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Archive for May, 2012

Upcoming changes to MDUSD special education programs

The Mt. Diablo school district held a meeting for parents of special education students Tuesday night to discuss upcoming changes to Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), the Middle School Continuum of Services and Programs; Autism Programs; and Transportation.

Here is a link to the PowerPoint presented at that meeting:

Unfortunately, I arrived a bit late and missed the introductions from Mildred Browne and Lorrie Davis.

Below are links to video clips of other portions of the presentation:

Christian Patz speaking about AAC Services:

Carolyn Patton speaks about middle school programs and begins speaking about autism programs:

Patton continues explanation of changes to autism classes:

Patton explains the district’s efforts to maintain a continuum in autism programs and talks about projection letters being sent to parents:

Here’s an overview of the classroom changes from the PowerPoint:

– Intensive Program Being Consolidated at Walnut Acres Elementary
◦ Two Classes (K-2 and 3-5)
◦ Classes moving from Silverwood Elementary and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
– New Strategic/Benchmark Class at Ygnacio Valley Elementary
– Mountain View Strategic/Benchmark Class moving to Pleasant Hill Elementary
(She also said Sequoia Elementary will get a new Severe Handicapped class)

Middle School
◦ Continuing Autism Program at Pine Hollow (New teacher)
◦ Continuing Spectrum Collaborative Programs
◦ New Strategic/Benchmark Program at Foothill MS
◦ Expansion of Magnet Program
High School
◦ Continuing Spectrum Collaborative Programs
◦ Ability to Expand High School Magnet Program at Concord High
◦ New Program at Ygnacio Valley High if needed (CVHS program if students opt out of charter)

Patton takes a break from PowerPoint to introduce herself and explain her background and special education philosophy:

“If we can reach agreement on goals,” she says, “we can almost always reach agreement on where those goals can be met.”

Patton talks about transportation and says she anticipates there will be “impacts” based on recommendations made after a FCMAT study on transportation and special education is completed:

Patton said there won’t be any changes to transportation for the extended school year. She anticipates FCMAT will take six weeks to complete its report, so the district may not have any recommendations to share for about five weeks.

What is your reaction to the upcoming changes?

Posted on Wednesday, May 30th, 2012
Under: Mt. Diablo school district | 42 Comments »

Remembering local grads who have died in war

Mick Bekowsky and his Dad Brian Bekowsky in Concord.

While walking past College Park High School in Pleasant Hill today, I noticed a slab of granite with a plastic cup filled with water and roses at its base.

When I looked closer, I saw that it was a Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial honoring four College Park High grads who died in that war. I wondered how many people have walked or driven past this, without ever knowing why it was there.

In recognition of Memorial Day, I am posting what it says below. Each man who died is listed as a Falcon, followed by his rank, branch of service, birthdate, graduation date and date killed in action:

“Vietnam Veterans Memorial

College Park High School Falcons dedicated to their memory by family, friends, Falcons and College Park High School Vietnam Veterans.

This hallowed ground is a place to reflect on what they gave and what courage represents. Come here to share a memory, a tear, or the joy of having known them. Reflect here in remembrance of these men, who went before and those who will follow.

Barney Evans Boyer, corporal, USMC: Born June 21, 1945; graduated June, 1963; killed Sept. 4, 1965.

Stephen Donald Bartels, corporal, USMC: Born March 21, 1947; graduated June, 1965; killed Nov. 9, 1967.

Gregory Ellis Cox, specialist four, US Army: Born June 4, 1947; graduated June, 1965; killed Jan. 4, 1968.

Paul Phillip Sonstein, specialist four, US Army: Born March 26, 1946; graduated June, 1964; killed Feb. 21, 1968.”

As a reporter, some of the stories that have affected me the most have been about people impacted by war. I interviewed Concord High grad Mick Bekowsky when he came home on leave in 2003 to a hero’s welcome, complete with a block party in his honor.

His family was so proud that they invited me to share in the celebration. Mick was all smiles around them.

But when I talked to him outside, away from them, he hinted that he had seen things he didn’t want them to know about. He didn’t want them to worry about the dangers he encountered.

The following year, I got another call from his family. But this time, there was no celebration. His grandmother called to tell me he had died in the war. Since I was no longer covering Concord, I was not assigned to cover his death and funeral. Still, I was overcome with emotion. I sat at my desk and cried.

I often think of Mick and his family — especially on Memorial Day. Like the Vietnam Veterans memorialized by College Park High, I hope the sacrifice made by Mick and his family will always be treasured by our community.

