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Walnut Creek Councilman suggests Clayton Valley charter consider accepting less funding

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, November 4th, 2011 at 7:22 pm in Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Kish Rajan, a Walnut Creek City Councilman and Mt. Diablo school district parent, says the Clayton Valley High School charter committee should consider accepting less money from the district to create goodwill, if the trustees approve the charter Tuesday.

Here’s a letter he submitted to the Times about this idea:

“November 1, 2011

Dear Editor –

On Nov. 8, the Mt. Diablo School board intends to make its decision on whether to grant final approval to the Clayton Valley charter application. The decision they make, and how they make it, has enormous implications to our district that is at a critical crossroads.

It has been well chronicled, perhaps at times overly so, that our district suffers from a myriad of challenges. Persistent state budget cuts have been particularly damaging to large unified school districts like ours that are mandated to serve a large and diverse range of educational needs. Though our district leadership has done their best under increasingly difficult circumstances, to be sure, over the years they have made some errors of commission and omission. Together, these factors have caused frustration among the widely disparate communities tied together by district boundaries drawn decades ago.

Despite this frustration, I believe that the large majority of parents in our District are driven by a yearning to see things improve for our District in general, and certainly for their children in particular. The recent effort by some Northgate parents to explore a transfer of that feeder pattern into a different district was one expression of that. And now, of course, the Clayton Valley charter petition. In each instance, the primary motivation is sincere and understandable. Undeniably, for the MDUSD, some things must change. Indeed I believe the district leadership wants positive change.

The question therefore should turn from whether our districtshould be reformed, to how. Where can we make fundamental improvements in the education program, curriculum, structure, district operations, and district culture? How can we leverage the talented and committed people who abound in our community to participate in that effort, both to create near term reforms and to engage the broader community in supporting our schools for the long term?

But in order to get to that important discussion, we first need a thoughtful, constructive resolution to the Clayton Valley charter application that gets us beyond the vitriolic tone that has defined it to date. To this point, the process has unfolded as a battle between one community and our District (literally described at one point as ‘war’). The matter is also provoking a conflict pitting individual feeder patterns against one another. Should it conclude as such, this will result as a battle in which all sides lose.

The charter proponents (driven by parents, teachers, and community leaders) are raising serious concerns about the state of their campus, e.g. safety, campus conditions and the overall quality of education. They believe strongly that under a new operating structure, with localized leadership, accountability, and flexibility to innovate, they can make substantial improvements. Their community has spoken out with passion and conviction about their commitment to supporting the school, and in so doing is demonstrating the kind of community engagement and commitment we need district wide. The Clayton Valley charter should be used as an opportunity to experiment and evaluate how we canimprove all of our high schools (and all schools for that matter).

The problem with the approval is the potential negative budget impact on the balance of our District. Under the state law that defines this process, it appears that the new charter school would be funded at a higher rate than the other high schools in our district, and that difference must come from our District budget. However, also per the state law, this broader financial impact is not one of the approval criteria the school board may use in making their decision on the application. Nevertheless, it would be unconscionable to take resources away from the balance of our kids to support one school, particularly amidst these brutal economic times.

The solution and the opportunity are clear. There should be an agreement to approve the charter application with an understanding that the new charter school would be funded at the same rate as all other high schools in our district. This would grant the Clayton Valley community what they seek: a new way forward for their school with the local control, flexibility and accountability that they covet. Yet this would be accomplished in a way that is financially responsible, fair and reasonable toward the balance of our district.

Should all the parties involved join in this solution, they would transcend conflict, embrace positive change, and set an example of collaboration. This could also commence a new chapter for our district: one of reform, innovation, and planning that welcomes change while reaffirming our commitment to serving our entire community and all of our kids.

Let’s use this moment to do what is smart, fair and right. And let’s remember our kids are watching.

Sincerely,
Kish Rajan
MDUSD Parent and Walnut Creek City Council Member”

I spoke to Clayton Mayor David Shuey about this today. He said the committee would not change its funding proposal before the board vote, since trustees cannot consider financial impact in their decision.

“Once the charter is approved, if the issue of funding comes up, we will meet in good faith on this,” he said. “We are all parents and teachers who recognize that we’re not an island.”

Shuey also said he agrees with a suggestion made by Rajan — along with state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and Asssemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord — asking the district for an independent analysis of the financial impact of the charter on the district. The district still has not revealed exactly how much it spends to operate the school, he said.

The district has posted several memos to the public regarding the financial impact of the charter. Each one has stated a different amount:

May 20: $1.65 million
May 26: $1.59 million
Aug. 26: $1.52 million
Oct. 7: $2.4 million

But Tuesday’s agenda report states that the financial impact would be “at least $1.8 million.” It also states: “This amount may be revised based on the FCMAT report.”

However, the staff report does not provide any basis for this latest estimate. It also fails to state what staff’s recommendation will be.

It says: “Accept or deny Clayton Valley charter high school proposal.” There is no report detailing the conditions of approval.

It states: “Prior to Nov. 8, 2011, district staff will have completed its final review and be prepared to present their summative recommendations to the board for approval or denial of the charter petition.” No summative recommendations are attached.

