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Archive for November, 2011

Reform: Purpose and Direction – guest commentary

In school districts throughout the country, administrators are implementing “reform” measures, often with the encouragement of federal funding, which requires testing as a measure of performance and accountability.

The Mt. Diablo school district has also turned to testing as a way to assess students. Through test data analysis, teachers tailor their instruction to focus on what students get wrong on the tests. As a result, test scores at many district schools have gone up.

But Mike Langley, president of the Mt. Diablo Education Association (who has taught history for many years), argues in this guest commentary that testing is not the panacea that some might believe it to be.

He wrote the commentary for the union’s “Catalyst” newsletter and has given me permission to reprint it below.

“Reform is often considered a process of modification to an existing institution. The modification is designed to improve the institution without destruction of its basic structure. Revolution is a more radical change, overthrowing the existing institution and theoretically building a superior, often entirely different, institutional structure. The key to both reform and revolution is that the end product should be better than what was in place. Often, we find that unintended consequences result from variables not considered or not within the control of the reformer or revolutionary. The more complex the institution, the more likely a change action will have an effect on areas not originally targeted. Additionally, the farther one moves along the continuum from reform toward revolution, the greater the change applied, the greater the effect on the institution, intended or not.

We seem to be in a whirlwind of education reform, or even an education revolution that has increased in velocity over time. Much of the pre-college education before the Twentieth Century was designed to teach basic literacy. Even in the schools designed to lead the students to higher education demanded a rote method for gaining knowledge of the classics. John Dewey fought against the static approach to education and set forth ideas of reform that required the students learn by a mix of participation and exposure to classical education. He posed the theory that children were naturally active and educators needed to use their students’ inquisitive minds and perpetual restlessness as an asset in learning rather than classifying them as distractions to the ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’ educational approach. However, perceived consequences of his reforms included the disparity of educational quality and rigor from one school to another. This also highlights a danger in the movement for change. There often is the desire to target a single cause for a problem, which results in oversimplified solutions. The social, economic and political influences on our nation and the multi tiered treatment of our citizens for reasons of ethnicity, religion and gender were too complex and too ingrained in the power structure to allow reform or revolution to take place. Instead, post World War Two America used an industrial model of standardization to reduce local control and increase State and Federal influence on our schools. What was termed Administrative Progressivism had the goal of creating massive high school factories moving identically educated students along three parallel assembly lines: College Preparation, General High School Education, and Technical Training. This model was preeminent until the mid 1970’s.

The social upheavals of the late 1950’s in civil rights, and the resulting brief uptick in activism during the 1960’s regarding other social movements including the examination of institutional bias led to a reexamination of the educational model. The assembly lines were called tracking and the segregation by race and gender in assigning students to a particular finished product (skilled technical laborer, high school graduate or university student) were noted. The solution was to break down the administrative movement and blend fact based classical education with inquiry. It became important to take the facts, classify them to allow greater examination and question “Why?” in every field of endeavor. But did we need to dismantle the paths or did we really need a little more flexibility? Consider the counselors who were the quality control guides of the education factories. Was the flawed assignment of individuals due to the mere existence or the multi faceted education path system or was it the result of the gatekeepers simply reflecting the biases of the society in which they were immersed? The short lived movement that broke with standardization created the dilemma of how to maintain a curriculum required for an educated society when goals became hazy and students were encouraged to study whatever was of interest to individuals.

The report ‘A Nation at Risk’ moved education reform back to a concept of cultural literacy. The report attempted to define what Americans should know based on an idealized past and the mistaken assumption that at one time all Americans held this basket of knowledge. This was an extremely complex undertaking and also partially a reaction rather than a reform. In the decade preceding the report, America had been shaken by military defeat, economic upheaval and demographic changes that threatened to redefine the very nature of our society. The return to a classical education which imprinted a common cultural history gave comfort to a population that was witness to the rapid changes in this nation. The solution of tasking the schools to be the responsible agents for this indoctrination was obvious and the method was almost inevitable. Instead of improving the rigor of all subjects and increasing the skills of the teachers in the depth and delivery models of effective curriculum, the solution was to return the focus to memorization of key facts. Instead of considering child development, individual learning strengths, or the effects of abandoning the broad spectrum of knowledge required so to be truly educated, the solution was to narrow, simplify and repeat. The term for this solution is ‘Drill and Kill.’

This generated the next set of reforms. We had to measure the effectiveness of our efforts to be sure that every student benefited from this foundational requirement. There was a brief dalliance with Outcome Based Education (OBE) in the 1990’s. A simple concept, it demanded a quantitative assessment that proved students could demonstrate knowledge or accomplish a task. The U.S. Army had actually tried this a decade before. A skills qualification test was devised. For example, instead of only taking a multiple choice test on how to treat a sucking chest wound, the solider had to physically demonstrate the technique. For many of the Military Occupational Specialties, this was expensive and time consuming. Also, there was a very high failure rate. The logical result should have been to change the training to a performance based model. The expedient result was abandonment of the skills based hands on assessment and a return to rote memorization and response. This worked well until we actually had to deploy troops in large quantities to the Mideast conflict ten years later.

OBE was not popular with education policymakers. Pining for the standardization of the past, quixotically referred to as the golden years of American education, the definition of education was narrowed to the point of simple standards easily measured by a two dimensional assessment tool. The abandonment of music, art, science, social studies, critical thinking became in our elementary schools and the increasing reliance on test scores as the definition of education began before No Child Left Behind. The industries of consultants and creators of assessments have determined that education is the examination of discrete parts not related to the makeup of the whole. Teaching is now a field for technicians, supervised by technocrats, striving for higher numbers without an understanding of the purpose of education. One may be reminded of the Bolshevik Revolution, where the party leaders idealized the concept of the worker, but had no respect for the humans that worked. The flesh and blood worker was just a cog in the production machine, a replaceable part. If the reality of production did not coincide with the theoretical dogma, changing the reality was easier than abandoning the theory.

Our educational leaders are not trying to destroy education, but they are zealots who will not abandon their failing theories. And as the data driven revolution has slowly eroded the quality of a comprehensive education, it attracts those to leadership who find more comfort in numbers than relationships. They are supported by cadres of well intentioned idealists, who want to make things better, but have either lost or never possessed the roadmap that leads us back to reform, and away from the box canyon of testing for the sake of testing.

I have been told that I was on an island and nobody was listening to me. It was better for me to join the mainland of educational revolution that would make the American public school a thing of the past. However, there is still a chance for reform. It won’t come from the Federal or State Departments of Education. It won’t come from the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the California Teachers Association, or the Mount Diablo Education Association. It most definitely will not come from Dent Center, nor will it come from the Mt. Diablo Unified School District Governing Board. This reform must come from you. Each individual teacher must refocus on the purpose of education. The false promise of a utopian educational system based on standardization must be shunned. The efforts each of you are expending on dictated pacing, test preparation and data analysis must be redirected to a deep curriculum with detailed, prepared lessons that meet the needs and spark the interests of your students. The time wasted on bubbling must be used in conversation as you build relationships. The boundaries set in your classrooms must be there because of the respect for students, not simply to control them. Teaching is hard work, and you must focus on that work. It is also an art. Take ideas from your peers, but do not try to be clones. There is no blueprint for a model school that can be replicated from Bangor, Maine to Bay Point. Grow each day in your craft. If something doesn’t work, ask yourself “Why?” What can you do to make it successful? Does your classroom need reform or revolution? Regardless, it must be your reform or your revolution.

In the end, if you teach the young beings in your classroom, almost all of them will succeed. That will be your measure of teacher quality, scored not in AYP, but in lives that may blossom long after they leave your care, a part of you all the same.”

Do you believe the district’s focus on testing is making a positive difference in students’ lives?

Posted on Monday, November 28th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 15 Comments »

Is it too hard to remove incompetent teachers?

On Nov. 9, the Contra Costa Times published the following editorial: “Removing teachers for incompetence is far too difficult.”

Later that day, I received a copy of a rebuttal sent to the Times from Mike Langley, president of the Mt. Diablo Education Association teachers’ union. Since the rebuttal has not yet been published in the Times, I am reposting the editorial below, along with Langley’s response, so blog readers can weigh in.

“Contra Costa Times editorial
© Copyright 2011, Bay Area News Group
Posted: 11/08/2011 04:00:00 PM PST
Updated: 11/09/2011 11:29:15 AM PST

Most education experts agree that the quality of teachers is the most important factor in the level of education students receive. A 2006 Brookings Institution study of Los Angeles public schools concluded that having a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile teacher four years in a row would be enough to close the considerable black-white test score gap.

Yet it is nearly impossible for principals and school districts to dismiss a poorly performing or even a totally incompetent teacher.

