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How is the shift in state funding is affecting your local schools?

Do you know how the state’s new school funding formula is making a difference in your child’s school?

During the past year, every school district in California was required to create a Local Control Accountability Plan, or LCAP, showing how it planned to spend new money allocated for low-income students, English language learners and foster youth, along with overall funding for all students. School districts were supposed to involve parents, students, staff and community members in creating their plans.

Now that the plans have been completed, students, parents, staff and community members are expected to hold their school districts accountable for following through on the promises made. But some plans could make it difficult for communities to track how well school districts are meeting their goals, according to a report released earlier this week by the Education Trust-West student advocacy group.

The report describes how districts developed their plans and offers suggestions for improvement as those plans are updated next year, said Carrie Hahnel, director of research and policy analysis for the group.

The organization analyzed 40 plans from some of the largest districts in California, including the Berkeley, East Side Union High, Mt. Diablo, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and West Contra Costa districts in the Bay Area. It also reviewed 60 more plans including Antioch’s in Contra Costa County and Alameda and Emery’s in Alameda County.

While some districts are taking bold steps to create new programs, the report found that others provided little specific information about how goals would be met and that most did not clearly show how supplemental funding aimed at disadvantaged students was being spent.

“While LCFF has sparked a remarkable level of public engagement,” she said, “community stakeholders have been left with LCAPs that offer frustratingly little insight into how LCFF will be used to increase or improve services for high-need students,” Hahnel said.

The group’s recommendations include:

- County offices of education, the state Department of Education and the newly formed California Collaborative for Education Excellence should offer better support and resources to districts to update and implement plans;

- The state should revise its reporting requirements to make it easier for the public to see how much funding earmarked for disadvantaged students is being spent, and should report how much supplemental funding each district is receiving;

- The state should require review of plans by county offices of education to be rigorous and consistent with each other, and should consider local and informal processes for community members to elevate concerns to the county level if they can’t be resolved at the district level.

In the future, the state Board of Education will create evaluation criteria to help communities gauge whether districts are meeting their goals. The report urges the state to make these criteria clear and to make data by which districts will be measured easily accessible to the public.

It also pointed out some “best practices” that could be implemented by others to improve their plans. These include creating an executive summary, along with user-friendly presentations without jargon and acronyms that no one but educators would understand.

“A year into this bold reform,” said Ryan Smith, the organization’s executive director, “now is the time to pause and ask ourselves if we have made decisions that will raise the achievement of our low-income students, English learners, and foster youth.”

Most district plans, along with samples of executive summaries from the Berkeley and San Jose districts, and explanatory materials from the San Francisco district, are available on the Education Trust-West website at http://lcapwatch.org.

Posted on Friday, December 19th, 2014
Under: Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Education | 2 Comments »

What is Charles Ramsey’s legacy in the West Contra Costa school district?

At former West Contra Costa school Board President Charles Ramsey’s last meeting Dec. 3, more than two dozen residents, union representatives, architects, lawyers and former and current elected officials praised his 21 years of service. Many highlighted Ramsey’s work to help pass six construction bond measures to fund the district’s $1.6 billion bond program, while others commended him for founding the Ivy League Connection, which has helped place students in top-notch universities around the country. One parent thanked Ramsey for his accomplishments, along with his “guts.”

However, a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the district’s bond financing program, along with a subpoena to Ramsey that has triggered $350,000 in legal fees approved by the board for his brother’s law firm, have raised questions from some residents who don’t believe the district should fund those costs. Now that the FBI is also asking questions related to the bond program, it may be too soon to determine Ramsey’s legacy.

But Ramsey’s staunch supporters didn’t let those developments dampen their enthusiastic accolades. Architect Fred Powell joked that he had a gift for Ramsey, but he didn’t want to be investigated by the SEC or FBI, so he wondered if it was OK to give it to him. Here are excerpts of some other comments:

Former teachers’ union President Diane Brown: “You have made an incredible difference … It wasn’t always easy, but it was a hell of a journey.”

Parent Romy Douglas: “The thing that I learned about Charles Ramsey is that he is involved in everything.”

Former Trustee Karen Fenton: “You started off as a pretty ‘bad boy,’ but you’ve evolved into a major force … I’ve sometimes compared you to Daddy Warbucks (for fundraising). Your standards for yourself and your family are really high and I hope everyone else realizes it. How else could we have gotten all this money out of the poor taxpayers of Contra Costa? You are the West County Steve Jobs … You didn’t just tell people to do things. If they weren’t moving fast enough or hard enough, you stepped in and did it yourself. And we followed you. So, your leadership is one of bullying, but also leading the charge.”