Rajan recommends funding the charter “at the same rate as all other high schools in our district.” However, the district’s school spending reports show that each high school receives a different amount of funding.

The most recent school spending information on the district’s website appears in School Accountability Report Cards. Unfortunately, however, the 2009-10 reports have data that is one year old, from 2008-09.

Here’s a breakdown of what was spent at each high school, according to that data. I am listing the total per student first, followed by a breakdown of unrestricted and restricted funds (including Title 1). Note that the district average unrestricted funding per student was $4,835.41.

CLAYTON VALLEY: Total: $7,849.12
Unrestricted: $4,937.05
Restricted: $2,912.06

COLLEGE PARK: Total: $7,549.24
Unrestricted: $4,523.84
Restricted: $3,025.40

CONCORD: Total: $8,400.82
Unrestricted: $4,341.17
Restricted: $4,059.65

MT. DIABLO: Total: $10,252.39
Unrestricted: $4,862.85
Restricted: $5,389.53

NORTHGATE: Total: $8,043.11
Unrestricted: $4,903.59
Restricted: $3,139.51

YGNACIO VALLEY: Total: $8,661.39
Unrestricted: $5,004.92
Restricted: $3,656.47

According to data provided to the California Department of Education, the district spent $8,199 per student in 2009-10: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/fd/ec/currentexpense.asp.

In response to a Public Records request, the district sent me the following information related to its 2010-11 per student expenditures:

CLAYTON VALLEY: Total: $7,839.78
Unrestricted: $4,648.57
Restricted: $3,191.21

COLLEGE PARK: Total: $7,503.54
Unrestricted: $4,677.64
Restricted: $2,825.90

CONCORD: Total: $8,011.70
Unrestricted: $4,709.92
Restricted: $3,301.77

MT. DIABLO: Total: $9,551.46
Unrestricted: $5,256.86
Restricted: $4,294.60

NORTHGATE: Total: $8,228.21
Unrestricted: $5,282.71
Restricted: $3,005.50

YGNACIO VALLEY: Total: $8,918.44
Unrestricted: $5,660.51
Restricted: $3,257.92

Here are all the schools that received more unrestricted funding than Clayton Valley in 2010-11, according to data provided to me, followed by the amount per student more they received:

Cambridge Elementary: $4,735.25 (+$86.68)
Fair Oaks Elementary: $4,782.13 (+$133.56)
Gregory Gardens Elementary: $4,675.77 (+$27.20)
Holbrook Elementary: 4,903.61 (+$255.04)
Ygnacio Valley Elementary: $5,049.84 (+$401.27)

Diablo Valley MS: $4,739.57 (+$91.00)
Foothill MS: $4,751.55 (+$102.98)
Glenbrook MS: $4,733.44 (+$84.87)
Riverview MS: $4,765.53 (+$116.96)

Mt. Diablo HS: $4,862.85 (+$214.28)
Northgate HS: $4,903.59 (+$255.02)
Ygnacio Valley HS: $5,004.92 (+$356.35)

Gateway small HS: $7,499.43 (+$2,850.86)
Prospect small HS: $8,940.89 (+$4,292.32)
Summit small HS: $9,366.59 (+$4,718.02)
Crossroads small HS: $17,442.61 (+$12,794.04)
Nueva Vista small HS: $5,362.39 (+$713.82)
Olympic HS: $8,215.00 (+$3,566.43)

The difference between the district’s 2011-12 projected base Revenue Limit of $5,207.18 per student and the charter’s projected base Revenue Limit of $6,148.00 is $940.82 per student. As you can see above, the district spent over $940.82 more per student than it spent at Clayton Valley at nearly every small necessary high school.

It also spent between $27.20 and $401.27 more per student at 12 elementary, middle and high schools.

Do you think the charter should consider operating with less funding than it is entitled to request?

NOV. 6 UPDATE: Below are links to the spreadsheets provided to me by the district to backup the $2.4 million estimated financial impact.

Here is how Superintendent Steven Lawrence explained them to me in an e-mail:

“Attached at the three spreadsheets that Bryan Richards’, CBO, prepared to determine the financial impact of the CVCHS on district finances. The first one is an overview of the calculations we made to determine if there would be a gain or loss in revenue when CVCHS opens next year. The second is our School Accountability Data that shows the cost of each site, and the third is our special education encroachment data. We basically take special ed encroachment data divide it by the number of students in the district. Then multiple that number times the number of students at each school to determine their share of the special education encroachment costs. Basically, columns B and C in the first spreadsheet provide the information you are requesting and the second and third spreadsheets provide the back-up date around some of the calculations in the first spreadsheet. The numbers that were put in the News Update take into account the money saved as well as revenue reductions.”

It’s unclear why the district has now revised the estimated financial impact down to $1.8 million. As you can see, the district did not provide any specifics related to salaries or many other costs related to operating the school. It’s unclear what is included in the unrestricted, restricted and central services costs.

Overview of calculations: http://www.docstoc.com/docs/document-preview.aspx?doc_id=101888376

School accountability data: http://www.docstoc.com/docs/document-preview.aspx?doc_id=101888370

Special education data: http://www.docstoc.com/docs/document-preview.aspx?doc_id=101888371

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