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MDUSD board election winners look toward the future

Updated results from the Contra Costa County elections office released Friday, which included all timely vote by mail ballots, showed no change in the outcome of the Mt. Diablo school board race between six candidates for three seats. Incumbent Cheryl Hansen finished first with 23.4 percent of votes, followed by Bay Point parent Debra Mason with 19.6 percent and incumbent Linda Mayo with 19.1 percent.

However, the gap between fourth-place finisher Michael Langley and third-place finisher Linda Mayo dropped from 477 to 417 votes, with Langley garnering 18.7 percent. followed by Herbert Lee with 9.8 percent, James Ryan with 8.8 percent and write-ins getting nearly 0.5 percent.

Another 13,000 provisional ballots and 10,000 “exceptions” that could not be counted by machine are still to be counted. Officials expect to begin counting the outstanding ballots Monday and to release another update Nov. 14, with a final update Nov. 21. The certification deadline is Dec. 2.

After the initial results were released Tuesday, the three Mt. Diablo school district winners responded via e-mail to requests for comments.

Hansen said she was happy to receive a vote of confidence from the community and was glad for the opportunity to continue working toward changes, after accomplishing some goals during her first term. Foremost among those was the ouster of former Superintendent Steven Lawrence last year, who was replaced by current Superintendent Nellie Meyer.

“From my perspective, while positive progress has been made in the past year or two, there’s still more work to be done to correct the 2010-12 board majority and former superintendent’s poor judgment and ill-advised decision making,” said Hansen, who was elected to her first term in 2010.

The 2010-12 board majority included Mayo and former Trustees Gary Eberhart and Sherry Whitmarsh. Eberhart stepped down two years ago and Whitmarsh was unsuccessful in her 2012 re-election attempt. The pair was replaced by Trustee Brian Lawrence and Board President Barbara Oaks.

Hansen said she wants to continue to restore previously cut programs, enhance employee benefits, and build school support and community relationships.

“Also,” she said, “I’d still like to see all board members embrace the concept of public service and voluntarily forgo health benefits at the taxpayers’ expense.”

Oaks and Hansen tried to push through a board bylaw amendment in September that would have required board members to pay the full cost of their medical, dental and vision coverage. But the proposal was defeated by Mayo, Brian Lawrence and Trustee Lynne Dennler. Dennler did not seek re-election this year.

This newspaper’s public employees’ salary and benefits database shows Hansen and Oaks received no health benefits as board members in 2013. Brian Lawrence received $1,458 in district-paid benefits, Dennler received $12,781 and Mayo received $14,371 for herself and her husband. Mayo said during the campaign that it’s important for the district to provide benefits to trustees so that those who may not be able to afford them would not be discouraged from serving.

Regarding the new makeup of the board, Hansen said she is excited that Mason was elected.
“She is a dedicated, experienced educator and community member who will be another important voice of common sense on the board,” Hansen said.

Mason said some voters may have chosen her over Mayo because of her fresh outlook.

“Linda has been on the board for 17 years,” Mason said, “so people may feel she has already made her contribution to the leadership of the district.”

Mayo said she was pleased that voters weighed in on the board election during a low turnout year.

“Public education should be the important first consideration for our youth,” she said. “I look forward to working with Debra Mason, Cheryl Hansen, Brian Lawrence, Barbara Oaks and Dr. Nellie Meyer during the next four years. Together, with our parents, staff and community, we have great work to accomplish.”

How do you think the loss of Dennler and the addition of Mason will affect the board?

Posted on Friday, November 7th, 2014
Under: Education, Election, Mt. Diablo school district | 129 Comments »

WCCUSD Trustee Elaine Merriweather comments on her loss in Tuesday’s election

I received the following statement to the public from West Contra Costa school board Trustee Elaine Merriweather, in response to her unsuccessful re-election attempt Tuesday. I am posting the statement below, since I did not receive it in time for inclusion in my post-election story.

Merriweather was one of two incumbents seeking re-election during a race between 10 candidates for three seats. Board President Charles Ramsey is stepping down, after an unsuccessful run for Richmond City Council.

According to unofficial results from the County Elections office (with thousands of mail in and provisional ballots still to be counted), Merriweather finished sixth, with 9 percent of votes. Elizabeth Block finished first with 19.5 percent, followed by incumbent Madeline Kronenberg with 15.4 percent and Valerie Cuevas with 13.2 percent, Mister Phillips with 11.8 percent and Raquel Donoso with 9.6 percent. The top three finishers are the unofficial winners of the election until all votes are counted. Mister Phillips, who received 944 votes fewer than Cuevas, could have a chance to overtake her if there are enough mail in and provisional ballots outstanding that are cast for him.

Merriweather finished ahead of Peter Nicholas Chau, who received 7.9 percent of votes, Chester Stevens with 4.6 percent, Ayana Kirkland Young with 4.4 percent, Otheree Christian with 4 percent and write-in candidates, who received 0.4 percent. So far, 64,305 votes have been counted in the race.

