Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

The Herald repeats recommendations: Wright for Antioch Mayor; Turnage, Thorpe for Council; Navarro, Terry, Sawyer-White for School Board

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

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The Herald Recommends: Glover for one more term on the Board of Supervisors

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

By Allen Payton, Publisher & Editor

Although the last time I supported Federal Glover for Supervisor was when he first ran and was elected in 2000, this year, I’m supporting him, again. In 2004, I helped run the late Eric Nunn’s campaign against Glover and in 2008, I supported him in the Primary. Then following Nunn’s tragic death that year, I supported the late Antioch Councilman Gary Agopian against Glover in the General Election. Each time, was because I believed his opponents were more fiscally responsible.

Federal and I worked together well on East County transportation issues, going back 18 to 22 years ago, when he was on the Pittsburg City Council and I was on the Antioch City Council. He has continued to work to bring transportation solutions to Antioch and East County, and on so many other issues, as well.

I wasn’t happy with his vote for the 33% pay raise in 2014, which I’ve written about and told him, as it was a demonstration of fiscal irresponsibility, and slap in the face to both county workers and the taxpayers. But, unlike two of his colleagues on the Board, once the referendum had garnered enough signatures to be placed on the ballot, Glover listened to the people, voted to rescind the pay raise and didn’t continue to argue in favor of it, nor whine that he deserved but didn’t receive it. That’s what we want in an elected official – responsiveness to the people they represent.

While I’ve enjoyed getting a chance to speak with his challenger, Martinez Councilwoman AnaMarie Avila Farias, during the campaign and believe she’s well intentioned, from what I’ve learned she has a big government mindset. That’s not surprising since she works for the County Housing Authority. I don’t believe it’s wise to put government employees in charge of the governments for which they worked.

Plus, I believe she would be more fiscally irresponsible than Glover was with his pay raise vote. Following are the reasons for my viewpoint.

First, is the matter of what appears to be an effort by two county employee groups, the firefighters and Deputy Sheriffs, to help buy Avila Farias a seat on the Board. The Deputy Sheriffs contributed $99,000 and the firefighters contributed $50,000 to an independent expenditure committee to pay for mailers and research to help Avila Farias win.  They also each contributed $10,000 directly to her campaign. Plus, another $2,000 was contributed by the International Association of Firefighters PAC.

In addition, she received another $6,000 from other county government employee groups, bringing the total support for Avila Farias by county workers to $167,000 for the campaign.

I don’t think it’s wise for candidates or elected officials to be beholden to government employee groups, because it will be their interests, not those of the taxpayers, when it comes time for contract negotiations and votes. We’ve had too much of that in the past, and the County is still digging out of the hole of unfunded liabilities due to overly generous employee contracts, especially with public safety personnel, in the past.

Second, in a forum during the Primary, which combined candidates for Supervisor in both Districts 3 and 5, she was in support of every proposed government social program discussed that night. Glover wasn’t in attendance, so it took Brentwood Councilman Steve Barr, who is running for Supervisor in District 3 to ask, “all of these programs sound great, but how are you going to pay for them?”

Finally, also dealing with her campaign finances, as of Thursday, November 3rd, Avila Farias shows her campaign has received a total of $85,707.50, yet has spent $114,924.12 with $32,313.83 in accrued expenses, in other words unpaid bills. While she shows $3,097.21 in the bank, that still leaves here $29,216.62 in debt. If she doesn’t win, it will be difficult to raise the money to pay that off. If that’s how she handles the small amount of funds in a campaign, what can we expect of Avila Farias when she’s making decisions about $1 billion in taxpayer funds?

Plus, most of the money her campaign has spent has been outside of the county, which doesn’t show a commitment to local businesses and job creation.

Glover, on the other hand, hasn’t spent more than his campaign has received in contributions, has no accrued expenses and ends the campaign with $8,571.06 cash on hand, as of November 3rd. Plus, almost all of his campaign expenditures have been inside the county, showing a commitment to local businesses and jobs.

