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Archive for February, 2011

The legend of Larry Wang lives on

By Theresa Harrington

After the Contra Costa Times wrote a “Hometown Hero” story about former Sequoia Middle School student Larry Wang’s project teaching Sequoia Elementary students how to play instruments, I received a phone call from a producer at BYU who wanted to make a video about him.

Larry decided to take on this project after the Mt. Diablo school board cut fourth-grade music due to budget cuts. Since he had learned music in elementary school, he didn’t want new fourth-graders to miss out on the same experience.

His project was a resounding success! This year, fifth-grade music was eliminated due to budget cuts and Larry transferred into the Acalanes district, where he is a musician in the Acalanes HS band. But his legend lives on at the Sequoia schools in Pleasant Hill.

Do you know of other student “Hometown Heroes?”

Posted on Saturday, February 5th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

Trustees may ditch school closure recommendations

Glenbrook students and parents march to district office to protest school closure recommendation.

Glenbrook students and parents march to district office to protest school closure recommendation.

By Theresa Harrington

Despite what seemed like an exhaustive process to identify schools to close to save $1.5 million a year, Mt. Diablo district trustees may go back to the drawing board.

Here’s the memo Superinintendent Steven Lawrence sent out early this evening outlining the possible change in plans for Tuesday’s meeting:

“Mt. Diablo USD News Update
February 4, 2011

In 1980, the Mt. Diablo Unified School District went through the process of closing seven schools. This was a very difficult process for the community and school district. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a similar situation today.

Three factors caused the Board to have to make this difficult decision:

First, enrollment has declined by over 2500 students in the past nine years. This means that many of our sites are running below 80% capacity without class size reduction and will run slightly over 80% capacity even when class size reduction is re-instituted;
Second, the enrollment trend data that the School Closure Committee analyzed indicates birth trends in our area will continue to decline for the next several years. Therefore, the District’s enrollment projections continue to decline and we anticipate a loss of 1800 students over the next ten years; and
Third, the State budget crisis requires difficult cuts to educational and co-curricular programs that support academic and social growth. The cuts also require a significant reduction in the number of teachers, support staff, and administrators available to serve our children and families. Small neighborhood schools are valuable, but they are more expensive to operate. Currently, all our elementary schools have a principal, office manager, secretary, and a day custodian regardless of whether they serve 385 students or 850 students. Therefore, the cost of the non-teacher positions at small schools is much higher.

The data provided the School Closure Committee is posted on the district website at http://www.mdusd.org/Community/Pages/scac.aspx . It is a wealth of data and information that the School Closure Committee analyzed prior to developing its recommendations. We are committed to working hard to ensure that we minimize any negative impacts of school closures.

Over the past month, the Board has received and contemplated a considerable amount of information concerning the school closure process. They have also received a great deal of input from parents and community members through public comment and e-mails.

There will be an item on the February 8 Board meeting agenda for the purpose of allowing the Board the opportunity to:

Discuss whether an option should be considered that has not already been discussed. Though the Board wishes to honor the work of the committee, it is the Board’s responsibility to ensure that every option has been analyzed to minimize the impact to our students while achieving the $1.5M in expense reductions. If a viable new option is recommended, the Board will not take a formal vote to enact the new option. Instead, the Board would vote to give staff direction to analyze the new option to ensure that it is implementable and would meet the $1.5M targeted reduction. It would then be brought back to the Board as a future agenda item for the Board to receive information from staff, hear from the public, and potentially vote on;
Determine whether there is any consensus on removing any of the current options or schools under consideration. The current options are:
· Close Wren, Silverwood, and Glenbrook

· Close Holbrook, Silverwood, and Glenbrook

· Close Monte Gardens, Sequoia Elementary, and Sequoia Middle School

· Close either (Holbrook or Wren) and Glenbrook, consolidate two necessary small high schools Crossroads and TLC/Nueva Vista on either the Holbrook or Wren campus, and create a program for students currently in non-public school placements at Glenbrook that would save the district funding.

Determine whether there is consensus to move forward with an existing recommendation.