Only a tiny percentage of teachers are fired for any reason, and few of them are for lack of competence. In 2009-10, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing received 5,723 reports of teacher misconduct.

Law enforcement accounted for 94 percent of them, and only 202 credentials were revoked that year.

While the vast majority of teachers are dedicated professionals, as is true in any other profession, there are incompetent educators.

Unlike most other professions in the private sector, however, firing a teacher for poor performance is comparatively rare. That, in part, is because of the expensive, tedious and timely process that is required before a teacher is dismissed or loses a credential.

An extensive Los Angeles Times study in 2009 found that building a case for dismissal is so time-consuming, costly and draining for principals and administrators that many say they don’t make the effort except in the most egregious cases.

The vast majority of firings stem from blatant misconduct, including sexual abuse, other immoral or illegal behavior, insubordination or repeated violation of rules such as not showing up on time.

Firing a teacher solely because he or she can’t teach is rare. In 80 percent of the dismissals that were upheld, classroom performance was not even a factor.

Certainly, teachers thought to be incompetent deserve due process, including a chance to reform. Clearly, however, it is far too difficult to get rid of bad teachers in California, which provides protections that go beyond what educators receive in many other states.

While we think seniority and tenure regulations should not be dismissed altogether, they should not be so rigid that it is virtually impossible to remove incompetent teachers or lay off poorly performing senior teachers.

The decision should rest primarily with principals, who need to have more control over their schools.

What is needed is a better balance between job security for teachers and the ability of school principals and districts to remove poorly performing teachers.

Today, there is an unacceptable imbalance in favor of the former to the detriment of California students.”

Here is Langley’s response:

“Your editorial on 9 November 2011 concerning the difficulty in firing teachers missed the mark on a number of levels. As an educator with twenty-three years of experience, I have participated in the evaluation process and might help your readers understand the reality behind the myths entwined in your editorial. Although currently I serve as President of the Mt. Diablo Education Association, I have classroom experience at the middle and high school levels and have twice been selected to be a full time mentor teacher. Two years of my mentorship involved evaluating beginning teachers.

The process in California makes it relatively easy to prevent incompetent teachers from staying in our classrooms. For the first two years of their employment in a district, they are on probation and can be dismissed without cause. Simply saying that a teacher is not a good fit is enough for a principal to non-reelect, or deny permanency, for any teacher. The very process of beginning to teach moves many teachers out of the profession. They quit if it is too difficult or time consuming. After two years on probation, the teacher is granted the right of due process before they can be terminated for cause. This simply means that the administrator must identify shortcomings in a teacher’s performance, offer an opportunity to improve and then terminate the teacher if they do not become proficient. The complaint that it is difficult to show cause means that the administrator can’t take time to actually go into the classroom and observe the teacher for twenty minutes two times in a year and identify poor practice. Then they must follow up and take corrective action. It prevents administrators from firing teachers for refusing to change valid grades, for using an electronic grade book in addition to the district grade book to communicate with parents, for reporting cheating on standardized tests, and for trying to place special needs students in a more appropriate setting. These are all events that happened to proficient teachers who were suddenly rated unsatisfactory.

I agree that the quality of the teacher has an impact on student success. But one must be careful how you measure success. Also, quality of the teacher is not the cause of student success nor is it the cause of student failure. The current movement toward narrowing and standardizing curricula to quantify the complex task of the learning experience has been in place to some extent for over a decade. Yet the increase in students failing to meet arbitrary goals is placed squarely on the head of the classroom teacher. Your ‘education experts’ who have championed methods that have no relationship to children’s developmental readiness should look more closely at their theoretical, statistical models to confirm their efficacy in actual practice. One of my peers was being guided in a practice by a consultant hired to raise test scores. When the teacher asked the expert to demonstrate, the consultant admitted that she was only dealing with theory and had never actually attempted the method in a real classroom. Needless to say, she beat a hasty retreat.

Many of our educational leaders, administrators, have had only a minimum of practical classroom experience. They are applying standards and generating expectations based on a paper or a guru’s magic bullet meant to solve the most complex problem in todays’ society. If one can’t change all the factors that impact the ability of children to learn, it seems the appearance of progress trumps doing the hard and controversial work that would allow some equity in our system. Being out of the classroom for as little as three years can distance an educator from reality in a rapidly changing world. Yet we depend on the opinions of experts who have not taught a lesson, or dealt with real students for decades.

Finally, I must address your mixing the concepts of layoffs with terminating for poor performance. Eliminating poor performance should be the focus of administrators every day. They should be coaching, mentoring and evaluating the teachers on their sites. Those who can or will not improve should be terminated. This cannot be done by administrators who lack the skills of teaching and who do not understand how adults learn so that they can teach the teacher. Layoffs are an economic phenomenon that occurs in times of reduced income for the schools. The temptation to lay off more experienced teachers is driven by cost savings. It is not driven by quality. Inexperienced teachers are not better than experienced teachers as a group. Every year one teaches gives the teacher more skills.
Any teacher who does not admit that they are better in their fifth year than they were in their second year of teaching is someone who is not getting any better at their craft. In our local district layoffs occur because of economic uncertainty. If there was some economic stability, all good teachers would avoid layoffs and all poor teachers could be terminated during probation.

Michael D Langley
President, Mt. Diablo Education Association”

Are you satisfied with the current system?

Posted on Monday, November 28th, 2011
Under: Education | 58 Comments »

MDUSD board to evaluate superintendent during special meeting tonight

The Mt. Diablo school board will hold a special closed session meeting at 7 p.m. tonight to evaluate Superintendent Steven Lawrence.

Members of the public can address the board regarding the superintendent’s evaluation before trustees adjourn to closed session.

The meeting will be held at the district office, 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord.

Are you satisfied with the superintendent’s job performance?

Posted on Monday, November 28th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 20 Comments »

County Board of Education to hear Clayton Valley High School charter appeal Dec. 7

Expecting a large crowd, the Contra Costa County Board of Education has changed its meeting place to the Pleasant Hill Elementary multiuse room Dec. 7, when it will hear the Clayton Valley High School charter appeal.

The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7 at the school, located at 2097 Oak Park Blvd. in Pleasant Hill.

The County Office of Education has not yet posted the agenda:

Normally, the county does not upload the agenda packet to its website. However, the public is entitled to request copies of agenda materials by calling 942-3380 or visiting the County Office of Education at 77 Santa Barbara Road in Pleasant Hill.

The board secretary told me this will be a public hearing, where trustees will listen to public comment. Trustees don’t expect to make a decision on the appeal until Jan. 11, she said. Therefore, she does not expect a staff report to be issued Dec. 7, but she does expect a staff recommendation for the Jan. 11 meeting.

The Mt. Diablo school district’s Parent Advisory Council will meet the same evening from 7-9 p.m. at the district office, 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord:

The Mt. Diablo school board denied the charter conversion petition in a 4-1 vote, based on a staff recommendation that determined petitioners did not meet financial requirements:

Do you think the County Board of Education should approve the charter conversion?

Posted on Monday, November 28th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County Board of Education, Contra Costa County Office of Education, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 14 Comments »

Recap of MDUSD Clayton Valley HS charter cost meeting

Since the Mt. Diablo school district never publicly noticed the meeting held Monday to discuss the possible impacts of a Clayton Valley High charter conversion, it’s unclear whether any minutes were taken or will be made public.

I videotaped portions of the meeting and am posting links to the clips below. Unfortunately, the meeting was held in a large multiuse room, so the sound quality on the video is not very good.

Also, the district has not posted the Powerpoint presentation on its website and it is not clearly visible in the video. So, I’ll post excerpts of it in my blog.

CFO Bryan Richards presented the Powerpoint entitled: “The budget, the multi-year projection, and the potential charter at Clayton Valley High”

The first portion of the Powerpoint (which I was unable to videotape) says:

“The state budget….
– Erased the 2.24 percent COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) with increase in deficit factor
– Did not cut the additional $330 per ADA (Average Daily Attendance) that was believed to be at risk at May revise (and which the district budgeted in its “State Fiscal Uncertainty” reserve)
– Instead, created trigger cuts if state revenues come in below projections, cutting funding mid-year
— Revenue limit up to 4 percent
— Home-to-school and special education transportation approximately 50 percent
– If triggers activated, districts may negotiate up to seven additional furlough days that reduce the school calendar up to a total of 12 days” (from 180 to 168).

Next, Richards presented the district’s assumptions when the board adopted its budget, compared to the unaudited actuals. I have combined the information below, showing the estimates followed by the actuals.

