Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Antioch Council unanimously approves Rocketship charter school plans

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Rendering of a back side aerial view of the approved Rocketship school building and site on Cavallo Road in Antioch.

Also approves sale of Humphrey’s for new restaurant, creating of new Economic Development Director position

By Allen Payton

During another standing-room only meeting the Antioch City Council Tuesday night, took three actions that are expected to make major impacts on our community in the areas of education and economic development. The council unanimously approved the plans for a new $14.4 million privately owned, Rocketship public charter school, as well as the sale of the former Humphrey’s restaurant building and land to a private, local real estate investor for a new, upscale restaurant. Finally, they voted to create and fill a new position of Economic Development Director, like the city has had in the past, who will work to attract new businesses and jobs to Antioch and help grow our local economy.

A big turn out of supporters for the Rocketship charter school filled the council chambers on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017

Rocketship Charter School Plans Approved

The Rocketship elementary charter school item attracted the most people and speakers who attended Tuesday’s meeting and even enjoyed the new support of Antioch School Board Vice President Debra Vinson who was one of the two votes against the school, when it was approved 3-2 last November. (See related article)

Community Development Director Forrest Ebbs offered his thoughts during the staff report. “This is a very exciting project. It’s a new school…a rebirth,” he said. “This is the kind of project that doesn’t come along often enough…tear down something old and put up something new and exciting.”

“This project wasn’t without a couple concerns,” Ebbs explained. “The planning commission really stepped out and dealt with them head on. This represents a consensus among the applicant and the commission and I want to commend them for their work.” (See related article)

The new 600-student school is planned to be built at 1700 Cavallo Road just north of East 18th Street.

Currently it’s the site of the vacant East County Times’ office building which was built in 1965. Rocketship bought the building and the land, earlier this year.

Five approvals were needed by the council, staff explained, which included an Initial Study, Rezone from regional commercial to professional office, a Variance for a 6-foot tall iron fence, and a Use Permit for an elementary school.

The major concerns were safety and parking. In responsed, Rocketship developed a security plan which includes a security officer at the corner of Cavallo Road and East 18th Street in the mornings and after school as children are coming to and leaving school

Marie Gill, Regional Director for Rocketship provided the official proponents’ presentation during the public hearing.

Rocketship is a non-profit network of public schools and they operate 12 schools that educate over 6,000 students, she explained.

Their goal is “to eliminate the achievement gap which means eradicating disparities for students in underserved communities,” Gill continued. “Rocketship ranks in the top 10% across the state of California in math and English.”

She shared the school’s three pillars of personalized learning, developing talent in all team members to unleash potential, and the power of parents.

“Engaged parents are the core pillar of the Rocketship model” and that “over 500 families have submitted intention to enroll forms” as of Monday, Gill stated.

“The $14.4 million investment…will bring revitalization to an area that has seen little economic development for decades,” she continued.

Speaking of the students, Gill concluded her remarks by stating, “Their future starts tonight with your vote.”

It will be “the first net-zero energy charter school in the United States,” added Harrison Tucker, the director of the Rocketship real estate team.

Only One Speaker Opposed

One lady named Sue whose home is located in a nearby neighborhood spoke against the school’s plans.

“I’m really not speaking against,” she said. “I understand how we need more schools of every grade.”

“You sure didn’t talk to all the neighbors on the hill above…” Sue continued. “All of my neighbors are against this. Because it all sounds really, really good. If they can get that much building in that much area that they showed up here I’ll be really surprised.”

“After 10 o’clock at night there’s always cars doing wheelies…on Cavallo,” she stated. “The wall next to the pizza parlor has become the hangout for riff raff. I’m really concerned you’re giving them people to get their next supply.”

“I live on Noia right above. I’m not sure what kind of noise studies you’ve done. But that’s a lot of kids in one space,” Sue continued. “On the other side of 18th Street there’s shootings. I’m really offended that you call it a run-down neighborhood.

“We’ve been writing letters trying to keep people from turning our street from becoming a ghetto,” she said. “When we call…we can’t get anyone to come out and do anything. What are you going to do when you call…and a student is run over? You really need to think about this.”

15 Speakers in Favor

Regular council attendee Nancy Fernandez was the first speaker to express support for the Rocketship project.

“As a resident of Antioch for 50 years I’ve watched neighborhoods become victim to squalor and neglect. The Cavallo neighborhood is one of them,” she said. “This is our 14.4 million chance…to breathe new life” into that neighborhood. “Please put the children and Antioch neighborhoods first.”

Her husband Marty Fernandez, who also attends nearly all council meetings with Nancy challenged the council with a statement and a question.

“Rocketship is coming into Antioch with a $14 million investment,” he said. “Do you see anyone else coming into Antioch to invest?”

“We are counting on those kids for our future. Not just Social Security but for our country,” Marty Fernandez continued. “Something good for the city other than a Taco Bell,” to laughter from the audience.

William Wallace rebutted the speaker in opposition.

“I live on the street right behind and Sue is my neighbor,” he said. “When the newspaper company was there, there was a lot of noise, I can tell you.

“My neighborhood is one of the hidden treasures of Antioch. It’s an old school neighborhood” Wallace continued. “This project will definitely affect me and my neighbors more than anyone else. It will be located directly behind my house. Traffic and privacy. Even with these issues I’m 1000% behind this school at this location.”

“Many of us feel we live in the forgotten dumping ground of the city,” he shared. “This will bring increased property values…legitimate businesses. This is the biggest investment this area has seen in decades. We need this investment in this neighborhood.”

“The Rocketship people are going to be great neighbors….it will be a good project. The school is a perfect match for this community…for this area to clean it up. This is a one-time opportunity,” Wallace concluded.

Speaker Rebecca Garcia shared “from a real estate perspective…about quality schools” and “buying a home near schools with high test scores.”

“When it comes to resell values…investment in high quality schools pays off,” she said. “To the buyer there is stability in home prices. There’s saving from costly private school education.”

Contra Costa County Board of Education Trustee Jeff Belle spoke next.

“Speaking as a private citizen, nevertheless I’m the Vice Chair of the CCCBOE and the lead oversight of charter schools of which we have 27 in our county,” he said. “We’re here to perpetuate quality education in our community. We need to move Antioch in the right direction. I believe Rocketship is a step in that right direction.”

The next speaker was former Antioch School Board Trustee Fernando Navarro who was one of the three who voted in favor of the Rocketship school, last year.

“My last vote was the charter school vote…I voted with a clean conscience,” he said. “I know you’re under pressure. Vote your conscience. Self-preservation be damned.”

Walter Ruehlig, the current President of the Antioch School Board but speaking as a private citizen said, “Rocketship was going to be approved after all. We can either work with them…or work against them.”

