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Archive for November, 2012

Mt. Diablo and Poway districts provide cautionary tales for school districts seeking to issue Capital Appreciation Bonds

Alarm bells are ringing throughout the state over the shockingly high costs taxpayers in the Poway district in Southern California are paying to finance $105 million in school construction bonds: $1 billion through 2051.

A recent Los Angeles Times analysis highlighted a growing controversy over the use of capital appreciation bonds, known as CABs, to finance school construction. In contrast to more traditional current interest bonds, CABs delay repayment for years or even decades, resulting in much higher interest and total costs to homeowners.

These concerns are not new in Contra Costa County, where many Mt. Diablo district residents have been alarmed about the potentially high costs trustees set them up for when they placed a $348 million bond measure on the June, 2010 ballot.

Poway provides a cautionary tale for trustees and district officials who may place a higher value on immediate school upgrades than on taxpayers’ pocketbooks.

The Mt. Diablo district provides a similar cautionary tale for district officials and boards who may be inclined to rely so heavily on bond campaign consultants, underwriters, financial advisers and their legal counsel that they forget to include the public in their decision-making.

Like Poway, Mt. Diablo officials promised voters that their tax rates wouldn’t increase over what they were already paying on a previous bond. But, in Mt. Diablo’s case, district officials failed to inform voters in a campaign poll — and at the board meeting where trustees voted to place their $348 million bond measure on the ballot — that the trade off for keeping the tax rate low could cost taxpayers as much as $1.8 billion over 40 years.

In fact, the board didn’t publicly discuss its financing plan at all. Instead, the superintendent and a few trustees met with campaign consultants, a financial adviser and bond underwriters (who contributed to the campaign) to hatch a plan they apparently figured no one would question.

It wasn’t until the Contra Costa Times’ editorial board asked to see a spreadsheet outlining the repayment plan that the potential exorbitant costs came to light. By that time, it was too late to change the way the bond was structured.

In 2010, the district issued nearly $3 million in CABs, with a repayment cost of about $9.7 million over 11.9 years, or about 3.2 times the amount issued. Then in 2010, the district issued $943,582 worth of CABs with better repayment terms — about twice the amount issued, or $1.8 million over 7.3 years.

Residents who had been watching closely — including members of local taxpayer groups — rose up to put the brakes on future CABs, which they feared could have much worse terms. So, they asked the board to reverse itself, increase tax rates and agree to issue only current interest bonds in the future.

This board was in a tough spot — essentially damned if it did and damned if it didn’t. If it broke its promise to voters, it would lower taxpayers costs. But, it could suffer political backlash from breaching the public’s trust regarding the tax rate.

Trustees could have avoided this dilemma if they had openly discussed the bond financing in the first place.

In a split vote, the board agreed to go back on its word, saying the tax rate extension had been a political promise, which wasn’t legally binding.

When the November board elections rolled around, one longtime incumbent decided to step down. The other incumbent, Board President Sherry Whitmarsh, was soundly defeated by two challengers.

Charles Ramsey, board president in the West Contra Costa district, said it’s possible the Mt. Diablo board’s flip-flop cost Whitmarsh the election. Although West Contra Costa has also issued two CABs, Ramsey distinguishes his district from Mt. Diablo and Poway, saying his board never promised to not to increase tax rates when they went out for new bond measures.

Instead, he said, West Contra Costa voters have been willing to pay higher tax rates, which will enable the district not to issue any more CABs in the future. He also pointed out that the district’s most recent bond campaign didn’t accept any money from bond underwriters or financial advisers.

“How many districts can say that?” he asked.

Here’s a Contra Costa Times editorial about the need for transparency in these types of deals:

Here’s a link to our searchable database, which shows the seven Contra Costa County districts that have outstanding CABs:

Posted on Friday, November 30th, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, West Contra Costa school district | 47 Comments »

Deadline is Nov. 30 for teachers to post projects for DonorsChoose.Org support is a cool website that allows members of the community to support projects in local schools that are posted by teachers who can’t afford to buy all the supplies necessary to implement them.

