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Which school district would Measure C support?

By Theresa Harrington
Tuesday, June 1st, 2010 at 8:33 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek.

Measure C Walnut Creek schools mailer

Measure C Walnut Creek schools mailer

By Theresa Harrington
If you’re a registered voter who lives on the Ygnacio Valley side of Walnut Creek, you’ve probably received three mailers from the “Yes on Measure C” campaign urging you to support local schools.
But Walnut Creek resident Don Huggins noticed something rather unusual about these mailers: the name of the school district that would benefit from the measure is missing.
One, called “Where it Counts,” shows Ygnacio Valley and Northgate high schools on a map of Walnut Creek on one side, with Walnut Creek Councilman Kish Rajan and three other prominent city residents endorsing the measure on the other side.
Another mailer, entitled “Cutting Edge Tools for Local Students,” features a Foothill Middle School science teacher and former councilman Charlie Abrams (who is identified only as a professional engineer) lending their support to the measure.
The third, called “Rainy Days and Mondays,” says that leaky roofs, broken windows and old wiring “top the list of repairs needed at our neighborhood elementary, middle and high schools.”
The return address is “Yes on C” or www.protectourlocalschoos.org. The mailers are paid for by United for Excellent Schools.
Huggins wondered why the campaign left off any mention of the Mt. Diablo school district (except for endorsements from the Mt. Diablo Education Association and United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation).
So, he wrote the following letter to the City Council and sent a copy to me:

“Honorable Mayor and City Council Members, City of Walnut Creek
(Please distribute to all Council members.)

I recently received a flyer supporting Measure C that makes no mention of the Mt Diablo Unified School District — obviously an intentional omission that is deceptive and shameful.

The reason I’m addressing this to you is that the flyer appears to be all about Walnut Creek and its schools; contains photos and quotes from Gwen Regalia and Kish Rajan; has the endorsement of the WC City Council as well as its individual members; identifies certain schools in a sketch labelled WALNUT CREEK; and concludes with ‘Make Your Vote Count for Walnut Creek Schools.’

It would appear that the preparers (and supporters?) of this flyer decided to deceive voters into thinking that they were voting for only Walnut Creek schools and not for the entire MDUS District, which includes many other schools. Is this because of the relatively poor academic reputation of the MDUSD? It’s unexcusable.

What say you? (I’d appreciate your response.)
–Don Huggins”

Since Rajan is a member of the campaign committee, I forwarded my copy of the letter to him and asked if he helped prepare the mailers. I also asked for a response to Huggins’ assertions that the omission of the Mt. Diablo school district’s name was deceptive. Here’s Rajan’s response to me:

“Theresa – I am glad you got the Cutting Edge mailer. We are pleased to have so many leaders from Walnut Creek in education, city government, business, community orgs, parents, etc. that understand how critically important it is pass Measure C so we can better prepare our kids to compete in today’s economy. We wanted Walnut Creek voters to be informed of the breadth of Measure C’s support among their neighbors and community leaders.
Thanks
K
Kish Rajan”

When I asked if the council intended to respond directly to Huggins, Rajan responded: “Sure. I dont speak for the Council. But if Mr. Huggins were to contact me – I would refer answer him with the statement I gave you.”

I forwarded Rajan’s response to Huggins and asked for his reaction. Here’s what Huggins wrote in an e-mail to me:

“Theresa –

First, thanks for forwarding to me Mr Rajan’s response.

What do I think? I choke, then chuckle in an effort to keep calm.

It’s crystal clear. Kish just repeats what the mailers say and, like so many politicians, totally avoids the specific/hard questions that can’t be ‘spun’ sufficiently to defend the questionable actions. By avoiding the questions, he’s telling us that if you believe in the goal (which apparently he does), any means to get there is totally acceptable. To me, his response turns a minor issue into a larger one. You can forward my reply to him if you wish.

Theresa, these are the same city officials that got so stirred up crying ‘foul’ over the opposition to the Neiman Marcus project. Remember?

I’m fed up with national, state and local politics.

Up to you. You could ask him ‘What about the specific questions on process?’ Or I could. But is it worth it?
–Don Huggins”

I forwarded Huggins’ reaction to Rajan and haven’t heard back.

Do you think the Walnut Creek mailers should have mentioned that Measure C would benefit the Mt. Diablo school district?

