Sending E-mails to the WCCUSD Board of Education and the County Board of Education

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You may have seen this in the upper-right corner of the main page of the blog. What is it? The two main links allow you to click once and open your e-mail program with a fully-addressed template for sending to either the WCCUSD Board of Education or the Contra Costa County Board of Education. Here’s what clicking on the “WCCUSD Board of Ed.” link looks like in my e-mail program:

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After “Public Comment:” in the subject line, I usually put the agenda item I’m commenting on and the date of the meeting in parentheses. You can do anything you want with the subject line including getting rid of “Public Comment:” In my e-mail program the addressees are displayed as bubbles with the names in them, but there really is an e-mail address there.

The secondary links point to the source on the respective websites where I got the addresses. You can go there for mailing addresses and other information.

I’m posting this now, because I recently updated the addresses. Start sending e-mails to your elected school officials now!

WCCUSD Construction Whistleblower Docs

Dennis Clay, project analyst in the district for 11 years, blew the whistle on alleged improprieties in the West Contra Costa Unified School District construction program in April of this year. I posted the contents of his submitted DVD and related files online here:

It’s almost July and still no clear definition of the forensic audit to be conducted from the school board, but at least it hasn’t been swept under the rug—not completely at least.



It’s Election Day 2014 in WCCUSD!

If you haven’t already voted, I’d like to encourage you to vote for:

Liz Block (El Cerrito)
Valerie Cuevas (Richmond)
Ayana Young (Hercules)

for the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) school board.

Here is my background in the school district.

The main thing about this election is that the district kingpin, Charles Ramsey, is out, but his machine remains: Madeline Kronenberg, his second wheel, Peter Chau, his designated heir, and that huge pile of construction-interest money that has flooded every school board election before. We have the opportunity to finish the exit of the Ramsey machine by rejecting his candidates and finding new leadership willing to focus the district on student achievement and not simply passing another bond…and another. In looking at the candidates I rejected the incumbents and the people I felt were using the Board as a stepping stone to higher office. Normally, this would be a little arbitrary, but I feel this is an important juncture and requires less tolerance for failed incumbency and using the school board as a politician’s bush league. I’m also looking for candidates who are more supportive of reining in our bond program and less interested in getting into silly battles like the Summit charter application.

Liz Block is someone who has worked as a principal turning around a school, doing what many of us (but not all) would like to do at the district level. She also has substantial experience working with special education issues as a school psychologist. Special eduction is an important and complex part of what a public school district does.

Valerie Cuevas is a director at an organization that advocates for educational opportunities for all (The Education Trust – West). She has also worked as staff for the Assembly committee on higher education and for a LAUSD school board member. Her knowledge of the ins and outs of educational policy should complement Todd Groves’ more homegrown wonkishness — well once the dust of the election campaign settles.

The third person I’m going with is Ayana Young, a lawyer and parent of children in the district. Her educational background is training in a Special Eduction masters program and working as a substitute teacher in Oakland and here. I like her as a candidate, because she is direct and honest.

When you look at a board, you have to think of how everyone will meld together. A mix of Randall Enos, Todd Groves, Liz Block, Valerie Cuevas, and Ayana Young would have the right balance of differences in perspective and style while still having common connections.

Whatever board is elected, it’s important to move beyond the hypocritical whining about the other guy’s campaign funding, but not your own. The board has received proposals before about addressing campaign finance. Now that the monopoly has become a duopoly, perhaps the board can finally take this issue up seriously.

Note: Yes, Cuevas and Block are benefiting from funding from the state charter school association and Steve Chamberlin’s group presumably, in part at least, because they are least likely to get “into silly battles like the Summit charter application” and they have a better chance of winning. For an excellent follow-up on the campaign finance story with all the numbers, check this CCT reporter’s blog post.

Your eyes are getting sleepy. Very sleepy. Listen to my voice. Now open your eyes. Fill in the ovals shown in the graphic. Now wake up when I snap my fingers.

Chamberlins Fire Back at Kronenberg and Chau

The Chamberlins’ foundation owns the site where the Summit charter is hosted. They have also entered the election by giving money to two candidates that I support: Valerie Cuevas and Liz Block. Here they fire back against their detractors in this letter that was recently sent out. For now, I’ll just post. (Game 7 is an hour away.)

To: Our Friends and Neighbors

From: Susan and Steve Chamberlin, Richmond Residents

There is much discussion surrounding this year’s elections, including the school board races. Honest debate is healthy, and we want to be clear about our involvement. We have nothing to hide.

We think school board leadership is incredibly important, as do many others in our community: parents, teachers, community leaders and organizations, and other residents. Many people before us vetted the candidates and, in solidarity, decided to support strong, ethical leaders. We are standing alongside these individuals, and donating significantly to give voice to the group.

In hopes of honoring the current healthy debate, we also wanted to address a few statements made by Madeline Kronenberg and Peter Chau.

