Area 1 of the Alameda County Board of Education (shaded in orange) encompass most of Berkeley. Area 3 (in red) includes the Claremont Hills and is not on the ballot this year. Screenshot courtesy of ACOE website Credit: Screenshot courtesy ACOE website

Just like the county superintendent, members of the Alameda County Board of Education are elected every four years. There are seven trustees on the board, and two of them represent Berkeley. This year, the Area 1 seat — which covers most of the city — is up for election and it’s held by an incumbent, Joaquín Rivera, who is running unopposed.

Although the race won’t be on the June 7 primary ballot, Rivera’s role, and that of other board members, should not be ignored. Decisions made by the county school board, such as approving charter school petitions and expansions, and approving or denying inter-district transfers, have a direct impact on Berkeley students and families. 

Read on to learn more about Rivera and the Alameda County Board of Education. Berkeleyside also has explainers on the role of the entire Alameda County Office of Education, and the candidates running this year for county superintendent

Declining enrollment and charter school growth are core issues for Rivera

Rivera, who has represented Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, and parts of North and West Oakland for more than a decade, said this upcoming term, his fourth, will be his last. A college professor of 32 years, Rivera was first elected to the Alameda County Board of Education in 2010, after serving for 12 years on the Berkeley Unified School Board. 

Over the next four years, Rivera said he plans to continue strengthening the programs that the county school board oversees, and doing what he can to see that charter schools don’t negatively impact local district-run schools. 

“The work is never done,” said Rivera, who currently teaches chemistry at Skyline College in San Bruno. “I can still contribute and support the districts that I represent.”

Joaquín Rivera has represented Area 1 on the Alameda County Board of Education since 2010. Courtesy: Joaquín Rivera

The board’s main role is to oversee county-run schools, which include court schools, alternative schools for expelled students and pregnant or parenting students, and Opportunity Academy, a charter school for young adults who’ve aged out of traditional high schools but are still pursuing a diploma. 

Speaking about Opportunity Academy, Rivera said enrollment there has dipped during the pandemic, as it has at many schools. “But I would like to see this program continue to grow because there are a lot of young adults in the county who do not have high school diplomas.” Rivera said. “This program will allow them to get those and improve their educational opportunities.”

Opportunity Academy was previously Civicorps Academy, an adult education charter school in West Oakland. Last year, Alameda County took over the charter, and the school is now one of six adult school campuses that ACOE operates.

The board also decides expulsion and inter-district transfer appeals, and approves charter schools that have been denied by local school districts. 

“Oakland and everyone should be paying close attention to what the county board is doing to make sure that decisions that are made at the local level are respected at the county board level,” Rivera said.

Earlier this year, the Oakland Unified School District board and the Alameda County school board clashed over the location of Yu Ming Charter School, a bilingual Mandarin K-8 school with multiple campuses in Oakland. As the school’s authorizer, Alameda County granted a request by Yu Ming last year to increase its enrollment by 365 students over four years. To accommodate the growth, Yu Ming also requested an expansion to a new school site in San Leandro. But the county board in February denied the move, citing the impact it could have on surrounding district schools in Hayward and San Lorenzo. 

Without the San Leandro option, Yu Ming turned to requesting additional space at an OUSD school, something local school board members opposed but were legally required to accommodate. But after the OUSD board asked the county to reconsider, the trustees reversed their decision and approved Yu Ming’s move to San Leandro. Rivera, who initially voted against Yu Ming’s relocation, reversed his vote. 

“Oakland is in financial distress, they are very close to being taken over by the state, they’re closing schools. I cannot allow this school to grow in Oakland and take away more Oakland students,” Rivera said during the April 12 meeting. “When Oakland asked for reconsideration, I thought about it long and hard, and it was not an easy decision. But for me, it was the right decision.”

Rivera said that one of his goals in his final term is to protect school districts from the proliferation of charter schools. 

“In Oakland, there are way too many charter schools that are affecting enrollment in the school district and it has negative consequences for the school district,” he said. “There is a place for charter schools in the system. But we need to be careful about it.”

Rivera identified declining enrollment as one of the greatest challenges currently facing schools. Many school districts in California have been experiencing declines in recent years, and attendance rates have also fallen because of the pandemic. Since state education funding is based on attendance, districts could be receiving less money. 

Although the state funding formula isn’t something that the Alameda County school board can change, Rivera is in favor of tying funding to enrollment and not attendance. 

“If a kid is absent one day, you don’t get funding for that, but the school is still running, you still have a teacher, you still have electricity, you still have a lot of other expenses,” he said. 

In addition to Rivera (Area 1), there is one other board member who represents a sliver of Berkeley: Trustee Ken Berrick (Area 3) presides over parts of the Claremont Hills, in addition to Piedmont and parts of Oakland. Board members receive a monthly stipend of $963 per month. The board meets on the second Tuesday of each month and reserves the fourth Tuesday to meet as needed.

Berrick was elected in 2020 and will be up for reelection in 2024. Along with Rivera, Area 4 Trustee Aisha Knowles is also running unopposed this year, and Area 7 Trustee Yvonne Cerrato is stepping down, which means there will be an open race for her seat. Rivera will be retiring after this term, so in 2026, there will be an open race for the Area 1 seat.

Ashley McBride reports on education equity for The Oaklandside. She covered the 2019 OUSD teachers strike as a breaking news reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. More recently, she was an education...