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Archive for October, 2011

National Merit Program Semi-finalists announced

I received the following (excerpted) news release announcing semifinalists in the 2012 National Merit® Scholarship Program:

“…officials of National Merit Scholarship Corporation (nmsc) announced the names of approximately 16,000 Semifinalists in the 57th annual National Merit Scholarship Program. These academically talented high school seniors have an opportunity to continue in the competition for some 8,300 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $34 million that will be offered next spring. To be considered for a Merit Scholarship® award, semifinalists must fulfill several requirements to advance to the finalist level of the competition.

About 90 percent of the semifinalists are expected to attain finalist standing, and more than half of the finalists will win a National Merit Scholarship, earning the Merit Scholar® title.

NMSC, a not-for-profit organization that operates without government assistance, was established in 1955 specifically to conduct the annual National Merit Scholarship Program.

Scholarships are underwritten by nmsc with its own funds and by approximately 440 business organizations and higher education institutions that share nmsc’s goals of honoring the nation’s scholastic champions and encouraging the pursuit of academic excellence.

Steps in the 2012 Competition

About 1.5 million juniors in some 22,000 high schools entered the 2012 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2010 Preliminary sat/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (psat/nmsqt®), which served as an initial screen of program entrants. The nationwide pool of semifinalists, which represents less than 1 percent of U.S. high school seniors, includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state. The number of semifinalists in a state is proportional to the state’s percentage of the national total of graduating seniors.

To become a Finalist, a Semifinalist must have an outstanding academic record throughout high school, be endorsed and recommended by the high school principal, and earn sat scores that confirm the student’s earlier performance on the qualifying test. The semifinalist and a high school official must submit a detailed scholarship application, which includes the student’s essay and information about the Semifinalist’s participation and leadership in school and community activities.

From the approximately 16,000 semifinalists, about 15,000 are expected to advance to the finalist level, and in February they will be notified of this designation. All National Merit Scholarship winners will be selected from this Finalist group. Merit Scholar designees are selected on the basis of their skills, accomplishments, and potential for success in rigorous college studies,without regard to gender, race, ethnic origin, or religious preference.

National Merit Scholarships

Three types of National Merit Scholarships will be offered in the spring of 2012.

Every Finalist will compete for one of 2,500 National Merit $2500 Scholarships that will be awarded on a state representational basis. About 1,000 corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards will be provided by approximately 240 corporations and business organizations for finalists who meet their specified criteria, such as children of the grantor’s employees or residents of communities where sponsor plants or offices are located. In addition, about 200 colleges and universities are expected to finance some 4,800 college-sponsored merit scholarship awards for finalists who will attend the sponsor institution.

National Merit Scholarship winners of 2012 will be announced in four nationwide news releases beginning in April and concluding in July. These scholarship recipients will join more than 283,000 other distinguished young people who have earned the Merit Scholar title.”

Here are the Contra Costa County semi-finalists, listed alphabetically by city and high school. More information about the program is at

Lal, Temi N.
Rendradjaja, Pandu B.

Kerfs, Jeremy
Ryba, Bryan E.
Waterson, Zachary J.


Ross, Cullen L.

Adam, Karna
Bahk, Jessica
Chiang, Michael J.
Hui, Sandra C.
Li, Andrew Y.
Oh, Jeong Min
Williams, Joshua

Hasani, Raveesh R.
Hennessy, Shannon R.
Johnson, Cooper
Rogers, Dylan M.
Wang, Ethan
Wolfe, John D.
Wolfert, Katherine E.


Baer, Annalise E.
Johnson, Ariana B.
Mooney, Sean R.

Hsieh, Elizabeth J.
Little, David T

830 Spangenberg, Carielle U.

Bennett, Colin T.
Compestine, Vinson M.
Evans, Ciaran L.
Geiger, Keith R.
Gelston, Kevin W.
Jang, Colton
Kathan, Jessica C.
Lu, Marie
Shweh, Peter Y.
Wong, Colin K.

Ahmann, Justin T.
Baker, David C.
Blore, Jason M.
Bollag, Sophia M.
Chen, Alexander S.
Fluegge, Robert B.
Hasanain, Syed Ali B.
Kaufhold, Samantha G.
Stanaro, Kathleen M.
Tran, Courtney L.
Wu, Eric G.
Young, Hayley N.

Farnitano, Matthew C.

Li, Roge

Baid, Gunjan
Camenzind, Thomas W.
Chen, Burt J.
Cox, Brian
Halarnkar, Natasha G.
Jeong, Soomin
Ko, Tiffany
Luo, Ross S.
Oberhauser-Lim, Natalie A.
Saiki, Robyn M.
Trivedi, Mehul D.
Tsai, Erica Y.

