EL CERRITO -- El Cerrito Democratic Club members declined to endorse any candidate for the West Contra Costa school board Saturday following a community forum involving seven candidates and speakers for two other candidates.

Incumbents Madeleine Kronenberg and Elaine Merriweather are facing seven challengers for three seats. School board President Charles Ramsey is not defending his seat.

Kronenberg joined Liz Block, Peter Chau, Otheree Christian, Valerie Cuevas, Mister Phillips and Raquel Donoso at the forum. Merriweather was represented by Kathleen Sullivan of Black Women Organized for Political Action and Wanda Lee-Stevens spoke for her husband, challenger Chester Stevens.

Another registered candidate, Ayana Kirkland Young, did not participate in the forum.

None of the candidates received the required 60 percent of the vote of club members in attendance needed to qualify for its endorsement.

Topics included a junior ROTC program at De Anza High School approved by the board this year, ways of raising more money for school construction after the failure of Measure H in June, charter schools, and future uses for the current site of Fred T, Korematsu Middle School.

Each candidate was allowed opening and closing statements and all the candidates were also given time to respond to written questions from the audience.


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Kronenberg, a two-term incumbent and El Cerrito resident, touted the district's record of improving test scores despite a steady stream of budget cuts during the recession. She said she would now like a chance to help preside over the district as promised funding increases flow in under the state's Local Control Funding Formula.

Sullivan said Merriweather, who is running for her second term, has a goal of improving communications between the district and the community, employee groups and other stakeholders.

Merriweather was the lone board member to vote against offering the ROTC military program at De Anza, arguing that the $100,000 the district is spending on the program at the start could be better used in other ways to increase student achievement.

Block, an El Cerrito resident and a former school principal in Bay Point, called for better accountability of spending under the district's $1.6 billion school construction program and for increasing the rigor of the district's curriculum.

Chau, a Richmond native and resident, said he wants to make raising student achievement and recruiting good teachers a priority.

Christian, the head of campus security at El Cerrito High School, said he has the background to help make school campuses safer, which he would make a top priority.

Cuevas, of Richmond, said she is concerned that lawsuits and safety issues in recent years have distracted from the focus on teaching and learning, arguing for increased transparency from district leadership.

Phillips, who mounted a long shot challenge to District I county Supervisor John Gioia in 2010, said he would draw on his experience as a representative for classified school employee groups to improve school safety, academic achievement and labor relations.

Donoso, a district parent with experience with the PTA and school site councils, said she has a goal of increasing parental involvement in the schools to spur student achievement.

Stevens, a Hercules resident who is retired from a computer industry career, would draw on his experience as a substitute teacher in the district as well as his background on the Hercules Planning Commission and the city's Education Commission as a board member, according to his wife.

Christian, Cuevas, Merriweather, Kronenberg and Stevens say they are at least partially amenable to charter schools, while Phillips, Donoso, Chau and Block are either mostly or totally opposed.

Kronenberg voted for at least temporary district funding of junior ROTC at De Anza, saying that she was moved by testimonials from De Anza students who wanted the program.

Cuevas, Chau, Christian and Block see merit in the program if other funding can be found, while Phillips, Merriweather, Stevens and Donoso are opposed to ROTC.