Below is an email from City Manager Bill Lindsay to Councilmember Nat Bates about the Richmond Promise scholarship program.
Thank you for your email commenting on the process for developing a plan to implement the Richmond Promise program, and requesting that I provide background to the City Council regarding this process.
At the outset, I will reiterate that no decisions regarding Richmond Promise program elements have been made – by anyone. I must also state that I make no apologies for staff’s efforts to do extensive research, develop information, and draft a proposal to implement adopted City Council policy (as part of the Chevron Environmental and Community Investment Agreement [ECIA]). It would be unfair to the City Council, and truly non-productive, for us to simply sit and wait before starting our work on this or any other project that you have already approved but which requires much time and work to implement. We believe that we need to show initiative to move forward on policies that you have adopted so that they can be implemented in a timely and professional manner. This is especially true for the Richmond Promise, approved by the City Council as part of the ECIA, and consistent with the adopted General Plan that includes an Education Element, and an adopted Health in All Policies ordinance that includes Economic Development and Education Intervention areas.
With respect to the Richmond Promise, our objective is that the City Council be in a position to make program decisions before the end of July so that the program can be initiated at the beginning of the school year. To do this, staff needed to move expeditiously as soon as the Chevron Modernization Project litigation period was concluded and the scholarship funding became a certainty. As you will recall from our presentations, “college readiness” is key to a successful “promise scholarship” program, and this can be the most successful if it is initiated as early as possible in the school year.
As a practical matter, some decisions regarding attributes of the scholarship program can actually be made at a later date if the Council needs more time to consider its policies or wishes to gather additional public input, as long as these decisions are made well before the end of the 2015-16 school year, as they can affect college attendance and financial decisions by students and their parents.
Regarding the specific process to develop the draft strategic plan for the Richmond Promise, of which you are highly critical, I will respond below to questions and comments raised in your email, and those that appeared in the Richmond Standard article (your comments in italic, red font, followed by my response):
Who are the members of the committee that drafted the Richmond Promise Scholarship guidelines and how were they selected? ... How was this procedure determined?
The Richmond Promise Draft Strategic Plan was prepared by staff in the City Manager’s office. The draft plan was informed by extensive research on other “promise scholarship” programs in the United States, looking to gather information on national “best practices,” and by conversations with practitioners in the education industry.
As part of the process, we met on several occasions with an ad hoc group of stakeholders. These individuals, and their roles in the process, are identified below:
· Mayor Butt and Vice Mayor Myrick – These two councilmembers were the primary negotiators of the scholarship piece of the Chevron Environmental and Community Investment Agreement (ECIA). In addition, Mayor Butt had previously done research on the El Dorado (Arkansas) Promise, which was one of the scholarship programs that staff had researched; Vice Mayor Myrick had attended, and was a presenter, at the PromiseNet Conference in the fall of 2014, and gathered information on various scholarship programs. For these reasons, we included the Mayor and Vice Mayor in our strategic plan development work; however, I will stress that their role at that stage was not to be decisionmakers, as decisions are the purview of the entire Council.
· WCCUSD Superintendent Dr. Bruce Harter, and School Board Members Val Cuevas and Madeline Kronenberg – We felt that it was very important to have the School District involved early in developing concepts for the Richmond Promise, as the District and their non-profit partners will be perhaps the most critical piece in the success of the program. We requested that Dr. Harter participate in our discussions and the District determined which Boardmembers would participate in those discussions. (Other WCCUSD staff also attended several meetings.)
· Representatives from non-profit partners College is Real, the Richmond Community Foundation, and the West County Ed. Fund:
o College is Real has operated a highly successful college readiness program at Richmond High School for ten years. Our ad hoc group included two members of their non-profit board of directors, as well as the person providing direct service to students and families at Richmond High School;
o The Richmond Community Foundation may have a future role in the program. In addition, Executive Director Jim Becker attended the PromiseNet Conference in the fall of 2014, and gathered information on various scholarship programs from across the country.
o In addition to other valuable input, representatives from the West County Ed. Fund provided information regarding college readiness and access, scholarship administration, and technical knowledge pertaining to the cost of paying for college for West County families.
· Contra Costa College: Since the community college will undoubtedly serve an important role in college readiness, college transfers, and in Career and Technical Education (CTE) certificate programs, we sought out and received excellent input from Contra Costa College staff members.
In utilizing this group, our intent was to gather information that could inform the program design; it was not to gain consensus, make decisions, or otherwise finalize elements of the Richmond Promise.
Please note that, in addition to the above meetings, staff met with the Education Committee of the City Council (consisting of, at that time, Councilmembers Martinez, McLaughlin and Myrick, as approved by the City Council) to review draft program elements of the Richmond Promise. This was done prior to the presentation to the full Council on May 26th.
Finally, as you know, Administrative Chief Shasa, who, under my direction, is managing the process for developing the implementation plan for the Richmond Promise, has offered to meet with you individually to discuss the plan; to date, you have not availed yourself of this opportunity.
When the council voted to approve the Chevron Modernization Project last year, (Bates, Booze, Butt, Myrick & Rogers voting yes with Beckles and McLaughlin abstaining), my vote regarding the mitigation funds was predicated upon all qualified high school graduating students being eligible for funding.
