Battle lines drawn in Measure D fight Around Town, posted by Editor, Danville Weekly Online, on Oct 16, 2012 at 5:42 pm
As the 2012 election nears, sides are lining up on Measure D, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District's $260 million bond proposal. The measure would approve the sale of bonds, with the proceeds used to finance construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, or replacement of school facilities.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, October 16, 2012, 5:14 PM
Posted by Voter, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 16, 2012 at 5:42 pm
Last year, SRUSD board said there was a surplus of money so they used this extra money to pay teachers for a day they did not even work! Now, they claim they need yet another bond(tax)? Vote NO on D!!! I am pro-teacher but anti-teacher union who is bankrupting our district with never ending taxes and bonds. Live within your means, like we do, and start saying no to teachers union!
Posted by another voter, a resident of the Blackhawk neighborhood, on Oct 17, 2012 at 6:49 am
I thought this was for facilities and I don't think it has anything to do with the teachers union or the teachers salaries. Where did you read that it does? In an area with so much money, it would hardly make a dent for most. I wish all districts everywhere could support such a measure.
Posted by Mom of 3, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 17, 2012 at 7:28 am
Only someone who doesn't own property would say that "in an area with so much money, it would hardly make a dent for most". Measure D doesn't have a provision exempting seniors, so every property owner must pay, whether or not you have kids. Prior school bonds and parcel taxes cost me $1,000 per year on top of my property taxes which in large part fund education. When will it end? I'M VOTING NO ON MEASURE D.
Posted by Dave, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 17, 2012 at 10:46 am
And the first time some tragedy occurs in our schools (fire sprinklers not working during a fire, etc.) that could have been prevented by the repairs and upgrades that are planned under Measure D, Julia will be criticizing the School Board for not addressing the problem -- rather than stepping forward and admitting she voted against it.
Posted by Ann, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm
Dave: That would be quite a sprinkler system for $260,000,000.00! Please read the wish list and tell us all that you support 100% hook, line, and sinker - every single thing the SRVUSD school board threw into this WISH LIST.
Posted by Mom of 3, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm
Shame on you Dave. This has nothing to do with safety, which is required under any circumstances. The enhancements provided by Measure D will allow the bond to pay for it instead of the district. If Measure D doesn't pass then the district has to find a way to live within its current means.
Posted by Bella SF, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm
NO ON D AND ALL THE "SUPPORT OUR SCHOOL" PROPOSITIONS!
Yes, D is for facilities, but if the district lived within its means, there wouldn't be a Measure D. SRVUSD spends almost 90% of its budget on salaries. This is ridiculous, unsustainable, and irresponsible. Throwing more money at our schools won't solve the underlying problem of how the money "must" be spent, i.e., out of control pension obligations, salary increases based on tenure, etc.
On a separate but related note, would be fantastic if the district would address (and spend some money) on addressing the arcane system of how the state allocates per student funding. Doesn't seem right that SRVUSD gets so much less than other districts. Now if someone wants to put a measure on the ballot to fund that effort, I'm all in!
Posted by Danville mom, a member of the Charlotte Wood Middle School community, on Oct 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm
I'm very weary having to pay more and more for these "public schools"
Ever since my child was in kindergarten I have gotten guilt-tripped at registration time into paying HUNDREDS of dollars towards class room supplies, libray fund, art, science lab, music, class size reduction, computer lab and technology, and just the general "fund". That's fine, that is the cost of having a child go to school in this community, and as a parent we are forced to pay for the benefits the state will not cover. That is one reason our schools rank so high. I thnk it's important people realize how much money parents already give directly to the schools! I don't see enough talk about that out there.
Where is this measure D money going to? I know they say facilities and upgrades, but is this wish listed posted some where for the (voting) public to see? I'm curious....
Posted by Dan, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 17, 2012 at 5:02 pm
Not sure what to think of all of this but as a teacher in the district I can tell you the pressure is on the staff to support this bond. From letters from the superintendent, pressure from principals, with the PTA and union (which sometimes seem as one and the same) pouring it on, it never stops. I thought campaigning was not allowed during the school day, but the rules don't see to apply to all.
Posted by Mom of 3, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 17, 2012 at 8:46 pm
Danville Mom, you can see the list if you go to www.srvusd.net, and click on the Measure D link on the left. On your other point, I have experienced the same situations as you every year at Registration. I resent that parents are not told that many of these reqeusts are for donations and are not required. I think it has gotten to the point where the parent support (read: money) is expected and taken for granted.
Dan, I have noticed that the rules don't matter in this case. Announcements over the loudspeaker at school announcing meetings, letters and emails from the PTA, the principals, the superintendent.
Bella SF is right on, the key to fixing school funding is to fix the calculation that pays our district with a per pupil amount that was determined when it was a rural community.
I am not a senior, but if I was I would be mad that there is no exemption for them, as there was in the Parcel Tax.
Posted by Indep, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 17, 2012 at 8:59 pm
Typical CYBER TROLLS, know NOTHING about the measure but claim to know ALL about the measure. It has ONLY to do with FACILITIES and their upkeep and growing with our community.
Population growth is inevitable if we don't limit our towns' growth. Until we do, do you jerks think limiting our childrens' facilities is any answer?
The "I got mine" and "now I don't want to give to anyone else" attitude is simply selfish. Shame on you who falsify the facts. If you disagree with the facts, that's one thing, to paint in any other is pathetic.
EVERY PENNY GOES TO SRVUSD
THE STATE CAN NOT TAKE MEASURE D FUNDS
STATE MATCHING FUNDS COME AS A RESULT
NOTHING FOR ADMINISTRATORS OR TEACHERS SALARIES
MEASURE D IS ESTIMATED TO NOT RAISE VOTER APPROVED TAX RATES BEYOND WHAT WE WERE ALREADY SCHEDULED TO PAY STARTING NEXT YEAR
UPDATES TECHNOLOGY FOR OUR CHILDREN
RENOVATES FACILITIES THAT ARE IN SOME CASES OVER 40 YEARS OLD
PROVIDE ADDITIONAL CLASSROOMS SO KIDS CAN ATTEND THEIR OWN NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS (with no bus system at most schools, who likes gridlock?)
Posted by If not for our Children, then how about for your property values?, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 17, 2012 at 9:03 pm
The Contra Costa Times and CBS News 5 have both talked about how new families are moving here because of our great schools.
As you consider the November ballot, have you seen the local news stories? So many of us moved here for the schools, and now it's official: we are a destination school district.
Just last weekend the San Ramon Valley/Contra Costa Times announced it supports the passage of Measure D.
Measure D is a local facilities bond. To ensure all of our students have a safe and modern learning environment that prepares them to succeed in college and future careers, the SRVUSD School Board voted unanimously to place Measure D, a $260 million local school facilities bond measure, on the November 6, 2012 ballot.
Measure D will provide locally-controlled funding to:
Update technology infrastructure for 21st-century teaching and learning
Renovate aging science labs, classrooms and school facilities
Provide additional classrooms to better ensure that students can attend their neighborhood schools
Upgrade fire, security, and earthquake safety systems
Keep schools well-maintained and in good condition
Bring all schools up to the same high facility standards
Fiscal accountability is mandatory:
Every penny will support San Ramon Valley Schools
The State can't take Measure D funds
Independent citizens' oversight is required
No funds can be used for administrators' salaries
This measure helps our schools qualify for state matching funds
The full list of Measure D projects, as well as more information, can be found on the school district's website:Web Link.
Based on the community's previous support of education initiatives like Measure D, our school district continues to be one of the top districts in the state, our children thrive and everyone in our community benefits from strong property values. Improvements to aging facilities and new classrooms urgently need to be addressed next year.
Posted by conservative mom, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 17, 2012 at 11:31 pm
Measure D is for facilities, but what indep doesn't understand is that if there are funds from Measure D available, then any monies the school district may have allocated to maintenance or facility improvement could be allocated to anything else, including salaries. So, it is definitely not only about facilities.
Regarding the estimated tax rates staying the same, what is the point? The principal balance that has to be paid off would be increased by 260 MILLION DOLLARS. That payment would go away (eventually without the additional bond.
Posted by Douglas, a resident of the Blackhawk neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2012 at 7:35 am
The other thing indep doesn't take into account is there are schools in the district where enrollment is shrinking. Any fiscally responsible person would look into busing students to fill those schools BEFORE building a whole new school that really isn't needed! And conservative mom is completely correct with the district being able to move funds around from previously allocated areas to pay salaries and the like. Indep, YOU need to get the facts straight!
Posted by Douglas, a resident of the Blackhawk neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2012 at 7:50 am
Actually, I can document that! Tassajara Hills Elementary's enrollment is down considerably from when my kids went there only a few years ago, and I know that from the school staff. What is even more shocking is they are on the wish list for parking improvements for a mere $700,000. Are you even kidding me? With the way you are writing, Indep., you sound like you work for the district?
Posted by Dave, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2012 at 11:26 am
Bella's comment about changing the system by which the state allocates school funding to different areas within the state (essentially changing the designation of our school district from "rural" to "suburban,") is an old idea (a good one, but one that stands a snowball's chance in hell of ever being adopted, as long as LA and SF legislators dominate the state house). So, that idea is really irrelevant to this bond measure and figuring out how we keep the level of our aging or inadequate facilities up to par with the needs of our school system.
It always amazes me how some people are very happy to accept the benefits (either to their children or to their property values) of having a superior school system, but then constantly gripe about having to pay for it. Basically, they want filet mignon for the price of hamburger.
Posted by Ann, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2012 at 12:09 pm
How about if the liberal "union supporting" - "special interest" legislators up in Sacramento, and the SRVUSD try staying the course on ground beef instead of the filet mignon they are used to dining on at the expense of all the voters in this state?!!
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2012 at 2:51 pm
SRVUSD routinely misleads parents and other taxpayers about the District’s academic performance, its financial condition, and its curricular directions.
Their 2011 BASE Academic Performance Index (API)report, for example (Web Link, if that inserted URL is able to post here — 2012 BASE report not yet available, though “Growth” report is), shows an average ranking of just 5.73 out of 10 when each SRVUSD school is compared to 100 socioeconomically similar schools.
Parents should be especially concerned about similar-school rankings of just 1 to 4 in nine SRVUSD schools. So far as I can tell, the District does not inform parents of its similar-schools rankings.
In 1995, SRVUSD twice sought an $82 Million bond. Their Measure B failed in the spring of that year. They returned with the same amount in November’s Measure C election of the same year. In that latter election, their lawyers, paid $238,000 in taxpayer funds, lost a recount and election contest to two non-lawyers — myself, formerly a 20-year teacher elsewhere, being one of them — as they sought in seven days of Superior Court trial and then in state Appellate Court to preserve or rehabilitate illegal ballots.
SRVUSD’s per-student operational spending increases in the years since have far exceeded compounded rates of inflation. In other words, they don’t live within their means, as individuals and families must do.
When I took a tour with their facilities committee during the run-up to one of their bond measures, their facilities-staff tour guide took us (among other places) to the Los Cerros library. He noted how poorly illuminated the place was. I suggested turning on the lights.
When he did, half the fluorescent bulbs overhead were out. I suggested that replacing them would greatly improve things, and reminded the administrator that such ongoing maintenance expenses are intended to come from the general fund, not from bond dollars with interest accruing on the amounts borrowed.
Their Measure D project list now includes numerous references to modernizing, upgrading, repairing, renovating, rehabilitating, etc. They’ve previously labeled such activity in generic terms as “deferred maintenance” — but the term has become somewhat toxic for them — again, because such items should be taken care of on a continuing basis, with dollars from the general fund.
But that’s the same fund from which salaries and benefits are drawn. And so, they’re always in allegedly desperate need of more dollars when it’s time for the next compensation increase, as is now the case behind the scenes.
They’ll claim that none of Measure D would fund salaries, administrative or otherwise. But it’s a shell game, because dollars not spent for needed ongoing maintenance become dollars available for salaries. Again, SRVUSD always pleads poverty — until it’s time for their next retroactive pay-raise.
Since failing to pass their 1995 bond measures, they’ve passed a $70 Million bond measure in 1998 and a $260 Million bond measure in 2002. They (i.e., tax-paying property owners) still owe approximately $283 Million (plus interest) altogether on those earlier two bonds.
They’ve also passed two parcel taxes, but continue to collect parent fees and extortionate “contributions,” while continuing with weekly minimum class days. They’ve also passed two parcel taxes.
In another part of the earlier-mentioned facilities tour, we were taken to a San Ramon Valley H.S. history classroom. The walls were festooned with pre-printed maps of Europe — maps which had been distributed to students for them to add different colors to different countries and then re-submit. This was the kind of coloring project I recall from when I was in third and fourth grade, or earlier.
SRVUSD’s curricular direction is largely ruled by members of the radical California Teachers Association — as in “Who dares take on religion, free enterprise, patriotism, and motherhood? We do, and we must!” (Guidelines for Academic Freedom in the Public Schools, 1984. CTA has been a little more circumspect in the time since I and many others began exposing their radicalism.)
In my 1993 debate at the Commonwealth Club with CTA’s then executive director, I mentioned the thousands of families across California who were purchasing “Hooked on Phonics” to compensate for deficient education of their kids in union-dominated public schools. Mr. Flynn sputtered that it had taken 100 years for education to degrade to its then-current situation, and that it would probably take 100 more years for things to improve substantially.
The debate was essentially over then. But even now, however, hundreds or thousands of SRVUSD parents seek outside tutoring in order better to prepare their kids for college and careers.
I haven’t yet had time to check on campaign-finance filings so far for this year’s Measure D. But if past is prelude, most of a couple hundred thousand dollars in campaign funds reported in toto sometime after the election will have been “contributed” by SRVUSD vendors and contractors, unions, and tax-exempt PTAs — which to the extent they are 501(c)(3) entities, are not permitted to spend “substantial” portions of their budgets on measures campaigns.
If ignorance is bliss, then thanks to the dismal but extraordinarily expensive state of public education, America should soon be rather uniformly happy. But in the meantime, and as several insightful voters in this thread have realized and stated in so many words: sensible voters will say NO to Measure D.