“The Antioch School Board, Planning Commission and Chamber of Commerce have all spoken,” Ruehlig continued. “White, black or brown…English speaking or foreign tongued, every American deserves choice and opportunity.”

“As for competition, should we have not built Dozier-Libbey because Deer Valley is next door?” he asked. “I for one am not pro-charter or anti-charter. I am pro-education, pro-educational choice, pro-parent and pro-student.”

Ruehlig waxed poetic and said his desire was for the students to “star in a dream of equal opportunity and they play out their complete, God-given opportunity.”

Jose Navarette, Senior Pastor of Templo Santo, which is offering their parking lot as overflow parking for the school’s after-hours events and activities said “I support and endorse Rocketship.”

“We moved to East 18th Street with one goal in mind. To be part of the solution,” he stated. “We’ve been there for about a year. We’ve worked with the mayor. We’re excited about them…they will benefit this area. We are working with them…to provide parking space.”

Jessica Duran whose five-year-old daughter attends a Rocketship school in Concord, said “As a parent I want the best possible education for my child. I was surprised and scared about the school rating that my daughter was going to attend. As a low-income family we can’t afford private school. I found Rocketship online and I found their test scores are very high.’ “She really loves Rocketship. She’s making great progress….doing much better in math,” Duran shared. “Why don’t we give them a chance to build right here in Antioch?”

Natalie Lebron whose daughter also attends the Rocketship school in Concord said, “You’re going to support a dream for each one of them (the students).”

Tom McNell, a 26-year resident of Antioch shared his perspective.

“I’ve sadly witnessed families sacrifice their time to travel out of town to get their children a quality education,” he stated. “Worse, I’ve seen people move out of town and businesses not come to town…due to the quality of education.”

He quoted Chamber CEO Richard Pagano. “The facility proposed by Rocketship…is expected to spark revitalization” in the Cavallo area.

Debra Allen, who is both a BART Director and owns East County Glass said, “I ask on behalf of the hard-working parents and their children of this community to adopt the Rocketship resolution.”

Angel Luevano who is partner in an after tutoring program known as Math Intensive said, “This school is the best thing that can happen for Antioch and the building on Cavallo is the best thing that can happen for Antioch.”

“Argentina (his wife) and I have been residents here for 17 years,” he shared. “I’ve been a civil rights advocate…since 1968 and an advocate for quality education and a labor advocate. I have to say we have the best of everything coming together. Our kids really, really need this.

“Rocketship is going to bridge the achievement gap,” Luevano added. “The entire city is going to benefit.”

Randolph Hopkins spoke next saying, “I don’t really know anything about it. I’m an investor in the neighborhood.across the street. I try to provide the best… I just put $14,000 into a roof on a property. I hope you guys give these guys the opportunity.”

“When I see things going on that are wrong I call the police. I say we got to do better,” he added.

Dr. Lamont Francies, pastor of Delta Bay Church of Christ in Antioch shared his prepared remarks.

“Tonight, the city of Antioch has a choice to embark on a new path of success,” he stated. “Tonight, is not the time for the blame game. The whole time our children are grossly underperforming. Tonight, we must have independence from a system that is more interested in filling seats than filling minds. People have become more interested in saving schools than saving children.”

“Education is one of the few areas where you can underperform and keep your employment,” Francies complained. “Bad teachers can move on from one school to another.”

He spoke of the “soft bigotry of low-expectation. African Americans have always been advocates for choice in education since the days of slavery. We can’t afford to be on the wrong side of history.”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” Francies said quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Rocketship is now trying to bring hope to the ‘hood.’ Will Antioch get on the Rocketship…?”

An Antioch resident for 12 years and former candidate for Mayor, Gil Murillo spoke of opportunities.

“I want to bring forward the opportunity. It has been seen within this community. The opportunity is now with you. You have a blessed opportunity here,” he said. “By providing the approvals that are being requested here…you’re giving opportunities for students for generations to come…an opportunity provide children to succeed to move forward.”

Jennifer Alfonso, “a mother of eight children” in “a blended family” said “Half of my children attended public schools and it was a disaster. I removed the rest of my children from AUSD schools and enrolled them in private schools. Once we moved them they began to excel.”

“It wasn’t easy. It meant my husband had to work overtime,” she shared. “Every child should have access to a good education. Having a Rocketship school in our neighborhood will give them opportunity. Our children deserve to have this choice. We have to drive so far.”

Alfonso quoted the City’s Vision Statement of Antioch as “A Community that provides an opportunity to live, learn, work, worship, and play in a safe, stimulating and diverse community.”

“Are we going to let Cavallo stay the same forever or are we going to change it?” she asked. “I hope you sincerely vote for Rocketship tonight.”

Antioch School Board Vice President Debra Vinson was next, changing her position to being in favor of the new school.

“I was one of the members who voted no on Rocketship because I wanted to make sure there was collaboration and an understanding. I wanted an MOU,” she stated referring to a Memorandum of Understanding. “If charter schools are not allowed to be in a district they fail. I think it’s unheard of for any charter school to agree to an MOU after approval.”

“I was really surprised by the integrity by Rocketship,” Vinson continued. “Ms. Gill told me ‘we are going to do an MOU.’ I said, ‘really?’”

“I can’t tell you how to vote yay or nay, but in this day and age when organizations have integrity it’s refreshing and something to think about,” she concluded.

Matthew Hart, a local attorney and lifetime resident of Antioch, said “I went through Antioch schools and I can say I’m a success story. But when my daughter was in school we drove her to Walnut Creek.”

“The only choice before council tonight is whether we give them the opportunity to put those children in a $14 million facility or a substandard facility,” he said. “Let’s give our kids a better opportunity. Give the parents a better choice. The choice I had. They should have it, too.”

Richard Pagano, CEO of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce said he was there to “speak on the potential revitalization of an area of town that a $14 million Rocketship can bring. It will be the first of its kind in Antioch.”

“Where do you send your kids to school? Are you happy with Antioch schools? Or do you pay to send them to private schools?” he asked. “These parents and kids deserve the choice. A no vote isn’t just a no vote for Rocketship. We have other businesses that are watching. A not vote may determine whether they come to Antioch or go to another community. Your vote tonight will set a precedent. This is a zoning argument.”

Regardless of how you vote Rocketship is coming to Antioch,” Pagano stated. “Your vote tonight brings increased property values. Your constituents have invested heavily in this part of town. Unless you have a plan that will bring a $14 million investment…I suggest you approve Rocketship.”

Pittsburg resident and regular council and school board meeting attendee Willie Mims was the final speaker, but had some questions and challenges for the project and wouldn’t take sides.

“I am not here to take any position one way or another. I have some concerns with the planning commission,” he said, then asking “49 parking spaces is sufficient…without a traffic study…how can you make a decision?”