Here is Merriweather’s statement:

“I wish I had better news for you. Unfortunately, our campaign fell short of our goal Tuesday night. Coming into this election, I knew that it would be an uphill battle because of the opposition from nine other candidates but I am so proud of the hard work and dedication our team put into this race.

To my supporters: I don’t know where to begin to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation for all the support, well wishes, financial contributions and love that you’ve given me these last four years. The phone banking, precinct walking and helping to raise fund kept us in the race. Your encouragement meant so much to me in this election. You need to know that your support gave me the strength and courage to push forward our platform.

To my team: Everything in our campaign was built from the ground up, grassroots effort. As a candidate and a board member, I woke up every day determined to work harder for children of this district. I wanted to vindicate all the support and dedication that you had invested in me. To my treasurer who helped fundraise and keep the finances in order. To my campaign manager who worked tirelessly, without preservation, I thank you both from the bottom of my heart and I could not have had better leaders advising me.

This election season is a reminder that there is a lot of work that needs to be done to move our district forward. Despite these challenges, I am as optimistic as ever. We made tremendous strides in the community and we have made progress in our district. I will continue to work and advocate for students at the national and state level. My commitment to quality education has only grown stronger because I was given the opportunity to serve in West Contra Costa Unified School District.

With humility and thankfulness,

Hon. Elaine Merriweather
Board of Education Trustee
West Contra Costa Unified School District”

What impact do you think the loss of Merriweather on the board will have on the district?

Posted on Thursday, November 6th, 2014
Under: Education, Election, Walnut Creek School District | No Comments »

Some West Contra Costa residents, charter supporters and a candidate sound off about funding fears in school board race

After my first story about campaign spending in the West Contra Costa school board race was published in the Contra Costa Times, I received an e-mail string that included a letter from 29 West Contra Costa district residents to their “friends and neighbors” expressing concerns about the large amount of funding from charter supporters in the race.

I also received a letter to the editor from the California Charter Schools Association Advocates in response to the story, as well as a letter to “friends and neighbors” from developer Stephen Chamberlin and his wife, Susan, explaining why they have invested money in the race both individually and as funders of the Education Matters Independent Expenditure Committee.

A follow-up story that mentioned both letters to “friends and neighbors” and included a quote from incumbent Madeline Kronenberg about her concerns was published Friday in the Contra Costa Times.

After I wrote that story, I received a call from candidate Peter Chau informing me that that California Charter Schools Association Advocates Independent Expenditure Committee had paid for a “hit piece” attacking his candidacy. Since I had been unaware that the charter advocates were also funding opposition to Chau’s campaign when I wrote my story, I offered to post a short statement from Chau in response on my blog.

I am posting all four of these separate communications on my blog so that readers can see in one place some of the arguments being made by some residents, charter advocates and candidates. Please note that I have not fact-checked the letters and that they reflect the opinions of those who wrote them.

I have also received a call from Elizabeth Block’s son expressing concerns about other media reports that have focused solely on the charter funding, without also mentioning the large amount of funding from contractors, architects and labor unions received by Kronenberg and Chau. It is not possible for me to write another story about this issue before the election tomorrow.

However, I will provide links to the campaign contributions for the candidates and list some of the largest contributors to Kronenberg and Chau’s campaign below, so readers can see that charter advocates are not the only ones pouring money into this race.

Here is the letter from 29 West Contra Costa school district residents:

“Our Schools Are Not For Sale

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

We are WCCUSD parents concerned about the infusion into our school board election of campaign money from deep-pocketed charter school supporters.

We live and send our kids to school in our diverse, complex, and challenging community. We send our kids to public school because we believe in neighborhood schools and the communities they foster. We can tell you that no magic bullet is going to solve the challenges of public education. Rather, creating success in public schools means rolling up your sleeves and working with your child’s teachers, administrators, and district staff on behalf of all students. We urge you to vote for school board candidates who know that our schools must serve ALL students, not just the selected children of engaged parents.

Charter schools concern us because they siphon off students and money from the other schools in
the district, without sharing the challenges of educating ALL students.

Inflammatory campaign ads, flyers, and phone calls want you to believe that the district has wasted money meant for kids and refurbished facilities. In fact, bond money has been well spent. More than 35 schools have been replaced or refurbished through the bond program since 2000, and the district’s general obligation bonds received A+ ratings earlier this year.

Who is funding this campaign of deception? Charter Schools PAC of Sacramento and Education Matters, an organization funded by developer Steve Chamberlin, founder of the Chamberlin Foundation, have pumped over $260,000 into the campaigns of school board candidates Liz Block and Valerie Cuevas and the associated smear campaign against current Board member Madeline Kronenberg. The Chamberlin Foundation acquired the former Windrush School in El Cerrito and leases the facility to Summit Charter School.

We urge you to vote for candidates who know our district, have attended school in our district and have sent their kids to schools in our district, and understand that our schools must educate ALL students. Finally, we urge you to vote for neighborhood schools and the candidates who have not taken money from charter school funders. Vote for Chau, Kronenberg, and Phillips for West Contra Costa Unified School District Governing Board.