Former Richmond City Councilwoman Donna Powers: “This legacy that you have, it gives me goose bumps. You can drive all around West County and you can point out all of these facilities and you can go, ‘I did that. I got that done.’ … It’s so nice to have people who actually get elected and get off their butt and they do something.”

Peter Hanley, San Mateo Union High School District Trustee: “We all kind of learn that it’s not about waiting for the storms to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain. And I think Charles has learned to do that very well, so I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.”

Robert Studdiford, former bond oversight committee member: “I feel like you’re one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever met in my life. ”

Former Trustee Karen Pfeifer: “Without you, we wouldn’t have gotten out of bankruptcy. We wouldn’t have (Superintendent) Dr. Harter sitting up there. … You’re a cherished member of this district. I’m certain that the district will miss your hands-on participation.”

Architect Wally Gordon: “It’s just been an incredible ride to know that excellence happens everywhere in this world, even in places where people don’t expect it.”

Architect Douglas Davis: “You are truly the Robert Moses (New York City master builder) of the school district.”

Former Richmond City Councilman Jim Rogers: “He is the Energizer Bunny. He’s going: ‘Talk, talk, talk. Think think, think.’ Very bright. Very shrewd. Very committed. And, you know, a few rough edges, yeah. But the proof’s in the pudding. He’s gotten the job done.”

Even resident Mike Ali Kinney, who opposed Ramsey, found something to compliment: “You’re one of the best damned hell-raisers I know.”

What do you think is Ramsey’s legacy?

Posted on Friday, December 12th, 2014
Under: Education, West Contra Costa school district | 4 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school district is collecting donations for homeless and foster youth

For the past three years, the Mt. Diablo school district has collected donations during the holiday season for its homeless and foster youth. Last year, the district served 190 homeless students and 224 foster youth through its holiday donation drive, said James Wogan, program administrator. This year, the district is collecting donations for 128 foster youth and 226 homeless students through Dec. 17.

Some homeless families have lost their homes and have moved in with other family or friends, he said. Others have lived in vehicles, tents, homeless shelters or on-and-off in hotels.

Over half of the foster youth live in group homes, Wogan said.

“It’s those kids who we prioritize for the holidays,” he said, adding that it’s hard for them to wake up Christmas morning wondering where their biological parents are. “Just growing up in a group home is very difficult. At least, homeless families have each other, whereas for foster youth, they’re with staff members.”

Wogan and other district staff members and social workers distribute gift cards, hoodies and other donations, he said.

“We brighten their holiday season,” he said, “because we’re able to grant some of their wishes.”

Here is the group’s donation request:

“Dear Mt. Diablo Unified Community,

In the spirit of the holiday season, we are writing to ask for your consideration to contribute to a local foster youth or homeless child. There are children who attend our schools who do not have enough to eat, stable housing, or parents in their lives. Life is a struggle and they are doing their best to overcome trauma, stress and hardships. We do all that we can to support homeless students and foster youth, and we need your help. You do so much already, we can’t thank you enough. If your family and friends are looking for additional ways to make a real and lasting impact in kids’ lives this holiday season, please consider contributing to Mt. Diablo HOPE and Foster Youth Services.

Below are ways that you can help:

1. Donations of gift cards are greatly appreciated. Gift cards enable caregivers and youth to pick out and buy their own items, a luxury that many families live without. Department store (Target, Kohl’s, etc.) and grocery store (Safeway, Albertson’s, Raley’s) gift cards can be dropped off at the front desk of the Mt. Diablo Unified District Office, 1936 Carlotta Drive, Concord; mailed or dropped off to Mt. Diablo HOPE at 2730 Salvio St., Concord, CA (94519); or dropped off with the principal at all Mt. Diablo Unified schools in care of Mt. Diablo HOPE.

2. Donations by check can be made payable to ‘Mt. Diablo HOPE.’ We will send you a receipt for tax purposes. Please drop off or send contributions to:

Elsa Dalpiaz and James Wogan
Mt. Diablo Homeless Outreach Program for Education (MDUSD HOPE)
2730 Salvio St., Concord, CA (94519)

Checks can also be dropped off at the front desk of the Mt. Diablo Unified District Office, 1936 Carlotta Drive, Concord; or dropped off to the principal at all Mt. Diablo Unified schools in care of Mt. Diablo HOPE.

3. Donations can also be made by PayPal via www.mdusd.org. (Click on Holiday Donation Drive — Mt Diablo Homeless and Foster Youth.)

