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Local school districts look forward to more money in 2014-15

School officials around the state will be spending the next several days reading through Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2014-15 budget to see how it will directly affect them. For those that have a high percentage of low-income students and English learners, the new funding formula that gives them a greater share of the money is good news.

The West Contra Costa school district based in Richmond, along with the Oakland school district in Alameda County, are both looking forward to receiving additional funding expected to help them narrow the achievement gap.

Charles Ramsey, president of the West Contra Costa school board, said the money for low-income students and English language learners will make a big difference.

“There’s going to be a huge proportion of resources dedicated to assisting them,” he said. “It’s going to be a quantum change in funding for our district. We’re going to see a doubling of funding for those students over time.”

In the next couple of years, Ramsey said funding is expected to increase to $10,600 or $10,700 per student, with an additional $104 million total expected by 2021, after the funding formula is fully implemented.

The West Contra Costa school board has already decided to spend some of its new money on school resource officers, reducing class size in Transitional Kindergarten through third grade and creating “full service community schools” that include health centers. Ramsey said trustees are also considering allocating $1 million to $2 million more to athletics and setting aside additional funding for music and other programs that have been cut in the past.

“We want to be able to provide kids opportunities so they can learn,” he said. “We need to give more of our resources to the kids for the classroom. I give the governor a lot of credit to keep education at the forefront, because California has lagged.”

In addition, Ramsey said he would like to devote more funding to professional development to help teachers implement the new Common Core standards, along with the technology needed for testing. He was also pleased that the district has recently settled a contract agreement with teachers that included salary increases.

“We need to do more to really attract people to the industry and recruit and retain qualified teachers,” he said.

And Ramsey said the district is not shying away from its required accountability. The state Board of Education is fine-tuning guidelines that districts will be required to follow in developing plans for their spending.

“They want to see the kind of improvement we can have,” Ramsey said. “But, they’re not going to hold your feet to the fire right away. They’re going to give you a few years to show that it’s going to be successful.”

During the next month, the district is inviting community members to attend one of six meetings to get more information about state funding and discuss how it can be used to implement goals outlined in a recently-adopted strategic plan.

These meetings are: from 6:30-8 p.m. Jan. 15 at El Cerrito High; Jan. 16 at Ford Elementary; Jan. 21 at Pinole Middle School, Jan. 28 at DeJean Middle School, Jan. 30 at De Anza High, and Feb. 6 at Hercules Middle-High School.

Troy Flint, spokesman for the Oakland school district, said Thursday that he hadn’t had a chance yet to look at the governor’s budget in detail, but he pointed out that Oakland has been a strong supporter of the funding shift that gives more money to districts with disadvantaged students.

“Nothing’s perfect, particularly when you have to satisfy different constituencies in a diverse state,” he said. “This is a huge step forward for equity and for public education. This is the first time in many years, if ever, that funding has actually been aligned with student needs and that the value of equity has been placed front and center, with redistributed funds.”

Flint predicted that this approach would end up benefiting the state as a whole because struggling students will get the resources and help they need to succeed in college and the workforce.

“We’re very pleased with the direction the governor has taken,” he said. “We think this budget is going to produce great results for our kids and for kids around the state.”

Are you optimistic about the governor’s proposed 2014-15 budget?

Posted on Friday, January 10th, 2014
Under: California Board of Education, Education, Oakland school district, West Contra Costa school district | 30 Comments »

Hands-on learning opportunities in high schools could grow in state

Students at DeAnza High in El Sobrante got to strut their stuff Tuesday, when state Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, visited the campus.

Student “ambassadors” led the legislators, press and business reps through the school to see classes that help prepare students for college and careers. Each student must choose between three “academies,” focusing on health, law or technology.

In the health academy, teacher Kenyetta Haynes explained the importance of strong communication skills to students. Student Romina Pelaez, 16, of Richmond, told me these skills will serve students well throughout their lives.

The senior wants to major in psychology in college, then become a neurologist. Last summer, Romina said she had an internship in a dental office where she did filing and prepped the room for patients.

Internships are a hallmark of “linked learning” programs that link what is being taught in the classroom with the real world, making the learning relevant to students and motivating them to explore a variety of career options. Steinberg and other officials visited the campus to generate community and business interest in competitive grants through a $250 million Career Pathways Trust set aside in the state budget to fund similar linked learning programs statewide.