Posted by Jane, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm
Thanks, Mike! NO it is to Measure D - and any other letter to follow! As to Dave's comment about the state allocation of funds having no chance of being changed to reflect the evolution of our area (from rural to suburban) ... I agree - if no one cares enough to camp out on the Capitol steps in Sacramento, & administrators keep playing victim to their circumstances, we get what we deserve. Think it might make a difference if busloads of SRV citizens showed up (along with reporters from every major news station) - and did not stop until the change was made? I'll volunteer to drive!
Posted by spcwt, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2012 at 3:38 pm
The biggest expense will be $63 million to renovate Stone Valley Middle School in Alamo. It’s a dumpy eyesore from the 1950s that could use a makeover. But is it worth going into debt for that? Is it a safety issue?
The second biggest expense will be $52 million for a new three story building at SRVHS. Can anyone explain why this is necessary? What’s wrong with SRVHS’s existing buildings?
The third biggest expense is $31 million for a new elementary school in Dougherty Valley. We all know why this is necessary. Developers were supposed to build enough schools for the new students in DV. Unfortunately, SRVSD underestimated how many students would live in DV once all those new houses were built and so we’re one school short. SRVSD can’t go after the developers, as it’s not their fault. So taxpayers are stuck footing the bill for a new school.
The fourth biggest expense is $18 million for a new 18 classroom building at Monte Vista. Must be pretty nice classrooms at $1 million a pop. Why is this new building necessary? Do we expect an influx of high school students in Alamo?
What is the maximum interest rate on the bonds? Are the bonds’ interest rates fixed at the time of each bond sale? This is important, because if interest rates spike, SRVSD can raise our taxes in order to cover the bond interest. SRVSD expects the bonds to cost $27.75 per $100,000/house value per year, and based on their numbers they have obviously factored in higher interest rates in later years. But what interest rates did they use in their analysis? What if interest rates spike to levels like we saw in the 1980’s? Might we be stuck paying a lot more taxes than advertised in order to pay for these bonds?
On the other hand, if the bond rates are fixed when sold, then today’s low interest rates could make this an attractive time to finance these improvements to our schools.
These bonds will remain outstanding for 18 years (until 2031). That’s a lot more fiscally prudent duration than what we’ve seen in other districts, like the 30 year bonds floated by the Mt. Diablo School District last year.
I plan to vote no on Prop. 30 and 38, the state tax increases, as Sacramento just squanders money. Contra Costa Times says to vote no on those two propositions.
But I have voted yes on every single local parcel tax supporting schools, as I like what I see in SRVSD. I also donate around $2,500 a year to SRVSD schools, plus an equal match from my company. My wife volunteers at our kids’ classes. I think we get a lot of value from our schools. I know my kids love their teachers. I like them too. When you factor in the high cost of living in the Bay Area, SRVSD teachers are not overpaid.
I’m still undecided about Measure D. If someone can offer an intelligent response to my questions above, I will vote yes.
Posted by Mom of 3, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2012 at 5:23 pm
spcwt, I'm not sure where you are getting the 18 years duration number? I attended a School Board meeting where they said that they had decided to use a 30 year repayment (rather than 40) when they did the calculations.
I would love to hear the answers to your questions about the largest expenditures, and I have one to add. If it costs $30M for a new elementary school, why does it cost $63 to remodel Stone Valley? Stone Valley used to be an elementary school, so it is comparable in size to a new elementary school it would seem.
Posted by No on D, a resident of the San Ramon neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2012 at 5:34 pm
If parents are that concerned for their children's education and the cost of the schools in SRVUSD, perhaps they should live within their means--trade in their BMWs, large house, etc. and donate the funds to their schools.
Posted by Ann, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2012 at 9:05 pm
"If not for out children" - please spare us. I'm sick and tired of being insulted by the district, by the board members, and by the teachers through their myopic view of justifying their enormous tax and bond issues in our community. "For the Children"..."If not for our children..."
We've heard that same old, tired line ("for the children") from the board members, parents, teachers, etc. and the fact is we ALL care about our children. Many of us even care about ALL the children; not just our own as we slog through paying our "fees" (donations) to the schools at registration, prior to the school year. (Heaven forbid you decide as a parent not to pay the donations, or partially pay or the teachers do come looking for you through your kids).
Some of us are not going to buckle under guilt as the reason we should happily vote YES for this bond in four weeks. The PTA every single year invites and encourages parents to board the rented buses to Sacramento to discuss our concerns about being a "low wealth school district" - I went twice and it was a complete joke! I witnessed two State Superintendents of Education and school board union presidents waste our time giving lip service to their constituents. They ignore, and ignore, and ignore the importance of changing the CA funding formulas. These politicians will continue this game as long as people refuse to ignore for fiscally conservative, representatives.
For 15 years our family has seen the parcel taxes and bonds repeated and repeated year after year - funds paying for the LUXURIES the community simply can not afford at this time in our economy. Many are mentioned above in this comment section. Monte Vista classrooms, San Ramon Valley classrooms, etc. etc. etc.
What is it that some of the residents in this community don't understand about being OVER-TAXED??? Our state is NOT spending the tax revenue they receive from us on education intelligently. (or on anything intelligently).
Why do we have to tax and punish ourselves any more than what is fair and reasonable at this time, just because our liberal, democratic state reps (who were voted into office) are political and greedy?
Posted by Sylence Dugood, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2012 at 10:05 pm
"Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever. I'm awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly color. I'm so glad I'm a Beta."
- Aldous Huxley
If society or a caring parent(s) provided you with at least a modicum of a decent education, you will know clearly from which work this elegant quote was taken. If you don't, perhaps you should have begged your parents to find you a better funded school district....
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2012 at 2:20 am
Coming back now to this thread after late return from earning some $ to pay large tax bills…. Sorry for a redundant sentence I see now in re-reading my earlier post, above.
Meanwhile: “spcwt,” also above — clearly an analytical individual — illustrates the extent to which SRVUSD has misled the public once again.
The specific school-site costs he or she cites are NOT in the bond resolution, as passed by SRVUSD’s spendthrift Board on August 7, to be found beginning at page 14 of 69 in the Board’s agenda packet of August 7, as posted at Web Link .
The official PROJECT LIST, which is the subject of the Measure D election, and said to be “specific” on page 22 of the Board’s 69-page PDF compilation, begins at page 23. (There's an easier-to-read copy at the “Yes on D” campaign-propaganda web site, Web Link. There's also a copy in the Contra Costa County measures booklet, at Web Link.)
In fact, the project list is not at all specific, except for commitment to a new school in the Dougherty Valley.
Instead, the list provides merely an open-ended, generic slush fund, much of it for what the District used to call “deferred maintenance” — leaving the Board free to assign dollars after the fact as Board members wish.
Again, the specific expenditures referenced by “spcwt” are nowhere to be found in the actual resolution for what now appears on the ballot as Measure D.
The $63 Million “spwct” mentions for Stone Valley Middle School, for example, is apparently his capture of a portion of SRVUSD’s sky’s-the-limit $380 Million wish list of June 26, deceptively linked at the District’s “Measure D Overview” page and shown at Web Link .
That list actually shows a total of at least $66,918,476 in eventual hoped-for expenditures at Stone Valley — presumably something more than that, in fact, once various un-allotted “District-Wide” costs are added in.
THINK ABOUT THAT REMARKABLE NUMBER: WITH A REPORTED 656 STUDENTS AT STONE VALLEY, THE DISTRICT WOULD LIKE TO SPEND MORE THAN $102,000 IN NEW FACILITY DOLLARS FOR EACH STUDENT WHO IS TO BE HOUSED IN MERELY A RENOVATED STONE VALLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL.
But in reality presently, Measure D would leave the District’s Board politicians free to spend as they wish from whatever is left of the new $260 Million after building a new Dougherty Valley school — while local taxpayers take on yet another huge new amount in bonded indebtedness.
Further: SRVUSD’s own $25,000 polling firm reported that “Voters… believe the facilities and grounds are already top-notch…. The current economy, rising tax aversion, and a belief that the schools are already in excellent shape all equal a challenging environment in which to pass a bond measure.”
But SRVUSD’s irresponsible Board went ahead anyway.
As to the interest rate and term of Measure D bonds: SRVUSD’s bond resolution controls: “When sold, the bonds shall bear interest at an annual rate not exceeding the statutory maximum…. The bonds may be issued and sold in several series, and no bond shall be made to mature more than 30 years from the date borne by that bond.”
Ed Code Sections 15143 and 15144 apply here:
§15143. The bonds shall not bear a rate of interest greater than 8 percent per annum, payable annually or semiannually.
§15144. The number of years the whole or any part of the bonds are to run shall not exceed 25 years, from the date of the bonds or the date of any series thereof.
I need to call SRVUSD’s Assistant Supt. for Facilities (Gary Black); there may have been a change in resolution language to make Measure D square with §15144.
But again, and in any case: sensible voters will reject Measure D. It remains to be seen whether at least 45% +1 of Measure D voters are sensible. (The measure requires a 55% affirmative vote to pass — used to be two-thirds for school bonds, as a wisely greater degree of protection for property owners, until CTA et al. passed year 2000’s deceptive Prop. 39.)
Thanks to “spcwt” for some excellent questions and expressions of concern.
Posted by Douglas, a resident of the Blackhawk neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2012 at 7:28 am
Thank you, Mike, for taking your time to write a very thorough explanation of things. Unfortunately, I am sure this "well-educated" community is so brain washed by SRVUSD that it will probably pass anyway. I am a definite NO, but we'll see...
Posted by Indep, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2012 at 8:02 am
Mike Arata says:
"THINK ABOUT THAT REMARKABLE NUMBER: WITH A REPORTED 656 STUDENTS AT STONE VALLEY, THE DISTRICT WOULD LIKE TO SPEND MORE THAN $102,000 IN NEW FACILITY DOLLARS FOR EACH STUDENT WHO IS TO BE HOUSED IN MERELY A RENOVATED STONE VALLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL. "
Hey Mike, did you ever think that the school may last more than one year? Nice math just to try to incite people...hopefully SRVUSD will teach better reasoning and deduction. If the remodel of the school lasts as long as the current building, the "new facility dollars for each student" will be less than $3000 per student. Nothing to shake a stick at, but much closer to the reality you try to create.
Posted by Mom, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2012 at 8:12 am
No on D.. And others who have no idea what they are talking about.
You obviously don't have children in this school district, and have no understanding of how most of the people live in Danville. We all don't have BMWs and big houses, and are struggling to live within our means in this economy. Those of you saying kids should be bussed to schools with low enrollment don't understand that the schools are impacted, and have no understanding or empathy for the children who already are being ripped out of their neighborhood schools and support groups of friends because their schools have no room. Our schools need to be updated for safety reasons, and yes we need more of them. If those of you are so hateful and ignorantly judgmental of those of us who live here then move out. We don't need negative, bigoted angry people in our community. Every community helps their schools whether they have children going to them or not. If you don't agree move into a senior retirement center community.
Posted by Educator, a resident of another community, on Oct 19, 2012 at 9:47 am
Measure D is about local action. We can not rely on the state legislature to assess our local needs and allocate resources to what they see fit. Danville residents have an opportunity to take the education system into their own hands and allocate their own resources to a valuable local resource, our public schools, which many are in dire need of technological and infrastructure improvements to meet the needs of our students.
Vote Yes on Measure D and stop waiting for the state to fix our local problems! Our kids, Our schools, Our values!
Posted by spcwt, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2012 at 10:30 am
I guess I did not get a, “modicum of a decent education,” as I did not recognize that Aldous Huxley quote. Ha ha.
I am a product of California public schools. I am grateful for several teachers in particular. I grew up poor, spending most my free time working in almond fields with my dad, or on my paper route or part time jobs. I never had much interest in reading until a school principal took the time to read the Chronicles of Narnia to me. She even found some Turkish Delight someplace and brought it to school and gave it to me. God bless her. I read those books to my daughter when she was young. I ended up in the top 10% of my class at Georgetown and have had a “modicum” of financial success. ha ha. Thank you, California public schools. You helped make my success possible.
You’re right. The bond is for 30 years. My mistake. I also see now that the bond does not specify which projects would be funded, other than the new school in Dougherty Valley.
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm
For the benefit of “Indep,” though he / she evidently doesn’t want to be confused with facts:
Of course I realize that “the school may last more than one year.” I taught chemistry and mathematics (and coached) for 20 years altogether in two Ohio high schools — one private, the other public. My students were three times state champions in the state chemistry exam, and three times state champions in swimming while I was head coach, four times previously while I was assistant.
As a science / math teacher then, and as someone still involved in chemistry-related analyses and consultations now, I make decisions and recommendations based on data — because facts are stubborn things.
When I speak about housing students, I refer to school capacity, of course.
And so: median numbers for the HIGHEST quartile expenditures for constructing NEW middle schools (not simply renovated older ones) in 2011, as tabulated in 2012’s annual School Construction Report by School Planning & Management (the relevant journal, see Web Link ) show the following construction data:
$280.96 /sq. ft.
$41,207 per student
158.3 sq. ft. per student
1200 student capacity [i.e., not just 600 – 700]
148,050 square feet building size
$38 Million building cost
Again: these are medians, not averages, if you happen to notice that multipliers don't quite match.
The add-up total shown in SRVUSD’s grab-bag wish list for “RENOVATION” of Stone Valley Middle School (current student population – 656) is something greater than $66,918,476, once various un-allotted “District-Wide” costs are added in.
That’s > $102,000 per student, and nearly 2.5 x the high-end costs summarized in SP&M’s 2012 School Construction Report.
And spending $67 million for a 600 to 700 student school approaches twice the high-end median expenditure for middle schools housing nearly twice as many kids.
So $66,918,476 for a middle-school “renovation” remains a REMARKABLE NUMBER — and it’s only one such number in SRVUSD’s long list of same.
The list reminds me of the District’s 1995 bond measures, when SRVUSD simply hid its similarly outrageous projected labor and materials unit construction costs from the public, until a Times reporter opened a nearby plan-desk drawer while speaking with District officials about the missing numbers, and discovered them there.
Among other embarrassing insanities then, the District wanted to re-roof very large buildings that didn’t exist.
So particularly when the public purse is involved — i.e., governmental entities using their power of taxation to extract funds from citizens for allegedly beneficial purposes — sensible voters will prefer facts over emotion.
Meanwhile: Teacher Dan (from post above). Thanks for your honesty and courage.
Any use of school resources (including mailing lists) to support or oppose Measure D (especially any communication urging a “yes” or “no” vote) is illegal, under Ed. Code section 7054.