On this day, I also think of James Coon, a Las Lomas High grad killed in 2007. Although I never met James, I spent many hours talking to his stepmother Marie Coon, who loved him as her own son.

Tragically, Marie was so despondent about the death of her beloved “Jimmy,” that she took her own life two years later. She told me in the months following this death that she wanted to be with him.

As a mother about her age, I cried with her, when she invited me into her home and showed me Jimmy’s bedroom, along with photos, memorabilia and a video of him dancing during a rally in the Las Lomas High gym. Her pain and grief permeated her being.

A plaque memorializing James has been placed outside Walnut Creek City Hall, along with plaques remembering other city residents who have died in wars. Marie and her husband Jim — James’ father — participated in a Memorial Day event when the city dedicated the plaque.

Marie told me it bothered her that many people didn’t seem to think about why they were getting the day off on Memorial Day. Instead, she said people often seemed more interested in retail sales and barbecues than in remembering the men and women who have died for our country.

Sadly, I know there are many other local grads who have died in wars. But, Mick Bekowsky and James Coon stand out in my mind because I was privileged to share their stories with the community. And the death of Marie Coon is a reminder that the casualties of war go far beyond those who die — since each death also forever changes the lives of those who survive.

What does Memorial Day mean to you?

Posted on Monday, May 28th, 2012
Under: Education | 3 Comments »

MDUSD Special Education Parent meeting Tuesday

The Mt. Diablo school district will hold a meeting for special education parents Tuesday to discuss proposed changes next year.

Here is more information, which was posted in the CAC blog:

The Mt. Diablo School District is holding a meeting for parents who have children that receive special education services in their district.  There are many changes happening in the Fall and staff will be providing parents with pertinent information.

Meeting Date/Time/Location: Tuesday, May 29 7:00pm
Monte Gardens School Library
3841 Larkspur Drive (next to the District Office)
Concord 94519

Topics to be discussed include:

Middle School Services including Collaborative/SDC Changes

Transportation Changes

AAC/Assistive Technology Assessment Time

Autism Specific Classroom Update

Update on FCMAT Studies (Transportation and Special Education)

Please plan to attend this very important meeting.

Thank you.
Lorrie Davis
CAC Chairperson”

Do you think the district should publicly notice this meeting on its website?

MAY 30 UPDATE: Here is the link to the meeting Powerpoint:

Posted on Thursday, May 24th, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 14 Comments »

MDUSD Budget Advisory Committee to hear about May revise tonight

Here is the agenda for tonight’s Mt. Diablo school district Budget Advisory Committee meeting:

“Budget Advisory Committee (BAC)

May 24, 2012
Board Room
5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

I. Welcome

II. Update on May Revise

Presented by:
Bryan Richards
Chief Financial Officer

Next Meeting: June date TBD”

Although Trustee Gary Eberhart has said he wants the BAC to become more active in advising the board, this agenda does not include public comment, questions or discussion.

Do you think public comment, questions and discussion should be allowed at this meeting?

Posted on Thursday, May 24th, 2012
Under: Education | 26 Comments »

Two Contra Costa County districts are in financial jeopardy

The John Swett and Mt. Diablo school districts in Contra Costa County are among 188 statewide that have signalled in their most recent budget reports that they may not be able to pay their bills within three years.

Here is more information about the budget reports, from a California Department of Education news release:

“SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson warned today that 2.6 million California children now attend schools in districts that are in financial jeopardy—the highest number of financially troubled districts in state history.

‘This is the kind of record no one wants to set. Across California, parents, teachers, and administrators are increasingly wondering how to keep their schools’ lights on, their bills paid, and their doors open,’ Torlakson said. ‘The deep cuts this budget crisis has forced—and the uncertainties about what lies ahead—are taking an unprecedented and unacceptable toll on our schools.’

The state’s Second Interim Status Report for 2011-12 also shows a record-high 188 local educational agencies (LEAs) are either in negative or qualified financial status. That’s up 61 LEAs from the First Interim Status Report for 2011-12 issued in February, and up 45 from the Second Interim Report for 2010-11 issued a year ago.

The new report shows 12 LEAs received negative certifications and 176 received qualified certifications. Students in these 188 LEAs represent more than 2.6 million of California’s 6.2 million students attending schools in districts with serious financial challenges, up from nearly two million students in February.

Twice a year, the California Department of Education receives Notice of Interim Certifications on the financial status of the state’s 1,037 LEAs, comprised of school districts, county offices of education, and joint powers agencies. The certifications are classified as positive, qualified, or negative.