Ending 10-11 fund balance: $33 million; Actual: $45.5 million
Undesignated balance: $23.2 million; Actual: $30.8 million

Projected 2011-12 deficit: ($2.2 million); Actual: same
State fiscal uncertainty ($330/ADA): ($10.7 million) (Reserve)
Unassigned balance 6/12: $10.3 million; Actual $17.9 million

Projected surplus 2012-13: $7.1 million; Actual: $7.1 million
Reduction of 2 percent reserve: ($0.5 million); (Actual same)
State fiscal uncertainty 2012-13: ($10.7 million); Actual same
Estimated unassigned 6/13: $7.2 million; Actual $14.8 million

Projected surplus 2013-14: $8.7 million; Actual $8.7 million
State fiscal uncertainty 2013-14: ($10.6 million); (Actual same)
Unassigned 6/14 balance: $5.3 million; Actual $12.9 million

Richards then explained why the actual ending balance was higher than anticipated with this slide:

“Artificial Ending Balance Inflation
– Full utilization of State Fiscal Stabilization Fund and Education Jobs Fund in 2010-11
– Tier 3 grants remain unrestricted
– Their unspent balances and site carryovers make up large part of ending balance.”

I started videotaping as he went into more detail about this:

Here are the slides he reviewed, with my notes in brackets:

“Fund balance is up $12.5 million. Why is undesignated only up $7.6 million?

– Tier 3 Program Carryovers: $3,178,903
– Site Carryovers: $1,786,820
– Inventory and Prepaid Adjustments: ($27,678)

– [Total] Fund Balance Designation Changes: $4,938,045

– Undesignated is up by $7.6 million due to one-time Special Disability Adjustment plus $2 million Mandated Cost Reimbursement plus $1.4 million, CSR plus $0.5 million, State Fiscal Statibilization Funds used for salaries plus $1.6 million and cost savings efforts”

“The 2011/12 Budget Year Revenue Limit and the Deficit
– Higher deficit factor in 2011-12 (increased from 17.964 percent to 19.754 percent to offset COLA)
– Base Revenue Limit = $6,489.01/ADA
– Deficited Revenue Limit = $5,207.18/ADA
– Deficit also applies to Meals for Needy and Beginning Teacher Salary Adjustment
– Total deficit factor for 2011-12 = $42,055,325
– Equivalent to eliminating 35.6 days’ instruction”

“The Mid-Year Cut Trigger

– State budget calls for graduated mid-year cuts if state revenues miss estimates. If it misses by $4 billion the following occurs:

– Reduction of Revenue Limit (including MFN and BTS) by an additional 4 percent = $261.73 per ADA or $8,515,797

– It will also reduce transportation funding by 50 percent = $1,129,707 or $34.72 per ADA

Total [worst case] trigger cuts $296.45 per ADA or $9,645,504”

“Other MDUSD Budget Adjustments

– Furlough Days: Budgeted at seven days, yet to be negotiated with MDEA [Mt. Diablo Education Association teachers’ union] ($6 million)

– $6 million x 3 years = $18 million

– This is greater than the remaining unassigned balance in the three-year term of the projection” [through 6/14 — however, that projection includes the worst-case trigger, which is $2.1 million more than the LAO projection]

Richards said that each furlough day would save the district more than $858,000.

“How does the future look?

New dartboard: Loss of 2012-13 COLA:
– ($5.4 million) Lose 3.2 percent COLA for 12-13
– ($5.4 million) Loss of 12-13 COLA in 13-14

County Guidance: Loss of 13-14 COLA:
– ($4.7 million) Loss of 13-14 COLA

Clayton Valley Charter High School
– Loss of $11.4 million in revenue (less oversight $0.1 million, facilities use $0.2 million)
– School expenses $7 million if they leave SELPA” [Special Education Legal Plan Area]

Richards then outlined how all these estimated changes could affect the district’s three-year budget projections, projecting “worst-case” estimates (including no teacher furlough days and maximum trigger cuts).

In the slide below, I have noted in brackets possible lower estimates if teachers take furloughs and the district uses LAO trigger projections.

“How do changes affect the budget?

– Actual UGF (Unrestricted General Fund) ending balance: $45.5 million

– Actual undesignated balance 6/11: $30.8 million

– Projected deficit 2011-12: ($8.2 million) [$2.2 million if teachers take seven furlough days]

– Reduction of 2 percent reserve: $0.4 million

– Trigger cuts 11-12: ($9.6 million) [$7.5 million according to LAO]

– Estimated unassigned 6/12: $13.4 million [$21.5 million if teachers take seven furlough days and calculations use LAO trigger]

– Projected deficit 2012-13: ($10.1 million)[Previously estimated a projected surplus of $7.1 million, so this is a difference of -$17.1 million, based partially on $6 million for seven furlough days, $5.4 million for projected loss of COLA and $4.2 million for the maximum CVHS conversion loss]

– Reduction of 2 percent reserve: $0.2 million [previously estimated $0.5 million, so this is $0.3 million less based on a projected lower overall budget]

– Trigger cuts 12-13: $9.9 million [Unclear how this was calculated; Could be about $2 million less based on LAO’s 10-11 projection of $7.5 million instead of $9.6 million]

– Estimated unassigned 6/13: ($6.4 million) [Previously estimated $14.8 million, so this is a difference of -$21.2 million, based partially on higher estimated costs due to possible lack of furlough days, loss of COLA and CVHS conversion; could be $1.4 million if teachers take seven furlough days and LAO trigger estimate is used]

– Projected deficit 13-14: ($12.6 million)[Originally projected surplus of $8.7 million, so this is a change of -$21.3 million, based partially on $6 million if teachers don’t take seven furlough days, $10.1 million for a two-year loss of COLA and an estimated $4.2 million maximum CVHS conversion loss; could be -$6.6 million or more if teachers take seven furlough days]

– Trigger cuts 13-14: ($10 million) [Unclear how this was estimated; Could be at least $2 million less based on LAO’s 10-11 projected trigger cut of $7.5 million]

-Estimated unassigned 6/14: ($29 million)” [Previously estimated $12.9 million surplus, so this is a difference of -$41.9 million if teachers take no furlough days, there is no COLA, the district loses maximum estimate for CVHS conversion and uses higher trigger cut estimates than LAO; could be -$4.7 million or higher if teachers take seven furlough days each of three years and district uses LAO trigger projections]

Richards explained that the $29 million is a worst-case scenario, based on no furlough days, loss of COLA and the maximum charter conversion estimate of $4.2 million, according to the slide below [However, he did not mention that he was using a trigger cut estimate that was $2.1 million more than the LAO’s]:

“How from $12.9 million surplus to a $29 million deficit?

– 2011-12 furlough days: $6 million

– 2012-13 furlough days: $6 million
– 2012-13 COLA loss: $5.4 million
– 2012-13 CVHS loss: $4.2 million
[TOTAL 12-13 -$15.6 million]

– 2013-14 Furlough days: $6 million
– 2013-14 COLA loss (2 years): $10.1 million
– 2013-14 CVHS loss: $4.2 million”
[TOTAL 13-13 -$20.3 million]

Richards broke down CVHS expenses as follows:

“How much spent at CVHS?

In 2010-11 the district spent $6.7 million unrestricted and $2.2 million restricted general fund dollars at CVHS

The site generated $9 million in unrestricted revenue limit funding

The site’s unrestricted budget is currently $7 million

The revenue the district must transfer to the charter school under the conversion scenario is $11.4 million

The district can negotiate rent and receives a 1 percent oversight fee calculated on certain revenues of the school”

Richards talked about how the state is falling short of revenue projections, then reviewed the latest LAO trigger projections as follows:

“Mid Year Cut Trigger LAO Update

LAO projects state revenues miss estimates by $3.7 billion. Under their projection the following occurs:

– Reduction of Revenue Limit by additional 2.9 percent +- $189 per ADA or $6,151,289 (less than the prorated percentage due to hitting Proposition 98 floor)

– It will also reduce transportation funding by 51.693 percent = $1,167,958 or $35.89 per ADA

– Transportation may be exchanged for revenue limit cut at statewide average of $42 per ADA or $1,366,953

– Total trigger cuts $231 per ADA or $7,518,242 [which is $99 per ADA or $2.1 million less than the district’s estimate of $9.6 million]

– The trigger cuts become ongoing”

Richards then explained how districts spread some costs to all schools in the district, as follows:

“Cost data vs. revenue data

– Why don’t costs track with revenue generated by site?

