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Lots of blame, but less accountability with state’s School Improvement Grants

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, July 15th, 2011 at 1:22 pm in California, Education.

Glenbrook Middle School students gather in the school library. The Mt. Diablo school district received a $1.7 million three-year School Improvement Grant to help boosts test scores, but forfeited nearly $1.2 million after trustees decided to close the campus.

Glenbrook Middle School students gather in the school library. The Mt. Diablo school district received a $1.7 million three-year School Improvement Grant to help boosts test scores, but forfeited nearly $1.2 million after trustees decided to close the campus.

The state Board of Education meeting on Wednesday showed that when it comes to failing schools, there’s a lot of blame to go around, but seemingly less accountability.

BLAME

As the board considered about $500 million in federal School Improvement Grants, discussion included blaming the U.S. Department of Education for failing to communicate clear and consistent guidelines, blaming California Department of Education staff for lax administration and oversight of the grants, blaming the state Department of Finance for denying a request for more money to send staffers on school site visits and blaming school districts for failing to reform their schools as promised.

Blameless in the discussions were the people the grants were supposed to help: struggling students. Yet, these students could suffer as result of failures by the agencies entrusted with helping them.

Although the discussions revealed several flaws in the process, the overriding failure by all agencies appeared to be one of communication.

If the federal government had communicated its expectations and grant requirements consistently and clearly from the beginning of the grant process, the state would have been better able to communicate those requirements to districts. But since the state wasn’t clear on the requirements, it gave often confusing advice to districts.

Districts wrote up applications based on this advice, trying to meet the requirements as they understood them. For 2010-11, the state approved 41 applications and disbursed the first year of more than $400 million in three-year grant funding, with the expectation that districts would follow through on their plans.

In March, the federal government sent representatives to three districts that received the grants to see how the money was being spent. The visits revealed that many schools had not done what they promised, such as replacing principals or other staff, increasing instruction time for all students and providing time for teachers to collaborate on lesson plans and other improvement strategies.

This led the U.S. Department of Education to send the state a highly critical report, outlining four areas in which California failed to administer and monitor the grants appropriately. Stung by the criticism, the state reviewed all 41 applications based on this new feedback and found that in most of schools, the plans didn’t meet federal requirements or weren’t being implemented on time.

Yet, the state didn’t officially inform districts of this until Monday, when it published a list of schools that needed “corrective plans” to come into compliance with the grant program in order to receive the second year of funding they were expecting for 2011-12.

In a stunning move, the state also denied all 25 applications it received for up to $69 million in new funding intended to help additional schools starting in the fall, saying the planned reforms weren’t rigorous enough. Since most districts wrote their new applications based on what worked the first time around, many felt blindsided by the denials.

Some district reps showed up to the meeting to oppose the denials, but were unable to explain why they thought their applications should be approved, because the state hadn’t yet given them any feedback.

Everybody was frustrated.

Trustees were frustrated by the “searing” report from the U.S. Department of Education. State Department of Education staffers were frustrated by being caught in the middle without fully understanding the rules. Districts were frustrated from being pushed and pulled one way, then the other, only to be told in the end that they hadn’t adequately followed directions.

A few earnestly insisted they were doing what was required and were being unfairly punished by the state. Others laid low, quietly waiting and watching to see if they’d get another chance to make things right.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Despite all the finger-pointing, the state Board of Education ultimately decided to dispense what amounted to “tough love” to districts. Trustees informed districts that the leniency to which they had grown accustomed has ended.

Now, districts throughout the state are scrambling to ramp up their efforts the get the money. If they succeed, the students they are supposed to be helping may receive much-needed instructional improvements.

But if districts are unable to comply with federal requirements by the first day of school, they won’t get more money and students may not get the help they were promised.

Are you satisfied that the board’s actions will prompt schools to implement required reforms as promised?

