Part of the Bay Area News Group

Archive for May, 2011

Local high school jazz musicians to rock Yoshi’s, Todos Santos and Sleep Train pavilion

Musicians from Walnut Creek’s two high schools will perform at Yoshi’s in Oakland one week apart.

First up is the Las Lomas High School Jazz Band at 8 p.m. tonight.

“The students have worked hard this year, and this performance will be a fitting highlight to showcase their accomplishments,” said John Schroder, instrumental music director at Las Lomas, in a news release.

Proceeds will benefit the Performing Arts Foundation at Las Lomas. Tickets, which cost $15, are available at the door.

Here’s the Las Lomas Jazz Band playing in San Ramon in December:

Northgate High School’s award-winning Jazz Band will perform next Monday, May 16, at celebrated jazz nightspot Yoshi’s in Oakland, along with its award-winning jazz combo “Jibba Jabba.”

The event will also feature renowned percussionist Edgardo Cambón, leader of the Bay Area salsa band Candela, sitting in with the Northgate musicians.

The groups will play at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at the world-famous jazz venue in Oakland’s Jack London Square, capping an exciting season of awards and honors. Past Northgate jazz band performances have sold out, based on the school’s growing reputation for producing top-rated jazz musicians in the state and country.

Nate Schwartz, a sophomore who plays trumpet and guitar, said the Yoshi’s gig is a highlight for the groups, which have garnered high praise from judges at several student jazz band competitions.

“Yoshi’s, to me is just kind of like the culmination of everything that the jazz band has worked on over the course of the entire year,” Nate said. “And it’s really cool that the Northgate jazz band gets to play on the same stage as all the famous people who have played at Yoshi’s.”

The Northgate High Jazz Band plays styles ranging from Ellington to Mingus to straight-ahead and Latin jazz. It is comprised of 22 musicans, including seven who also perform in the combo.

Band director Greg Brown said the Northgate Jazz Band took second place at the Folsom and Campana jazz festivals this year, along with fourth at the prestigious “Next Generation Jazz Festival” in Monterey, which featured top high school jazz musicians from throughout the state who were accepted to participate in the competition based on auditions. In addition, the jazz combo took first place at the Folsom Jazz Festival and third at the Next Generation festival, Brown said.

“Both groups will be featured at the Yoshi’s show,” he said proudly. “Our average score for all of our jazz festivals this year is over 95 percent.”

Professional and semi-professional musicians and music educators judge the festivals.Many of the band’s soloists also have received special recognition for their performances over the year.

The Jazz Band’s Yoshi’s performance raises funds for the Northgate Instrumental Music Boosters. The boosters purchase musical instruments, arrange transportation to school music festivals, and provide other support to the instrumental music program at Walnut Creek’s Northgate High School.

Tickets are $15 for the 8 p.m. performance and $12 for the 10 p.m. show. They can be be purchased from Yoshi’s box office, at the door or by contacting Ellen Lyons at ellensdlyons@gmail.com.

For ticket information contact Yoshi’s at (510) 238-9200 or visit
http://www.yoshis.com/oakland.

For further information on the Northgate High School Jazz Band or the May 16 gig contact Greg Brown at (925) 938-0900 or browng@mdusd.k12.ca.us; or Ellen Lyons at ellensdlyons@gmail.com

Here’s the Northgate Band playing “Wind Machine” in December:

Concord High School’s Jazz Ensemble recently won a first place Gold Award, Outstanding Band Group, and Adjudicator’s Award at the San Diego Heritage Music Festival. The Mt. Diablo school board will recognize the ensemble, along with the school’s other music groups, Tuesday night.

The Concord Jazz Ensemble will perform at Todos Santos Park from 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, May 12 and at the All Area Music Festival at at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 14 at the Sleep Train Pavilion in Concord.

The Thursday “Music and Market” event in Concord is free. Tickets to the Saturday All Area Music Festival cost $10 for the first ticket and $5 for each additional ticket, if purchased in advance at http://www.mdmusicfoundation.org/. Tickets will cost $12 for adults and $6 for students on the day of the festival, which will benefit the Mt. Diablo Education Music Education Festival.

