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Archive for February, 2013

Governor’s proposed Local Control Funding Formula would create winners and losers, some say

A new formula proposed by the governor to radically change the way school districts are funded is creating a buzz statewide, as officials look at projections released Wednesday that show some would get big revenue boosts, while others would receive far less per student.

The rationale for the funding overhaul is that disadvantaged students cost more to educate. So, districts that have a higher percentage of English learners and students who quality for free and reduced priced meals should get more money than those that don’t, the governor argues.

He would also do away with dozens of “categorical” funding streams that were created to funnel money into specific programs. Instead, the governor wants to give local control to school boards to decide how best to spend their dollars.

While most school officials praise the local control part of the proposal, some that would get less money under the plan are critical of the funding formula, which would provide supplemental grants equal to 35 percent of the base per student revenue for each English learner, economically disadvantaged student or foster youth.

Contra Costa County districts would see a wide variety of funding increases, ranging from a low of 12 percent growth in the tiny Canyon district to a high of nearly 71 percent in the Pittsburg district.

Although the state says Canyon has no English learners or low-income students, Superintendent Gloria Faircloth said that’s a mistake and she estimates about 12 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunches. In Pittsburg, 80 percent of students are low-income and 32 percent don’t speak English fluently.

Officials in these and other districts said they are waiting to see what the final outcome will be.

“It should change a little bit, but it still doesn’t look good for us,” said Faircloth, whose district educates about 66 K-8 students. “We’re so small, but with our operating costs, there’s a lot of things we have to do, so we’re not crazy about the new funding method. I understand why the governor wants to do this. It seems equitable for other districts, but we were all low, so it would be nice if we could go up (more).”

Canyon’s funding would rise by $857 per student, from $6,945 in 2011-12 to $7,802 when the plan is fully implemented. Pittsburg’s per student funding, on the other hand, would grow by $4,813 per student, rising from $6,799 in 2011-12 to $11,612 with full implementation.

Enrique Palacios, Pittsburg’s Deputy Superintendent of Business Services, said more money will mean more accountability.

“The challenge is, OK, we’re getting all this money,” he said, “but now the expectation is we have to bring the performance of students up and the decisions are going to be left to the local level.”

For districts that believe they will need more money, Palacios said the governor is also proposing to lower the threshold for passing a parcel tax from two-thirds voter approval to 55 percent.

The San Ramon Valley Unified District, which currently receives about $6.6 million a year through a parcel tax, would get a funding increase of about 39 percent under the local funding formula, based on a relatively low number of needy students, including 4.5 percent English learners and 2.5 percent who qualify for free and reduced price meals.

“The concept of local control is something that I think all school districts have wanted back for a long, long time,” said district spokesman Terry Koehne. “But, the devil’s in the details. That comes with a certain level of disparity. It’s going to mean that our district will most likely not receive as much money as other districts, so it’s a double-edged sword.”

Orinda Union Elementary would see a bump of about $2,027 per student when the formula is fully implemented, going from about $5,753 in 2011-12 to $7,780 per student, or a 35 percent increase.

“We’re very disappointed in the formula,” said Orinda Superintendent Joe Jaconette, “There shouldn’t really be winners and losers.”

Moraga Superintendent Bruce Burns agreed, saying the state should strive to raise all districts to the national average.

“There’s going to be some push-back from communities like Lamorinda,” he said. “They pay higher property taxes and income taxes and would expect a return on their tax dollar investment.”

A breakdown of all the projections is at

Do you support the governor’s funding proposal?

Posted on Friday, February 22nd, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | 118 Comments »

MDUSD board identifies priority performance targets for superintendent

At the Jan. 28 board meeting, Board President Cheryl Hansen reported out some of the performance targets for Superintendent Steven Lawrence, which were discussed during his Jan. 18 closed session performance evaluation.

Since many people on this blog have expressed an interest in seeing those performance targets in writing, Hansen sent them to me in an e-mail today.

Here is what she wrote:

“On January 18, 2013, here is what the Board determined were some of the priority areas for the remainder of this school year based on the Superintendent’s performance targets, all of which he is still responsible for accomplishing:

1. High Quality and Effective Staff – Target 3: Climate Survey

· General Counsel completes and reports out his evaluation of any legal implications of conducting a climate survey (February 25 meeting).

