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School Closures

Many people have contacted me via email, phone or mail with ideas and opinions about proposed school closures in Richmond by the WCCUSD. Some have asked why I did not attend the joint City Council /WCCUSD meeting last week.


The reason I cannot participate in any City Council discussion or votes on West Contra Costa School District (WCCUSD) issues before the Richmond City Council is that I have a legal conflict of interest. My architecture-engineering firm, Interactive Resources has been and is currently providing the WCCUSD with architectural services for Nystrom School. Previously, we designed modernization projects for Stewart School and Washington School. We also provided diagnostic services, repair design and expert witness services for leaks at Hercules Middle-High School.


I have a long history of supporting education in the WCCUSD, and I hope that everything possible can be done to preserve neighborhood schools in Richmond. Neighborhood schools are particularly important in Richmond so that students can safely walk to school and so that neighborhoods have a physical focus and an identity. It has been proven that small schools are more effective educationally than larger schools (see http://www.edfacilities.org/rl/size.cfm for sources). Keeping Richmondís small schools is consistent with the direction of our new general plan and is just one way of creating a healthier community and reducing greenhouse gas emissions as required by AB32.


Both of my sons attended WCCUSD (formerly Richmond Unified School District) schools through high school, and when the District ran out of money in 1991 and closed schools six weeks early, I joined  with several other parents and successfully sued the State of California to open the schools back up.


In this lawsuit (Butt v. State of California, 842 P.2d 1240 (Cal. 1992)), The California Supreme Court ruled that the state was responsible for the fundamental educational rights of students and that the state must take action to address a local district's inability to provide an education basically equivalent to that provided by other districts in the state. In so ruling, the Court stated that the California State Constitution makes public education ďa fundamental concern of the State and prohibits maintenance and operation of the common public school system in a way which denies basic educational equality to the students of particular districts. The State itself bears the ultimate authority and responsibility to ensure that its district-based system of common schools provides basic equality of educational opportunity.Ē842 P.2d at 1251.


Unfortunately, and against my advice at the time, the school board placed more value on regaining control of the District than simply declaring bankruptcy and walking away from it. The price was assumption of a massive debt that is still a burden today and one of the reasons the District is contemplating closure of neighborhood schools.


I wish I could fully participate in the City of Richmondís role is resolving the current crisis, but I am prohibited by law from participating.