4. If you would like to ‘sponsor’ an individual foster youth or homeless child for the holidays, please e-mail your name and contact information to hope@mdusd.org or visit https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/16KJTWxVw89lDuJdWJ2uzAevGdYBr0v_lqOraE-Ed3Vw/edit?usp=sharing or E-mail hope@mdusd.org.

5. We are collecting new hoodies and sweatshirts for our homeless students and foster youth. New hoodies and sweatshirts can be dropped off at three locations:

- Mt. Diablo Unified District Office, 1936 Carlotta Drive, Concord.
- Willow Creek Education Center, 1026 Mohr Lane, Concord.
- Mt. Diablo Homeless Outreach Program for Education (Mt. Diablo HOPE) 2730 Salvio St., Concord.

Please feel free to forward this. Thank you for helping to spread the word.
On behalf of our homeless children and foster youth, we THANK YOU!

Happy Holidays!”

Posted on Friday, December 5th, 2014
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | No Comments »

New information regarding West Contra Costa school district’s WLC Pinole Valley contract, Nixon Peabody contract and district insurance

Tonight’s West Contra Costa school board meeting will include a vote on a $7.5 million increase to the WLC Architects’ contract for Pinole Valley High’s design, as well as several contract increases related to the SEC investigation.

However, as usual, the district has not attached all of the relevant back-up documents to the agenda. In an attempt to get more information for the public, I requested the original WLC contract for Pinole Valley High, along with the first five Additional Services Authorizations (or ASAs) and the original Nixon Peabody contract.

Marcus Walton, communications director for the district, provided me with ASA 5, along with 10 attachments that shed light on the proposal to be considered tonight. ASA 5 was similar, and would have bumped the total contract up to $17.4 million. Of special note is attachment 3, which spells out the $134.4 million in construction costs on which WLC is basing its 12 percent fee. Here is a link to ASA 5 and its attachments: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceY3Jqc2tlLThsOE0/view?usp=sharing.

Also, although there appear to be TWO separate contracts for Nixon Peabody on tonight’s agenda, Walton told me that he has been told they are both increases to an existing contract. Here is the contract he sent me: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceZ0lteW1nckhuY1E/view?usp=sharing

However, this contract does not say anything about the SEC investigation, Bond MCDC or IRS audit. Instead, it was approved as a “continuation of services” Engagement for Disclosure Counsel Services on June 25, 2014 in the amount of $50,000. When I pointed out that the agenda for tonight says the Nixon Peabody contract is an increase to an existing $30,000 contract, Walton said that was a typo. He didn’t have an explanation for why the other Nixon Peabody contract is not listed as an addition to an existing contract.

Also, some members of the public have been questioning why the district’s insurance doesn’t cover these contracts. Also on June 25, 2014, the district approved two continuing services contracts for risk management-liability totaling more than $2 million with Northern California Relief and Keenan and Associates: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceMzVfWG5GeFZEMUU/view?usp=sharing. It’s unclear why these policies do not cover the types of services being funded by the district for the SEC investigation.

Finally, one member of the public questions why the board has proposed a bylaw amendment that would provide the board with specific authority to hire outside legal counsel. In an email to the board and superintendent today, Charley Cowens wrote:

“Dear Board Members and Superintendent:

From reading the board policies for BB 9310 Board Bylaws there is a provision that says:

‘Board Bylaws

The Board shall prescribe and enforce rules for its own government consistent with state law and regulations. (Education Code 35010)

Bylaws governing Board operations may be developed, adopted, and amended following the same procedures as those used for the adoption or amendment of Board policy.’

In this section before this passage, it says board policies require a first reading before action can be taken, so that would apply to any bylaw changes.

Here’s the link to the section: http://www.gamutonline.net/district/wccsd/DisplayPolicy/436948/9

I hope you realize this can only be the first reading of this bylaw change.

I have a few more questions for this first reading:

1. Why is this on a special meeting agenda at all? The only items that need to be dealt with are the charter school apps that are overdue because of WCCUSD.

2. Why is this bylaw change being made at all? People may feel your current arrangement for the fees to be unheard of, unwise, extravagant, contemptuous, or ridiculous, but the legal authority of the Board to do this is not in question. Adding these words or not — after the fact, especially — has no effect on the legal authority to do this or the overwhelmingly negative public opinion about it.”

Do you think the board should approve the proposed bylaw change, WLC contract increase and SEC contracts?

Posted on Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
Under: Education, West Contra Costa school district | 77 Comments »

Eukel Teacher Trust Award winners talk about their passion for teaching

Each year, the Warren W. Eukel Trust awards three outstanding educators $10,000 each in honor of their excellent teaching.