Like many others, I didn’t think Glover would have the strength to run for a fifth term on the Board, following his heart and kidney transplant surgery, last year. But the Supervisor has proved to be quite resilient and he’s made an amazing recovery, thank the Lord.

Also, while I don’t usually support a candidate serving more than three, four-year terms in any one office, as I believe people can tend to get arrogant, out of touch and complacent, Glover has proven he can continue to work hard and is committed to representing his constituents.

Furthermore, unlike Avila Farias who has serious challenges working with at least two of her colleagues on the Martinez City Council, and does not have their support in this election, Glover does work well with the rest of the members of the Board of Supervisors. Those two council members are supporting him, instead.

Finally, while we have and will probably continue to have our disagreements on issues, from time to time, and I believe this should be his last campaign for the position, in general I believe he is the better candidate in the election for County Supervisor in District 5. Please vote for Federal Gover on Tuesday, November 8th and keep him on the Board representing the portion of Antioch north of Highway 4.

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Subject of letter opposing Rocketship writes in response, claims it’s a defamatory smear

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

Dear Editor:

In an election year that has been notable more for wild hyperbole than substantive discussion, even our local races have not been immune from the kind of irresponsible and baseless rhetoric that has plagued those on the national stage.

One case in point. Last week an opinion article written under the byline Selina Button was posted by Mike Burkholder on his East County Today blog, and posted as a letter to the editor on the Antioch Herald news website. The article included false, defamatory, and possibly libelous statements about me, my wife, Argentina Davila-Luevano, and my friend, John Crowder.

The reason for her unwarranted attack? We were quoted in a press release by Rocketship Education as being in favor of their building a brand new, high-performing, elementary school in Antioch. Ms. Button characterized our positive comments as, “an effort to support their own personal financial gain.” She went on to ask, “Were they possibly promised a job by Rocketship?”

For the record, we have absolutely no gain, financial or otherwise, coming our way from Rocketship. Neither have we been offered jobs or anything else. In fact, the only thing we were promised was that people who want to maintain the failed status quo would likely try to smear anyone supporting their efforts…something I didn’t want to believe at the time.

Regardless, we stand by our support of Rocketship. As those who know us are aware, Argentina and I are long-time advocates for children, and particularly for children of color and/or those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. We see the addition of a Rocketship school as an important step in solving the problem of the horrifically underperforming schools in our city.

Unfortunately, It is clear that those who stand in the way of much-needed education reform in Antioch are willing to make false statements, to bully, and to try to mislead the public about a good organization, Rocketship, that truly has the best interests of our children at heart. They have shown that they are willing to use such unseemly tactics against Rocketship’s supporters, as well.

We’re not going to back down, though. We’ve fought for years for the rights of children. The right to a good education for all is too important for us to cave in. We urge everyone who realizes we need change to get the facts about Rocketship. Their model is working for students around the country. Let’s make sure they have the chance to bring this same success to Antioch’s students, as well.

Angel G. Luevano

Antioch

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Council candidate upset Antioch City Council will meet on night of election

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

Dear Editor:

I just discovered and I am outraged this morning that the Antioch City Council intends to hold a council meeting next Tuesday, November 8th – election day.

My wife Tina and I do not suffer fools well. It is very ironic that not only is a meeting planned, but the agenda reflects an urgency item and two public hearings. I find it funny and convenient that these important matters are squeezed in at times when the public may not be fully available to attend.

I have not reviewed the 2015-2016 calendar completely, but it seems odd that major issues of importance seem to make it to the agenda around the time when citizens are least available.

I urge the City Council to cancel the meeting that is scheduled for November 8, 2016 and reschedule to a date and time that the community can be available.

Some will say that most voters in our county have voted early. But, considering how important and controversial our national election is this year, most will be glued to the news outlets covering the election.

So, in my view, they are attempting to sneak more decisions by us while we are looking the other way.  I am angry, as my wife and I expected the City to have greater consideration for the citizens of Antioch.

Fred Rouse

Antioch

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Letter writer condemns mailer attacking Burgis’ salary from non-profit

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

Dear Editor:

In yesterday’s mail I received an attempt at a smear ad for one of our local candidates for County Supervisor, Diane Burgis. The claim, in bold red font, states that she intends to draw a salary and benefits for that position, paid for by the taxpayers. Does candidate Steve Barr, therefore, intend to forfeit his salary and benefits if elected?

