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SCHOOL HEADLINES: Mt Diablo Fireworks, West Contra Closures

By Jackie Burrell
Friday, January 30th, 2009 at 4:06 pm in Schools.

Colored pencilsWell, this week sure whooshed past. Here are the big school headlines, in case you missed ‘em:
That peanut butter recall has impacted 162 California schools now, including 12 in Contra Costa and 9 in Alameda counties, where peanut butter cookie dough may have been tainted with salmonella – but no one has gotten sick.

Fireworks over in Mt. Diablo-land, where Superintendent Gary McHenry had recommended eliminating six vice principals as part of his budget cuts. Instead, the school board – with a new majority comprised of Gary Eberhart, Paul Strange and Sherry Whitmarsh – not only rejected that proposal, they told him to eliminate six directors or assistant directors from the previously Teflon-coated district office. And they cut his most trusted aide too. Reporter Theresa Harrington said it was “a visibly deflated superintendent” who left the board meeting, railing that the move was “somewhat vindictive and retaliatory and I’m going to see what action I can take to address it in whatever form is appropriate.” Um, “vindictive”? Really? Looks more like the board is trying to keep cuts as far away from children as possible, in a district that’s already faced year after year of painful cuts, teacher layoffs and jettisoned student programs. Now they’ve cut some $5.8 million from next year’s budget. That number needs to rise to $6.6 million … and those six district administration jobs alone will trim $600K.

It wasn’t all bad news for Mt D, though. Their afterschool nutrition-and-exercise program is being held up as a paragon of healthy virtue – and one that’s being emulated in other schools across the state. Follow the link to read more about a program that combines after school sports, gardening and cooking.

Meanwhile, West Contra Costa parents are irate over a new staff report, released yesterday, that specifies which of the schools on the possible closures list should be shuttered. Among them: El Sobrante and Olinda elementaries in El Sobrante; Castro Elementary in El Cerrito; Lake Elementary in San Pablo; Shannon Elementary in Pinole; and Nystrom Elementary, Adams Middle and Kennedy High in Richmond. Also, Gompers and North Campus high school continuation campuses, and the Serra and Alvarado adult education sites. But the district may not have a choice. It’s facing an $8 million deficit this year and $13.4 million next year, and county and state officials have already issued a warning that the district could be taken over – again – if they can’t get their finances in order. Long time Bay Area-ites may remember that the Richmond School District, same district, different name, was the first California district to be taken over by the state back in 1991.

In Valley finance news, Dublin school trustees scaled back plans this week that would have made graduation requirements more rigorous. Too expensive, they said. And San Ramon Valley school leaders are plunging forward with a new $144 parcel tax election slated for May. The new sum would replace an existing $90 parcel tax that expires in June.

And this one’s just bizarre. Some Martinez school staffers are upset over the timing of a school board decision to promote personnel director Rick Rubino to assistant superintendent in the midst of significant budget anxieties. Why odd? Because Rubino’s new salary represents a $219 pay cut. Granted, Rubino had topped out his previous pay scale, and the assistant supe job has a higher ceiling so some day, he’ll make more money, but we think it likelier that this is just a little steam-venting over stymied contract negotiations between the teachers union and the district.

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