· Create and actually conduct a district and school climate survey this school year, piloting it with at least one elementary, one middle, and one high school.

2. Supportive Family and Community Involvement – Target 2: External Communications

· Improve and update district and school web sites to be informative and current. Archive information and documents prior to August 2011.

· Create a Superintendent’s page with current messages and links to up-to-date communications, events, and reports.

3. High Schools – Target 4: Other Critical Measures (High School Rigor)

· Complete an assessment and present a recommendation regarding increasing graduation requirements and credits.

· Increase high school students’ completion of A-G requirements so graduates have more post-secondary opportunities.

4. All K-12 Students – Target 1A and 1B: English Proficiency

· Implement and monitor the English Learner Master Plan.

5. Middle Schools (and High Schools) – Target 1: API and Target 2: Mathematics

· Create more effective math pathways and successful course completion, particularly at the middle and high school levels.

· Evaluate and improve effectiveness of programs and intervention at Year 5 Program Improvement schools.”

Do you agree that these performance goals should be priorities for Superintendent Steven Lawrence?

Posted on Tuesday, February 19th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 314 Comments »

MDUSD superintendent and other top administrators hired attorney to defend against Brown Act violation allegations

In response to a Public Records Act request by the Contra Costa Times’ editorial department, the Mt. Diablo school district recently released a letter from the law firm Gagen McCoy that disputed the Brown Act violation allegations raised by Wendy Lack and Alicia Minyen.

Here is the letter:

Here are the Cure and Correct letters from Lack and Minyen:

Although the Gagen McCoy letter disputes the Brown Act violation allegations, it fails to address the fact that the revised contracts signed by four board members did not take into account the legal questions raised by Lack with regard to AB1344 or board bylaws, which were discussed by Board President Cheryl Hansen at the Jan. 18 meeting. It also fails to address substantive changes made to the contracts without board approval for Superintendent Steven Lawrence and CFO Bryan Richards.

The board agreed in a 4-1 vote that the contract extensions were valid and it was not necessary to cure or correct the April 23 board action. However, trustees also agreed to seek advice from outside legal counsel regarding possible deficiencies in the contract language.

That contract language is expected be addressed Feb. 25 by another outside attorney:

Do you agree with the arguments made in the Gagen McCoy letter?

Posted on Saturday, February 16th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 123 Comments »

MDUSD may release FCMAT report on special education soon

According to a CAC update sent out last October, Mt. Diablo school district Superintendent Steven Lawrence told Chairwoman Lorrie Davis that the FCMAT Special Education Report would be released in December or January. Since it wasn’t released by the end of January, I sent Lawrence an email Feb. 4 asking when he intendended to make the report (which the district received July 26 from FCMAT) public.

Here is his respoonse:

“Our goal was to complete the review/editing process by December or January. However, with Dr. (Kerri) Mills being new coupled with the review/edit process that FCMAT goes through the process has taken a little longer than expected. We are working with FCMAT to make the study public in the near future.”

That night, I attended the CAC meeting and asked Board President Cheryl Hansen about the report. She sent me the following email the next day:

“As a follow up to our conversation last night at the CAC meeting regarding the status of the Special Ed FCMAT report, I emailed the superintendent the following four questions this morning and asked for his response today:

1.  What is the status of the SpEd FCMAT report?

2.  When will it be released to the public?

3.  Why has there been such a long delay in this process?

4.  What does the district intend to do with this report?  How will it use it?

I just received a reply from the superintendent which added nothing of substance to the general response he sent you. Here’s what he offered: ‘The question is when will FCMAT be available to present the findings to the Board. They are busy working with several districts and we are trying to get on their calendar. Once presented to the Board we will get Board direction on which parts of the report they would like us to work to implement.’

So here’s my response: I’m putting the Special Ed FCMAT report on the February 25th agenda so the Board and the public can finally get some information on something that should have been dealt with and made public a long time ago. The public paid for this report yet they aren’t getting any of the information that they paid for.

The only way to achieve transparency and accountability is if everyone involved acts with transparency and accountability, and that’s not what’s happening with these FCMAT reports.”