“The planning commission recommended approval without off-site parking agreements,” Mims continued. “You’re talking about one-way traffic. How can you mitigate one-way traffic? You can’t.”

But, he concluded his remarks with “Good luck to Rocketship and hope they’re successful.”

Applicant’s 5-minute Rebuttal

Harrison Tucker responded to Mims concerns, stating “There was a traffic study done through the CEQA (state environmental) process. We have 35 full-time staff with 49 parking stalls. In addition, we have agreed to do a BART shuttle and ride-share. We have three off-site parking letters of interest.”

The main opponent named Sue also had a five-minute rebuttal, but she had left the meeting.

Council Members Deliberate and Decide

Council Member Tony Tiscareno was first to ask questions and share his thoughts.

“I have been the labor advocate of the council,” he stated. “We promote education. We offer and promote choices. I am a public school advocate. But at this particular point we aren’t here to litigate what agreement you have with the school district.”

He asked about the agreement and some type of an MOU.

Rocketship’s Gill responded, “it is a standard agreement with our authorizing districts, as a good gesture we like to have a good understanding. We invited the district to have that agreement.”

Tiscareno then asked about safety and security.

“A six-foot wrought iron fence provides a lot of security,” he said. “The surrounding areas will have security cameras. Can you tell me how many security cameras you’re looking at installing?”

“At every entrance and exit on the ground floor – four” cameras, was the response from Antioch Police Captain Tony Morefield.

Tiscareno referred to the “security guard before and after school,” and asked “to have a continued security force the entire school day.”

“We met with the police department and are in collaboration. The security guard was agreed to at the corner of E. 18th Street and Cavallo. So that’s what we agreed to with the police department,” Gill explained.

Tiscareno then mentioned “the shooting of a school in Northern California,” which occurred that same day. “So, I thought I’d ask that question,” he said.

Gill responded. “We have yet to have a lock down at any of our schools. Many of our schools are located in high-crime areas. A (Antioch police) captain toured our school in San Jose. None of our schools in California have a security guard.”

Tiscareno then asked Captain Tony Morefield about the security cameras already located at the intersection, “Have you seen a reduction of crime in that area?”

“At this point it’s too early to quantify a reduction. Our camera’s only been up for a few months,” Morefield explained. “Those are active cameras that we do make apprehensions off the hits on those cameras…so they have been a benefit.”

“Safety and security is a primary concern for all of us…I think we’re doing an excellent job of focusing on those area,” Tiscareno stated. “I also believe whether I have my personal opinion between public schools and charter schools, I do like that we have attention on an area that has been neglected for a long time. I’m curious to see how this plays out.”

“I want to see the city progress. I want to see parts of the city that are in need of a little TLC…to have their day,” he shared. “There’s something in sight here…we’re looking at something positive and I’m getting a little excited, here.”

Directed to Forrest Ebbs, Tiscareno asked “We’re looking at this as an entity coming into that area…are we being consistent and fair…when we’re looking at other businesses or entities?”

Ebbs responded, “Absolutely. We are considering this like any other application.”

Lori O – kudos

Council Member Monica Wilson asked about prioritizing hiring local labor and a Project Labor Agreement.

Ebbs responded, stating “Robert A. Bothman, they are a unionized contractor. We have directed our contractor on site to prioritize local labor.”

“So, you’re…not going to have a Project Labor Agreement?” Wilson asked.

“Correct,” Ebbs replied.

Mayor Sean Wright shared his thoughts and his own experience in school.

“In third grade I hated public school so much I acted like I was sick every day,” he stated. “My mother found me a charter school. It was all the way on the other side of town.”

“To the parents who are driving their kids all the way to Concord, congratulations. I look forward to providing that opportunity locally,” Wright said.

Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe was torn on the issue.

“Well I met with a lot of you and we’ve had very lively discussions,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ve appreciated a lot of those conversations. A lot of those revolved around whether public schools are good or bad and charter schools are good or bad. But we’re not here to decide that…and the options folks may or may not have.”

“I’m not necessarily a fan of charter schools” he said and sharing that he was concerned about “how this might impact our public schools.”

“But, this is about if this is the right location,” Thorpe explained.

He then shared about his own experience while attending school.

“In middle school I had a horrible experience,” Thorpe stated. “So my mom, with seven children, she was foster parent…she got a permit to take us out of LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) and put us in Alhambra.”

“As a dad…I want the best education for my daughter,” he continued. “So, I decided to enroll her in Holy Rosary (Catholic School in Antioch). That’s because the public schools didn’t have the after-school programs that fit our lifestyle.”

“I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t afford that opportunity to other parents in Antioch,” Thorpe continued. “I know by saying that I’ve disappointed a lot of friends in public schools. Outside of education choice, 18th and Cavallo is a hot mess. The riff raff is going to go away from that corner because we’re going to invest in that area.”

“The reality is…the majority of this council lives in Southeast Antioch where we have better choices. It’s not going to change my opinion of how I feel about charter schools overall,” he said. “If I see Marty Fernandez and Nancy advocating for something I take it serious. This vote will be a vote for both of you for all the hard work you’re doing in this community,” Thorpe added.

Ogorchock made the motion to pass all five requirements needed for the Rocketship school to be approved and it was seconded by Thorpe.

Tiscareno asked to “make a comment prior to the vote,” feeling it necessary to explain his.

“Of the minority on this council who lives in Gentrytown…we need to be equal to all of our citizens in our community. I didn’t question the PLA stance on this issue. That was a negotiated agreement,” he stated. “A lot of us did come from the public school. My wife came from the Antioch public schools…it’s just unfortunate the school district doesn’t have the resources, and that’s the case across the country. We’re not anti-education. I just want to make people aware of this.”

“When I vote for this I may be angering some of my union friends out there. But I need to make sure we’re doing the right thing for our city and our kids. So, I will support the vote in favor of this” Tiscareno said to cheers from the audience.

Thorpe then took one major swipe at the school board.

“I’ve heard of some of our local schools are under-resourced,” he said. “We’re here because of a lack of political will. I want to send a mesasage to the Antioch School Board of Education. We need to get our elementary schools to be in tip top shape.” He then complained of “a lack of will to get things done.”

“On our end, on the city council end, we have been holding our end of the bargain,” he added. “Stop worrying about recalling people and get our schools fixed for the people of Antioch.”

The council vote was 5-0.

Rocketship Thanks Council

Following the meeting, Regional Director Marie Gill was thankful to the council.

“We are truly appreciative of the councilmembers who took careful, considerate view of the information in front of them and really listened to the voice of reason of Antioch,” she said. “It was very surprising and yet humbling.”

“We look forward to having everyone at the ribbon cutting,” Gill added.


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Antioch Planning Commission recommends Rocketship elementary charter school project for Council approval

Saturday, November 4th, 2017

Rendering of proposed Rocketship charter school planned for Antioch.

