State Education Board rejects attempted breakaway Northgate District

State Education Board rejects attempted breakaway Northgate District
Photo by Jay Bedecarré
Northgate principal Kelly Cooper

WALNUT CREEK, CA (July 14, 2022) — The effort by a group in the Northgate High School area to break off five schools from Mt. Diablo Unified School District and form a new, smaller and more affluent district was stopped Wednesday when the California State Board of Education rejected the group’s appeal of the 2017 decision by the Contra Costa County Board of Education turning down their petition.

With virtually no political support for the effort that was termed racist and elitist by many, the 10-member state board (an 11th board position is currently vacant) did as expected in agreeing with the county’s original decision five years ago.

The county school board serving as the Committee on School District Organization rejected the proposal on a 3-2 vote and the appeal of that decision finally came before the ultimate arbiter at the state level this week.

Northgate High principal Kelly Cooper told the State Board the effort to form the new district is “blatantly segregationist.” Among the over two dozen speakers calling in opposing the new district, one said, “We don’t need to start segregating our schools. That was back in the ‘60s,” and another added “I’m angry and disappointed that anyone is allowed to create a new district for white people to pick and choose its students.”

Click here for MDUSD statement on State Board ruling

Had the group’s petition been approved by the State Board the next step would have been a public vote to approve the new district. There was some controversary as to whether that vote would be among all the people in the large MDUSD or just voters within the proposed new district’s boundaries.

Northgate Community Advocacy for our Public Schools filed their petition in 2017 to the CCCCOE requesting to split off the Northgate High School feeder area from MDSUD that currently serves about 29,000 students.

A group tried a similar failed effort in 2008. At that time the proposal was to have four Walnut Creek elementary and middle schools in MDSUD join the Walnut Creek School District and Northgate become part of the Acalanes Union High School District.

Northgate CAPS said its goal is “to create a new, smaller public school district that would be more responsive, more accountable and more transparent to the specific needs of our community’s students, teachers, and families.” The smaller school district would be composed of families from the Northgate High feeder pattern, including the Walnut Creek Northgate area and the Lime Ridge, Walnut Country and Crystal Ranch neighborhoods in Concord.

Those areas are served in MDUSD by Foothill Middle School and Bancroft, Valle Verde and Walnut Acres elementary schools, all located in Walnut Creek.

Opponents to this proposed district pointed to the racial composition of those school’s 3700 students compared to the rest of MDUSD. The five schools are 51% white and 16% Latino or Hispanic. In contrast, all other District schools are less than 30% white and 45% Latino or Hispanic.

Mitchoff appalled by the petitioners

County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said in a statement to the State Board of Education in opposition to the petition, “I am the County Supervisor who represents District IV in Contra Costa County. I am also a product of this school district having attended grade, middle and high school in Pleasant Hill.

“I recall when Northgate High School was built and know many of my teachers moved to the new school once it opened. I have long been opposed, and frankly appalled by the elitism shown by those who support this application, to carving out a special area from the MDUSD.

Mitchoff, who did not seek reelection this year, added, “I met with some of the proponents several years ago and let them know it was not the right thing to do and affected more than the students within the area proposed for this ‘new’ school district. The stated reasons by those seeking this are spurious at best and downright mean at worst.”

State education staff urged rejection of new district

MDUSD pointed out that its position is “bolstered by the California Department of Education staff recommendation that the State Board deny the petition because it fails to meet the conditions legally required to allow such a division of the District.”

The District staff report says that an inequitable division of property and facilities of the original district would take place. “In addition to failing to meet all of the minimum conditions for approval, the CDE did not find any compelling local educational needs or concerns that would be addressed by the unification proposal. Further, the proposed unification would remove the most affluent area of the MDSUD in order to create a smaller, less diverse, more affluent school district.”

The proposed new district would not include Eagle Peak Montessori, an MDUSD approved charter school within the proposed district, or Oak Grove Middle and Ygnacio Valley High schools, which are located within the new district’s proposed boundaries, but serve students who live outside of its boundaries.

The Mt. Diablo Education Association teachers’ union and Teamsters Union each passed resolutions in opposition to the petition.

MDUSD Board Member Cherise Khaund

MDUSD Board Member Cherise Khaund, who represents the Northgate area of the District and is the parent of two District students, added “I agree with the California Department of Education recommendation that the State Board of Education should disapprove the petition to form a new Northgate school district, and with their concerns about how this proposal would remove the most affluent area of the Mt. Diablo USD to create a less diverse school district.

“The diversity of Mt. Diablo school district is one of the things that drew us to enroll our children here, along with excellent programs such as Dual Language Immersion, International Baccalaureate and Autism magnet programs. I don’t want my own or other Northgate area students to lose access to all of this.”

Jay Bedecarré
Jay Bedecarré
Sports and Schools Editor at The Concord Clayton Pioneer | | Website

Jay Bedecarré is a long-time resident and writer in Concord and Clayton. He began his newspaper writing career while still a senior at Mt. Diablo High School and he has been part of The Pioneer since its inception in 2003. Jay also operates Bay Area Festivals, presenting events around the San Francisco Bay Area including Bay Area KidFest annually in Downtown Concord.