The Sausalito Segregators
I allege that the following people have been “knowingly and willingly” segregating Sausalito’s schools, and may be guilty of conflict of interest felonies:
Sausalito Mayor Susan Cleveland-Knowles and her husband Jeff Knowles, who has served on the Willow Creek Academy school board since 2010
Sausalito City Councilmen Joe Burns and Tom Reilly, who have pushed for slower desegregation
Current and former Willow Creek Academy/ Sausalito Marin School District Board members Kurt Weinsheimer, Marijke Smit, Josh Barrow, Jim Henry, Caroline Van Alst, Thomas Newmeyer, Emily Cox, and Clark Warden
And finally, current Sausalito school board candidate Jennifer Conway, who publicly defended WCA when the segregation came to light.
All of these people are at least tangentially related to the segregation of schools in Sausalito, or have defended Willow Creek and delayed desegregation. They are still holding “unification” meetings (a rebranding of the term “desegregation”) and the pro-charter school members have successfully delayed full desegregation until July 2021. It’s true that the segregators technically have five years to fulfill the AG’s order, but let’s face it: regardless of what the numbers say, the best day to desegregate is yesterday.
My personal theory is that the delaying of desegregation and legal retaliations are to cover up other conflict of interest charges that could be levied against some or most of the people listed above, if not many others and their respective financial holdings. I theorize this because a number of the people listed above worked with this man, Steve Van Zant (no relation), aka the Charter King. He was superintendent of the district from 2013–2016, during which time he was likely responsible for a lot of the financial gutting of Bayside MLK to Willow Creek. In 2016 he was found guilty of a felony conflict of interest at another charter school he helped start, but only served 30 days home confinement.
When he was found guilty the Willow Creek Academy School Board immediately began having closed sessions with legal council, as evidenced by their board minutes, available here. After that they began filing numerous punitive lawsuits against the whistleblowers who had alerted the attorney general of their wrongdoing. It remains unclear how much of the cost of those lawsuits was and still is being covered by tax payer money, although the raising of property taxes in proposed measure P on this years ballot makes me think someone’s in the red somewhere.
Here’s the full timeline that I made of their probable knowledge of or participating in segregation, based on the podcast United States of Anxiety, news articles, FCMAT reports and WCA board meeting minutes:
2000 The city of Sausalito buys the MLK campus on Nevada Street and MLK, the district’s public school, moves to Marin City
2001 Willow Creek Academy charter school is founded on that campus
2007 Willow Creek Academy school board and Sausalito Marin City School District have apparently been alerted to the potential for segregation
2009 WCA adds a conflict of interest amendment to its charter
2010 Jeff Knowles joins the WCA Board
2011 The Sausalito Marin City School District hires the Foundation Study Group, who report that the district is already segregated and the charter school is making it worse. They go ahead anyway. Present are Thomas Newmeyer, William Ziegler, Mark Trotter, Shirley Thornton, Karen Benjamin, and Valerie Pitts
2012 Caroline Van Alst and Josh Barrow are now on the Sausalito Marin City School District Board of Trustees. The annual financial audit of WCA flagged a potential for fraud at the charter school that same year.
2013 DOJ investigation finds that “the District intentionally established a racially and ethnically segregated elementary and middle school, Bayside MLK”. The Board district included: Valerie Pitts, Ed.D., Thomas Newmeyer, Karen Benjamin, Joshua Barrow, Shirley Thornton, Ed.D. And William J. Ziegler. Portables costing an estimated $5.6 million are finally built for Bayside MLK
Aug 2013 Convicted felon Steve Van Zant reports to the WCA board that there is nothing wrong with the budget, but…
Nov 2013 A new conflict of interest code is added to the WCA charter. Present are: Mr. [Orlando] Lobo, Mr. [Frank “Clark”] Warden, Mr. Lloyd, Mr. [Kurt] Weinsheimer, Ms. Krenek, Mr. [Jeff] Knowles, Mr. Hayashi Absent: Mr. Kerr, Mr. Greene, Mr. Logan Guests: Ms. Newmeyer, Ms. [Caroline] Van Alst Staff: Mr. Conner, Ms. [Tara] Seekins
2014–2015 The annual audit of WCA flagged disproportionate discipline of BIPOC students at the charter school. WCA amends its charter to include fancy tolerance language and forms an equity committee. At this time the WCA board members being alerted to racism in their charter school are: Ms. Broadfoot, Ms. Headington, Mr. [Jim] Henry, Mr. [Jeff] Knowles, Ms. Krenek, Mr. [Orlando] Lobo, Mr. [Clark] Warden, Mr. [Kurt] Weinsheimer, Mr. Hayashi, Mr. Kerr, Ms. Lang, Mr. Conner, Ms. Seekins
January 2016 Steve Van Zant is charged with felony conflicts of interest. The WCA board says he’s “on personal leave” and watch a presentation on restorative justice. Present are: Ms. Headington, Mr. Knowles, Ms. Krenek, Ms. Smit, Mr. Warden, Mr. Weinsheimer Absent: Ms. Broadfoot, Mr. Henry, Mr. Kerr, Mr. Lobo Guests: Staff: Mr. Conner, Ms. Seekins
Feb 2016 Steve Van Zant pleads guilty to felony conflict of interest charges and faces up to three years in prison
April 2016 Steve Van Zant’s sentenced to only 30 days of home confinement
July 2016 Jeff Knowles writes an op-Ed piece in which he paints WCA as the victim of “anti-charter viewpoints” and claims to serve a diverse student population
Aug 2016 Annual audit says that WCA is in danger of committing defacto segregation and civil rights violations. The audit also states that WCA leaders admitted to “exercising significant control over most of Sausalito’s government”. It went on to say that local elected representatives showed a clear bias for the charter school over the district’s public school, Bayside MLK, with an excess between $1–1.9 million going to Willow Creek, an alleged non-profit. The audit found that WCA wasn’t paying rent, facility costs, utilities, or grounds upkeep, and that the school model did not have fiscal viability.
