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County school districts compared in budget presentation to Mt. Diablo school board

The Mt. Diablo school board held a special meeting last week to prepare for its Monday budget discussion, where it approved its Second Interim Report.

John Gray, a consultant from School Services of California, gave an interesting presentation comparing districts in Contra Costa County in terms of spending and revenues. The presentation is at

Gray looked at enrollment growth and decline in the county, which showed that the Liberty Union High School District in Brentwood has grown the most — about 18 percent from 2006 to 2011 — while the Antioch Unified District has lost more than 6.5 percent of its students during the same time period. Mt. Diablo’s student population has dropped about 2.5 percent, which means its state funding is also declining. If the district’s student population falls below 30,000 students, it will have to set aside 3 percent of its budget in reserve, instead of the 2 percent it now sets aside. The district’s current enrollment is around 32,000 students.

Gray also showed the difference in state per-student funding in Contra Costa districts, with Acalanes at the top of the heap with about $7,319 per student and Moraga at the bottom at $6,050 per student in 2010-11. Mt. Diablo ranked 10th with $6,346 per pupil. Gray said that high school districts receive more per student than unified districts, which receive more per student than elementary districts.

But the total amount of money each district has to spend varies even more, due to parcel taxes, education foundations and large parent donations in the wealthier areas of the county. The Orinda district topped this list, with a whopping $4,111 per student in “other local and prior-year revenue” per student n 2010-11, while Mt. Diablo had the smallest amount, with $408.43 per student.

In comparing teachers and other certificated employees who are not managers, Acalanes spent the most on salaries per student, with $4,387, while John Swett paid the least, at $3,035. Mt. Diablo ranked ninth in this category, at $3,534.

When looking at school and district administrator salaries, Canyon spent the most — at $1,040 per student — and Brentwood spent the least, or $381 per student. Mt. Diablo ranked 16th in this category, at $412 per student, in part because it is such a large district. Canyon spends more because it only has about 66 students.

Due to the fluctuating state budget, most districts statewide have accumulated large reserve funds, Gray said. This is because they have been bracing themselves for cuts that haven’t materialized thanks to the passage of Proposition 30.

Canyon has the highest reserve per student, at $6,496, while Liberty has set aside the least amount per student, at $1,060 in 2010-11, Gray said. Mt. Diablo ranked ninth in this category, with a set-aside of $1,795 per student.

All districts must submit their budgets to the County Office of Education this month, certifying whether or not they believe they will be able to pay all their bills in the next three years. When Mt. Diablo prepared its last budget, it projected that it would need to make cuts or raise more revenues in order to meet its financial obligations.

The board reviewed the budget in detail Monday and approved a “positive” certification, after CFO Bryan Richards told trustees the district will be able to pay its bills through the next three years:

The board on Monday also heard dozens of recommendations for spending cuts in special education during a FCMAT special education report presentation:

The district’s Budget Advisory Committee expects to review the budget in more detail at 5 p.m. Wednesday:

Do you think the district should make budget cuts to reduce its deficit-spending?

Posted on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 7 Comments »

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 »

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 »

STAR scores show improvement in Contra Costa County

California’s recently released Standardized Reporting and Testing, or STAR, results for students in grades 2-11 showed most districts in Contra Costa County made gains in English language arts and math from 2011 to 2012. The state’s goal is for each student to score proficient or better.

Here’s how the districts stacked up against each other, with comparisons of English scores from 2011-12 followed by comparisons of math scores:

Percentage of Contra Costa district students scoring proficient or better:

2011 English, 2012 English,(Change), 2011 Math, 2012 Math,(Change)
Acalanes HS: 84.8, 87.2,(+2.4), 56.1, 57.5, (+1.4)
Antioch Unified: 47.1, 49.2,(+2.1), 38.3, 40.4, (+2.1)
Brentwood: 65.8, 69.1, (+3.3), 68.3, 68.4,(+0.1)
Byron: 62.1, 64.4, (+2.3), 64.4, 65.5, (+1.1)
Canyon: 79.6, 78.8, (-0.8), 70.4, 71.7, (+1.3)
John Swett Unified: 46.4, 50.3, (+3.9), 42.1, 43., (+0.9)
Knightsen: 64.4, 61.7, (-2.7), 68.4, 67.9, (-0.5)
Lafayette: 85.3, 87.6, (+2.3), 85.4, 88.0,(+2.6)
Liberty HS: 52.9, 60.4, (+7.5), 26.0, 29.5,(+3.5)
Martinez Unifed: 66.8, 69.0, (+2.2), 62.3, 65.6, (+3.2)
Moraga: 91.8, 93.3, +1.5, 90.6, 90.6, same
Mt. Diablo Unified: 56.8, 59.4, (+2.6), 52.1, 53.1, (+2.0)
Oakley: 55.9, 61.0, (+5.1), 52.9, 57.3, (+4.4)
Orinda: 91.6, 93.1, (+1.5), 91.2, 92.1, (+0.9)
Pittsburg Unified: 41.0, 44.3, (+3.3), 41.9, 43.5, (+1.6)
San Ramon Unified: 84.7, 86.1, (+1.4), 78.5, 79.4, (+0.9)
Walnut Creek: 81.0, 83.4, (+2.4), 79.9, 82.7,(+2.8)
West Contra Costa Unified: 42.0, 44.2, (+2.2), 37.8, 38.1, (+0.3)
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY: 60.6, 63.3, (+2.7), 55.1, 56.5, +1.4)
CALIFORNIA: 54.4, 57.2, (+2.8), 50.4, 51.5, (+1.1)

High schools in unified districts tended to score worse on math than elementary and middle schools in those districts, according to this 2012 comparison provided to the Times by the Liberty high school district, which said its scores were comparable to other high schools:

Acalanes HS ELA: 88.2; math 59.3
Campolindo HS ELA 89.1; math 57.7
Las Lomas HS ELA 81.3; math 48.7
Miramonte HS 93.5; math 67.2

Antioch HS ELA 40.4; math 10.8
Deer Valley HS ELA 53.2; math 18.9
Dozier-Libby HS ELA 70.5; math 16.4

Freedom HS ELA 56.6; math 29.4
Heritage HS ELA 73.4; math 34,0
Liberty HS ELA 60.0; math 25.8

Alhambra HS ELA 69.1; math 55.8

Clayton Valley HS ELA 58.0; math 26.4
College Park HS ELA 67.9; math 37.1
Concord HS ELA 51.5; math 22.9
Mt. Diablo HS ELA 33.2; math 10.8
Northgate HS ELA 78.3; math 46.6
Ygnacio Valley HS ELA 32.9; math 15.0

Pittsburg HS ELA 35.1; math 18.2

California HS ELA 80.4; math 65.0
Dougherty Valley HS ELA 88.7; math 74.5
Monte Vista HS ELA 85.7; math 60.1
San Ramon HS ELA 79.0; math 56.4

De Anza HS ELA 37.2; math 11.8
El Cerrito HS ELA 42.4; math 15.8
Hercules HS ELA 50.0; math 14.8
Kennedy HS ELA 16.3; math 3.1
Middle College HS 81.3; math 32.6
Pinole Valley HS ELA 36.5; math 9.5
Richmond HS ELA 20.5; math 2.5

How do you think high schools could improve math instruction?

Posted on Saturday, September 8th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | 37 Comments »

Candidate filing period for Nov. 6 election opens July 16

The filing period for local candidates planning to run for open seats in the Nov. 6 election opens July 16 and closes Aug. 10, unless an incumbent fails to file for re-election. In that case, the deadline is automatically extended to Aug. 15, according to political reporter Lisa Vorderbrueggen, who has compiled a long list of open seats in local agencies.