Han, Jaeyoon
Ho, Frederick W.
Ho, Hugo
Kumar, Meera M.
Li, Anna
Lin, Gilbert P.
Lu, David Q.
Pandey, Ainesh
Sheth, Richa P.
Wang, Eric S.
Zeng, Connie X.
Zhu, Henian


Cohen, Wesley O.
Ishiguro, Amy S.
Martin, Olivia
Tang, Aaron W.
Warner, Abigail M.
Zhang, Felicia L.

Batra, Rahul
Hon, Thomas
Kim, Simon
Lee, Dongwon
Li, Jerry
MacCabe, Cameron J.
Wei, David M.
Yu, Hongxiang

Congratulations to all the finalists, who attend schools in many districts in the county, as well as private schools.

Do you believe your local schools provide the types of educational opportunities necessary to challenge the highest-achieving students?

Posted on Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | No Comments »

Clayton City Council denounces MDUSD board’s conditional charter approval, mayor is heartened by community support

As the Clayton Valley High School charter petition has gathered steam in the community, the Clayton City Council has emerged as a strong force in favor of the conversion.

Although city and school leaders have traditionally sought to maintain a positive working relationship for the good of the communities they both share, a schism has emerged in the Clayton and Concord area of the Mt. Diablo school district that serves Clayton Valley High.

This was highlighted last month, when the Clayton City Council unanimously denounced the school board for its approval of the Clayton Valley High charter petition,  if more than 50 conditions are met by February:

Clayton Mayor David Shuey has been the most outspoken council member, encouraging the public to email him with questions or to voice support or opposition to the charter. He recently received a copy of a letter of support sent to the board and superintendent from a family whose child will not enter high school for many years.

Both Shuey and the father who wrote the letter agreed to allow me to post it below:

“Dear Council Members and Superintendent Lawrence,

Today my daughter, and future CVCHS student, is 10 months old. The thought never occurred to me that I would have attended four meetings with regards to her high school before my daughter was 10 months old. After attending these meetings to learn about the Charter conversion process and to hear from both the steering committee and Mt. Diablo Unified School District, I am in full support of this conversion happening with Clayton Valley High School.

This e-mail is to confirm support for the Charter conversion both my wife and and myself, and to notate our dissatisfaction with the MDUSD approval with conditions. As has been pointed out by the steering committee, some of these conditions are unrealistic or not possible to achieve until after the Charter has been approved. We agree with Mayor Shuey that the current approval with conditions is a de-facto denial.

Both Julielyn and myself, applaud the city council for taking such a strong stand and support for the Clayton Valley Charter High School. Thank you for helping to make our daughter’s future a bit brighter.

Anthony & Julielyn Chippero.”

Despite this support, there appears to be deep concern among some parents and administrators in other schools about the financial impact the charter could have on them.

Although Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister has also come out in favor of the charter, other city council members in Concord, Martinez, Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek have remained silent on the issue.

Do you believe it is appropriate for city council members to take stands on school district issues?

Posted on Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Mt. Diablo school district | 17 Comments »

Education reform advocate touts charter schools, online learning

Many education reformers focus their attention on low-income schools with a high percentage of English language learners and students who are in ethnic minorities.

But, Lance Izumi — an author and senior director for education at the Pacific Research Institute public policy think tank — says suburban campuses that don’t at first appear to fit the profile of low-performing schools can also benefit from education reforms.

During a recent speech to the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association in Pleasant Hill, Izumi highlighted Clayton Valley High School in Concord as an example of such a campus.

“At Clayton Valley, less than two out of 10 students are socio-economically disadvantaged, which means that the large majority of students are not from low-income families, and probably most are middle class,” he said. “Many people would therefore assume that the school would be higher performing. If you look at Clayton Valley test scores, however, one sees some real problems.”

He said 42 percent of 11th-graders failed to score proficient in English last spring.

“It was much worse in math,” Izumi said, “with a combined 68 percent of 11th graders taking the Algebra II and summative math exams failing to score at proficiency.”

Here is a link to a video of his speech:

Izumi also referred to a Global Report Card at, which shows how students in districts in the United States compare to students in countries such as Singapore, Canada and Switzerland.

He touted online learning as a good way to reach all types of students — from remedial to advanced, including English language learners and children with autism — saying programs adjust to students’ learning levels.

Some in the audience were receptive to his message, while others were skeptical.

Rene Maher, of Pleasant Hill, said she sent her children to parochial schools because she wasn’t satisfied with local public schools. However, she was encouraged by statistics cited by Izumi about improvement achieved at some schools in California with charters and online programs.