But time is running out for teachers to post their projects. The deadline is Nov. 30.

Here is more information about how the website began, from founder Charles Best:

“Fueling Your School Fuels the Economy

During my career as a teacher, I saw first-hand that all schools are not created equal.

My colleagues and I spent a lot of our own money on copy paper and pencils, but we often couldn’t afford the resources that would get our students excited about learning. We’d talk about books our students should read, a field trip we wanted to take, or a microscope that would bring science to life.

I figured there were people out there who want to help our students, if they could see where their money was going. So, using a pencil and paper, I drew a website where teachers could post classroom project requests and donors could choose a project they wanted to support.

Twelve years later, our website has channeled educational materials to 7 million students, the majority from low-income communities and many of whom are learning English as a second language. Our site has connected more than 800,000 donors and will help bring more than $40 million in resources to classrooms this school year. This support is helping to offset the more than $1.3 billion teachers spend on their classrooms nationwide [1].

We’re proud of the calculators, microscopes and books that we’ve delivered but there’s still a lot of work to be done, especially in the area of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.

While roughly 75 percent of our nation’s high school students are not proficient in mathematics when they complete 12th grade, [2] the U.S. Dept. of Labor projects that 15 of the 20 fastest growing occupations in 2014 will require math or science to successfully compete for those jobs. To keep large industries competitive here in the Bay Area, we need to ensure that our students have the skills to be successful in the occupations of the future. School budgets are tight. Many teachers, without dipping into their own wallet, do not have access to materials that are critical to improving interest in STEM education and that bring difficult concepts to life.

It’s going to take a lot to strengthen teaching models in STEM education and Chevron has been a champion for STEM education and teachers for quite some time. Since 2009, they have supported more than 500,000 students with

This year alone Fuel Your School, an innovative collaboration between Chevron and, has funded more than 800 classroom projects across 329 local schools in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. For every purchase of eight or more gallons of fuel at a local Chevron or Texaco station in October, Chevron contributed $1, up to a total contribution of $1 million, to fund eligible public school classroom projects posted by local teachers.

Through Chevron’s Fuel Your School program, Ms. Townsend Bryson of Peres Elementary in Richmond received hands-on science materials, which allows her to teach students about space, natural resources and the unseen concepts that explain how our world works.

You can make an impact too. Visit to see (some of) the materials teachers are requesting in your area and which schools will be impacted by your gasoline purchases. Right now, we have the opportunity to help more students get the materials they need for a great education and to prepare them for the STEM careers of the future.

Charles Best is the Founder and CEO of, an online charity that allows anyone to contribute directly to classroom projects and help students in need.

[1] According to the National School Supply and Equipment Association
[2] National Assessment of Educational Progress”

The website allows you to enter your zip code to find projects near you. For example, when I entered 94598 (Walnut Creek), 10 project descriptions popped up that would help students in low and medium poverty areas of Walnut Creek, as well as in high poverty areas of Concord:

The site shows how much money has been donated so far and how much more is needed.

Which projects pique your interest?

Posted on Monday, November 19th, 2012
Under: Education | No Comments »

MDUSD Jazz Festival is underway

Despite budget cuts, high school jazz band programs are alive and well in the Mt. Diablo district. And students in the bands are gathering at DVC right now to share their music with each other during a free Jazz Festival, then enjoy music from the district’s honor jazz band, which includes top musicians from district schools.

Here’s a rundown of the festival, which is already in progress:

3:30 Northgate HS
4:00 Concord HS
4:30 College Park HS
5:00 Mt. Diablo HS
5:30 Ygnacio Valley HS
6:00 Clayton Valley Charter HS

Dinner break

7:30 PM District Honor Jazz Band Concert, followed by DVC Night Jazz Band

9:00 PM End Concert

Just as UMDAF includes Clayton Valley Charter HS, it looks like the district’s band programs are also continuing to include the charter.

Do you value programs such as this?

