Walnut Creek council endorses election framework in effort to form new school district

Advocacy group wants to separate from Mt. Diablo USD, create new Northgate district

The Walnut Creek City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to endorse an election framework in the effort to create a new school district out of the existing Mt. Diablo Unified School District.

The election will only be held if the separation of the proposed Northgate district from the Mt. Diablo district is allowed to move forward by county and state education officials.

The resolution approved by the city council endorses the idea that any such election should be held within the boundaries of the proposed district rather than within the existing district's boundaries, according to Walnut Creek Mayor Rich Carlston.

"I think that the voters within that (proposed) district are very able to make that decision as to what's best for their kids," Carlston said.

That's a sentiment echoed by members of Northgate Community Advocacy for Our Public Schools, the group working to create the new district and which brought the resolution to the council for its consideration.

"I would say that the reason to have the vote in the new district boundaries is that it is the area affected by this move, and if it was extended (to the entire Mt. Diablo district) it would diminish the voice of the people who are affected," said Linda Loza, president of the Northgate CAPS board of directors.

The council's decision is an important milestone for those advocating for a new district, despite the fact that the city has no authority over the school district and won't make the ultimate decision about how an election, if one is needed, is structured.

"To have the support that we got from the city council last night helped level the playing field a little bit," Loza said. "It said that they hear us."

The proposal to create the new district would remove five schools from the Mt. Diablo district -- Northgate High School, Foothill Middle School and Bancroft, Valle Verde and Walnut Acres elementary schools -- and includes portions of Walnut Creek and Concord.

It would also allow voters within the new district to select its own school board, which would run the smaller district and be more accountable to the will of local parents, according to supporters.

"There is a lack of leadership and governance at the district level. There is a long-standing culture of that," Loza said. "There is a lack of communication and lack of accountability and lack of fiscal management."

Mt. Diablo officials, as well as the Mt. Diablo Education Association, are strongly opposed to the effort to carve five schools and roughly 4,500 students out of the existing district and believe any vote to do so should include all of the district's existing voters.

"We are disappointed and surprised that the council essentially voted to suppress the voice of our local citizens," said superintendent Nellie Meyer. "We do not believe the criterion are met to form a new school district, and there were clear examples last night detailing the devastating impact such a separation would pose to students, families, and teachers."

Last year, Northgate CAPS delivered 6,700 signatures from voters within the proposed district to the Contra Costa County Office of Education, which has scheduled a hearing for May 2 and 3.

The Office of Education will forward its recommendations to the State Board of Education, which will determine if the proposal should move forward to an election.

-- Kiley Russell, Bay City News


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