Some West Contra Costa district parents, on the other hand, told me they would have preferred that Izumi focus on improving teaching in the classroom. They questioned whether one purpose of his speech was to sell his books, which he referenced a few times.

Do you believe charter schools and online education offer suitable alternatives to traditional public school programs?

Posted on Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
Under: California, Clayton, Concord, Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, West Contra Costa school district | 1 Comment »

Northgate principal enters Clayton Valley charter debate, Clayton Mayor responds to MDUSD board

As many of you have heard already, Northgate High School Principal John McMorris sent a message to his school community Monday, asking parents to come to tonight’s board meeting and express their concerns about the Clayton Valley High charter petition.

McMorris’ letter quickly made its way to charter supporters. Clayton Mayor David Shuey sent a response to the MDUSD board. Both messages are posted below.



October 10, 2011

Charter School Newsletter

Dear Northgate Community,

I am writing you today with a critical request on an issue that will have a direct negative effect on our students at Northgate High, and for students throughout the Mount Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD): The Clayton Valley High School Charter Proposal.

I do not ask for your support to oppose backers of the Clayton proposal, I believe they are top notch, well intentioned educators who want the best for their students. I ask for your support because if their proposal passes our students and student’s district wide will suffer for the following reasons:

* Funding the Charter School will require MDUSD to pull up to $90 per pupil out of each school in the district to pay for the Charter. This is the rough equivalent of 10 sections at Northgate High or two teachers!

* If Clayton Valley becomes a Charter School, the criteria for dismissing teachers is far less cumbersome that in a non-charter school. This means teachers with tenure who do not want to stay at the Charter or whom the Charter School may not want to keep will have priority rights to move to Northgate, I will have no say in this process and we could lose some great young teachers who I have had the good fortune to hire in the past couple of years.

I desperately ask you to contact our board members via e-mail today or tomorrow, or attend the board meeting tomorrow night and let the board know how you feel about this issue; our board must vote this down unless they can show it will not have a negative impact on the students at Northgate High School. As mentioned earlier, I understand the passion of the backers of the Clayton Valley Charter; I also sincerely believe they can accomplish their goals working together with the district. The new principal of CV Sue Brothers is a top notch educator who is already making wholesale changes at Clayton; the charter backers owe it to all our children to give her a chance.

John McMorris Principal Northgate High School”

From: David T. Shuey
Sent: Monday, October 10, 2011 11:12 PM
Subject: FW: Letter from the Principal – Charter School Newsletter

Gary and all,

Let me say again, REALLY?

This is how you show ‘We are committed to ensuring that the charter school opens in 2012?’

You say we are creating a battle where there is no need? Again, really?

You either have a rogue principal who is sending out legally wrong and factually incorrect information using district resources (in which case I would like to see immediate public discipline and a retraction to all parties who were sent this email) or this is part of a dedicated campaign by the district against the charter petition. Given that Steve and at least Rose were present at a meeting with principals and others last week prior to his ‘news update,’ could anyone blame us if we feel that maybe there is a campaign of misdirection going on from your offices?

Given that Mr. McMorris has his facts wrong about your ability to consider the financial impact on Northgate, I would suggest that you have him send out a retraction immediately.

Also, since our ‘eyes and ears’ throughout the rest of the district will let us know if other principals go rogue or were told to send out their own newsletters so you could get some heretofore nonexistent opposition to show up tomorrow, I would request that you immediately inform them to not send anything out that is incorrect in the law or facts.

At every turn you (ie district not you individually) send out nice little ‘reasoned’responses to what are obvious disinformation and opposition campaign tactics, but each time you top yourself with new acts of contempt for your constituents in Clayton and Concord. Shame on you. I also wonder what Congressman Miller will think of these tactics? Susan Bonilla? Mark DeSaulnier? the DA?

I am composing a very encompassing public records request and it will cover information that was provided to the principals regarding this misinformation campaign, including emails to and from the district. It will also request all information provided to School Services, including the costs of running CV and the savings if the district does not have to pay for its operation. You should probably start shredding now — wait, that is illlegal isn’t it?


David ‘Shoe’ Shuey
Mayor, City of Clayton”

The school board cannot legally deny the charter based on its financial impact to the district. Also, the charter supporters say the district has not shared with them the financial information to which McMorris refers.

What do you think about the message that went to the Northgate community?

Posted on Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 11 Comments »

Project Labor Agreement to be discussed by Contra Costa Community College District board

Some members of the non-union construction community have told me they are concerned about a Project Labor Agreement, which the Contra Costa Community College District will consider at its Wednesday meeting.

You can see a detailed staff report about the proposal in this agenda report, under Item 24D:

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the college district’s board room at 500 Court Street in Martinez. More information is available by calling 925-229-1000.

