Coming Together for Richmond Youth

Richmond’s children, youth and young adults have long needed more life-changing services and opportunities. Now, local community based organizations, labor unions, and political leaders have come together and agreed to establish a Richmond Fund for Children and Youth in order to more effectively invest in our youth.

A diverse coalition including RYSE, SEIU Local 1021, APEN, ACCE and elected leaders including County Supervisor John Gioia and Richmond Vice-Mayor Melvin Willis have joined together to support two measures which will be on the June 2018 ballot:  

  • The Richmond Kids First Initiative and
  • A charter amendment revising Richmond Kids First

The goal of Kids First is to ensure that Richmond’s youth are physically, emotionally, mentally and socially healthy, educated, and live in stable, safe and supported families and communities.

The coalition has also explored how to raise additional revenue for the City to offset the costs of funding youth services under the Kids First Initiative.

What is the Richmond Kids First Initiative and the charter amendment revising Kids First?

The Kids First Initiative was drafted with input from local youth and youth-serving organizations and modeled after similar funds in San Francisco and Oakland.  Youth and adult allies went door-to-door and collected about 14,000 signatures to put this measure on the ballot.

Kids First creates a dedicated funding source from the City’s general fund to support expanded services for youth and establishes a City operated Department of Children and Youth.

The charter amendment revising Kids First would do three things:

  • Removes the restriction on how much funding the City of Richmond can receive as well as the requirement that the City must partner with a non-profit
  • Adds a new requirement that the dedicated funding set aside only occurs after the passage of a general tax measure which increases revenues to the City
  • Delays the start date for the funding set aside until July 2021, or one fiscal year after the passage of a general tax measure, if no tax measure is passed by December 2020.

How will youth programs and services be funded?

After discussions with local residents and studying what nearby cities have done, the coalition is currently recommending that a sugar-sweetened beverage distribution tax of one cent per ounce be placed on the November 2018 ballot.  Albany, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco have recently passed a similar one cent per ounce tax.

This tax is different from Richmond’s previous 2012 soda tax measure which was a business license fee on retailers. Instead, the tax would be levied on the distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages.  

The tax would not apply to baby formula, milk products (like chocolate milk), 100% natural fruit and vegetable juices (including aqua fresca), medical beverages, weight reduction beverages, and alcoholic beverages.   The tax would also not apply to distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages to small retailers.

The RPA commends the coalition for finding a solution that supports kids, protects the integrity of the city budget and workers, and promotes health. The RPA Steering Committee voted to endorse the Kids First policy package (the Kids First Initiative, the charter amendment and the sugary beverage tax) in February.

Victory! Rocketship charter application rejected!

Call it a small victory against Betsy Devos and the charter school agenda: At the January 17 West Contra Costa County School Board meeting, the Rocketship charter application was voted down!

Thanks to everyone who turned out in the last few months to show their support. After hearing from the staff analysis about Rocketship application, it would have been incredible if the board had approved it. School district staff pointed out several severe shortcomings with the application, including a significant proportion of unverifiable signatures in Rocketship’s petition. They also pointed out that Rocketship had a shocking history of five abandoned or closed schools in the Bay Area (Rocketship currently has thirteen).

But the battle is not over; Rocketship will probably petition to the county. The Invictus Charter application, which was rejected by the WCCUSD Board in July, was later approved unanimously by the County Board on September 6 in Pleasanton.

City Moratorium on New Charter School Facilities

On January 30, the City Council extended a 45-day urgency ordinance prohibiting the approval of applications to construct, modify or place schools in certain commercial and mixed-use zoning areas. The moratorium was extended until December 17, 2018 so that the City staff could complete new zoning amendments that could potentially further restrict the establishment of schools.

Currently, Richmond has approximately ninety schools operating within its boundaries and at least eleven of them are public charter schools. Many of these charters are locating in mixed use zoning areas that are not meant for schools, but rather for commercial activities that generate tax revenue and provide employment.

The location of these charter schools are interfering with Richmond’s General Plan and Policies. For example, the City shifted a Light Industrial zone (once occupied by a business park) to Industrial Business in order to accommodate the planned expansion of an existing charter school. In Marina Bay, a former high-tech office was converted to a school; and in Hilltop approximately 13.4 acres of Industrial Business land that had contained 165,387square feet of one- and two-story commercial and industrial developments was purchased by Making Waves Charter School. According to the General Plan, Southern Shoreline and Hilltop were supposed to promote uses such as high-density housing. Now, they are suffering from traffic, parking and public safety difficulties from ill-located charter schools.

All the while, existing Richmond public schools are being hollowed out. Public schools anticipate that student enrollment will drop 34% in 2019-20, leading to excess facilities capacity and eventually school closures. This, according to the ordinance, “can lead and result in blighted conditions for communities that lead to significant public health, safety, and welfare impacts.”