What about solar projects or air conditioning, which also weren’t mentioned, although they are expected to account for more than half of the $202.2 million in facilities improvements? Nearly $69 million is earmarked for solar projects and $41.6 million is for air conditioning, totaling $110.5 million.

Items highlighted in the mailers included new facilities (which would cost $28.6 million), technology (which is slated for $20 million), roofs ($9.8 million) and windows ($1.6 million).

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  • “NO” Voter & Parent

    Back in November the district commissioned a poll to gauge the MDUSD community’s support of another parcel tax effort. The most revealing information in that poll was the community’s lack of trust in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. 71% of voters and 81% of district parents did not trust the financial management of the district. The vast majority did not approve of the job of the board. And a majority did not believe the children in this district were receiving a quality education. The board and the administration refuse to acknowledge and work to change this fact and instead have chosen to foist upon this community an irresponsible, unplanned, and deceptive bond measure and bond campaign.

    We, as voters, community members, and parents continue to ask questions about this campaign and more specifically about this bond measure. The questions are out there, you can find them here and on a handful of local blogs that are covering this issue.

    The response from Councilman Rajan does not surprise me. This campaign is all about spin. What is instructional technology and what are science clusters? “Protect advanced class offerings.” How? “Support career and high-tech education in fields like engineering, computer programming, electronics, and biotech.” What? These classes aren’t offered at my child’s school. There is no additional money to cover class sections for these types of electives. What are they implying and what will they deliver?

    My neighborhood school project list calls for new exterior doors and hardware, security, and solar panels but those projects have already been completed. Will they just check those off our list and say done?

    What this bond is really about is the solar. Why can’t we get answers regarding the most costly of all items on the list? Why isn’t there a financial analysis that shows revenue, maintenance and operation expenses, a time line, and a return on investment (ROI)? While this district thinks they are creating the income stream of the century they are forgetting that this community is their financial partner and deserves some answers. When money for education is at a premium the voters, community members, and parents have a right to know how their dollars are being invested in their children’s education.

    For Councilman Rajan to sidestep the question posed to him by Mr. Huggins is not surprising, it is just one more example of campaign spin. Given the unfavorable polling results for MDUSD I don’t doubt for a second that the omission of the district name was entirely done on purpose.

  • Doctor J

    “Deception” “bait and switch” — common themes of the MDUSD Board and their supporters.

    Since the Measure C campaign started out with 55% of the voters in favor, I wonder who will resign when the measure fails ? Who will take responsibility ?

  • Sherry Whitmarsh

    The board does not review the campaign material. It is done CUES which consists of parents and community members. When looking at messaging for a variety of different stakeholder groups, behavioral change management supports telling each group what the advantage is for their area. Walnut Creek, Pittsburg, Bay Point, Pleasant Hill, Clayton, Concord have different needs.

  • Disappointed Parent

    The Superintendent, Linda Mayo, and Paul Strange are all members of the CUES committee.

  • Doctor J

    Sherry, why are you asking for money for schools that will be closed ? Board members are reviewing the campaign materials. Board members are reviewing and input into the project list. Are you one of them ?

  • Don Huggins

    So Sherry Whitmarsh and “behavioral change management” believe that each of the six cities listed by her in the Mt Diablo Unified School District should mislead their local residents by not mentioning the MDUSD and focusing only on their local schools in their promotional literature? So much for behavioral change management; I’ll go with the simple logic of telling it the way it is. The practice is particularly questionable in Walnut Creek because it has schools not only in MDUSD but also in the Walnut Creek School District and the Acalanes School District, and both of those have recently passed school bonds.

  • Sherry Whitmarsh

    I have not been asked to review any campaign material or input into the project list. I did not disagree with the approach CUES has taken, I was just stating that it is not something the entire board reviews because of the Brown Act.

  • Doctor J

    So Sherry, any schools that will be closed, will their allocated bond money then not be spent ? orwill it be diverted to “other projects” at the discretion of the Board ?

  • Doctor J

    When will CC Times editorial board take its position on Measure C ? Has MDUSD produced the records yet ? Aren’t they due ?

  • Sherry Whitmarsh

    A proposal for funds that were to be used at schools to be closed has not yet been provided since I don’t know which schools will be closed.

    My preference would be that once the board votes on the community recommended school closures which is currently scheduled for November, that the funds that would not be used would be allocated to the other schools.