Concerned WCCUSD parents,

Joanna Pace, David Miller, Eric Miller, Patty Enrado, David Rossi, Leslie Weir, Bobbie Dowling, Kelli Barram, Evangeline Ireland, Kathy Guarneri, Pamela Gilbert-Snyder, Heidi Bartsch, Sharon Johnson, Paul Gilbert-Snyder, Catherine Collen, Nancy Donovan, Becky Jonas, Alonn Ilan, Lisa Tsering, Kerry Radcliffe, Camille Mulligan, Franco Corvasce, Nerissa Wu, Mark DeVito, David Whitenack, Jen Komaromi, JJ Thorp, Kim Walker and Monet Zulpo-Dane”

Please note that I received several calls and e-mails from other district residents who said they disagreed with the views of the parents in the above letter.

Here is the letter to the editor from the California Charter Schools Association Advocates:

“Contra Costa County has some very important elections this November 4. Perhaps the most important are those at the bottom of the ballot – the local school board races. These elections are high stakes for children and families, especially moderate and low-income families who rely on public schools for their future.

The upcoming elections hold the promise for real progress in public schools. West Contra Costa schools, for example, have amazing teachers and staff doing great things for children. Things everyone should be proud of. Yet, the district’s elected leaders have failed students. Some have even used the district’s construction program for their own political gain, sticking taxpayers with high taxes, lawsuits, and even a federal investigation, while construction companies fund their political futures.

We support two strong candidates for West Contra Costa school board, Valerie Cuevas and Elizabeth Block. While we work with charter schools, we are supporting these candidates, who don’t have any direct charter school connection, because they represent the promise of progress and leadership for all of west county’s public school children.

Gary Borden
Executive Director, California Charter Schools Association Advocates”

Here is the letter from the Chamnberlins:

“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.”

Here is Chau’s response to a mailer funded by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates Independent Expenditure Committee, which questions his qualifications to run for school board:

“As a homegrown product of this school district, I know what works and what doesn’t work in our school district. In 2004, I served as student board member. I voted against devastating budget cuts, bringing national media attention to West Contra Costa schools. I worked (and found!) local solutions to save sports, libraries, counselors, and 10% of jobs. In 2008, I came back to organize grass-roots support for Measure D, another local measure to support our schools – without increasing taxes.

My only ambition has been clear: to ensure a fair shake for every West County student, the same fair shake I received. I grew up broke in tough Richmond neighborhoods with a single mom. Instead of becoming another statistic, I chose success. Thanks to great neighborhood schools, I graduated from Dartmouth College in 2008 and UC Hastings College of the Law in 2014.

I’ve had to overcome significant adversity – the same adversity our kids face – to achieve success. I am a fresh, independent voice that our school board needs. For instance, I believe that our school district should targeting student loan debt as a recruitment tool for teachers. I know that Millennials like me prioritize student loan debt repayment programs when making career choices. Look at my Facebook page for more information:

I’ll never be able to match Wall Street or millioniaire spending. However, I know that voters want the very best for students. I know what works and what doesn’t work. That’s why I ask for your vote. #votechau”

Here’s where you can see a breakdown of all the money being spent on behalf of each of the 10 candidates in the race:

Elizabeth Block:

Peter Chau:

Otheree Christian:

Valerie Cuevas:

Raquel Donoso:

Madeline Kronenberg:

Elaine Merriweather:

Mister Phillips:

Chester Stevens:

Ayana Kirkland Young:

Although my stories have already detailed expenditures by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates Independent Expenditure Committee, Education Matters and the Chamberlins, I am posting an updated list below, reflecting information filed as of Oct. 31, along with a short list of major contributors to Block, Chau, Cuevas, Donoso, Kronenberg and Merriweather.

California Charter Schools Association Advocates: $83,030.55 in support of Block; $59,445.97 in support of Cuevas; $22,335.16 to oppose Chau; $113,502.31 to oppose Kronenberg.

Education Matters: $87,337.96 in support of Block; $61,871.35 in support of Cuevas; $5,271.17 to oppose Chau; $30,448.21 to oppose Kronenberg.

Students for Education Reform: $1,340.16 in support of Block; $1,340.16 in support of Cuevas

Elizabeth Block direct contributions: $44,470 (including $15,000 from John Scully of the Making Waves charter and $5,000 from the Chamberlins)

Valerie Cuevas direct contributions: $16,595 (including $2,500 from the Chamberlins, $2,464 in non-monetary contributions and a $900 loan to herself)