A positive certification is assigned when an LEA will meet its financial obligations for the current and two subsequent fiscal years.

A qualified certification is assigned when an LEA may not meet its financial obligations for the current or two subsequent fiscal years. This certification allows the LEA’s county office of education to provide assistance to the district.

A negative certification—the most serious of the classifications—is assigned when an LEA will be unable to meet its financial obligations for the remainder of the current year or for the subsequent fiscal year. This certification means the LEA’s county office of education may intervene in the district’s finances.

The assistance or intervention by the county office may include assigning external consultants, requiring a district fiscal recovery plan, or even disallowing certain district expenditures.

This new list is a compilation of the certifications by LEAs that were due April 16, 2012, and cover the financial and budgetary status of the districts for the period ending January 31, 2012. The certifications reflect whether the LEAs are able to meet their financial obligations for the remainder of the current fiscal year and subsequent two fiscal years, based on projections at that point in time.

These certifications predate the Governor’s May Revision to the proposed 2012-13 state budget. Because these Interim Status Reports are snapshots in time, the LEAs’ financial status may have changed since these certifications were collected.”

In the East Bay, four school districts filed “qualified” second interim reports: Emery and Oakland in Alameda County and John Swett and Mt. Diablo in Contra Costa County.

Here is a link to a list of all the negative or qualified second interim status reports for FY 2011-12:

What do you think the John Swett and Mt. Diablo school districts should do to cut costs and/or raise revenues?

Posted on Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012
Under: Education, John Swett school district, Mt. Diablo school district | 59 Comments »

MDUSD superintendent and top administrator contract extensions revisited

The Mt. Diablo school board voted 4-1 to extend the contracts of Superintendent Steven Lawrence and four top administrators April 23. But district employees and others continue to question that decision.

Trustee Cheryl Hansen voted against the extensions and Trustee Linda Mayo initially moved to exclude General Counsel Greg Rolen’s contract. Hansen seconded that motion, which was defeated.

At Monday’s board meeting, Brian Lawrence (who is no relation to the superintendent) blasted the board for failing to discuss the superintendent’s job performance before extending his contract. (Actually, Hansen did speak about her impressions of the superintendent’s job performance last month. But, no other trustee did.)

Here’s what Brian Lawrence, who has announced his candidacy for the board in November, had to say:

“Good evening, I’m Brian Lawrence. I’d like to take a moment to thank the Board Members for their service. It is an often thankless job and I believe each of you does it because of good intentions. However, good intentions cannot mask atrocious decisions.

This board conducted itself in a baffling and unsavory manner four weeks ago in the contract extensions of the superintendent and select senior staff members. Members of the Board stated that there was urgency in passing the extensions. Ms. Mayo argued that new board members would be incapable of making such an important decision. It would take years before they would be able to assess the Superintendent. I disagree with Ms. Mayo. To paraphrase Mobb Deep, since hip hop is so rarely injected into these board meetings, there is no such thing as halfway board members.

Returning to the contract extension — not a single moment was spent discussing the performance of the superintendent and his team. Not a single moment. Two members of the public came and gave their personal reasons for why the contracts should be extended. But this board, which has spent hours pontificating on the most inane matters, did not spend a single moment to share how it viewed the performance of the Superintendent and his team. Six weeks ago, I asked this board what were the primary metrics it used to judge the superintendent and how was the district performing against those. I received no response. That is a disservice to the superintendent as well as to the entire district.

On the same night that this Board shattered a promise to people who voted for Measure C by unilaterally raising taxes, it made a million dollar contract commitment to the Superintendent and his team. What is the District getting in return? How does this benefit students? What accomplishments, what benchmarks can we expect to see before the contracts end?

Too often this board refrains from sharing information with the public under the guise that it would violate the Brown Act. I’d encourage the Board members to read or reread the Brown Act — it was passed to provide the public with more information, not to be used as a means of justifying ignoring the public. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said that ‘Sunlight is a wonderful disinfectant.’ This board is sorely in need of more sunlight. We can do better.”

