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  El Cerrito   Schools   Regional   History   Lifestyle   Opinion   [Election]  

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Public servants, chumps and lackeys

By Jim Young

The El Cerrito City Council is difficult to characterize. At the January 22nd meeting the Council acting as the Redevelopment Agency spent hours very carefully considering the expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars on what might become the renovation of the old Kieffer Furniture Store into what might be called a neighborhood art theater. That’s nice. Dozens, maybe hundreds of El Cerritans will enjoy an opportunity to see their favorite old movies without having to go to Berkeley or Oakland.

At the same meeting the Council considered the WeCCUSD’s request to endorse Measure D, the proposed $300,000,000 school bond issue on the March 5th ballot. WeCCUSD has developed a 30+ minute presentation including local high school students describing over flowing toilets and leaky roofs. The EC presentation also included a report from Michele Jawad, EC representative to the WeCCUSD Citizens Oversight Committee for Measure M, the $150,000,000 school bond issue approved by voters in 2000.

Council consideration of Measure D was interesting for what didn’t happen:
Jawad described interesting meetings and “learning” that didn’t allocate any bond money to El Cerrito projects or any other school rehabilitation.
The high school students didn’t describe any improvement in the leaky roofs and overflowing toilets that have been leaking and overflowing for more than ten years.
The students did describe the installation of 10 new portables (1999-2000). But, they did not mention that the school site blames the district’s botched, late installation as the reason ECHS failed to meet the minimum API performance goal the State established for ECHS as an “under performing school”.
Mayor Abelson didn’t think it was unusual for Jawad’s Oversight Committee to still be studying the allocation of Measure M funds 18 months after the fact, noting it was understandable, given the complex deliberations the City had on its very large $5MM +/- Swim Center renovation project.

Although they knew that the City of Hercules had unanimously rejected the WeCCUSD’s request for Measure D endorsement, the Council Members didn’t ask the WeCCUSD reps to comment on why Hercules was unwilling to support the schools. The Council listened to the WeCCUSD presentation and didn’t question the district’s explanation that it had to “be conservative” and do more studies before spending Measure M funds. The Council didn’t question the district’s description of the Richmond Middle School/Measure E expenditures as, “…on schedule, in budget, high quality…” even though the district affirmed that the RMS budget was $32M, double what was promised when tax payers were asked to support Measure E in 1998.

Does the EC City Council actually believe that the WeCCUSD will be able to deliver the $50MM the district suggested it would take to demolish and rebuild ECHS? Especially given the actual performance on the RMS, i.e. promising that the new school will only cost 40% of the bond issue and then saying it is “in budget” when it is supposedly costing 80% of the bond issue?

Because it happily, or wishfully accepted the WeCCUSD presentation without question, the EC City Council did not learn that the WeCCUSD RMS representations are wrong. The approved budget is now $36MM, 90% of the Measure E bond issue. More interesting is the apparent fact that Vice Superintendent in charge of facilities Vince Kilmartin seemed unaware of the increased amount as his reps did not refer to the increased budget amount provided to the school board in December at any point in their presentation to the EC City Council.

The $4MM of the undisclosed RMS budget increase is almost s much as the EC Swim Center Project. Are all the WeCCUSD renovation projects going to run 225% more than the costs quoted to tax payers, like the RMS project? Are all the projects going to be as disruptive to the learning process as the ECHS portable replacement effort? Could there be more at work here than wishful thinking? For instance the close political relationship between Councilors Friedman, Abelson and Moore and school board member, soon to be local political consultant Glen Price? Where do Councilors Brusitore and Perka stand on the district’s inability/unwillingness to describe the escalating costs of locally funding school rehab projects? I guess we El Cerritans will never know.

But we can vote NO on Measure D if we don’t understand where our tax dollars are going. If you would like more information about Measure D visit westcountyforum.com and review what the El Cerrito City Council doesn’t want to know about.

However, if the Council wishes to revisit its Measure D endorsement, it might also ask the WeCCUSD about academic performance, especially in the context of the wonderful descriptions given to the community by school board members. Perky Pat Player button holed me after the Council meeting with an effervescent description of the wonderful things going in the primary grade (K-3) including the district’s goal of having 90% of third graders reading at grade level. Its difficult to understand what wonderful things are happening given the 2001 API comparisons, which show two WeCCUSD schools with improving scores and 12 with declining scores. That doesn’t consider the dozen schools that re stuck in the cellar with no change up or down. I guess it’s wonderful there weren’t 20 schools with declining scores. Maybe Glen Price can explain why this is wonderful to the EC City Council.

Run dates: 2002-02-21 - 2002-03-07

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