Don Gosney: WCCUSD Candidate Forum~Chapter 2

blogimage.jpgAuthor’s Note: While there are facts described in this article, please do not confuse this with being news.  This is an editorial based factual events.

The West Contra Costa Unified School District partnered with the League of Women Voters on Tuesday October 7th to host the second of three forums for candidates running for the three seats on the governing board of the District.

The first forum was held on September 25th at De Anza HS, this one was held at El Cerrito HS and the third will be held at Richmond HS on Monday October 20th.

There are ten candidates running for these three seats with two being incumbents—Elaine Merriweather (Richmond) and Madeline Kronenberg (El Cerrito)—Charles Ramsey is not seeking to return to the Board.

The remaining eight candidates are: Otheree Christian (Richmond), Liz Block (El Cerrito), Chester Stevens (Hercules), Raquel Donoso (Point Richmond), Mister Phillips (Richmond), Ayana Kirkland Young (Hercules), Val Cuevas (Richmond) and Peter Chau (Richmond).

With about 65 attendees watching, the candidates were given their normal opening and closing statements but the rest of the nearly two hour forum was dedicated to written questions from the audience. With the limited time available only 6 questions could be asked.

Unlike previous forums, it seems that the 800 pound gorilla was not invited to be a part of this forum. Not once were Charter Schools brought up. This is especially interesting and important since two of the candidates (Block and Cuevas) are the candidates of The California Charter Schools Association—an organization that has indicated that they have targeted the WCCUSD as they attempt to turn the district into a charter schools district (just as has been done in Denver and New Orleans). Several candidates (Stevens and Donoso) have admitted that they have sent their own children to charter schools and others have admitted that they, too, support charter schools. Mr. Stevens has even admitted in other interviews that he supports school vouchers (in the form of tax credits) and the teaching of Intelligent Design.

The fact that this is such a divisive issue these days, it’s surprising that this was not brought up at this forum. Because it is so divisive, several of the candidates have declined to publicly admit their support of this option. We see a little campaigning sidestep of spinning to avoid the issue to keep the public confused about whether they’re supportive of charter schools or not. It may be an effort to keep from dividing the public before the election in the hopes that they’ll be elected and can then impose their plans once they control the Board.

One issue that keeps popping up is the perceived lack of transparency in the District with special emphasis on the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC). Many candidates frequently accuse the District of withholding information from the CBOC. Several candidates also seem to think that many of the CBOC members are corrupt in that since they have been appointed by Board members, that these CBOC members are not independent and are not allowed to think or act on their own. The accusation is that they are being controlled by the Board as rubber stamps for the nefarious and—as Chester Stevens said—possibly scandalous actions by the Board members.

Why is it that so often we hear accusations of corruption of everyone who does not share the ideals of the accusers? Why is it that they seem to think that everyone has been bought off or is corrupt except for them?

As a former CBOC member for four years (I was termed out) and someone who has attended perhaps 70 CBOC meetings, I take exception to the comments made by candidates who, by their accusations and claims, suggest that they know little of which they speak. Where are they getting their information to be so poorly informed?

With some of the accusations they’re making, the message is that there is corruption, incompetence and a lack of independence on the part of the CBOC members. I have never been accepting of anyone who publicly accuses me of corruption, of being incompetent or of being the lackey of someone else. [Woe be it to the person who thinks they can tell me what to do.] Since I served on the CBOC for four years and I was nominated by a Board member, I had to assume that I was one of those CBOC members they were accusing of being corrupt, incompetent and handled by my controller.

When these accusations of corruption were made at the previous forum at De Anza I made my disgust clear AFTER the forum was concluded when I stated that I could not believe that Ms. Block had publicly accused the Board and the CBOC members of being corrupt.

When Ms. Cuevas made a similar statement at this forum I muttered once again that I was surprised that accusations of corruption, incompetence and a lack of independence was widespread.

The next candidate to speak was Ms. Block who asked the moderator to silence disruptive members of the audience.

When Ms. Cuevas was accusing Board members of corruption because one had been endorsed by the chair of the CBOC I was the one who muttered that she was accusing them of corruption. Ms. Block said that I was “yelling negative comments”. When I replayed the video my comment was barely audible even though I was only 15” away from the microphone.

When she made the request to have me silenced, the moderator—the one just seven feet in front of me—pointed out that she did not hear anything. Still, if Ms. Block felt the need to address the issue and then send her own condescending remarks out for the full room, then I must have been significantly louder than I thought and my comments were disruptive. I apologize if I was as disruptive as she indicated.

When the accusation against me was made, I took responsibility for my actions by raising my hand so those members of the audience that may not have known to whom she was referring would know she wasn’t accusing them. Ms. Block then told the audience that I “just raised my hand very proudly”. How could she know what was going through my mind when she’s never really spoken with me? How could she know that I raised my hand “proudly”? Is she the kind of person who makes assumptions without knowing the facts? She wasn’t taking responsibility for my actions is not the same as proudly boasting of my actions. Surely a person with her credentials should know the difference.

For the record, I apologize if anyone felt that I was being disruptive. I was unaware that my words were being spoken so loudly that the candidates who were about 25 feet in front of me might be rattled by them.

The next time someone accuses me of being corrupt, of low moral character and incompetent, I’ll address those unfounded accusations in a different forum. That’s a promise of mine.

