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A closer look at spending and test scores in East Bay schools

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, September 7th, 2011 at 9:02 am in California, East Bay, Education.

A recent study by California Watch has found no correlation between the amount of money school districts spend per student and their level of academic achievement on test scores.

The study compared 2009-10 school district per student spending and 2010 Academic Performance Index (API) scores.

For each district, the study showed whether spending and scores fell into the top 25 percent, median 50 percent or bottom 25 percent. Based on this data, I looked at which East Bay districts got the biggest bang for their bucks, as well as those that didn’t.

However, it is important to note that elementary districts receive less funding from the state than unified districts and high school districts receive more, based on the increased costs of running unified and high school districts. 

BEST BANG FOR BUCKS (Spending in bottom 25 percent, with academic achievement in top 25 percent):
Brentwood elementary: spent $6,918 per student, API of 840
Castro Valley unified: spent $7,429 per student, API of 854
Fremont unified: spent $7,449 per student, API of 868
Walnut Creek elementary: spent $7,345 per student, API of 907

BIGGEST DISCONNECT BETWEEN SPENDING AND SCORES (Spending in top 25 percent, with performance in bottom 25 percent):
Emery unified: spent $13,680 per student, API of 709
Oakland unified: spent $10,958 per student, API of 719

For districts that didn’t land at one end or the other, I looked to see if spending was in the median range of $8,213 per student, compared to the median score of 783.

Districts that spent in the median range, but got test results in the top 25 percent, appeared to be getting a good bang for their bucks.

GOOD BANG FOR BUCKS (Median range spending, with API in top 25 percent):
Acalanes High: spent $9,327, API of 899
Dublin unified: spent $7,945, API of 878
Orinda elementary: spent $9,473, API of 954
Pleasanton unified: spent $7,599, API of 906
San Ramon Valley unified: spent $7,824, API of 916
Sunol Glen unified: spent $8,416, API of 909

Those that spent in the high or median range, but scored lower, appeared to be getting poorer performance for their money.

Top 25 percent of spending, but median API:
Berkeley unified: spent $12,092, API of 785

Median spending, API in bottom 25 percent:
Pittsburg unified: spent $7,995, API of 718
San Leandro unified: spent $7,709, API of 730
West Contra Costa unified: spent $8,899, API of 696

In several districts, the level of spending appeared to match the level of achievement.

Piedmont unified: spent $11,589, API of 925

Alameda city unified: spent $8,630, API of 833
Livermore Valley unified: spent $8,213, API of 822
Mountain House elementary: spent $8,707, API 743
Mt. Diablo unified: spent $8,199, API of 784
New Haven unified: spent $8,182, API of 777
Newark unified: spent $8,089, API of 762
San Lorenzo unified: spent $8,096, API of 739

LOW SPENDING AND LOW PERFORMANCE (Bottom 25 percent for both):
Antioch unified: spent $7,578, API of 732

The complete California Watch database is at

NOTE: New 2011 API scores were released last week.

Do you think local districts are spending their money wisely?

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80 Responses to “A closer look at spending and test scores in East Bay schools”

  1. g Says:

    Alicia, sorry I missed your 9:55 post. How would H.R. 2847 (Sec. 301) affect our CREBS that were issued earlier? Are we in danger of reneging on our promise made in the original application?

  2. g Says:

    Alicia–Sorry, but it seems the more I read about CREBs, the less I understand the legal speak!

    Are WE selling the CREBs (bonds), and the Feds are simply helping us to make the interest payments by giving us cash subsidies that amount to about 70% of the interest due?

    If this is correct, wouldn’t we be obligated to spend that cash subsidy on “nothing but” the Solar interest expense in order to pay the CREBs off within the Maximum Maturity time allowed ?

  3. Milan Moravec Says:

    Wage concessions by Chancellor, Vice Chancellors, Provost Faculty make more money available for the education of students. I love University of California (UC) having been a student and lecturer. But today I am concerned that at times I do not recognize the UC I love. Like so many Alumni, Donors, Legislators, and Californians I am deeply disappointed by the pervasive failures of UC senior management and regents.
    Californians suffers from 19% unemployment (includes those working part time, and those no longer searching), mortgage defaults, loss of unemployment benefits. And those who still have jobs are working longer for less. Chancellor/Faculty wages must reflect California’s ability to pay, not what others are paid.
    UC Berkeley (Cal) planned pay raises for generously paid Faculty is arrogance. UC Berkeley (ranked # 70 Forbes) tuition increases exceed national average rate of increase. Chancellor Birgeneau’s leadership molded Cal into the most expensive public university in the USA.
    Can we do better with a spirit of shared sacrifices by Faculty, Provosts, and Chancellors?
    (17,000 earn more than $100,000)
    No furloughs.
    18 percent decrease UCOP salaries, $50 million budget cut.
    18 percent prune chancellors’ salaries.
    15 percent trim tenured faculty salaries, increase teaching.
    10 percent non-tenured faculty pay decrease, increase research, teaching.
    100% elimination of Academic Senate, Academic Council budgets.