The City of Richmond Planning and Building Services Department will conduct outreach to inform the proposed zoning changes. Check out this city webpage to keep up with development.

City Council Discusses Impact of Charters on Public Schools

On November 21, the Richmond City Council discussed a moratorium on all new school construction while the City prepares changes in zoning laws. Most of the discussion was about the functioning of charter schools and their effects on the public school system.

“Considering the fact that charter schools are popping up like mushrooms and taking prime real estate that would bring in businesses and bring in higher sales taxes as well as property taxes, I find that we need to reconsider zoning so that we don’t go the way of some cities on the East Coast,” said Councilmember Eduardo Martinez, as he introduced the item. “Moody’s as well as S&P have downgraded or threatened to downgrade the credit ratings of cities because they have too many charter schools. It’s our fiscal responsibility and our responsibility to our residents to ensure that we don’t go the way of losing revenue.”

Carlos Taboada, part of the RPA Schools Action Team, in his public testimony, cited former school board member Todd Groves, who said that in approving the Voices charter school, the Board cemented a $10 million loss equivalent to the Measure T parcel tax.

Mike Parker, another member of the Schools Action Team, testified: The RPA believes the schools are an essential part of improving conditions in Richmond. People make their decisions about where to live based on the schools, people make their decisions on what the community is like based on the schools. And they are especially important for people who are trying to climb out of poverty, people who are trying to climb in a decent life. So when we see our public school system being destroyed by the charter schools we have to start taking a stand.

The well funded California Charter School Association is now conducting a petition drive as part of an attempt to get the Council to reverse its position.  

To view excerpts from this City Council meeting, click here

Increased Funding for Adult Schools: a Social Justice Issue

Adult schools are the primary provider of English as a Second Language instruction to California’s large immigrant population. They offer a second chance at an elementary and high school education for adults who were unable to finish school as children, and provide educational opportunities for adults with disabilities. These students all tend to face more than the usual barriers as they pursue their educational goals.

But California’s adult schools have been hobbled by chronic underfunding since the Great Recession of 2008. Funding fell by about half from 2008 to 2013, and has been frozen ever since (even as funding for other branches of education has recovered).

The state also now mandates that adult schools and community colleges divide the work of educating adults. The community colleges, which are much better funded than the adult schools, generally educate the higher level students, the ones who are closest to being able to complete college level work. But it leaves the adult schools with the neediest and hardest to serve adults, and too little money to adequately serve them.

The state is currently in the process of creating next year’s budget; now is the time to ask the governor and state legislature to restore adult school funding.

700 Say NO to Rocketship Charter!

It was an amazing turnout at the WCCUSD Board meeting this past Wednesday as 700 people showed up to oppose Rocketship’s charter application for San Pablo. Rocketship is a charter management company founded by tech multi-millionaire John Danner, which employs uncredentialed teachers who run computer labs where young children spend up to 80 to 100 minutes daily.

Parents, students and educators from all schools in San Pablo showed up to oppose the charter, while “Rocketship San Pablo” did not have a single parent from the San Pablo community present. (Rocketship bused in bus families from Antioch to advocate for them.) And according to families from San Pablo schools, Rocketship obtained signatures by standing in front of the Montanas Supermarket misleadingly urging families to sign a petition to “support our schools.”

According to the United Teachers of Richmond, Rocketship has a pattern of promising that they will not take over existing school facilities, claiming they seek private investment instead – a promise they repeated during their presentation. However, Rocketship has ended up asking the district to give them a facility for their last five charters. With this track record, parents are worried about which San Pablo school may have to close if the Rocketship charter is approved.

It seems like Rocketship may be trying to purposely move the deadline of the vote to December so that they can apply in the County. Teachers, parents, and community members have vowed to stop this application, even if it means taking the fight to the state.

Thank you to Board members Cuevas, Kronenberg, and Phillips for challenging Rocketship during their discussion and for standing up for our students!

Charter Schools - A Primer

In 1988, at the 70th convention of the American Federation of Teachers, its President, Albert Shanker, proposed to reform the public school system through the formation of community-based, teacher-run Charter Schools. In 1991, the first Charter School Law was enacted in Minnesota. California followed with the “1992 Charter School Act.” Today, in California there are approximately 1,200 schools serving half a million students. In 2016-2017, the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) enrolled 4,577 in 11 charter schools; in 2017-2018, charter school enrollment is expected to be around five thousand students or approximately 15% of the District’s student population.

Apparently, progressive teachers and community activists were not the only ones attracted to Shanker’s neoliberal utopia. Only six years after the initial call for reform, academic bureaucrats, philanthropic entrepreneurs and plain corporate scammers took over the popular movement for school reform. To his credit, Shanker was among the first to denounce the corporate-bureaucratic take over. In “Where We Stand”, his weekly column in the New York Times, July 3, 1994, he denounced the Detroit School District for “…giving $4 million—for starters—to a group of people who are eager for public funds but could care less about public education.”