Posted on Wednesday, November 14th, 2012
Under: Diablo Valley College, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Music | 3 Comments »

MDUSD seeks holiday donations for homeless students and foster youth

The Mt. Diablo school district’s Homeless Outreach Program for Education — or HOPE — provides services to homeless youth throughout the school year. And in the weeks leading up to the winter holidays, the program seeks donations to help make the season happier for homeless children and foster youth, whose parents may not be able to buy them gifts or purchase special foods for a holiday feast.

Here is more information about donations needed, provided by James Wogan, who directs the program:

“Foster Youth and Homeless Children Holiday Donation Request

Dear Friends,

I am writing to let you know about children in our community who do not have enough to eat, adequate clothes to wear to school, or a predictable place to live. As the holiday season approaches, please accept this letter as an invitation to learn more about our local homeless children and foster youth. I would like to ask that you do two things A) please consider making a contribution to homeless children and foster youth and B) please forward this letter or email to five or more people. Thank you so much!

Last year, the Mt. Diablo Unified Homeless Outreach Program for Education (Mt. Diablo HOPE) served 549 homeless students and Mt. Diablo Foster Youth Services served 236 foster youth. That’s 785 vulnerable children who need our support! Most of the homeless children we served lived with mothers and fathers who were one paycheck away from homelessness, lost their jobs, and had no choice but to live in motels, cars, homeless shelters, churches, synagogues, the Winter Nights program, or double up with friends or family. We saw an increase unaccompanied teenagers (58) who lived with the families of friends. Homeless children and foster youth with disabilities were especially vulnerable and received extra support. Mt. Diablo Unified has great success supporting foster youth – we have the highest graduation rate in California (93 percent), however, the holidays are often a difficult time for foster youth who live in group homes and with foster families. Your contribution will go a long way toward making the holidays a little brighter for our children.

Homeless children and foster youth reside in communities and attend schools throughout our school district; we serve homeless students and foster youth from Walnut Creek, Clayton, Pleasant Hill, Concord, and Bay Point. People may not realize how widespread our populations are because they are not visible in the community. Over the years, we have received generous donations from our teachers, parents, Local One – CST, CSEA district office personnel, PTSAs, Mt. Diablo school board members, members from every union / bargaining unit in our school district, and students themselves. We are grateful to the teachers of Mt. Diablo Unified for their compassion, hard work, and the excellent instruction that they provide for our students every school day. As support staff, we assist children with life stressors that can interfere with their education.

Please consider donating gift cards to Safeway, Target or Kohl’s. You may send donations by check or gift cards to: Elsa Dalpiaz, Secretary, Mt. Diablo Homeless Outreach Program for Education, 2730 Salvio St. Concord, CA 94519 or; drop donations off with Lori Amenta at the Mt. Diablo Unified District Office, 1936 Carlotta Drive, Concord, CA. Please make checks payable to ‘Mt. Diablo HOPE.’ Please indicate if you would like a receipt for tax purposes. Kohl’s, Target, Safeway, or gift cards to other stores are helpful because they are easy to distribute and allow students and families to choose their own gifts, clothes, or food.

This year, we are going online to connect generous donors with recipients. If you or your organization would like to sponsor an individual family, please register online To sponsor a family, the minimum contribution that we suggest is $150. By the way, we don’t use the term ‘adopt a family’ for the holidays because the word adopt can have loaded meaning for foster youth.

Last year, the small act of sharing this letter resulted in contributions from all over the world.

Thank you for your consideration!

Yours truly,

James C. Wogan, LCSW, Administrator, School Linked Services & The School Linked Services Team: Felicia Stuckey-Smith, Director, Student Services; Elsa Dalpiaz, Evelyn Mercado, Derek Wang, Skip Weinstock, Hector Rivera-Lopez, Ben O’Meara, Vivica Taylor, Suzie Billingsley, Shalendell White, Ann McCollough, and our Social Work Interns and Tutors.

Happy Holidays!”

I have interviewed families assisted by this program and have seen Wogan and his team busily packing up items for needy families in classrooms at Olympic High. It is an effort that seems to grow each year, as more people find out about it and contribute — and as the number of needy families also seems to increase.