Peter Chau direct contributions: $39,850. (Chau did not fill in the occupations of most of his donors, so it is difficult to discern who his contributors are. However, when comparing his contributors to Kronenberg’s, it is easier to see that his contributions include: $5,000 from Powell and Partners Architects; $5,000 from architect Wallace Boyd Gordon; $3,000 from AEKO technology consulting; $3,000 from Sheet Metal Workers International Assoc. PAC; $2,500 from Amanco contractor Herman Blackmon and his wife; $2,500 from Davillier-Sloan labor management consultant; $2,500 from Interactive Resources Architects and Engineers (Tom Butt); $2,500 from Plumbers, Steamfitters, Refrigeration and Pipline Local Union; $2,500 from IBEW PAC, $2,000 from Architects Chad Hamilton and Susan Aitken; $1,500 from Operating Engineers Local PAC; $1,500 from the Plumbing Industry Consumer Protection Fund; $1,500 from architect Douglas Davis; $1,000 from IBEW PAC; $1,000 from Employers Advocate consultant; $1,000 from WLC architect Kevin Macquarrie and his wife; $500 from Hibser Yamauchi Architects; $500 from school facilities consultants Matthew and Janelle Pettler; $500 from Jay and Karen Leong Fenton of Rubicon; $250 from Sally Swanson Architects; and $100 from the Teamsters Union.)

Raquel Donoso direct contributions: $26,920 (including a $5,000 loan to herself, $2,000 from the Chamberlins, $1,500 from Plumbing Industry Consumer Protection Fund, $1,000 from an IBEW PAC, $1,000 from Public Employees Local 1 and $1,050 from Carlos Donoso in Torrance, CA.)

Elaine Merriweather direct contributions: $5,590 (including $1,500 from the Seville Group; $1,500 from Stephen Chamberlin; and $1,000 from Public Employees Union Local 1.)

Madeline Kronenberg direct contributions: $102,323 (including $7,500 from the Seville Group; $7,500 from Powell & Partners Architects; $7,500 from Architect Wallace Boyd Gordon; $6,000 from WLC Architects, $3,500 from Hibser-Yamauchi Architects; $2,500 from Local 342 PAC; $2,000 from AEKO technology consultants; $1,000 from H&M Mechanical Group; $1,000 from Alliance Engineering Consultants; and $1,000 from architect Douglas Davis.

Are you concerned about the amount of money spent in this race?

Posted on Monday, November 3rd, 2014
Under: Election, West Contra Costa school district | 17 Comments »

Who will undecideds choose in state Superintendent of Public Instruction race: Torlakson or Tuck?

Tom Torlakson (left, AP) and Marshall Tuck (right, handout photo) are vying for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Tom Torlakson (left, AP) and Marshall Tuck (right, handout photo) are vying for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

A Field Poll released Thursday showed the race for the state’s top schools leader is still off the radar for a lot of voters, with incumbent Tom Torlakson tied with challenger Marshall Tuck, both with 28 percent of likely voters supporting them. At this late date, 44 percent of voters were still undecided, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,536 registered voters in California from Oct. 15-28, including 941 considered likely to vote Tuesday.

The poll noted key differences among subgroups of voters, according to geography, race and ethnicity, political ideology, and union households. Northern California voters favored Torlakson by 9 points, while Bay Area voters supported him by a 14 point margin. Tuck, on the other hand, had a 6-point lead over Torlakson in Southern California, where he worked overseeing some charter and low-performing schools in the Los Angeles area before running for office.

White non-Hispanic voters, who make up about 70 percent of those likely to go to the polls, favored Torlakson by 7 points, the poll found. Tuck had much stronger support among Latino and African-American voters, as well as a slight lead among Asian-Americans.

– Thirty-two percent of white non-Hispanic likely voters supported Torlakson, compared to 25 percent for Tuck and 43 percent undecided;

– Twenty percent of Latino likely voters supported Torlakson, compared to 33 percent for Tuck and 47 percent undecided;

– Eleven percent of African-American likely voters favored Torlakson, compared to 49 percent for Tuck and 40 percent undecided;

Twenty-one percent of likely Asian-Americans supported Torlakson, compared to 38 percent for Tuck and 51 percent undecided.

Ideologically, 40 percent of strongly liberal voters favored Torlakson, compared to 18 percent for Tuck and 42 percent undecided. On the other hand, only 26 percent of strongly conservative voters favored Torlakson, compared to 36 percent for Tuck and 40 percent undecided.

In union households, 31 percent favored Torlakson, 23 percent supported Tuck and 46 percent were undecided. Nonunion households gave Tuck the lead, with 27 percent supporting Torlakson compared to 29 percent for Tuck and 44 percent undecided.

During phone interviews, both men seized on the large numbers of undecided voters, saying they believed they would choose them as they learn more about the race. Both also said they were pleasantly surprised that their opponent had not gained ground since the last field poll, especially after millions of dollars have been spent on ads in the race.

“Ten million dollars from corporate billionaires hasn’t convinced voters to put a Wall Street banker in charge of our schools,” Torlakson said, referring to money spent on behalf of Tuck’s campaign. “The undecideds are a large group here. When people find out I’m the endorsed Democrat and that mayors and superintendents across the state support me, as well as the teachers, the undecideds, I believe, will break our way.”

But Tuck, who worked as an investment banker for two years in his early 20s before pursuing a career in school leadership, said he believes his message of reform will resonate with undecided voters as they learn more about him.