Do you think the board should approve the Project Labor Agreement?

Posted on Sunday, October 9th, 2011
Under: Education | 6 Comments »

MDUSD Sept. 27 appointments and bond refunding presentation

Since the Mt. Diablo school board no longer webcasts its meetings, I have begun recording portions and posting them for those who were unable to attend the meeting (or for those who want to review what happened).

Here’s a rundown of appointments made at the Sept. 27 meeting, as well as portions of the bond refunding presentation:

The board appointed Lorien Quirk as a behaviorist program manager (sorry, didn’t get video of that).

Trustees also appointed Bryan Cassin as a dispute resolution special education administrator:

The board appointed Billy Torres as an occupational therapist:

Trustees appointed Kerry Wayne Larion a trades supervisor (didn’t get video of that).

The board approved an easement at the PH Ed Center and approved bylaws for the 2002 Measure C Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee (no video).

Trustees approved a resolution authorizing the issuance and sale of 2002 Measure C bonds not to exceed $100 million, after hearing a presentation from financial adviser Jon Isom. I recorded portions of Isom’s presentation.
Part 1:
Part 2:
After trustees approved the resolution, Isom asked for direction. Board President Gary Eberhart said: “It’s our expectation that you will do a good job.”

Do you think the district should refund the bonds?

Posted on Sunday, October 9th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 1 Comment »

High school athletes challenge Concord City Council to beat Clayton and Walnut Creek councils in 5k support

The Concord City Council is ready to take on the Clayton and Walnut Creek city councils in an annual challenge: to see who can show the most support for the 5k run at 9 a.m. today that will raise money for Mt. Diablo school district sports.

Three athletes from Concord and Ygnacio Valley high schools spoke to the council Sept. 27, urging the city leaders to show Clayton and Walnut Creek who’s got the most school spirit.

You can see the speeches and the council’s reactions online at Click on “Public Comment” under the regular 6:30 p.m. meeting.

Signups have been slow this year, but it’s not too late to register.

The high school with the most participants wins a trophy. The past two years, Clayton Valley High School has won, said Pat Middendorf, the school’s athletic director and co-race coordinator.

Here are the event details:

The United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation’s third annual “Save Our Sports” walk and run registration will begin at 8 a.m. Sunday at Newhall Park, at Ayers and Turtle Creek roads in Concord.

Competitive run is at 9 a.m., fun run and walk is at 9:45 a.m. and “kiddie” run and walk for children 8 and under is at 10:30 a.m.

Cost is $10 for kiddie event, $30 day of race for other participants. More information is available by visiting

Which city council and school do you think will show the most support?

OCT. 13 UPDATE: Here’s a link to the competitive race results:

OCT. 14 UPDATE: Marci Finley informed me that 400 participants signed up on the day of the race and that a total 1,350 people participated overall. A report of the total money raised is expected by next week.

Posted on Sunday, October 9th, 2011
Under: Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | No Comments »

MDUSD board to discuss Clayton Valley HS charter petition Tuesday

At Mt. Diablo district Trustee Cheryl Hansen’s request, the school board expects to discuss the Clayton Valley High charter petition Tuesday.

Hansen made the request Sept. 27, after the board heard public comments from the following charter supporters: Clayton Mayor David Shuey, Clayton Councilman Joe Medrano, CVHS teacher Neil McChesney, and CVHS students Sara Kommer and Clayton Martin.

Below are links to videotaped portions of some of the comments. Unfortunately, I was only able to record a couple segments of Shuey’s comments and I missed McChesney’s.

Here’s part 1 of Shuey’s comments:
Here’s part 2:

Here are Medrano’s comments:

Although some in the community have said the charter petition isn’t innovative enough, Kommer showed her ability to “think out of the box” with this creative appeal to trustees:

Martin’s approach, on the other hand, was more traditional:

Trustee Cheryl Hansen announced that she wanted to place the Clayton Valley HS charter petition on the Oct. 11 agenda:

Here is what appears on the Tuesday agenda:

Item 13.2:
Subject: 13.2 Review of and update on the Clayton Valley Charter High School organizer’s efforts to meet the requirements for approval indicated in the Board’s September 13, 2011 Resolution approving, with conditions, the establishment of the Clayton Valley Charter High School

Summary: Review of the status of conditions required of the charter school petitioners. Staff will report on the meetings that have been held between September 13 – October 11, among the Board, district representatives and the charter school.”

This is an information item only, not slated for a vote.