As a recap, here are video clips from the contract extension discussions:

Part 1, which includes the first part of Mike Langley’s public comments:

Part 2 of Langley’s comments:

Teacher Debbi LaDue speaks against extensions (part 1):

Part 2 of LaDue’s comments:

Ron Hansen speaks against contract extensions:

Anita Johnson speaks against the contract extensions:

John Parker speaks against the contract extensions, or suggests a one-year extension:

Northgate parent Dana Morris speaks in favor of the superintendent’s contract extension:

District employee Isabel Lara expressed disappointment that Mildred Browne’s contract was not being recommended for extension:

Kevin Hennessy, President of UMDAF, speaks in support of Lawrence’s contract extension:

MDHS teacher Dan Reynolds speaks against contract extensions:

Board candidate Ernie DeTrinidad speaks against the contract extensions or recommends a one-year extension:

CST rep Debbie Hickey speaks against the contract extensions:

Willie Mims speaks against contract extensions and asks why Mildred Browne’s contract is not being recommended for extension:

Part 1 of board discussion:

Part 2 of discussion, in which Hansen says she has seen a lack of leadership from superintendent:

Part 3 of discussion, in which Hansen questions why one administrator was left off recommendation:

Part 4 of discussion, in which Trustee Gary Eberhart defends the idea of extending the contracts:

Part 5 of discussion, in which Eberhart explains the rationale for extending the contracts for one year and Trustee Linda Mayo moves to remove General Counsel’s contract from those being extended and votes are taken:

Hansen recently e-mailed me some suggested criteria by which she would like to evaluate the superintendent. With her permission, I am posting her email and suggestions below:

Here is her email, along with the goals she intends to propose:

Hansen email:

“…Surprisingly, the superintendent’s goals have not been revised or updated since he was first hired in 2010. Boards and superintendents need to operate from current goals that certainly include some goals linked to student achievement, a focus that is noticeably missing from Dr. Lawrence’s goals.

In order to address this problem, I’ve attached a draft of goals that I wrote and will propose.

In addition to regularly updated goals, this board also needs to implement a more meaningful superintendent’s evaluation process, one which holds him accountable for results and informs the public. To address this problem, I’m planning to propose the following:

1. For each of his goals, the superintendent will develop an action plan which includes specific leadership he will provide and steps he will take to meet each goal.

2. The superintendent will report his progress to the Board on a regular basis (e.g., at least once per month).

3. Twice a year, during his formal evaluations, the superintendent will present a comprehensive written and verbal progress report, including relevant data and analysis of that data as evidence of accomplishments as well as identified areas for improvement and future actions to increase his performance.

4. Twice a year as a follow-up to these formal evaluations, the superintendent will also deliver a written and verbal “State of the District” report to the general public based upon his goals and action plans.

As always, I think we must do better as a Board to inform the public and hold ourselves and the superintendent accountable.


Hansen’s suggested Superintendent’s Goals 2012-2013

“Target Area 1: Student Achievement

Goal 1: At least 50% of MDUSD students, including underperforming subgroups,will achieve at the proficient or advanced level in Reading/LA and mathematics and the percentage of students achieving proficient and advanced in each group/sub-group will increase at least 7% in R/LA and math annually thereafter.

Goal 2: Achieve a graduation rate of 90% or higher (2011 graduation rate = 79.5%).

Goal 3: Ensure that all MDUSD schools achieve a similar schools ranking of 6 or higher, placing them in one of the top 5 deciles.

Target Area 2: Curricular and Instructional Innovations and Rigor

Goal 4: Continuously research, select, modify, and implement innovative, effective instructional practices and curriculum.

Goal 5: Restore and support rigorous graduation requirements and provide more flexible opportunities for high school students to accelerate (e.g., community college partnerships).

Target Area 3: Strategic Plan

Goal 6: Take leadership in promoting, adopting, implementing, and evaluating a district strategic plan.

Target Area 4: Communication

Goal 7: Define and implement a comprehensive, inclusive, responsive district-wide communication plan for internal and external communication in order to promote the district as a professional, responsive, and well-managed organization dedicated to student achievement.

Goal 8: Communicate the budget in a way that is user-friendly, comprehensible, unbiased, and accurate to both employees and the general public.

Goal 9: Ensure that bond money is expended with planning, fidelity,
transparency, and accountability so that all stakeholders are confident that the remainder of the money is well-spent to support student learning.”

Hansen said in a follow-up email that the board is still in discussion and will continue on May 29 with the superintendent in closed session.

What is your reaction to the board’s decision to extend the contracts for one year and Hansen’s suggested superintendent goals?

Posted on Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012
Under: Education | 23 Comments »

MDUSD trustee warns that ignoring school problems constitutes ‘educational malpractice’

For the past three years, the Mt. Diablo Education Association (MDEA) teachers’ union has asked its members to complete “school climate” surveys, rating the environments at their campuses according to a variety of criteria, including how respected they feel and whether their administrators demonstrate integrity, honesy and follow-through.