Further, it attempts to slam her for drawing a salary as Executive Director of Friends of Marsh Creek Watershed (FOMCW). She can’t be chastised for drawing a salary for that work, as she is paid with grant funding to organize and mobilize volunteers, engage in community outreach, run successful creek cleanups of our local watershed, and support academy internships for local students. FOMCW saves the County money, especially with the trash cleanups. She has done a fine job linking people of all ages to their local environment and to the scientific community.

I find the ad misleading, lacking integrity, and unprofessional. I hope fellow community members see through the lame attempt by big oil and so-called “criminal prosecutors” to discredit a person who has fought for improved health of our local environment. I doubt these folks from Sacramento have ever organized a community volunteer force like Diane Burgis has.

I’m going to donate more money to FOMCW out of spite for this negative political ad. The community organization has done a fantastic job over the fifteen years I’ve been familiar with it, and it is an honor to continue to support FOMCW as well as Diane Burgis for County Supervisor.

Sincerely,

Spencer Holmes

Brentwood

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Piepho writes in support of Burgis for Supervisor

Friday, November 4th, 2016

Dear Editor:

When I made the difficult decision to not seek reelection to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, my choice was made easier by the fact that Diane Burgis would make an extraordinary County Supervisor. She is a smart and dedicated public servant, and I have been proud to work with her for many years.

I wanted to take a moment to cut through some of the smear tactics and tell you about the Diane Burgis that I know and trust.

I was surprised to see the recent hit pieces mailed by real estate developers and “Big Oil”/petroleum interests that support Diane’s opponent and attack Diane Burgis. These ridiculous mail pieces accuse Diane of “climbing the ladder.”

Well, – that’s what capable people do – when opportunities arise they move up to greater positions of responsibility and governance. Talented people, such as Diane Burgis, are recruited by the community, and by those leaving office, to carry on the work that must be done in the publics’ best interests.

That is why I asked Diane to run for County Supervisor. She has proven to be a thoughtful, regional leader, one who brings people together to find workable  solutions.

The campaign process is well known as “silly season”. It is to be expected. However, I believe we are beyond the point of telling one of our most respected female leaders that she should stay put and know her place.

I believe Diane will make an excellent County Supervisor. She is talented, compassionate and hardworking. She will work every day to improve our community by reducing traffic, boosting public safety and defending our precious Delta.

Please don’t fall for the dirty tricks. Join me, Sheriff Livingston, District Attorney Mark Peterson, local Firefighters, Deputy Sheriffs and many other community leaders in voting for Diane Burgis for County Supervisor.

Mary Nejedly Piepho

County Supervisor

Discovery Bay

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Payton Perspective: Providing information that’s negative isn’t wrong, it’s necessary for good government

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Payton Perspective logo 2015It just dumbfounds me listening to candidates and others complain about things they consider negative in news articles, letters to the editor and guest columns about our local government.

If things were all “mai-tais and Yahtzee,” as was once stated by a movie character played by Nicholas Cage, then we could just write about positive things. But, that’s just not reality.

Sharing information that’s negative is necessary for “we the people” to know what’s going on so we can do something about it. Why? Because it’s our government, they’re our tax dollars being spent, they’re our children who are the students that we, in effect, contract with school district personnel to help us educate.

What if the Founding Fathers listened to that kind of thinking and only spoke of the positives of King George III and his tyrannical rule over the 13 colonies? We’d all be speaking with a British accent and wouldn’t be enjoying the freedoms protected by our Constitution.

While the Herald is a community newspaper, one of the reasons I started it, as I did the Antioch Press back in 2001 (before I sold it in 2005), was to keep Antioch residents informed of what’s going on with our local government – the city and the school district.

It’s our role, as part of the media to question, challenge and hold our officials accountable to do what they were elected or hired to do, and write about it, if and when they do or don’t.

