First and foremost, please know that the following are my personal thoughts and opinions and are not meant to represent the views of the West Contra Costa Board of Education – simply my own.
This week the voters of the West Contra Costa Unified School District are being asked to support Measure H - a measure to build new schools - providing updated technology for internet connectivity, new science labs and greater earthquake safety measures.
In January our school board polled the community and learned that there was sufficient voter support to continue the building program designed to upgrade all district school facilities. The board followed the poll results and placed Measure H on the June ballot.
In April, a group funded by the California Charters Schools Association Political Action Committee initiated the NO ON H campaign. This effort is spearheaded by out-of-town consultants bankrolled by (among others) local charter school executives and philanthropists (Jennifer Moses - Caliber Charter School executive; Steve Chamberlin - Summit Charter School underwriter).
Our district has been unusually cooperative in building new charter schools (note the shared campus being constructed for Leadership Charter High School). We have, however, not approved the last two charter applications - Caliber and Summit (coincidentally the schools that contributed to the building program opposition campaign). This is the first time the Charter School Association Political Action Committee has chosen to oppose a bond measure designed to build new schools in low income communities. Historically, they have only used their considerable resources to oppose candidates they viewed as unfriendly to charter expansion.
The charter school world has become increasingly proactive in targeting potential schools for charter network takeover (see their website: http://snapshots.calcharters.org/char_op_idx#coi_map). This website shows the strategy in place to support charter networks in identifying vulnerable school communities (right now only results for Oakland Unified are available – but clearly other districts will be added).
Interestingly, the Charter School Political Action Committee found an ally in the West County Times. The Committee’s strategy has been to send out mailers quoting the Times editorials and articles regarding Measure H.
The Times editorial page has shown a consistent lack of journalistic ethics in their manner of opposition to Measure H. It is one thing to say you oppose additional taxes, it is another to say that the School Board was “unethical,” “deceptive,” or “possibly illegal.” These completely unjustified attention-grabbing terms were used in headlines by the Times and then regurgitated in mailers by the Charter Schools.
Suffice it to say that in order to run a campaign – initiated as a response to the result of voter polling – the campaign received donations from industry members (as did every campaign the Times chose to endorse). The campaign has been transparent and followed all campaign election regulations regarding disclosure of contributions. Our campaign did not follow the law the Times would like to see in place -- a requirement to list all previous bond measures listed in the ballot language. This is not the law. No district in the state does this. Because we did not follow this non-existent requirement, the Times labeled us (and only us) – in their headline (repeated in the Charter school mailers) – as “deceptive, and possibly illegal”. This was positively unethical on the part of the Times editorial staff.
The Times also wrote several “news” articles on the Measure. Readers can usually expect “news” articles to be objective and not slanted by editorial bias. Such journalistic objectivity is completely absent here.
For example, these ostensibly unbiased articles sought out “experts” to give fair and balanced information. The only “local contractor” they found to quote in their news article was, in fact, Steve Chamberlin (major contributor to the Charter School Political Action Committee). The articles used terms like the District “saddled voters” with “pricey” schools – to describe the fact that the district put measures before the voters and our voters voted to improve dilapidated, outdated schools. Our schools are all built to the same standard – a standard chosen by the Board many years ago – one that was a compromise between the most and least expensive choices available. This “compromise middle” standard is deemed too “pricey” by the Times.
For more information, I suggest you read Tom Butt’s e-forum on the matter (http://www.tombutt.com/forum/2014/14-05-28.html) which contains comprehensive links to the Times editorials and other supporting technical information. I also suggest you read our Superintendent, Dr. Bruce Harter’s, response to the latest editorial. Tom Butt covers it here: http://www.tombutt.com/forum/2014/14-05-29c.html.
Children in poor communities have much to overcome – having the voters who care about them be deliberately misled by charter school politicos and biased journalists is just one more obstacle in their way.