“The bottom line is we’re going against an incumbent and the status quo and we’re on a real change agenda,” he said. “Undecideds are likely to support our campaign because most people want major change in schools.”

Torlakson said he is not a status quo candidate — in fact, he said he helped work toward the new funding formula that gives more money to schools with the neediest students, has led the implementation of new Common Core standards and stood up to the U.S. Department of Education last year to ditch the old fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests and instead pilot new tests to better assess student learning.

Tuck wants to weaken tenure laws to make it easier to oust ineffective teachers and to retain good teachers with little seniority. He also wants to give more flexibility to schools.

Bruce Fuller, a professor of education at UC Berkeley, said Torlakson may have trouble attracting voters’ attention because Gov. Jerry Brown and Michael Kirst, president of the state Board of Education, are also widely recognized as education leaders in the state.

Who do you support and why?

Posted on Monday, November 3rd, 2014
Under: Education, Election | 8 Comments »

Nearly 100 candidates seek school board seats in Contra Costa County

As the election filing deadline neared in Contra Costa County on Friday, nearly 100 candidates had taken out papers for more than 20 school board races.

The filing deadline will be extended to 5 p.m. Wednesday in 11 districts where some incumbents are not seeking re-election. These include: The Acalanes, Brentwood, Byron, John Swett, Lafayette, Moraga, Mt. Diablo, Orinda, Pittsburg, Walnut Creek and West Contra Costa districts.

Just before the filing deadline, it appeared that nearly all of the races would be contested, with most incumbents facing challengers. Here is a list of the races and candidates who had qualified for the ballot by 5 p.m. Friday, followed by potential candidates who had taken out papers, but had not yet completed all the ballot requirements.

County Board of Education, Area 2: Incumbent Christine Deane and Ray Andersen.

County Board of Education, Area 4: Incumbent Richard Asadoorian and Mike Maxwell.

County Board of Education, Area 5: Incumbent Cynthia Ruehling and Jeff Belle.

Community College, Ward 1: Incumbent John Marquez and Cheryl Sudduth.

Community College, Ward 3: Tim Farley and incumbent Matthew Rinn.

Community College, Ward 4: Incumbent John Nejedly (unopposed).

Acalanes: Incumbent Susan (Susie) Epstein, incumbent Nancy Kendzierski, Kristen Correll and Robert Hockett.

Acalanes (short term): Incumbent J. Richard Whitmore (unopposed).

Antioch Unified School District: Incumbent Joy Motts, Incumbent Gary Hack and Debra Vinson and Walter Ruehlig.

Brentwood: Incumbent Emil Geddes, incumbent Heather Partida, John A. Fjeldstad, Scott S. Dudek, Susan Wallace, Johnny Rodriguez, Christina Bell and Marci Lapriore.

Byron Union: Incumbent Jill Marlene Sprenkel, Felicia Schweller and Tania Salinas. Not yet qualified: Karri Jo Murayama.

Byron (short term): Incumbent Betty Sanchez. Not yet qualified: Gina Larmar Parish.

Canyon Elementary: Incumbent David James Smith, incumbent Ian Llewellyn and incumbent Geronimo Bernard.

John Swett: Incumbent Brian Colombo, Michael Kirker and Deborah A. Brandon.

Knightsen: Incumbent Liesel Williams, Patrick Hulleman and Kristen L. Fuller, incumbent Ralph Adam McMeans and Robin Denise Pastor.

Lafayette: Incumbent Teresa Gerringer and incumbent David Gerson and Suzy Pak.

Liberty: Incumbent Roy Ghiggeri, incumbent Daron Spears, incumbent Joanne Louise Byer and Pauline Allred.

Martinez: Incumbent Deidre Siguenza, incumbent Roberta “Bobbi” Horack and Ronald Skrehot.

Moraga: Incumbent Parker Colvin, Heather O’Donnell and Jonathan Nickens.

Moraga (short term): Not yet qualified: Heather o’Donnell.

Mt. Diablo: Incumbent Linda Mayo, incumbent Cheryl Hansen, Michael Langley, Herbert Lee, Debra Mason and James Ryan Egnor-Keil.

Oakley: Incumbent Gloria Jean Lott, incumbent Mark Jordan and incumbent Arthur Fernande.

Orinda: Incumbent Juliane Rossiter, Hillary Shayne Weiner, Carol Brown and Jason Kaune. Not yet qualified: incumbent Christopher Clark Severson.

Pittsburg: Incumbent Joe Arenivar, incumbent Duane Smith and De’Shawn Woolridge. Not yet qualified: Daniel Borsuk.

San Ramon Valley: Incumbent Ken Mintz, incumbent Rachel Hurd, incumbent Denise Jennison and Jerome Pandell.

Walnut Creek: Incumbent Barbara Pennington, Stacey Schweppe, Aimee Moss, Heidi Hernandez Gatty and Sherri McGoff.