At the awards dinner Thursday, Campolindo High school social studies teacher Paul Verbanszky, Stanley Middle School science teacher Michael Meneghetti and St. Francis of Assisi School first grade teacher Karen Kreider inspired the audience with speeches that highlighted their dedication to their students.

Verbanszky said he wanted to recognize the amazing, hardworking and inspirational teachers who influenced him. He said he noticed that strong teachers share several traits, such as dedication to their jobs, flexibility in their teaching and empathy toward their students.

“Successful teachers are passionate — passionate about their students, passionate about their subject,” he said. “They are animated, energetic, and teach the material with enthusiasm. And this passion becomes contagious and students get excited about even the most mundane topics that need to be covered. And I know this well. I teach the potentially boring subjects of government and economics. But I always try to teach with passion and perhaps some humor, hoping to make the material interesting and relevant to their lives.”

Verbanszky said a previous award winner nominated him.

“He told me that when he received his award almost two decades ago, the colleague who had nominated him had asked him to pass on the honor and nominate someone in the future,” Verbanszky said. “Per the request of my colleague, I plan to again pass on the honor. I will keep in mind these traits I have outlined to you and I will nominate a colleague — or many colleagues — in the years to come, that I feel fit the description, because many times, teaching is a little thankless, but this award means so much.”

Meneghetti said he was also fortunate to have had teachers who inspired him. These included a middle school teacher who allowed him to teach a lesson about adverbs, a high school teacher who talked about the science behind ordinary things such as soap, and a community college teacher who told him his great ideas got lost in his writing due to spelling and grammatical errors.

“I still have that paper and I keep it as a reminder,” Meneghetti said. “I had never been told that my ideas were good or that they became lost because of my neglect.”

Meneghetti said he remembers all the lessons he learned when he approaches his own students.

“I love providing experiences that engage, promote deeper thinking and heighten curiosity,” he said. “I’m thrilled when I hear my students heading off to their next class still discussing the day’s activity or parents telling me that their frequent dinner conversation is what happens in science or robotics class.”

He also said he is forever learning with his students.

“Never, ever, leave hot glue guns unattended,” he quipped. “And, school smoke alarms are extremely sensitive. Even 13-year-olds, who try not to show any emotion, become animated and amazingly overjoyed when the LED lights in their soldering projects simply blink on and off.”

Kreider shared the secrets of bringing joy to first graders, explaining how she uses puppets and other visual aids to enrich her lessons. She said she encourage her students in a variety of ways.

“Children are very sensitive,” she said. “They know when they’re weak in certain areas, like academics, or social interaction or speaking in front of the class. I try to shore up these areas by tutoring, praising and a lot of responsibility.”

Kreider said she tells students she doesn’t care if they make mistakes. Instead, she asks them to do their best.

“You’d be amazed at what a confident and empowered first-grader can do,” she said.
After telling many anecdotes from her classroom, Kreider said: “What do I receive for all my efforts?”

“Something more valuable than rivers of gold and buckets of diamonds. I receive a child’s love and respect.”

Here are links to video of the introductions and speeches (unfortunately, I ran out of storage space on a few of the clips, so I wasn’t able to capture all the speeches in their entirety.)

Into to Verbansky speech: http://youtu.be/NaWisiMkYs4?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

Verbansky speech, part 1: http://youtu.be/udez-gHvkq0?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

Verbansky speech, part 2: http://youtu.be/jkGBVaUbS_U?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

Kreider intro: http://youtu.be/oHzHpKwgI14?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

Kreider speech, part 1: http://youtu.be/Vp5fM3Z8Vl8?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

Kreider speech, part 2: http://youtu.be/nwq3fchPiqg?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

Meneghetti intro and speech: http://youtu.be/uPqfc7zHmcc?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

What do you think are the traits of a great teacher?

Posted on Friday, November 21st, 2014
Under: Education | No Comments »

How do you think the West Contra Costa district could be more transparent?

A few years ago, many residents and employees in the Mt. Diablo school district complained about a lack of transparency and accountability in decision-making. Today, things have improved under new leadership.

For example, contracts are listed separately on agendas and the documents are attached to agenda packets, so the public can see what is being decided. When the board recently extended Superintendent Nellie Meyer’s contract, it was listed on the public agenda with the contract attached.

Now, the Mt. Diablo district looks like a poster child for transparency compared to the West Contra Costa district. A case in point was the chaotic West Contra Costa board meeting Wednesday, where the board agreed to extend Superintendent Bruce Harter’s contract under the vague heading of “performance evaluation” on a closed session agenda (Item 8). The contract was not attached and there was no mention that the “one year extension” would actually last through June 30, 2018.