We’re not out to get people nor do we “go after” anyone, as someone    accused us, recently. In fact, we rarely start any investigative news articles. They’re usually the result of residents asking us about matters and sometimes providing us with information to      support their concerns.

If we pursue the matter, sometimes it leads somewhere, while other times it doesn’t. But, when it does, we’ll pursue the matter to the end, regardless of where it takes us. Then we write about it and inform you, so you can then    decide what you want to do with it.

As I told one local elected official, if they would just do their job, we’d have less to write about. Plus, if they can’t handle the truth if it’s negative, they have no business serving in public office. So, if what is written is negative but is accurate and factual, focus your frustration on those who are supposed to be solving the problems, or solve them yourself, if you’re the focus of the negative information. Capiche?

The bottom line is our city and school district are facing some serious challenges. We’ve learned some very negative things, and have written about them, as a result.

While the City is improving, mainly thanks to two tax increases that we voted for, Antioch still has a long way to go to get out of the hole we’ve been in.

As for the school district, things are much worse than we’ve been led to believe. The information revealed about the abysmal proficiency levels among K-5 students, thanks to newly appointed board members learning and sharing that with us, is a matter of grave concern. The negative facts are 81% of students on average are not proficient in math, and 67% aren’t proficient in English. Even worse, in one of the elementary schools 92% of students aren’t proficient in math.

This election is our chance to vote for new leaders who will solve our problems. And that would be very positive.

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Analysis: In Antioch School Board race it’s the ostriches versus the camels

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

By Allen Payton, Publisher & Editor

After observing the actions of the Antioch School Board and now the election for three seats on the Board, this past year, here’s what I see is really going on in the Antioch Unified School District. It’s a story of the proverbial ostriches versus camels, of those in the status quo establishment who want to keep their heads in the sand, ignore the facts and keep the public in the dark, versus those with their “nose under the tent” finding out what’s really going on and letting the public know, and wanting to actually do something about it.

There’s an effort to keep control of the Board in the hands of the status quo establishment, which believes things are going pretty well in the district, by electing three of their own and opposing two appointed Board members and another candidate, who are learning the facts and have been letting the public know. That isn’t sitting well with the establishment – made up of one current Board member, three candidates, the leaders of the local teachers’ union, management employees and the certified employees. They say the three change agent candidates and their supporters are being negative.

Now, the establishment is going after one of the current Board members who isn’t up for re-election, this year, to get their fourth candidate on the Board, by recalling Trustee Debra Vinson, because they can’t seem to control her or get her to fall in line, either.

First, the new Board majority, who speak of wanting to improve things in the district, forced out Dr. Don Gill as Superintendent. But, then they appointed two new members to the Board who, like the proverbial camel with his nose under the tent, discovered that things aren’t going as well as the establishment has led the public to believe.

Alarming District Facts Being Learned, Shared

Appointed Trustees Fernando Navarro and Alonzo Terry have learned that the students in the District are in fact not doing so well, nor are the District’s finances. They learned and have pointed out to the public that an average of 67% of children in Kindergarten through Fifth grades are not proficient in English and an average of 81% are not proficient in math. In fact, in one elementary school in Antioch only 8% of the students are proficient in math.

Trustee Debra Vinson, who is not facing re-election this year, has also been pushing for the facts and having them shared publicly. Following her request of staff for a report on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) scores, a presentation was made during a recent workshop.

“The scores are horrific,” she said. “They didn’t want them out to the public.”

The appointed school board members also learned about the problem of truancy in the District, meaning students are not showing up for school.

Under Goal 3 in the District’s state required Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) it states “During the 2014-15 school year, 34% of AUSD students were truant. 13.4% were severely or chronically truant. Chronic truancy is especially high (16.1%) in the primary grades (k-3)…Students who don’t read proficiently by 3rd grade are 4 times more likely to drop out of school. 19.4% (941) of African American students were chronically truant… 40% of the students at Antioch High School were chronically truant.”

During the campaign, Navarro, Terry and the third candidate offering a different approach to the status quo, Crystal Sawyer-White, have been speaking out about these challenges, as well as the practice of promoting students prematurely.