First net zero energy charter school in America; 5-0 vote moves project on to the City Council for final decision

By Allen Payton

During the meeting of the Antioch Planning Commission on Wed., Nov. 1, about 100 supporters of the Rocketship charter school – most of whom were Hispanic – rejoiced when Commissioners voted 5-0 to approve plans for their new facility in town. One commission seat is vacant due to the recent resignation of Sedar Husary, and Vice Chair Martha Parsons was at home ill and unable to attend. (See the commission agenda and Rocketship’s plans, here).

Approved by the Antioch School Board on a 3-2 vote last fall, the school is planned to be built on the 1.7 acre site of the former headquarters of the East County Times at 1700 Cavallo Road. The organization purchased the building, and plans to tear it down and construct a new, 31,052-square-foot, two-story facility for the 600 students in grades from Transitional Kindergarten through fifth.

Site plan for the Rocketship Antioch charter school location showing the former East County Times building and parking lot.

Public Safety Concerns

Concerns were expressed by city staff including Chief of Police Tammany Brooks about the proximity to one of the worst crime areas in Antioch, just across E. 18th Street. But, Rocketship representatives argued that they specifically target neighborhoods such as that, including their location in San Jose, and that a $14 million investment of a new school, with students, faculty, staff and parents – “more eyes”, as on representative said – can help reduce crime in that part of town. One suggestion by Brooks was that the school have an armed guard on campus was shot down by Antioch School Board President Walter Ruehlig who cast the deciding vote on the board in favor of the privately-owned charter school. He was incredulous at the idea, stating, “none of the Antioch schools have an armed guard. Lord, oh Lord. What kind of message will that send? ‘Antioch places an armed guard in an elementary school.’”

In response to concerns by the Antioch Police Department, security plans have been developed for the school. Rocketship would just prefer a guard that isn’t armed.

Parking Spaces Issue

Another and major issue was the amount of parking spaces on the site. The plan is for 40 onsite spaces, but city staff recommended a minimum of 60 spaces based on a calculation of .10 spaces per student. The average in the area is .12 spaces per child and staff which would require 73 spaces. Rocketship explained that they have on average .05 spaces per student and staff at their other schools which would net 31 spaces, so what they’re offering is more than that.

However, city staff said were concerned with the monthly community meetings and twice monthly Saturday workshops the school plans to hold.  Plus, there was “not enough (spaces) for parent volunteers and off-site parking agreements are not in place.” As such, city staff recommended the school limit their capacity to 400 students for one year.

With that and the other recommendations city staff recommended the commission approve the school’s plans.

Commissioners and city staff prepare to start the hearing on Rocketship.

Commissioners Questions & Comments

Commissioner Kerry Motts was first to comment, stating “they’ve offered some efforts to meet half-way.” Then Commissioner Bob Martin had a discussion with staff about the parking spaces and left turns from Cavallo Road into the school, as well as off-site parking.

City Traffic Engineer Lynn Filson responded, “right now there are no restrictions” on drivers making left turns from the turn lane into the school. “But if we find it’s a problem we could make it illegal.”

“With this project we are asking them to restripe the street…so they can have parking in front of their building and in front of the (adjacent) county building,” Filson added.

Martin also was concerned about barriers and fencing not being tall enough.

“Dous the police department believe that’s enough for safety?” he asked “I somewhat worry can they jump the fence if it’s only six-foot.”

Commissioner Jim Conley asked if it is “required we have a bike lane on both sides” of the street.

Filson responded that “there’s enough room to have a bike lane and parking on both sides” and that the city needs to “leave the bike lanes in place so kids can ride their bikes to school. The bike lanes are for everyone.”

Commissioner Kenny Turnage said “if anyone drops their children off at school it is almost like a game of Frogger with all the kids running around there.”

But he doubted that many children would ride their bikes to school, which he said, “I haven’t seen in the past five years.”

“It seems like a recipe for disaster,” Turnage added.

Filson responded, saying “I think it would be easier to eliminate the left turn lane.”

About 100 people turned out for the Planning Commission hearing for the Rocketship school project.

Rocketship Presents Project

Representatives of Rocketship, including Regional Director Marie Gill and Harrison Tucker, the director of the their real estate team, provided an overview of the project.

“I represent the 100’s of Rocketship families and other partners who are supporting the effort,” Gill stated.

She shared that the new Antioch school will be the “first net zero energy charter school campus in the U.S. We are not cutting corners.”

“Safety is foundational,” Gill continued. “We have offered to place a security guard at the corner of Cavallo and East 18th Street during the first two years. More eyes on the street will result in less crime. We propose an unarmed guard.”

“Even in our most violent neighborhoods, we haven’t needed an armed guard,” she added.

Gill addressed the parking issue stating, “49 parking spaces for 34 staff…providing a BART shuttle for employees and a ride-share subsidy for those who live within two miles” of the school.

Their plans “necessitate a 600-student enrollment,” Gill shared.

Regarding the plans she stated, “this school will be an architectural enhancement” to the neighborhood, and asked that the commission “remove conditions of a façade change,” sought by city staff. She also mentioned the “solar array” and the “white arches harkening back to the early days of California” as additional, positive features of the facility.

Gill spoke of “innovative visioning” and concluded saying, “great schools unleash economic development. Together we will give our children that opportunity and they will lead us into tomorrow.”

Questions By Commissioners

Martin asked the Rocketship representatives about how many staff they expected to have living outside of East County. “We’re estimating five at this point,” Gill responded.

In response to a question by Conley of “what led you to choose this site,” Gill said, “we are here to serve low-income communities. The site meets all of our needs. We have a 1,000-foot queue on Cavallo. We did do a study on Antioch. We wanted to be within walking distance” of that kind of neighborhood.

Natalie, a second-grader at Rocketship’s Concord campus spoke with assistance by her mother.

Public Comments All Favorable

Then the commissioners heard from the public. Parents of Rocketship students, their children, and other supporters, including other community leaders all spoke in favor of the project, asking commissioners for approval so that efforts can move forward in time for a fall 2018 opening. They wore purple shirts with phrases like “Antioch community in pursuit of excellence in public education” and “Rocketship Education is

Angel Luevano who helps run an after-school math program in Antioch, was first to speak, saying “it’s just about our children and their education. Expedite this process without stifling encumbrances.”

Regular council meeting attendee, Nancy Fernandez was next saying, “I’m a 50-year resident of Antioch. I support charter schools. My grandchildren were educated in charter schools. It’s just what our community needs to jump start the Cavallo area.”

Her husband Marty Fernandez said, “I’ve seen companies driven out of coming to Antioch,” then spoke of Rocketship’s “$15 million investment.”

“Do you see anyone else investing in Antioch?” he asked. “Do something better for Antioch than a Taco Bell.”