  • tharrington

    I do not know when the CCT editorial board will take a position on Measure C. The board makes its decision independently.
    No, the district hasn’t produced the records yet. I believe the 10 days are up tomorrow.
    Regarding board approval of the project list, the board did approve a detailed 2002 project list, which was included in the ballot materials. This time around, Pete Pedersen said it will be up to the board to decide on priorities based on the 2010 Measure C projects list he has compiled.
    Regarding closed schools, Superintendent Steven Lawrence told me the district could install solar facilities on closed campuses.

  • Doctor J

    It will be a headline story if MDUSD doesn’t produce the complete records tomorrow. Just what the voters want to hear — MDUSD concealing records.

  • Doctor J

    How convenient to vote on school closures after the November election. School consolidation for year 10/11 could save the district millions immediately. Its pretty clear the Board doesn’t want to be locked into specific projects for the Bond and the Bond project list is clearly erroneous as some of the listed projects have already been completed. Is the Board going to take some of the bond money and reimburse the district general fund for projects already completed ? Ingeniously deceptive, if so.

  • Don Huggins

    I hope my tax dollars aren’t going to fund the teaching of ‘behavioral change management’ if it teaches deception by withholding critical information.
    The flyers could have said that Measure C is for the entire Mt Diablo School District and THEN proceed to focus on the benefits to the particular local schools.
    Should we conclude that Walnut Creek does not want to be associated with the rest of the MDUSD?

  • Don Huggins

    Today I received still another full-color “Yes on C” mailer (the fifth), this one 4 pages and titled “ONE THING Sacramento can’t take away…”. On the back the list of supporters is headed by “WE SUPPORT WALNUT CREEK SCHOOLS”. Once again, no mention of the Mt Diablo Unified School District. I’m not commenting on the merits of the measure; I’m just questioning the process in Walnut Creek. In fact, by not mentioning MDUSD they are passing up a strong argument in favor of the measure, and that is that improving the MDUSD reputation would increase property values in the district.

  • Doctor J

    I wonder if taxpayer dollars are paying for the Supt at the Disneyland Hotel tonight for him to receive the two Distinguished School awards from Jack O’Connell while he has SIX habitually underperforming schools and maybe SEVEN more for next year ? How many nights ? Do taxpayer dollars pay for his spouse too ? Last weekend of the Measure C Campaign and he is at Disneyland. Reminds me of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

  • Trapped in MDUSD

    The Measure C campaign has been characterized by casual disregard for details, if not downright deception, from the very beginning. We know that our local schools do not have a sustainable source of adequate funding. But this Measure C is a sad and irresponsible way to correct that problem. From my conversations with other MDUSD parents like myself, it is clear that most are not aware of the following: 1) how unusually long the term of this bond is, and how the delayed pay-down of principal drastically inflates the interest cost to become a multiple of actual upfront proceeds; 2) what the bond will actually fund and how that ever-changing list appears to disregard all of the years of feedback from local site councils; 3) that the useful lives of the items funded by the bond will fall woefully short of the term of this bond, requiring current parents, current students, and even THEIR children to pay for these “improvements” for many years after they have been discarded, in violation of every rule of prudent capital financing; 4) why, even though we could not get a parcel tax approved with “only” 60% of the vote (a campaign that received almost no support or coordination from the district leadership) we are somehow able to generate continuous glossy mailings and lobbying for this bond fiasco. (Who, besides the construction unions and the Wall St. bond underwriters, is so eager for this thing to pass that they will donate that kind of money?)

    Here is what inquiring minds would like to know: How many school districts in the US try to issue bonds with a 40+ year life and 20+ years of deferred principal repayments? What interest rates do investors expect for such unusual instruments (particularly in financially-stressed states like CA)? If those rates are higher than expected, how does MDUSD keep the payments under the existing bond service caps? By reducing the principal borrowed and the funds available for our students? Has anyone even thought about this scenario? As the district continues to lose students (businesses would call it declining market share), how small will MDUSD be in 30 or 40 years? With school choice finally coming to this part of CC County in the form of charter schools (which MDUSD has consistently opposed), how will taxpayers feel about living in a district that wants them to pay for “improvements” that were obsolete decades before?

  • Doctor J

    MDUSD Board brought us raises for the Gang of Five while laying off teachers and NOW bring us Diablogate coverup of the truth about Measure C. All we want is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.