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

  • Doctor J

    Some districts thought no one was looking or checking up on them; some districts can’t read plain English; some districts did a half-arse job, and some districts spent the time and energy to get it right. You judge which one MDUSD falls into. The Federal standards were plain enough — the reforms were to be in place on day 1 of school 2010. MDUSD ignored that and now they are in danger of losing $10 million dollars or more. MDUSD didn’t even follow their own timetable for beginning negotiations with MDEA in June 2010 to be completed by June 2011. The truth is as Theresa reported yesterday, they just contacted MDEA last week ! Shameful. And they won’t meet until sometime in August. Disgraceful. How can they possbily come to any agreement, get it passed by both the Union and the Board, and implemented by August 30 when they take off all of July ? That blame lies with the District Trustees, Superintendent who signed the application, and SASS that was supposedly “taking care of it”. CDE is touting several districts plans as “exemplary” and fully compliant. They read the same Federal standards as everyone else. Read this plan. http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/sw/t1/documents/sig10soledad.pdf
    Pay attention to the “work” they did as described on page 28 to come to a written agreement with the Union, and both the Union and the Board voted on April 15, 2010 to make a number of major reforms so that on the first day of school in 2010, the entire plan would be “operational”. Yes, I know its hard to believe, but the Soledad District reads and writes English apparently better than MDUSD leadership.
    So ask yourself, what was the MDUSD District leadership doing in February, March and April while Soledad was polishing their SIG grant ? Hmmmmm. Oh, yeah. Solar bonds. Playing golf with Chevron, having lunch with Chevron, having drinks at a swanky Oakland restaurant with Chevron. Did I leave out Buttercupgate ? Sorry. Touring school sites with the Asst. Supt. responsible for getting the grant done. And the list could go on and on and on. If MDUSD loses the SIG grant, I am holding the three members of the Board from last year, plus the Supt, Asst. Supts, and other staff responsible. If you want to read the MDUSD SIG Grant application and compare it with Soledad’s, you can find MDUSD’s “revised” [yeah, they had to redo it once already and resubmit in November, so have already had two shots, and this will be their third, yet Soledad aced it on one try] you can find it at: http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/sw/t1/documents/sig10mtdiablo.pdf#search=sig%20mdusd&view=FitH&pagemode=none
    So MDUSD you can try and blame the Feds, you can try and blame the CDE, and you can try and blame others but look in the mirror. You now have two strikes on SIG. Three strikes and you are out.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Trustee James Aschwanden said: “This can’t be a wink and a nod. This has got to be a legitimate process that gets us to where we need to be.”

  • Doctor J

    The State Board composed of both Brown and Schwartzeneger appointees was extremely unified in their extreme disappointment in the lack of implementation. The quote “This is year two” and this was to be in place on day 1 of year 1 keeps ringing my ears. I can’t wait until CDE posts the video archive and everyone can watch a good old “ass chewing”. Theresa, that’s an old cowboy expression, not vulgarity. :-)

  • g

    “…approved 41 applications … with the expectation that districts would follow through on their plans”.

    Therein lies the rub. Approval, by way of the “plans”, would indicate: 1)the districts knew pretty much what was required based on what they proffered as plans, and 2)the State agreed with that interpretation and gave them a running head start.

    Then, money in hand, the districts either just slacked off or actually thought no one would notice if they didn’t quite follow the “plans” once they got the money (slow though it was in coming).

    When it all hit the fan, the districts that spoke up threw their hands up and admitted that their Masters and Doctorate degrees had left them with very poor reading comprehension and interpretation abilities. The State said that sounds good–we’ll cop to that same excuse–it was all just soooo confusing. Then both acted surprised that the Feds, trying to make tough decisions about where to dole out hard-to-get funds weren’t amused.

    It is not hard to interpret words like “all” “every” “before” “by”; and there are still 4 quarters in a dollar and 12 months in a year.

    Ah… but where is MDUSD, and what will they cop to and to whom will they point blame?

  • Theresa Harrington

    The CDE staff also came under harsh criticism. Here’s what Trustee Patricia Rucker said about reopening applications to all districts for the Cohort 2 grants: “Given what we’ve seen and what happened with Cohort 1, where there was a universal failure to communicate clear expectations, it is possible that some of the LEAs (Local Educational Agencies) eligible for Cohort 2 may not have applied because they didn’t understand (the requirements).”
    Some trustees wanted to limit applications for Cohort 2 grants to the 25 agencies (including MDUSD, Oakland and WCCUSD) that had already applied on behalf of 54 schools. But, CDE staff said the feds rejected that idea and instructed the state to reopen applications to all 96 schools eligible.
    Since the CDE can only afford to fund about 35 schools, it appears that MDUSD’s application will have to be very competitive to win an award.