Here’s the Concord High Jazz Ensemble performing at the Concord Tree Lighting in December:

 

Other groups performing at the festival are: The Ygnacio Valley High Ensemble, soloists from Clayton Valley High, Sleep Crisis (students from Clayton Valley High), combined choir from Wren Elementary and Pleasant Hill Elementary, the Valle Verde Elementary afterschool band, Foothill Middle School Concert Band, Westwood Elementary Show Choir (will be performing part of their musical “Yee Ha!”), Mt. Diablo High Voice Ensemble, from Concord High the String Orchestra, Symphonic Band and Jazz Ensemble, and from Northgate High, the Symphonic Band, and the Wind Ensemble.

The district has eliminated fourth- and fifth-grade instrumental music, due to budget cuts. It also wants to eliminate the elementary vocal music prep periods, which are currently taught by credentialed music instructors.

Do you think the district should strive to retain its elementary vocal music programs?

Posted on Monday, May 9th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Music, Theresa Harrington | 2 Comments »

Contra Costa County school districts vary widely in academic ratings

The state released Academic Performance Index (API) rankings today, based on STAR test results from last spring. It also released “growth targets” that schools are supposed to meet on tests students are taking now.

“Today signifies the beginning of a new reporting cycle of testing and reporting under the API, which gives us one measure of school’s academic performance,” said Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, in a news release. “This is the jumping-off point where, based on last year’s testing results, schools are given a number of points by which they must grow in order to satisfy the requirements of our state accountability system.”

The ratings also show how schools with similar demographics stack up against each other.

“This is constructive information that provides parents, schools, educators, and the general public valuable insight into how schools are performing when measured against others,” Torlakson said.

Here’s the state’s explanation of the scores:

“A school’s statewide rank is based on the school’s Base API and is calculated separately for three types of schools: elementary, middle, and high schools. Ranks are established by deciles. Each decile contains 10 percent of all schools of each type.

It is important to note that there will always be schools ranked 1 and schools ranked 10 because of the nature of the decile system. Ten percent of schools will always be in each decile.

The similar schools rank is similar to the statewide rank, except that each school is ranked relative to a group of 100 schools determined to be similar to the comparison school based on certain school, student, and teacher characteristics. The school’s similar schools rank is the decile where that school’s Base API falls compared with the Base APIs of the 100 other similar schools in the comparison group.

The release of the 2010 Base API denotes the beginning of the API reporting cycle. The Base API Report released today includes the Base API, growth targets, and school ranks. The Growth API Report, which will be released in early fall, includes the Growth API, growth achieved, and whether or not targets were met. It is the second of these two reports that determines whether a school met or exceeded its growth target and whether it may be identified for participation in state intervention programs designed to help a school improve its academic performance.

The Base API, including all new indicators and methodological changes, is merely the baseline against which to compare the next year’s Growth API. The Base API is calculated using the test results of the previous year, thus this is the 2010 Base API, and the Growth API is calculated using the test results of the current year, and it will be the 2011 Growth API.”

Contra Costa County schools ranged from 1 to 10, with all campuses in the Acalanes, Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda scoring in the top 10 percent.

Here are the highest and lowest-scoring Mt. Diablo district schools, including API score, statewide rank, similar schools rank and growth target. Schools with API scores of 800 or more are not required to increase their scores, since they have already met the statewide target for proficiency.

ELEMENTARY

Lowest:
Bel Air: API 646, rank: 1, similar schools: 1, growth: 8
Meadow Homes: API 648, rank: 1, similar schools: 1, growth: 8
Shore Acres: API 659, rank: 1, similar schools: 1, growth: 7
Rio Vista: API 669, rank: 1, similar schools: 1, growth: 7

Highest:
Walnut Acres: API 936, rank: 10, similar schools: 5
Valle Verde: API 930, rank: 10, similar schools: 4
Sequoia: API 921, rank: 10, similar schools: 5
Monte Gardens: API 918, rank: 10, similar schools: 7
Strandwood: API 917, rank: 10, similar schools: 7
Mt. Diablo: API 915, rank: 10, similar schools: 7

MIDDLE SCHOOLS:

Lowest:
Oak Grove: API 642, rank: 1, similar schools: 1, growth: 8
Glenbrook: API 658, rank: 1, similar schools: 2, growth: 7

Highest:
Foothill: API 900, rank: 10, similar schools: 3

HIGH SCHOOLS:

Lowest:
Mt. Diablo: API 653, rank: 2, similar schools: 5, growth: 7
Ygnacio Valley: API 665, rank: 2, similar schools: 2, growth: 7

Highest:
Northgate: API 865, rank: 10, similar schools: 4

The district includes six of the lowest-achieving schools in the state ranked 1, as well as eight campuses ranked 10 at the top.