After reviewing surveys from two of the lowest-ranking schools this year, Trustee Lynne Dennler decided to speak to teachers at those sites to gain more insights into their concerns. Dennler, who is a retired elementary teacher from the district, shared her thoughts about the surveys and the teachers’ comments with the board Monday, without naming the two schools.

Here is what she said:

“Last week, I met with the teachers at two schools. I asked to meet with these teachers, as their recent MDEA climate surveys indicated these staffs are extremely dissatisfied with their administrators.

Each school has uniquely different issues, but in each, they are unacceptable and undermine a positive teaching environment. We recently had Clayton Valley choose to become an independent charter. One, of their teachers’ motivations that led to consider a charter, was dissatisfaction with their ineffective, unsupportive administrators. At that time, the district administration turned a blind eye.

I am not suggesting the reason to respond to a poor school climate, is the avoidance of a charter. We as a Board of Education , have the responsibility to provide the best possible environment for our teachers to teach and our students to learn.

A positive classroom climate is an essential factor in a quality education. There are many elements that go into this positive environment. For a teacher or any worker anywhere, being treated respectfully, feeling valued, by management is essential.

Imagine going to your work each day and not being treated with respect by your supervisor. We have teachers who are yelled at in the presence of their students. Teachers are called to the office on false pretenses by the principal, then blindsided by a parent.

Imagine having your administrator make decisions that aren’t in the student’s best interest, just to please the parent. Would you be comfortable with your confidential information being shared with your coworkers, by your supervisor?

Would a supervisor who misrepresents facts or who is outright dishonest, foster confidence in your work environment? Inconsistent communications and ever changing policy creates a difficult work environment. ‘Walking on eggs’ is not a mindset that produces the positive energy and the creativity required for teaching, or for creating a positive classroom climate.

Were all these teachers’ comments regarding their administrators, negative? Absolutely, definitely not! These teachers certainly gave credit where it was due. However, these teachers aren’t accorded the respect and professionalism deserved.

We must be careful, to not assume there is something wrong with the survey questions just because the results make us uncomfortable. I hear teachers blamed because they have spoken up.

This is incorrect. They are professionals who care deeply about teaching and their students. It is our mistake to appoint administrators who lack adequate experience and the required leadership skills to move our schools forward.

Instead of addressing the problem, we make excuses and ignore the problems. The problem not the questions asked, or the number of responses received. We as a Board need to be certain our students have the best climate we can provide. To ignore these problems is educational malpractice.”

Here is a link to video of her statement:

How do you think the district should address the issues raised by Dennler and the teachers with whom she spoke?

Posted on Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 47 Comments »

MDUSD board to appoint principals, discuss graduation requirements tonight

The Mt. Diablo school board expects to appoint up to four principals, discuss high school graduation requirements and review the accomplishments of the Student Achievement and School Support (SASS) Department tonight.

Here is the link to the complete agenda for the meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the district office:

Here are some highlights from the consent calendar, which will not be discussed unless a board member requests that they be pulled and acted on separately:

Item 9.10: Award of Design Services Contract For Refurbishment/Modification of Existing Auto/Metal Shop at Northgate High School-‘Project Lead The Way’ Engineering Pathway — a fully inclusive ‘not to exceed’ contract for $18,900.00 be awarded to PHd Architects:

Item 9.11: Award of Professional Services Contract for Consulting Services Related to the the School Facility Program (SFP) in the amount of $24,500.00 (billed at the rate of $145.00 per hour) be awarded to Jack Schreder and Associates:

Item 9.12: Approve Independent Services Contracts with Clark Consulting and Training for services at Rio Vista Elementary — The school is continuing with the implementation of High Intensity Language Training for staff. Total $44,200.00 Funding is provided by the School Improvement Grant:

Item 9.13: Award of Design Services Contract for Supplemental Housing Installation at Meadow Homes Elementary — To support the implementation of the School Improvement Grant there exists a need to install four (4) supplemental/interim classrooms for the start of the 2012-2013 school year:

Item 9.14: Resolution Rendering Local Ordinances Inapplicable: Concord High School Marquee Project. The resolution states in part: “…the District has balanced the interests of the public, including those of the District and those of the City of Concord, and has determined that the interests of the public are best served by rendering the City’s zoning ordinances inapplicable to the Project…the City of Concord’s zoning ordinances would potentially unduly hamper, interfere with, or prohibit the Project…”:

Item 9.17: Approve Job Description for S3 Safety Grant Liaison:
This person would assist in implementing school safety policies and procedures.