If you have examples, I recommend forwarding to Glenn Wohltmann, the Danville / San Ramon Express reporter who is e-mail linked in his byline for the original story (at Web Link) which led to these posts.
I presume he has retained my phone number, after I called him to offer some clarifications to his original story. (We scheduled a follow-up call, but he didn’t answer at the appointed time.)
Posted by C. R. Mudgeon, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm
I have no doubt that a portion of the proposed project list for Measure D are worthwhile, and some of them are necessary. But the district seems to be (again) over-reaching. Just because they had a $400M+ "wish list", doesn't mean that $260M-worth of the project list is really needed, at least not out of new bond funds.
In any case, the project list is almost completely subject to change, just as prior bond measure funds were re-allocated after the fact to solar projects. (Which may or may not have made sense on a straight financial payback basis, but which DO serve to free up money for salaries and other ongoing expenses, thereby effectively converting capital funds into freed-up operating funds....)
Some of the numbers in the project list DO seem unusual. The figure that Mike Arata calculated, that the Stone Valley MS improvements/rehab would amount to over $100k per student, seems ridiculously high. Especially when you consider that with a class-size assumption of 25, it means that improving/rehabbing a classroom is therefore $2.5M! (And yes, I understand that many/most of the things that would be done are not really at the classroom level.)
I'm intending to vote NO on D, in the belief that the district will then look harder at what really needs to be done, and then come back with another bond measure that is more reasonable and focused. Because with this measure, the district is clearly going for the largest number that they think they can get away with.
Posted by Educator, a resident of another community, on Oct 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm
The solar projects were not funded through the previous bond measure, Measure A. SRVUSD was selected through a lottery to receive funds that would improve facilities. The solar installations were determined to be a worthwhile improvement because of the long-term cost savings on energy consumption. So far, this has been true.
Posted by Indep, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm
To Those who's mantra is "I got mine" and can afford to live hear but not support why you live or moved here (most likely the schools) read below: (read the WHOLE thing)
Dear Parents and Guardians of Students in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District:
According to the State of California’s accountability system, known as the Academic Performance Index (API), the San Ramon Valley Unified School District is one of the highest achieving school districts in California with an API of 927 out of 1000. The API measures academic growth from one year to the next. Based on this measure, SRVUSD is the highest ranking unified school district in the state with enrollments of 9,000 or more. There is also a Federal accountability system for measuring districts, the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)/No Child Left Behind (NCLB), by the year 2014, 100% of all students in the nation must score proficient or advanced in English and Math as measured by each state’s standardized test. As a result of this challenging goal, within the next two years, most districts across the nation will fail to reach the 100% mark and will likely be identified as “Program Improvement” districts. In California alone, nearly 500 school districts this year were designated as Program Improvement.
The purpose of this letter is to inform you that based on the 2012 State assessments, San Ramon Valley Unified School District has been identified as a Year-1 Program Improvement (PI) district. Program Improvement status occurs when a school or district receiving “Title 1, Part A” funding does not meet AYP for two years in a row. Title 1 funding is based on the number of socio-economically disadvantaged students in the district. Each year, the target for the percentage of students who must score proficient or advanced increases for all students and subgroups. The 2012 target for all students and each subgroup of students was 78.0% for English language arts and 78.2% for mathematics. Four subgroups of students in our district - Hispanic, African-American, Socio-Economically Disadvantaged, and Students with Special Needs - did not meet these targets. For 2013, the targets will rise even higher to 89.0% in English language arts, and 89.1% in mathematics. And finally, in 2014, the targets will be 100% for both ELA and Math.
Under the ESEA/NCLB act, schools and districts are held accountable for meeting all four areas designated under the legislation: (1) Testing 95% of district students in grades 2-11; (2) Annual Measurable Objectives for English language arts and mathematics; (3) Academic Performance Index (API) Value and; (4) Graduation Rates set by the California Department of Education. Each school district has a different number of criteria they must meet under AYP due to the differing numbers of numerically significant subgroups. In 2012, San Ramon Valley Unified School District was required to meet 42 criteria under the AYP program. It should be noted that failing to meet even one of these AYP criteria identifies a district as Program Improvement. You can find specific achievement data used to make this decision at www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/ar/.
What does this mean for the District?
The District must:
Convene a district-level team of teachers, parents, and school and district administrators to analyze the achievement data for all students.
Conduct school and district-level self-assessments.
Use the results of the self-assessments to identify the specific academic needs of the subgroups.
In consultation with parents and school staff, write an addendum to the local District Plan to include information on how Title 1 and other funds will be used to improve student achievement.
Post the Board of Education-approved Plan on the SRVUSD website.
Reserve at least 10% of the annual Title 1 allocation to provide professional development for teachers and administrators.
How can parents help their school and the District improve?
Learn more about the ESEA/NCLB requirements and become aware of strategies to improve student achievement.
Talk with your school about the changes we are making to the District Plan in order to help students meet the state standards in English language arts and mathematics.
Visit your child’s school. You also may participate in voluntary activities to assist your school.
While this designation should not cause undue alarm, it is an important reminder that we must work diligently to ensure that ALL of our students are learning at high levels.
Posted by Indep, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2012 at 1:53 pm
What's really tragic? Too bad the experts can't or won't weigh in on these issues. No one of elected or candidate status will reply on these forums...why?
BECAUSE the cyber trolls will tear 'em up with attacks and incorrect information or attempts to defame or incite them. So they stay away. Opinion outweighs facts in the majority of the above posts, except the most recent from Mike A. (maybe not his real name anyway). If people actually had to use their own identities on here then I think we'd have a much more candid discussion and dialogue. I'd be happy to use my own name if everyone else had, but if i did the cyber trolls would probably come, track me down and break my windows because I don't agree with them...so I'm anonymous as the rest of you are.
Measure D will pass, because it needs to. That's my OPINION.
Posted by Surprised? , a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2012 at 3:37 pm
Of course Douglas from Blackhawk you want Obama and Measure D to fail, you've got yours $$$$...
You should have more, and take it out of the middle class pockets. Something tells me it won't be your children who will fight our wars but coat tail onto your "successes" just like Romney's 5 sons have done.
Posted by Ann, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2012 at 8:53 pm
"Indep" - and "If not for your children...." -
Any one of us on this comment page can and have read the vague wish list from the district. We will all know the talking points ad nauseam, supporting this bond through November. We remember them from the pink slip scares each March and from the past parcel taxes and bonds that have passed.
We will begin getting calls soon from eager, innocent, and involved school district parents who think their children can not survive in these schools without another $ 260 Million dollar bond being taxed onto their homes. I was one of those parents once. Our kids were very young and I swallowed all the hype. Calling other parents in our neighborhood during their dinner time to ask if they would please support the bond of the day, while wondering why the lists of parents names and phone numbers had the personal information of which adult voter was the republican or democrat in the family. I asked a PTA rep how it was legal to have this private info for all of us to read and she wasn't sure, but I know she felt awkward about it, but not enough to bring attention to the ethical question.
Many of us are quite current on the issues of our school district; please don't assume we all just dropped our oldest kids off at kindergarten this year. I've been involved in the schools for years volunteering - I feel like I have the right to vote NO on this school bond because I'm informed. I am not exactly a Cyber Troll as "Indep" stated to all who disagree with supporting this tax initiative. I'm just a very informed parent who doesn't want to be bullied or insulted by voters who support this additional tax on our family. We pay enough to this state in taxes!!
Why on earth don't these district PTA reps, board members, council people, supervisors, congress people, senate people represent us by joining together to refuse to continue being improperly funded and beholden to the unions?! Because they know we will continue taxing ourselves with parcel taxes and bonds - we will do it "for the children".......Ugh.
Some of us have attended the SRVUSD board meetings (even on Aug. 7th in the morning when the members voted for this bond to be placed on the ballot) - I attended. I was there to hear one of the board members say that she,"... and the other board members have been thinking about this bond since January." Interesting. It was mentioned and known that some were already thinking of how to place this next bond on the ballot this November... the DAY AFTER the last bond passed in our district.
Is that a reasonable way to formulate an opinion about taxing the school community - AGAIN? One of the board members who is involved in a small consulting business educating school districts on how to place and get bond and parcel taxes passed, has a history and investment in supporting bonds and taxes. This is business as usual and probably wasn't terribly difficult for her to vote a resounding "YES" when she voted at the board meeting. None of the board members ever represent us in this district - ever.
This board member has a conflict of interest - at the very least. It's Political. Doesn't this affect the trust factor regarding our reps on the SRVUSD board? Most parents in the community aren't aware of this conflict in regard to our SRVUSD board members.
Board member Greg Marvel stated at this Aug. 7th SRVUSD board meeting, "...we don't want to lock ourselves in..." This had to do with being specific to costs of projects. I don't know about anyone else, but I like definite figures; especially if we were remodeling our home or making repairs to our house. Leaving it "open" is irresponsible. Facts and figures are necessary for voters to make intelligent decisions with their votes.
It's much more difficult to research, organize and explain the fiscal process and details of this bond as Mr. Arata has done. That took time and thought for Mr. Arata to share his research and I appreciate the details. Very generous and informed.
Rather than generalize the importance of voting for the bond through bullying and name calling, as "Indep" and "Surprised" - Maybe we could discuss facts or at least share personal experiences in why they support the bond?? This isn't the place for temper tantrums. If you want to debate - debate. Many of us also read "Indep" - I didn't need to read (as you stated) the ("WHOLE THING!") again. I read it yesterday on my own before you cut and pasted your page long whatever.....
We all know the reasons for voting "yes" for this bond..."for the children." Anyone understands this simple mantra. Please just don't tell me I don't care for my children or other peoples children just because this costly bond does not make sense to me.
The reasons for NOT supporting this bond is more complex in many ways - Especially regarding the unnecessary projects and the additional costs for these projects?
Posted by Sylence Dugood, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 20, 2012 at 3:53 am
You have offered a thoughtful and intelligent perspective. I can appreciate your position. I disagree with your position but that is what makes this such a splendid country.
Given the typical demographics for the San Ramon Valley (Web Link), most residents in this area are either accomplished in their respective professions or in the twilight of their working life. We have all experienced the highs, lows and realities of life. Like myself, I suspect, many have lived and travelled throughout our diverse world.
Having lived and worked across the entirety of this fine country, I've come to believe that communities either choose to invest on a perpetual basis in the education of their young people or they do not. It's a very simple observation. Anyone who was either raised or lived in the Northeast in comparison to traditional retirement states such as Florida or Arizona and perhaps contemporary California will understand this perspective completely.
My personal reason to chart a different course then yourself? A wise old mentor of mine offered me the following old Greek proverb that I consider self-evident:
"A society grows great when old men (and women) plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."
Posted by spcwt, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm
Since we’re throwing around platitudes, how about this one: "Those who understand interest earn it; those who don't, pay it."
Before we incur this huge debt, it would be nice if the Measure D cheerleaders would explain why we need to spend $63 million remodeling Stone Valley Middle school, or why we need to spend $1 million per classroom at MV.
Posted by Douglas, a resident of the Blackhawk neighborhood, on Oct 20, 2012 at 3:39 pm
Of course, Surprised?? You seem to think that those of us who work hard to do well should have to take care of the rest of the population. America is a capitalist society, not a socialist one (although that arrogant resident of the White House is certainly trying to change that), and it is not my job to keep doling out money to a school district that isn't responsible for what they already have been given! NO ON D AND OBAMA!!!
Posted by Dave, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 20, 2012 at 4:56 pm
Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time. Like a termite chewing its way through something of value to the community, Mike Arata has emerged to offer his two cents worth. (Note: I'm probably over-estimating the value of his contribution.)
Mr. Arata pretends to present a balanced view of the performance of the schools in this District, but, in reality gives only partial or misleading statistics. As "Indep." points out, students in this school district achieve at a high level, due in no small part to the excellent teachers and strong financial support of the community.
Mr. Arrata touts his teaching background (as he notes, not in California). But, his interest lies not in improving the quality of our local schools, but rather, in opposing every single tax and bond measure that comes before our community. That stance should not surprise those of us who know him as a long-time member and advocate for several anti-tax organizations. He is simply opposed to public spending of any sort.
As one example of his preference for giving us only half the picture, Mr. Arrata bemoans the fact that the tentative budge for renovation of the decrepit, 40-year old Stone Valley Middle School would place it higher than the highest quartile of middle school building projects on a per-student basis. However, the report that he cites as a basis of comparison uses NATIONAL cost figures, not California constructions costs, which we may expect would be significantly higher than national costs.
My grandfather had a saying about people like Mr. Arrata. He would say, "Figures don't lie; but, liars sure can figure."
Posted by Ann, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 21, 2012 at 4:33 pm
Is this where we are in this tax/bond debate? You have to slam a man's character in our community because he disagrees with you on the subject of being over-taxed? Where are your facts to dispute Mr. Aratas facts? If all you got is "...in reality, he gives only partial or misleading statistics..." then you got nothing...Can you prove how and exactly where he is misinformed and only partially correct? Besides the very vague discussion on construction costs in Calif?
Let us know what sources or reading material help you form your punitive philosophy towards others regarding taxes. Please share how you came to the point of enjoying your power in voting to triple tax other community members for the education that we all legally paid for last April - and that we pay yearly.
What if Governor Brown's tax initiative passes this November? What if the other tax initiative passes that is supported by the CTA, PTA (all union supporters) and all it's political followers? WOW, just think of all the spending money!!!
You have no right to smash the character of a man in this community just for disagreeing with you on this political issue. He is a fellow tax payer, not a criminal, as you would like all the readers to think. You say he is, ".. opposed to public spending of any sort." What do you mean by "public spending?" Is that the softer and less direct, politically safe way to say "PUBLIC TAXING?" He sounds as passionate about his political views as you are - I've read some of your comments here and there on other topics and the last time you directed some of the readers to a web link that supported your view, it was that liberal and tired old Mother Jones magazine - from the 70's? The 60's?
How do you know Mr. Arata disagrees with every single tax he pays legally to the IRS? He is opposed to THIS tax as many of the rest of us are and we have sound reasons for having these opinions. We're not not talking about all the other taxes in the state and country on this site. We're discussing the bond. BUT...if we were discussing taxes in general, then here's a web site link that may remind you all of what is to come when the Bush Tax cuts expire this January. After that, we can look forward to even more additional taxes on all the working citizens of this US - unless we hire a new president.