    There is no question the necessary realignments with reality will be painful.

    UC Board of Regents Chair Sherry Lansing can bridge the public trust gap with reassurances salaries reflect depressed California wages. With UC’s shared financial sacrifices, the sky above UC will not fall.

    Yours is the voice that can make the difference, email UC Board of Regents

  4. Alicia M Says:

    G- I’m still doing research. However, the disrict did issue CREBs and the Feds subsidizes the interest payments on those bonds. The principal payments plus interest of 1.7% will be paid by the taxpayer. In looking at the bond offering for the CREBs the stated interest rates on the bonds reaches as high as 5.048%, but we have been told so far that the taxpayer will only pay 1.7% of the 5.048% since the subsidy payments will cover the rest of the interest payments.

  5. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Also interesting that the application states the installation was expected to begin in January 2010 and to be in service by September 2010.
    How could that be true, with the bond measure on the June, 2010 ballot?
    Pete Pedersen signed the document on Aug. 2, 2009, under penalty of perjury, stating: “I have examined this application and to the best of my knowledge and belief, all of the facts contained in this application are true, correct and complete.”
    And most interesting is that the engineering certificate is signed by a Chevron engineer.

  6. wait a minute Says:

    HOLY COW Theresa.

    I think you just found the smoking gun!

    This could very well be evidence that there was a conspiracy by Chevron and parties within the MDUSD to pass a bond under somewhat false pretenses (promising to fix leaky roofs and do other repairs, etc)…

    And all along it was simply cover to steer most of the bond monies to an enormously expensive solar boondoggle with Chevron to be the contractor of this lucrative contract. That is until it broke in the CC Times that Stevie Lawrence was meeting secretly with and taking gratuities from Chevron at which point they quicky divorced and went with SunPower instead.

    There are way to many coincidences otherwise:

    MDUSD board member Sherry Whitmarsh is a Chevron employee as are other supporters of the Ebermarsh/Lawrence team?

    The the engineering certificate is signed by a Chevron engineer before the contract goes out to bid or a contractor is “officially selected?

    Pete Pederson signed under oath the document and he subsequently resigned to take the job of construction manager in a blatant case of lucrative double-dipping?

    Gary Eberhard takes an MDUSD paid-for class on solar and suddenly finds that solar is his passion and uses his position to leverage a lucrative vice-president job with the Shreder family company that happens to be based in Roseville where Stevie Lawrence and Sue Brothers used to work?

    Sounds to me like there might be some connections here.

  7. g Says:

    Theresa @55, is that another one of those docstoc items that you’re so good at finding? Show me how/where please.

  8. wait a minute Says:

    Forgot to mention the Rolen connection.

    He steers a lucrative Bond Counsel contract to his buddy Matt Juhl-Darlington who has no experience in this and “asociates” an LA attorney to do the actual work while Matt skims a fat profit off the top?

    Does anyone know if Turner Construction of Sacramento has received any contracts regarding Measure C?

  9. Alicia M Says:

    #57 G – A CREB application was filled out for each school. I think I have 46 applications, all certified by Chevron Energy Solutions, all state the contractor selected is Chevron, and each application has an estimated cost and timeline to install solar along with a brief description of the project to be performed. Each solar application indicates that transmission equipment (necessary to return power to the PG&E grid) will not be installed. (Please note that the CREB applications made up most of my 1,496 pages of documents requested.)

    Further, the application indicates that financing of the solar project was going to be CREBS along with MLA’s (leases) or QSCB bonds. I believe that in 2009 the district was going to rely on the solar savings to pay the debt service on the CREBS and QSCBs or on a Lease arrangement. But something happened after the time the CREBs were approved in October 2009 where the district decided to go for a General Obligation Bond. Perhaps it was because the district was only allocated/qualified for about $3 million in QSCBs, and they needed at least another $25 million (on top of the $59 million in CREBs) to finance the solar project. In the end, the CREB applications is one piece of evidence that shows solar was the primary reason for 2010 Measure C.

    Even though Chevron may have had a conflict of interest with the district, I can’t help but wonder if Chevron would have been the better choice over Sunpower, especially in light of instability in the market place. Both Solyndra and Sunpower have received federal grant money (at least Sunpower has received more than Solyndra).

  10. g Says:

    Just this past June SunPower sold 60% of the business to Total SA, a French oil & gas co.

    Future maintenance haggling may have to be done in French.

  11. Doctor J Says:

    46 Applications all signed under the penalty of perjury to get Federal Funds under false pretenses. My friend tells me that perjury is 5 years times 46 is 230 years. That’s a long time. Actually I think Chevron withdrew from the MDUSD after the nefarious relationships between Chevron Energy Solutions and Lawrence/Eberhart/Strange were published in the CCT, and went viral. Believe what you want about Chevron’s massive profits, but its corporate HQ wants nothing to do with scandal. With Solyndra’s bankruptcy filing with massive debts, you have to wonder about the financial stability of Sunpower. If Sunpower were to follow suit, MDUSD would be left holding the bag.