Item 9.18: Memorandum of Understanding between the College Board and Mt. Diablo Unified School District to implement the California AP® Expansion (CAPE) program to increase Advanced Placement (AP) courses at Mt. Diablo and Ygancio Valley High Schools:

Item 9.20: It is recommended that the Board approve Phase I of the Implementation Plan for the 2012/2013 school year:

9.21: Award of Bid for Bid #1603 to provide Utility Infrastructure Extension at College Park High School. The lowest responsible, responsive bidder is Carone & Company, Inc., for the base bid and alternate #1 amount of $601,000.00. (Base bid $589,000.00 plus alternate #1 $12,000.00) with Measure C funds:

Item 9.22: Applications to Chevron for new and continued funding to implement Project Lead the Way (PLTW): Chevron has supported the implementation of Project Lead the Way Engineering at Mt. Diablo High School, Clayton Valley High School, and Riverview Middle School. Mt. Diablo High School would like to request $27,350, Concord High School would like to request $21,400, and Riverview Middle School would like to request $25,640 to support their respective PLTW Engineering programs. Funds will be used for additional PLTW modules, instructional materials and teacher training. Funding will be provided by Chevron.

9.23: Staff requests permission to submit an AT&T Aspire High School Innovation grant for Mt. Diablo High School to increase the number of participating students in an academy and expand inclusion of freshman. Proposed added components will include development of an Internship Program, Freshman Summer Bridge Program, Saturday School, and high quality professional development for teachers. The proposed “Scale Up” program goals are to 1) Personalize the learning environment and instructional process, and 2) Provide rigorous and relevant instruction and provide the skills needed to graduate/serve them after they leave school. These two goals are researched based recommendations from “What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Dropout Prevention Practice Guide” and have framed the proposed components of MDHS’ “Scale Up” program. Three academies have chosen to participate in the AT&T Aspire grant. They include Architecture Manufacturing and Engineering Academy (ACME, Digital Safari Academy (DSA) and Medical Biotechnology Academy (MBTA):

9.24: Memorandum of Understanding between the California State University East Bay, East Bay Foundation and Mt. Diablo CARES After School Program to plan and develop a STEM program in the after school program:

9.25: Increase Contract for translating services between Advanced Interpreting Services and Mt. Diablo Unified School District – The current contract is in the amount of $83,990.00. Based on current projections, it is estimated that we will need an additional $16,000 to cover services for the remainder of the school year:

9.27: Approve submission of the Action for Healthy Kids grant for Mt. Diablo and Ygnacio Valley High Schools:

9.28 Northgate HS Measure C project list:

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend tonight’s meeting due to a family commitment (although it’s possible I may go late). I encourage anyone who attends or listens online to comment below.

9:30 P.M. UPDATE/LIVE BLOG: I arrived during item 17.7, which passed along with 17.8, 17.9, and 17.10. All votes were 4-0-1, which Board President Sherry Whitmarsh absent.

17.11 Increase Independent Service Contract with Community Options for Families and Youth, Inc. (COFY) for 2011-12 school year.
Passed 4-0-1 (Whitmarsh absent)

17.12 passed 4-0-1 (Whitmarsh absent)

17.13 Grad requirements: Approved staff recommendation 4-0-1 (Whitmarsh absent)

17.14 Algebra readiness: Mayo said the board had already discussed this (Must have moved up on agenda before I arrived). Info only.

17.15 Adoption of the Human Rights Education course of study
Linda Hutcherson and MDHS teacher Dan Reynolds introduced the course. Info only.

17.16 Job description for Educational Transcriber: Info only.
Three high school students may pilot this idea. Advantage is notes will be made available to students.

17.17 Procedures to hire long term substitutes: Info only
Trustee Gary Eberhart said he asked for this item to be discussed.
Julie Braun-Martin discussed items included in agenda packet.
Eberhart said he wanted to be sure that what happened recently with 13 subs (at Sun Terrace Elementary) would not happen again.
Trustee Cheryl Hansen said it sounded like the district was doing everything it could and some people are just flakes (referring to subs who break promises to work long-term).
Trustee Lynne Dennler said being a long-term sub is a thankless job. She pointed out that teachers are expected to spend 45 minutes after school creating Board Math lesson plans. She said she many subs may not want to do that.
Eberhart asked if staff knew there was a problem with the recent (Sun Terrace) sub issue, before it was brought to the board’s attention. Braun-Martin said she counted 11 subs. She said she knew there had been a lot, but didn’t realize there had been that many. However, she said the district had a stack of emails from the school regarding the sub issue.