  • Doctor J

    @G, but its more than just rewriting the plan — it has to be operational and in place by the first day of school 2011 — that is the rub. The CA BOE is holding the district’s feet to the fire big time — perform by the first day of class or forfeit your SIG money. MDUSD only has 56 days before August 30 and to make their plan operational and “in place” by August 30 for “increased instruction time” of 30-60 minutes per day, they need MDEA agreement. For MDEA to agree, they have to take a vote. Teachers don’t even return to school until August 29. That also means the SIG schools won’t have furlough days, and that might mean that the other schools get more furlough days to make the budget work. The current budgets — you can also see those as revised in May 2011 on the CDE website [search MDUSD] don’t have enough money in them as currently allocated to cover 5 furlough days. MDUSD’s own timetable said the agreement with MDEA would start negotiations in June 2010 and be done by June 2011. Now it looks like there is just not enough time to cut a deal, have it voted on, and the school days lengthened by 30-60 days. It will start a cascading of issues like bus schedules, etc. MDUSD’s procrastination is really inexcusable and it doesn’t put kid’s first. Its a $10,000,000 fiasco. So I hope all of the administrators are enjoying their exotic vacations this month. If they pull it off, it will be a miracle. But remember they created the crisis.

  • Just J

    This is an absolute shame. I can’t believe the level of absolute stupidity we have. I say the entire system needs to fail so that we can fix it and do it right. We owe it to our kids to do better by them.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Lindsay school district Superintendent Janet Kliegl told the board that her staff contacted the CDE to ask what “extended learning time” meant.
    “They told us you could provide it to a targeted group of students,” she said. “That is what we put in our application and I believe that is why our application is not fundable. I encourage you to be sure that the RFA (Request For Applications) is very clear about the guidelines.”
    This could be one reason that MDUSD’s application was denied. I believe it also intended to provide extended learning time to targeted groups of students instead of to all students.
    CDE’s lack of clarity regarding this requirement could have led districts to unintentionally submit applications that didn’t meet federal guidelines.

  • Doctor J

    @Theresa #8 I don’t buy that. If districts like Soledad could get it right on the first try, it was clear. “Extended learning time” was defined in the SIG materials. So why would you call and ask unless you hadn’t read the materials ? Follow the materials.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Apparently, CA RFA materials didn’t spell out the definition, but they included “by reference” the USDOE document that spelled it out.
    Also, some people were still unclear about it even after reading the USDOE definition.
    It says (A-31): “‘Increased learning time’ means using a longer school day, week, or year schedule to significantly increase the total number of school hours to include additional time for (a) instruction in core academic subjects including English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography; (b) instruction in other subjects and enrichment activities that contribute to a well-rounded education, including, for example, physical education, service learning, and experiential and work-based learning opportunities that are provided by partnering, as appropriate, with other organizations; and (c) teachers to collaborate, plan, and engage in professional development within and across grades and subjects.”
    This does not specifically state that all these things must be provided to ALL students.
    However, additional USDOE guidance states (A-32): “Research supports the effectiveness of well-designed programs that expand learning time by a minimum of 300 hours per school year….Extending learning into before- and after-school hours can be difficult to implement effectively, but is permissible under this definition, although the Department encourages LEAs to closely integrate and coordinate academic work between in school and out of school. To satisfy the requirements….of the turnaround model and….of the transformation model for providing increased learning time, a before- or after-school instructional program must be available to all students in the school.”
    After reading these definitions, Board President Michael Kirst and Trustee Carl Cohn understood all the confusion.
    “Is it possible that someone in the USDOE thought this (in A-31 and A-32) was good?” Cohn said. “It’s no wonder that people are having trouble.”
    Kirst added: “It sounds like we have to rewrite these into English.”

  • g

    Ooops–From the Grant application just one year ago: “After thoughtful consideration, discussion with the schools’ leadership, staff and parents it was determined that two of the eligible Tier I schools, Meadow Homes Elementary and Oak Grove Middle schools would not be included in the SIG application. These
    schools have demonstrated clear momentum of increase in student achievement. Over
    the past 2 years, Oak Grove has increased their API by 64 points and Meadow Homes
    has increased their API by 50 Points since 2007. In addition, both principals have a
    long-standing, positive and trusting relationship with the families in the community.

    Even though these sites are not being included in this grant, both are being required to develop improvement plans focused around improving the success for all students with a focus on English learners. Each site is also a recipient of the Quality Education
    Investment Act (QEIA) School Improvement Grant (SIG) which will provide them with
    the necessary financial resources to implement their transformational strategies. Both sites will receive technical assistance by the new School Achievement and Support
    Division and by the Alameda County Office of Education consultants and will use Title I
    and EIA funds to support their activities and “turn around” plans. These plans were
    approved by the Mt. Diablo School Board on June 22, 2010″.

    BUT NOW WE WANT MORE MONEY FOR OUR SASS TEAM! STRATIGIC PLANNING AT ITS BEST!