Here’s an excerpt of her list, which includes school board openings in Contra Costa and Alameda counties:

Contra Costa:

Acalanes Union High School District (two seats)
Antioch Unified School District (three seats)
Brentwood Union School District (two seats)
Byron Union School District (two seats)
Canyon Elementary School District (two seats)
Contra Costa County Board of Education (two seats)
Contra Costa Community College District (two seats, wards 2 and 5)
Chabot-Las Positas Community College District (one seat, Ward 7)
John Swett Unified School District (two seats)
Knightsen School District (three seats)
Lafayette School District (two seats)
Liberty Union High School District (two seats)
Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (two seats)
Martinez Unified School District (three seats)
Moraga School District (two seats)
Mt. Diablo Unified School District (two seats)
Oakley Union Elementary School District (two seats)
Orinda Union School District (two seats)
Pittsburg Unified School District (three seats)
San Ramon Valley Unified School district (two seats)
Walnut Creek School District (two seats)
West Contra Costa Unified School District (two seats)

Alameda County:

Alameda Unified School District (three seats)
Castro Valley Unified School District (three seats)
Dublin Unified School District (three seats)
Fremont Unified School District (three seats)
Hayward Unified School District (three seats)
Livermore Unified School District (two seats)
Mount House Elementary (one seat)
New Haven Unified School District (three seats)
Newark Unified School District (three seats)
Pleasanton Unified School District (three seats)
San Leandro Unified School district (three seats)
San Lorenzo Unified School District (four seats)
Sunol Glen Unified School district (1 seat)

In the Mt. Diablo district, incumbents Gary Eberhart and Sherry Whitmarsh have not yet publicly announced whether they intend to seek re-election. The teachers’ union has endorsed challengers Brian Lawrence and Attila Gabor. District residents Ernie DeTrinidad and Debra Mason have also told me they intend to run.

What are you looking for in a candidate?

AUG. 22 UPDATE: I have received a phone call from Mt. Diablo teachers’ union President Guy Moore informing me that MDEA has endorsed retired College Park HS Principal Barbara Oaks, now that Attila Gabor has pulled out of the race due to health concerns.

Posted on Tuesday, July 10th, 2012
Under: Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Education, Election, Mt. Diablo school district | 63 Comments »

A closer look at graduation and dropout rates in Contra Costa County school districts

Earlier this week, the California Department of Education released improved data for high school graduation and dropout rates, which followed specific groups of students by grade level to track if they graduated in four years.

This was the second year in a row the state used this more sophisticated way of collecting data, making this the first year it could be compared from 2010 to 2011 to get a clearer picture of whether or not districts are improving.

Here’s how districts in Contra Costa County stacked up against each other, with 2010 graduation rates followed by 2011 rates and the change, then 2010 dropout rates followed by 2011 rates, along with the change. The graduation and dropout rates do not add up to 100 percent because some students had not graduated or dropped out by the end of four years.

District 2010, 2011 (change) 2010, 2011 (change)
Acalanes 95.4, 96.3 (+0.9) 3.3, 1.8 (-1.5)
Antioch 74.0, 73.1 (-0.9) 16.8, 17.2 (+0.4)
John Swett 75.3, 88.2 (+12.9) 16.7, 8.8 (-7.9)
Liberty 83.9, 85.1 (+1.2) 5.5, 5.5 (no change)
Martinez 84.9, 88.6 (+3.7) 8.1, 5.5 (-2.6)
Mt. Diablo 74.8, 81.8 (+7.0) 18.8, 11.4 (-7.4)
Pittsburg 64.3, 66.3 (+2.0) 30.9, 25.5 (-5.4)
San Ramon 96.4, 96.8 (+0.4) 2.2, 1.6 (-0.6)
West Contra Costa 72.6, 74.0 (+1.4) 22.0, 20.5 (-1.5)
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY 79.9, 82.2 (+2.3) 13.8, 11.0 (-2.8)
STATE 74.8, 76.3 (+1.5) 16.6, 14.4 (-2.2)
To see complete results, including school data, visit t and select “graduates” on level 2.

