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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: El Cerrito High blight doesn't stop at the windows


It’s budget consideration time in the City of El Cerrito. Given the City’s perennial effort to shave five grand here and tweak $7,500 there (so that it can keep of a full time equivalent employee in community service), I was pleased to see that some of the citizens of El Cerrito del Sur were concerned about their property values. Specifically, their property values as they might be affected by El Cerrito High School. Given the dismal condition of academics at ECHS, it is forgivable that their concern was aesthetic in nature. It’s hard to be concerned about what you can’t see.

It’s kind of funny though that it takes something as physically symbolic as “Blight” to raise public concern about the affect of the locally horrific public secondary education system on property values. The actual educational quality at ECHS, as measured by students ability on standardized tests, makes the boarded up windows at ECHS nothing less than a thing of beauty, an ECMOMA convergence of West County politics, economics, political correctness and denial. In case you don’t already know. Here’s the ECHS student reading score card from the State and ECHS’ II/USP (Immediate Intervention Under-performing Schools Program) effort:

* 80% of all Afro-America and Hispanic students are under grade level:

* 50% of all Asian students are under grade level;

* 39% of all non-Hispanic Caucasians are under graded level.

* This adds up to a whopping 69% of the ECHS student population reading under grade level.

In the Academic Performance Index ECHS is a “5-3” school and has an average student reading score of 693. Compare that to Albany HS just down the road with an average student API ranking of “10-5” and average reading score of 715, (or Acalanes HS with an API of “10-7” and average reading score of 721). Albany is not an “under performing school” and has not been forced into the II/USP process like ECHS, so “under performing student” information is harder to get. Do you think this less visible but equally real “academic blight” might have something to do with the difference in value of homes at the north and south ends of Pomona Avenue? More importantly for the residents of El Cerrito del Sur, do you think your property values will improve if only the windows at ECHS are fixed and nicely painted?

Up north here in El Cerrito del Norte/Mira Vista we’ve been worried about the RUSD/WeCCUSD secondary school system for a long time. That’s because we are officially in the Kennedy HS service area. At Kennedy, you can’t make inferences about the school based on the condition of the windows because there aren’t any. But KHS was on the skids academically before Walter Marks hit town. At the end of this month, the school will loose its WASC accreditation (barring a miracle) and its graduates will no long qualify for entry in accredited state and private colleges. Based on its API ranking (1-1) and its abysmal STAR scores, KHS is arguably on of the 10 worst high schools in California.

Talking about property values and where they come from, the average, 2 kid, home owning family that avoids the cost of private secondary education will save $150,000. Applied to the ten year cost of owning a home, that $600/month in additional debt service would allow the average El Cerritan with a $250,000 mortgage, to finance a $428,000 home loan, more than enough to get you into a community with level “10” schools. Level “10” schools create demand and value for the communities they serve (see “Making the Grade” by Carol Lloyd, The SF Chronical/sfgate.com, 06//12/01).

As a long time EC property owner, I think it would be nice if the average EC home sold for $400,000+. I’ll bet most of EC’s large army of WWII vets would like to see their homes worth a couple hundred thousand dollars more than they are right now. It would create a whole lot of freedom and mobility for a group of good people who are Prop. 13 “locked-in” to their current circumstances. And the City, scratching and pecking, for $1,000 here and 22 hundred dollars there, might feel good about its 10,000 homes being worth an additional $2,000,000,000 (two billion dollars). Gosh maybe even Contra Costa County would notice that.

What’s that old bumper sticker say? “If you think a good education is expensive, consider the alternative.”

Jim Young,
El Cerrito

Run dates: 2001-06-15 - 2001-06-29

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