  • Theresa Harrington

    g: Last year, then-MDEA President Mike Noce asked that Meadow Homes and Oak Grove not be included in the district’s list of lowest-achieving schools.
    Board President Gary Eberhart said the district wouldn’t “chase carrots” dangled by the state if the reforms weren’t appropriate for all of its persistently lowest-achieving schools: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2010/03/24/mdusd-may-not-chase-carrots-dangled-by-state/.
    This year, the district apparently thought the required reforms would work at Meadow Homes and Oak Grove after all.

  • g

    Theresa, you are too kind. This year, Gary is saying ooops about flushing Glenbrook money and is trying to make it up at Oak Grove and on the backs of good Principals that walked to help him do it.

    I suspect mostly, he wants the District portion so he can fulfill obligations to “outside” contractors.

  • g

    And by-the-way—Note to Whomever: Keep the union’s nose out of my kids’ education!

  • Theresa Harrington

    g: As I have stated previously, Board President Gary Eberhart told me that he would have been willing to forgo a grant for Oak Grove, if Principal Terry McCormick had wanted to stay there. But, he said he supported her decision to voluntarily transfer to another school to make way for the grant.
    Eberhart was supportive of a leadership change at Meadow Homes.
    It will be interesting to see the API growth of the four schools that got the grants, compared to the two that didn’t.

  • Doctor J

    What will be interesting is if Lawrence prematurely transfered the two principals of Oak Grove and Meadow Homes before the grant was awarded.

  • MDUSD Board Watcher

    Uh oh, Gary et al have done it again.

  • Doctor J

    @Theresa #15 There goes Gary micromanaging the principal transfers again. He just can’t help it. Do they have an AA for micromanagers ?

  • Doctor J

    See page 71 of SIG application of both July and Novembe 2010 which states:
    MDUSD will shortly begin conversations with collective bargaining units as new contracts are being negotiated for the 2010-13 school years. These essential areas will be included in the conversation to ensure MDUSD meets the needs of students as well as the requirements of the SIG grant.

    NEVER HAPPENED.

    When Steve Lawrence signed the SIG grant in both July and November 2010 he made an oath: CERTIFICATION/ASSURANCE SECTION: As the duly authorized representative of the applicant, I have read all assurances, certifications, terms, and conditions associated with the federal SIG program; and I agree to comply with all requirements as a condition of funding. I certify that all applicable state and federal rules and regulations will be observed and that to the best of my knowledge, the information contained in this application is correct and complete.
    Name of Superintendent or Designee
    Superintendent Steven Lawrence

    Steve Lawrence meet Barry Bonds. You guys are cellmates. Enjoy.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Mt. Diablo was not alone in replacing principals before knowing for sure if it would receive a grant award.
    At the SBE meeting, Trustee Aida Molina pointed out that some districts that applied for Cohort 2 funding had already released their administrators.
    Chris Swenson of the CDE responded: “If they did, and I don’t mean this harshly, they did that with an incredible confidence that they would be part of the 30 or 35 (schools that will be awarded grants).”
    However, she said it would be easier to implement the grant requirements by the first day of school if staffing changes were already made.
    “This is really a far better way to implement this grant,” she said. “So that all the changes — dealing with staff, dealing with bargaining units, making it all work (are in place). You cannot wait until a July approval.”
    Obviously, no district knew that all the applications would be denied.
    Representatives from Oakland, San Diego and Stockton said they had already become implementing changes. The West Contra Costa district has also already turned around its staff.
    Since it’s a competitive process and there is not enough money to fund all applications, districts that had already begun making required changes likely believed that would make their applications stronger than the applications of those that hadn’t.
    There is also one other important point that wasn’t discussed at the meeting: it’s possible that no districts in California will get any more money until the CDE corrects its own mistakes.
    According to the letter from the USDOE: “Each state that participates in an onsite monitoring review and that has significant compliance findings in one or more of the programs monitored will have a condition placed on that program’s grant award specifying that the state must submit (and receive approval of) documentation that all compliance issued identified in the monitoring report have been corrected. When documentation sufficient to address all compliance areas has been submitted and approved, ED will then remove the condition from your grant award.”
    California had significant compliance findings.

  • Doctor J

    While MDUSD was quick to replace the principals at Meadow Homes and Oak Grove early in the application process for Cohort 2, it was because they knew the changes had to be in place by day 1 of school year 11/12. On the other hand, MDUSD seems to be in denial that it had any idea that changes had to be in place by day of school year 10/11 for Cohort 1. Seems a little contradictory to me.