As a matter of process, the Board may choose to first begin its dialogue prior to public comment so that the public has an opportunity to understand where Board members are in their thought process around school closures. The Board would then hear public comment prior to continuing their dialogue and providing direction to staff.”

Are you surprised?

Posted on Friday, February 4th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 55 Comments »

Do California school districts spend funds efficiently?

Walnut Creek Intermediate teacher Brendan Hurd goes over a lesson with one of his students.
Walnut Creek Intermediate teacher Brendan Hurd goes over a lesson with one of his students.

By Theresa Harrington

Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to hold K-12 school funding hostage as an incentive for voters to pass temporary tax extensions in June has districts throughout the state bracing for the worst while hoping for the best.

Just hours before Brown gave his “State of the State” address on Monday — in which he said school funding would likely be cut if voters don’t agree to extend the taxes — researchers from Pepperdine University released a report that some have accused of implying that districts don’t need more money because they haven’t been spending it wisely.

“Within California, spending dropped by approximately $700 per student in just a two-year period, between 2006-07 and 2008-09 — a reduction of more than $4.6 billion (8.1 percent),” wrote the nonpartisian California Budget Project, in response to the report. “Recent budgets have depressed spending further, pushing class sizes larger and shortening the school year in many parts of the state. Despite these facts, researchers at Pepperdine University, in a study funded by the California Chamber of Commerce Educational Foundation, imply that California’s schools receive sufficient resources.”

Rick Pratt of the California School Board Association also blasted the report during an Education Coalition news conference Tuesday that pointed out how education funding cuts have hurt schools.

If voters don’t approve the tax extension, he said, K-12 education funding could suffer a $2 billion cut. The Legislative Analyst has also said that education funding has been shortchanged in recent years, he added.

“So, you’ve got the Legislative Analyst documenting decline in funding for K-12,” he said. “You’ve got the Department of Finance that acknowledges school districts having to make painful cuts. And then you’ve got Pepperdine out there in left field saying, ‘No, everyone else is wrong.’ To make that claim is a little bit like trying to say the world is flat.”

Pratt said a number of technical issues led to Pepperdine’s “false assumption” and he referred to the California Budget Project’s analysis and critique to support his assertion.

Despite flaws pointed out by critics, the Pepperdine report does give the public a glimpse into school budgets it rarely gets –providing comparisons of districts statewide according to per pupil spending on operating expenses including some specific items, average daily attendance, average teachers’ salaries and how salaries and benefits for administrators and teachers grew between 2003-04 and 2008-09.

Here’s a snapshot of Contra Costa County districts, according to the report. Keep in mind, however, that Pepperdine’s definition of “classroom” spending includes teachers’ salaries and benefits, instructional aides, textbooks and books, materials and supplies, and consulting related to instruction or special education. Also, most districts have made substantial cuts since 2008-09, which aren’t reflected below:

ACALANES:
Average daily attendance: 5,460
Total per student spending: $14,798 (highest in county)
Percent in classroom: 38 (lowest in county)
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $41
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $172
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $17
Per student spending on consulting services: $514
Average teacher’s salary: $75,477 (highest in county)
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary and benefits growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate

ANTIOCH:
Average daily attendance: 18,151
Total per student spending: $7,746
Percent in classroom: 68
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $65
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $146
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $18
Per student spending on consulting services: $481
Average teacher’s salary: $64,239
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate

BRENTWOOD:
Average daily attendance: 7,964
Total per student spending: $7,093 (lowest in county)
Percent in classroom: 74 (highest in county)
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $108
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $110
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $13
Per student spending on consulting services: $409
Average teacher’s salary: $68,906
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Teachers’ grew at a faster rate, administrators’ grew at a slower rate.

BYRON:
Average daily attendance: 1,622
Total per student spending: $7,581
Percent in classroom: 66
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $71
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $147
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $20
Per student spending on consulting services: $904
Average teacher’s salary: $60,011
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Teachers’ grew at a faster rate, administrators’ grew at a slower rate.

CANYON:
Average daily attendance: 66
Total per student spending: $8,863
Percent in classroom: 64
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $82
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $246
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $35
Per student spending on consulting services: $405
Average teacher’s salary: not reported
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Teachers’ grew at a faster rate, administrators’ grew at a slower rate.