Item 13.3
Subject: 13.3 Motion to rescind the Board’s action of September 13, 2011 entitled, ‘Resolution of the Governing Board of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District Granting, With Conditions, the Charter for the Establishment of the Clayton Valley Charter High School’

Summary: Vote to rescind the Board’s action on the charter school approval, with conditions, which occurred on September 13, 2011.

Recommendation: Staff recommends not rescinding the Board action of September 13, 2011 that approved the establishment of the Clayton Valley Charter High School with conditions.”

There are no additional reports or documents outlining progress on the conditions or the reasons for staff’s recommendations. It’s unclear whether any PowerPoint presentations will be added later.

Here is a link to the Sept. 13 resolution approved by the board:

Shortly after this agenda was posted, Superintendent Steven Lawrence sent out the following message to the community (which is not yet posted on the district’s website):

“Mt. Diablo USD News Update
Where Kids Come First
October 7, 2011



Under State law, the Board cannot consider the financial impact of a charter on the District when considering whether to approve or deny a charter school. Now that the charter has been conditionally approved, the District must determine the impending on-going financial impact. The information below was not part of the Board deliberation on the charter petition, but it now must be considered as part of the Board’s fiduciary responsibility to maintain fiscal solvency and educational programs for all District students. The fiscal impact must be included in the 2011-12 First Interim financial report in December.

Per Student Funding

1. Not all school districts are funded at the same rate. Unified school districts receive less funding per pupil than high school districts under California’s funding formula. Educational programs generally become more costly as students’ progress through the grades. (As explained below, however, our district is atypical regarding the cost to run an average elementary versus middle/high school).

2. Our district receives the unified school district per pupil funding amount of $5,207 per student. By contrast, a conversion charter high school would receive the average amount for high school districts which is $6,148.

3. Our district, not the state, will be responsible for paying the conversion charter the $941[1] per student difference between the unified rate and the high school rate. Payment will come from the funds generated by all other students in our district.

4. Under AB 114, which was part of the 2011-12 budget adopted by the state in July, 2011, districts must transfer additional funds to new charters at the rate of $127 per student out of their state categorical funds. Our district is using most of these funds to balance our budget including keeping people employed and maintaining programs.

5. Consequently, one component of the charter’s cost to our District is:

$1.8 million[2] or $55 per pupil district-wide.[3]

Additional Expenses

6. Currently, the average district teacher expense including salary, statutory benefits, and health/dental benefits is:

· Elementary: $78,748

· Middle School: $71,285

· High School: $69,261

Note that our elementary teachers have more years of experience than our secondary teachers. Therefore, the district’s average elementary school teacher expense is 13.7 percent more than a high school teacher.

7. Given the variance in teacher costs, plus the impact of the State budget cuts, and the overall cost of programs, we use revenue generated from each high school to support all programs and teachers district-wide. We estimate that due to the charter conversion, our district will have to cut an additional $598,002 to offset CVHS’ contribution to the General Fund.

Total Fiscal Impact

8. Therefore, the board must plan to cut the General Fund by $2.4 million[4] or approximately $74 per pupil, beginning in 2012-13 school year when CVCHS opens. This will need to be an on-going, not one time, reduction.

9. School Services of California (a leading school finance authority) analyzed and verified the calculations above. Our District finance team is willing to partner with the charter organizers to bring in the Contra Costa County Office of Education or Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), both unbiased outside organizations respected for their financial analysis ability, to conduct another review of the above calculations.


1. When CVHS converts to a charter school, any CVHS teacher or classified support staff member who wants to remain a District employee has the right to do so. The state’s contractual ‘bumping’ process will displace more junior teachers and support staff members district-wide to ensure the district absorbs the more senior staff members from CVHS who intend to remain employed by the district. A teacher’s ‘bumping rights’ will be determined by his/her years of experience and credentials. A classified support staff member’s “bumping rights” are determined by job classification and hours of service. This ‘bumping’ will impact a majority of our schools.

2. Before March 15, 2012, we will create ‘bumping’ lists and issue layoff notices to the least senior teachers throughout the District. We will need to go through the same process for classified support staff members by April 30, 2012.

3. Teachers and support staff members at CVHS need not notify us until June 30, 2012, whether they will remain with the District. The timing will make it difficult to retain teachers who receive a layoff notice and are uncertain about their District employment. We continue to ask the charter organizers and our CVHS faculty and staff members to provide the District with as much notice as possible. Early notification will allow our district and CVCHS to adequately staff and plan for the students. We ask for professional courtesy and integrity in this matter.


1. Our district must redraw the high school attendance boundaries to create a home school for students who currently attend CVHS and wish to attend a district high school.

2. Based on space availability, students who are removed from or leave CVCHS will have the right to attend the high school in their attendance boundary.


