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.
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: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Peter-Chau-for-West-County-School-Board/306593832860833
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: http://bit.ly/1wsILIs
Peter Chau: http://bit.ly/1t7hDsw
Otheree Christian: http://bit.ly/1A7pTCr
Valerie Cuevas: http://bit.ly/1tB8OMT
Raquel Donoso: http://bit.ly/1zsMB6J
Madeline Kronenberg: http://bit.ly/1x0rMNJ
Elaine Merriweather: http://bit.ly/1qmIPDD
Mister Phillips: http://bit.ly/1tB9SQT
Chester Stevens: http://bit.ly/1ySglab
Ayana Kirkland Young: http://bit.ly/1tBaXIr
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?