  12. Theresa Harrington Says:

    When I visited Rio Vista Elementary, I was told the district ran out of solar panels and had to order more for that school.
    This seems very odd, since this project was so carefully planned.

  13. Just J Says:

    I have sun power on my home. They are a very good company who plans very well. I know my home is nothing compared to the schools but they know before they begin how many panels and the energy they will produce. So it is strange that they ran out of panels for a school.

  14. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I was told this by a school staff member. However, I haven’t yet had a chance to confirm it with district officials.

  15. g Says:

    Just J: It may not be just SunPower’s miscalculation, considering they’ve already gotten a few million dollars more in change orders, (supposedly) due to “somebody’s” failure to properly calculate the total wattage needs. It seems that in spite of all the manpower on board, Pedersen, Inc. failed to count all of the HVACs and their load requirements.

  16. g Says:

    Just wondering. Do those applications indicate the plan was for mostly “rooftop” solar?

    I wonder if altering that to ground mounted without proper changes and notifications would cause a problem. I also wonder if since they are using up a good bit of playground space at some schools if they should have had to get clearance through CEQA.

    I don’t recall any Board meetings regarding having Chevron do any projections or certifications. Nor do I recall any sizable payments going to Chevron.

    I do seem to recall some big bucks being contracted to someone? Was it the Juhl-Darlington contract that said part of their job would be to handle the Rebate and Crebs applications?

  17. Theresa Harrington Says:

    No, the CREB application is for a carport model.
    I also don’t recall any board meetings where Chevron’s participation in the CREB application was discussed. And, I don’t recall any board contracts with Chevron.
    The application appears to assume the district could issue the CREBs without a bond measure, by using a municipal lease purchase agreement for additional financing.
    Yet, when the district decided to seek a bond measure, the financial adviser touted the CREBs as as a selling point.

  18. Alicia M Says:

    G- The CREB applications all indicate solar structures over parking lots, where possible.

  19. g Says:

    CopyPaste from Measure C site: Meeting Minutes (09-23-11)
    what it brings up is a jump to the “Planroom”.

    I personally have not lived Sept 23, 2011 yet, but I am looking forward to it!

    Team Pedersen has obviously been sniffing their own powerpoints.

  20. g Says:

    In all fairness I should say that last week on this site I called for a posting of the 9/23/10 minutes and it looks like someone is at least reading those posts and trying to comply. But please, at well over a million a year for In-house Management you should strive for accuracy as well as timeliness.

  21. Dan Says:

    Hey Everyone,

    They just changed the Measure C Oversight Committee meeting date from Sept. 15th to Sept. 22nd.

    Why such a late change? What about all the people who have arranged their schedule for the last month so they could attend and observe the illegalities for themselves?

    I would bet my bottom dollar this is an attempt by Pedersen and Ferrante to quash dessent among the public. Wonder what the Grand Jury will think of that?

  22. g Says:

    On 8/23 the Board approved two new members to the Oversight Committee indicating that they had been voted on and approved by the rest of the Committee. Does anyone know when the “C” meeting was held and these new folks approved? Nothing against them, as we haven’t heard from them yet, but the only possible open meeting was the 6/16/11 meeting (no actual minutes posted YET). 6/16 was the “Power point” meeting. Did they vote in new members that night?

  23. Hermine Feola Says:

    A round of applause relating to your blog.Much appreciate it. Want more.

  24. Theresa Lozac'h Says:

    Lots of research has been published on standardized testing and what can and cannot be correlated with it. What can be correlated with high achievement in standardized testing are two things (1) high socio-economic status and (2) maternal education levels. That is it. Nothing else….not even instruction.

  25. Doctor J Says:

    @TL#74 Sorry, but I disagree. I have cited several research studies on this blog — just take a look at the massive gains last year in the 3 SIG elementary schools that implemented longer instructional days as a condition of the SIG grants. The studies, which you can find on the US Dept of Education website, support the very results we saw last year. And there are many more positive results that can be measured by standardized testing — but its not a cure-all, just a tool.

  26. Theresa Harrington Says:

    FYI, I live tweeted part of the San Ramon PTA Legislative Advocacy Day at Also, I’m uploading videos from state and federal legislators; San Ramon Valley, Moraga and Acalanes superintendents; and the the CA PTA President at
    Here is my story about the PTA event, which includes comments from elected officials about state and federal school funding:
    By the way, I saw an MDUSD CAC rep there! 🙂

  27. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The state has released more detailed data for suspensions and expulsions in 2011-12:

  28. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#77 Ugly — especially in the high schools. Students can’t learn if they are not in school.

  29. Theresa Harrington Says:

    On an unrelated note, I’m working a General Assignment shift today, covering the last day of movies at The Dome in Pleasant Hill:

    If anyone wants to comment for this story, please call me at 945-4764 or email me at

  30. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Although this is mostly unrelated to this blog, here’s my story about the Pleasant Hill dome theater:

    Two things that do remind me of this blog are the fact that some consider the CineArts theater to be an educational institution because of the types of cultural films it shows, and some people are upset by what they perceive as a lack of transparency in the city’s approval process.

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