Acalanes and San Ramon Valley had the best results, with more than 96 percent of students graduating and less than 2 percent dropping out. The John Swett, Liberty, Martinez and Mt. Diablo districts posted respectable results, with more than 80 percent of students graduating and less than 10 percent dropping out in all but Mt. Diablo.

These results included impressive one-year improvement in the John Swett and Mt. Diablo districts, with John Swett’s graduation rate soaring nearly 13 percentage points and its dropout rate falling about 8 percentage points. Mt. Diablo’s graduation rate jumped about 7 percentage points, while its dropout rate fell by about 7.4 percentage points.

But Rose Lock, assistant superintendent of Student Achievement and School Support in Mt. Diablo, said the district wasn’t completely sure the data was accurate. She said districts have the opportunity to correct their data in July, if there are discrepancies.

The Mt. Diablo school board reduced graduation requirements in 2011, dropping required math courses from three years to two years and the total number of credits from 230 to 200. But Lock said she did not think there was a correlation between the lowered requirements and the higher graduation rate.

Here is a comparison of graduation requirements in Contra Costa County districts:

Contra Costa County districts with the lowest graduation rates and highest dropout rates were Antioch, Pittsburg and West Contra Costa, with all three faring worse that the state average of 76.3 percent graduating and 14.4 percent dropping out.

Here’s more information about the statewide results, from a California Department of Education press release:

“Graduation rates among California’s public school students are climbing and dropout rates are falling, with the biggest gains being made among English learners and the state’s largest minority groups, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced (Wednesday).

More than three quarters, or 76.3 percent, of students who started high school in 2007 graduated with their class in 2011. That is up 1.5 percentage points from the 2010 graduation rate. Larger gains were seen among Hispanic and African American students at 2.2 and 2.3 percentage points respectively, with the biggest increase being among English learners at 3.8 percentage points. The graduation rate for socioeconomically disadvantaged students climbed nearly 2 percentage points, from 68.1 to 70 percent.

‘Every graduate represents a success story in one of the most effective job and anti-poverty programs ever conceived, our public schools,’ Torlakson said. ‘These numbers are a testament to the hard work of teachers and administrators, of parents and, most of all, of the students themselves. While they are a great illustration of all that is going right in California schools, they should also remind us that schools need our support to continue to improve so that every student graduates prepared for college, a career, and to contribute to our state’s future.’

Beyond the 76.3 percent graduation rate and the 14.4 percent dropout rate, the remaining 9.3 percent are students who are neither graduates nor dropouts. Some are still enrolled in school (8.6 percent). Others are non-diploma special education students (0.4 percent), and some elected to pass a high school equivalency exam.

Graduation and dropout rates for counties, districts, and schools across California were calculated based on four-year cohort—referring to this particular group of students—information using the state’s California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS). This is the second time this four-year cohort information was collected, making this the first time that it can be compared year to year. With two years of data, the cohort rates will now be used to determine whether schools have met their targets for increasing the graduation rate for the Adequate Yearly Progress reporting under the federal school accountability system. The 2009-10 rates were also adjusted as a part of this data release (marked “A” in the tables below) to include only those students who were first-time ninth graders in the 2006-07 school year.

The new cohort dropout rate is calculated for high school students, grades nine through twelve. However, there are also significant numbers of students who drop out of school during the middle school years.

‘Our research shows that chronic absence from school, even as early as kindergarten, is a strong indicator of whether a child will drop out of school later,’ Torlakson said. ‘The dropout rate shows there’s still much work to be done, particularly to address the needs of disadvantaged and minority students. We must build on our work with parents and communities in the earliest years to pave the way for kids to succeed in school.

CALPADS has made great strides since an independent oversight consultant was critical of the initial release of the system in 2009. In its latest report, the same independent oversight consultant concluded, ‘The CALPADS project is presently in the healthiest state of its history.’

To view and download state, county, district, and school graduation and dropout rates, please visit the CDE DataQuest Web site at DataQuest. Reporters are encouraged to use caution when comparing education rates among individual schools and districts; some, such as county office schools, alternative schools or dropout recovery high schools, serve only those students who are already at the greatest risk of dropping out, compared with the broader population at traditional high schools.”