How do you know he "is simply opposed to any public spending of any sort?" You are twisting and manipulating this term "public spending"........This tax/bond issue on the ballot this November is not "public spending"! It is "PUBLIC TAXING" ....
I have never met Mr. Arata but I hope I read his letters to the editor in the San Ramon Valley Times closer to the election. We need his voice regarding the need to vote NO on this SRVUSD $260,000,000.00 bond at this time.
Posted by Ann, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 21, 2012 at 6:23 pm
As I asked the journalist (Glenn Wholtmann) who covers the SRVUSD for the Danville and San Ramon Express:
Please share information about the backgrounds of our board members in regard to the
the PTA and school board member involvement with this business?
WiSE Campaign, LLC
It's very difficult to get straight answers or any answers from district reps on this subject. And...did the district spend more than $50,000.00 placing this Bond on the ballot as was discussed at one of the meetings - another $90,000.00 was also discussed. Honest information was be appreciated.
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 21, 2012 at 6:52 pm
Sorry if this appears a second time. It didn’t “take” the first time, bouncing back a message that I had included too many URL links (i.e., sources of evidence for the convenience of readers). Some of these appear in my earlier comments above, however. So I’m pulling them out now, leaving a reference to links above….
From my perspective as both a taxpayer and a former (20-year) teacher / coach (who wrote a newspaper article entitled “Better Schools, Not More Taxes” when I was still teaching, in my 12th year at a public high school wherein I’d previously called out and exposed the teacher union’s jackleg behavior during a strike): I have indeed taken issue with SRVUSD’s academic performance, the District’s irresponsible spending — and not incidentally, the District's problematic curricular decisions over the years.
I do not oppose or begrudge taxes for legitimate public purposes — e.g., national defense, roads and bridges, etc. What I do oppose are excessive salaries, overly expensive current benefits, early retirement and undeserved disability payments, and outrageous pension arrangements for “public servants” who haven’t earned them. (See, for example, California’s >$100 Pension Club, at Web Link and the CC Times listings of local public-agency salaries and benefits, at Web Link .)
One has to go down to #447 in the SRVUSD list of total employee compensation for 2011 to get below $100,000. (And for many of those listed, this is for 186 days of employment annually, vs. 250 working days for most individuals in the private sector.)
My opposition to SRVUSD’s inflated tax measures and those of some other local governmental entities have uniformly followed my direct evidentiary investigations into such public agencies’ finances — especially their tax-funded salaries and benefits — and their misleading performance claims. And my writing about such things (under my own byline rather than just a first name or nom de plume) therefore derives from and cites documented facts.
In unfortunate contrast, and repeatedly the case with some of SRVUSD’s most determined tax promoters over the years, “Dave” (like “Indep”) prefers anonymity, baseless name-calling, and diversions or inversions from issues at hand.
In addition, “Dave” evidently accepts, approves, appreciates, and/or applauds such SRVUSD policies and practices as (in a very abbreviated listing):
1. Seeking outrageous amounts within previous bond-measure projects (such as re-roofing non-existent buildings) and concealing project costs despite specific requests for same from citizens and the press.
2. Spending $238,000 in legal-team expenses while attempting to rehabilitate illegal ballots in a school-bond election, but losing the case to two non-lawyers in a recount and then in Superior Court and state Appellate Court.
3. Presently (while claiming, as “Dave” and “Indep” do now, that “students in this school district achieve at a high level”), concealing from parents and other taxpayers the sad fact of an average score of only 5.73 out of 10 in the District’s school-by-school API performance when each school is compared to 100 socioeconomically similar California schools, with nine SRVUSD schools scoring in a range of just 1 to 4.
(Again, see — as SRVUSD officials apparently hope that voters will not — the API rankings which show similar-school results, linked above.) Meanwhile, California — i.e., the source of overall and similar-school API benchmarks — is near the bottom of the national barrel in academic performance.)
4. Posting a list of school-site-specific projects at the District’s current “Measure D Overview” page — linked above), but including just a generic list of project types in the Measure D resolution itself.
(See that resolution itself, buried in the August 7 school board packet, which can be found at the SRVUSD site after some considerable jumping around. I included the link here originally, but have removed it to meet apparent posting limitations on the number of URLs. Many of the project types fit what the District used to call “deferred maintenance” — i.e., work that could and should have been completed as ongoing maintenance expenditures, not with borrowed hundreds of Millions in bond money + interest. But such routine maintenance expenses are paid by the same general fund which supplies salary and benefit increases.)
5. And yes, for just the first school showing in the school-site specific catalog, SRVUSD’s enumerating of something more than $66,918,476 altogether in eventual hoped-for expenditures for merely a RENOVATION of Stone Valley Middle School — i.e. and again, NEARLY 2.5 X THE MEDIAN HIGH-END PER STUDENT NEW CONSTRUCTION COSTS for middle schools as summarized in School Planning and Management’s 2012 School Construction Report, linked earlier above.
SP&M does break things down a little further, into geographic areas. Its designated Area E states (AZ, CA, HI, NV, AK, ID, OR, WA — note some colder-weather states included, adding to costs) show a median middle-school construction cost of $286.23/sq. ft., and still $41,207 per student, with median NEW middle-school construction cost of $38,000,000.
Again, SRVUSD wants to spend something more than $102,000 per student, just to renovate one middle school — and just for starters in its wish-list grab-bag.
The same SP&M report, interestingly, shows that in 1995, the median national construction cost for middle schools was $104 per square foot. That rose to $130/sq. ft by 2003, but skyrocketed $215/sq. ft. in 2010, before dropping back to a reported $195/sq. ft. in 2011.
That’s an 87.5% increase, in just 16 years — contrasting with a CPI increase, even in the inflated Bay Area, of 54.0% during the period (December 1995 – December 2011 — see Web Link) .
One likely cause of such exorbitant increases, during a period which has otherwise included severe economic slowdowns or even contractions, is the increasing use of “project labor agreements” — i.e., construction-union featherbedding arrangements “negotiated” collusively by governing boards which have been elected with significant union funding and “ground-game” support.
(See, for example: “Measuring the Cost of Project Labor Agreements on School Construction in California,” at Web Link.)
“Dave” goes on eventually to employ his grandfather as an unwitting surrogate in order to call me a liar. Among rational and honorable people, such claims impose obligations upon the claimant (a) to identify himself / herself; and (b) to cite evidence which proves the utterance(s) or finding(s) involved as deliberately untrue — which is difficult to do when the utterance(s) and finding(s) are documented as correct.
This reminds me of my election-office and courtroom experience of 15 - 17 years ago, in the 18-month process of reversing 1995's Measure C election result in a recount, then adding back in to canvass 112 votes while preventing the addition of illegal ballots (including double votes): When SRVUSD's $238,000 laywers couldn't argue the law, they argued the facts; when they couldn't argue the facts, they argued the law.
When they lost on both counts, enraged tax promoters cursed and called us names. (And the $238,000 was just for the Superior Court trial; they lost their appeal for free.)
So not that it will matter to anonymous tax promoters “Dave” or “Indep,” but as I wrote in “Better Schools, Not More Taxes” nearly 24 years ago, when I was still a public-school chemistry and math instructor: “forcing improvement upon our monopolized, bureaucratized public schools by opening them to market forces will cost taxpayers less, not more — a consumer benefit which occurs ineluctably whenever the efficiencies of a competitive marketplace are encouraged among the providers of goods or services.
“Taxpayers should absolutely refuse to provide increased funding for education until we educators demonstrate efficient utilization of the huge capital resources thrown our way already. Paraphrasing Lee Iacocca: we educators should compete. Children — and you taxpayers — would win!”
Thanks now to Ann and to other sensible people who've posted here. I'm not sure there will be a controlling quorum of common sense demonstrated here and elsewhere in November 6's election results, but I surely hope so!
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 21, 2012 at 7:06 pm
Sorry for inconvenience; scratch last message. In the third paragraph of the longer message above, the parenthetic information should read "...(See, for example, California’s >$100,000 Pension Club, at Web Link and the CC Times listings of local public-agency salaries and benefits, at Web Link .)
Posted by Sylence Dugood, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 21, 2012 at 10:32 pm
While somewhat verbose in the repetition of your beliefs, I think you have made some very good points. However, I'm curious. Why would you think it was persuasive to those that you are trying to persuade that the SRVUSD is in worse academic shape then self advertised? Yes, our district is far from being ranked amongst the very best in the nation. Yet, they surely have shown by independent ranking to have done something right.
From U.S. News and World Report of the Top 1,500 high schools out of approximately 22,000 across 49 states and the District of Columbia:
San Ramon High - Gold Medal School (top 500) - #465 nationally, #88 in the CA:
If our high school seniors and their respective peer-to-peer academic performance are taken as the fair weather barometer of the district's overall abilities to educate, would it not have been more reasonable to acknowledge the achievement as sufficient and simply state that no more funding is necessary? One could fairly challenge SRVUSD to raise their level of achievement to that comparable of say Palo Alto Unified.
Perhaps that would be unfair as PAUSD is just too well funded...
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 21, 2012 at 11:50 pm
Thanks for some points worthy of discussion, “Sylence Dugood”!
1. I agree that I have been verbose! (a) I required a degree of repetition in answering the critics / tax promoters who seemed determined to ignore previous posts; and (b) paraphrasing a comment attribed to Blaise Pascal: my posts here have been long because I lacked the time to make them shorter!
2. Since California’s K-12 academic performance lags behind most other states, and since the USA’s academic performance lags behind that of much of the developed world, and given local socioeconomics: high schools ranked # 88 to # 171 in California and #465 to #880 nationally just don’t cut it so far as I’m concerned.
3. The US News & World Report rankings offer a useful jumping-off point in some ways, but I would start with the full California list: Web Link. Given the socioeconomics of this District (with tiny percentages of economically disadvantaged students), SRVUSD’s high schools unfortunately rank behind many schools, just in California, which they should match or beat in these rankings.
4. When I taught, my chemistry students were often first or second in my state in the relevant subject-area test; and my high school athletes were state champions 7 successive years (+ national champions one year) when I was assistant coach or head coach, and I developed numerous All American athletes. As an age-group club coach here in California for three seasons, my young age-group athletes were Far Western regional champions, by increasing margins, all three seasons.
So I don’t readily “acknowledge the achievement [my own included] as sufficient.” And that’s especially true when taxpayers are spending $200,000 or more per 25-student classroom, in operating expenses alone. As a taxpayer, though no longer directly a teacher, I want better value for the money extracted from me in taxes.
5. I regularly have occasion to speak with some SRVUSD students who receive excellent grades, but who barely know a noun from a verb. They are often required to study junk “literature” and write about it — and the graded papers they get back from teachers have only the most superficial corrections and assessments.
6. My perception of the successes which the District does achieve is that they have much to do with familial backgrounds and parental oversight (often with lots of private tutoring), especially in the case of Indian and other Asian kids, whose names routinely appear disproportionately in lists, say, of National Merit Semifinalists. Hats off to those kids — but what’s wrong with performance by those of other ethnicities?
See SRVUSD’s current National Merit list, for example: Web Link . I’m reminded of a 1990 Time Magazine article by Charles Krauthammer: “Doing Bad and Feeling Good.” The point was that American education stresses too many of the wrong metrics — and I believe that still to be the case locally.
There’s much more I could relate in experiences with the District, its Board, its administrators, its teachers, and its underserved students. But now, with some business needs pending, I lack the time to make this response even longer!
Thanks again for considering and pointing to interesting data.
Posted by Douglas, a resident of the Blackhawk neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 7:33 am
Once again, thank you Mike! You obviously know your information and hopefully for those "undecided" voters, it will sway them to a NO. You make an excellent point about parental involvement, and the school missing the point. A perfect example of that is the emphasis put on the “Student of the Month” award at DVMS which has nothing to do with grades and academic performance versus Honor Roll which they barely make a mention of. Isn’t a teachers job to teach the 3R’s and a parent’s job to build confidence in their child, not the other way around?
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 9:04 am
Thank you in turn, Douglas, for caring enough about kids to want their sense of satisfaction to be built on actual performance relative to the task at hand — and for caring enough about school finance to want efficient and effective performance by the adults in charge of the schools, including Diablo Vista.
Regarding the first part: the “self-esteem” movement is well entrenched in SRVUSD. I led off an article once with an inscription I saw on a student “graffiti” board at Monte Vista HS: “There is no wrong — only different!”)
And that reminds me further: I think it was in a book entitled In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government that Charles Murray pointed out the fact that young gangster thugs are typically full of self-esteem, but it’s of a sort they never earned based on actual constructive achievement.
As to school finance: the perpetual drive for more dollars (without relation to corresponding achievement) by the teacher unionists, the administrators, and the Board members put in place by teacher unionists (with concentrated dollars, phone banks, and precinct walks) is related to what is called public choice theory:
"Public choice theory teaches us that there is an inherent bias toward more spending on behalf of special interests in today's government. The benefits of more spending are usually concentrated on a few players who have an enormous incentive to spend time and money lobbying for it. The costs of such programs are spread out over many millions of taxpayers who simply don't have the incentive to take time away from jobs and families for an organized fight against spending. The result: Government keeps growing." -- Wall Street Journal, 4/20/98
Posted by Sylence Dugood, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 9:57 am
I'll certainly acknowledge that you have presented a fair case for your verbosity. I suspect as a learnt individual, you realize the your reference to Pascal brings credibility but also recognition that he was nearly certifiable in the later portion of his life (died in his 30s). That's a coffeehouse discussion.
After reflection on a number of your writings, I believe that your issues with this district are much more personified then simply the passing or not of a current bond measure or a parcel tax whatsoever. I would propose that anyone who would disagree with you on this issue or like ones, simply has to 'agree to disagree' and be done with it.
What did catch my eye was your reference within the District to how certain ethnicities versus traditional majorities are performing academically. Please forgive my verbosity here as this is an issue that strikes of importance to me. Surely as a former educator, you would not be surprised that certain socioeconomic groups (i.e. first-generation Americans from specific ethnicities and of parents with some to significant post-graduate educations) are focused on seemingly simple 'prize' (e.g. economic independence by their 40s and the ability to care for aging parents due to cultural expectations). This societal assessment came to bloom in the mid to late 80s. It's not new.