Based on the legal fiction that charters are “public schools”, they receive public funds on a per pupil basis. In 2016-2017, charters received $46 million. In addition, out of the General Fund, Local Control Funding Formula and Title II monies, the WCCUSD paid an additional $48 million for, among other things, the salaries of charter teachers, administrators and staff, instructional materials, and professional development. Thus, in 20116-2017, the subsidy to the charters added to $94 million. If pending petitions for new charters or for the expansion of existing ones are approved by either the district, the county or the state, the subsidy to the corporate charter school “reform” movement could well gobble up more than half of our district’s annual budget.

The hemorrhage must stop!

RPA Backs United of Teachers on Charter Issue

A few weeks ago, as demonstrators in Denver protested Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (in town for a meeting of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council), the RPA endorsed a recent resolution adopted by the United Teachers of Richmond on charter schools. The RPA Schools Action Team has noted that if the West Contra Costa Unified School District approves all its pending charter petitions, the subsidy to charter franchises will soon amount to $151 million, or half the total budget for the WCCUSD.

The UTR resolution reads, in part:

Whereas offering parents the "choice" of charter schools removes attention from the real problems facing our educational system – Poverty and inequitable funding.

Whereas charter schools do no better and often worse academically than traditional public schools.

Whereas charter schools take away funding from traditional public schools creating a wasteful parallel school system…

Whereas charter school choice is supported by special interests who seek to privatize and profit from our schools.

Be it resolved that the United Teachers of Richmond CTA/NEA opposes charter school expansion in the West Contra Costa Unified School District and the nation.

The UTR statement follows a similar resolution that the NAACP adopted in the wake of the 2016 election. It stated, in part, that the NAACP “supports a moratorium on the proliferation of privately managed charter schools.” Conditions for lifting the moratorium include: (1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools, (2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system, (3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and (4) Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.

Community continues to fight to keep Serra Adult School

Adult school teachers, students and supporters rallied and spoke during general public comment at school board meetings on both May 24 and June 14, demanding that the adult school not be removed from its flagship Serra site. Adult school supporters requested that the matter of Serra Adult School be placed on the agenda for the June 14 meeting, but because their request was ignored, they were only able to speak during general public comment.  A request to put Serra on the agenda for the June 28 meeting was similarly ignored.

As reported in earlier editions of The Activist, the district decided to establish a Mandarin immersion elementary school at the Serra site without soliciting input from adult school students and teachers. After adult school supporters pointed out that displacement of the adult school would fragment the adult education program and negatively impact students—particularly immigrants, who are directly under attack by the Trump Administration—the district arranged for most adult school classes to stay at Serra for one more year, co-located with the Mandarin school kindergarten program. However, the adult school community is concerned about the future. Unless the district finds another site for the Mandarin school, adult school programs will have to leave Serra as the Mandarin school adds grades.

The Mandarin school has now taken over three classrooms, the multipurpose room, and the office at Serra, and the adult school programs that will remain will be in the remaining 10 classrooms for 2017-2018.  The Mandarin school will have to move eventually, as Serra is too small to house the K-6 program that is envisioned for it.  Adult school supporters will continue to fight to keep Serra, and keep pressure on the district to find another, more appropriate site for the Mandarin school going forward.

Ban Willful Defiance Suspensions

Ban_It.jpgBy the RPA Schools Action Team

The list of twenty violations for which a student can be suspended in the West Contra Costa School District includes threats, weapons, damage to school property, and fighting. The catchall “willful defiance” of “valid authority” is a controversial cause for suspension that can include wearing a cap, answering back, or standing when asked to sit.

Willful defiance is not just vague, it is discriminatory, since it is used disproportionately against African-American students. Moreover, once a student is sent home, he or she becomes more likely to become involved in gang activity, drop out of school entirely, or engage in other high-risk behaviors. For these and other reasons, some school districts have eliminated the policy. California law bans it for grades 3 and under, and the California State Senate just passed SB 607, the “Keep Kids in School Act” that will extend the ban through grade 12.

WCCUSD Board member Mister Phillips recently proposed that the board adopt an immediate ban on all willful defiance suspensions. Leadership of the United Teachers of Richmond union and others objected on two grounds: the teachers were not consulted, and the district lacks appropriate measures to handle disruptive students. UTR supported the policy to ban the practice but called for different groups, including teachers, to study the issue.

RPA Schools Action Team supports the ban but recognizes that the issues raised by UTR are valid. Without restorative justice or other practices in place to handle disruptive students, the ban may be ignored or result in classroom chaos. Nonetheless, we recognize that an open-ended request for more study often results in slow death for a proposal. Accordingly, we suggest the school board immediately declare a ban that will take effect in six months, and in the interim, in consultation with all stakeholders, consider and implement meaningful alternatives to suspension.