Education Trust-West, an advocacy group, released a statement that was more harsh in its assessment of the data released, but found a few bright spots throughout the state:

“For the second year in a row, the California Department of Education (CDE) has released accurate and transparent graduation and dropout rate data thanks to the state’s use of CALPADS, the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System. The data once again reveal that California’s schools are graduating Latino, African-American, and low-income students at alarmingly low rates.

The data show that three out of four (76%) of our state’s students are graduating from high school in four years.

Sadly, the news is far worse for the state’s African-American, Latino, and low-income students, who graduate from high school at abysmally low rates—63% and 70%, respectively.

Education outcomes for students of color, students with disabilities, low-income students, and English learners, whose needs and potential are often overlooked, are particularly disturbing when compared with the graduation rates of their more advantaged peers. For example, California’s white students graduate at a rate of 86% and Asian students at a rate of 90%.

‘Even though these rates are improving, at the rate California is going, it will take us 13 years to close the graduation gap between Latino and African-American students and their white peers,’ said Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education Trust—West, a statewide education civil rights organization. ‘Every high school dropout is an individual tragedy. Tens of thousands of dropouts represent a large scale-tragedy for the California economy and our state’s future prosperity. It’s time we stopped talking about this problem and invested in the strategies that top districts and schools are using to fix it.’

In spite of these overall statewide trends, the data reveal districts with better results for Latino and African-American students.

In 2010-11, Castro Valley Unified (Alameda County) graduated 94% of their Latino students, while in Sanger Unified (Fresno County) and West Covina Unified (Los Angeles County), 95% of their Latino students graduated in four years.

In ABC Unified (Los Angeles County), 90% of their African-American students graduated in four years. Corona-Norco Unified (Riverside County) posted similarly high graduation rates for their African-American students (88%), and Clovis Unified (Fresno County) graduated 93% of their African-American students.

The data also reveal high schools throughout California with similar strong results for African-American and Latino students, a few of which were recently highlighted in The Education Trust—West report, Repairing the Pipeline: A Look at the Gaps in California’s High School to College Transition. There are a number of high schools serving high proportions of Latino students (more than 65%) with high graduation rates in 2010-11.

At Calipatria High School in Calipatria Unified School District 91% of Latino students graduated in four years.

Imperial High in Imperial Unified School District graduated 98% of their Latino graduates.

At Southwest High in Central Union High School District, 89% of Latino students graduated in four years.

Our analysis also found high schools serving high proportions of African-American students (more than 15%) with high graduation rates in 2010-11.

Rancho Cucamonga High School and Etiwanda High School, both in Chaffey Joint Union High School District had high African-American graduation rates of 88% and 91% respectively.

Kearny Digital Media and Design School, a Linked Learning model in San Diego Unified, graduated 89% of their low-income students, and 83% of their African-American students.

Arthur Benjamin Health Professions High School, a Linked Learning model in Sacramento City Unified, with an African-American student population of nearly 30%, graduated 92% of their African-American students.

‘These districts and schools reveal that our statewide results are not inevitable. We know that approaches such as Linked Learning that tie college rigor to career relevancy; investments in credit recovery; and strong counseling supports are critical to fixing this crisis. Yet, these are the very supports that many districts have cut over the past several years. Our high school accountability system must include graduation rates, dropout rates, and college and career readiness metrics for low-income students and students of color core. This would incentivize schools and districts to ensure that all of their students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college and career.’

About The Education Trust—West
The Education Trust—West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-k through college. We expose opportunity and achievement gaps that separate students of color and low-income students from other youth, and we identify and advocate for the strategies that will forever close those gaps.”

Are you satisfied with your district’s results?

JULY 12 UPDATE: We have just added a searchable database to our website, where you can look up 2011 graduation and dropout rates by county, district and schools:

Posted on Friday, June 29th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | 16 Comments »

30 East Bay elementary schools named “2012 California Distinguished Schools”

Congratulations to the 30 East Bay elementary campuses that were named 2012 California Distinguished Schools!