– Declining enrollment – funded on higher of current or prior year ADA districtwide (not by site)

– Expenditure data based on current year annual ADA

– General education programs support more costly programs such as
— Special Education
— Community Day School
— Continuing Education
— Home and Hospital”

Richards ended with School Accountability Report Card information, as follows:

“SARC data

– SARC collects data on expenditures, both unrestricted and restricted by site

– Not all unrestricted dollars are revenue limit, but most are

– Separate handout, you can see how much revenue limit was generated by each site versus expenditures [spreadsheet]

– Non site-based expenditures are apportioned out based on annual ADA

– Remaining funds contribute toward categorical programs such as special education and transportation”

Here’s a breakdown of high school revenues, costs and “contribution toward encroaching programs” from 2010-11, including direct and indirect central services expenditures per student, according to the SARC data. (Note: ADA calculation for revenues is slightly different from ADA for expenditures because they are taken from two different years.)

CLAYTON VALLEY: Total budget: $13,749,565.25 ($7,839.78/ADA)

Total unrestricted revenues generated: $9,053,648.90 ($5,261.50/ADA)
Total deducted for contributions to other programs: $900,896.52 or $523.55/ADA (about 10 percent)

Unrestricted school budget: $8,152,757.39 ($4,648.57/ADA)
Direct unrestricted costs: $6,703,622.65 ($3,822.30/ADA)
Unrestricted central services: $1,449,129.74 ($826.27/ADA)
Contribution to other programs: $900,896.52 or $523.55/ADA
Total unrestricted central services/other programs: $2,350,026.26 (approx. $1,349.82/ADA)

Total Restricted: $5,596,812.86 ($3,191.21/ADA)
Direct restricted costs: $2,199,586.91 ($1,254.17/ADA)
Restricted central services: $3,397,225.95 ($1,937.04/ADA)

Total direct costs: $8,903,209.56 ($5,076.36/ADA or 65 percent of school budget)
Central services costs: $4,846,355.69 ($2,763.32/ADA or 35 percent of school budget; not including contribution to other programs)

COLLEGE PARK: Total budget: $13,888,043.58 ($7,549.24/ADA)

Total unrestricted revenues generated: $9,764,639.60 ($5,261.50/ADA)
Total deducted for contributions to other programs: $1,442,341.58 or $777.18/ADA
(nearly 15 percent)

Unrestricted school budget: $8,322,336.02 ($4,523.84/ADA)
Direct unrestricted costs: $6,802,279.22 ($3,697.57/ADA)
Unrestricted central services: $1,520,056.80 ($826.27/ADA)
Contributions to other programs: $1,442,341.58 ($777.18/ADA)
Total unrestricted central services/other programs: $2,962,398.38(approx. $1,603.45/ADA)

Total Restricted: $5,565,707.56 ($3,025.40/ADA)
Direct restricted: $2,002,205.78 ($1,088.36/ADA)
Restricted central services: $3,563,501.88 ($1,937.04/ADA)

Total direct costs: $8,804,484.90($4,785.93/ADA or 64 percent of school budget)
Total central services costs: $5,083,558.68($2,763.32/ADA or 36 percent of school budget)

CONCORD: Total budget: $12,133,551.14 ($8,400.82/ADA)

Total unrestricted revenues generated: $7,402,848.17($5,261.51/ADA)
Total deducted for contributions to other programs: $1,132,773.06 or $805.10/ADA(about 15 percent)

Unrestricted school budget: $6,270,075.11 ($4,341.17/ADA)
Direct unrestricted: $5,076,667.83 ($3,514.89/ADA)
Unrestricted central services: $1,193,407.38 ($826.27/ADA)
Contributions to other programs: $1,132,773.06 or $805.10/ADA
Total unrestricted central services/other programs: $2,326,180.34(approx. $1,631.37/ADA)

Total Restricted: $5,863,476.03 ($4,059.65/ADA)
Direct restricted: $3,065,745.73 ($2,122.60/ADA)
Restricted central services: $2,797,730.30 ($1,937.05/ADA)

Direct school costs: $8,142,413.56($5,637.50/ADA or 67 percent of school budget)
Total central services costs: $3,991,137.68($2,763.32/ADA or 33 percent of school budget)

MT. DIABLO: Total budget: $14,098,055.42 ($10,252.39/ADA)

Total unrestricted revenues generated: $7,222,799.08($5,261.51/ADA)
Total deducted for contributions to other programs: $535,889.19 or $390.37/ADA(about 7 percent)

Unrestricted school budget: $6,686,909.89 ($4,862.85/ADA)
Direct unrestricted: $5,550,705.32($4,036.58/ADA)
Unrestricted central services: $1,136,204.50($826.27/ADA)
Contributions to other programs: $535,889.19 or $390.37/ADA
Total unrestricted central services/other programs: $1,672,093.69(approx. $1,216.64/ADA)

Total Restricted: $7,411,145.53($5,389.53/ADA)
Direct restricted: $4,747,516.76($3,452.48/ADA)
Restricted central services: $2,663,361.88 ($1,936.85/ADA)

Direct school costs: $10,298,222($7,489.07/ADA or 73 percent of school budget)
Central services school costs: $3,799,566.38($2,763.12/ADA or 27 percent of school budget)

NORTHGATE: Total budget: $11,436,253.68 ($8,043.11/ADA)

Total unrestricted revenues generated: $7,374,278.14($5,261.51/ADA)
Total deducted for contributions to other programs: $402,005.87 or $286.82/ADA(about 5 percent)

Unrestricted school budget: $6,972,272.27($4,903.59/ADA)
Direct unrestricted: $5,797,423.03($4,077.32/ADA)
Unrestricted central services: $1,174,849.25($826.27/ADA)
Contributions to other programs: $402,005.87 or $286.82/ADA
Total unrestricted central services/other programs: $1,576,855(approx. $1,113.09/ADA)

Total Restricted: $4,463,981.40($3,139.51/ADA)
Direct restricted: $1,709,757.10($1,202.47/ADA)
Restricted central services: $2,754,224.30($1,937.04/ADA)

Direct school costs: $7,507,180.13($5,279.79/ADA or 66 percent of school budget)
Central services school costs: $3,929,073.55($2,763.12/ADA or 34 percent of school budget)

YGNACIO VALLEY: Total budget: $10,221,560.38 ($8,661.39/ADA)

Total unrestricted revenues generated: $6,141,083.95($5,261.51/ADA)
Total deducted for contributions to other programs: $234,628.75 or $201.02/ADA(about 4 percent)

Unrestricted school budget: $5,906,455.20($5,004.92/ADA)
Direct unrestricted: $4,931,348.59($4,178.64/ADA)
Unrestricted central services: $975,106.70($826.27/ADA)
Contributions to other programs: $234,628.75 or $201.02/ADA
Total unrestricted central services/other programs: $1,209,735.54(approx. $1,027.29/ADA)

Total Restricted: $4,315,105.18($3,656,47/ADA)
Direct restricted: $2,029,141.82($1,719.42/ADA)
Restricted central services: $2,285,963.35($1,937.04/ADA)

Direct school costs: $6,960,490.31($5,898.07/ADA or 68 percent of school budget)
Central services school costs: $3,261,070($2,763.12/ADA or 32 percent of school budget)

The above calculations show that the district is consistent in charging $826.27/ADA for high school unrestricted central services costs and about $1,937.04/ADA in restricted central services costs, for a total of about $2,763.12/ADA going toward central services costs.

However, there is great inconsistency between high schools related to the amount that the district skims off the top of the unrestricted revenues generated by students at each school for other programs, from a low of $201.02/ADA or 4 percent from Ygnacio Valley to a high of $805.10/ADA or about 15 percent from Concord High.

Since these figures are not spelled out in the spreadsheet (I had to calculate them myself), they were not apparent when Richards referenced the SARC numbers during his presentation.

Richards, Lawrence and Debi Deal from FCMAT answered several questions from the audience. When Clayton Mayor David Shuey asked about the district’s latest estimate for the financial impact of a Clayton Valley charter, Richards said it would depend on many variables, including special education:

Richards said he estimated the charter would cost about $4.4 million in lost revenues and lost contributions to central services and other programs. But, the district could receive about $100,000 as an oversight fee and about $200,000 for facilities use, according to his PowerPoint.

This would bring the total cost down to $4.1 million [which is $0.1 million less than the $4.2 million estimate Richards used in all of his projections].

He said the range would likely be between $2 and $4.4 million.

“At this point,” he said, “we don’t have enough data.”

Lawrence said the $1.8 million calculation was based on the $941 per student difference in revenue, plus the additional $127/ADA in block grant money the district must transfer to the charter. He and Lawrence said the special education number could vary by about $1.5 million.

Lawrence said that after the end of the first year, the district would know the actual impact. He said the $900,000 in “encroachment” costs that CVHS now contributes to other programs would have to be spread out to other schools.

Deal said a more indepth FCMAT review would take six to eight weeks and cost about $12,000-$15,000.