  • Theresa Harrington

    In both cohorts, MDUSD (and many of the 24 other districts that applied for cohort 2, it seems) did not appear to understand that additional instructional time for all students in both core and enrichment areas was needed by day 1.
    As has already been pointed out, MDUSD has not yet begun negotiating additional instructional time with MDEA. So, replacing the principals was not enough to make MDUSD’s application fundable.

  • Doctor J

    Just replacing the principals and not providing for additional instructional time for all students might be defined simply as a “wink and a nod”. The Federal standards were provided to the districts, whether or not the districts read them is another story. But they must be held accountable. The “certification” by the Superintendent Lawrence says they would obey them “all”: “I certify that all applicable state and federal rules and regulations will be observed. . . ” What is it about “all” that Lawrence doesn’t understand ? I dare him to tell us. He is a Rotarian — don’t they follow the “Four Way Test” ?

  • frustrated

    What did the district ever do to Doctor J?

  • MDUSD Board Watcher

    Hi frustrated (I mean Paul),

    How is summer going for you? Think the board is in trouble with the SIG issues? Is that why you decided not to run again?

  • Doctor J

    @Frustrated, the only thing the district has done is not tell the truth and in some cases not only ignored the truth but sometimes actively lied about it, and that ultimately has hurt kids. Anything less than the full truth should not be tolerated. Losing $10 million of SIG grants should have significant consequences for those responsible. Look who signed the SIG grants and certified their correctness. Do we get accountability ? NO !! We get silence.

  • frustrated

    ABSOLUTELY NOT PAUL

  • Doctor J

    @frustrated. I don’t think you are Paul either. Why ? Because Gary, Paul and Lawrence have gone totally radio silence, with Paul refusing to broadcast the Board meetings, Gary taking down his blog and erasing the entire blog server so access to saved links cannot be made. Now we have SIGgate and none of them are commenting even with Lawrence’s ‘CERTIFICATION’. All of this can only mean one thing; FIFTH AMENDMENT. I am guessing there is some big investigation going on again — even the April Grand Jury report has not been responded to by the Board and the 90 days has passed. Maybe Bondgate has reared its ugly head again. Reminds me of the theme song from “Cops” What you going to do when they come for you, bad boy, bad boy ?

  • g

    Speaking of Bondgate Dr J.: The Measure “C” Oversight Committee— Is it anything more than a ruse? How can it be that the people deciding how to spend $348 million dollars, and who are supposed to be carefully watched over, are the people who “got to choose their “watchers”. Where in this billion dollar scheme against the taxpayer is the Board and Superintendent’s responsibility? Why, if the public has a question about “oversight” of the work being done, are they directed to contact Pete Pedersen rather than the Chairman of the Oversight Committee? Is that because in reality there isn’t a degree of separation between the two?

    The 2010 Independant Oversight Committee is, in effect, being run by the very department that they are there to oversee. The same two or three Committee members that supposedly led the 2002 committee is now leading 2010.

    Coincidence?

    Minutes from 2002 to mid 2009 (published only well after-the-fact) either say it all or those minutes lack any merit. Clearly they indicate that the committee was sorely lacking in diligence. On several occasions a member would ask to see something, or have something done, and it was never seen or mentioned again. No notation indicates if their request was honored or perhaps just ignored. On at least one occasion, (maybe more) the meeting was held and votes were taken without a quarum. Per the minutes, a large sum of money apparently was left in the 2002 bucket never to be seen again, yet they suggest that some of the items listed for 2002 were not signed off as certified.

    All the while in 2009, Pedersen was scrambling to find more “make-busy” projects for 2002 money in an attempt to “clean his plate” lest he be left hungry next time around.

    It appears that while still meeting for the 2002 “C”, the Oversight committee was being left in the dark while Pedersen knew full well that he was ALREADY in talks with the “smoke and mirrors” team in the back room to put a new Measure “C” on the 2010 ballot that he could combine with anything left over from 2002 for a $1.7 billion cost. A package deal obviously could allow any un-accounted monies to be co-mingled with the co-mingling of costs.

    Why were items listed on the to-do list for 2002 Measure “C”, charged to “55″ or “A”, where, it would appear, funds were also left without oversight or finalizing totals? Why were no further minutes posted to explain final disposition of all those funds?

    What is it that they still don’t understand about the legal requirements of Posting of Agenda, Posting (draft) minutes in a timely manner or true “Independant” Oversight.