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, announced Thursday that 387 schools throughout California earned that honor for innovative education programs that encourage students to learn and help close the achievement gap.

“The schools we are recognizing today demonstrate the incredible commitment of California’s teachers, administrators, and school employees to provide a world-class education to every student, in spite of the financial hardships facing our state and our schools,” Torlakson said in a news release. “Their dedication is inspiring, and I applaud and admire their passion and persistence.”

Here are the East Bay schools that made the list, by county and district:


Alameda City Unified: Amelia Earhart Elementary, Donald D. Lum Elementary

Berkeley Unified: Malcolm X Elementary

Castro Valley Unified: Chabot Elementary, Independent Elementary, Jensen Ranch Elementary, Palomares Elementary, Vannoy Elementary

Dublin Unified: James Dougherty Elementary, John Green Elementary

Fremont Unified: Forest Park Elementary, Glenmoor Elementary, Hirsch Elementary, J. Haley Durham Elementary, Oliveira Elementary, Parkmont Elementary, Warm Springs Elementary

Livermore Valley Joint Unified: Altamont Creek Elementary, Arroyo Seco Elementary

Oakland Unified: Acorn Woodland Elementary, Henry J. Kaiser Jr. Elementary

Pleasanton Unified: Fairlands Elementary


Byron Union Elementary: Discovery Bay Elementary, Timber Point Elementary

Martinez Unified: John Swett Elementary, Morello Park Elementary

Mt. Diablo Unified: Highlands Elementary

Pittsburg Unified: Los Medanos Elementary

West Contra Costa Unified: Hanna Ranch Elementary, Olinda Elementary

The complete list is on the California Department of Education’s website at

Here is more information about the annual recognition program, from the news release:

“The 2012 California Distinguished Schools Program focuses on California’s students and their entitlement to an equitable and rigorous education. The program identifies and honors those schools that have demonstrated educational excellence for all students and progress in narrowing the achievement gap.

To be invited to apply for Distinguished School honors, schools must meet a variety of eligibility criteria including designated federal and state accountability measures based on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Academic Performance Index requirements.

Once schools are deemed eligible, the CDE (California Department of Education) invites them to apply to be recognized as a California Distinguished School. The application process consists of a written application, which includes a comprehensive description of two of the school’s signature practices, and a county-led site validation review process, which validates the implementation of those signature practices.

Elementary and secondary schools (middle and high schools) are recognized in alternate years. This year focuses on elementary schools.

Schools earning the Distinguished School title agree to share their signature practices with other schools and serve as mentors to other educators who want to replicate their work. An updated searchable database of these Signature Practices will be available later this spring by the California Department of Education.

Schools selected for recognition will be honored as Distinguished Schools at award ceremonies where Torlakson will present each school with a 2012 Distinguished School plaque and flag. The event and awards are funded by donations from many of California’s most prominent corporations and statewide educational organizations.

To see signature practices shared by the 2009 California Distinguished Elementary Schools, visit

What are your school’s signature practices?

Posted on Friday, March 30th, 2012
Under: Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Education | No Comments »

Eighth Annual Young Children’s Issues Forum is Saturday

Parents and other interested members of the community are invited to the free Eighth Annual Young Children’s Issues Forum on Saturday in Concord.

Here’s more information from a news release:

“The public is invited to The Eighth Annual Young Children’s Issues Forum, to be held on Saturday, March 24, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon., at the Willow Pass Community Center, 2748 East Olivera Rd., Concord. This free annual community is event sponsored and organized by the Local Planning Council for Child Care and Development (LPC), and is coordinated by the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE).

The purpose of the program is to provide a forum for discussion among legislators, local officials, and the community regarding current children’s issues. This year’s event will feature two panel presentations and discussions. Ted Lempert, Executive Director of Children Now will be the guest moderator and will lead discussions of approximately 12 state legislators and local officials who will speak about the current status of young children’s health, education, social and child care services. There will also be time for questions from the audience after each panel. Confirmed presenters include Assembly Members Joan Buchanan, Nancy Skinner and Susan Bonilla; Senators Mark DeSaulnier and Loni Hancock; and County Supervisors Karen Mitchoff and Federal Glover.

