry open.”

The last school to present its renewal petition was Aspire Richmond Technology Academy. Parents wore purple shirts to show their support for the school.

Decisions for all three charter schools will be made during the final two board meetings of the semester on December 11 and 18.

Parents from West County Mandarin School, a dual-language immersion school in WCCUSD, attended the meeting to request a larger building to hold its increasing student body. The school is currently located at the Serra Campus in East Richmond Heights. Parents proposed that the board move the school’s location to the more centrally-located campus of the former Adams Middle School, which officially closed in 2009.

Additionally, the board acknowledged the month of November as Native American Heritage Month and honored the contributions of Sikh Americans to California history.

The meeting lasted well past midnight, with the board officially adjourning at 12:47 a.m.

The board plans to discuss solutions to proposed budget cuts at its next meeting.

Featured image: Richmond College Prep parent holding up a sign in support of charter renewal. Photo by Chan’Cellore Makanjuola.

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