THE STATEMENT: “Corporate outsiders (are) trying to destroy our public schools….and BUY the school board.” – Madeline Kronenberg, as posted on her website

THE FACTS: For more than a decade, construction companies across the state have funneled over $2.5 million into the West Contra Costa bond measures and school board races. Madeline Kronenberg and Peter Chau have been the recipients of their largess. In fact, this election season, Madeline has reported about $100,000, primarily from big outside construction companies. All of these firms directly or indirectly do business with the district. Most people consider this to be “pay for play.”

Let’s be clear: Madeline opposed campaign finance reform for WCCUSD in 2010 that would have limited campaign contributions. So who exactly are the corporate outsiders, and who exactly has been trying to buy the elections? You decide.

THE STATEMENT: The Chamberlins are trying to “unseat me and put in a team that will work to change everything we’ve been building in the district over the past eight years.” – Madeline Kronenberg, as posted on her Facebook page

THE FACTS: We have to concede, in some ways, that this is true. We would like to improve a few things:

  • Our children’s academic performance: Our schools and students used to out-perform Oakland (an admittedly low bar), yet the Oakland schools leapfrogged our overall academic performance in 2010. This is not progress.
  • Our children’s college readiness: More than HALF of our high school graduates don’t meet the basic admissions requirements to even apply to the Cal State or University of California systems, as reported by the California Department of Education. This is unacceptable.
  • Our prioritization of facility improvements: Yes, our new school buildings are beautiful. But the current board leadership has prioritized extravagant facilities (like the $21 million football stadium for El Cerrito High School) while students in Richmond still learn in windowless classrooms. Our bond program is over 15 years old. How did this happen under our school board’s watch?

THE STATEMENT: “They (California Charter School Association) are targeting races across the state to make sure we have charter-friendly school boards.” – Madeline Kronenberg, as posted on her Facebook page

THE FACTS: This too is partly true, except in this race, the charter association does not have “pro-charter” candidates. Yes, Liz Block and Valerie Cuevas appear to be open to parents having quality educational options, but above all, they’re focused on district schools, ensuring instruction – not construction – is the number one priority. Both have deep experience in improving district schools and that’s why the leaders of the BlackBoard are supporting them, along with teachers and families who want something better for their kids. It’s also why the Contra Costa Times called Liz Block, Valerie Cuevas and Raquel Donoso (another great candidate), “a trio that deserves your votes….Indeed, it’s been a long time since the district has had trustees of their caliber. Residents deserve a better school board.”

 THE STATEMENT: “For-Profit Charter Schools…” – Peter Chau, a reference made repeatedly at candidate forums

THE FACTS: This is just flat wrong. There are eight public charter schools in the district boundaries. All eight are run by education not-for-profits.

THE STATEMENT: “Charters are not required to hold public board meetings…so there is no possibility of transparency…” – Madeline Kronenberg at the Contra Costa Times endorsement interview

THE FACTS:  Surely, after eight years on the school board, Madeline must know this is patently false. The California Education Code is clear on this matter. Directly from the state website, “Although charter schools are exempt from most laws applicable to school districts, they are not exempt from laws that generally apply to public agencies, including the legal requirement to hold open meetings.” California Government Code Section 54950 et. seq.

THE STATEMENT: Public charter schools “leave a concentration of our most disadvantaged and challenged families in our neighborhood schools … [but] 83% [of charter schools perform] the same or below the traditional schools – only 17% are better…” – Madeline Kronenberg, as posted on her website

THE FACTS: Let’s talk about the charter schools in our district. Families here are choosing among five charter schools that have been around long enough to have state test results.

  • The state standard for schools is an 800 in the Academic Performance Index
  • Of ALL the middle and high schools in the district, only five schools reached the state goal of 800; four are charter schools and one is the selective Middle College High
  • The charter schools here are required by state law to be non-selective and have open enrollment via a public lottery; these schools work hard to recruit those students that most rely on a transformational educational experience
  • The local charter schools also, in total, have higher shares of disadvantaged students and students of color than the district

So, yes, the charter schools here are performing well. It’s no surprise that every charter school in the district currently has a waitlist. And for those charter schools that are not performing well, the district and the county can close them, and they should. All kids deserve a great school.

Let’s remember, the charter-district debate is a diversion. Parents just want their children to have access to an excellent education. There are some great district schools with tremendous leaders and teachers doing amazing things; we should celebrate these schools and honor these educators. In addition, there are great charter schools with an impressive track record. All our kids deserve to have access to schools like these.

We will continue to support what works for kids. We’re a retired couple who has been fortunate late in life, and we’ve committed to try to support positive change for kids in our own community. Some people may not like every donation or investment we make on behalf of kids, but we’ll continue to listen and learn.

The best interest of students will always be our North Star.

Thank you for reading.