W. Contra Costa district makes key decisions

September 7, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The fight to keep schools open in West Contra Costa County brought dozens of students and parents out Wednesday night and the school board made a decision on the fate of two schools.

The school district managed to do two great things: one is that they voted to pay off an $8 million loan that has kept the school district under receivership and under state trustee for the past 20 years and two, they were able to get two schools back from the brink of being closed.

West Contra Costa Unified School District school board president Charles Ramsey cast the final vote to pay off the loan.

"I never thought I'd say it, but it's a long time overdue. Thank you very much community... yes," said Ramsey.

If they hadn't voted to pay the loan, the yearly $1 million-plus interest meant that they might have to close Shannon Elementary in Pinole and Lake Elementary in San Pablo in the fall of 2012. But minutes after taking the vote on the loan, Ramsey decided to take Shannon and Lake schools off the chopping block.

The vote surprised and pleased parents worried about both schools closing next year.

"Oh my gosh, I'm so emotional right now. I'm really, really happy. This is what we have been waiting for, for close to four years, so I'm really happy," said Patricia Ponce, a Lake School parent.

The city of San Pablo has been funding Lake Elementary for the past three years to the tune of $300,000 to keep it open. Now the district will pay to keep both schools open indefinitely.

"We have no more uncertainty about our school being closed anymore. No more worrying, no more little babies worrying, 'Am I going to be here tomorrow? Do I have to go to that school?'" said Mari Tanaka, a Shannon Elementary School teacher.

The vote was not unanimous with one vote member abstaining -- Tony Thurmond.

However, for parents, teachers, and students, it means the schools they've trusted their children to will still be there.

The board has ordered staff to do an audit to find out exactly how much money they're going to have left after they pay off that loan. That will happen in November. Then, they'll know exactly what kind of programs they can put back into the schools that they've had to take out for the past 20 years.

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