“The difference is that we start with the district’s numbers and agree those are correct,” Deal said, referring to the letter FCMAT provided to the district.

She said FCMAT verified the district’s assumptions and agreed the impact could be more than $1.8 million, based on the intense special education programs at CVHS. This is partially because CVHS students were generating more revenue than the district was spending to operate the campus and the additional money (about $900,000) was helping to pay for other programs districtwide.

Richards said the district currently spends $7 million to operate the school. He said the charter organizers are still negotiating the facilities fee with the district.

CVHS teacher Neil McChesney pointed out that the facilities fee could range between $520,000-$840,000 not including utilities. [This is $320,000-$640,000 more than the $200,000 the district estimated in its $4.2 million calculation and could reduce the total impact to about $3.5-$3.8 million].

Deal said it would be “mixing apples and oranges” to compare average salaries [yet, this is what Lawrence has done to justify lower expenditures at CVHS and some other high schools than at some elementary schools]. She said it is costing the district less to educate CVHS students than the district receives in CVHS student revenues from the state.

Lawrence said teachers are allocated the same way to all schools, but costs vary because of the difference in salaries. Currently, he said, elementary teachers have higher average salaries than high school teachers.

The district used to have ratios of administrative and support staff on campuses based on ADA, but it has moved away from that due to budget cuts, Lawrence said. So now, staffing is similar at all high schools, even though ADA varies from a low of 1,375.1 at Mt. Diablo High to a high of 1,839.66 at College Park High.

A CVHS parent said the district’s allocation of about $826 per ADA for unrestricted central services is twice as high as what the Los Angeles Unified District spends for those services.

Deal clarified that FCMAT looked at the unrestricted costs and revenues in making its calculations. She said restricted dollars are generated by the campus through a variety of sources, based primarily on the number of students who receive free and reduced lunches.

The district receives $5,207 per student from the state, no matter their grade level, Deal said. Charter high schools receive $6,148 per student, she said.

Lawrence said he would recommend waiting until after the governor releases his January budget, before making cuts. If the governor restores the COLA, the district would have $10.8 million more than it now projects in its three-year budget.

He recommended establishing a committee of principals and parents — similar to a group that met a few times last year — to come up with budget cut and revenue-generating ideas. Last year, he said the group suggested a parcel tax and a shared sales tax with cities.

Lawrence said the district would submit its second interim budget report to the county in March. If it is qualified or negative (meaning the district might not be able to pay all of its bills through June, 2014), the district would have to submit a third interim budget report in May.

He also pointed out that the district has the lowest ratio of administrators to 100 teachers in the county, at 4.52 per 100 teachers. The next highest is Pittsburg, with 5.18 per 100 teachers, he said. Legally, districts can have as many as eight administrators per 100 teachers, including site administrators, he said.

McChesney asked how much per student the district spends on Dent Center central services. Lawrence said he didn’t have that number at his fingertips.

However, the spreadsheet shows the district incurred about $12.1 million in unrestricted costs at the Dent Center in 2010-11, or $371.92/ADA. So, of the $826.27/ADA in unrestricted central services costs at the six comprehensive high schools, about 45 percent pays for Dent Center services and 65 percent goes toward other programs. This doesn’t include the “contribution toward encroaching programs” that the district does not include in the school budgets.

Richards said central services costs also include floating P.E., music and special education teachers, as well as those at Sunrise, Shadelands and the Shearer preschool at Gregory Gardens Elementary. He said many other districts code these positions to school sites, so their “central services” costs appear to be lower.

Costs for substitute teachers are also spread across the district, instead of coded to individual schools. If the district added these costs to the CVHS budget instead of lumping them into central services, the school’s budget would be larger and the estimated financial impact would be reduced.

Lawrence said “Sacramento wrote a bad law,” when it required unified school districts to pay high school rates to charters that convert.

“It’s a shame that in many ways,” he said, “Sacramento has created a system that is pitting program against program.”

Lawrence said he has asked State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla if they would try to change the funding formula.

If the financial impact is $2.4 million, that would be about $74 per student, he said. If the district didn’t have to worry about this, he said it could concentrate on the beneficial aspects of the charter.

“We have to go back and work with Sacramento and relook at these laws and change these laws,” he said. “Ms. Bonilla wasn’t aware of this. Tom Torlakson wasn’t aware of this.”

Lawrence estimated the district would need to cut about $20 million from its budget, based on Richards’ financial projections.

He said the district is saving $7-$8 million a year from Measure C, including more than $5 million a year in solar savings, in addition to paying of Certificates of Participation and covering deferred maintenance.

Shuey said the FCMAT analysis was not an independent review. Lawrence invited the charter committee to share in paying for a more thorough analysis of the fiscal impact of the charter.

He estimated the financial impact would be $2-$4.4 million, depending on special education costs and the facilities rental agreement.

“When we put our numbers out to the community,” he said, “we wanted to be as conservative as possible.”

Are you satisfied with the FCMAT review and the district’s budget estimates?

Posted on Saturday, November 26th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 45 Comments »

Teachers inspire at Eukel Trust Awards dinner

During the holiday season, many people thank teachers for the contributions they’ve made to their lives, or to the lives of their children.

The Warren Eukel Teacher Trust also recently recognized three teachers who have positively influenced students in Contra Costa County: Brian Mangold, who teaches special education at Stanley Middle School in Lafayette; Victoria Tukeva, a P.E. and dance teacher at Richmond High in Richmond; and Jesse Hansen, who teaches history at San Ramon Valley High in Danville.

The teachers’ speeches at their awards dinner earned each of them standing ovations. I videotaped them and have excerpted the speeches below (sorry the quality of the video isn’t very good.)

After thanking the Warren Eukel Trust, his family, colleagues, students’ parents and other students at the school, Mangold said:

“Finally, I need to thank my students. While I may be their teacher, there are so many things that I’ve learned from them. I’d like to share a few.

I’ve learned to look at things from a different perspective, to question boundaries and expectations that have become the norm. I’ve learned that every mind works differently. I’ve learned that by labeling people by their disability or by what they can’t do, we limit our thinking, limit our approach and often handicap the individuals who are labeled.

I’ve learned that oftentimes, the best explanation is the simplest one. I’ve learned that regardless of one’s intellectual or social level, puberty generally sets in around the same time. And I’ve learned — or more accurately, been reminded — that middle school can be really hard.

I’ve learned from my students that everyone likes to have a choice in control of their life. I’ve learned that when one of my students is struggling, I’ve often made a mistake. I’ve also learned that it’s okay to make mistakes.

I’ve learned about perseverance. I’ve learned about bravery. I’ve learned about patience. I’ve learned from one of my students all of the Disney Pixar movie releases over the last three years.

I’ve learned that few people are great at everything, but most are great at something. I’ve learned that we all have our place in society and that we all make important contributions and impacts.

I’ve learned that square pegs usually don’t fit through circular holes, but that circular pegs often can be squeezed through the square ones. I’ve learned that breaking a small task into simple steps can be very comforting.

Watching my students struggle to express themselves, I’ve learned how frustrating and traumatizing it must be to feel like you have no voice, no say, or no one to listen. I’ve learned that there are different sides to every story and each side can be right. I’ve learned that most aberrant behavior is an attempt to communicate. I’ve learned not to ask particular students of mine whether or not they missed me over the holidays. ‘Not really,’ is often their reply.

I’ve learned that success is all relative. I’ve learned not to pity individuals with special needs. I’ve learned that we all need a good laugh and sometimes, we all break down and cry. I’ve learned that while my students may be very fond of me, I can’t compete with weekends, holidays or pizza. I’ve learned humility.”

Here is a link to Mangold’s speech:

Tukeva spoke about an assembly her students presented to promote a culture of peace at the school, in memory of three students who had died.

“The nerves and preshow excitement are palpable,” she said, speaking in the present tense as she desribed how the production unfolded. “They have prepared for this moment for the last six weeks. They know how important the show is to honor those who have passed and to represent the ideas of peace, love, community and respect.”

The show opens with students performing a traditional Latin American dance, she said.

“Next is a student poet,” she said, “who starts: ‘Treacherous conditions in the city they call Richmond. Hope, can you find me?'”

Tukeva explains that Richmond was ranked the sixth most dangerous city in the nation in 2010.

“Our students might not know the specifics, but they know the violence,” she said. “They live with it every day. They express it through words. Another poet begins: ‘Pain is what I know. Hate is what I see. And rage is what I feel, but it does not destroy me. It gives me strength.'”

The show continued with a slide show honoring those who died, followed by dancers performing to “Man in the Mirror.” At the curtain call, all 80 performers came on stage dressed in white, “to represent peace and unity,” Tukeva said.