Do you have other suggestions for ways to spread the word about this program?

Posted on Monday, November 12th, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 8 Comments »

California Teachers Association celebrates passage of Prop. 30 and defeat of Prop. 32

Richmond rally

During the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election, members of the California Teachers Association relentlessly rallied on street corners in districts throughout the state to get out the vote in favor of Prop. 30 and against Prop. 32.

In Contra Costa County, teachers in the Mt. Diablo, San Ramon Valley and West Contra Costa school districts rallied on street corners in Concord, San Ramon, El Cerrito, Hercules, Richmond and other cities to bring their messages to voters.

“If Proposition 30 loses, West Contra Costa Unified School District will potentially cut 15 school days this year and lose an additional $10 million,” said Diane Brown, president of the United Teachers of Richmond union, after a rally in Richmond. “Our students, our community, our teachers and our district cannot continue to survive if we are cut to the bone.”

Teachers also opposed Prop. 32, which they said would unfairly limit their ability to lobby legislators about issues that would affect them.

When the election results came in, it looked like the tireless efforts of teachers had paid off. By early Wednesday morning, they were celebrating the success of Prop. 30 and the defeat of Prop. 32.

Here’s the news release I received from the CTA at 12:12 a.m. Wednesday:

“California students and working families won a clear victory today as voters clearly demonstrated their willingness to invest in our public schools and colleges and also rejected a deceptive ballot measure aimed at silencing educators, other workers and their unions.

‘Today’s vote signaled that Californians believe in the value of public education and investing in our students and schools,’ said Dean E. Vogel, president of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association. “They want to see funding restored to our schools and colleges. They want to stop the tuition hikes and class size increases. They want to see students have music, and art, and libraries and access to counselors and nurses. They want to see our schools flourish and our students succeed.’

Passage of Proposition 30 will stop $6 billion in midyear cuts to our schools and colleges. In addition, local communities will receive funding to keep police on the street and our state can begin to pay down the wall of debt it’s amassed over recent years.

According to President Vogel, the passage of Proposition 30 was a vote for tax fairness—ensuring that everyone is paying their fair share to build a better California—and the defeat of Proposition 32 was a vote for political fairness.

‘This hard-fought victory for democracy exposed the real agenda of the corporate special interests behind Proposition 32. Those millionaires and billionaires never cared about the checks and balances of our democracy, only the checks they could write to buy even more political influence in Sacramento and Washington,’ said Vogel.

For the third time in less than 15 years, California’s voters rejected similar ballot measures intentionally written to silence the voices of working men and women and their unions.

‘The voice of educators and other workers are stronger now from these victories. CTA members will continue to speak out and fight for our students, our public schools, our colleges and our profession.’

The 325,000-member California Teachers Association is affiliated with the 3.2 million-member National Education Association.”

More information about CTA’s Get Out The Vote efforts is at

Do you believe the teacher rallies on street corners swayed voters?

Posted on Thursday, November 8th, 2012
Under: Education | 41 Comments »

Do you know how to shelter in place?

Children across Contra Costa County participated in the 11th Annual Countywide Shelter in Place Drill on Wednesday to practice safety procedures in the event of a hazardous materials release.

At Murwood Elementary in Walnut Creek, students and staff assembled in the main school building and made sure doors and windows were shut tight, said Tony Semenza, Executive Director of the Contra Costa County Community Awareness Emergency Response Group, or CAER, which coordinated the drill.

“Remember,” he said, “this was a school that was only a few hundred yards away from the (gas) pipeline explosion a few years ago and that is about a quarter of a mile from Interstate 680 where you could have a tanker truck overturn.”

Children in day care centers and public and private schools were invited to practice responding to Community Warning System sirens, as well as radio, TV, social media and subscribed cell phone alerts.

Hazardous material releases could result from accidents at chemical or wastewater treatment plants, manufacturing or storage facilities and refineries, or from collisions involving trucks or trains that transport chemicals, according CAER.