Tom McNell said he is a “26-year resident” and that “the parking drop-off is 1,000 feet,” and that De La Salle which has 1,050 students and 800 girls at Carondolet across the street on Winton Drive in Walnut Creek, with a 430-foot right-of-way.

“Every year we have to train the freshman parents,” he said to laughter from the audience. McNell is the parking coordinator for De La Salle.

“I do not understand…it should be how do we make things work in this town not how do we deny them,” he stated. “De La Salle has 10 overflow parking spaces.”

Speaking of Rocketship in comparison to the private high school with the championship football team, McNell stated “it (Rocketship) doesn’t have 5,000 (people) coming to a football game.”

“Plus, 1,500 kids at YV (Ygnacio Valley High School,” (which has a walkway and driveway near De La Salle and Carondolet) he continued. “I’ve seen two accidents in 15 years.”

Regarding the city staff’s issues with the design of the new Rocketship school, McNell added, “the building they’re going to tear down is uglier than sin,” also to laughter from the audience.

Hans Ho, a member of the Antioch Police Crime Prevention Commission spoke as a private citizen, not in his official capacity, said he was “here to talk about the impact on crime in the Cavallo area.”

“Blight breeds crime and crime breeds more blight,” he stated. “We will have taken a giant step in reducing blight in that area. In my experience criminals do not like having their business watched by ordinary citizens.”

“In the beginning you might see an increase in the calls for service as more crimes are reported,” Ho continued. “They’re already there.”

He added that the school will help the neighborhood experience “a reduction in crime and an increase in property values.”

Rendering of an aerial view of the proposed Rocketship school building and site in Antioch.

Scientist and local business owner Dr. Terry Ramus, who is also chairman of the Government Affairs/Economic Development Committee of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce said, “this part of town needs the $14 million investment. Antioch needs a win. I’m hoping we can hit a grand slam on this for the City of Antioch,” referring to the final game of the World Series occurring at the same time as the meeting.

“The Antioch Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the Rocketship plan,” he continued. “It will allow socioeconomically disadvantaged children to have a better education. It will allow their parents to have choice, too.”

“We need to move through the process, quickly,” Ramus added. “The school works like a finely tuned machine.”

Antioch resident Jessica Duran whose five-year-old daughter attends the Rocketship school, Futuro Academy in Concord said, “Why?” does she drive her daughter to school there?

“Because I want the best education for my daughter,” she said. “We deserve the same in Antioch.”

Next to speak with the assistance of her mother was Natalie, a second-grader who also attends the Concord Rocketship campus.

“I like reading. Math is my favorite. I like the learning lab,” she stated. “Approve the Rocketship school so my mom doesn’t have to drive so far to take me to school every day.”

Andrea LeBron, an Antioch resident and parent of a Rocketship student at their Concord school said, “the big deal is about the parking lot. We need to figure it out as a community. What we need is this school on behalf of all the parents driving miles and miles go get our children to school in Concord.”

“At Antioch High I wasn’t told ‘Andrea, you need to go to college,’” she shared. “But at Rocketship they tell the students they need to go to college.”

“Everybody, we know all the crimes in that area,” LeBron continued. “A person who owns a store there told me ‘the school will be a good thing.’ I hope you guys approve it.”

Then Ruehlig spoke, not in his official capacity, but also “as a private citizen who has a passion for equal education opportunity.”

“First, let me congratulate the parents here for taking their job so seriously,” he stated. “It is so needed in this day and age, as parents are our first and our greatest teachers.”

He shared about his own experience as a child in attending high-performing schools outside of New York City and was the reason his father was willing to commute an hour-and-a-half to work in the city.

“We have a terrific school on its way, a public charter school,” Ruehlig continued from prepared remarks. “Whether white, black or brown, good education will always be the ultimate equalizer. There’s no arguing that there are many seats at the table…traditional public schools, private schools, magnet schools, alternative schools, digital academies, home study and public, yes i emphasize public charter schools, for that is what charters are, take away misconceptions and false propaganda.”

“As such, don’t let anyone tell you that one size fits all and deny your child the right fit for their needs and the seat at the table that they deserve,” he added. “I leave you with my fond hope that the long-cherished American dream of equal opportunity and equitable education be embraced here in Antioch. And my prayer for you is that your child’s name stars in that dream.”

BART Director Debra Allen, who represents Central County on the BART Board, spoke as an Antioch property owner and East County business owner, said she was there on behalf of the “25 hard working men and women who work at East County Glass who work for me. Their children deserve a better education.”

“I’m a San Francisco BART Director and I pledge to you I will do whatever I can to make the shuttles work,” she continued. “BART has a tremendous system to get people to and from their schools and jobs.”

“Parents only get one shot at raising their kids. There are no do overs,” Allen added. “Antioch needs options. Work with this organization and work out the details.”

Commissioners Ask More Questions Then Decide

Martin seeking answers to his concerns about the safety, asked Chief Brooks about the “six-foot fencing in front of the school. Part of it has cement as a bottom” wanting to know if that would make it easier for someone to scale over.

In a light-hearted moment, Brooks was greeted with applause from the audience as he approached the podium to speak, and jokingly said “As long as I get applauded like that I’ll keep coming to meetings.”

“You haven’t even said anything, yet,” someone said. “I know,” Brooks responded with a chuckle.

He responded to Commissioner Martin’s concern stating, “People could scale a six-foot fence.”

Asked about the issue of armed guards, Brooks responded, “I would welcome any security measure. An armed guard was a suggestion.”

To Motts question if “increased activity will decrease illegal activity,” Brooks said, “I don’t know for sure. I’ve read that can happen. But, don’t know until the school is there.”

Turnage asked if the cameras at the Cavallo and E. 18th Street intersection, can “pick up activity at the school.” Brooks explained that there are two sets of cameras, license plat readers and surveillance, which are “pan-tilt, zoom cameras that could tilt toward the school. It gets changes manually.”

Then back to the parking matter, Filson said “I have no issue with parking on Cavallo. It’s a code issue. We could pick up seven to eight spaces and about the same in front of the county building.”

She then suggested “staggered, ramp-up enrollment to 600 students in the third year. Then decrease the number of students if the parking studies don’t pan out.”

“It seems difficult to scale back” enrollment, one commissioner responded.

A rendering of the view of the proposed Rocketship school on Cavallo Road from a northeast view.

Antioch Community Development Director Forrest Ebbs said that was a “great question for a use permit hearing. I really want you to feel totally empowered to make that kind of decision,” he explained to the commissioners.

Motts then asked about the staff’s concerns with the design of the building.

City Planning Manager Alexis Morris responded, saying they were following “citywide design guidelines approved by council. Our typical requirement is to comply with the guidelines,” which are “not standards or rules.”

Turnage then asked “what’s wrong” with the design. “I grew up in this neighbhorhood.”