Historically, the majority of the event attendees are early childhood educators, preschool teachers, program administrators, community college faculty, and representatives from community agencies. Resources, services, and other information related to child care and education, a benefit to parents, will be available at the event. The LPC hopes to encourage and foster parent participation, as well as participation of all early care and education professionals in the county, including private and state-funded child development centers and family care providers.

For more information about the annual Young Children’s Issues Forum, please contact the Contra Costa Local Planning Council for Child Care and Development Coordinator Ruth Fernández at (925) 942-3413. This is a free event, but attendance registration is required. Please visit the LPC website to register and for more details:”

What young children’s issues do you think should be discussed?

Posted on Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education | No Comments »

15 Contra Costa County school districts and foundations to receive total of $200,000 from Wells Fargo

To assist school districts that serve low- and moderate-income families, Wells Fargo plans to present $200,000 in education grants to 15 Contra Costa County districts and foundations on Monday.

Bob Ceglio, president of the bank’s “Mt. Diablo market,” plans to present the grants to district and foundation reps from 12:30-2 p.m. at the Contra Costa County Office of Education, 77 Santa Barbara Road in Pleasant Hill.

Here is a list of the awards and recipients:

Antioch Schools Education Foundation: $20,000 (to benefit Antioch Unified School District)

Brentwood Union School District Foundation: $10,000 (to benefit Brentwood Union School District)

Education Foundation of Orinda: $5,000 (to benefit Orinda Union School District)

John Swett Education Foundation: $5,000 (to benefit John Swett Unified School District)

Lafayette Arts & Science Foundation: $5,000 (to benefit Lafayette School District)

Liberty Union High School District Education Foundation: $5,000 (to benefit Liberty Union High School District)

Martinez Education Foundation: $10,000 (to benefit Martinez Unified School District)

Moraga Education Foundation: $5,000 (to benefit Moraga School District)

Mt. Diablo Unified School District: $40,000 (to benefit Mt. Diablo Unified School District)

Oakley Union Elementary School District: $5,000 (to benefit Oakley Union Elementary School District)

Pittsburg Unified School District: $10,000 (to benefit Pittsburg Unified School District)

San Ramon Valley Education Foundation: $30,000 (to benefit San Ramon Valley Unified School District)

SEED Foundation: $5,000 (to benefit Byron Union School District)

Walnut Creek Education Fund: $10,000 (to benefit Acalanes/Walnut Creek School District)

West Contra Costa Education Fund: $35,000 (to benefit West Contra Costa Unified School District)

Here is more information about the grants, from a news release:

“Wells Fargo has a long-standing commitment to local education. In Nov. 2011, Wells Fargo announced that the company is donating $1 million to benefit education throughout the Bay Area. Including the $1 million dollars, Wells Fargo has donated more than $13.3 million to schools and nonprofit organizations for educational purposes in the Bay Area, since 2009.

‘I am glad that Wells Fargo continues to support the local communities where our customers and team members raise their children,’ said Bob Ceglio, president of Wells Fargo’s Mount Diablo market. ‘By funding our local schools, we can help provide more resources for our students to be better prepared for the future.’

The grants presented at this event are designated to benefit select school districts with significant enrollment from students coming from low-to-moderate income families.”

More information is available at

How do you think the districts should spend the money?

Posted on Friday, December 9th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | 9 Comments »

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

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

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

“We are prepared,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

“Subject: FCMAT meeting Monday?

Dr. Lawrence,

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

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

David “Shoe” Shuey
Mayor, City of Clayton”

Lawrence copied me on his response to Shuey below:

“Mr. Shuey,

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

Steven Lawrence”

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

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

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

Good evening,

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

Steven Lawrence

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

Good afternoon,

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Rajan’s (excerpted) email response:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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