Mt. Diablo received federal School Improvement Grants totaling more than $14 million over three years to “transform” Bel Air, Rio Vista and Shore Acres elementary schools, along with Glenbrook Middle School. But due to state budget cuts, the school board decided in February to close Glenbrook Middle School in Concord and forfeit about $1.2 million of its grant, which was providing teacher training, counseling, library services and other programs.

The district has implemented a districtwide focus on testing intended to help teachers pinpoint student weaknesses and strengths, then tailor their instruction to focus on areas for improvement.

I left messages with several administrators asking for comments regarding the rankings. Cindy Matteoni, principal of Sequoia Elementary, was the only one who responded.

She said the school’s “Academics Plus” program accepts students from throughout the district, but requires parents to place them on a waiting list at age 4.

I asked her to reveal her school’s “secret” of success.

“I think our secret is probably the secret of any school that is succecssful,” she said. “It’s really about the team.”

She said the school is lucky to have very engaged parents who support their kids both in and out of class. In addition, the staff supports students and the “academics plus” philosophy, she said.

“They’re committed to the rigor of what they do,” she said, adding that the school adheres to the same curriculum standards as all campuses in the district.

Yet, Matteoni acknowledged the school, which has an API score of 921, still has room for improvement. When compared to other schools with similar demographics, it was ranked 5.

“Across the district, we all could be doing a better job with our English language learners and students that have specific learning needs,” she said. “And on the flip side, we can always be looking at ways to better challenge kids as well, who are ready for more challenge.”

Although dwindling funding makes it more difficult to implement new programs to improve instruction, Matteoni said the Internet has a lot of good resources for students and educators. Also, schools in the College Park HS feeder pattern have begun sharing instructional strategies through occasional meetings, she said.

In addition, districtwide Curriculum Associates testing gives teachers “real time” information about their students’ progress and enables them to intervene before the school year ends, Matteoni added. If schools wait until they receive STAR test results in the fall, students have already moved onto another teacher, she said.

“Teachers can really tailor their instruction around the needs of their students that they have at that time,” she said. “So, I think it’s very valuable.”

What do you think the district should do to help low-performing schools improve?

Posted on Thursday, May 5th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 22 Comments »

Furlough days: fun or foul?

As school district across the state cut costs by imposing furlough days that take away from instruction time, some people don’t seem understand that this hurts students and further widens gaps between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

Craig Cheslog, adviser to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, said some parents in districts without furlough days have actually asked why their schools weren’t getting the same “cool” holidays that other districts were scheduling.

“We’re trying to find a way to really sound the alarm,” Cheslog said, when he stopped by the Mt. Diablo school district’s special education Community Advisory Committee meeting on Monday. “Superintendent Torlakson has declared a state of fiscal emergency. But even the things we try to do to deal with the financial crisis are backfiring on us.”

When one district in Santa Clara County scheduled three furlough days during Thanksgiving week, parents in a neighboring district called their superintendent to ask “when he was going to institute that really cool Thanksgiving break,” Cheslog said.

A lot of school districts (such as Mt. Diablo) are scheduling furlough days on Fridays and Mondays because it’s convenient for parents, Cheslog said. But he predicted some districts would start scheduling furloughs on Wednesdays to make the point that they are not holidays.

“Part of it is parents and educators have tried to do their best to shield this from kids,” he said. “But, from what I’m hearing, there aren’t a lot of shields left.”

He said the “full brunt of what’s coming” if schools face an all-cuts state budget is “truly unthinkable.”

Cheslog said he believes elected officials realize the gravity of the situation.

“I think everybody knows the depths of the abyss we are about to go over — what a $700 per student cut would look like,” he said. “I think every legislator in Sacramento understands. I hope it doesn’t go to school districts not starting until October — which is in play — or students doing (STAR) testing and stopping.”