District residents say this is business as usual in West Contra Costa, where the public is left in the dark, while the board wonders why trust is deteriorating.

“Still, no one knows what the arrangement is with the superintendent at all,” said resident Charley Cowens. “That was not real sufficient notice of what’s going on. They should have a hearing. They should allow the public to have a meaningful opportunity to give them feedback. Who wouldn’t be interested in getting feedback on their job from the people they’re trying to serve?”

Cowens suggests that the district make the superintendent’s goals and objectives public so that everyone knows what he’s striving to achieve. This is an idea that has already been implemented in the Mt. Diablo district.

Resident Linda Ruiz-Lozito said the West Contra Costa district should look for new leadership.

“WCCUSD is one of the lowest performing districts in California,” she said. “This school board has voted to keep the same (administrative) leadership in place for four more years, right before new school board members come on the board.”

Resident Scottie Smith said the board is not good at making things clear to the public.

“In all my years of being in this district,” she said, “I have found this board to be the worst in terms of clarity.”

Smith and several other district residents were incensed when the district placed four controversial contracts for nearly $500,000 related to a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation on the “consent” portion of the agenda (Item C. 4), which is normally reserved for routine items that don’t need to be discussed.

“It should have never been on the consent calendar from the beginning,” Smith said. “The way they did that was underhanded and very deceptive.”

But both Board President Charles Ramsey and Trustee Madeline Kronenberg defended the agenda placement, saying this is the way the board always handles contracts. When I told Kronenberg about the way Mt. Diablo lists contracts separately and attaches them to agendas, she said she would suggest this idea at her board’s January retreat.

“That’s the kind of practical suggestion that I think is actually useful to us,” she said. “I get told a lot that we need to be more transparent. I have no problem supporting any suggestion.”

Hercules City Councilman Dan Romero said the West Contra Costa school board needs to change the way it does things if it wants to regain public trust. For example, Romero said he believes board members who recuse themselves must step out of the room before discussion begins, instead of participating as Ramsey did.

Romero also said he was surprised that neither the district’s attorney nor Harter stepped in to correct Ramsey when he made a parliamentary mistake by trying to amend a motion made by Trustee Todd Groves related to Kronenberg’s legal representation, before seeking a second. Instead, Sheri Gamba, associate superintendent for business services, told Ramsey there was already a motion on the floor.

“I’m glad somebody knew the rules,” Romero said.

How do you think the board could be more transparent?

Posted on Friday, November 14th, 2014
Under: Education, West Contra Costa school district | 54 Comments »

Mounting legal fees for SEC investigation rile some WCCUSD residents

As word of four contracts to be considered by the West Contra Costa school board tonight related to the SEC investigation into the district’s $1.6 billion bond program has spread, some residents are questioning why taxpayers should foot the bill for responses to subpoenas for Board President Charles Ramsey and Trustee Madeline Kronenberg.

In addition, I question why the district placed these contracts on its “consent calendar,” which is supposed to be used only for “routine” items with no discussion. I also question why the contracts themselves are not attached to the agenda packet.

When I spoke to Ramsey yesterday afternoon about these issues, I started off the conversation by saying there were some “controversial” things on the agenda (referring to these contracts).

“That’s not controversial,” Ramsey said. “I’ve not gotten one phone call. I haven’t gotten one email, so it’s not controversial.”

When I told him that I had received phone calls and e-mails about this, he responded: “Why would people call the media and not call me?”

Ramsey said that contracts have always been placed on the consent calendar, so he didn’t see any problem with that. Debbie Haynie, the superintendent’s executive secretary, said it’s not the district’s practice to actually attach the contracts to the agenda packets.

Even more surprising, the district doesn’t even list the contracts on the agenda. It merely lists the heading “contracts,” and states: “Permission is requested of the Board of Education to approve contracts as detailed, dated Nov. 12, 2014.”

The amounts are also not listed. Instead, under “Fiscal Impacts,” the agenda states: “As noted per contracts summary.”

This forces the public to then go online and scroll through the entire agenda packet to find a summary of contracts to be approved. The summary includes short descriptions and dollar amounts, but leaves out other important details. For example, it was unclear whether the dollar amounts listed for contract increases referred to new money or to the new total amount. It is also unclear whether Madeline Kronenberg received an individual subpoena or whether her representation is related to the district’s subpoena. Further, it is not clear why Associate Superintendent Sheri Gamba was being deposed or when the deposition was scheduled.