This is not the same procedure followed with the FCMAT Transportation report, which was never presented to the board by FCMAT. In that instance, district staff began implementing recommendations before they even presented the report to the board. And when they did present it, staff didn’t ask for direction. Instead, staff just explained what they were doing with the recommendations.

Although a date for a FCMAT presentation to the board has still not been finalized to my knowledge, a blog reader who attended the superintendent’s Wednesday feeder pattern meeting at Mt. Diablo Elementary has informed me that Lawrence told that group the report was with FCMAT for corrections and would be released as soon as it is returned next week.

So, now it appears that Lawrence doesn’t plan to wait until FCMAT has time to present the report to the board before releasing it, as he told Hansen.

This piecemeal dribbling of information is one reason it made sense for the superintendent to hold ONE Parent Advisory Council meeting so everyone got the same information at the same time. If he doesn’t want to do that, he should send out TIMELY messages to the community informing the public about what he’s telling parents at various feeder pattern meetings.

Do you think the superintendent should inform special education parents about when he plans to release the FCMAT special education report?

March 1 update: Here is the link to the FCMAT special education report:

Posted on Friday, February 15th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, special education | 26 Comments »

Pleasant Hill mayor wants more community involvement in MDUSD schools

Every week, Pleasant Hill City Manager June Catalano provides the Mayor and City Council with a “weekly update,” which is posted on the city’s website.

Last week, the first item in the update was related to Mayor Michael Harris’ new Education Initiative, announced at his Feb. 7 Mayor’s Breakfast.

Here’s what Catalano wrote:

“Pleasant Hill Education Initiative – The Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce hosted the ‘Mayor’s Breakfast’ event on Thursday, February 7th during which Mayor Michael Harris launched a new program: The Pleasant Hill Education Initiative. The intention of The Initiative is to establish a community-wide volunteer effort to enhance the quality of education for students in Pleasant Hill. The Initiative would include programs such as mentoring and tutoring students, volunteering in schools, career counseling, job shadowing, community teaching labs and afterschool enrichment programs. Mayor Harris is seeking to form a Steering Committee to plan and oversee The Initiative. This committee would be comprised of representatives from various organizations including City Commissions, the Pleasant Hill (PH) Recreation Park District, Mt. Diablo Unified School District, PH Library, Foundation for PH Education, PH Chamber of Commerce, Construction Trades, and the PH Community Foundation.

Those interested in being on the Steering Committee or wishing to be a volunteer in the program can sign up online at For more information on The Initiative, contact Martin Nelis at”

Here is a news story by Pleasant Hill reporter Lisa P. White about the breakfast and education initiative:

It says that the district superintendent and principals of Pleasant Hill schools support the initiative. However, to my knowledge, this hasn’t been publicly discussed at a school board meeting.

How do you think Harris’ initiative could affect K-12 district schools?

Posted on Monday, February 11th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Pleasant Hill | 80 Comments »

MDUSD special education Community Advisory Committee to hear report on infant services tonight

The Mt. Diablo school district’s Community Advisory Committee for special education will hear a presentation on infant services tonight.

Here’s the agenda:

DATE: February 5, 2013
TIME: 7:00 – 9:15 p.m.
PLACE: Dent Center – Board Room

1. Call to Order 7:00

2. Introductions (7:02 – 7:05)
Please notify the audience during introductions if you are recording the meeting
Please let us know if this is your first time attending a CAC meeting

3. Adoption of Minutes – December 4, 2012 (7:05 – 7:10)

4. Presentation – “Mt. Diablo Infant Services” – Shamahl Nolan (7:10 – 7:40)

5. Chairperson’s Report – Lorrie Davis (7:40 – 7:50)

6. Old Business (7:50 – 8:20)

6.1 Interim Assistant Superintendent’s Report – Dr. Kerri Mills

6.2 Board of Education Report – Lynne Dennler and Barbara Oaks

6.3 Board of Education Comments – Dorothy Weisenberger, Denise Lambert

6.4 Budget Advisory Committee Report – Tricia Tamura-Li

6.5 Equity Advisory Team – Dorothy Weisenberger


7. New Business (8:30– 9:00)

7.1 QIAT – Christian Patz

7.2 Autism Task Force – Vi Ibarra

7.3 DELAC Committee – Denise Lambert

7.4 Advisory Commission on Special Education – Morena Grimaldi

7.5 Parent Liaison – Hilary Shen

7.6 Sub-Committee Updates – Next report in March
Parent & Community Education Committee – Julie Nibblett
Membership & Publicity Committee – Vi Ibarra
Legislative Committee – Denise Lambert
Blog Committee – Autumn Green