The standard school year in California is 180 days, he said. As part of state budget crisis, school districts have been given the flexibility to reduce it to 175.

Yet, students in other countries spend 200 to 220 days a year in school, he said.

“Those students are getting extra years of education (before graduation),” he said. “We’re going the wrong way.”

Cheslog predicted that some districts won’t be able to afford to stay open 175 days under an all-cuts budget.

“There are some school districts that are going to say, ‘We can’t do it,’” he said. “The penalty is a fine. School districts are going to say, ‘Okay, fine us.’ They’re just going to have to defy the law and say, ‘It’s an emergency,’ and either start late or shut early. And yes, there will be handwringing, but I don’t think there’s any enforcement mechanism that could force open those doors.”

Behind the scenes, Cheslog said some in Sacramento are talking about possibly reducing the school year to about 170 days. However, many people worry that this would mean some students would be getting 10 fewer days of instruction than others.

“There’s talk about the equity issues because there’s still some places at 180 (days),” Cheslog said. “There are a lot of superintendents who would like to see whatever this is statewide, so you don’t have winners and losers and you don’t have parents saying, ‘Well, they’re doing this and you’re an idiot because you’re not doing that.’”

But, the California school system is built on local control, Cheslog said. This means each district must try to figure out for itself how to solve its budget problems.

What he worries about, however, is what could happen if multiple districts decide they have nowhere else to cut.

“You’re going to see whole districts throw up their hands and say, ‘We don’t have the money. What are you going to do?’ The state could take over the district. Then, you have another situation like Oakland.”

He said 147 school districts are teetering on the verge of insolvency.

“The prospect that we might have to take over 10 of them is frightening, because the Department of Education has been cut,” he said. “We don’t do audits. If parents file a Uniform Complaint about something, at the moment, those are being put in a file. There are not Department of Education auditors like there used to be going around inspecting those complaints. Under an all-cuts budget, there’s going to be another cut to the Department of Education, because that’s just math.”

Students from the Mt. Diablo High School “Human Rights” class will host a “Teach-In” to protest the district’s first furlough day on Friday. Here’s a link to the recorded message about the event the district sent out tonight: https://asp.schoolmessenger.com:443/m/?s=6sHnSqpJW6g.

Do you think the public understands that furlough days deprive students of classroom time needed to learn all their lessons by the end of the year?

Posted on Wednesday, May 4th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 20 Comments »

Mt. Diablo district seeks ideas for raising money, cutting costs

The Mt. Diablo school district is holding several “districtwide budget meetings” looking for new ways to generate revenues or make cuts.

Unlike the strategic planning meetings, which are intended to be attended only once by different groups, the budget meetings build progressively on each other. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that until I attended the third meeting on Monday and found out that I had missed a PowerPoint presentation that Superintendent Steven Lawrence gave during the first week of meetings April 18 and 20.

Lawrence promised to post the PowerPoint online, along with a list of Questions and Answers from the previous two meetings. Since the Q&A list hasn’t been posted yet, I’m posting it below:

“1. Do all schools in the district share unrestricted funds equally per student?

If we broke down each site’s funding by its enrollment/ADA, we would find that they are not equal. We do provide the same level of personnel support (teachers, office support, administrators, etc.) at each site depending upon the grade level and size. However, the budgeted dollar amount will vary because the experience level of the personnel will determine the level of expenditures. For example, if you had two elementary schools at 500 students, they both have the identical number of personnel serving on the site, but one site may receive more funding because its teachers have an average experience level of 10 years while the other school’s teachers have an experience level of eight years. The budget for the site with the average experience of 10 years would be higher than the other site. However, because of retirements or teachers leaving the district, these averages could easily flip in the next five years. Sites also receive site funds from the district that are determined on a per-pupil basis based on grade level of the school (K-5, 6-8, 9-12).

2. Can Title 1 money offset money from unrestricted funds?

Because of federal rules restricting supplanting as was discussed in the presentation, Title 1 funds need to allow a site to go beyond what the district provides as a baseline for all schools. Therefore, it cannot offset personnel costs that all schools receive. For example, we cannot pay for all or a portion of the principal position in a Title 1 school because all of our schools have principals. However, at a Title 1 school, we could add an intervention specialist, or a reading or math coach.