She said art is an essential part of the human experience. Artists allow people to see beyond their life experiences, to examine social, cultural and historical issues. Students who take arts courses score higher on standardized tests, she said.

“Of the arts, dance is unique, in that the body is the instrument of creativity,” she said. “This creates a balance between mental and physical activity and integrates mind, body and spirit. Dance provides an athletic experience and can grant one entry into unexplored realms of time, space and energy. Or, as Buzz Lightyear would say: ‘To infinity and beyond.'”

Student performances require memorization, rehearsal, collaboration and courage, Tukeva said.

“Dancers feel confident in character through the process,” she said. “They experience the importance of personal responsibility and fortitude because the success of the entire group rests on the shoulders of each member.”

Tukeva thanked her colleagues and school administration for allowing her to do what she loves to do — teach dance and create theatrical performances. She also thanked her family for their love and support and the Trust for the award.

“And lastly,” she said, “I’d like to thank my students at Richmond High for all their support, knowledge and inspiration.”

Here is a link to Tukeva’s speech:

Hansen, who’s speech resembled a standup comedy routine at times, also thanked his family, colleagues and the Warren Eukel Trust for the award. He spoke about the moments in teaching that make it all worthwhile, highlighting a student’s thoughtful response to a political cartoon that depicted an iphone on a brick wall overlooking people.

The student said: “George Orwell was wrong,” Hansen recalled.

When Hansen asked what he meant, the student said: “The iphone on the brick wall is a little bit like Big Brother looking down.”

Hansen said he complimented the student for his magnificent insight, but asked him to continue his thought regarding Orwell. Orwell predicted that technology could lead to more power for the government and the loss of individual freedoms, the student said.

But, the rise of social media has had the opposite effect, he added. Now individuals have technology in their pockets and they can inform each other about what’s going on in the world and how the government responds.

“Not only did it not give authoritarians more power,” Hansen quoted the student as saying, “but it actually destroyed their power.”

After hearing this, Hansen was nearly speechless. But he got a laugh from the audience, when he added: “I looked at him. And I said: ‘I taught you.'”

Here is a link to Hansen’s speech:

Each of the educators honored had different approaches to teaching, but they all shared a strong passion for what they do, along with great respect and admiration for their students.

What do you think makes a great teacher?

Posted on Friday, November 25th, 2011
Under: Education | 5 Comments »

MDUSD to discuss budget and charter’s possible financial impact on Monday

As the Mt. Diablo school district prepares its budget report for December, it expects to take into consideration two possible events that could require cuts — a Clayton Valley High School charter conversion in 2012-13 and state “trigger” cuts due to lower-than-anticipated revenues.

The district has already set aside $330/ADA or $10.7 million in a “State Fiscal Uncertainty” reserve fund for midyear cuts. At the board’s Sept. 27 meeting, CFO Bryan Richards estimated the worst-case $4 billion state budget trigger scenario would be $296/ADA or $9.6 million.

“We are prepared,” he said.

This means that even with the $4 billion trigger, the district would have an extra $1.1 million left over. However, the LAO has projected a much lower trigger of $180 per ADA, which would amount to nearly $5.9 million. With this cut, the district would still have $4.8 million left over in its State Fiscal Uncertainties reserve.

The State Fiscal Uncertainty reserve is part of a $45.5 million ending fund balance that the district had at the end of the 2010-11 year. Richards reported that about $14.7 million of that was set aside for various uses including nearly $6 million in a required reserve for “Economic Uncertainties,” leaving an “undesignated” ending balance of $30.8 million. Richards said this was about $7.6 million more than anticipated.

Yet, district officials say they would need to cut about $1.8 million from other schools across the district if the charter conversion is approved by the county or state boards of education. The district is also pushing the MDEA teachers’ union to agree to seven furlough days this year and next year, including five fewer days of school in both years.

The district has built a savings of about $6 million into its budget for furlough days from all employees, including nearly $4.6 million for teacher furlough days that haven’t yet been negotiated.

Mike Langley, president of the teachers’ union, questions whether the furlough days are necessary at all, given the large ending fund balance. The charter committee, likewise, questions whether the district’s calculations related to costs and expenses for the charter are accurate.

Because of the intense debate surrounding the charter’s financial impact, Walnut Creek City Councilman Kish Rajan — along with Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla and state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier — asked the board on Oct. 25 to seek an independent review of the financial calculations from the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT). Rajan also suggested that the district convene and independent committee to review the financial data.

That same day (Oct. 25), the district requested a financial review from FCMAT. The independent agency visited the district Nov. 1 and used information available at that time to prepare its report.

However, a lot changed after the FCMAT visit. The next day (Nov. 2), Bill Clark, associate superintendent for business services at the Contra Costa County Office of Education, issued guidance to districts about how to prepare for midyear cuts.

The district asked the charter committee to submit new financial estimates based on this guidance, which the charter submitted on Nov. 4. The board denied the charter petition Nov. 8, based on the charter budget submitted Nov. 4. FCMAT did not review that budget.

Instead, the FCMAT review, based on data obtained Nov. 1, stated that: “Calculations prepared by the district to analyze costs associated with Clayton Valley High School are accurate, reasonable and based on either current year projections or prior year actuals when applicable.”

However, the report went onto state that special education costs had not been adjusted to show the charter’s intention to use the El Dorado County Charter Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) or to show revenues the district could receive from the charter for facilities and oversight.

The report concluded: “FCMAT reviewed the district’s cost impact based on a defined set of assumptions. As these assumptions change, so will the costs either positively or negatively, as these findings are based on a particular point in time. The district and the charter organizers have not completed negotiations regarding some major areas such as facility arrangements and serving special education students. In addition, the charter organizers have resubmitted adjusted financial statements since FCMAT’s fieldwork. The financial impact associated with special education and facilities can be substantial. The district is encouraged to clarify these issues with the charter organizers.

The team provided Mount Diablo Unified School District management with suggestions on potential cost impacts associated with the possible conversion. FCMAT verified the source of the data utilized by the district in its calculations but did not perform an in-depth fiscal review or financial audit of Mount Diablo Unified School District, and accordingly, FCMAT does not express any opinion in this regard.”

To try to get a better understanding of how the district’s ending fund balance could possibly soften the need for cuts, I emailed some questions to Lawrence on Wednesday. I also asked him whether he was following up on the idea of convening an independent committee to look at the financials, as well as on Trustee Lynne Dennler’s idea of exploring issues that led to the charter movement.

On Thursday, Nov. 17, I received the following email response from Lawrence:


Q. “I believe you said you would create some sort of independent committee to look at the financial impact of the charter on the district. Have you done that? What is the status of the analysis?

A: I requested that principals attend a meeting next Monday evening along with two parent leaders from their site. The purpose is to review the District’s current budget situation based on the November 2nd letter from the Contra Cost Office of Education providing financial guidance on the 1st interim report, and the possible approval of the charter application at the county or State level. The meeting is from 5-7 p.m. at the Loma Vista center. Debi Deal from FCMAT is also able to attend the meeting. Please feel free to attend.

Q: Lynne Dennler said she thought the district should have a dialogue with the charter committee about its grievances, to try to remedy them and prevent future charter efforts. The day after the meeting, Gary Eberhart told me that he thought this dialogue should begin immediately. Has any dialogue begun between the charter committee and the district regarding grievances that led to the charter?

A: We did have a meeting last spring to learn of the concerns that the charter petitioners have. The District then began working to address those concerns by, among other things, interviewing Clayton Valley staff members to determine what they felt was going well and what needed to be changed. Based on those interviews, we made leadership changes at the school. Though we appreciated the efforts of individual administrators at Clayton Valley, there was consensus that a new leadership team would help move the school forward. Since her arrival, Ms. Brothers has meet with both parents and staff members to identify concerns and address them. We continue to support Ms. Brothers, like our other principals, to meet the needs at their site. If the principal at any site thinks it would be useful to have me attend a site leadership meeting to listen to concerns, I would be happy to do that.

Q. Gary (Eberhart) also said he thought the district would need to identify $1.8 million in cuts in the 2012-13 budget for the first interim report, in case the charter is approved by the county or the State Board of Education. Is this what you are planning?

A: Bryan is at the CASBO (California Association of School Business Officials) conference so I do not have the most updated numbers. The financial impact and how it was arrived at will be presented at the meeting on Monday.

Q. What is your response to some critics, who say the FCMAT disclaimer at the end of its report shows that the agency did not actually verify the numbers provided by the district. Therefore, some people are still skeptical about the district’s estimates of the financial impact of the charter.

A: This is why we are having the meeting on Monday evening because Ms. Deal and Mr. Richards will be there. Between the two of them, we can answer questions about the FCMAT review as well as how the District developed its numbers.”