West Contra Costa: Incumbent Madeline Kronenberg, incumbent Elaine Merriweather, Elizabeth (Liz) Block, Chester Stevens, Raquel Donoso, Otheree Christian, Mister Phillips and Peter Nicholas Chau. Not yet qualified: Charlene W. Harlan-Ogbeide, Valerie Cuevas and Giorgio Cosentino.

Which candidates do you support?

Posted on Friday, August 8th, 2014
Under: Contra Costa Community College District, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education, Election, John Swett district, Lafayette school district, Liberty district, Martinez school district, Moraga, Mt. Diablo school district, Oakley district, Orinda, Pittsburg school district, San Ramon Valley school district, Walnut Creek School District, West Contra Costa school district | 14 Comments »

Middle and high school students can vote in mock statewide election this fall

Poster encourages students to vote in mock election

Poster encourages students to vote in mock election

To interest students in the candidates for governor and proposition issues on the November statewide ballot, the Secretary of State and Superintendent of Public Instruction are sponsoring an October 28 mock election.

“Mock elections are a great way for young people to experience firsthand what it’s like to make informed decisions at the ballot box,” said Debra Bowen, Secretary of State, in a prepared statement. “As students learn about the candidates and issues, they discover how government and politics affect every part of their lives.”

Since 2004, the Secretary of State’s office has sponsored a mock election for middle and high school students every two years. Participation has grown from 647 schools a decade ago to a record 735 schools in 2012, including 88 from the East Bay.

This year, the state is hoping that even more schools will sign up for the 2014 My Vote Mock Election, which will include the race for governor and all seven propositions, said Nicole Winger, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State.

“We have a few hundred registered and we’re looking to surpass our record of schools participating,” she said. “For some schools, it’s simply a civics or history or government teacher distributing the ballots on a single date.”

But at the other end of the spectrum, Winger said, some schools conduct mock debates between students who study the positions of candidates or proponents and opponents of ballot measures.

“Some students and teachers will really get into it and build classes around elections or civic engagement,” she said. “Some will pick issues, such as the water bond.”

A science teacher could use the Proposition 43 water bond proposal as a starting point for discussions about the drought and how it affects residents and farmers, Winger said.

The Secretary of State’s website includes information about registering your school at Click on “My Vote: Student Mock Election.” Schools that register by Sept. 19 will receive free instructional materials and student voter information guides in time for the election. Those registering by Oct. 27 can print materials from the website.

After the Oct. 28 mock election, registered schools can report their results to the Secretary of State to be included in an announcement of the statewide student voting results that will be released Oct. 29. Students can also get “I voted stickers” just like adult voters receive.

Posters and fliers on the My Vote website can help students understand that voting is one way for citizens to help make changes in the state.

One poster says: “Change your ringtone. Change your hairstyle. Change your playlist. Change your oil. Change your BFF. Change your shoes. Change your attitude. Vote. It may be the best change you make all year.”

Schools are encouraged to share ideas for making the mock election fun online. Ideas posted from previous mock elections include:

— Voting in official booths used in the real election or in booths created by wood shop classes

— Enlisting parent volunteers or students to act as poll workers and sign in students, before voting

— Creating “Vote Here” signs for the mock polling site

— Encouraging students to make posters for and against propositions

— Mock debates covered by journalism students with mock press passes

— Inviting guest speakers to address students about the election process and media coverage

— Encouraging students who are 18 or older to talk to classmates about their experience of registering to vote and voting

— Partnering with an after-school program, which could provide a pep rally the day before the mock election and count the votes afterward

Voting in the mock election can help engage students in assignments related to the real election.
“Part of the debriefing was to analyze voter participation in California and the nation,” one teacher wrote. “Students also analyzed and evaluated exit poll data. The fact that they participated in the mock election made these activities more meaningful and relevant.”

Will your school participate in the mock election?

Posted on Monday, July 28th, 2014
Under: Education, Election | 1 Comment »

MDUSD special education Community Advisory Committee meeting is tonight

Here is the agenda for tonight’s Mt. Diablo school district special education Community Advisory Committee meeting tonight:



DATE: December 4, 2012

TIME: 7:00 – 9:15 p.m.

PLACE: Dent Center – Board Room

1. Call to Order 7:00

2. Introductions (7:02 – 7:10)

Please notify the audience during introductions if you are recording the meeting

Please let us know if this is your first time attending a CAC meeting

3. Adoption of Minutes – November 6, 2012 (7:10 – 7:15)

4. Presentation – Autism Magnet Program – Jenny Carvalho (7:15 – 7:35)

5. Chairperson’s Report – Lorrie Davis (7:35 – 7:45)

5.1 New CAC Member Nomination – Janine Payne

6. Old Business (7:45 – 8:15)

6.1 Interim Assistant Superintendent’s Report – Dr. Kerri Mills

6.2 Board of Education Report – Lynne Dennler

6.3 Board of Education Comments – No Report

6.4 Budget Advisory Committee Report – Tricia Tamura-Li

6.5 Equity Advisory Team – Dorothy Weisenberger


7. New Business (8:25– 9:00)

7.1 QIAT – Christian Patz – No Report

7.2 Autism Task Force – Lorien Quirk

7.3 Advisory Commission on Special Education – No Report

7.4 Parent Liaison – Hilary Shen

7.5 Sub-Committee Updates
Parent & Community Education Committee – Julie Nibblett
Membership & Publicity Committee – Vi Ibarra
Legislative Committee – Denise Lambert
Blog Committee – Autumn Green