If you want empirical proof, go out to a soccer field on any given Saturday or Sunday in our area. Observe the U8s or U10s (U=under) - boys or girls. You will see a wealth of ethnic diversity. Now, wait later in the day to observe the U16s. I believe you'll make a very different observation of diversity. Want to reinforce this non-scientific observation? Try a wonderful Friday night grid-iron game under the lights. As you have indicated that you're an Ohioan, you'll understand better then most that 'Friday Night Lights' is as close to stereotypical Americana then nearly anything else we can discuss. Next, observe who is and who is not patronizing many of our excellent local musical academies (emphasis on piano, violin and the clarinet) particularly in the primary to middle school years. Let us all, hopefully without argument, acknowledge that a link between classical music training at a young age and later scholarly ability in math and science has been considered reasonably well correlated - if not an exact science.
My point? I believe, our children achieve to the level of their intrinsic abilities and the environmental opportunities around them but are most strongly motivated by dining room discussions and observation of their own parents practicing what they preach.
By the probabilities (I'll also reference B. Pascal here), it is likely that those from certain socioeconomic backgrounds will wholehearted support increased funding for our local district as they see it as the gateway to 'economic independence' that we (i.e. traditional majority) saw it as in prior eras. Those same probabilities would imply that those from outside this very non-scientific reference to specific socioeconomic groups will likely not.
Want to immerse yourself in a real-world scenario where this plays out everyday? Look no further then the Fremont Unified School district. The same district has within it's auspices Mission San Jose H.S. and Irvington H.S. while also having to support American, J.F.K and Washing H.S. Where and how do the enabling and significant differences arise within the same district? While surely a complex explanation that is not rightfully simplified, in my opinion, look no further then the visible commitment from the parents AND the adjacent community that supports them (or sadly do not). If one needs proof, take a trip down I-680 and see for yourself.
Posted by Ann, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 10:52 am
I think you may be out of your league in this debate Indep. Temper tantrums don't influence anybody's side in debating opposite points of view. The grammar in your comment also makes your point difficult to read. I thought "whole language" flopped in the public education system - when the parents realized their children were not learning to write or spell correctly.
Posted by askidoo, a resident of the Alamo neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 11:04 am
Oh it is so true - history repeats and repeats: with bond measures and with school renovations. Stone Valley needs renovating AGAIN and again.... It has had at least one minor and one major renovation which was done in the late 90's. Other renovations were done at least twice at Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley HIgh, and at least 3 have been done at California High School. The arguments are always the same and the debt just keeps rising and the amounts asked for just keep rising. The renovations it seems are only good for a few years given the renovation track record.
Posted by Douglas, a resident of the Blackhawk neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 11:12 am
Sylence Dugood – My kids are white and are heavily involved in music and the arts along with scouting. Most of their white friends are as well, so I don’t buy into your idea of the football versus classical music theory.
Now that we have covered it from one direction (K-12), let’s look at from another standpoint starting with college down to high school and why Measure D should be a NO.
Looking at admissions of California students throughout the UC system, you seem to either need to have perfect scores and grades and be Asian or Indian (yes, those that have used private tutors for those grade s - it also helps when their parents are here on HVB Visas and they use their overseas addresses), or you need much lower grades with the attribute of being Hispanic or Black where no more money needs to be spent as they get in anyway. [BTW, I graduated from UCLA and still have friends in the Admissions office.] Generally, even with all academic parameters being the same, if you are a white male with a California address (like my son), you have a snowball’s chance in hell in getting in, and that is not going to change with construction to replace existing buildings and classrooms, implement “standard modernization” (very vague), install new bleachers, redo parking and traffic lanes, etc.
Teachers need to start doing their job in the classroom. Both of my children, who are on Honor Roll at DVMS and MVHS, come home and tell me that many of their teachers never give any kind of lectures, and just tell them to do their homework during the class time. The teachers also have other students grading their homework and sometimes even tests and papers. Really?! And we are paying them for this? It is time to say NO to all of it until SRVUSD gets their act together.
Posted by Sylence Dugood, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm
Clearly, I've struck a nerve which certainly was not the intent. As you have injected a number of spirited and controversial topics into this discussion, I'll choose to simply stay focused on K-12 and how that relates to SRVUSD. I suspect that adult affirmative action discussions as they relate to university admissions are best served in their own echo chamber. However, I would encourage you to closely monitor the current Supreme Court docket. I believe that a class-action suit from a former UT (Austin) student is likely to be heard in the upcoming session. The outcomes of any decision that comes forward is quite likely to weigh heavily on admissions processes across the entire country.
Thankfully, bond measures whether they pass or not, affect all students. Since the issues that you highlighted as the core of your argument appear to be educator insufficiencies and administrative dereliction, it would appear that do not believe that one (1) additional USD is needed by this district. Right or wrong, that is a reasonable position to hold.
Whether I agree with your opinion, as you might not mine, is unimportant. I am interested, however, in your opinion as to what you would do tomorrow and the day/week/month after that to 'fix' the apparent ills and issues of SRVUSD, if it was your call alone to make. Would you be willing to share how you would fix this dilemma? I'm sure that others would find your response informative as well.
Lastly, I believe that you meant to indicate H1-B (temporary employment of foreign workers in specialty occupations) and not HB 1. For the record, short of the special visa status afforded to foreign entrepreneurs who bring more than $500k in capital in addition to a minimum of 10 FTEs, the H1-B visa brings physicians, engineers, scientists and often 'scary-smart' (to use the popular vernacular) people to our shores. As the offspring of a long-ago naturalized immigrant, the visa process is not foreign to my household.
Posted by Dave, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 1:52 pm
Several points need to be made to give a more balanced view of the facts.
Mr. Arata offers selective data points on the performance of student in our district's schools. He believes that they are lagging behind schools districts of similar socio-economic profiles. However, he doesn't say whether such districts are as large as ours (which presents different challenges). In comparison to other large unified school districts (greater than 9,000 students), SRVUSD ranks first in this year's Academic Performance Index, with a score of 927.
In addition, Mr. Arata is not satisfied with local high schools' rankings (at least according to the rather arbitrary ranking criteria employed by the US News and World Report); yet, one of the reasons that our high schools don't rank higher is our above-averge student-to-teacher ratio (1:24). Perhaps Mr. Arata might consider that adding more classrooms (to a district that has been growing by more than 800 students per year for the past several years) would be a good thing and one that might improve those rankings (at least according to the criteria to which he points).
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that District students scored far, far above both the California and national mean on last year's Advanced Placement test. (Web Link) Surely that says something about college-readiness of our graduates.
Mr. Arata also tells you only part of the picture on district salaries. He notes that 447 district employees received total compensation of more than $100,000. Sounds like a lot, right, Maybe too much. Until you look at the numbers. Of those 447 employees (out of a total of more than 4,000 district employees), only one-quarter of them make more than $100,000 in base salary. The rest of them are most teachers with seniority (and experienced teachers are generally something that we want in our district) who are at the maximm end of the salary range here ($43k-$83k), and whose benefits (health insurance, pension contribution) push their total compensation just barely over the $100k mark. For those who work in private industry, you may know that it is typical for benefits to add another 20-30% to your total compensation, above your salary. Do most people think that $83k is too much salary to pay for a teacher who has been teaching 20 years or so in a community like ours, given the cost of living here? I don't.
Surely $260 million is a lot of money. But, as long as it is well-spent, it is a good investment in the future of our community. And, we are a very big (and growing) school district. When we voted to spend an identical amount in 2002 (plus the $60 million in state matching funds), what did we get for our money? The citizens' oversight committee (required under law for school bond measures) issued a report in February 2010 on the progress of spending under Measure A. Readers can view here (Web Link) how much that money improved the school facilities that were upgraded or re-built. I've been in many of those schools and the improvement is significant.
Yet, 10 years later, many of our other facilities have aged further, and the size of our school district has grown by thousands of additional students. Do we plan to keep current on those needs, or just say, "Ah, I'm not seeing enough improvement in scores; so forget about any help from us."
The old one-room school house is a quaint concept. I don't doubt that our students could still accomplish some learning there. But, not nearly as much as when we equip our teachers and students with the facilities that they need to learn and compete in a modern world.
As to Mr. Arata's suggestion that operating budgets should be tapped for new facilities or major upgrades to buildings, let's be clear: Most districts fund their construction projects through bond measures, not by squeezing their teachers' salaries. (In this regard, the language that Mr. Arata uses is particularly telling. He refers to the “taxes extracted from me,” as though his financial participation in the future of our community were a surgical procedure to remove something from his body against his will.)
Mr. Arata claims to be in favor of improvement in our schools. I challenge him to identify a single bond measure or parcel tax for schools in this district that he has EVER supported.
Meanwhile, Mr. Arata disparages the nature of the teaching in the classrooms. He refers to “junk ‘literature’” being taught in the high schools in the district. He heard it from some students. But, my experience is that English courses here emphasize many of the modern classics, such as Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Perhaps he should try visiting local classrooms before offering up such generalizations on limited information.
So, what lesson can we infer from Mr. Arata’s recommendations? Apparently it is this: Students in this school district should perform better for the money we pay. It’s the teachers’ or the district’s fault that they don’t. (Where is the student or parent role in performance?) To incentivize better performance, we should pay teachers less (clearly he thinks they are overpaid, or perhaps it’s just professional envy) and the students and teachers should make do with less technology, with aging and inadequate buildings, and with overcrowding, until they do better.
Does anyone else think that this is a recipe for success? I think that this perspective would be almost amusing if the matter of educating our children weren’t such serious business.
Of course, we could just postpone addressing these needs. Let the schools become over-crowded; let the facilities become outmoded (already mmost schools in the district don't have the infrastructure to fully utilize the computers and iPads that are in the classrooms, technology which will be essential tools in the workplace our students will enter in a few years). But, in the end, we WILL have to spend the money a few years later down the road. When interest rates have risen far beyond their current miniscule rates. And we will pay many millions more just in interest. Or, we could take the prudent course now and step up to our responsibility.
Posted by Sylence Dugood, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 2:57 pm
While I likely agree with you on more points that you have brought-up then with others, to stay objective, I respectfully do not think that you are right on the reason for desirable but not excellent SRVUSD U.S. News and World Report rankings. First, I suspect that you realize that most of the nation uses their rankings to grade out every institution from HS to Med School. I would not consider their work as simply arbitrary. That wouldn't make any sense to a rational person.
The reason is not driven by class size. Go to the previously cited references and look-up Mission San Jose H.S. in Fremont, CA. They're #67 nationally. Consider Monte Vista H.S. (in Cupertino, not Danville). They're #97 nationally. Not bad at all for either when you think about it. For those academic illuminati that track or even care about these things, neither are a Thomas Jefferson in Arlington, VA. I seriously doubt that's the goal for every district. You'll find in the details that both Mission and MV (Cupertino) have larger class sizes than we are accustom to in our local district. Other reasons driver their relative success.
What principally drives rankings is AP participation and corresponding scores. The very best institutions have an overwhelming majority of their students participate and do well in those examinations. The reasons for such a significant participation and 'success' rate on behalf of those students and their supportive families can be debated incessantly, likely without agreement on this board.
Posted by Douglas, a resident of the Blackhawk neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm
I did mean H1 – B visa and it is not only for physicians, engineers, etc. It is designed to allow companies to go off-shore to find people who can fulfill a certain need and is not just limited to the “‘scary smart.’” As briefly summarized below:
“specialty occupation” including but not limited to architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, biotechnology, medicine and health, education, law, accounting, business specialties, theology, and the arts, and requiring the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent as a minimum
Although this really is a whole other topic, I believe in using US employees and if we would stop letting foreigners take our children’s spots in the top colleges, we would have the base to pull from.
Now as to your question…
If it was my call alone, the obvious answers are abolish the unions, get rid of tenure, normalize the pay to the private sector, and have annual reviews just like the real world. If all of that went into place, teachers would need to work to keep their jobs! The 2009 Los Angeles Times article below documents how hard it is to fire a teacher because of the unionization and tenure of teachers
It is disgusting that we keep giving money to them. Make them clean up their acts BEFORE any more money is doled out to them or the school district. They should not have beautiful new class rooms, technology and the like until they start doing their jobs!!!
Posted by Sylence Dugood, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm
My apologies, I must have misread what you typed. I'll let others debate your position on H1-B visa onshore opportunities or not.
I believe that I understand your position on teachers. It's clear that you would like to see the current state of bargaining units for all public servants eradicated. While that may take a Bastille Day-like fait accompli to realize, particularly outside of highly conservative regions of our Nation, you presented a strong statement regarding a cause (i.e. clean-up, etc.) and effect (e.g. additional funding) relationship.
The question that immediately jumps to mind is 'who' do you believe is affected (or punished) the most by preventing "beautiful new class rooms, technology and the like" - teachers or students? Scorched Earth or shuttle diplomacy as the governing approach?
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 5:50 pm
Thanks to “Sylence Dugood” for thoughtful comments regarding ethnicities and academic performance.
Citing Blaise Pascal was merely a quick vehicle for agreeing that I’m long-winded, but that paring things down takes even more time. My points of focus here:
1. Without the high-scoring contributions of SRVUSD’s students of Asian extraction (including Indians), many or most of the upper-decile (or maybe even many upper quartile) scores in the District’s self-applauded performance announcements would disappear from the distribution.
My evidence for the moment is anecdotal, since I lack time and would perhaps be denied access for a systematic study of District demographics vs. objective measures of academic performance.
But at the page I linked earlier (Web Link), at least 28 of 38 surnames in the list of SRVUSD’s most recent National Merit Semifinalists appear to be Asian in origin.
To your point about who shows up at young age-group soccer games vs. those who appear at high-school level games: having taught tough academic subjects and having simultaneously coached a high-discipline sport (with practices before school and after), I know that kids don’t have to skip sports to succeed academically.
Meanwhile: California tests themselves, and how California schools project their results to the taxpaying public, involve considerable misrepresentation. See, for example: Web Link — at a website maintained by a terrific, selfless physician who’s as concerned as I am about what goes on in California schools.
(Sidebar: National Merit status is itself skewed these days. Some 50,000 students — about 4% of total PSAT/NMSQT junior-year test takers, qualify as potential semifinalists on the basis of actual test scores. About 16,000 of them — a little more than 1% of the original test takers — become semifinalists, but with final scoring criteria varying from state to state, and with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation hiding the final, separate state-by-state qualifying scores.)
