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VOTE FOR CUEVAS, DONOSO & BLOCK – West County School Board

Posted by xaviervir on October 15, 2014

Contra Costa Times editorial: Cuevas, Donoso and Block for West Contra Costa school board
Contra Costa Times editorial © 2014 Bay Area News Group
POSTED: 10/12/2014 04:00:00 PM PDT21 COMMENTS

Editorial board meeting West Contra Costa school board candidates
West Contra Costa, the school district currently facing a federal investigation of its out-of-control bond construction program, remains a mismanaged operation in desperate need of new leadership.

Fortunately, three solid school board candidates seek to bring change, restore fiscal discipline to the district, focus on the needs of the students and give teachers the support they need to educate children.

After years of having to choose from fields of poor candidates, district residents in the Nov. 4 election can cast votes for a trio with excellent credentials:
Valerie Cuevas serves as acting executive director of Education Trust West, an Oakland-based advocacy group seeking to close the achievement gap affecting students of color or low-income.

Raquel Donoso runs a $30 million federally funded program in San Francisco to help low-income children succeed in school. She’s also the parent of a West Contra Costa student and actively involved in the district.

Elizabeth Block, a school principal, led the turnaround of a Bay Point elementary school before she retired in 2012. She was also a special education administrator and school psychologist, has lived in the district for 35 years and sent her now-grown sons to its schools.
These are articulate, thoughtful candidates who know and care deeply about education. What a breath of fresh air. And just in time.

Until this year’s California education-funding reform, the district’s per-student income and expenditures were above state average, and the highest of large districts in Contra Costa. But teacher salaries were below the state average and nearly the lowest in the county.

Meanwhile, after making meaningful reductions to its retiree health program in 2010, the district has failed to make the minimum installment payments on the remaining debt, currently a staggering $365 million.

Most significantly, there’s the district’s mammoth school construction program, for which voters have authorized $1.6 billion in bonds. Since 1999, the district has issued more construction bonds than any California K-12 district, except the much larger ones in Los Angeles and San Diego. It has also sought the most state waivers of its legal bonding limit. No other district comes close.

The school board and superintendent say it’s not enough. Fortunately, voters in June finally drew the line, rejecting the district’s seventh appeal for more bonding authority.

The district’s associate superintendent for operations, who had revealed what many suspected, that there are no cost controls for the construction program, was forced out. Meanwhile, the members of the school board’s own bond oversight committee still complain that district staff denies them the timely information they need.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has launched an investigation into the bond program. The school board, in turn, agreed to pay the law firm of Trustee Charles Ramsey’s brother up to $150,000 of public funds to represent him in the probe.

Ramsey, amazingly, is running for Richmond City Council and school board members Madeline Kronenberg and Elaine Merriweather seek re-election. They all defend the bond program, seemingly oblivious to the outcry, while accepting campaign money from those who benefitted from the spending. Voters should reject all three.

Among the other school board candidates, Mister Phillips is a union attorney representing school employees in collective bargaining; a laudable profession but one in conflict with serving on a school board.

And Peter Chau, a clerk in the Contra Costa district attorney’s office awaiting his state bar results, demonstrates horrible judgment by touting Ramsey’s endorsement. The last thing we need is to finally rid the school board of Ramsey, only to have him influencing from afar.

Moreover, Phillips and Chau don’t bring education expertise like Cuevas, Donoso and Block. Indeed, it’s been a long time since the district has had trustees of their caliber.

The trio deserves your votes. Residents deserve a better school board.

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