Discusses revisions to policy on Limits of Board Member Authority
By Allen Payton
At their regular meeting on Wednesday, October 12, 2016, the Antioch School Board voted unanimously to receive the petition by Rocketship Education, to establish a public, non-profit charter school in Antioch. The board also dealt with a recently adopted policy believed to be restrictive of board members. Plus the board heard complaints from the public of police interrogations of students, the negative comments about the school district and a vote against Prop. 55 by Trustee Fernando Navarro.
On September 30th, Rocketship presented a charter school petition to Antioch Superintendent Stephanie Anello for a K-5 school. Once the board received the petition, it started both a 30-day timeline for a public hearing and a 60-day timeline to make a decision to approve or deny the charter, according to a report by Chris Learned.
He said the time-frame was “a little difficult because of the holidays and election.”
“If this board holds a public hearing it only seems right that the current board makes the decision,” Learned stated.
So the Board and staff settled on Wednesday, November 2nd for the public hearing and Monday, November 28th for the vote. Staff is proposing the hearing be held at Deer Valley High because of the capacity.
Three speakers, including two teachers, spoke against the charter for Rocketship, including one, Sara Savacool, who, along with others in the audience, was wearing a yellow T-shirt with the words “No Rocketship” across the front.
“Charter schools are a complicated issue,” she said. “There’s a lot of law. There are different types. You really need to do your homework.”
Savacool mentioned “corporate interests, profit and a very stripped down education for our students.”
“We fought them at Mt. Diablo (Unified School District),” she continued. That board “voted 5-0 against.”
“I’m very disappointed they’re bringing their brand of second-rate education to our community,” Savacool concluded.
Ken Kent, a fifth grade teacher at Kimball Elementary School in Antioch, was the next to speak.
“Antioch has some very good grassroots and research-supported (charter) schools versus a cost analysis model,” he stated. Then he mentioned who are on Rocketship’s board of directors, including one person with an education degree, a financial analyst and for-profit education executives.
Kent said students in Rocketship schools spend “a significant portion of their day behind a (computer) screen.”
“This is not a moral thing to do,” he continued. “Rocketship has had some numbers of improved API scores. But they haven’t held true” and then asked about “how much we’re having to give up for that?” and “Why are we pressing this so fast, now?”
Before the third public speaker shared his thoughts, Marie Gill, the Bay Area Regional Director for Rocketship spoke, offering her own background and local connection, and that she was “coming back to Antioch after 20 years.”
Rocketship has “over 6,000 parents from the Bay Area with students in our schools,” Gill stated. “We’re happy to host you at one of our schools. We want you to be informed as board members.”
She said “we’d like to extend an invitation to tour our facility and school in San Jose.”
Willie Mims, a regular critic of the Antioch School District, representing the NAACP East County Branch and the Pittsburg Black Parents, was the last to speak during public comments.
“I and Rocketship have crossed paths over the past five years,” he stated. “Is there a need? You have some serious issues, here.”
Then referring to test scores, Mims said “they are atrocious. Charter schools are circling. You only have to blame yourself for Rocketship being here. If you don’t address them, then you’ll have more Rocketships.”
Then he explained the process.
“If the Board denies and the County Board denies, the State will help them get their charter approved,” Mims shared. “Once they move you can’t stop it.”
The Board members then shared their thoughts on the matter, with Trustee Debra Vinson speaking first.
“Having a charter school problem for the district isn’t new, since we fought for Dozier-Libbey,” she stated. “We have a mandate to improve academic outcomes for all students. Are they an option? Are they the solution?”
“I’m going to research…and do what is in the best interests of this District,” Vinson added.
Board President Diane Gibson-Gray said “the clock starts, today” referring to the timelines.
“Between the 2nd and 14th (of December) three Board members may have no power,” speaking in favor of the shortened timeline for the hearing and decision.
Trustee Fernando Navarro spoke next, saying “I have to echo what Mr. Mims said. Nature abhors a vacuum and unfortunately we’ve provided a vacuum.”
“They will get it at the state level,” he continued. “I’d rather work with them than work against them.”
Trustee Walter Ruehlig said there are “three most difficult decisions” as a Board member: “hiring a new superintendent, closing a school and considering a petition like this.”
The Board then voted 5-0 to receive the charter school petition and set the hearing and meeting dates for a decision.
Before the discussion on the Rocketship charter school, the Board heard from the public, with both Mims having some concerns and Kent criticizing Navarro for his vote on Prop. 55.
“Looking at the budget,” Mims began, “you’re transferring $400,000 of grand fund for deferred maintenance. That was an illegal move. I found the $400,000 deep into the budget, and now into the General Fund.”
He then complained about “some serious increases in classified (employees) of 22%. An increase of over $4 million.”
His third and final issue had to do with “complaints of police interrogating our children.”
“You faced a lawsuit over that several years ago,” Mims stated. “You have to be careful. They need to be read their rights.”
Gibson-Gray referred Mims to staff, saying he could talk with Dr. Adam Clark, the district’s new Associate Superintendent for Educational Services, who was in attendance at the meeting.
Contra Costa County School Board Member Jeff Belle spoke next, as “a private citizen,” he said.
“A famous general once asked ‘what’s the difference between appeasement and surrender’” Belle stated. “It’s time.”
“It’s time we step up to the plate,” he continued. “There’s activities. But, it’s time that we start getting outcomes for our students. The outcomes do not match the investment. The City’s economic stability and security is dependent on our education system.”
“Before you blink, tomorrow becomes today,” Belle added. “Let’s do a better job than what we’re doing.”
Antioch resident Velma Wilson then spoke about wanting to be more positive.
“I just want to applaud the efforts of the AUSD,” she shared. “2016-2017 has so far been a phenomenal school year. I’m welcoming parents who are coming to me crying. I’m so tired of all the negative from people who are at our school campuses.”
“I invite you to come out and see the smiling faces,” Wilson continued. “PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) is in full effect.”
To those being negative she said “go sit somewhere.”
“I’m always about let’s continually promote the positive,” Wilson added.
Then Kent spoke, chastising Navarro for voting against the Board resolution in favor of Prop. 55 on the November ballot, which would extend by 12 years, the three-year temporary income tax increase, that will expire this year.
“Thank you Board for your vote in support of Prop 55,” Kent said. “I was disappointed to hear that Trustee Navarro voted against it. You have put forward your own ideology ahead of the needs of our students. Shame on you. We need a caring school board member. You are not that board member.”
Michael Sagehorn who teaches history at Deer Valley High and at the Performing Arts Academy said “I’m the one who brought with me the students, tonight.” He spoke of helping students become “artists as activists” and “my history students are participating in government.”
“I really try to implement integrated education, Sagehorn continued. “There’s a rumor going around that it’s going away.”
On the issue of ratifying a vendor agreement with Rita Alfred for Restorative Justice, Mims had a question and comments for the Board and staff.
“What are you proposing the outcome with restorative justice,” he asked.
Dr. Clark responded with “this particular goal is part of the LCAP building in inclusive and safe communities.”
He explained that the district is hoping to “lower suspension rates by 10%, and for African American students by 20%.”
Clark shared that the process will include conducting an on-site workshop, three days of training and six days of classroom monitoring.
“My concern is who restorative justice is on,” Mims responded. “Training should be for people who are meting out justice. There needs to be a clear understanding of what restorative justice is.”