Health academy student Brandy Phillips, 17, said she thinks it’s a good idea to offer career-oriented classes to more students so they can receive the same kinds of opportunities she and her classmates have had.

“Once they get into an area, they will find a calling in it,” she said. “I want to be a nurse practitioner because I feel like I have good communication skills and it’s something I would be good at. It wouldn’t be ‘work’ because it would be something I’d be happy to do every day.”

Brandy said the academy also offers students the opportunity to become Certified Nursing Assistants through Contra Costa Community College and begin working while still in high school.

Some health academy students are studying diabetes in an integrated curriculum that even includes their Spanish class, linking coursework so they can see connections in their community. Similarly, law academy students visit courtrooms to see justice in action, said Judge Judy Johnson, who works with the program.

“In an academic framework, we bring it home to them when they see a defendant in court being arraigned and told what the charges are against them,” she said. “Or sometimes they’ve seen people taken away and incarcerated for a crime they’ve been convicted of committing.”

Law academy senior Michael Reyes, 17, of El Sobrante, said he is learning valuable life skills such as public speaking, collaborating with partners and backing up arguments with facts. He plans to major in criminology and dreams of becoming a district attorney.

“I think the law academy really set me up to pick my profession,” he said. “We had a mentor program with 25 local lawyers and judges. I feel like I got a head start on my college career.”

Technology academy students build robots and participate in robotics competitions. The school also offers Advanced Placement courses, said Principal Bob Evans.

“You can’t give up on any kid,” he said. “Every one of our kids is going to be successful in some way.”

Yet, many DeAnza students must overcome challenges to stay focused on schoolwork, Evans said. Sixty percent are bussed in, many from the often violent Iron Triangle. Some have parents in jail or don’t have enough food for dinner.

“Most of our kids have lived in multiple homes and don’t know where their next home is going to be,” he said. “This is a safe haven for them. We have to look at every student individually and think: ‘How can I support them?’”

DeAnza High is in the West Contra Costa School district. Other East Bay districts with linked learning programs are Antioch, Mt. Diablo and Pittsburg in Contra Costa County, and Oakland and San Lorenzo in Alameda County.

More information about linked learning is available at

Posted on Wednesday, November 6th, 2013
Under: Antioch school district, Education, Oakland school district, Pittsburg school district, San Lorenzo school district, Walnut Creek School District | 4 Comments »

Catholic colleges oppose federal law, arsons on Antioch campuses and school closure debate in Oakland

Although this blog typically focuses on education news in Contra Costa County with an emphasis on the Mt. Diablo school district, I would like to throw a few other regional stories out this week for discussion:

Higher education reporter Matt Krupnick reports that Bay Area Catholic colleges are joining a fight against a new federal law that requires health plans to cover birth control. They argue the law violates their rights to oppose contraception:

Do you think Catholic colleges should comply with the law by providing contraception to students?

Antioch reporter Paul Burgarino reports that arsonists have struck two elementary schools, decimating the play structure at one and damaging the wall of a multiuse room at another:

“When the kids saw (the burned play structure), their faces fell,” said Lone Tree Elementary Principal Patty Ward. “You could see some of them were in tears and just asking why this happened.”

What do you think the community can do to try to prevent such incidents in the future?

Oakland schools reporter Katy Murphy reports that some members of the Oakland school board are having second thoughts about a plan to close five elementary schools to save $2 million:

This year, the Mt. Diablo school district in Contra Costa County closed one elementary school and one middle school in an attempt to save $1.5 million, along with other cost-cutting and revenue generating strategies.

Like the Mt. Diablo district, Oakland has experienced declining enrollment. Many Oakland students have also moved out of the district or transferred to charter schools that are not district-operated.

Do you believe it makes sense to close schools in districts with declining enrollment?

Posted on Sunday, October 16th, 2011
Under: Antioch school district, Education, Katy Murphy, Matt Krupnick, Mt. Diablo school district, Oakland school district, Paul Burgarino | 9 Comments »

State Board of Education delay of grant awards causes frustration

By Theresa Harrington

There is no new information today from Sacramento about whether the U.S. Department of Education supports the state’s method for prioritizing which districts should be awarded School Improvement Grants.