Ebbs responded, saying “architecture is like art. Guidelines are for discussion.”

Turnage then said, “so it’s like a Picasso. Either you like it or you see someone draw a messed up face.”

Back to the parking issue, Martin then asked, “why was the back southwest corner viewed as alternative parking?”

Morris replied, “the applicant described it as overflow parking. It’s playground space.”

Commission Chair Janet Zacharatos shared her thoughts.

“Before tonight I wasn’t familiar with Rocketship,” she stated. “I definitely think it’s an excellent project and I would like to see it go forward. It needs to work out a few details.”

Conley then went through the list of difference in conditions between the city staff’s recommendations and what the commissioners wanted.

“No armed security guards,” he stated. “Parking. There isn’t adequate parking at any school in Antioch. To regulate this school to have more stringent traffic…isn’t fair. I wouldn’t want to hurt this school economically. To cut student population from 600 to 400 would be devastating.”

Zacharatos then said the “only other item is the rezone, which sounds like a no-brainer.”

Conley then attempted to make a motion, stating “I move approval with the requirements of no armed guard, existing parking and traffic be accepted.”

But, then staff asked him about the design elements, to which he replied, “I don’t care what the county building looks at” to laughter and applause from the audience.

“So, you’re OK striking that,” asked Morris.

“Yes,” Conley replied.

Ebbs then asked to confirm what the commissioners where attempting to do, “you’ve agreed to everything in Rocketship’s recommendations” and not all of the 30 conditions in the staff report.

Turnage responded, saying, “no restrictions on the number of students and I second that.”

Then by roll call vote, the commissioners passed the motion recommending to the City Council that they approve Rocketship’s plans, and did so unanimously by those who were in attendance, garnering one more vote than the minimum four needed for approval.

The audience applauded, and some yelled out “Thank you.”

The City Council is expected to hear the matter for final decision at their November 14 meeting.

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Antioch School Board approves spending $75,000 to improve district’s public image on split vote

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Hires three local contractors for writing, photography and videography services

By Allen Payton

At their board meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 25 the Antioch School Board voted 3-2 to hire three contractors to provide photography, videography and public relations services to help improve the district’s public image. Board President Walter Ruehlig and Trustees Diane Gibson-Gray and Gary Hack voted in support while Board Vice President Debra Vinson and Trustee Crystal Sawyer-White were opposed.

Listed on the agenda under the Consent Calendar as item “Q. Vendor Agreements for Freelance Information,” district staff described it as follows: “As part of the Antioch Unified School District’s goal of community engagement, the District issued a call for freelance writers, videographers, and photographers. Applications were screened and the attached vendor agreements met the criteria established in the posting. These vendors will provide original content related to our District in the form of news and feature stories, informational and promotional videos, and photography of District events, etc.”

One contract is with local, self-described event photographer Beverly Knight, another one is with Melissa Hammack Photography, and both are not to exceed $25,000 and will last through next June.

The third eight-month contract is with Mike & Mike Media, LLC and is also not to exceed $25,000. Mike & Mike Media AUSD contract 10-25-17

The contracts are all the same for writing stories, videography and photography services and include the following: $250 for news stories of up to 250 words with photos, $500 for up to 500 words and $600 for stories up to 1,000 words; videography services of up to 10 minutes at $1,500; and photography services up to $1,300 for 50-100 photos at one location with significant editing.

But, the prices and the fact it doesn’t include either of their names just the name of the company, the contract with Mike & Mike Media is the most controversial because the company is partly owned by Mike Burkholder who is the owner and publisher of the local news website, His partner is local photographer Michael Pohl. Burkholder has been very critical of other media in East County over the years, posts articles with spelling and grammatical errors, was a candidate for school board in last year’s election critical of other candidates including Sawyer-White, and has been very critical of Vinson, as well.

However, before Wednesday night’s vote Burkholder said he now mainly publishes press releases on his website, no longer covers the school district in articles and was considering shutting down or selling his site.

Antioch Superintendent Stephanie Anello handles most communication with the media, as the district does not have a Public Information Officer.

“AUSD is the only district without outreach,” Burkholder explained to the Herald prior to the board vote. “Pittsburg and Mt. Diablo have PIO’s.”

“The more content sent out…the more you get,” he continued. “The more you know about and can share with your readers or do your own stories. Or heads up to events rather than last minute invites from board members.”

However, the contract with Mike & Mike Media is not for PIO services and Burkholder will not serve in that capacity. Anello and the Board President, currently Walter Ruehlig, will continue to be the individuals communicating with the media for official comment by the district.


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Antioch High JV football game cancelled due to sexual assault, bullying by players

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

By Allen Payton

According to a post by Principal Louie Rocha on the Antioch High School Facebook page, this week’s Junior Varsity football game against cross-town rival Deer Valley High has been cancelled due sexual assault and bullying by some of the players.

The Thursday morning post reads: “A message from Principal Louie Rocha of Antioch High School: Please note that due to the misconduct of several members of the Antioch High JV football team, the game vs. Deer Valley for this Thursday has been canceled. Antioch High does not condone or tolerate any level of sexual assault and bullying. Any students involved in this type of unacceptable behavior will be held accountable. At our school, we take pride in offering and exposing our students to educational and awareness programs on these topics. For example, we recently hosted the Consent is Everything assembly for all our male students. Antioch Police Det. Brian Rose and motivational speaker and former NFL player Anthony Trucks spoke about the seriousness of sexual assault awareness, making good choices and respecting all. Thank you for your support of Antioch High School.”

In a comment posted on Facebook early Thursday morning, Melissa Waren, a parent of a female Antioch High student who was one of the victims of the harassment and bullying, wrote:

So in case you didn’t know what standards we hold our Antioch Football JV team to, I’m going to let you guys know. Many of the members, not all, have participated in harassing five of the students. One of them being my daughter and her good childhood friend. They threatened to beat up one of the girls, who I will not name, if she came near them. This is after school hours and this is the only way she walks home. She went and got her other friends to walk her to the gate to feel more comfortable. As they walked her to the gate the guys were constantly insulting and harassing the girl with inappropriate profanities, name calling and more. One of the girls walked up to them and POLITELY asked one of the guys to leave her alone to which he responded with by harassing her about her sexuality. He also told her to “hit me so I can drag your a** and beat the f*** out of you.” He also said to another girl “ I’ll drag your white a**”. And to another “ you look like you would be a b**** to press charges.” Another guy physically pulled his pants down and rubbed his bare bottom on this girl. There were also many other things that were said and done to which I won’t mention. Again, this is not the whole football team’s doing, but MANY of them were there +3 randoms. Apparently, they were suspended and their game is cancelled. I’m sorry but I think this needs more attention. And til this very moment some of the girls are still getting messages from people about how wrong it was for them to have gotten suspended and a game taken away. They don’t call it a team for nothing! We should not tolerate this!!! I will not tolerate this and will be paying Antioch High school a visit tomorrow morning.