    The 2002 work (and Oversight Committee) was orchestrated by Pete Pedersen. He (and his entire crew) was an employee of the District then. Why is the justification for paying them out of Measure “C” appropriate now, when that was not deemed allowable from 2002 to 2010? Pedersen’s current “C” budget requests for .90% of this district person and .50% of that person etc. etc. etc. etc. be charged to “C”. What’s new this time around?

    Since the Attorney General findings stated that Measure “C” monies can legally pay for their own administration, should the General Fund go back and seek reimbursment for its 2002 “C” costs from any available administration allocations for administration? That would put a nice little bucket of money back into the General Fund.

    I would suggest that there are some on the 2010 committee, and there were “drop-outs” from 2002 that could shed a lot of light on what was wrong with Oversight then and is still wrong today.

    If nothing else, I would suggest that someone with authority needs to step up and take a very close look. If I can see it, anyone can. The problem is, I have no authority and the Board and Lawrence, have moved back into the shadows.

  • Dan

    When I asked for justification of the whole “ask Pedersen” if you have any oversight inquiries, I got a response from that two-bit attorney Rolen.

    Basically saying, “there is alot of justification, but providing it would violate client-attorney privelege”.

    What a crock.

  • Theresa Harrington

    A serious question has been raised about the validity of the 2002 Measure C audits because they were not performed according to normal procedures.
    Also, there doesn’t appear to be anyone overseeing the remaining Measure A and 2002 Measure C funds, which the district continues to use to fund projects.
    And, although Pete Pedersen touted the district’s Measure C website as the place to go for up-to-date information about the 2010 Measure projects, it hasn’t been updated for months: http://169.199.90.240/MDUSDFacilities/pages/oversight.html.
    The latest oversight committee minutes are nearly a year old. The agenda for the June 16 meeting, as well as the Powerpoint which Pedersen presented at that meeting, have not yet been posted, despite Pedersen’s promise to post them immediately after the meeting.
    At that meeting, committee members weren’t given any detail about expenses. Instead, Pedersen said he was working on getting them the same level of detailed reports he had given the 2002 committee. Apparently, those reports are still in the works.

  • g

    I would bet the bank that the proposal that was supposedly written by Pedersen touting the idea that the District would save money by hiring internally for Construction Management was both worded and written by Rolen. Rolen is the District’s attorney, that makes him the People’s attorney. That means WE are his client! If he is, or even if he just thinks he is, working on the sidelines for Pedersen, he needs to be fired!

    What we have now is Rolengate!

  • Theresa Harrington

    At the June 16 Measure C Oversight Committee meeting, Pedersen distributed some information regarding costs charged for 2002 Measure C construction management by Vanir 3-D, making the point that so far, the district has saved money by hiring internally. However, he did not give a side-by-side comparison on paper. Part of his rationale was included in the Powerpoint that still hasn’t been posted.

  • g

    One could easily argue that considering the fact that we paid twice for the 2002 Construction Management—once to Vanir 3-D and simultaneously to Pedersen and his whole crew (using General Funds), just about anything they do now would “appear” to be cheaper.

    Bottom line is, any day of the week, I’d rather pay more and get less than be cheated out of even a little bit.

  • g

    If anyone from 2010 Oversight Committee is reading—if you have no one on committee qualified to be your official Recording Secretary, make the district hire one for you. If you ask, it is code–they must provide. Same with timely publishing of an Agenda and the minutes to YOUR website–yes, when it comes to Agenda and minutes, that is your responsibility and your portion of the site, not Pedersen’s.

    Go to the Board and tell them what you need to do your job properly. Go back and read Prop 39 text from your orientation material.

    When you volunteered and took the Oversight Committee oath, you accepted a certain amount of fiduciary duty. DO NOT continue to rely on or use Pedersen’s Girl/Boy Friday as your Recording Secretary!

  • Theresa Harrington

    Just as I have begun to videotape portions of board meetings now that the district is no longer providing that service, perhaps I will begin to videotape Pedersen’s Powerpoint presentations, if he doesn’t post them as promised.

  • g

    The 2002 Oversight committee put together Budget Oversight Subcommittee in Jan 2007—-a bit late if you ask me, but since the projects were running about $16 million over budget as of December ’06 budget oversight was sorely needed.

    By June ’07 there was a “shortfall” of $9.6 million and they planned to use “deferred maintenance” and Prop 55 to cover some of that shortage.

    I did not see anything that ever said how much of scheduled 2002 Measure “C” work was done at the expense of “deferred maintenance” and Prop 55 or as mentioned on another log some Measure “A” money was used as well.