JOHN SWETT:
Average daily attendance: 1,599
Total per student spending: $9,783
Percent in classroom: 58
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $96
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $144
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $34
Per student spending on consulting services: $1,275
Average teacher’s salary: $55,697 (lowest in county)
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate

LAFAYETTE ELEMENTARY:
Average daily attendance: 3,120
Total per student spending: $8,592
Percent in classroom: 67
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $117
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $176
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $20
Per student spending on consulting services: $274 (lowest in county)
Average teacher’s salary: $65,182
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate.

LIBERTY UNION:
Average daily attendance: 6,501
Total per student spending: $8,579
Percent in classroom: 58
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $122
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $195
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $13
Per student spending on consulting services: $688
Average teacher’s salary: $64,187
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Teachers’ grew at a faster rate, administrators’ grew at a slower rate.

MARTINEZ:
Average daily attendance: 3,802
Total per student spending: $7,907
Percent in classroom: 62
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $79
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $137
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $11
Per student spending on consulting services: $377
Average teacher’s salary: $62,381
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Administrators’ grew at a faster rate, teachers’ grew at a slower rate.

MORAGA:
Average daily attendance: 1,701
Total per student spending: $9,205
Percent in classroom: 61
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $74
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $183
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $8 (lowest in county)
Per student spending on consulting services: $510
Average teacher’s salary: $62,604
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate.

MT. DIABLO:
Average daily attendance: 33,220
Total per student spending: $8,685
Percent in classroom: 64
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $55
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $176
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $21
Per student spending on consulting services: $862
Average teacher’s salary: $61,095
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Administrators’ grew at a faster rate, teachers’ grew at a slower rate.

ORINDA UNION ELEMENTARY:
Average daily attendance: 2,362
Total per student spending: $10,226
Percent in classroom: 62
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $88
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $276 (highest in county)
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $44 (highest in county)
Per student spending on consulting services: $553
Average teacher’s salary: $65,004
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate.

PITTSBURG UNIFIED:
Average daily attendance: 8,958
Total per student spending: $8,673
Percent in classroom: 60
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $160 (highest in county)
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $196
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $24
Per student spending on consulting services: $778
Average teacher’s salary: $58,795
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a slower rate.

SAN RAMON VALLEY UNIFIED:
Average daily attendance: 26,185
Total per student spending: $8,420
Percent in classroom: 62
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $105
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $170
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $12
Per student spending on consulting services: $531
Average teacher’s salary: $64,717
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate.

WALNUT CREEK ELEMENTARY:
Average daily attendance: 3,167
Total per student spending: $7,606
Percent in classroom: 71
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $52 (lowest in county)
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $161
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $17
Per student spending on consulting services: $514
Average teacher’s salary: $65,472
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Teachers’ grew at a faster rate, administrators’ grew at a slower rate.

WEST CONTRA COSTA UNIFIED:
Average daily attendance: 27,883
Total per student spending: $10,791
Percent in classroom: 52
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $127
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $176
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $21
Per student spending on consulting services: $1,557 (highest in county)
Average teacher’s salary: $55,821
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate.

Although most districts present certificated salaries as part of their board budget presentations, many don’t break out administrators’ salaries, consulting, travel and conferences. As district leaders claim they are “cutting to the bone” and “keeping cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” the public deserves to know why money is still being spent on travel, conferences and consultants.

The Mt. Diablo school district is already facing the need to cut $11.6 million by 2012-13 to balance its three-year budget. If Brown’s proposed tax extensions don’t make it onto the ballot or don’t pass, school districts throughout the state will likely have to cut an additional $330 per student from their budgets, Mt. Diablo Superintendent Steven Lawrence said at a Parent Advisory Council meeting last night (Wednesday).

In the Mt. Diablo school district, this would mean cutting $10.8 million next year and nearly $37.5 million by 2012-13.

Lawrence and CFO Bryan Richards also unveiled a doomsday scenario: if the tax extensions fail AND if Prop. 98 is suspended, districts throughout the state could lose $650 to $1,200 per student. This would mean cuts ranging between $35.5-$56.9 million next year and $38.4-$60.1 million in 2012-13 in the Mt. Diablo district, they said.