8. Public Comment (9:00 – 9:10)
Public comment is an opportunity to share concerns and comments with the CAC. In the interest of time, speakers are limited to three (3) minutes each with a total of fifteen (15) minutes for all speakers. Please respect student and personnel privacy. CAC members and district staff might not be able to respond to individual concerns in this forum, but will take your contact information and follow-up with you.

9. Information Items/Announcements/Adjournment (9:10 – 9:15)


Do you think Mills should answer the CAC’s remaining questions related to the FCMAT transportation review?

Posted on Tuesday, December 4th, 2012
Under: Election, Mt. Diablo school district, special education | 4 Comments »

Contra Costa Times editorial board endorses Lawrence and Mason in MDUSD race

Since many blog readers appear to be interested in commenting on the Times’ endorsement of Brian Lawrence and Debra Mason, I am reposting the editorial below. Please note that I am not on the editorial board and did not write this editorial. As a reporter, I do not endorse candidates.

“Contra Costa Times editorial: Lawrence and Mason for school board in Mt. Diablo Unified

© Copyright 2012, Bay Area News Group

As voters select two Mt. Diablo school trustees on Nov. 6, they should reflect on recent years of district leadership plagued by arrogance, deception, secrecy and ethical lapses.

In 2010, trustees and Superintendent Steven Lawrence misled voters about the long-term costs associated with an ill-conceived $348 million bond issue. They also promised a cap on the resulting tax rate for property owners. After voters approved the bonds, trustees reneged and exceeded the cap by 50 percent.

Meanwhile, during the election, the superintendent held private meetings with Chevron at his home. The oil giant was vying for a $66 million solar installation to be paid from the bond proceeds. The company was also treating him to drinks and he was soliciting golf discounts from the firm.

After the election, the district was headed toward awarding the contract to Chevron without competitive bidding until this newspaper started asking questions. When Chevron actually had to compete with other companies, it didn’t bother.

Then, in 2011, disenchantment with administrators at Clayton Valley High sparked the largest teacher-led conversion to a charter school in Northern California. While district officials complained about the extra cost, they ignored that they brought it on themselves by being tone-deaf to the concerns of teachers and parents. District trustees rejected the charter, but the county Office of Education overturned that decision, allowing the school to open in July.

Meanwhile, parents seeking information, as well as this newspaper, have been repeatedly stonewalled by administrators, including school district attorney Greg Rolen, who deny or delay access to public information.

This circle-the-wagon mentality must end. And that must start at the top with the removal of one of the intransigent board members, Sherry Whitmarsh, who happens to work for Chevron, sees nothing wrong with Lawrence’s cozy relationship with the firm and spearheaded early contract renewals for Lawrence and Rolen. She also tries to perpetuate the fantasy that the district is open and responsive to the public.

Whitmarsh is the only incumbent seeking re-election in the Nov. 6 election for two board seats. We urge voters to instead support Brian Lawrence of Walnut Creek (no relation to the superintendent with the same last name) and Debra Mason of Bay Point.

The fourth candidate, former principal Barbara Oaks, didn’t understand the bond program nor realize most of the money was to go for school construction. It was a stunning admission.

Lawrence and Mason understand the program. Both regularly attend school board meetings. Lawrence brings financial expertise while Mason brings the experience of 22 years as a district instructional assistant and would add much-needed geographic diversity to the board.

(A fifth candidate on the ballot, Ernie Detrinidad, dropped out of the race.)

Lawrence and Mason argue for district transparency and question the cost of the bond program. The district was antagonistic to teachers and parents during the charter school review, Lawrence says. Mason says she was appalled by how they were treated.

It’s time for responsive leadership that’s open, honest and ethical. Elect Lawrence and Mason.”

It’s my understanding that the editorial board interview conducted by Dan Borenstein will eventually be posted online at

Do you agree with the Times’ editorial board’s endorsements?

NOV. 1 UPDATE: Here is a link to video of the Times’ editorial board interview:

Posted on Monday, October 29th, 2012
Under: Education, Election, Mt. Diablo school district | 114 Comments »

MDUSD superintendent informs community about Props. 30 and 38

I have just received an email with the following “news update” from Mt. Diablo school district Superintendent Steven Lawrence. Since it is not yet posted on the district’s website, I am posting it below:

“Mt. Diablo USD News Update
Where Kids Come First
October 18, 2012

District staff and site administrators have been asked questions by parents and community members about the impact of Propositions 30 and 38. By-law district personnel cannot advocate for any Proposition or candidate utilizing district resources. However, in the case of a Proposition we can provide the facts about the Proposition and the impact it would have on our school district.