In addition, enrollment in the District has been declining for the past decade, with 4,000 fewer students in the schools. The three candidates are saying part of the decline is due to parents choosing other schools for their students, both private and in other, better districts. The establishment’s narrative is that it’s due to the natural aging of the population in Antioch. But demographic statistics don’t support their argument.

In fact student-age population figures have been increasing in the district, at the same time enrollment has been declining by over 400 students per year. The establishment is concerned because the money the District receives from the state is based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA). Fewer students in the classrooms results in less money for the district.

But, Navarro and the others are more concerned about the academic achievement of the students, and if that changes, it will result in fewer students being removed by their parents for greener pastures.

District finances are another challenge, as they were facing a budget deficit, this year of $1.2 million and is facing deficits of over $2 million per year for the following two fiscal years. But, some one-time money was received by the District since the budget was approved in June, which produced a budget surplus, for this year.

Yet, it’s still not a pretty picture and the reserves are not at the level the District needs, and are only one month of staff salaries.

Immediately, the establishment candidates – backed by the teachers union, management and certified staff – are wanting to spend the surplus and get the reserves down to as low as 3% the minimum required by state law, as stated by Gibson-Gray at a candidates forum. But, according to AUSD Chief Business Officer Chris Learned, that “doesn’t even cover one payroll for the district. We want to keep reserves at 7%, preferably 10%.”

Those are alarming statistics and if they were happening in say, Walnut Creek, Lafayette or San Ramon, there would be an insurrection by parents, and the entire school board would be recalled and the top staff fired and replaced.

Negative Information Criticized, But Correct

Now that the facts are being shared, while the establishment is not denying all of them, they’ve turned their tactics to attacking those who are informing the public of them.

Navarro was criticized by status quo candidate Mike Burkholder, for giving the District a grade of F-minus-minus in a private conversation with Antioch Mayor Wade Harper, after Harper shared Navarro’s comment with Burkholder.

But, Navarro is correct. On an A through F grading scale, with an A having a score of 90 to 100 and an F being anything less than a score of 60, then scoring a 20 in math and a 30 in English is an F-minus-minus.

Burkholder and the rest of the establishment and their three other candidates don’t want that information out there. Why? Because it’s too negative, makes the District look bad, and is being critical of the teachers, and hurts Antioch’s reputation. They think the public somehow either doesn’t have a right to know what’s going on with our students, our government and our tax dollars the District is spending, or they don’t think we can handle knowing, which is rather elitist if they do.

One of the new superintendent’s goals is to “rebrand the District.” But, what’s the purpose of that? If the vast majority of K-5 students are failing in English and math, what’s there to re-brand, until they aren’t? Besides to whom are they wanting to market the District, which is the purpose of a branding campaign?

New Superintendent

Then the Board majority, on a split vote, hired a Superintendent from within the District staff sending a message that things are doing just fine in the district. Navarro voted against the contract because he thought it was too rich, at a time enrollment is declining and the District facing deficits for the next three years. He also said he preferred hiring someone from outside of the District with a different perspective, preferably with more successful schools.

While I believe Stephanie Anello wants to and can be an agent of change for the better for our students, it’s going to require a new Board majority to offer a new direction for her and the District. Because as the hired CEO of the organization, she has to do what the Board majority wants her to, if she wants to keep her job.

White Candidates vs. Candidates of Color

The agents of change in this election happen to be the one Hispanic man and an African-American man and woman. The status quo establishment candidates all happen to be white. That fact hasn’t gone unnoticed by some in the Antioch community and has some, who have chosen to remain silent, upset.

This is at a time students in the district are 41% Hispanic, 26% African-American and only 17% white. That doesn’t reflect the population of the city, which is 31.7% Hispanic, 30.7% white, and 21.9% African-American, which is a possible indicator that the white parents are removing their students from district schools and placing them in either private schools or those in other districts, or homeschooling them.

Yet, it’s the students of color in the district who have been suffering more under the establishment’s leadership, and they don’t want the three candidates of color or the other, current African-American Trustee to be on the Board, who will more likely be motivated to do something about it.

