LETTER TO THE EDITOR/ELECTION: Let's really tackle the hard questions
Solving the deep problems affecting our current system of public education will require every level of government working together hand-in-hand. The citizens of El Cerrito and, especially our current generation of students, need a city council that cares about our schools and is willing to roll up its sleeves and look at new ways of cooperating with our school district.
So it is refreshing to see city council candidates raise hard questions regarding current systems. Unfortunately, the positions taken by candidate Tony Wise (El Cerrito Wire October 23) are off base and reflect a lack of understanding of the key issues affecting our children and their schools.
Mr. Wise asks, “Why did El Cerrito allow three of their public schools to be closed down and then reopened as private schools?” The answer is that the City of El Cerrito did not. This action was taken by the school district which was forced to sell many of what the state deemed to be “surplus properties” following the disastrous policies of a former superintendent which forced the district into a state bailout.
Many El Cerritans have been fighting the negative fallout from that period ever since. Councilmember Mark Friedman, for example, joined hundreds of local neighbors and students on the steps of the state capitol in May 2000 as part of an ongoing movement to get our district out from under the yoke of the ongoing state debt. Their efforts have successfully removed other properties like the Alvarado campus in the Richmond Annex and the former Harry Ells school site from the infamous state “surplus property” list. Alvarado is now the site of a dynamic WCCUSD adult education program. Drive by Harry Ells and you’ll see the new middle school rapidly rising from the ground. These outcomes would not have been possible without the hard work of leaders and community members throughout West County working together.
Wise notes that other City Council candidates,” …promote policies that allow non El Cerrito residents to attend El Cerrito schools!.” His solution: “… we need to make El Cerrito, Kensington and Richmond Annex independent from the West County school system.”
Just for the record, it is important to note that it is the school board and not the city council that sets attendance boundaries. In fact, next Thursday, a parent boundary committee, convened by the school board, will begin meeting to recommend necessary boundary changes caused by the planned opening of the new Richmond Middle School. Also for the record, the El Cerrito City Council does not have authority to speak for Kensington and the Richmond Annex.
Even though the number of local young families is growing, a quick look at the demographics of El Cerrito, Kensington, and the Richmond Annex reveals the reality that there are not enough students in these communities to support the current number of local schools. Is Wise advocating closing more local schools? Inevitably, that would be the result of forming a smaller school district comprised of these communities that did not admit students from other communities.
Before he begins leading our city toward the establishment of its own school district Mr. Wise needs to examine closely the feasibility of school district secession. This is a complex issue but suffice it to say that the courts and the State Board of Education have rarely approved these actions and never when it would adversely affect the financial strength or racial balance of either district which Mr. Wise’s proposal almost certainly would.
By the way, even if we were able to establish a new school district and if this automatically added $100,000 to every home’s property value, as Mr. Wise asserts, this would not result in more revenue to the city for quite some time. Since the passage of Proposition 13, assessed values only increase at the time of sale of properties. Every house in El Cerrito would need to change hands at least once for Mr. Wise’s revenue projections to come to fruition.
I hope Mr. Wise continues to study and get involved in efforts to improve public education in our community. However, On Tuesday, November 6, I am voting for candidates who are ready right now to tackle the hard questions.
Member, WCCUSD Board of Education
Run dates: 2001-11-03 - 2001-11-17