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SCHOOLS: Algebra Exam Gets an F, Teachers’ Contract Gets an A

By Jackie Burrell
Friday, December 19th, 2008 at 5:22 pm in Schools.

School signBig news out of West Contra Costa where trustees announced a tentative school closures list that includes 13 campuses – 10 elementaries, Kennedy High and Adams Middle in Richmond and Portola Middle in El Cerrito. About half are expected to make the final list and odds are on Kennedy High and El Sobrante and Coronado elementaries being among them, says schools reporter Kimberly Wetzel in this morning’s paper. As expected, the news did not go over well – hundreds of Kennedy High students marched in protest this morning – but the district is faced with an enormous budget shortfall, and closing eight, underenrolled schools could save $3.4 million. The chances of a happy ending to this story are slim.

Meanwhile in East County, shocked school officials and parents just received word that their state construction grants have been frozen. That $20 million was supposed to help revamp Pittsburg High, replace aging portables, and renovate schools in Brentwood as well. This story has more details.

In considerably happier news, after 16 months of negotiating,

Mt. Diablo teachers have voted to approve a new contract that includes no pay raises, but provides cash to help teachers pay for medical benefits. The contract still has to be approved by the school board, but it provides $3 million in 2009 and $3.3 million in 2010 for health benefits – a sore topic in this massive district, where teachers opted to take higher salaries in lieu of health benefits back in 2000. What may have seemed like a good idea at the time quickly became a nightmare for many teachers as the cost of benefits soared. Board president Gary Eberhart called the new settlement “a monumental thing” that deserves ratification as quickly as possible.

And if you were fretting about your eighth grader having to take a state-mandated algebra exam this year, you can relax a little. Sacramento County Judge Shelleyanne Chang issued a tentative ruling today saying she plans to block the controversial Algebra I exams mandated by the state board of education. This one’s a political tempest in a crayon box. Ready for the explanation? The state board, which is appointed by the governor, suddenly and dramatically mandated this test over the vehement opposition of the California schools boards association – an organization comprised of elected, local school board trustees from across the state – as well as the elected state superintendent of public instruction, the California teachers union and the statewide association of school administrators. State schools chief Jack O’Connell applauded the judge’s ruling, calling the state board’s decision to require the exam “This major shift in state policy, made without adequate notice or opportunity for public hearing (and) a recipe for disaster particularly now that our schools are facing the prospect of severe midyear budget cuts.” O’Connell believes schools need smaller math classes and a better system for recruiting and training middle school algebra teachers before children undergo high stakes exams. “We cannot just tell our students and teachers the end goal,” O’Connell said, “and simply expect them to get there on their own.”

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