2. Having worked with kids for 20 years as a teacher and coach (after having declined early admission to medical school and becoming a teacher / coach by deliberation, not default, instead), I believe that in the mean and median, children of differing ethnicities can all achieve at high levels.
But the schools and their curricula — and the adults who call and consider themselves professionals in these environments — too often focus on indoctrination rather than instruction. I would burden this thread much further were I to list even illustrative examples I’ve witnessed over the years, in this District and elsewhere.
3. As my wife (herself a teacher and tutor) I have both written, we’re often inclined during conversations about schools with local kids (our own having gone on to their own successful careers) to ask current local students, like the rescuers in Lord of the Flies, “are there any adults, any grown-ups with you?”
4. Though local teacher unionists, their school-board allies / puppets, et al. have tried over the years to impugn my concerns about local schools as merely something personal — and I think that’s what you are asserting yourself, in saying that my “issues with this district are much more personified than simply [yea or nay on tax issues]” — my public campaigns against SRVUSD’s curricular aberrations, some co-curricular assemblies and other activities, some teacher-union activists, and tax measures, et al. and etc. are simply the local expression of my more generalized concern about the unacceptably deficient state of American education.
I’ve been recommending needed improvements for more than 30 years, since two years before the “Nation at Risk” report. In the meantime, the “rising tide of mediocrity” recognized in 1983 as threatening America’s place in the world has become a tsunami.
5. As in politics — and education these days is intensely political — those responsible for today’s miscalculations, misrepresentations, hugely inflated but still growing costs, and poor results will only begin to see the light when they feel the heat.
And the best way to do that, short of introducing true educational choice (with dollars following kids to schools which kids and/or their parents choose) is to force schools to do what they should be doing already with the monstrous resources they already enjoy, i.e. resources completely out of proportion with objective measures of school and student achievement.
6. It would be much easier and less expensive — and more rewarding in terms of time available for business — were I simply to sit back as a spectator to the stupidity, ignorance, complacency, and/or malfeasance which so often rule the schools these days. I choose to be involved instead, at levels which my time permits.
The District has not been receptive to common-sense recommendations for needed reform (including those I and others have presented in writing and in person at Board meetings), however, so I go at the issues in other ways, hoping that someday, a critical mass of parents and other taxpayers will awaken to the ways in which their excessive tax dollars are misspent, and that they will then demand that things change.
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 5:54 pm
I see that anonymous “Dave” has chimed in again, with his portrayal of what he alleges as “a more balanced view of the facts.” In response:
1. The “similar” schools API rankings are compiled by the California Department of Education. DOE compares each individual SRVUSD school with “100 other [California] schools with similar demographic characteristics, educational challenges, and opportunities.” So an average of 5.73 out of 10 on that basis is unacceptable, as is the SRVUSD’s concealing of such information from parents and other taxpayers.
2. Class size is an unreliable determinant of achievement. Anecdotally: my parochial 8th-grade class included 50 students, and was actually a half-and-half mix of 7th and 8th graders. Class members have nevertheless proven themselves as extraordinarily high achievers over the years. In terms of research, the results are at best mixed, with potentially the greatest benefits possibly affecting kids in K-3 classrooms, but with achievement more dependent on teacher quality.
See (for example) a report by the liberal Brookings Institution, and summarized by Ed Source at Web Link : “Class-size reduction has been shown to work for some students in some grades in some states and countries, but its impact has been found to be mixed or not discernible in other settings and circumstances that seem similar. It is very expensive. The costs and benefits of class-size mandates need to be carefully weighed against all of the alternatives when difficult decisions must be made.”
3. AP scores? We likely return to the ethnicities question, and the extent to which the results reflect family nature (and outside tutoring) vs. school nurture. It’s interesting that the highest district AP score means were in Chinese and German, followed by math, music, and then English. When I was teaching, the highest scores achieved on College Board and AP English tests were those of a German exchange student. I was battling our English Department at the time over R-rated classroom films and pornography in the school library.
4. Salaries? SRVUSD teachers receive up to $86,226, without regard to merit or student achievement (plus extraordinary benefits, including tenured job security and lucrative defined-benefit pensions) for 186 employment days annually, versus 250 days for most workers. The extrapolated equivalent: $86,226 x (250/186) = $115,895 — again, for salary alone, and without regard to performance. By no means do I think good teachers are overpaid, but the good ones are all too few and far between.
The physics teacher in a public school wherein I brought chemistry students to second place statewide himself then often took them the next year to first place in physics. For his teaching innovations, he was named physics teacher of the year by the relevant national association. But he was paid on the same scale as all the other teachers in the school, who had no comparable achievements, with $ dependent only on how long they’d been around, and how many courses they’d taken — with many such being simply stultifying “Education” courses.
The same INPUT criteria — not measurable outputs — determine teacher salaries here and either universally or nearly so in public schools at large, with radical teacher unions, pretending to be concerned about kids, pushing the “levelized” salary schedules.
5. Dollars expended? From 1991-92 (when SRVUSD first sought a parcel tax) to 2011-12, , the District has increased its inflation-adjusted, per-student spending by nearly $1800 annually. 30,000 students (roughly) x $1800 = $54 Million, in a 2011-12 budget of approximately $239 Million. At an apparent $8205 in (current dollar) General Fund spending per student last year, SRVUSD spent over $200,000 per classroom of 25 students, in operational expenses alone.
As education professor Jay Greene put it in the 10/08/12 Wall Street Journal (Web Link ): “In 1970, public schools employed 2.06 million teachers, or one for every 22.3 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Digest of Education Statistics. In 2012, we have 3.27 million teachers, one for every 15.2 students. Yet math and reading scores for 17-year-olds have remained virtually unchanged since 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress….”
6. I refer to “taxes extracted from me” because I don’t presume to speak for everyone. Individuals like “Dave” are apparently satisfied with the status quo. But others, including myself, are not. And I write/speak from the perspective of a former long-term teacher/coach. From what perspective does anonymous “Dave” write? And yes, I have opposed all three bond measures and both parcel taxes levied or attempted by SRVUSD since 1991 because of illegitimate expenditures, SRVUSD misrepresentations or poor returns on existing taxpayer investments.
7. Junk “literature”? Yes, indeed — from the mundane to the inappropriate, e.g. “Maus,” “Fast Food Nation,” “Rap Music and Street Consciousness,” “House on Mango Street,” etc., etc., etc. — as worthwhile classics go unread and unremarked. Often, the books chosen and the exercises then applied appear to be warmed-over stuff from college English classes, while grammar, punctuation, and spelling are ignored. As I mentioned earlier, the corrections and grading assessments of student papers are often superficial at best. I’ve asked in the past to visit local classrooms, and been turned down by principals.
8. So yes, “Students in this school district should perform better for the money we pay.” And in the context of what is spent already, assertions by anonymous “Dave” of “less technology, with aging and inadequate buildings, and with overcrowding” are beg-the-question diversions from the matter at hand — which (depending on which list we inspect) is a $260 Million blank check for either (a) an ill-defined generic list which includes “deferred maintenance” projects for building upkeep which should have been tended all along via the general fund; or (b) a compendium of vastly overpriced sugarplums (for someone).
After an inflation-adjusted three-fold increase in education spending over the last 50 years, sensible Americas have learned that more money does not equal better education.
Posted by Sylence Dugood, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 8:40 pm
I do believe that Danville/Alamo students who have only ever had the experience of attending our area schools do notice and are either motivated by or are impeded by the aesthetics of their surroundings. To suggest anything else would not only go against human nature, it would be inconsistent with the likely reasons why we chose this community for our homes.
Given that you live in Blackhawk and I make my home in Danville, it would clearly suggest that we have both been industrious and accomplished in our respective businesses. While we clearly do not know one iota of each other, I also suspect that you, like I, would attest to meager beginnings and a something from nothing storyboard. I've not forgotten the grittiness of those more humble origins. I suspect you have not either regardless of the question that you've asked me.
That stated, you are entitled to your respected opinion as I am to mine regarding what kind of environment is most enriching for any student to learn within.
Posted by Ann, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 9:07 pm
Mike - You are diligent in your efforts to educate people. If interested and involved parents (hopefully) all read your posts and still find a reason to support the CTA, the PTA, board members, the over spending of our legislators, the watering down of the curriculum, more taxes, bonds, and parcel taxes over requiring changes to improve our system - so be it.
It's disappointing to know this subject is really about philosophical viewpoints instead of reason and facts. Why do adults think they have to settle for this mediocrity that has become our educational system? I think guilt has played a major part in the picture. Guilt over not being politically correct. Special interest groups pushing subjects that have no place in education - Lobby groups for the CTA and NEA. Parental guilt - often one or two working parents and not having the time to become fully aware of the school issues... if showing interest and being involved means they can support new taxes and bonds for their kids and schools - then so be it.
On another note: Interesting that this website for WiSE Campaigns LLC, has removed the photo they once had portrayed.
Guess a smiling district PTA leader and an SRVUSD board member representing their consulting business just isn't the image they want to show prior to the election in November. Who thought women could look so happy teaching school districts how to pack on more financial burden onto the backs of parents? Teaching politics to school districts in how to push new bonds/taxes onto their communities... lovely business.
They are very "connected" in local politics thanks to the very liberal sensibilities of the PTA group as a whole. Think of how strong their voice could be if they actually fought to break the CTA unions rather than support them whole heartedly? Although, I guess they worked a lot of hours through the PTA to get to where they are today.
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2012 at 11:19 pm
Thanks very much for your insightful, informative posts, Ann!
You're right about the unfortunate PTA/CTA/NEA symbiosis. There's an excellent book on the subject, entitled The Politics of the PTA. Google Books posts a portion of the text, at Web Link
And yes, it's a shame that some parents are so disconnected from what goes on in their local schools and districts that they are easily rolled up by the CTA/NEA Alinsky-ite machine.
Such maneuvering was more clearly on display in teacher strikes here in the 80s and 1990. But the SRVEA union, having won CTA's Joyce Fadem "Chapter in Politics" award for its orchestration of a Board recall in 1990, has controlled Board elections in all the years since, and apparently hasn't found it necessary to be as overt in its radicalism.
Posted by Chris, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 23, 2012 at 4:37 pm
Add me to the list of residents voting "No" on Measure D. Mike Arata and others have done a great job of pointing out some of the flaws in the district's arguments. Given the vague description of many of the proposed facilities projects, it's likely that the current estimates may be too low when said projects ultimately come to fruition - it will then be time for another request to save the schools/support the community with another parcel tax proposal.
I am also curious about how much the district is paying to put the proposal on the ballot - I wonder if it is using TBWB Strategies as the consultant again as it did with a prior measure. Perhaps someone will present a specific FOIA request to the district to determine the amount spent on consultant fees as well as any additional costs for the ballot measure.
Ann - I never knew about WiSE Campaigns before, but took a look into it after seeing your note. While the company may have cleansed its website of certain pictures, the SRVUSD board member and former PTA volunteer still list themselves as principals of the company on their LinkedIn profiles.
Posted by Dave, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 23, 2012 at 7:37 pm
So, Mike Arata, you seem to peg your expectations about better performance from the students in this district to "other socioeconomically similar California schools." Is this because you believe that the amount of money spent for education in a district is determinative of educational outcome, or because you believe that the demographics of a community are predictive of academic performance of its students?
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 23, 2012 at 10:57 pm
In response to Chris, further above: yes, SRVUSD’s payments to TBWB in 2012 are outrageous. The District spent $33,000 on TBWB as its “media management” consultants earlier in the year.
TBWB and EMC worked together, apparently, on a $25,000 poll which revealed the fact that voters “believe the facilities and grounds are already top-notch.”
So SRVUSD/TBWB prepared and spent another $22,457 in taxpayer funds on a glossy brochure mailed out just before the District pretended to solicit bond-measure input from citizens at large, and “trumpeting ‘top scores’ in California’s Academic Performance Index.
As usual, SRVUSD's promotional mailing concealed mediocre API performance relative to similar California schools, averaging just 5.73 out of 10 — slightly below 2002’s 5.83 average, when SRVUSD passed its previous $260 Million bond” (as the relevant Ballot Arguments describe; see Web Link — site to be updated further this weekend, I understand).
Now and so far, the Measure D tax-promotion campaign itself (funded by tax-exempt school foundation funds and current/prospective District contractors) has paid TBWB another $10,000, as of October 5 (the most recent reporting period for which I have received a Form 460 report).
As for anonymous Dave: this isn’t some “gotcha” game of false dilemmas.
A school district’s socioeconomic status (SES) often does correlate with academic performance, relative to other schools in the overall general distribution. So we’re not especially surprised when SRVUSD schools individually score API 10s (i.e., top decile) when compared with ALL California public schools of the same grade level — including inner-city schools where kids whose parents are mired in multi-generational cycles of welfare-state dependency routinely underachieve (though not because of underfunding).
But we should be dissatisfied, indeed disturbed and demanding answers, when SRVUSD schools, each compared individually with 100 other California schools judged by the California DOE to be socioeconomically SIMILAR, average only 5.73 out of 10 — and the District then hides that information from parents and other taxpayers.
So meanwhile and in any case, income and cultural context don’t correlate universally with academic achievement — i.e., in mathematical / logical terms, socioecomic condition seems often to be a sufficient determinant for academic success, but it’s not a necessary one.
On one hand: in all too many well-to-do communities, mediocrity has come to rule the schools. But concerted public relations campaigns in those districts, managed with the help of one or more well-paid spinmeisters and tax-funded outside agencies (as in SRVUSD), typically keep parents and other taxpayers in the dark — the mushroom treatment, as it’s sometimes described.
On the other hand — in contrast: Jaime Escalante’s amazing successes at Garfield High in East Los Angeles (Web Link) — and those of Marva Collins (Web Link) demonstrate the extent to which genuinely professional educators can accomplish so much more than so many of their unionized, whining, grasping, propagandizing counterparts elsewhere — i.e. how to do more with less.
That's the opposite of what happens in much of SRVUSD and in most of a nation that remains at risk, educationally and economically, despite gigantic increases in school and teacher funding in the last 50 - 60 years.
Posted by Dave, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 24, 2012 at 10:51 am
So, Mike, in your view, what's the missing ingredient in the recipe for success for our school district, since you are unhappy with its supposed lack of success? And I suppose that you believe that having 93% of the district's graduate go on to college (98% at SRVHS and Monte Vista) is not a sign of success?