3. Why are Title 1 funds only disbursed to school (sic) that have more than 65 percent of their students on Free and Reduced Lunch when legally you can provide funds to schools that have 40 percent or more students on Free and Reduced Lunch?

Title 1 funds come to a district in one lump sum. Districts then have to decide whether to do individual, targeted assistance for students, or to create a school-wide program. Years ago, the district decided to distribute funds for school-wide assistance and established a level of funding for those schools with the highest portion of students on free and reduced lunch. In recent years, as our distribution of students with free and reduced lunch has changed, it became evident that we needed to redistribute Title 1 funding to include more schools. Last year, we added two more schools to the Title 1 funding and have plans to continue adding more schools. This is a slow process, as funding at schools already receiving Title 1 funds cannot be decreased by more than 10 percent a year. With this in mind, it will take several years to fully redistribute Title 1 funds to additional schools. Additionally, this redistribution will be especially challenging in the upcoming year, as the federal budget calls for a 10 percent reduction of Title 1 funds.

4. If we are not receiving 40 percent of our special education funding from the federal government under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) why can’t we sue them?

Districts have tried to sue and failed because the 40 percent was a goal and not a prerequisite for IDEA to be implemented. The most we have ever received from the Federal Government toward our special education costs is approximately 18 percent.

5. Why is our adult education budget so large?

Historically, the district has served 20,000 adult students as well as high school seniors deficient on credits. Adult education state revenue is used for providing the following educational programs:
- Credit recovery for concurrent high school students, during the school year and summer program (no fees);
- High school diploma/GED classes for adults (no fees);
- English as a Second Language classes for adults (no fees);
- Adult Basic Education for adults functioning at less than 8th grade level (no fees);
- Career Technical Education classes for adults, to prepare them for employment in the local labor market: surgical technician, medical assistant, certified nurse assistant, CPR, EMT, dental assistant, sterile processor, administrative office assistant, accounting) (supplemented by student fees);
- Parent education classes (including some in Spanish) specifically for parents of MDUSD students including: (no fees) drug and alcohol, anger management, parenting classes for parents of difficult students;
- Family literacy and preschool classes at Title 1 schools (no fees);
- Programs for adults with types of disabilities: traumatic brain injury, developmental disabilities, autism/Asperger’s (supplemented by student fees);
- CPR classes for MDUSD employees (no fees).

Lifelong education classes include a variety of classes of interest to community members, including art classes, exercise classes, cooking classes, woodworking classes, financial planning, etc. These classes are primarily supported by student fees and by fall 2012 all of them will be fee-based.

6. What is the ‘check’ amount that SunPower will write if performance guarantee is not met?

We have a guarantee that for 20 years the solar system will produce 95 percent of the initial amount that the system is build to produce. If the production falls below the 95 percent rate, SunPower will write us a check based on whatever the current cost of electricity and the amount that the system did not produce below the 95 percent threshold.

7. What have cities done to support schools during the state budget crisis?

We have good partnerships with our cities. They provide Resource Officers and crossing guards for our schools. We are looking at the possibility of partnering with all of our cities on initiatives similar to the one that Santa Monica used in November 2010 and Richmond is using this June. In essence, there are two ballot initiatives. One would determine if there was support for a sales tax increase, and the second would be an advisory vote whether or not the city should share the revenues generated by the sales tax increase with the school district.

8. Are retirement costs part of the salary and benefits costs that make up the 84.5 percent of the unrestricted funds that go toward salary and benefits?

Yes.

9. Do we have more administrators in our district compared to other districts?

No. Annually, school districts complete a Form R-2 that compares the number of administrators in the district to the number of teachers and submits them to the County Office of Education. According to Education Code 41400-41407 the R-2 ratio should not exceed eight. In other words, a district should not have more than eight administrators per 100 teachers. The ratio does allow districts to remove from the ratio administrators funded out of federal and state categorical programs. Like all positions in the district, administrative positions have been significantly reduced since the 2007-08 school year. The following is the Mt. Diablo ratios for the past four years:
2007-08: 5.39
2008-09: 4.87
2009-10: 4.58
2010-11: 4.50

To provide context for these numbers, the 2010-11 R-2 ratios for other unified districts in Contra Costa County are as follows:
Antioch: 5.39
Martinez: 6.54
Pittsburg: 5.14
San Ramon: 5.32
West Contra Costa: 6.19

Given that we have 1,732.53 teachers, if we had the same ratio of Pittsburg USD, which is the next lowest district in the county, we would have an additional 11.13 administrators in the district. So, the answer is no, MDUSD does not have more administrators compared to other districts.