[1] $6,148 – $5,207 = $941

[2] $1,792,960 is the total amount lost because of the $941 difference and the $127 per student loss in revenue.

[3] In a May 2011, News Update, we explained the above facts, but did not know about the additional reduction of $127 from districts’ categorical funding to new charter schools.

[4]$1,792,960 + $598,002 = $2,390,962″

Here is a response from the charter steering committee, which I received today:

“Oct. 8, 2011
Response from Steering Committee:

The Clayton Valley Charter High School Steering Committee is shocked and disappointed at the latest action of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District superintendent. This clearly undermines the previous public statements of both the district staff and board that they wish to work in a collegial manner with the charter steering committee. Both the timing of the superintendent’s ‘News Update’ and the content make it clear that the superintendent has no interest in working with the charter.

Following the Board’s de-facto denial of the charter petition under the guise of an ‘approval with conditions,’ the charter group moved forward in good faith efforts to meet and confer with district staff to respond to and reach agreement on the 56 conditions. There have been two meetings with staff and a multitude of emails back and forth between both parties. In fact, the charter has been appreciative of the efforts of staff, particularly Deb Cooksey, Rose Locke, Julie Braun-Martin, and Felicia StuckeySmith, and felt that both sides were working in good faith toward a mutually agreeable resolution of the conditions. Our last meeting was on Thursday, October 8, 2011, one day before the superintendent’s update was sent out to all parents in the district. At no point during our meeting with staff or at any other time were we informed the district, or at least the superintendent, was working on a separate track aimed at publicly undermining the good faith meet and confer process going on with staff. However, the superintendent did choose to meet with district principals during the week to share this information. In point of fact, the superintendent has never been involved in direct communication with the charter steering committee since the petition was submitted.

Following the release of an earlier and very similar ‘update‘ from the superintendent on August 26th, informal discussions were initiated between the charter steering committee and the board after the issue went viral in the media. It was our informal understanding that an effort would be made on both sides to work more closely together so as not to engage in one-sided, potentially misleading information being disseminated. Clearly, this is not the case for the district and so the charter steering committee is once again forced to respond to propaganda when we would rather concentrate on continued progress toward resolution.

As the ‘update’ was provided to everyone, including the charter, after 6 p.m. on Friday night, we are working to review and respond to the claimed facts and impact.

We hope to have a comprehensive response by the board meeting on Oct. 11, 2011. However, in the interim, we have the following thoughts and comments:

1. What is the purpose of this public ‘update’ if the board cannot consider this in its denial or approval of the petition?

2. Where in the update is there listed any data or foundation for the savings the district will incur as a result of not having to pay for the expenditures of running Clayton Valley? Remember, the district’s own staff report previously estimated the district would save approximately $1.7 million from closing CV. What is the actual per ADA cost of operating the school and and why won’t the district disclose this figure?

3. What data was given to School Services for their review? Did they get information or were they asked to verify the cost savings? Why did the district choose not to share the fact that they were hiring an outside source to review the charter financials at any time before the staff recommendation?

4. Why did the district not partner with the Charter to ensure that this was a ‘fair’ assessment that included cost savings before making it public? Why does the district continually and deliberately refuse to work with the charter steering committee? It is extremely difficult to interpret these consistent tactics as anything but underhanded and nefarious.

5. Why, despite repeated requests by the charter for financial information dating back to April of this year, including the costs to run CV (and therefore the potential savings to the district should it not be responsible for those costs), has the district not provided that information even today?

6. Why, if ‘Educational programs generally become more costly as students’ progress through the grades’ has the district apparently continually underfunded ALL high schools from the average daily attendance rate the state indicates should be given for students in high school? Doesn’t this point to historical and continued fiscal mismanagement and misappropriation by the district?

7. If the district and state recognize the district is underfunding ALL high schools in the district, why do not other high schools in the district demand proper funding or request their own charter?

8. Why would the country and the state have written charter legislation and encouraged charter schools if doing so would devastate existing districts? Similarly, why have so many conversion charters throughout the state been approved and successfully operated, collaborated with and positively impacted their districts? Is MDUSD doing something different such that it would be the only district to suffer from a charter and, if so, isn’t that more a condemnation of the district’s management?

9. Why has Superintendent Lawrence never met or communicated with the charter since the petition?

10. Why does MDUSD use an archaic account code structure that is out of compliance with the rest of the state of California? Is it so it can massage the numbers to suit its purpose? The district’s own financial records are constantly in question and fiscal solvency seems to be teetering on the brink; perhaps the public deserves a closer look at MDUSD’s books.