The following information about Proposition 30 and 38 is directly from the Official Title and Summary prepared by the Attorney General.

Overview of Proposition 30

State Taxes and Revenues

Increases sales tax rate by one-quarter cent for every dollar for four years.

Increases personal income tax rates on upper-income taxpayers for seven years.

Raises about $6 billion in additional annual state revenues from 2012-13 through 2016-17, with smaller amounts in 2011-12, 2017-18 and 2018-19.

State Spending

If approved by voters, additional revenues available to help balance state budget through 2018-19.

If rejected by voters, 2012-13 budget reduced by $6 billion. State revenues lower through 2018-19

Local Government Programs

Guarantees local governments receive tax revenues annually to fund program responsibilities transferred to them by the state in 2011.

Overview of Proposition 38

State Taxes and Revenues

Increases personal income tax rates on annual earnings over $7,316 using sliding scale from .4% for lowest individual earners to 2.2% for individuals earning over $2.5 million for twelve years.

During first four years, allocates 60% of revenues to K-12 schools, 30% to repaying state debt, and 10% to early childhood programs. Thereafter, allocates 85% of revenues to K-12 schools, 15% to early childhood programs.

Provides K-12 funds on school-specific, per-pupil basis, subject to local control, audits, and public input.

Prohibits state from directing new funds.

Net State and Local Government Fiscal Impact:

Increase in state personal income tax revenues from 2013 through 2024. The increase would be roughly $10 billion in 2013-14, tending to increase over time. The 2012-13 increase would be about half this amount.

In each of the initial years, about $6 billion would be used for schools, $1 billion for child care and preschool, and $3 billion for state savings on debt payments. The 2013-14 amounts likely would be higher due to the additional distribution of funds raised in 2012-13.

From 2017-18 through 2024-25, the shares spent on schools, child care, and preschool would be higher the share spent on debt payments lower.

Two nonpartisan organizations California Budget Project and EdSource have each created a side by side analysis of the two propositions. You can view the California Budget Project analysis at , and the EdSource analysis is available at .

Under the current State budget that was signed by Governor Brown in July 2012, if Proposition 30 passes we will not see any additional funding; however, if it does not pass K-16 education funding will receive an immediate mid-year reduction. For most K-12 unified school districts the estimated amount of this reduction would be $440 per student. For Mt. Diablo Unified School District this would result in an on-going annual reduction of approximately $13.5 million. This type of reduction would be equivalent to permanently shortening the school year by fifteen days.

If Proposition 38 passes it will not prevent the mid-year reduction of state funds for K-16 education. However, it will provide significant new preK-12 funding that comes directly to local school districts. If you would like to get an estimate of the amount of funding that will be provide for the Mt. Diablo schools, please Google “Proposition 38 school funding calculator.”

If both Proposition 30 and 38 pass, the Proposition with the most votes will be implemented and the other Proposition would not take effect.

Another informative article by the California Budget Project that analyzes school funding in California and discusses the disinvestment in California schools is School Finance Facts, October 2011. This article can be found at .”

Do you support Props. 30 and/or 38?

Posted on Thursday, October 18th, 2012
Under: Education, Election, Mt. Diablo school district | 84 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school board candidate Ernie DeTrinidad drops out of race

I have received the following statement from Mt. Diablo school board candidate Ernie DeTrinidad, announcing his decision to withdraw from the race. Please note that he will still be listed on the ballot.

“As residents of the Mt. Diablo school community continue to face really tough challenges, the need to change the makeup of the School Board is without doubt the most important and vital. It is critical for residents to elect new members, members with new ideas, solutions and, most important, new approaches. We must build a more positive, productive, collaborative, and inclusive environment for our students, teachers and district staff, to achieve their very best – because successful students are essential for a healthy and prosperous community.

It is my belief that two candidates offer the Board exactly what is necessary, a genuine passion for positive change. Barbara Oaks and Debra Mason bring educational, community and organizational experience to the table. They are independent, yet can collaborate on creative solutions for the benefit of our students and our community.

We don’t need someone who will use the Board as a stepping-stone in his political pursuits, and falsely labels himself as an educator. We don’t need someone who has had ample opportunity as a current Board member, and yet has failed to lift our School District out of low performance results, instead filling the Board with negativity and distancing the Board from the very communities it serves, alienating District employees and staff.

In order to bolster our opportunity to achieve positive change, I have decided to withdraw from candidacy for School Board. This is a most difficult decision, but one I make in the best interest of our students. Instead I stand ready and ask that our community join me in support of the two best candidates for MDUSD School Board; Barbara Oaks and Debra Mason.

Ernie DeTrinidad
Parent/Candidate for MDUSD School Board”

Do you agree with DeTrinidad’s decision to drop out of the race?

OCT. 15 UPDATE: Here is the link to the CCTV MDUSD candidate forum:

Posted on Tuesday, September 25th, 2012
Under: Education, Election, Mt. Diablo school district | 145 Comments »