17.18 Board Action Progress Report:
Hansen criticized the current report, saying it wasn’t meaningful. Lawrence said he would meet with Eberhart to try to improve it. Hansen said she may bring back another agenda item to try to get an accountability report like she first envisioned.
Mayo reiterated what the board had originally approved, saying the board agreed to exclude hires, food service and facilities expenditures. However, she said anyone could add an item through a board action.

18.0 Board reports

Hansen said she attended a recent event honoring retirees.

Dennler read a strongly worded statement about the need to address problems at school sites, after saying she met with teachers at two schools that received negative climate ratings in MDEA’s most recent survey. She referenced CVHS and said staff turned a blind eye before that school decided to convert to a charter. She said a positive classroom climate is essential and detailed complaints such as teachers being yelled at in front of students and being called to the office on false pretenses, then confronted by parents. She said walking on eggs does not promote a positive climate. Yet, she pointed out that the teachers also gave credit where it was due in terms of positive comments. She said the district should not try to find fault with the climate survey or the teachers. Instead, it should address the problems raised. “To avoid these problems, I think is educational malpractice,” she said.

Eberhart again asked that an item be placed on the agenda requesting that meeting agendas and minutes for all district committees be readily accessible on the district’s website home page. “Or, conversely,” he said, “it could just happen and then we wouldn’t need to put it on the agenda.”

Eberhart also discussed the past weekend, which he and Mayo spent at a CSBA conference, where they talked about how districts are dealing with finances, school climate, bullying, and support for funding measures on the November ballot. The group decided to support both tax funding measures, he said, since they couldn’t decide which one was better than the other.

Mayo said CSBA also took positions on several bills. She said the group talked about pension reform. Also, she mentioned “Teen impact driving” and urged fellow board members to speak to teens they see driving with cell phones.

The meeting adjourned around 10:30 p.m.


Here are the people who spoke during public comment, according to the superintendent’s secretary:

CST rep Debbie Hickey regarding district positions, Jay Bedecarre regarding Kids’ Fest this weekend, Brian Lawrence regarding contract extensions for superintendent and other top administrators, bus driver Lynne Miller regarding budget cuts, a man who did not identify himself regarding window replacement at CPHS, Jean-Pierre Musac praising Sun Terrace Elementary in Concord, and Katherine Friedman expressing concerns about Sun Terrace.

Hickey spoke again under “District Organizations.”

Item 17.1: The board appointed Liane Cismowski and Kristan Martin-Meyer as elementary principals. The district is not naming the schools where they will work at this time because it is expecting more vacancies due to retirements or other moves.

Item 17.2: The board appointed Susan Massey-Clover as a special education program specialist.

Here is a link to Dennler’s complete statement, which she made during “Board Reports”:

MAY 23 UPDATE: Here is a link to audio of the meeting:

And here is the link to my story about the meeting:

Posted on Monday, May 21st, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 44 Comments »

MDUSD bracing for worst based on May revise, other districts may not be so hard hit at first

Gov. Jerry Brown released his revised 2012-13 budget today, revealing dire projections for K-12 education if voters reject his planned tax proposal in November.

Here’s our overview of the revised budget proposal:

Brown’s budget would allow districts to cut the school year by a combined total of 15 days in 2012-13 and 2013-14, to balance their budgets, if state trigger cuts are pulled.

The Mt. Diablo school district, which expects to look at budget reductions Monday, may consider 12 furlough days in 2012-13 if the taxes don’t pass. School board president Sherry Whitmarsh told me this would likely mean the district would shorten the school year by two weeks (10 days) and eliminate two teacher in-service days.

Since the board cut elementary music education, Whitmarsh said she has noticed a decline in music students at the secondary level. To keep from further eroding music and other important programs, Whitmarsh said she would prefer to have furlough days than other cuts, such as increasing minimum class size requirements.

Now, classes must have at least 20 students, she said. But that could increase to 32, which would eliminate some small programs (such as music classes or AP classes).

Superintendent Steven Lawrence sent me the following comments in an email, in response to the May revise:

“We are very concerned around the budget proposal for several reasons:

1. If the taxes pass, it makes it look like the state is adding a great deal of funding to education when in reality they are just paying back the deferrals. So, districts will only see a minimal increase in our funding per unit of ADA (Average Daily Attendance).