8. Public Comment (9:00 – 9:10)
Public comment is an opportunity to share concerns and comments with the CAC. In the interest of time, speakers are limited to three (3) minutes each with a total of fifteen (15) minutes for all speakers. Please respect student and personnel privacy. CAC members and district staff might not be able to respond to individual concerns in this forum, but will take your contact information and follow-up with you.

9. Information Items/Announcements/Adjournment (9:10 – 9:15)


Do you think the committee should inquire about the status of the draft FCMAT special education report, which the district received in July, but has not yet publicly released?

Posted on Tuesday, February 5th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 48 Comments »

Kaiser challenges community to embrace healthy eating and living

Students at Mt. Diablo High learn to cook healthy meals.

In December, Kaiser Permanente teamed up with the Mt. Diablo school district’s food services department to present a program at Mt. Diablo High focused on healthy eating and living called “Weight of the Nation.”

Many local leaders attended and were asked to make commitments to further the goals of the program in their communities.

Marianne Balin, Kaiser’s community benefit manager, recently sent a follow-up letter to participants, nudging them to keep their commitments. Her letter also included recipes for vegetarian chili and ranch dressing that were part of the December luncheon.

Here’s what Balin wrote:

“Dear Colleague,

I am writing to remind you that on Dec. 11, we had the pleasure of your company for movies and lunch at Mt. Diablo High School. At that time, 110 of our guests for the Weight of the Nation screening and lunch at Mt. D’s Serendipity Restaurant made commitments to work within their own lives, communities, schools, and workplaces to encourage healthy eating and active living.

If you are one of these commitment makers, our Community Benefit team at Kaiser Permanente is taking your commitment seriously. We will be contacting a number of you in February and March to inquire after your success. If you haven’t gotten started, please do. You can do it. Make a small change in your sphere of influence to make the right choice the easy choice. Serve fresh cool water. Bring the basket of tangerines. Have a walking meeting.

Here’s another gift for you to sweeten the work we hope you’ll do:
Mt. Diablo High School Vegetarian Chili (recipe attached)
Wellness City Challenge Buttermilk Salad Dressing (recipe attached)

Looking forward to catching up with you soon,
Marianne Balin”

Here are the recipes:

“Mt. D’s Vegetarian Diablo Chili”

Serves 4-5

1. 3 large tomatoes from MDHSs garden
2. 1 red onion (diced)
3. 1/2 heads of celery (diced)
4. 1 zucchini (diced)
5. 1 bell pepper (diced)
6. 1-2 Serrano peppers (diced) * optional, adds spice
7. 1 cup cooked kidney beans
8. 1 cup cooked pinto beans
9. 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
10. 6 oz. can of mild chiles (diced)
11. 1/8 cup chili powder
12. 1/2 tablespoons cumin
13. 1 tablespoon crushed red peppers (or as much as you like!)

Add 1/2 teaspoon of oil to a stock pot. Saute tomatoes until translucent. Dice ingredients from 1-6 and add to pot. Stir constantly and let items simmer together on a medium simmer for an hour to an hour-and-a-half. Add the rest of the ingredients and let simmer for an hour. FYI: Add crushed red peppers to desired range of hotness!”

“Wellness Challenge Ranch Dressing”

¼ teaspoon dried chives
¼ teaspoon dried parsley
¼ teaspoon dill weed
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons finely diced red or sweet onion
2 cups mayonnaise
2 cups buttermilk

1) Mix all ingredients well
2) Serve over green salad

For more information or to order “Weight of the Nation” screening kits, DVDs and guides, visit
Additional details about the Wellness City Challenge are at

What kinds of commitments might you be willing to make to model and encourage healthy eating and active living?

Posted on Monday, February 4th, 2013
Under: Education, Kaiser Permanente, Mt. Diablo school district | 3 Comments »