Go on. Enlighten us. You're not shy about extolling your credentials (you might have left out your SAT scores, I can't remember).
Posted by Pjones, a resident of the San Ramon neighborhood, on Oct 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm
It seems that the Pro-Measure D funding has come from local San Ramon Unified School District Ed Funds. Do the parents realize that the money they give to help fill the local schools budget gap is being used to lobby for a parcel tax increase?
Most schools within the San Ramon Unified School District have Ed Funds these are monies collected, every year, at registration. An example: 2012-13 school year Alamo School asked for a donation of $680 per child. This Ed Fund pays for all or a substantial portion of the salaries of their music teachers, computer teacher, reading specialist, math intervention and the librarian. The Ed Fund also pays for supplies and equipment for science, technology, library, art, classrooms and the playground. keep in mind this is on top of the donations for supplies parents are asked to buy for their kids to use in the classroom for the year, and the money collected in each classroom to fund field trips. Alamo School does not state that their Ed Fund dollars will be used for lobbying purposes. Neither did the other local schools that collected Ed Fund money and then used a portion of it for lobbying.
Here is the list of Ed Funds that gave money to Citizens for Quality Schools to lobby for the Yes on D ballot measure:
Gale Ranch Middle School Education Fund $900, Quail Run Learning Fund $750, Charlotte Wood Charger Fund $999, Country Club Elementary School Cougar $999, Diablo Vista Middle School Foundation $999, Alamo School Education Fund $999.
The San Ramon Valley Council of PTAs is also spending money to lobby for the Measure D parcel tax, through their donation to the Citizens for Quality Schools. They contributed $2000 to the cause in September. In addition the San Ramon Valley Council of PTAs spent $11,000 on their legislative advocacy day. Citizens for quality schools then spent $10,000 on a campaign consultant, and $600 to Buchanan for Assembly.
Vote no on measure D. If the PTA and the local schools can spend money on legislative action days, and lobbying then they are not serious about keeping their donations with the schools. How will raising property taxes on local families help our children? We need to have some money left over to support our own kids!
Posted by Dave, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 25, 2012 at 10:51 am
The district projects that funding the Measure D bonds will not raise taxes above what they are already projected to be for 2013 and beyond, because the district has re-financed existing bonds to much lower interest rates.
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 25, 2012 at 12:42 pm
Thanks to Pjones for the campaign finance-report information. The $900 and $999 amounts supplied by individual school-based Education Funds and by the SRV Education Foundation are likely from tax-exempt accounts.
And the odd amounts keep these amounts just under the $1000 threshold at which those groups too would otherwise be required to file campaign finance reports themselves.
Those amounts were for a reporting period that went up to September 30 only — so the amounts are only for starters. Also in that initial record is a $6,000 amount altogether from three law firms with public-agency practices, $2,500 from an architectural firm, $2,500 from a construction firm, and $5,000 from SRVUSD’s teacher-union (SRVEA) PAC fund.
Similar campaign funding occurs up and down the state in new-tax campaigns initiated by tax-funded public agencies. As I’ve said before, such “contributions” from vendors and contractors with existing or prospective public-agency business, though unfortunately legal, have the distinctive odor of shakedowns and kickbacks.
Meanwhile, anonymous “Dave” postulates a cited 93% of SRVUSD graduates going on to college as a “sign of success.” But again, such numbers are merely consistent with those of similarly situated districts — i.e., those with essentially the same socioeconomics as SRVUSD.
And Early Assessment Program statistics for testing by the California State University system show some significant problems in actual SRVUSD college readiness — with only 49% of students tested (mostly juniors) shown as ready for college-level English in 2011, for example (latest results available when ballot arguments were submitted, in August), and now just 53% in that category in 2012.
Significant numbers of students are judged either not to ready for college work in either English or math, or ready only on a “conditional” basis.
Anonymous “Dave” wants now to know about my SAT scores. They’re not especially material to this discussion. But since anonymous “Dave,” searching for yet another diversion, somehow thinks they’re important, and to take this matter off the board: I did have a literally slow day when I took the SAT, not quite finishing all the questions. So I had a 680 Verbal / 710 Math, when the test had only those two sections. But the national averages that year were only 473 V and 473 M, before various re-calibrations of the test which have occurred in the years since.
So my scores (somewhere 97th – 98th percentile, as I recall) were quite sufficient to get me into college. And there, I finished Phi Beta Kappa, with high honors, in chemistry. I was 0.01 point away from “highest honors,” it turned out; had I looked in advance to discover the qualifying-level difference, I might have worked a little harder. But so what?
My prescription -- not so much as a former student but as a former teacher/coach and present industrial consultant -- for “the missing ingredient for success for our school district”? For starters, stop playing patty cake with the SRVEA / CTA / NEA teacher union.
And those who fund schools should get away from the mistaken belief that fancy, overpriced school buildings (built under project labor agreements) are necessary for effective and efficient education.
Ultimately, genuine choice in education, with tax dollars following students to schools of their and their parents’ choice, can/will bypass the unions and establish the necessary and sufficient conditions for real educational reform, here and elsewhere.
As various indicators show, including documentaries like Waiting for Superman and popular films like Won’t Back Down, attentive and caring parents and other taxpayers are beginning to wake up to the deficiencies and expensive backroom politics of public education, and the poor return on huge investments in public schools and the unions which control them.
Reform will have to come first in the worst schools, those in the America’s inner cities. But sooner or later, those who send their kids to, or pay for, union-controlled suburban public schools will also realize the extent to which they and the kids are being propagandized and cheated academically in many or most of those schools, and demand the needed improvements there, too.
Many parents, already recognizing the negative effects of their local public schools on their kids' educations, pay the taxes to support the public schools and then many thousands more in tuitions and fees so their kids can escape those schools. Others supplement with hundreds or thousands of dollars in tutoring costs.
Most recently, I see, anonymous “Dave” rationalizes Measure D as leaving bond-financing taxes prospectively at current rates [estimated at $75 per $100,000 assessed value, or $375 annually, exclusive of parcel taxes and other property taxes].
But that’s “based upon the District’s projections and estimates only, which are not binding upon the District.” If Measure D passes, private property is the underlying security, regardless of economic conditions.
Moreover, existing principal and interest aggregated debt service on the two previous bonds, including interest, is still at $426 Million. Adding Measure D’s funding would take SRVUSD’s debt-service requirements for school bonds up to approximately $800 Million. Sensible voters will reject Measure D.
Posted by Dave, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 25, 2012 at 2:57 pm
Apparently, Mr. Arata had some trouble recognizing my gentle sarcasm about him omitting his SAT scores, amid his continuing recital of his academic credentials.
To get back to substance: Unfortunately, Mr. Arata mixes apples and oranges when responding about college-bound statistics. It says nothing about whether college-bound graduates from the high schools in our district are ready for college (or even Cal. State schools) -- i.e., how good a job our schools are doing to prepare them -- to cite statewide statistics on readiness for Cal. State. Presumably, our graduates are better prepared than the average student entering Cal. State schools. But, it's unknowable from the (modest, statewide) statistics he cites.
But, it is interesting that Mr. Arata is finally getting to the heart of his beef with our district's school (and maybe all public schools). He doesn't like the 21st Century curriculum taught in public schools, and he'd prefer to skew our educational system in the direction of privatization (choice!), by siphoning off our tax dollars.
And because of that, he would punish public schools (actually, the students), depriving them of "fancy, overpriced school buildings" until they see things his way. Meanwhile, as the 800+ new students per year crowd into already-full (or even over-full) schools (has anyone counted how many portable units are at Monte Vista High?), and/or are driven by the hundreds across the district to other schools, they can take solace in the fact that when Mr. Arata was a child, he was packed in with 50 students in his school classroom and survived (so, why can't they?!!).
Posted by Douglas, a resident of the Blackhawk neighborhood, on Oct 26, 2012 at 2:37 pm
Apparently, Dave, you don’t actually research things before you respond. Obviously your count the portables argument for MV is garbage as there is new library/technology center being built (BTW it is being funded PRIVATELY by Workday), and library is currently contained in portables. Also, my son doesn’t have 50 students in his classes, so I believe you need to get out and see what is really going on!
Posted by Bayareamom, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 26, 2012 at 4:04 pm
I loved reading about Jaime's teaching background, most especially the following:
..."Determined to change the status quo, Escalante had to persuade the first few students who would listen to him that they could control their futures with the right education. He promised them that the jobs would be in engineering, electronics and computers but they would have to learn math to succeed. He said to his students "I'll teach you math and that's your language. With that you're going to make it. You're going to college and sit in the first row, not the back, because you're going to know more than anybody".
"...Aside from allowing Escalante to stay as a math teacher, Gradillas overhauled the academic curriculum at Garfield, reducing the number of basic math classes and requiring those taking basic math to concurrently take algebra. He denied extracurricular activities to students who failed to maintain a C average and new students who failed basic skill tests. One of Escalante's students remarked about him, "If he wants to teach us that bad, we can learn."
I've also noted while reading through these various comments the fact that Mr. Arata does not belittle, cast aspersions and use name-calling to try to get his point across (unlike a few others that have posted comments here, unfortunately).
We have a college age son, now 19, who, for years, was placed into special education courses in this district. Over the course of several years, we acquired more than a little bit of knowledge as to SOME bureaucrats in this district, operate.
I recall at one point during a conversation with the district special ed director, that our goal was to exit our son OUT of special education programs in the near future.
Her response? She literally laughed at me and stated rather haughtily that that would NEVER, ever happen.
Well, it DID happen. It happened because advocated mightily for our son. We were also fortunate in that we could afford to finance after school tutorial programs for our son. But the first thing I had to do, was to pull our son out of elementary school in this district, in order to teach him how to read. I literally purchased Hooked On Phonics and within several months our son was not only reading, but reading WELL.
At one point, during middle school, our son was placed into a resource program of which we were told was the ONLY program available for him. District personnel flat out stated to us in the IEP that this was the ONLY program available. Unfortunately, we found this was not the case.
After repeated declarations by our son as to various students' personal and academic issues in this classroom, I asked that I be allowed to view this resource program with the then middle school Principal. With absolute astonishment, what we viewed that day made the two of us cry. Quite literally, I discovered during this time that there was an adjoining door in this resource room, leading to yet another resource program, of which held some 22 students, if memory serves. After repeated threats from a district attorney, telling me we needed to put our completely normal son back into a room with some children of whom could not even speak, we were able to place our son into a classroom we were told, did not exist.
Bottom line - they lied to us about this program. If it hadn't been for our very articulate son's efforts to explain to us just what was going on in his resource program, we wouldn't have discovered this new class.
If we hadn't advocated for our son, I shudder to think just where he would be at the moment, academically. He certainly would have lost his future. He would have remained in mediocre special ed classrooms, continuously falling further and further behind his peer group. Eventually, just as I had once suggested to the district special ed director, our son WAS exited out of special education. He went on to do extremely well in high school (Dougherty Valley High). In fact, his last two report cards gleaned a 4.0 GPA.
From our experience and prospective, there were a FEW great teachers at the high school level; one fantastic teacher at the middle school level. Most of our son's teachers were, at best, mediocre. A few even blamed our SON for his issues with learning. Some of the teachers that our son really connected with, stayed friendly with him throughout the remainder of his high school years. They were absolutely lovely and clearly showed a willingness to help our son. But quite honestly, for the most part, this was not the case with MOST of his teachers.
So, the combination of mediocrity with teachers and a district that actually retaliated against us for advocating for our son, I can say unequivocally we will NEVER never give one more cent to this district. you can call this whatever you want; it turns my stomach every time I remember what they did to our son. He almost lost his future because of the retaliatory efforts of a few individuals in this district, individuals that STILL work in this district. I believe in forgiveness, but I will NEVER forget.
I come from a background filled with teachers, on both sides of my family. My maternal grandmother was one of them. She taught me how to read and lovingly sat with me during many happy moments, reading to me all the childhood classics. How unfortunate it was for me, then, to discover, years later, that someone I was commuting to work with had had my grandmother as a teacher.
He was quite amazed when we discovered our 'mutual territories' when growing up in Ohio. When he disovered that his fourth grade teacher had been my own grandmother, he was taken aback. He then told me rather amazingly, that he had hated her. How sad that was for me to discover this truth with someone of whom I'd just met.
So - one person's fantastic teacher, may not be someone else's. But the sad fact is, this district is littered with mediocrity in so many areas. My own heartfelt opinion is that, although this district has perhaps down a good job in some areas, they've a long, long way to go. And until they quit treating some of its students in the manner in which they treated our son, they will not see one more red cent from us, other than what they already glean in taxes.
I suggest many that read these various comments may want to read Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt's book, "The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America." It is truly an eye opener.
Posted by Dave, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 26, 2012 at 5:10 pm
You need to read more carefully. I didn't say that there were 50 students in any classroom. I said that when classrooms become increasingly over-crowded because of our unwillingness to build additional classroom space (which is part of Measure D's focus), then those students can take solace that Mr. Arata had 50 (!) students in his classroom as a child (which is what he said) and yet still survived.
Also, several of those portables have been there for years -- not to support temporarily the current construction. One of the projects listed on the District's plan for the Measure D funds is a new 18-classroom building, including science rooms, at Monte Vista. Seems unlikely that an 18-classroom building would be added to Monte Vista if it were just going to sit empty.
Posted by Douglas, a resident of the Blackhawk neighborhood, on Oct 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm
I may have misread what you wrote about 50 students, but college students are able to do fine with 500 students in a class. And before you say "that's college," you need to realize many of the teachers at MV teach as if they are professors who just say read the book, teach yourself, and be ready for my test!
With regard to the portables, there are only a total of 7 portables for classes which are not even used the whole day. If all of the teachers taught for the whole day (and I don't mean 0 period), MV could eliminate a few teachers and wouldn't even need those portables. Also, the science building is on the newer side, so there again a waste of money for an unnecessary 18 room replacement building.
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 26, 2012 at 10:16 pm
My thanks to Bayareamom for her additional tribute to Jaime Escalante, and for her additional comments!
But meanwhile, and has been the case throughout this string, either anonymous “Dave” isn’t paying attention (as Douglas surmises), or "Dave" continues deliberately to ignore or bypass the facts at hand.
