Brendan Weber

’Tremendous Disruption’: Controversial Proposal to Divide East Bay School District Heads to Vote

A controversial debate over splitting a school district is tearing at the fabric of a community in Contra Costa County. 

In Walnut Creek, the proposed Northgate District would include just five schools — Walnut Acres Elementary School, Bancroft Elementary School, Valle Verde Elementary School, Foothill Middle School and Northgate High School — and effectively separate from the much larger Mt. Diablo Unified School District.

Opponents argue that the move is elitist and discriminatory, with some going as far as calling it an example of segregation. Principal Michael McAlister said the split would take the student population at Northgate High School from 58 percent white to almost 80 percent white. 

"Part of what the gift we have with Mt. Diablo Unified is we take kids — intradistrict transfers — that help broaden the scope of our student population in ethnic and demographic terms," McAlister said.

Other issues at play include critical funding and even special education programs.

"This is a big deal," McAlister said. "You know, we’ve got a district here that’s getting broadsided by a movement to secede. It’s going to affect a lot of lives, in a lot of negative ways as I see it."

Those supporting the secession have countered the opposition's arguments, claiming that the Mt. Diablo Unified School District is too large to meet the needs of those five schools and that the effort is not a race issue. An independent review conducted earlier this month concluded that the "reorganization would not promote racial or ethnic discrimination or segregation."

Parent Marie Matson said there are pros and cons to the proposal, and she admitted that classes are becoming too overcrowded.

"Just too many students, and that's never a good thing," she said. "Then kids get lost in class. I'm a big, firm believer in smaller class size."

Linda Loza is the chief petitioner for Northgate Community Advocacy for our Public Schools, the group behind the proposal. She defended her position due to a lack of "accountability and transparency" that is plaguing the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. 

"For example, they have a $48 million budget deficit for the coming school year, and they haven’t told anybody!" Loza said.

District Superintendent Nellie Meyer, however, countered that the deficit has been filled with reserve funds. 

Northgate teacher Meg Honey said that teachers don't plan to leave their current school district, to which they are committed. Meaning, there could be a teacher shortage in the new district. 

"We have no desire to join an experimental, boutique district that stands in such direct contrast to our values of ethnic and socioeconomic diversity," she said.

Honey also expressed concerns that the school district, as it stands, benefits from a larger student body with diverse needs because it is able to collect more money from the state. Changing that would mean "tremendous disruption."

"For the programs that exist in the Northgate-area schools, programs like special education that families depend on, those programs would no longer exist if these schools roll over into a new district," she said.

Northgate CAPS refuted Honey's statement, citing a state-funding formula that would still still apply to smaller districts.

The Contra Costa County Board of Education is slated to vote on the issue Tuesday evening. If approved, the proposal would still need to be approved by the state.

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