When reached for comment, Waren said, “I went to the school, today to meet Principal Rocha. I guess I was one of the only parents he hadn’t contacted. He said he had been contacting parents of the students that were involved, yesterday. These students have been suspended. The game has been cancelled. He said that kind of conduct is not acceptable at Antioch High and that the students were being reprimanded. Their parents have come in. They may or may not be able to play their very last game against Pitt.”

“I brought my daughter in and her friend, who the problem had originated with, and Louie thanked them for taking a stand and saying, hey this is what’s going on, that it took some courage and he was proud of them,” she continued. “We spoke for a good hour.”

“They had already had an assembly with the boys and spoke about sexual harassment and the code of conduct, just last week, and this happened,” Waren added. “It was ninth and tenth grades. I think the 11 and 12th grades will have one this week.”

Please check back later for any updates to this story.

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Haunted House Sat & Sun Oct 28 & 29 to benefit Dallas Ranch Middle School students

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

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Antioch School Board continues 2-2 split on reappointing Mary Rocha to district’s Personnel Commission

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Trustee absences give it to State Superintendent Torlakson to make appointment

By Allen Payton

Due to the absence of Trustee Gary Hack at the Sept. 27 board meeting, the Antioch School Board split 2-2 on voting to reappoint former Antioch Mayor Mary Rocha to the district’s Personnel Commission. Trustees Vinson and Sawyer-White voted against her reappointment. Then due to Gibson-Gray’s absence at the Oct. 11th meeting, there were still not three votes to approve her reappointment and the item was pulled from the agenda.

According to the commission’s Rules and Regulations, “the California Education Code…provides the Personnel Commission with the right and responsibility for establishing rules and regulations to govern the District’s classified (non-faculty) employees.”

Following is the staff report on the item for the Sept. 27 meeting:

The term of the current Board of Education appointee to the Personnel commission will expire at noon on December 2, 2017.  As outlined in Personnel Commission Rule and Education Code 45248, 45245 and 45246, on or before September 1st of each year, the Human Resources Director shall notify the Board of Trustees of the name and address of the commissioner whose term will be expiring and whether or not that commissioner will accept reappointment for another three-year term.

The Director of Human Resources notified us that the Board of Education’s appointment’s term will expire in December and that Ms. Rocha would accept reappointment for another three-year term.

Personnel Commission Rule 20.1.2 states:

“The Board of Trustee’s Appointment:  By September 30th, the Board of Trustees shall publicly announce the name of the person it intends to appoint or reappoint.  At a Board meeting to be held after 30 and within 45 days of the date the board publicly announced its candidate, the Board shall hold a public hearing to provide the public, employees and employee organizations the opportunity to express their views on the qualifications of the person recommended by the Board of Trustees for appointment. The Board at that time may make its appointment or may make a substitute appointment or recommendation without further notification or public hearing.”

The vacancy was announced with a recruitment to target all regular advertisement, recruitment sources, social media and websites.  Recruitment closed on September 5th and only one application was received.

Staff is recommending that, in accordance with Personnel Commission Rule 20.1.2, a public hearing be held to provide the public, employees, and employee organizations the opportunity to express their views on the qualifications of the person recommended by the Board of Trustees, and thereafter, that the Board reappoint Mary Rocha to fulfill the term for the Board-appointed Commission.

Mrs. Rocha has over 44 years in public service, with 16 of those years serving as a board trustee for the Antioch Unified School District.  She is familiar with the policies, procedures and budgets for the school district, as well as personnel commission rules, and regulations.  Ms. Rocha believes in the underlying philosophy of the merit system to include providing the best qualified candidates for employment in a timely and efficient manner to support the District’s goal to advance student achievement.

According to the rules for the commission as seen on the district’s website, it “is composed of three (3) individuals who must be registered voters, reside in the Antioch Unified School District and be “known adherents to the principles of the merit system”.  One member of the commission is appointed by the Board of Trustees, one member is appointed by the Board of Trustees upon the recommendations of the classified employees’ organization, which represents the largest number of the District’s classified employees, and the third member is appointed by the other two (2) members of the Commission.”

Rocha is currently the board-appointed member of the commission.

Instead of being reappointed by the Board Rocha said, “I will have Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent (of Public Instruction) sign off my Personnel Commission position.”

That is expected to occur by early December, she shared.

Board President Ruehlig responded to questions about the matter.

“Mary was the only applicant both times (original and reappointment). We advertised in several…media.”

“This is not all that unusual,” he continued. “For years I was trying to get a replacement on the County Library Commission and there was no response. Crystal and Debra showed an interest in putting it back to advertisement, but I understand that we spent $1,800 advertising and the Personnel Commission has no caveat against there being only one applicant. With 44 years public service and 16 years on the School Board, Mary, whatever you feel about her, certainly is legitimate. On top of all that, we have deadlines.”

Asked about the commission and why the State Superintendent will fill the vacancy, Antioch Superintendent Stephanie Anello said, “Districts are not required to have a Personnel Commission related to their classified staff. However, they can and must vote on it as a bargaining unit. Antioch is one of approximately 100 districts in the State that have a PC. I am including our PC Director, Lynda Sifford on this email as she is the guru of all things Personnel Commission related.”

A question to Sifford asking if it was state law that the State Superintendent fills vacancies on such commissions was sent after close of business on Tuesday.

Thursday, Oct. 19 UPDATE:

Sawyer-White Wants to Reopen Application Process, Vinson refuses to comment

When reached for comment about why she voted against Rocha’s reappointment, Sawyer-White said, “I have been speaking to parents and other Board Trustees in Contra Costa County and the Personnel Commission is not a pressing issue. I am hearing “Keep up the fight for our students.” I addressed at our Board meeting recently, a new Child Nutrition Program called and declining enrollment. I think the public would like to hear more about topics pertaining to our students.

“To answer your question. Before voting, I motioned to reopen the Personnel Commission position,” Sawyer-White explained. “A district employee from the Personnel Commission conveyed to me that my motion cannot be granted. I decided to research further to see if there was a policy to reopen this position. I call the California Personnel Commission Association and I spoke to the Director and he said the position can be reopened.”

In responding to the same question, Vinson simply wrote via email, “No comment.”

She later attempted to call this reporter in response to a further email challenging her to give the public an explanation for why she voted how she did. But no voicemail message was left.


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Antioch School Board hears complaints about high rental charges for football stadium

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

Eels Stadium at Antioch High. File photo by Luke Johnson

Vinson, Sawyer-White want greater reimbursement for conference expenses

By Robbie Pierce

At their October 17, 2017 meeting the Antioch School Board was given an earful from one youth sports organization about what they feel are overcharges for the use of Antioch High’s Eels Stadium football field.