The establishment is hoping to get three of the white candidates elected, and their fourth one on the board by replacing Vinson with whomever doesn’t win, next Tuesday.

“It has not been easy because I’m not the status quo,” Vinson said. “I’ve been told Burkholder or one of them wants my seat.”

“When I asked the staff for the SBAC scores is when they stepped up the attack,” she explained. “They are not happy that all of this is coming out because the previous board didn’t do a good job and they don’t like it.”

Asked about the racial aspect of the current election, Antioch resident and former NAACP East County Branch President Odessa Lefrancois shared her concerns.

“I don’t like what is happening,” she said. “When I saw what happened at the school board meeting, last week. That shouldn’t have happened. They let that happen.”

“I have a belief the voters know what is happening and they will get elected,” Lefrancois continued. “I would love to have all three elected because they reflect the make-up of the school district.”

Charter School Battle

Antioch currently has two public charters schools, Antioch Charter Academy and Antioch Charter Academy II. Of the students at Antioch Charter Academy 41.3% are white. Even though the AUSD Hispanic students make up 40% of the population, but only 28% of the students at Antioch Charter Academy. African-American students make up 26% of the population in AUSD schools but only 9.7% of the students at Antioch Charter.

Yet, teachers in the district say they like the district’s current charter schools while berating the effort of the private, non-profit Rocketship Education to bring one of their public charter schools in Antioch.

But, Rocketship’s model is one of taking the least performing students in a district, most of whom are Hispanic and African-American children, and helping them advance in their education, like a “rocketship.” In fact, Rocketship’s lowest English and math proficiency statistics are at the same level or better than any of the elementary schools in the AUSD.

The fact the District has been performing so poorly is the reason Rocketship has chosen Antioch for one of their schools, as AUSD observer and former teacher Willie Mims pointed out at the October 12th Board meeting.

The organization is trying to get one of their schools approved in Antioch and the public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Wednesday, November 9th and a meeting for the final vote will be held on December 7th.

That would mean more students being removed from the regular schools and even though Rocketship pays their teachers more than AUSD teachers get paid, AUSD teachers’ union leadership doesn’t want one of their charter schools in Antioch.

Yet, even Antioch’s own Tom Torlakson, a former AUSD teacher and cross country coach, Antioch Councilman, County Supervisor, State Assemblyman, State Senator and now State Superintendent of Public Instruction is supportive of charter schools, specifically Rocketship. He along with the State School Board majority, voted in favor of the one in the Mt. Diablo School District, earlier this year even in the face of opposition from that district’s teachers and no votes by that Board and the County School Board.

Campaign Support, Battle Lines Drawn

The California Charter Schools Assocation has been backing the agents of change, by paying for three mailers with their names and photos on them. The Antioch Education Association, which is the local teachers’ union, as well as the certified employees’ union and Antioch Management Association, representing the District’s management staff are backing the status quo establishment candidates, both with endorsements and paying for mailers to support them. The AMA actually endorsed all four of the status quo establishment candidates for the three seats, indicating they want Vinson gone and replaced with one of theirs.

Unfortunately, it’s gotten a little nasty. But desperate people do desperate things. In fact the establishment went so far as to illegally shut down Navarro and prevent him from making a lawful motion to have an urgency item placed on the last school board meeting’s agenda, to nail down the schedule of the meetings for Rocketship’s charter school petition. Then they criticized him on social media for attempting to do so.

So, the battle lines are drawn. On one side we have the status quo candidates, the ostriches with their heads in the sand who want the public to do the same and not know the facts of how bad things are in the district, and who will keep doing the same things over and over again hoping things will improve – which is one definition of insanity – and are backed by those who have been embarrassed by the revelations of the facts by the other side.

On that side are the candidates of change, the proverbial camels with their noses under the tent, who have learned the truth and are exposing it, and who want to represent the best interests of the students, their parents, the taxpayers and the Antioch community in general, which will benefit by improved schools with better property values and attracting employers to our City.

That’s what’s really going on in the Antioch school district and school board race. Now it’s up to the voters to decide which direction they want for our students and community.

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