    By June of ’08 they indicated all 5 phases were completed, but they still needed to do “turf” work. Also, they suddenly found that there was an accumulated $8 million or so of interest to help cover the close out costs on the budget.

    Since they “finalized” (but not really)in 2009, and there were funds left over in “C”, it seems “C” should have maybe “paid back” to “deferred maintenance” fund or “55″ or “A” from the balance left in Measure “C”.

    I know that’s whistling Dixie, but it seems to me our tax cost of 2002 Measure “C” was actually less per household than any of the funds it “borrowed” from, and payback would have made fiscal sense.

    Any accountants out there?

  • Two kids in the district

    I have two kids in the district, one at the elementary level and one at the high school level. Both schools have great principals, great support staff and great teachers. Both schools have facilities that are in good shape and are clean. Both schools have improving test scores. You seven or so people who appear to have personal vendettas against the district do not represent the majority of parents in our district. This is exactly why the contra costa times is losing readers. I hope the paper’s new management is watching and preparing corrective action.

  • Theresa Harrington

    There is no question that the Mt. Diablo school district includes many excellent schools, with great teachers, principals, support staff, facilities and test scores.
    This blog post is about districts statewide that operate the “persistently lowest-achieving” schools in the state, which have scored in the bottom 5 percent on English language arts and mathematics in grades 2-12.
    MDUSD operated six persistently lowest-achieving schools last year. They were: Bel Air, Rio Vista and Shore Acres elementary schools in Bay Point; and Meadow Homes Elementary and Glenbrook and Oak Grove middle schools in Concord. The district has closed Glenbrook, so it now operates five “persistently lowest-achieving schools.”
    Bel Air, Rio Visa, Shore Acres and Glenbrook received School Improvement Grants last year. The district has forfeited its remaining grant for Glenbrook. It has applied for new grants to improve Meadow Homes and Oak Grove.
    A majority of voters supported the district’s $348 million Measure C bond in 2010. The ballot measure assured voters: “…all bond expenditures will be monitored by an independent citizens’ oversight committee to ensure that funds are spent as promised and specified.”
    I have attended the last two oversight committee meetings. At those meetings, committee members were not given detailed financial information about expenditures and the minutes from those meetings have not been posted on the district’s Measure C website.
    The Contra Costa Times encourages journalists to inform the public about how public agencies conduct the public’s business and how they spend the public’s money.
    California is not alone in having difficulty implementing SIGs. According to this NY Times article, New York City has had to work hard to negotiate an agreement with its teachers’ union regarding integrating student test scores into teacher evaluations: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/16/nyregion/deal-on-teacher-evaluations-reached-by-union-and-new-york-city.html?_r=1.
    In California, some district have not yet begun to negotiate this with teachers’ unions.
    According to this Wall Street Journal article, such evaluations can mean increased accountability for teachers: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304203304576448181206833902.html?mod=dist_smartbrief.

  • g

    Two Kids: You say that there are seven of us, and that we do not represent the majority of parents in the District. Exactly whom do you think we do represent? Playing watchdog on the District is not a game, nor is it always easy. Would you have no one looking out for everyone’s interest? The “majority of parents” are not interested in school at all as long as they can count on the kids being, hopefully, someplace safe for 7 or so hours a day. If the kid is “passing”, and shows up at home sometime before dark, then everything must be OK.

    Only a very small minority of parents pay attention to what is really happening, but they are also too busy with helping out at school for maybe an hour or two a week, and getting the kid to a game or a practice or the pool or the dentist.

    Both parent types, whether they take time to think about it or not, depend on someone “else” to be the watchdog.

    Your schools may seem to be doing fine. But take a few minutes to look at where this District fits in a State that is itself sitting near the bottom rung of the Country’s Education Ladder. We sit near the bottom of the bottom. Something is rotting here, and someone has to point out where they think the mold is coming from before even your school starts to stink too.

    Our schools are like our roads

  • Theresa Harrington

    Washington state is also ahead of California in terms of piloting new teacher evaluations based partially on student test scores.
    According to this Wenatchee World article, a new evaluation system is a state-led reform in Washington: http://www.wenatcheeworld.com/news/2011/jul/16/beyond-satisfactory-new-evaluations-promise-a/

  • Number Eight

    Two Kids,
    Actually Contra Costa Times tends to softball the MDUSD stories or it may be a function of limited page space. Theresa is doing her best to inform the public and that is fairly impossible because MDUSD has been slipshod for years with its newsletters, agendas, minutes, web site, and responses to Public Records Act requests. Don’t shoot the messenger!
    In addition to the “seven” that you counted on this blog, you should add the members of the Grand Jury, the hundreds who emailed Clayton Mayor Shuey to support the Clayton Valley charter school, the hundreds whose schools were abruptly closed this Spring, the mother who wrote a Times op-ed about the devastating special education cuts, and more. This should add up to a majority unhappy with MDUSD and its failure to pass a parcel tax to support teachers and classroom education in all the schools, not just yours.