Sept 2016 The WCA board decides to make their own financial report, led by Clark Warden and approved by Jeff Knowles. Merijke Smit, Kurt Weinsheimer, and Clark Warden agree to publicly respond to the official FCMAT audit in defense of WCA. Present are: Present: Ms. Addae, Ms. Headington, Mr. Henry, Mr. Knowles, Ms. Smit, Mr. Warden, Mr. Weinsheimer Absent: Ms. Broadfoot Guests: Mr. Barrow, Supt. McCoy, Ms. Newmeyer, Ms. Van Alst Staff: Ms. Seekins, Mr. Cross
Oct 2016 Jeff Knowles once again pens an op-Ed in the IJ, attacking superintendent Mary Jane Burke and claiming that WCA is diverse. He accuses the official audit of using bad math, but fails to mention himself that his “diverse student population” suffers exponentially more disciplinary action than the white student population
Nov 2016 Caroline Van Alst gives the board a presentation on the Brown Act- the case that first desegregated schools
Dec 2016 Kurt Weinsheimer thanks everyone for their “strategic offsite meeting” in their WCA board meeting, but doesn’t mention what it was about
March-July 2017 The WCA board is in closed sessions with legal counsel
Aug 2017 Clark Warden and Jim Henry mention at the WCA board meeting that they met with Amy Prescott and discussed using property taxes to cover charter school expenses
Sept 2017 At another WCA board meeting, Kurt brings up the redevelopment of the Golden Gate Village housing in Marin City. (Locals theorize that there’s an attempted land grab and possible falsified safety reports regarding GGV as part of a long-term plan of gentrification)
Jan 2018 Jim Henry says in an IJ interview that the official state audit was “unqualified”. The same article notes that Thomas Newmeyer and Caroline Van Alst were regularly recusing themselves citing possible conflicts of interest. Sausalito Marin City School District board member Josh Barrow says he will continue to attend board meetings because he doesn’t believe there is a conflict of interest.
April 2018 WCA files a lawsuit against Mary Jane Burke and the SMCSD. When asked at their board meeting where they got the money to pay for the lawsuit, the WCA board claimed they “filed to get more money for public schools from the state”. They then closed the session for more legal council. Present are Motion Dr. Vander Molen, Ms. Alexis — Addae, Mr. Weinsheimer, Mr. Henry, Ms. Smit, Mr. Knowles, Ms. Peck, Mr. Warden Absent: Ms. Mussallem
June 2018 Trustee Caroline Van Alst raises concerns of her own conflicts of interest in an SMCSD meeting
Oct 2018 Terena Mares is quoted in the IJ estimating $1 million had been siphoned from Bayside MLK to WCA. Jennifer Conway defends WCA in the same article, suggesting instead that the state simply changes the way student funding is handed out.
Dec 2018 California State Attorney General Xavier Bacerra issues a warning letter to the SMCSD citing all previous accusations of segregation. Sitting on the board are Barrow, Green, Newmeyer, Turner, Van Alst, interim superintendent Will McCoy, and deputy superintendent of the Marin County Office of Education Terena Mares
March 2019 Josh Barrow goes on leave due to possible conflicts of interest
May 2019 SMCSD Board member Shirley Thornton is quoted saying “Kurt never protester when WCA-leaning district board members systematically voted to slash staff at Bayside MLK
June 2019 Josh Barrow returns after six months of recusal while a state panel looked over possible conflict of interest charges on him
Aug 2019 The California AG gives his official desegregation order. White flight from the charter school begins, as do public racist comments, according to locals
Sept 2019 Desegregation town hall meetings begin but the WCA board is in closed sessions with legal counsel still
Dec 2019 Terena Mares speaks at a desegregation meeting, calling her last four years in Sausalito “tragic and disturbing at a level I will never forget, relative to the severe neglect and abuse of a public school system meant to serve some of the most vulnerable citizens in Marin”. That same month the City of Sausalito files an amicus brief in support of Willow Creek Academy, possibly with tax payer money
April 2020 Mayor Susan Cleveland-Knowles claims that she and city council cannot help provide covid relief to Marin City or push the desegregation of schools
June 2020 The Sausalito city council, led by Mayor Susan Cleveland-Knowles, holds a “commitment to Black Lives Matter” special session
The Sausalito Segregators need to be held accountable for their deliberate, racist actions; not only their actions of the past, which they have yet to even admit to, and are still in open litigation in defense of themselves, but also for their present actions. There is no earthly reason to delay desegregation until July 2021, but that’s what these people have already accomplished in their “unification” meetings.
Sausalito and Marin residents need to fight against these people and the racist laws that protect them with everything we have. As local mother, educator and poet Amber Allen Pierson says, “Marin County is ripe for change”; meaningful, lasting, legal change that will insure that this type of egregious crime against children never goes unpunished again.
In that respect I’d like to remind us all to vote, especially locally. I am not affiliated with any of their campaigns, but I believe they will help to correct the wrong that was done to these kids.
The kids are owed everything.
As a registered Sausalito voter I’m personally voting for Lisa Bennett and Alena Maunder for SMCSD school board and Melissa Blaustein and Janelle Kellman for Sausalito city council.
And on a final note for any non-voters or victims of redlining, please keep in mind the power of labor movements. Collective action is a proven strategy to create quick change peacefully. If I’m correct and these people were involved in “knowingly and willfully” segregating Sausalito’s schools, we need to protest and boycott everything they own. Until then-
Let’s get this vote!