When asked if this would even be possible, Lawrence said it would be the equivalent of shortening the school year by about 20 to 25 percent — from 180 days to 130 or 140. This could mean three-and-a-half or four-day school weeks, he said.

State deferrals are further complicating district budgets, Lawrence and Richards said. Since the state can’t afford to pay districts what they are owed, it is expecting districts to borrow money while they wait for deferred money from the state.

Lawrence said the board will likely call a special meeting March 8 to approve layoffs, since it will have to budget under the assumption that the tax extensions may not pass. He also said he hoped the Legislature would consider a Constitutional amendment to reduce the threshold for passing a parcel tax below two-thirds, so that districts can have a better chance of getting voter-approved local revenues.

“We’re going to hope for the best and we’re going to plan for somewhere in between,” Lawrence said. “We’re definitely not throwing out the red flag. We’re definitely not giving up. We just want to raise awareness.”

Do you think voters should approve the governor’s proposed tax extensions if the Legislature puts them on a June ballot?

Posted on Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 23 Comments »

Alzheimer’s Foundation college scholarship

By Theresa Harrington

This is the time of year when high school seniors are searching for special scholarships that may apply to their circumstances, but not to everyone else they know. Finding this match can give a senior more motivation to take the extra time to write an essay because they have a personal connection to the topic.

That’s why I’m sharing this announcement from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, which is offering scholarships to teens who write essays about Alzheimer’s affect on them and their families. The deadline is Feb. 15:

“Whether teens are trying to understand the loss of a relative or neighbor to Alzheimer’s disease, or have a volunteer experience to share, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) encourages college-bound students to apply for its 4th annual AFA Teens for Alzheimer’s Awareness College Scholarship.

AFA will award $5,000 to the winner, and $500 and $250 prizes for first and second runners-up, respectively, which must be used toward first year tuition at a four-year college or university.

The competitive scholarship application asks students to write a 1,200-1,500 word essay giving thoughtful consideration to ‘the impact Alzheimer’s disease has on their own lives and what they learned about themselves, their family and/or their community in coping with the disease.’

New this year, AFA has introduced an online application process, in addition to mail submissions. The deadline is February 15, 2011. For more details, visit www.afateens.org.

With as many as 5.1 million Americans currently affected by Alzheimer’s disease, and the incidence expected to increase dramatically, the scholarship is part of AFA’s efforts through its AFA Teens division to educate and raise awareness among teens across America about the brain disorder. The disease results in loss of memory and other cognitive functions, and, ultimately, death; advanced age is the greatest known risk factor.

The division, founded by a teenager, recently received the ‘Rosalinde Gilbert Innovations in Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiving Legacy Award’ from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation and the Family Caregiver Alliance in recognition of the program’s ‘outstanding service and innovative strategies in serving individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.’

‘AFA Teens uniquely serves an age group that is often in need and often overlooked,’ said Eric J. Hall, AFA’s president and chief executive officer. ‘The scholarship provides an opportunity for teens to better understand this disease and come to terms with the many difficult emotions they face when someone they care about has been affected.’

Last year, AFA was inundated with applications from about 1,300 college-bound students across the country. Previous winners have discussed topics such as watching a parent’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, being inspired to become a healthcare professional as a result of a family member’s experience, and finding creative ways to cope with their loved one’s illness.

In addition to the scholarship, AFA Teens features a Web site with information about the disease, and a blog and bulletin board for teens to express their thoughts and share experiences with peers; offers a new annual video competition for teens ages 13-19; and encourages teens to establish AFA Teens chapters in their communities. For more information, visit www.afateens.org.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, based in New York, is a non-profit organization that unites more than 1,600 member organizations nationwide with the goal of providing optimal care and services to individuals confronting dementia, and to their caregivers and families. Its services include a toll-free hot line, educational materials, a free quarterly magazine for caregivers and professional training. For more information about AFA and its November events, call toll-free 866-AFA-8484 or visit www.alzfdn.org.”

Do you know of other unique scholarship opportunities you’d like to share?

Posted on Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
Under: Education, Theresa Harrington | 3 Comments »