“There is no justification for what we’re being charged… There is something wrong here,” said Arrieanna Lombard, representing the Delta Valley Wolfpack Football and Cheer Club. “There is something really wrong with what we’re being charged.”

Lombard, via a speaker card, spoke multiple times during the most recent Antioch Board of Education meeting held Oct. 11, to raise awareness of an issue with fees levied against her club by the board for using Antioch High School facilities and fields. The fees were, according to her claim, in excess of $2000 per game, while school football teams – her club is not affiliated with any school district, but leases the rights to use the grounds for practices and games – are only charged around $700 to rent the field for the whole day.

The issue regarding Wolfpack’s fees was actually given a dedicated spot on the agenda for the meeting by Trustee and Board Vice President Debra Vinson under Item 12 – Items for Discussion by Board as sub-items 1 and 2, “Concession Stands” and “Direct Cost Analysis for Use of Custodial Fees and Custodial Cost”. Both were requested to be on the agenda by Vinson. Lombard spoke during the review of each item, as well as during Item 6 – Public Comments about 30 minutes beforehand.

On an evening in which one trustee, Diane Gibson-Gray, was absent, student delegates were asked to stay home due to air quality concerns, and several items were skipped outright due to no speakers being present for them, Lumbard’s impassioned speeches were the most charged portions of the meeting.

“We’ve been dealing with this issue since August, and it’s now October and we still don’t have any resolution on it,” Lombard said. “We would not be here if there was communication and transparency.”

She explained that the Civic Center Act is meant to, in her words, “ensure that school facility and fields are available to the public for acceptable use pursuant to the board policies and procedures.”

That Act clearly outlines the rules and guidelines for the use of school facilities by extracurricular organizations, and also strictly and clearly states what can and cannot be included in the fees for using them. The Act was amended this year by SB 1404, which added extra items that could factor into the total charge as “capital costs”.

Lombard had no issue with the addition of fees, instead her problem – and Wolfpacks’s problem – was the way the implementation of SB 1404 was handled and announced.

“Timing matters… the Wolfpack were notified about an increase in fees the last week of July, well our season starts the beginning of August, so we had no time to make changes according to fees that you’re going to raise,” she stated. “That’s not fair.”

The board seemed to very sympathetic to Lumbard’s issue, and made it clear the extra cost was an accident.

“Sometimes we get praised, sometimes we get criticized. I would have to say this is one of those times we deserve some criticism,” Board President Walter Ruehlig observed. “But, I would like to clarify I don’t believe [the extra fees are] from intent. I don’t think anyone up here wants to sock it to our kids in sports.”

Associate Superintendent for Business and Operations, Teresa Santamaria added that her biggest concern is “to make sure that we are charging them fairly, and not overcharging them.”

“I actually brought this on because I’d like for it to be resolved,” Vinson explained. “We’ve been dealing with this issue, actually, since I’ve been on the board. So, I think we need to really put some energy into really trying to resolve this and making it a priority. These are our children, this is our community, and we owe them that.”

The board as a whole agreed, as they all sought to research the issue, find out exactly how the fees became so exorbitant, and have a resolution to discuss by the next meeting.

“Given that it’s been delayed this long, I think we need to fast-track the item,” Superintendent Stephanie Anello commented.

Reimbursement of Trustees’ Conference Expenses

Outside of reviewing their process for levying fees for school facility usage, the board also took time to discuss two board policies regarding reimbursing board members for expenses associated with attending education related conferences.

Vinson formally requested a change to Board Policy 9240, which sets up procedure for board members to be reimbursed for any expenses during trips to educational or training conferences. Vinson’s request is to allow the district to pay the bill upfront, via invoice, for any official California School Board Association events instead of having reimbursement being the only option, telling the story of how one event she attended recently was willing to use an invoice, but she was not able to take that option because Board Policy 9240 did not allow for it.

President Ruehlig said such a request was “fair and reasonable”, and stated the board would likely discuss it at next meeting.

Trustee Crystal Sawyer-White, in the final sub-item, cited that Board Policy 9352 sets a flat $400 reimbursement to every board member who attends a meeting, but allows for extra payment in exceptional circumstance, and requested extra payment for the four-hour meeting in September in which the board decided to discipline trustee Vinson. Superintendent Anello committed to do research into relevant policy and legislation to find out how much reimbursement they could ask for, citing a recent court case that might have affected the previous limits.

Other Board Action

Beyond that, the board passed two resolutions for immediate action, one legally declaring that every school in the district has “sufficient” textbooks and instructional materials (such a declaration is required by Education Code 60119 and Senate Bill 550) and one authorizing Provisional Internship Permits, or PIPs, for three teachers in the district; Melissa Holmes-Molina, Steven Nosanchuk and Jennifer Uresti.

The board also collectively and unanimously accepted two new board policies that were presented in a revised form for Second Reading and Action – 1312.3, a revised policy for Uniform Complaint Procedures and 5146, a new policy dealing with policies and procedures for married/pregnant/parenting students.

The meeting closed with a brief discussion of planning for future meetings. Vinson expressed a desire for a study session for strategic planning within the next few months to discuss systemic issues within the school district such as declining enrollment. Sawyer-White made the point that according to Governor Brown, California is experiencing record numbers of homeless and asked the district to do something about it. Anello pledged to get some numbers together for the board.

Pierce is a new reporter for the Antioch Herald, is a student at Los Medanos College and writes for the school newspaper, The Experience.

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Antioch schools remain closed Friday due to “extreme poor air quality”

Friday, October 13th, 2017

Air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area showing Antioch in the orange zone as of 7:00 AM, Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. From

The following message was posted on the Antioch Unified School District’s website on Thursday:

“This is Stephanie Anello, Superintendent of the Antioch Unified School District with an important safety announcement. We have been monitoring the air quality throughout the day. Once again, given the extreme poor air quality due to the recent, ongoing wildfires, schools will be closed tomorrow Friday, October 13th. Although the air appeared to be less toxic than predicted today, it is forecasted to be, once again, unhealthy tomorrow. Due to living in the Bay Area, our micro-climates are dynamic and air quality is always changing. Additionally, although some fires may have improved containment levels, this does not necessarily equate to different levels of toxic pollutants in the air that can reach our children. Please know that your child’s safety was the primary factor leading to this decision. Many of our students walk or ride their bike to and from school and will be exposed to the poor air quality even if we were to remain open and shelter in place. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you but, again, your child’s safety is our number one concern.

Thank you, as always, for your continued support of our schools and our District as we work to ensure your child’s health is not compromised in any way.  Our thoughts remain with the victims of this tragedy as well as with the firefighters and other first responders.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website the air quality in the Antioch area is designated with an orange color which is “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.” It further defines that category as “Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected.”

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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