Trustee Todd Groves told me yesterday that he thought the additional amounts listed were cumulative, not incremental. But I found out today from the district’s Business Services Department that was not true. In fact, the amounts are IN ADDITION to the current contracts. It’s surprising that Groves didn’t know this.

The district’s failure to transparently reveal such information has prompted resident Charles Reichmann and others to ask the board to delay its vote on these contracts. With Reichmann’s permission, I am posting his “Open Letter on Ramsey, Kronenberg Legal Fees” below, which he sent to Trustee Todd Groves, along with copies to Trustees Randall Enos and Elaine Merriweather:

“Dear Todd,

I was distressed to read in the paper that the WCCUSD Board will soon vote on whether to allocate an additional $200k to pay Charles Ramsey’s brother’s law firm in connection with the SEC investigation. And another $100k in defense of the person you’ve described as your “close ally” on the Board, Madeline Kronenberg.

I hereby request that the Board delay its scheduled vote on this matter for one month to allow more opportunity for public discussion.

You have been quoted in the paper a couple of times saying that it is only right that the WCCUSD pay Charles Ramsey’s legal fees because the investigation arises out of work he did while on the Board. This proposition is not at all self-evident to your constituents. First, I don’t understand why this isn’t exactly the kind of matter that your insurer would pay for pursuant to the board’s D&O policy. Even if you ignore the rest of this email, can you please explain why the District’s insurer isn’t obligated to provide a defense? Second, it is unseemly that Charles Ramsey is taking this final opportunity to enrich one of his close associates, in this case his brother. (Ismail Ramsey and his firm are highly regarded and certainly are competent to handle investigations of this kind. That is not at issue.) Third, Ismail Ramsey’s firm has made it clear that their duties run entirely to Charles and not to the District so any argument that benefits from this engagement inure to the good of District taxpayers is unavailing. Charles Ramsey and his attorneys are pursuing one thing and one thing alone – the exoneration of Charles Ramsey. They are not at all concerned with the best interests of the WCCUSD, however they may understand them.

Finally, it is noteworthy that you seem entirely convinced that the SEC investigation will uncover no wrongdoing on the part of Ramsey or any others associated with the bond program. You have been a trustee for only a couple of years and recently wrote that you are still getting up to speed on the bond program, so you may lack a sound basis for having reached such a conclusion. The fact that the SEC opened an investigation is a pretty extraordinary thing in itself, and the fact that the Board apparently now feels compelled to spend in excess of $500k of District funds in response to what you call a “pretty deep examination” may end up meaning that we all will be unpleasantly surprised about what the investigation uncovers. As a District taxpayer I certainly do not want to be paying the attorneys’ fees of WCCUSD personnel whom the government elects to prosecute for malfeasance. Do you feel the same way, or will you continue to assert that since the conduct happened while they were in the District’s employ, it is only proper that we continue to pay for a first-class defense?

Very truly yours,

Charles Reichmann
Kensington”

I have also received the following comment from district resident Anton Jungherr:

“Note that all of the contracts are illegal as they all started before Board approval.

Kronenberg contract started October 1, 2014, prior to the election!

Why does Kronenberg need a criminal defense attorney to respond to records request?”

However, the original contracts for Ramsey and F1 Discovery were previously approved.

Do you think the board should delay its vote on the contracts for one month?

Posted on Wednesday, November 12th, 2014
Under: Education, West Contra Costa school district | 16 Comments »

MDUSD board election winners look toward the future

Updated results from the Contra Costa County elections office released Friday, which included all timely vote by mail ballots, showed no change in the outcome of the Mt. Diablo school board race between six candidates for three seats. Incumbent Cheryl Hansen finished first with 23.4 percent of votes, followed by Bay Point parent Debra Mason with 19.6 percent and incumbent Linda Mayo with 19.1 percent.

However, the gap between fourth-place finisher Michael Langley and third-place finisher Linda Mayo dropped from 477 to 417 votes, with Langley garnering 18.7 percent. followed by Herbert Lee with 9.8 percent, James Ryan with 8.8 percent and write-ins getting nearly 0.5 percent.

Another 13,000 provisional ballots and 10,000 “exceptions” that could not be counted by machine are still to be counted. Officials expect to begin counting the outstanding ballots Monday and to release another update Nov. 14, with a final update Nov. 21. The certification deadline is Dec. 2.

After the initial results were released Tuesday, the three Mt. Diablo school district winners responded via e-mail to requests for comments.

Hansen said she was happy to receive a vote of confidence from the community and was glad for the opportunity to continue working toward changes, after accomplishing some goals during her first term. Foremost among those was the ouster of former Superintendent Steven Lawrence last year, who was replaced by current Superintendent Nellie Meyer.

