Mystery Education Theater 3000

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.

Categories: WCCUSD

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  1. Glad to hear directly from the Chamberlin’s about this. I wonder why Block and Cuevas are not making a similar effort to clarify the record? They are being painted as puppets of the charter movement, which is an easy thing to do with all the charter money being spent to support them. I don’t THINK that they are a charter school fifth column, but I don’t really KNOW that. It would really be helpful for district voters if Block and Cuevas would be clear and explicit about where they stand on charters and what they will and will not do when on the Board.

    Great educational opportunities for all WCCUSD kids is an idea that SHOULD be able to unite our district families and help us to work together. I’d like to think that we could further unite around the idea that our first priority is to make DISTRICT classroom teaching excellent for all students, while acknowledging that charters are enabled under the law and are a fact that we just have to try to make the best of, and that our best strategy for limiting charters in WCCUSD is to offer excellent education in district classrooms and respect parents. People say that Block and Cuevas believe this, but they’ve not said it themselves very clearly, at least not in way that effectively undermines the charge that they are charter puppets. So instead of being united on something that I suspect we all believe in WCCUSD, we’re being divided by a bitter conflict over what seems to not even be a real issue.

    I guess what election campaigns are like, but I see no reason that Block and Cuevas have to let it happen.


    • Charley Cowens

      October 31, 2014 — 12:51 pm

      All the candidates are always asked about charter schools and they always answer. The position you describe makes sense to me. Have you reviewed the various interviews to see if they aren’t responding this way? The Chamberlin letter was necessary, simply because they are not candidates who can respond in the regular candidate forums.

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