Program eligibility will be a future policy decision of the City Council. The ECIA states that, “This program will provide scholarship money for any Richmond resident when they graduate high school to continue their education… This program will be limited to students who live in Richmond and graduate from a public high school in the West Contra Costa Unified School District.”
The process that we have proposed will provide you, and all Councilmembers, with the opportunity to consider your own values, and those of the broader Richmond community, in further defining what details are inherent in the phrases “scholarship money” (e.g., what amounts and for what period of time?) “continue their education (e.g., what programs?),” and “public high school” (e.g. public and charter?). We believe that these are important policy decisions for the City Council.
When questioned as to where was the community input, the answer was “we will have public input later.” As a result of inquiries from council members and a few from the public, two public meetings have been scheduled for Monday, June 8 at the Richmond Auditorium and Thursday, June 18 at DeJean Middle School with both events being held from 6-8 p.m.
The community meetings regarding the Richmond Promise had been scheduled prior to the May 26th presentation to the City Council.
As an elected official and professional, if one is serious about community involvement, my experience has been to gather pertinent information prior to a draft being presented rather than afterwards. In doing so, one hopefully would come forward with a consensus with less opposition because most viewpoints would have been discussed in detail…
I must respectfully disagree, particularly in this case. The Richmond Promise program involves a number of “moving parts,” and I believe that the community input (especially at the June 8th meeting) was more valuable and focused because community members could be presented with program options, and informed by research on national “best practices.” They were not presented with a finished project; they were presented with a draft plan, and were informed that no decisions had been made. In my view, the comments that we received from the public were excellent and on-point, in part because the community had a draft plan on which to comment.
Equally important, not one high school graduating student, those mostly affected by the program were included in the proposed draft to my knowledge.
Because they are working closely, and successfully, with students at Richmond High School, and have done so for several years, the organization College is Real provided extremely valuable input, and could offer a student perspective. The recent college graduate that offered testimony to kick off our community meeting last Tuesday, June 8th, is a successful alumnus of the College is Real program at Richmond High School.
We were also very pleased that so many high school students attended the recent community meeting, although it will be important to also get input from additional students over the summer to help inform the development of the Richmond Promise.
I would also refer you to the Richmond Promise Staff Report, City Council, May 26, 2015, Attachment 4, which provides a detailed Community Engagement Strategy that includes student visioning, and stakeholder interviews with current students, graduates, and parents. These are activities that would take place this summer, prior to the beginning of the 2015-16 academic year.
My recent discussions with Chevron’s leadership indicate that at no time have they indicated a desire to exclude any graduating student from the program. This decision was made by the mayor, vice mayor and selected WCCUSD school board representatives on the committee.
I provided the draft Richmond Promise Strategic Action Plan to Chevron representatives on May 18th, and they have not yet offered any comments to staff. It should be noted that their input is important, but does not control the program design, and, provided that final decisions are consistent with the language of the Chevron Environmental and Community Investment Agreement, such decisions rest with the entire City Council, not with Chevron nor with the WCCUSD Board of Trustees.
Interestingly, although charter schools represent a large population in Richmond, not one of their representative were included on the committee.
No individual school was represented as part of our research. We believe that the School Superintendent and representatives from the WCCUSD Board of Trustees were fully capable of representing these interests.
Furthermore, not only were charter schools students excluded, so were labor union trade schools. We know that not every graduating student will attend college for various reasons but those not attending college can learn a craft or trade sponsored by labor unions that will sustain them in life. Is it not the purpose of the program to assist graduating students in becoming successful in life, be it as a college graduate or productive citizen in our community?
Again, no individual school was represented as part of our research, and the decision to include private labor union trade schools in the Richmond Promise program remains a policy decision of the Council. As previously noted, we did consult Contra Costa College representatives since community college will undoubtedly serve an important role in college readiness, college transfers, and in CTE (vocational) programs.
In addition, please note that there is also $6 million in funding through the ECIA for programs relating to job skills, job training and readiness, and job transition training that can also help fund education in the trades should that be the direction of the Council.
Finally, it is embarrassing and most interesting that a gift of $35 million scholarship fund from Chevron would cause such division in our community. It is not taxpayer monies, yet some treat it as if it is their personal funds which reminds me of a rich uncle or aunt who dies. Although they have a will and living trust, relatives comes from out of nowhere trying to get something for nothing.
I can offer no particular comment on this, other than to state that I believe that the process thus far has been professional and toward the objective of unifying as many people as possible around an equitable program design.
As I indicated in my earlier statement, my vote to approve the Chevron Mitigation Project was and continue to be predicated on ALL of Richmond’s graduating students being treated fairly and equal regardless what school they attended. To that end, I continue to stand firmly committed without equivocation and will vote for the Richmond Promise Scholarship program only if it includes all of Richmond’s graduating students.
The process that we have proposed will provide an opportunity for all Councilmembers to provide input consistent with their individual values.
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Thank you for providing me the opportunity to provide this complete explanation to the City Council on the process that has been used thus far for developing a plan to implement the Richmond Promise program.