We will be making a formal request that the superintendent share any information that we provide regarding the district claims to every MDUSD family, just as the current ‘update’ was disseminated. In the interest of unprejudiced truth, this seems a fair proposition. We urge anyone interested to come to the Board meeting on October 11, 2011 and ask the board to answer these and other questions. Please pass this information on to those who want to hear from both sides of this issue and please see our Facebook page or website ( for further information.

Clayton Valley Charter High School Steering Committee”

I spoke to Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh on Friday about the Tuesday agenda items. Here’s what she said:

“My position is the board voted 5-0 to continue a certain path,” she said. “That’s the way the board felt at the time and if Ms. Hansen has changed her mind, she’s free to make the motion and the rest of the board will decide if they want to agree with her or agree with staff’s recommendation. My understanding is it’s only a motion to rescind. There is no other motion that can be made.”

However, Whitmarsh said Hansen could continue to place the charter on future agendas, if she desires.

“She could be putting it on an agenda every week, if she chose,” Whitmarsh said. “It’s her prerogative.”

Whitmarsh, who hadn’t yet seen the agenda, said she would wait to see what the staff report said about progress made before deciding how to proceed.

“There has been nothing so far that would change my mind,” she said. “The board voted 5-0. In my opinion, the board has never gone back to rescind something that the board all supported as a 5-0 vote. It’s interesting that here’s a board member who voted with the entire board and now wants to rescind the motion.”

Trustee Cheryl Hansen left me the following voice mail message today about her expectations for Tuesday:

“I think it’s time that we do the right thing with the charter school petitioners. I think they’ve acted in good faith with very serious intention and commitment and my goal is to kind of correct what I see as a vote that was not a good way to go.

My view of this whole thing is that we need to respect them enough to give them an up or down vote — meaning an approve or deny vote — and the only way to get to that and make it right again is to actually rescind the original vote.

So that is why I had mentioned at the last board meeting that my intention on Tuesday is to get an update on what’s been going on with these meetings, which I had no real knowledge of — and that’s part of what I’ll bring up Tuesday night — what in the world’s been going on behind the scenes with these meetings with the charter school?

I think things need to happen out in the open, which is why I had suggested a couple of times that we have a board charter school study session, because I think things are much more trustworthy when they happen out in the open with the public’s opportunity to participate and listen.

So, my goal is to try to rescind the vote and then hopefully move onto an up or down approve or deny vote. And my vote would, of course, be to approve without conditions.”

Bryan Richards, the district’s chief financial officer, reported at the last board meeting that the district had an unrestricted “undesignated fund balance” of $30.8 million, which was $7.6 million more than anticipated.

Do you think the board should rescind its original vote?

Posted on Saturday, October 8th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 146 Comments »

Bluegrass rooftop concert to benefit MDUSD music programs

If you like stomping your feet to fiddle and banjo music, then you won’t want to miss the “Bluegrass Benefits Mt. Diablo Music Education Foundation” concert for music programs in Mt. Diablo schools.

In partnership with Brenden Theatres, the Mt. Diablo Music Education Foundation (MDMEF) will present the benefit from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15 on the third floor of the theatre’s parking structure at 1985 Willow Pass Road in Concord.

The event will feature bluegrass bands Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands and Oak Grove.

It is planned to bring attention to and raise funds for MDMEF Music Education Grants for schools in the Mt. Diablo School District, according to a news release.

Tickets cost $10 for teens and adults or $5 for children under 12. You can pay at the door.

Here’s the schedule:

1:30-2 p.m.: Bring your instruments to play along during a Bluegrass Workshop presented by members of Oak Grove.

2:10-3 p.m.: Oak Grove performs

3-3:30 p.m.: Raffle Drawing & Announcements

3:30-4:45 p.m.: Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands performs

Some seating will be provided, but you are also encouraged to bring your own chairs. Patrons can get lunch at local restaurants before enjoying bluegrass music “up on the roof.” (It’s not just for the Beatles!)

More information is available by visiting

About MDMEF (from the news release)

The foundation was formed to raise awareness of the elimination of the Mt. Diablo school district’s elementary music programs and to solicit donations to support music education for students.

Qualifying organizations can receive grants to provide music instruction to students in the district. Grant applications are available on the website.

“Last month, we granted $22,000 from our new Music Education Grants,” said Joan Miller, foundation president. “We are pleased that through the support we have received from individuals and businesses that we will be able to provide funds that will provide music instruction to the students in our district.”