Perhaps these candidates know that when they’re making such statement about people that they’re sending a message about the character of the people they’re referencing. I would hope that well educated and responsible members of the community would understand this so should I assume that they knew they were slinging accusations of corruption or should I assume that they just didn’t know what they were doing? Neither seems like a good thing.

Some of the claims about the CBOC are that the members are not trained to understand what they’re being presented. Some candidates believe they should be provided with their own legal council and that those appointed to serve should have specific qualifications such as legal expertise, be an accountant or have construction expertise.

These candidates were insisting on a training course for new members. Guess what? Even when I first started seven years ago I went through such a training course but it wasn’t dumbed down to the 8th grade level.

Mr. Stevens keeps bringing up about how he has helped write instructional materials that any 8th grader could follow and suggests that the documents presented to the CBOC should be the same. I’m not sure that we need to assume that the people around us all are that poorly educated and need to have everything dumbed down to an 8th grade level.

One of the actions I got enacted when serving on the CBOC was to ensure that the technical reports (such as the Performance Audit) was written so that a regular person off of the street would have a reasonable expectation of being able to understand it. There might always be things that need clarification but the simple solution is to simply ask. I also demanded that these reports include a glossary of the acronyms used and that it be a stand-alone document without references to other documents and reports that the reader would have to access.

There is the assumption by some candidates that the appointees to the CBOC are incompetent and without qualification. I’ll grant you that I am not on this CBOC but when I was on the CBOC, we had two architects, one accountant, four senior members of the Building Trades, a retired teacher and a former Associate Superintendent of Schools. Were we all as incompetent and unqualified as has been suggested by some of these candidates?

There also seems to be an assumption that the Board only appoints toadies who run to their master before making any decisions. These candidates understand, don’t they, that five of the CBOC members are nominated by the five major cities in the District with two more nominated by the County Supervisors representing the unincorporated parts of the District. Five positions are mandated by Prop 39 and include nominees representing Business, Seniors Citizens, Taxpayers, and two Parents/Guardians. The Building Trades also has a seat (which, by definition, is well educated in construction) and one also representing the Public Employees Union. The remaining five seats are nominated with one each coming from the respective Board members.

No one actually makes appointments. People submit applications the nominations are brought before the Board for their approval. There has been at least one instance where a nominee has been rejected by the Board.

Is it there contention that only those appointed by the Board members are corrupt, incompetent and without morals or integrity or are they willing to accept that those nominated by the rest of the world may equally be corrupt, incompetent and without morals or integrity? Would this mean that two of their advisors—the two nominated by Board members—might fit the bill described earlier?

When I served on the CBOC I was not one of those that showed up willy nilly without having prepared myself in advance. No one can say that I was not one of the more active members of the CBOC during my four years. I served on the Audit Subcommittee for all four years serving as the Co-Chair and or Chair for two of those years (as well as chairing the By-Laws and Web Site subcommittees and serving on the Nystrom School Subcommittee). When the need arose to consider new performance auditors I was the key person involved with the selection and helped negotiate the contract that saved the program nearly $200,000 per year. And these candidates accuse me of incompetence?

When we needed more information, we found that the best way was to simply ask for it. I do not ever recall having the need to go beyond simply asking. I suspect that when the first course of action is to file a Public Documents request and threaten to sue as the request is being submitted, the reaction might not be as positive as hoped for. Coming into a committee like this WITHOUT a chip on the shoulder can accomplish wonders.

I have a tough time believing that after more than five years working with the CBOC and the District, that as soon as I left the building the District decided to treat the CBOC as if they were the enemy. I think that the addition of key new members that arrived with an adversarial attitude might be a part of the problem. Just my opinion.

What worries me is that so many of these candidates want to run the District but they aren’t doing their homework to prepare themselves. Many of them admit that they know nothing of the budget. They make statements about the Bond Program that clearly shows that they’ve only been listening to those who have been against the Program since the beginning. At the last forum three candidates, when asked about the nationally awarded Ivy League Connection scholarship program, had clearly never heard of it.

They all seem to know that—just as every other school district—we have problems but a blind person from the planet Mars could easily see that. What we’re not hearing are solidly defined solutions to these problems. When I say solidly defined, this means having the means to pay for these solutions. If they can’t answer the financing question then should they really be opening their collective mouths demanding changes?

And now we invite that 800 pound gorilla into the room.

Many of them believe that if we forsake our public schools and accept the charter school model, this will be the solution to all of our problems.

But what do we do with the Special Needs students that charter schools typically abandon? What do we do with those ESL students? What do we do with the lack of accountability that charter schools are famous for? And do we really want our children taught by uncredentialed teachers? And while there are arguments on both side of the issue of whether the teachers and school workers should be allowed to unionize, this is also an issue to consider.

Just what is there about charter schools that make them the silver bullet to solve our educational problems? Is there something magical about the building? Is it that only charter schools hire competent instructors and administrators? Or is there something about their curriculum and the programs they use that makes the difference? If it’s the magical building, we can get the architectural plans and replicate these buildings, if it’s the great teachers, we can hire them away with better wages, benefits and conditions. And if it’s their curriculum, then that can be replicated, too.

But if the success of charter schools is the way they neglect or reject students that do not fit into their template, then that’s not for me. And don’t ask me to send my tax dollars to finance any school that classifies prospective students as first, second and third class students.

There was, of course, much more to this forum but my editors seem to think that this editorial is already much too lengthy.

To view this forum and the De Anza forum:

El Cerrito HS (Two Chapters)

De Anza HS (Three Chapters)

By: Don Gosney, Richmond resident

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