Participants are asked to take shelter in enclosed areas and to shut off ventilation systems that bring air from outside indoors.

Semanza said his staff visited Murwood a week before the drill and inspected the school’s windows and doors to see if air might leak through.

The doors were airtight and no windows were cracked, he said. The staff was advised to evacuate four trailers on the campus and bring everyone to the main building, which includes rest rooms, drinking fountains and a cafeteria, he added.

“If they sheltered in place for a long time,” he said, “they could survive very well.”

In addition to the custodian, Semanza said several teachers were trained to shut off the ventilation in the event the custodian might become incapacitated or unavailable in an emergency, he said.

CAER also typically recommends that younger children congregate with teachers in large areas such as multipurpose rooms, where older students and adults can help support them, he added.

More information about sheltering in place is available by calling 925-313-9296 or by visiting Click on “Prepare for Emergencies.”

Posted on Thursday, November 8th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | No Comments »

MDUSD 11-5-12

Tonight’s board meeting appears to be very light on agenda items, with only two easement dedications listed under action items.

But there are a few interesting items on the consent calendar:

Item 8.8: Recission of bid for ethernet cabling (bidder says it’s too risky at $70,000 per day on a $1 million contract):

Item 8.9: Award of same bid to another contracter, who apparently accepted the risk (although the attachments don’t spell that out):

Item 8.10: Inspector fees of more than $8,000 to be paid from developer fees for IHTA gourmet kitchen at MDHS:

I had a call from a Bay Point/Pittsburg resident today who alleged the district is spending developer fees from new homes constructed in that area on schools on the “other side of the hill.” In this case, MDHS does serve Bay Point students, but this resident argued developer fees should remain on the other side of the hill to accommodate overcrowding there by building a new school.

Item 8.11: College Park Measure C improvements:

It looks like the school is finally getting the paving and drainage improvements that former Principal Barbara Oaks asked for back in March, 2010.

Items 8.12 are is also for College Park improvements.

Item 8.13 is for interim housing (but doesn’t say that on the agenda).

We’re back to College Park again with Item 8.14, for environmental services related to athletic facilities improvements.

The board also plans to approve more YVHS improvements related to the controversial field expansion in item 8.15:

Item 8.16: Leasing interim housing (as opposed to the other interim housing item at 8.13).

Item 8.19: Translator support:

The district intends to contract with Marisol Rolen (Greg Rolen’s wife, among other contractors)

I will try to do a live blog and videotape the proceedings.


I got here a bit late and didn’t hear the complete report out of closed session, but I believe I heard that trustees intend to go back into closed session after the meeting is over.

I believe the board approved all of the consent calendar items except 8.19, which was pulled. (I will confirm this after the meeting is over.)

NOV. 6 UPDATE: Here is a link to the meeting audio:

Per the audio, Board President Sherry Whitmarsh announced that the board voted in closed session to send one student to Diablo Day School. She also said trustees would go back into closed session after the meeting to discuss employee discipline/release/complaint.

Trustee Cheryl Hansen pulled item 8.19 from the consent calendar and the board unanimously approved the rest of the consent calendar.

Here are video clips of the discussion and votes regarding translator services:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

The board voted 3-2 to negotiate contracts with three of the four vendors presented by staff (Eberhart and Whitmarsh against).

The board then voted 3-2 to also negotiate with AIS (Hansen, Mayo against).

Deb Cooksey said the second vote put the board right back where it was before the first vote, with all four vendors in the running for contracts.

Student reports:

Superintendent’s Report:

College Park HS easement:
Board unanimously approved easement.

Sun Terrace Elementary easement:
Board unanimously approved easement.

Trustee Cheryl Hansen’s board report:
Hansen reported on an upcoming Iron Chef competition Wednesday at Concord High School, which she will help judge.

Trustee Lynne Dennler’s board report:
Dennler reported on an autism task force meeting she attended.

Trustee Gary Eberhart’s board report:
Eberhart thanked staff and the community for the support he has received over the years and wished the board well as it tackles difficult decisions in the future.