“From my perspective, while positive progress has been made in the past year or two, there’s still more work to be done to correct the 2010-12 board majority and former superintendent’s poor judgment and ill-advised decision making,” said Hansen, who was elected to her first term in 2010.

The 2010-12 board majority included Mayo and former Trustees Gary Eberhart and Sherry Whitmarsh. Eberhart stepped down two years ago and Whitmarsh was unsuccessful in her 2012 re-election attempt. The pair was replaced by Trustee Brian Lawrence and Board President Barbara Oaks.

Hansen said she wants to continue to restore previously cut programs, enhance employee benefits, and build school support and community relationships.

“Also,” she said, “I’d still like to see all board members embrace the concept of public service and voluntarily forgo health benefits at the taxpayers’ expense.”

Oaks and Hansen tried to push through a board bylaw amendment in September that would have required board members to pay the full cost of their medical, dental and vision coverage. But the proposal was defeated by Mayo, Brian Lawrence and Trustee Lynne Dennler. Dennler did not seek re-election this year.

This newspaper’s public employees’ salary and benefits database shows Hansen and Oaks received no health benefits as board members in 2013. Brian Lawrence received $1,458 in district-paid benefits, Dennler received $12,781 and Mayo received $14,371 for herself and her husband. Mayo said during the campaign that it’s important for the district to provide benefits to trustees so that those who may not be able to afford them would not be discouraged from serving.

Regarding the new makeup of the board, Hansen said she is excited that Mason was elected.
“She is a dedicated, experienced educator and community member who will be another important voice of common sense on the board,” Hansen said.

Mason said some voters may have chosen her over Mayo because of her fresh outlook.

“Linda has been on the board for 17 years,” Mason said, “so people may feel she has already made her contribution to the leadership of the district.”

Mayo said she was pleased that voters weighed in on the board election during a low turnout year.

“Public education should be the important first consideration for our youth,” she said. “I look forward to working with Debra Mason, Cheryl Hansen, Brian Lawrence, Barbara Oaks and Dr. Nellie Meyer during the next four years. Together, with our parents, staff and community, we have great work to accomplish.”

How do you think the loss of Dennler and the addition of Mason will affect the board?

Posted on Friday, November 7th, 2014
Under: Education, Election, Mt. Diablo school district | 123 Comments »

WCCUSD Trustee Elaine Merriweather comments on her loss in Tuesday’s election

I received the following statement to the public from West Contra Costa school board Trustee Elaine Merriweather, in response to her unsuccessful re-election attempt Tuesday. I am posting the statement below, since I did not receive it in time for inclusion in my post-election story.

Merriweather was one of two incumbents seeking re-election during a race between 10 candidates for three seats. Board President Charles Ramsey is stepping down, after an unsuccessful run for Richmond City Council.

According to unofficial results from the County Elections office (with thousands of mail in and provisional ballots still to be counted), Merriweather finished sixth, with 9 percent of votes. Elizabeth Block finished first with 19.5 percent, followed by incumbent Madeline Kronenberg with 15.4 percent and Valerie Cuevas with 13.2 percent, Mister Phillips with 11.8 percent and Raquel Donoso with 9.6 percent. The top three finishers are the unofficial winners of the election until all votes are counted. Mister Phillips, who received 944 votes fewer than Cuevas, could have a chance to overtake her if there are enough mail in and provisional ballots outstanding that are cast for him.

Merriweather finished ahead of Peter Nicholas Chau, who received 7.9 percent of votes, Chester Stevens with 4.6 percent, Ayana Kirkland Young with 4.4 percent, Otheree Christian with 4 percent and write-in candidates, who received 0.4 percent. So far, 64,305 votes have been counted in the race.

Here is Merriweather’s statement:

“I wish I had better news for you. Unfortunately, our campaign fell short of our goal Tuesday night. Coming into this election, I knew that it would be an uphill battle because of the opposition from nine other candidates but I am so proud of the hard work and dedication our team put into this race.

To my supporters: I don’t know where to begin to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation for all the support, well wishes, financial contributions and love that you’ve given me these last four years. The phone banking, precinct walking and helping to raise fund kept us in the race. Your encouragement meant so much to me in this election. You need to know that your support gave me the strength and courage to push forward our platform.

To my team: Everything in our campaign was built from the ground up, grassroots effort. As a candidate and a board member, I woke up every day determined to work harder for children of this district. I wanted to vindicate all the support and dedication that you had invested in me. To my treasurer who helped fundraise and keep the finances in order. To my campaign manager who worked tirelessly, without preservation, I thank you both from the bottom of my heart and I could not have had better leaders advising me.