  • Theresa Harrington

    According to this Orange County Register story, the USDOE’s Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, is leaving her position in the federal government to assume leadership of Orange County’s largest school district on Aug. 8:
    http://www.ocregister.com/news/santa-308536-school-melendez.html
    California is hoping she will grant its waiver for Cohort 2 School Improvement Grants (see letter in attachment 1):
    http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/ag/ag/yr11/documents/jul11item04.doc

  • Doctor J

    @Two Kids, You are right that there are many wonderful principals and teachers in the district, but as Theresa points out in post #39 MDUSD has perhaps some of the most serious educational problems in the Bay Area and Northern California. Your Superintendent over a year ago mandated that ALL 29 of the MDUSD elementary schools be cloned to operate like Delta View elementary. Lawrence formed the SASS Dept and hired former Delta View principal as the Director of Elementary Support and the one size fits all approach began. A year later, are you happy with it ? Early last year the Federal Govt offered school districts that were “persistently underachiveing schools” grants to make improvements in the education. In MDUSD 4 of 6 of the schools took advantage, along with the District to monitor and help implement. In order to qualify for the SIG grants, Lawrence, the District and the principals had to promise in writing to implement the required reforms under the Federal Govt timetable and they were awarded $15 million dollars. In March of this year, the Fed Govt did an audit of several California school districts and the CDE. You can read for yourself on the CDE website how “speechless” they were when they realized none of the promised reforms had been implemented and they were to have been implement PRIOR to the first day of school. The Feds then had CDE conduct telephone audits of the districts and the results were not much better. The majority, including MDUSD, had not done what they promised, but they had taken the money and were spending it. So the CDE suspended the renewals of the money for year two, until “corrective action plans” can be submitted with backup documentation that the changes are implemented prior to the start of school for the 11/12 school year. That is August 30 for MDUSD. Some of us have opined that it will be near impossible to have those reforms “in place” and “implemented” by August 30. If MDUSD doesn’t, it will lose about $10 million in funding. @Two kids, How do you feel about the Supt and Principals making promises to receive money, receiving the money, and then not keeping the promises ? If your child did that to you, wouldn’t you make the child pay back the ill gotten gains ?

  • g

    Theresa, realizing that Ms. Melendez de Santa Ana has already accepted the position at SAUSD, and reports for duty there on 8/8, don’t you suppose she will pass this decision off to someone else? Anything she decides now for CA might look like a conflict of interest.

  • g

    The District she is going to as Superintendent, as it compares to MDUSD:

    SAUSD educates approximately 58,000 students at 61 school sites throughout the Santa Ana community. The K-12 school district is the largest in Orange County and the second largest employer in Santa Ana with approximately 4,500 educators and staff members. The SAUSD boasts 28 California Distinguished Schools, five National Blue Ribbon Schools, and two 2011 National Blue Ribbon nominees.

    They have a lot more students and 10 more schools, but MDUSD beats them out in one category—we have nearly 1000 more employees!

    And forget about competing with their number of distinguished schools and education awards.

    Sad!

  • Doctor J

    Anyone read the Form 700′s for Lawrence, Eberhart, Whitmarsh, Mayo, Pete Pedersen ? http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_18504780?IADID=Search-www.contracostatimes.com-www.contracostatimes.com

    Might be enlightening.

  • Doctor J

    Two months and no public statement from Lawrence. Why ? His last newsletter was May 20. And Gary too. All I can speculate about is that there is some major investigation going on — not too surprising. Yet, they are not taking care of business with regard to the SIG grants which unless there is agreement with MDEA and implementation by August 30 will cost the district about $10 million. Then there is the Cohort 2 SIG funds that will have to be corrected. Why have Lawrence, Eberhart & Co gone radio silence ? I suspect its not going to be pretty.

  • MDUSD Board Watcher

    I suspect the MDUSD is about to profoundly change and for the better.

  • Theresa Harrington

    AB 114 is prompting many districts to rehire staff at last year’s levels, based on the requirement to project flat funding instead of the $330/ADA potential drop in revenues that MDUSD projected: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/07/19/3778155/elk-grove-scrambles-to-place-445.html