“Thanks very much for this. Is the public invited to the Monday meeting?”


“The meeting is set up for principals and two parent reps from each school. Given that is 150 people that will fill the room at Loma Vista.”

It was unclear to me whether this meant the public could attend. I followed up with an email to Lawrence on Friday, asking whether a “robocall” had gone out about the meeting and stating that there seemed to be some confusion in the community about whether or not it was a public meeting.

I also contacted Clayton Mayor David Shuey on Friday, who told me that the charter committee had not been invited. After my call, Shuey sent the following email to Lawrence:

“Subject: FCMAT meeting Monday?

Dr. Lawrence,

Theresa Harrington called and asked me about a meeting that is apparently being held on Monday that will include a presentation and update from FCMAT on the charter school issue. I have seen no notice of such a meeting (looked on your website just now) and only learned from Ms. Harrington that it is apparently Principals of each school and two parent representatives. I asked our group if anyone had gotten notice of this and am currently unaware of such notice. I also have not seen anything come back from any of my kids schools regarding parent participation. So as you can see I am a little confused on this meeting.

Please kindly provide me the time, location and agenda for this meeting so that those of us interested can attend.

David “Shoe” Shuey
Mayor, City of Clayton”

Lawrence copied me on his response to Shuey below:

“Mr. Shuey,

The meeting is at the Loma Vista Center from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. We asked each principal to invite two parents because that would be a group of about 150 people. However, as long as there is room in the room we won’t be turning people away.

Steven Lawrence”

I also called Rajan to find out if a committee comprised of principals and two parent leaders they chose to invite was the type of “independent” committee he envisioned when he suggested the idea of a charter budget review on Oct. 25.

Rajan said he was aware of the meeting, but wasn’t sure at that moment how the committee was selected. He later followed up with the forwarded email below, which was sent to him, along with representatives for Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, Sen. Mark DeSaulnier and Rep. George Miller:

Sent: Monday, November 14, 2011 6:07 PM
To: Kish Rajan; Herbert, Mark; Satinder S. Malhi
Cc: Johnson, Barb
Subject: FW: Budget Meeting e-mail to principals

Good evening,

I wanted to let all of you know that I am following up on the suggestion from Senator DeSaulnier, Assemblywoman Bonilla and Councilman Rajan for a public meeting to review the district budget and loss of funding due to the a conversion charter high school. It would be great if they or their representative could attend the meeting.

Steven Lawrence

Sent: Monday, November 14, 2011 5:59 PM
To: All MDUSD principals
Subject: Budget Meeting e-mail to principals

Good afternoon,

In order to publicly answer questions about the District’s budget and our calculations around the loss of funding that will result if the County or State approves the Clayton Valley conversion to a charter school, we will hold a public meeting at the Loma Vista Center next Monday, November 21, 2011 from 5 – 7 p.m. I know this is the first Monday of vacation, and I completely understand people may have travel plans or other commitments that will not allow them to attend the meeting. We are holding the meeting on November 21 because Debi Deal, who conducted the FCMAT review, is in the area and able to attend at that time. Please invite two of your parent leaders to attend the meeting. If there are specific questions that you or your parents would like to have answered at the meeting, please forward your input to Rose or me so we include the information in the discussion. If people are unable to attend this meeting we will have follow-up evening meetings to address budget concerns. Again, I am sorry that this meeting is during vacation, but Ms. Deal lives in Southern California and happened to be working with another district in our area on November 21st.
Steven Lawrence”

In his email to me, Rajan said (in part): “This was sent to every principal in the district. This is clearly not a ‘hand picked’ group. And there is no effort to exclude or obscure. It appears very consistent with our request for an open transparent meeting on this matter.”

He also asked me if the charter folks were participating and said he hoped they would “participate honestly and not be dismissive of the critical financial facts.”

In addition, Rajan asked how the charter committee felt about the state “triggered” budget cuts and whether they would be insulated from them.

I responded, letting Rajan know that the charter folks were not invited, but that Lawrence told them late Friday they would not be turned away, after Shuey asked to attend. I also said that Lawrence’s decision to allow principals to select two parent leaders could give some the appearance that the committee was “hand-picked”. In addition, I asked whether he thought the meeting should have been publicly noticed, since some people were questioning how open and transparent it really was.

Here is Rajan’s (excerpted) email response:

“I trust the principals to invite responsible parents who have no agenda other than to help the kids at their schools.

I think the charter folks have every opportunity to live up to their statements that they want to know the facts of the financial impact the charter would have on the rest of the district. And given the larger triggered cuts that are looming, I would hope the charter proponents are sensitive to the impact all parents are bracing for.”

To get a better idea of how midyear cuts may affect the district, I emailed some questions to Lawrence on Thursday and received the following response:


Q: “I know that the district set aside $330/ADA in anticipation of the cuts, or $10.7 million. According to Bryan (Richards)’s most recent budget presentation, the district estimated midyear cuts would cost about $296/ADA or about $9.6 million, which leaves a cushion of about $1.1 million. This doesn’t include the extra $7.6 million in the district’s ending fund balance that wasn’t anticipated. Do you agree with this?

A: Bryan is at the CSBO so I can’t run your assumptions by him to validate your numbers. If you review the November 2 letter form CCCOE CBO Bill Clark that is attached to our website the County is recommending that not only do we assume the triggers will be pulled, but we assume they will be on-going, not one time, and we remove any COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) from our budget for the next two years. Here is the link to the letter

Q: A recent MDEA (Mt. Diablo Education Association) bargaining update says the district is proposing one furlough day for every $42 in per-student funding from the state, which would equal seven furlough days, if the trigger costs the district $296/ADA, as projected. I understand that MDEA wants to propose a counter-offer. Do you agree with this?

A: I can’t speak for MDEA; please contact them.

Q: Another MDEA bargaining update states that the district is asking teachers to agree to ‘Make no plan dates,’ in anticipation of furlough days. It states that teachers don’t want to agree to this unless the furloughs have actually been negotiated.

A: We have received concerns from teachers, high school parents, and principals that they need to know what definitive dates graduation will be held on. They have to reserve dates at the Concord Pavilion and the Concord Center. Parent groups that sponsor grad night need to enter into contracts with vendors. Elementary and middle school teachers don’t want to have to change their plans and lose fieldtrip deposits as they almost did last year when furlough days were agreed to late in the school year. Therefore, the District recommended dates that would not impact holding graduation during the last week of school on the current district calendar. We also want to make sure that furlough days don’t impact AP Testing and STAR testing.”

I also asked Lawrence for quotes the Times might be able to use in a story about midyear cuts.

Q: “Might you be able to tell me in general how you expect the district to cope (will you rely on the reserve you set aside for midyear cuts)?”

A: We set aside a reserve to address one-time, midyear reductions, not ongoing cuts the County is asking us to assume.”

I also asked for a general quote regarding the state budget’s affect on the district.

A: “Children are being minimized and marginalized by the continual reductions to education funding. We are robbing a generation of children of the rich educational experiences that others received in the past. The Legislature and Governor have to stand up and not let the hemorrhaging continue.”

Langley said the district has consistently underestimated its ending fund balance during the past few years, which has prompted the board to make deep cuts to balance its budget. In June, the board cut the hours and benefits of special education assistants — even after Lawrence and Richards said the additional reduction would not be necessary to certify a “positive” budget.

These cuts are hurting students and teachers, Langley said, because the district has been unable to fill many of these positions. He speculated that the district’s inability to fill the positions could be because the district reduced the hours to three per day and eliminated benefits. This was an outcome that many predicted before the board made the cuts.

Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh pushed for the special education cuts, saying they would be necessary if teachers didn’t agree to furlough days. Now, the district has made so many cuts and has such a large ending fund balance that furloughs may not be necessary this year, Langley said in an email.

“The question parents should be asking is: Why is MDUSD proposing to cut out a week of student instruction when they have a $40 million excess reserve?'” he wrote.

In response, I asked Langley if he thought the public should also question whether the district would need to make cuts if the CVHS charter is approved.

“Anytime the district says it has to make cuts, it should be in context of the amount of reserves,” Langley replied. “Although it is important to project the estimates for future demands on reserves, one must remember that the district reserves have been growing during times when their estimates have seriously underestimated the ending balances. This does not bring into question that spending cuts were needed in the past. It does bring into question the severity of the cuts and the areas that were cut. As long as the philosophy of the governing board and top management is focused on pouring resources, time and money, into narrow data-driven goals and starving the human resources that are critical to the education of our children, the public must question every cut and every expenditure. That question must address the basic need: access to a well rounded education.”

Shuey said the charter committee had submitted new financials to the district Nov. 4, which responded to the County Office of Education guidance related to midyear cuts.