Trustee Linda Mayo’s board report:
Mayo thanked Eberhart for his years of service and reported on her recent activities.

Board President Sherry Whitmarsh’s board report:
Whitmarsh reported on what she is thankful for, then called for a break before the board went back into closed session to discuss employee complaint/dismissal/release.

Interestingly, no one mentioned the election. Whitmarsh is up for re-election and the board has endorsed Props. 30 and 38.

Do you agree with the board’s decision to allow AIS to renegotiate its contract bid to retain a portion of MDUSD’s translation services work?

Posted on Monday, November 5th, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 127 Comments »

Contra Costa County school districts prepare to implement Common Core standards

In case you haven’t heard yet, there are big changes coming to your child’s classroom in the next two years.

Just when everyone was used to STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) assessments that cover hundreds of curriculum standards in math and English language arts, California jumped on a nationwide bandwagon to implement standards and tests that will be consistent from one state to another.

Called Common Core Standards, the new curriculum requirements are being eagerly embraced by many educators, who say they are the answer to complaints they had with No Child Left Behind.

Instead of whizzing through numerous lessons at breakneck speed without delving into any deeply, educators will soon be freed to slow down and encourage high-level discussions with their students about what they are learning. This is exciting to some, but scary to others, who aren’t sure how this will change they way they now teach.

To help educators sort all of this out, the Contra Costa County Office of Education hosted a two-day Common Core State Standards Summit earlier this week. About 400 people attended, including many hungry for information and a few dozen presenters who shared their early attempts at easing into the new standards.

“The shifts and issues associated with transition and implementation of the Common Core Standards are intertwined with all areas of instruction and assessment,” County Superintendent Joe Ovick wrote in his program introduction. “Implemented well, they give teachers the opportunity to reclaim their creativity in the classroom while strengthening the learning process and increasing outcomes for students.”

The key part of that sentence is: “implemented well.” And that’s the part teachers are struggling to accomplish.

Many experts came to their rescue, delivering presentations about how to implement the math standards, assessing literacy and designing lessons for the standards, facilitating close reading of complex texts, using creativity to engage learners, and effective teaching strategies.

Presenters also included several educators and administrators from local districts, who talked about what they’re doing to prepare teachers for the dramatic changes to come.

A Lafayette assistant superintendent, math coach and two literacy coaches shared lessons they’ve learned as they’ve begun to implement the new standards, along with challenges they’ve have faced. In a similar session, administrators from the Castro Valley, Pittsburg, San Ramon Valley and West Contra Costa districts discussed the first steps they’ve taken to introduce the standards to teachers.

But, some presentations dug deeper. A San Ramon Valley teacher and a reading specialist discussed ways to guide 4th and 5th graders to write like researchers and essayists, in a talk focused on “argument writing.” In another, a curriculum coordinator from San Ramon Valley showed teachers how to use texts to build students’ inquiry and critical thinking skills by exposing them to multiple perspectives.

A Mt. Diablo district principal shared strategies for ensuring that English learners will be able to comprehend complex texts and read, write and research subjects such as history, science and technical subjects.

I sat in on a presentation by Audrey Lee, director of Curriculum, Instruction and Technology for the Martinez district. Educators there are already adapting their teaching to the new requirements in five ways, she said.

These are: reading more nonfiction texts; teaching academic vocabulary (such as “deduce” or “hyperbole”); increasing expository writing in all subject areas; using technology to connect, collaborate, research, explore, synthesize, and present information; and asking open-ended questions, such as “Why do you think that?”

Lee laid out the challenge to districts, as they try to build buy-in, with this quote from author Lucy Calkins: “You can view the standards as a curmudgeon or as if they are gold.”

“I hope,” Lee said, “that you will look on these standards as if they are gold.”

More information about the summit is at

Do you think Common Core Standards will benefit California’s students?

Posted on Friday, November 2nd, 2012
Under: Education, Lafayette school district, Martinez school district, Mt. Diablo school district, Pittsburg school district, West Contra Costa school district | 34 Comments »