Councilmember criticizes proposal to exclude students from Richmond Promise

Council votes to include charter and private schools in Richmond Promise, sets award amount

The current proposal to exclude Richmond residents who attend charter schools from the $35 million Richmond Promise college scholarship program (CC Times article here) has angered community members who said the program was supposed to include all public school students who reside in the city. In the opinion piece below, Councilmember Nat Bates expressed his disappointment about the exclusions after receiving a letter from an upset Richmond parent who also teaches at a charter school in the city. While funding for Richmond Promise comes from a community benefits agreement linked to Chevron’s upcoming $1 billion modernization of its Richmond Refinery, the company has no representatives on the committee deciding how to roll out the program.

By Councilmember Nat Bates (in response to the Richmond parent/teacher),

Thanks very much for your very thoughtful and insightful email regarding the Chevron mitigation Richmond Promise Scholarship $35 million program.

When the council voted to approve the Chevron Modernization Project last year, (Bates, Booze, Butt, Myrick & Rogers voting yes with Beckles and McLaughlin abstaining), my vote regarding the mitigation funds was predicated upon all qualified high school graduating students being eligible for funding.

Mayor Tom Butt, Vice Mayor Jael Myrick and Shasa Curl, representing city manager, Bill Lindsay took it upon themselves to handpick certain members from the community along with themselves to draft a 69-page recommended course of action. This committee was not approved by the council nor were other council members or the public requested to provide input prior to the drafted proposal. The council and public only learned of the proposed guidelines through a presentation a few weeks ago. When questioned as to where was the community input, the answer was “we will have public input later.” As a result of inquiries from council members and a few from the public, two public meetings have been scheduled for Monday, June 8 at the Richmond Auditorium and Thursday, June 18 at DeJean Middle School with both events being held from 6-8 p.m.

As an elected official and professional, if one is serious about community involvement, my experience has been to gather pertinent information prior to a draft being presented rather than afterwards. In doing so, one hopefully would come forward with a consensus with less opposition because most viewpoints would have been discussed in detail. Six to eight members of a committee regardless of how intelligent they may or may not be, cannot speak for a community of 107,000 people. Equally important, not one high school graduating student, those mostly affected by the program were included in the proposed draft to my knowledge.

My recent discussions with Chevron’s leadership indicate that at no time have they indicated a desire to exclude any graduating student from the program. This decision was made by the mayor, vice mayor and selected WCCUSD school board representatives on the committee. Interestingly, although charter schools represent a large population in Richmond, not one of their representative were included on the committee. Furthermore, not only were charter schools students excluded, so were labor union trade schools. We know that not every graduating student will attend college for various reasons but those not attending college can learn a craft or trade sponsored by labor unions that will sustain them in life. Is it not the purpose of the program to assist graduating students in becoming successful in life, be it as a college graduate or productive citizen in our community?

Finally, it is embarrassing and most interesting that a gift of $35 million scholarship fund from Chevron would cause such division in our community. It is not taxpayer monies, yet some treat it as if it is their personal funds which reminds me of a rich uncle or aunt who dies. Although they have a will and living trust, relatives comes from out of nowhere trying to get something for nothing.

As I indicated in my earlier statement, my vote to approve the Chevron Mitigation Project was and continue to be predicated on ALL of Richmond’s graduating students being treated fairly and equal regardless what school they attended. To that end, I continue to stand firmly committed without equivocation and will vote for the Richmond Promise Scholarship program only if it includes all of Richmond’s graduating students.

Nat Bates