“We are as interested as anyone else to find out the complete factual basis and truth of the (charter’s financial)impact on the district,” he said.

In addition, Shuey said he would like to know why each high school gets a different amount of money per student and why some get less than other schools throughout the district. He said he wants the district to explain the methodology it uses to calculate school funding and he wants to know how MDUSD’s methodology compares to other districts.

“There’s a lot of preliminary factual information that I need to get an understanding,” he said. “I’m hoping the meeting on Monday will start that process.”

Are you satisfied with the composition of the committee and the district’s notification to the community about the meeting?


Posted on Sunday, November 20th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 100 Comments »

MDUSD Jazz Fest on Wednesday at DVC

Jazz bands from all six Mt. Diablo district high schools will perform during a free concert from 3:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesday at in the Performing Arts Center Theater at Diablo Valley College, 321 Golf Club Road in Pleasant Hill.

The event will culminate with performances by the district’s Honor Jazz Band and “The Night Jazz Band” from DVC.

Here’s a rundown of the program:

3:30 p.m. Mt. Diablo HS
4 p.m. Concord HS
4:30 p.m. Ygnacio Valley HS
5 p.m. Clayton Valley HS
5:30 p.m. College Park HS
6 p.m. Northgate HS

Dinner break

7:30 p.m. MDUSD Honor Jazz Ensemble, followed by The Night Jazz Band

Although the event is free, donations to save The Night Jazz Band will be accepted.

More information is available by visiting

In the past, some school jazz band classes have been threatened due to low enrollment, since the district normally requires 20 students to maintain a class.

Do you think the district should fund music classes that have fewer than 20 students?

Posted on Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
Under: Diablo Valley College, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Music | 5 Comments »

Eukel Teacher Trust to award three teachers $10,000 each

The Warren W. Eukel Teacher Trust will award three teachers — from Lafayette, Richmond and San Ramon — $10,000 each on Thursday at its 20th Anniversary Gala Awards dinner.

The event takes place at 6 p.m. at the Diablo Country Club, 1700 Club House Road in Diablo. The cost is $150 per person (of which $70 is a tax-deductible contribution) or $1,500 for a table of 10.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call 925/945-0200 or visit

Here are more details from a news release I received today:

“This year, Jesse Hansen of San Ramon Valley High School in Danville, Brian Mangold of Stanley Middle School in Lafayette and Victoria Tukeva of Richmond High School in Richmond will each receive a cash award of $10,000.

Brian Mangold of Stanley Middle School, a special education teacher, works with students with a wide range of special needs and disabilities. All of his students have cognitive deficits and language deficiencies that often make it difficult for them to master skills that may come easily to others. Some are autistic. Others are wheelchair-bound. He devises individualized approaches to help his students find intrinsic motivation that empowers them to excel. He has been a strong advocate for them, creating a culture of respect for special needs students at Stanley Middle School and throughout the district.

‘The community has a great deal to gain by my students’ contributions as well. Just my students’ attendance and participation at community events sets a standard that everyone is welcome. By simply having an opportunity to interact with my students, people begin to appreciate my students as individuals and cast away their judgments, prejudice, stereotypes, and most importantly, their preconceived notions of what my students can and can’t do.’

History teacher Jesse Hansen of San Ramon Valley High School brings history alive for his students. Using humor and a gift for story-telling, Mr. Hansen engages his classes in the drama and sweep of history and shares his deep love of the subject. His lively teaching style connects with students at all levels.

‘I consider attendance at school to be the temporary careers of my students. Despite what is going on at home, I intend to create a scaffold for students to learn how to be disciplined, professional, and lifelong learners so they will be ready to take full advantage of every opportunity life offers them when they leave high school.’

“In a sense, motivating young people is easy: all of us hunger to understand the world in which we live. The trick is to have 60 minutes worth of fantastically interesting and relevant material for every 55-minute class period. The hard part is building this body of work and maintaining the humility to acknowledge failures and the intelligence to correct them.’

Victoria Tukeva of Richmond High School has taught dance and physical education at RHS for nearly 30 years. She puts on four dance shows per year, in which over 200 students participate, most of whom have never danced before. She uses dance as a vehicle to promote physical fitness, confidence and self-discipline, to encourage self-expression and teamwork, to enhance the students’ cultural literacy and to unify a diverse student body. She also employs dance to teach about the interrelationships between art and history and to explore social issues. She is also the cheerleading coach at Richmond High.

‘I want my students to realize the importance of balancing and integrating their mental, emotional, and physical development so that they can fulfill their potential and realize the astounding things they are capable of doing and creating.’

The Warren W. Eukel Teacher Trust is a community-based non-profit organization, formed in 1991 to honor the memory of a Walnut Creek resident who worked for more than three decades to help teachers positively influence students. The mission of the Eukel Teacher Trust is to foster excellence in education by providing monetary grants to exceptional teachers in Contra Costa County. Each year, teachers who have shown extraordinary commitment to their students are nominated by teaching colleagues, principals, parents, students and others.  Volunteers select the award winners from among the nominees. The Eukel Teacher Trust receives its financial support from Bay Area businesses and individuals. Since its inception, it has made cash awards totaling $452,000 to 55 Contra Costa County teachers.

CBS 5 news anchor Ann Notarangelo will serve as master of ceremonies for the Eukel Teacher Trust’s Awards Dinner. Renowned food and wine expert Narsai David, KCBS-Radio Food and Wine Editor, will collaborate with seven premier restaurants, Artisan Bistro, Diablo Country Club, Élevé, Prima Ristorante, Sasa, Yankee Pier and the Contra Costa College Culinary Arts Program, each of which will contribute a course to the dinner. The Awards Dinner will take place at the Diablo Country Club and is open to the public. A silent auction will be held in conjunction with the dinner.”

I spoke to Mangold today and hope to interview Hansen and Tukeva soon for a story to run Thursday in the Times.

What characteristics do you think make a teacher “outstanding”?

Posted on Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
Under: Education | No Comments »

More details about MDUSD busing, special education

At the Nov. 7 special education Community Advisory Committee meeting, the minutes from the Oct. 3 meeting were distributed.

These included notes regarding the transportation update provided by general counsel Greg Rolen, in response to complaints the district had received about students not being picked up and dropped off on time, being dropped off at the wrong location or not being picked up at all.

Here is what Rolen told the CAC, according to the minutes (which are not posted on the district’s website):

“Transportation Update — Mildred introduced Greg Rolen, General Counsel and Angie Goakey, Transportaton Manager. Greg told the CAC that the two main reasons for the transportation issues this school year were the transition from using Durham buses to using district buses and the unanticipated increase in ridership. Other statistics he talked about included:

– Approximately 850 students being bussed each day, which is an increase of 183 students from the last school year.
– NPS (Non Public School) ridership increased from 64 students last year to 86 students this year.
– NCLB (No Child Left Behind) ridership increased from 139 students last year to 165 students this year.

Greg also noted the following:
– School closures also caused a burden to the system.
– The statistics mentioned did not include field trips or sporting events.
– There are approximately 22,000 drop-offs and pick-ups per week.
– The process to get students routed onto buses takes about 10 days to two weeks.

The floor was opened to questions.”

The minutes don’t give any information about the questons or answers.

Here is what Mildred Browne, assistant superintendent for special education, said in her report to the committee, according to the minutes:

“Mildred reported that…the California Department of Education (CDE) reps were here in September for another phase of the verification review. This review was headed by Bryan Cassin. The CDE reps will return on Oct. 18 and they will continue to return to the district until we are 100 percent compliant. Mildred shared that a major lawsuit in L.A. that was recently approved by the court, requires that SELPAs (Special Education Legal Plan Areas) have the responsibility of providing educational services to students in jail. This ruling has to be added to our Service Plan by Nov. 1; it will be approved at the Oct. 25 board meeting.

Mildred also shared that this school year has been very turbulent. Many new students have moved into the district. A lot of students coming into the district were in NPS previously and a lot of new students have behavioral issues; many of these students are general education students. The special education department will have to go back to the board for additional FTEs. There are many students that still need placement.

Finally, Mildred talked about teachers and vacancies. Currently, there are 10 teacher vacancies. Once their credentials are cleared, there will only be four openings. A handout was provided to the group identifying the various vacancies in the district. Mary-Ann (Tucker) noted that the district sub pool is being used until vacancies are filled.”

At the end of the meeting, Browne reported that June 2012 is the last time special education students will be able to take advantage of the California High School Exit Exam waiver, according to the minutes. “After that date,” the minutes state, “special education students will have to take the alternative form of the exam to demonstrate their proficiency of the subject matter.”

Do you believe the district’s busing issues have been resolved?

Posted on Saturday, November 12th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 145 Comments »