2. Our preliminary calculations show that if the governor’s tax initiative does not pass we will be reduced by $520 per ADA or over $16 million. A reduction this size would be devastating.”

The Contra Costa County Office of Education is advising districts to budget conservatively, with the worst-case scenario in mind, said spokeswoman Peggy Marshburn. This means planning for the November tax initiatives to fail.

“The budget news is worse than we have been anticipating, with the ballooning of the deficit,” she said. “But, every district is different. They all have different reserves. They all have different revenue streams and different priorities. A couple of districts have given raises. Others are looking at furloughs. Each district’s finanicial picture is very individual.”

Both the Mt. Diablo and John Swett districts have filed “qualified” budgets, meaning they may not be able to pay their bills in three years. Mt. Diablo is at impasse with its teachers’ union, which is seeking a one-time bonus that would repay employees for three furlough days taken last year.

Teachers in the union plan to protest past cuts before Monday’s board meeting.

Would you rather see MDUSD cut programs or impose furlough days?

Posted on Monday, May 14th, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 111 Comments »

MDUSD State Board of Education waiver request raises questions about current laws regarding charter conversion funding

The financial impact of Clayton Valley High’s charter conversion on the Mt. Diablo Unified School District has become a test case for the California State Board of Education.

With a never-before-tried waiver request, Superintendent Steven Lawrence and supporters asked California trustees Wednesday to cover $1.7 million in costs the district must pay to the charter, which are above and beyond revenues Mt. Diablo expects to receive from the state for Clayton Valley students. Lawrence argued that current law unfairly penalizes low-wealth unified districts such as Mt. Diablo by requiring them to pay high school charter conversions a higher per student rate than the district receives for the rest of its students.

The district receives about $5,208 per student, but would have to pay Clayton Valley about $6,187 per student. This means Clayton Valley would get nearly $980 more for each of its approximately 1,776 students than other district students, Lawrence said.

“This is a critical issue for our district,” he said. “Currently, our district is deficit-spending $9 million a year. This will push us closer to being bankrupt.”

California Department of Education staff recommended denying the waiver request, saying it would substantially increase state costs and would have the same effect as changing statutes that govern district revenues, which cannot be waived. If the board were to grant the waiver, it could set a precedent that might prompt 13 other unified districts that are paying additional costs for conversion charters to ask for similar relief, which could cost $8.4 million a year for all 14 districts, Department of Education staff said.

State trustees appeared to agree that the current system is unfair, but they disagreed about whether they have the authority to do anything about it.

“I reviewed this with a great deal of interest and concern,” said Trustee Patricia Rucker. “They’re not overstating their financial risk.”

However, she agreed with staff that the revenue apportionments did not appear to be waivable. She said the board was up against the wall and had two choices.

“You can choose to be brave and make a precedential decision and approve the waiver request,” she said. “Or, we can be a Debbie Downer and deny the waiver, knowing we’re creating a great problem for the district and great joy for the charter, which would be better-funded than other schools in the district.”

Board President Michael Kirst said the Legislature should fix the problem. Approving the waiver, he said, would force the state to pay the extra cost and the board doesn’t have authority to apportion money.

Rucker agreed that the Legislature should change the current law.

“Whether we approve this waiver at all, the district is still going to be in the position to rob Peter to pay Paul,” she said. “These are the unkindest of cuts.”

Richard Zeiger, Chief Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the district’s analysis was correct, but his staff didn’t see any legal way to remedy the problem.

“This is one of those unfortunate circumstances where the person coming in is right,” he said. “But, we can’t help them. So, this really hurt us too.”

Trustees voted 4-2 to deny the waiver, but Kirst said there were not enough votes in favor of the motion to sustain it, so the waiver will come back for a second vote in July. If a motion to deny fails to get enough votes at that time, the waiver would automatically be approved for one year, according to board policy.

Lawrence said AB 1811 proposed by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, could help alleviate the current inequity. Bonilla’s bill — which is set to go into effect in 2013-14, if approved — would require a charter conversion high school in a unified district to receive essentially the same allocation it received per student in the previous year, adjusted annually for inflation and state funding increases or decreases.

But the bill exempts charter conversions established between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 13, 2012, including Clayton Valley Charter High, which will open in the fall under supervision by the Contra Costa County Office of Education. Instead, the bill says it would not preclude a charter school established during that time to agree to an alternative funding formula with the district.

Do you think the state board should approve the district’s waiver?

Posted on Friday, May 11th, 2012
Under: California Board of Education, Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 85 Comments »