Grant recipient response

“Thank you so much for your generous gift of support for Westwood Elementary School. With the grant you provided for us, we have been able to hire a teacher and organize an after-school instrumental music program that has already attracted 24 4th and 5th graders. We all know that this would not have been possible without your support, and I speak for many in my expression of gratitude. Our kids are truly fortunate to be able to have this musical experience despite the budgetary hardships in the district.” – Barbara Fuller, Co-VP of Westwood Elementary PFC

“Thank you, MDMEF! Your grant has made it possible for the award-winning Foothill Middle School Jazz Band to continue, and this looks to be a very exciting year for the group.” – Kirk Wetterholm, Foothill Middle School Music Director

Volunteer opportunities

A variety of fundraisers are planned to support music in district schools. More information is available on the nonprofit foundation website. Tax ID 27-1292110.

Would you like to see more events like this?

Posted on Thursday, October 6th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Music | No Comments »

One cheek on and one cheek off: safe school bus practice?

During the past week, parents of a student who used to attend Glenbrook Middle School have spoken up, alleging the district’s efforts to transport displaced students from the closed Glenbrook campus to El Dorado Middle School are unsafe.

Ron Quinn sent the following (excerpted) e-mail to the school board Tuesday:

“My son attended Glenbrook last year but with the closure is now attending El Dorado Middle school. We are about 4 miles away and have had to purchase a bus pass to get him to and from school in the amount of ($85) per semester. Today we were not able to send him to school because of a serious safety issue with the school district’s transportation. We were told that there would be a least two school busses that would pick up and drop off children at Glenbrook. This has not happened. There is one bus in the morning and three busses in the afternoon. Not sure why this is but this morning there was an in excess of 66 children for one bus. Three children per seat are not safe. Many of the kids are sitting half in the seat and half in the aisle….I am not very happy about this situation and would find it hard to believe that the school district would purposely be placing children in danger. Please let me know what the actual bussing schedule is because what we have been seeing is not what has been advertised …”

When he got no immediate response, Quinn sent this (excerpted) e- mail to the Times:

“After two hours of no response I called … and was directed to the Transportation department. I talked to a lady named Connie who is in charge of the busses. I asked her about the bussing situation because today the bus was too crowded to safely send our child to school. She clarified a couple of things for me. 1) there is only one bus in the morning to pick kids up. 2) there are two busses in the afternoon — one to take kids home at the end of school and then a 5:30 p.m. bus to take kids in the after school program home. When I mentioned how crowded the bus was she stated that it was not and that the capacity of the bus was 85 children. When I mentioned that every seat had three to a seat and that they were sitting so that the third child was half on a seat and half in the aisle she stated that this was acceptable. When I mentioned that to me this was not safe and seemed to be a safety concern she said that it was safe to sit half in the aisle. She said that three to a seat was acceptable and when I asked if this took into consideration the size of the child and asked if it would be possible to sit three large students to one seat she again said it was safe. (I don’t agree with her assessment.) If the bus were to have to stop suddenly how would the students who were sitting half in the aisle prevent themselves from being thrown from their seats? Personally I would not place my son in danger and if my son cannot sit in a seat properly I don’t believe it’s safe.

She also stated that there are no more busses or equipment and they were limited to one bus. She also stated that if the bus was over crowded that driver would have placed an all call for another bus to pick up the students. When I reminded her of her statement about no other busses being available she paused for a little and then said that they would have made every effort to get the students to school on time…”

I spoke to Connie Prasky, the driver trainer, today.

“I was instructed by the superintendent to continue running the bus as it is,” she said.

Prasky said the bus capacity was 84 and that it didn’t matter how big the students were.

“It is legal to run three to a seat,” she said. “I run high schoolers three to a seat. If they’re big, they usually have one cheek (on the seat), but it is legal.”

She said studies show that school buses are one of the safest modes of transportation, because of “compartmentalization” of the seats, which protects students. I asked if she was aware that compartmentalization requires students to be fully seated, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

She replied: “I have not read anything about that.”

Here’s what the NHTSA’s website says about the number of persons who can safely sit on a school bus seat:

“…The school bus manufacturers determine the maximum seating capacity of a school bus….based on sitting three small elementary school age persons per typical 39 inch school bus seat…School transportation providers generally determine the number of persons that they can safely fit into a school bus seat. Generally they fit three smaller elementary school age persons or two adult high school age persons into a typical 39 inch school bus seat.”

Quinn’s wife, Raquel Escobar, told me her son said he was partially leaning on his knee in the aisle on the way to school this morning. His leg “fell asleep” by the time he got to school and he could see the imprint of ridges on his knee from the floor, she said.

Superintendent Steven Lawrence says the district is acting within the law. He characterized the parents’ complaint as a “comfort concern” and said in an e-mail that the district would explore the possibility of providing a second bus after it finishes training a new batch of drivers.

Do you agree with the district’s practice of seating school buses at their maximum capacity?

Posted on Thursday, October 6th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 14 Comments »