10. How do we fund the Curriculum and Associates assessments and data days?

Currently, we fund the assessments out of Title 1 and Economic Impact Aide (EIA) for the sites with these funding sources and site funds such as School and Library Improvement Block Grant (SLIBG) for the rest of the schools. The data training days are funded out of Title II funds for all sites. Because we utilize the Curriculum Associates assessments for professional dialogues and growth, we are looking at funding all of the assessments and training out of Title II funds next year. Therefore, there won’t be any expense to the sites.

11. If our ADA increases over time, how many years would we need to increase before the state raised our revenue?

The district is funded on the higher of current or prior year ADA each year. However, the P-2 (due in April) certification of current year ADA does not happen until the end of June. Therefore, if we have an increase in P-2 ADA that will generate additional funding, we will accrue the revenue this year, but not see the cash until next fiscal year. Additionally, the new higher number would become the baseline for calculating the following year. For example, if we had an increase in ADA this year we would be able to include the revenue in next year’s 2011-12 budget. However, our P-2 ADA in 2010-11 is down from 2009-10 by 123.90 ADA. So, we continue to be funded in the declining enrollment formula.

12. How is the revenue limit set, and because we are below the state revenue limit average by $40 when, if ever, will we be brought up to the average?

The revenue limit was established back in 1971 based on the Serrano vs. Priest case. When the revenue limit was set, MDUSD was set below the state average. Every once in a while when the state has been flush with money they have attempted to put a little money toward equalizing districts that are below the average. However, remember we can never reach the average because as they give lower wealth districts more funding the average would move up. In other words, if they gave all districts below the revenue limit average and (sic) extra $40 per ADA it would drive the revenue limit average up and we would still be below it. Basically, the state would have to set a single revenue limit and bring all distrits up to that amount to make us on a par with all the other non-’Basic-Aid’ districts. Local legislators have attempted to pass equalization legislation, but the legislation has failed each time.

13. Can we cluster students with similar needs and pool resources? For example, could we cluster EL students or students with significant specialized needs?

We do already attempt to cluster certain special education programs with unique needs in the district while still meeting IDEA laws around least restrictive environment. For, (sic) example we have a single deaf and hard of hearing program at Westwood ES, El Dorado MS and Concord HS. We have identified K-5 programs for students on the autism spectrum at certain elementary schools. However, we could not have just one school in the district that attempted to meet all the needs of all our children on the autism spectrum because that would not meet the definition of least restrictive environment. We also could not force all of our EL students to go to selective campuses throughout our district.

14. Does the 2009-10 increase in the special education budget include the county mental health positions?

No. AB3632 was not blue-lined from the budget until October 2010. Therefore, county mental health still paid their portion of the mental health costs related to AB3632 through the 2009-10 school year and the first part of the current year.

15. What is the mandatory length of the school year and how do furlough days work?

Included with the flexibility around categorical funds the state also allowed schools to reduce the school year from 180 days to 175 days without being penalized. Historically, teachers have a 183-day work year. They work 180 days with students, have two professional growth days, and have one day before the school year begins to prep and get ready for the arrival of students.

Furlough days are days that are negotiated with the various associations that reduce the number of days that at (sic) person works along with a reduction in salary. The reduction in salary is equal to the employee’s daily salary times the number of furlough days. Under the current level of state flexibility the maximum number of furlough days that teachers could take next year would be seven. The number of furlough days teachers take is then used to determine the number of furlough days other employee groups will take.

16. What is the difference between General Obligation bonds, parcel tax, Mello Roos, and sales tax?

General obligation bonds are used for facility improvement projects and we need 55 percent of the voters to approve a GO bond. In the first PowerPoint we discussed how we have legally used the recently passed Measure C GO bond funding to save unrestricted general funds.