“The department is still in conversations with the U.S. Department of Education and there’s been no word as to what their decision is or rescheduling of a date for the state board to take action,” department spokeswoman Maria Lopez told me late this afternoon. “The point of the grant is to get the money to the schools, so it’s very important that they act quickly.”

The state Board of Education decided to postpone awarding about $311 million in grants Monday, after some trustees and district representatives said the selection process was unfair.

Districts that sought money for all of their lowest-achieving schools were given priority over those that only applied for some of their campuses, according to the state Department of Education recommendation. This means some districts with highly rated applications could be aced out of funding by others with applications that scored lower, but include all low-performing schools.

Here’s a breakdown of the recommendations for East Bay schools:

Priority One
San Lorenzo: Score: 96.00.
Requested: $1.6 million. Recommended: $1.6 million
School:  Hillside Elem. 

Hayward: Score 88.41.
Requested $25 million. Recommended: $10.3 million
Schools:  Burbank Elem., Longwood Elem., Tennyson High (funded)
Harder Elem. (not funded)

Priority 2

Mt. Diablo: Score:  97.50    
Requested $15.4 million. Recommended: $0
Schools:  Bel Air Elem., Shore Acres Elem., Glenbrook Middle School, Rio Vista Elementary
(Schools not included: Meadow Homes Elem. and Oak Grove Middle)

West Contra Costa: Score: 95.50
Requested: $6 million. Recommended: $0
School: Lincoln Elem.     
(Schools not included: De Anza High and Helms Middle School)

Oakland: Score: 92.78
Requested: $9.5 million. Recommended: $0
Schools: Elmhurst Community Prep., United for Success Academy and Explore Middle (closing)
(Schools not included: Alliance and ROOTS academies)

As you can see, Mt. Diablo’s application scored higher than San Lorenzo’s and the West Contra Costa and Oakland district applications were rated more highly than Hayward’s. Some trustees and district representatives argued districts shouldn’t be penalized for failing to include all their low-performing schools in their applications and should be prioritized by scores alone.

Even though they knew they wouldn’t get top priority, they argued, they weren’t under the impression the suggestion to include all schools was a mandate that would end up excluding them from receiving awards. Some trustees and members of the public suggested reducing the awards so they could be spread to more districts.

A few trustees seemed especially concerned that the Los Angeles and Oakland districts were not recommended for any funding. Los Angeles representatives argued that if they had included all of their lowest-performing schools, there would be very little money left over for anyone else.

Instead, they said, they chose schools that would benefit the most from reform and submitted applications that were well thought-out.

Confusion over how the grants should be distributed is causing frustration among districts recommended for funding, as well as those that aren’t.

Dennis Byas, Superintendent of the San Lorenzo district, wrote in an e-mail today that it appears small districts are undervalued by some.

“I’m not exactly sure when the needs of a school in a smaller school district became less significant than that of a larger school district,” he wrote. “Speaking on behalf of many smaller districts; we do not have a problem with the weighing of funds; however we do have serious concerns when the entire process is thrown out because a larger district didn’t apply, misapplied or simply doesn’t like the results.”

He said his community worked extremely hard on its grant application and is still hoping to receive funding before school starts.

“I would suggest that the State Board of Education call for Special Board meeting ASAP and resolve this issue quickly so children don’t lose out because of politics,” he wrote.

Lopez said the board will likely call a special meeting when the state Department of Education decides whether to amend its recommendations.

Mt. Diablo trustee Gary Eberhart told me today that it makes no sense to require districts to include all of their lowest-performing schools in their applications, if they don’t believe it’s in their best interests.

“In my opinion, it should be based on the merits of the programs that they’re in applying to fund,” he said. “So, it would make sense to me that grant dollars be provided to programs that have an action plan that is the highest rated, so that dollars are being spent on programs that are going to be successful.”

Eberhart said this is just another example of the state’s failure to adequately fund schools.

“It shouldn’t be a lottery as to whether a school district is provided dollars,” he said. “Our kids need those dollars and to put us at the back of the line is an abomination.”

The complete list of recommendations is at under item 4 in attachment 8.

Do you agree with the state’s recommendations?

Posted on Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010
Under: Education, Hayward school district, Mt. Diablo school district, Oakland school district, San Lorenzo school district, Theresa Harrington, West Contra Costa school district | 8 Comments »