This election season is a reminder that there is a lot of work that needs to be done to move our district forward. Despite these challenges, I am as optimistic as ever. We made tremendous strides in the community and we have made progress in our district. I will continue to work and advocate for students at the national and state level. My commitment to quality education has only grown stronger because I was given the opportunity to serve in West Contra Costa Unified School District.

With humility and thankfulness,

Hon. Elaine Merriweather
Board of Education Trustee
West Contra Costa Unified School District”

What impact do you think the loss of Merriweather on the board will have on the district?

Posted on Thursday, November 6th, 2014
Under: Education, Election, Walnut Creek School District | No Comments »

Who will undecideds choose in state Superintendent of Public Instruction race: Torlakson or Tuck?

Tom Torlakson (left, AP) and Marshall Tuck (right, handout photo) are vying for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Tom Torlakson (left, AP) and Marshall Tuck (right, handout photo) are vying for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

A Field Poll released Thursday showed the race for the state’s top schools leader is still off the radar for a lot of voters, with incumbent Tom Torlakson tied with challenger Marshall Tuck, both with 28 percent of likely voters supporting them. At this late date, 44 percent of voters were still undecided, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,536 registered voters in California from Oct. 15-28, including 941 considered likely to vote Tuesday.

The poll noted key differences among subgroups of voters, according to geography, race and ethnicity, political ideology, and union households. Northern California voters favored Torlakson by 9 points, while Bay Area voters supported him by a 14 point margin. Tuck, on the other hand, had a 6-point lead over Torlakson in Southern California, where he worked overseeing some charter and low-performing schools in the Los Angeles area before running for office.

White non-Hispanic voters, who make up about 70 percent of those likely to go to the polls, favored Torlakson by 7 points, the poll found. Tuck had much stronger support among Latino and African-American voters, as well as a slight lead among Asian-Americans.

- Thirty-two percent of white non-Hispanic likely voters supported Torlakson, compared to 25 percent for Tuck and 43 percent undecided;

- Twenty percent of Latino likely voters supported Torlakson, compared to 33 percent for Tuck and 47 percent undecided;

- Eleven percent of African-American likely voters favored Torlakson, compared to 49 percent for Tuck and 40 percent undecided;

Twenty-one percent of likely Asian-Americans supported Torlakson, compared to 38 percent for Tuck and 51 percent undecided.

Ideologically, 40 percent of strongly liberal voters favored Torlakson, compared to 18 percent for Tuck and 42 percent undecided. On the other hand, only 26 percent of strongly conservative voters favored Torlakson, compared to 36 percent for Tuck and 40 percent undecided.

In union households, 31 percent favored Torlakson, 23 percent supported Tuck and 46 percent were undecided. Nonunion households gave Tuck the lead, with 27 percent supporting Torlakson compared to 29 percent for Tuck and 44 percent undecided.

During phone interviews, both men seized on the large numbers of undecided voters, saying they believed they would choose them as they learn more about the race. Both also said they were pleasantly surprised that their opponent had not gained ground since the last field poll, especially after millions of dollars have been spent on ads in the race.

“Ten million dollars from corporate billionaires hasn’t convinced voters to put a Wall Street banker in charge of our schools,” Torlakson said, referring to money spent on behalf of Tuck’s campaign. “The undecideds are a large group here. When people find out I’m the endorsed Democrat and that mayors and superintendents across the state support me, as well as the teachers, the undecideds, I believe, will break our way.”

But Tuck, who worked as an investment banker for two years in his early 20s before pursuing a career in school leadership, said he believes his message of reform will resonate with undecided voters as they learn more about him.

“The bottom line is we’re going against an incumbent and the status quo and we’re on a real change agenda,” he said. “Undecideds are likely to support our campaign because most people want major change in schools.”

Torlakson said he is not a status quo candidate — in fact, he said he helped work toward the new funding formula that gives more money to schools with the neediest students, has led the implementation of new Common Core standards and stood up to the U.S. Department of Education last year to ditch the old fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests and instead pilot new tests to better assess student learning.

Tuck wants to weaken tenure laws to make it easier to oust ineffective teachers and to retain good teachers with little seniority. He also wants to give more flexibility to schools.

Bruce Fuller, a professor of education at UC Berkeley, said Torlakson may have trouble attracting voters’ attention because Gov. Jerry Brown and Michael Kirst, president of the state Board of Education, are also widely recognized as education leaders in the state.

Who do you support and why?

Posted on Monday, November 3rd, 2014
Under: Education, Election | 8 Comments »