Parcel tax needs a 66.67 percent voter approval to pass and can be used for any designated purpose. Historically, communities have passed parcel taxes to add programs such as art and music, or reduce class size. Currently, districts are going out for parcel taxes to help keep more basic programs that may have to be reduced because of the state budget crisis. The length of the parcel tax is set by the local school board and is part of the ballot language. A parcel tax can be set as a fixed per parcel amount or can be a square foot amount, it can also have a cap that a parcel would not have to pay more than. Also, senior citizens can file and exemption and not have to pay the parcel tax. The more explicit the parcel tax language is the easier it is to pass; however, districts that had historical parcel taxes were not able to shift that money over to the general fund to help with the state budget crisis. The parcel tax funding had to continue to go towards the programs that were identified in the ballot language. Lastly, you do not get to start collecting on a parcel tax until the first day of July after the election.

Mello Roos — In 1989, MDUSD established a Community Facilities District (CFD) (a.k.a. a Mello Roos district). Measure A established a CFD that assesses a special tax to fund the payments of bonds for capital improvements. The district’s CFD assessment also allows for purchase of school furnishings and equipment. The major construction projects paid by the bonds were completed in the 1990′s. Annually, $800,000 is divided on a per-pupil basis and distributed to sites. Sites use these funds to purchase new equipment and replace old or broken furniture.

Sales tax increases cannot be levied by a school district. Sales tax increases can be levied by a city, county or state government and need a 50 percent plus one vote to pass. This past November, the city of Santa Monica had two ballot initiatives for the voters to consider. The first one was a half-cent sales tax. The second one was an advisory vote that said the city would split the revenue generated from the sales tax with the school district. It is critical that the second vote be an advisory vote so that it does not change the threshold to pass to 66.67 percent. The voters approved both initiatives. The city of Richmond has put similar ballot initiatives on the June ballot. Ballot language could be written so that an increase in the local sales tax would only occur if the state failed to continue their one cent sales tax.

17. What are other districts doing?

Other districts are doing very similar reductions. They have increased class size, reduced optional bussing, reduced support staff, reduced administrators, etc.”

[End of Q&A]
———————————————————

During the discussion, Lawrence clarified that the Curriculum Associates costs did not include bubbling in answers for primary grades, which he said had been worked out at most sites.

He also distributed a handout from EdSource titled: “California’s Fiscal Crisis: What does it mean for Schools?,” an updated cut list that shows the district will save $510,537 by closing Holbrook Elementary and $741,396 by closing Glenbrook Middle School, a “School District Budgeting 101″ sheet of paper asking for revenue reduction and revenue enhancement ideas, and a list of Tier III budgets.

Those at the meeting broke into small groups and discussed their ideas, then wrote them down on the “Budgeting 101″ papers and turned them into Lawrence. He didn’t share the ideas with the group. Instead, he said he and his staff would evaluate the costs or savings associated with the ideas and report back at the next meeting.

During a special education Community Advisory Committee meeting I attended Monday night, one parent who attended the budget meeting said she was disappointed that more parents were not involved in the discussions. She urged more parents to attend, saying that administrators may have different ideas for cutting costs than parents.

Here is the schedule of upcoming budget meetings, which all take place in the Loma Vista Adult Center multi-use room at 1235 San Carlos Avenue in Concord:

6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 4 (tonight)
4:30-6:30 p.m. Monday, May 9
6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 11
4:30-6:30 p.m. Monday, May 16
6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 18

Ideas to be presented to the board Tuesday, May 24.

What ideas do you have for reducing costs or generating revenues?

Posted on Wednesday, May 4th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 54 Comments »

Northgate principal says science teacher is recovering from harrowing accident

Northgate High School science teacher Jim Wright is rescued.

Northgate High School science teacher Jim Wright is rescued.

After plunging 150 feet from Grizzly Peak Boulevard in the Oakland hills and surviving more than three days without food or water, Northgate High School science teacher Jim Wright is resting comfortably, Principal John McMorris assured parents in a message today.

“I know many of you have read in the paper or watched the story on television regarding Northgate science teacher Jim Wright’s accident and rescue,” McMorris wrote. “I have spoken to Mr. Wright’s wife Linda; she tells me he is doing well and the entire family is very grateful to the Northgate community for the support Jim has received the past few years at Northgate. We wish him a speedy recovery and send our best thoughts and prayers to his family.”

Posted on Sunday, May 1st, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | No Comments »