I mentioned “significant problems in actual SRVUSD college readiness” because it’s SRVUSD students to whom I referred when I mentioned only 49% “shown as ready for college-level English in 2011, …and now just 53% in that category in 2012.” Again, those are not the statewide statistics for the Cal State EAP; they’re for SRVUSD.
So will anonymous “Dave” now characterize the poor results as “excellent” instead of “modest”? (See Web Link and Web Link. Direct URL links to the SRVUSD pages don’t copy and paste; so at each page, it’s necessary to select “Contra Costa County” and then “San Ramon Valley Unified” in the respective “County” and “District” pull-down selection windows.)
The Cal State system has rightly complained for years about the large numbers of their incoming students who require remedial work. I’m not surprised, given the number of SRVUSD high school students (for example, in local experience) I’ve spoken with — or had occasion to see papers they’ve written — who barely know a noun from a verb, but who’ve received 4.0 GPA rankings (or higher, with 5s being awarded in AP courses).
If by “21st Century curriculum taught in public schools” anonymous “Dave” refers to the routine bypassing of fundamentals so as to turn youngsters prematurely into supposed technocrats, he should begin a needed enlightenment with “How to Avoid a Bonfire of the Humanities,” in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal (Web Link ).
The theme of that article is reminiscent of my answer to students when they objected to my correcting and grading the grammar, punctuation, and spelling in their papers, along with my comments on the science therein: Einstein himself became famous, I told them, and had world-changing impact, in part because he was a literate communicator / story teller. Many of those students, when in later years they recognized the need for precise, targeted communication, without distracting mistakes, returned to thank me for adding that requirement along with the chemistry lessons.
The thoroughly modern morons and miscreants who run many of the schools these days often deliberately oppose teaching and correcting grammar, punctuation, and spelling even in English classes — favoring simple “rubrics” for grading papers instead, with poorly explained scores ranging 1 to 6 — because they’re lazy, because teaching proper language mechanics allegedly gets in the way of “creativity” (in the false supposition that it’s an either/or proposition), or sometimes because it’s more politically correct simply to adopt street language (as in “Ebonics”).
They condemn many children not only to lives of illiteracy but innumeracy as well. Long-time former SRVUSD Board member, and union pal — now state assemblywoman — Joan Buchanan publicly opposed rote memorization of times tables as what she ignorantly called “drill and kill,” favoring calculators in early grades instead.
If by “21st Century curriculum” anonymous “Dave” means to include the kind of puerile and inappropriate stuff I mentioned earlier, then he’s still further off the beam. Among the worst such examples of SRVUSD’s educational malpractice I recall was the Monte Vista High School English teacher of a “Bible as Literature” class who screened the depraved and blasphemous R-rated film “Last Temptation of Christ,” during Holy Week, and without parental permission.
And in any case: it’s time, I think, for “Dave” to reveal his identity and his own credentials, qualifications, and bona fides for making recommendations regarding education policy and practice.
Meanwhile, I continue to favor what works. Command economies and monopolies do not. Schools dominated by teacher-union activists and their self-serving objectives do not. Competition does.
And ever so slowly, things are beginning to change for the better — via charter schools, parental trigger laws, a few voucher schools (including some that are privately funded), and a dawning recognition by parents and other taxpayers (including, for example, Davis Guggenheim, the writer/producer of Waiting for Superman), of public education’s expensive deficiencies, unnecessary failures, and the resultant lifelong negative impact on children in today’s public schools.
I mentioned my 50-student combined 7th/8th grade class and the eventual professional successes of the kids in that large group only to exemplify the researched fact that teacher quality is a much more important determinant of student success than class size. So arguments about 20 vs. 22, 25, or 30 students simply have little resonance in the context of tight finances.
And that brings us back around to the issue directly at hand: Measure D. If the propaganda campaign in favor of the measure — once again richly funded by tax-exempt school Ed. Funds and vendors/contractors with existing or prospective business with SRVUSD — succeeds, then local taxpayers will be on the hook for another $260 Million + interest, and a total residual bond-retirement debt in the neighborhood of $800 Million.
If enough voters instead recognize SRVUSD’s underachievement, its misuse of existing resources, its negligence in maintaining the existing physical plant, and the tens of millions of dollars by which annual SRVUSD spending has leaped ahead of inflation in just the time since passing its first bond in 1998, then Measure D will be defeated.
In particular, had SRVUSD operational spending per student not so far exceeded inflation in just the years since before passing its 1998 bond, there’d be enough dollars in the annual budget to build a fine new elementary school every year, without borrowing hundreds of millions more, topped with hundreds of millions in interest.
And were SRVUSD to maintain its existing physical plant responsibly, there wouldn’t be so many “deferred maintenance” components of the project list (the one in the Board’s actual bond resolution, not the one linked at the District website’s “Measure D Overview” page).
Posted by Bayareamom, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 27, 2012 at 1:44 pm
..."And ever so slowly, things are beginning to change for the better — via charter schools, parental trigger laws, a few voucher schools (including some that are privately funded), and a dawning recognition by parents and other taxpayers (including, for example, Davis Guggenheim, the writer/producer of Waiting for Superman), of public education’s expensive deficiencies, unnecessary failures, and the resultant lifelong negative impact on children in today’s public schools.
I mentioned my 50-student combined 7th/8th grade class and the eventual professional successes of the kids in that large group only to exemplify the researched fact that teacher quality is a much more important determinant of student success than class size. So arguments about 20 vs. 22, 25, or 30 students simply have little resonance in the context of tight finances..."
As always, Mike, beautifully stated.
In doing some research, I came across this article and found it interesting:
..."Esquith, whose third book on teaching comes out in August, agrees with me that class size is a factor in learning. Smaller classes mean more attention for each child, but the impact is minimal compared with making the instructor more effective. "A great teacher can teach 60," Esquith told me. "A poor teacher will struggle with five."
That is not, in my experience, much of an exaggeration. I have seen some high school teachers keep as many as 50 students moving forward, with enthusiasm, in challenging classes. They do what Esquith does. Lessons are lively. Students are encouraged to adopt a team spirit to support each other as they learn. Some of the highest-achieving middle schools in some of our poorest neighborhoods average 28 to 30 students per class. On the other side of the bell curve, I have spent time in D.C. high school classes where no more than 15 students ever showed up, but worn-out teachers gave them little to do.
Katherine K. Merseth, director of the Harvard Graduate School of Education's Teacher Education Program, said her recent study of high-performing urban charter schools shows them focusing more on improving teaching than reducing class size. Increasing time for instruction also seems to have more impact. Esquith often spends 12 hours a day in Room 56, which he acknowledges is extreme. But Massachusetts has gotten significant results in 26 schools by adding just two hours to the school day and more money for teachers.
You don't hear much about this at school board meetings. The assumption that reducing class size is paramount has become rooted in our culture, and public officials risk censure if they say otherwise. Of course, I am sure Fairfax County School Superintendent Jack D. Dale believes it when he says raising class size is "the last resort" in his budget cutting. The same goes for union leaders who have put class-size reduction at the top of their agenda. They think this will improve the working conditions of their members and help their students..."
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 27, 2012 at 2:49 pm
An excellent post, Bay Area Mom! The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews often (but not uniformly) makes similarly good sense on educational issues. I’ve archived the article in one of my related reference files.
Hats off, meanwhile, to Rafe Esquith (Web Link ) for so evidently caring more about kids than about his own convenience or the priorities of teacher-union bosses, the collusive school boards they elect, the go-along / get-along administrators then chosen by the puppet boards, and the indoctrination which then displaces instruction.
The poll-result sidebar incorporated in the Mathews article illustrates the unfortunate and expensive situation he remarks upon: “The assumption that reducing class size is paramount has become rooted in our culture, and public officials risk censure if they say otherwise.”
Another manifestation of the push for teacher work-load reduction in today’s schools is the “block” schedule. When modified to allow for longer lab time in science classes, the block schedule can be beneficial. But when it becomes the standard for all classes, with students scheduled for only one semester of double-time math, English, or foreign language (for example), block scheduling becomes extraordinarily counterproductive.
That’s especially true in the frequent cases wherein block-schedule teachers actually teach for only half of a 90-minute or 100-minute extended block period, then allow the students to do homework or read whatever they wish on their own (or simply vegetate / goof off) during the remaining time — while the teacher limits his/her own homework exposure by grading papers, for fewer students, while supposedly covering an entire year’s syllabus or “course of study” in just one semester.
The block schedule then becomes yet another illustration of the fact that so many schools are organized around the convenience of adults and the priorities of teacher-unionists rather than the needs of kids.
As I’ve said about the self-serving teacher unionists several times in forums and debates: all they ask is less work to do, and higher pay when they don’t get it done.
That reiterates a sign I once saw in a doughnut shop, posted there to draw a laugh from customers. But the words are all too spot-on when applied to teacher-union activists.
Posted by Bayareamom, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 27, 2012 at 3:05 pm
"The poll-result sidebar incorporated in the Mathews article illustrates the unfortunate and expensive situation he remarks upon: “The assumption that reducing class size is paramount has become rooted in our culture, and public officials risk censure if they say otherwise.”
Believe it or not, I actually had a district bureaucrat ADMIT to me that the push for lower class sizes in this district, years back, as regards a push for yet another parcel tax, was more or less a ruse in order to acquire the much needed vote to pass this tax along.
IT WORKED. Beautifully. The gullible yet again, believed that small class size was just the ticket to a better quality education.
People don't THINK; they don't do their homework. It's far, far easier to just 'go with the flow,' than to think and learn on your own. Just accept what is being parroted to us by school bureaucrats, nod your head wisely, and pony up.
My goodness, if my attorney husband and I had done this years ago when our son was struggling academically in this district, I don't know where he would be at now, academically (he is now attending college and doing well). But as with all things in life, I've learned that I just cannot accept as gospel that which other supposed 'experts' state, they know!
Anyway, Mike, thank you for all your due diligence and enlightening posts. Personally, I feel our country is in dire shape; our academic system has been in arrears for many, many years, now. To me, it is almost beyond repair, but I will forever retain hope that people will wake up and start asking their own questions.
But as with most of us, I suppose, it's only until something hits you on a personal level, when you then begin to ask those questions of a system that has truly run amok (and this goes for anything in life).
I realize that board members may truly believe what they are telling parents about this Measure (but the cynic in me, tells me otherwise).
Posted by Bayareamom, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 27, 2012 at 3:21 pm
Just had to write that one last post, but I just read the link you provided, above. I LOVE this guy!!
..."Not only do his students have long school days, they also come in on holidays and are given reading assignments considered well beyond the typical fifth grader's reading level, although Esquith says they are no brighter than typical students..."
"He also varies teaching methods within individual classrooms to reflect differences in learning styles among students. Esquith also has high expectations of his students. Expecting his fifth graders, who are generally from families whose primary language is not English, to study and understand Shakespeare, for example."
"Former students continue to help Esquith with current classes. Some come back to discuss their experiences. In a 2007 interview, Esquith said: "A lot of times a young teacher has a vision of what they want their children to be, but the children who grow up in bad neighborhoods [...] can't have that vision. They've never seen it — they don't know what it looks like. But when former students of mine come back and talk to them about coming back from Princeton or U.S.C. or U.C.L.A. or anywhere, the children realize, 'Hey, this could be me.' They really start to see how what they do now affects their life later." The involvement of former students who have done well helps to counter the lack of involvement from parents who are often poor and sometimes illegal immigrants without much education themselves and who aren't able to stimulate their children's intellectual and educational interests and motivate them because of lack of time or knowledge, according to Esquith."
"Esquith has said he advises young teachers never to fight with administrators: "Always agree with them. Tell them that, 'You know, I understand where you're coming from', and try to quietly work around the system. I rarely fight with anybody in my school because that doesn't help the children."
I just had a conversation with our son the other day. I explained that whatever he chooses to do with his life, to make certain that whatever it is, IS DONE WITH PASSION. Esquith is certainly a passionate teacher; my hat tips off.
Posted by Sylence Dugood, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 27, 2012 at 11:25 pm
Your passion to own the macro and micro aspects of this issue clearly go much further and deeper then just the outcomes of the forthcoming ballot measure. I will admit that your posts bring a certain level of restless curiosity on my part as to what you will highlight next.
That stated, if we could, 'ease-off' throttling the purported Marxist Unionists and their Bolshevik administrative leaders for just a moment, I suspect that your arguments might be better digested by the non-thinking bourgeois that Ms. Bayareamom characterized for us.
I would argue that a disproportionate level of ignorance and apathy infect both sides of this ballot issue. In gross generality, those with young children will likely see this ballot measure as good and wholesome. With similar generality, those with difficult experiences within this district or grown children that have already clawed their way out out of purported district mediocrity will likely see one of the Four Horsemen riding this measure all the way to the ballot box. The former will state that those with grown children just don't care any longer about their community and so forth. The later will see this as an issue of experience. Once those good intentioned but 'non-thinking' younger parents get some life-experience behind them, they will realize the errors in their ways. Veni vidi vici and so forth.
One perspective that I have not seen articulated well from the SRVUSD administration is what will be their expected actions (near to long-term) if Measure D does not pass. Perhaps this would be a useful pivot for the discussion. Thoughts?
Posted by Bayareamom, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 28, 2012 at 11:50 am
The 'ignorance' I profess I once held with these various issues, was PRIOR to our son's enrollment in the SRVUSD. Apathy - NEVER. I've never been an apathetic person (but I do know many who are).
I've learned more than I really wanted to know during our advocacy for our son. Much of what I learned, came DIRECTLY from those of whom work within this district (and were honest enough to tell me the truth).
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 28, 2012 at 7:44 pm
In response to “Sylence Dugood”: “veni, vidi, vici” more accurately describes the outlook and behavior of the teacher unionists and their union bosses.
They come to SRVUSD; they see a taxpaying electorate to be plucked; and they often overwhelm apathetic, inattentive voters, in collusion with a compliant school board which their dollars and political focus have elected.
(The SRVEA union president, meanwhile, gets release time and benefits, paid by taxpayers, but reimbursed by SRVEA only at the “rate of the lowest paid temporary employee in the District as of the first day of school annually.” SRVEA “representatives” are permitted up to 45 days of release time per school year for “Association business,” while SRVEA reimburses the District only “at the daily substitute rate.”)
Thereby, semper idem — always the same thing — from SRVUSD. They’re always in desperate financial condition, until it’s time for the next pay raise.
And so, in Act I, they then round up tens of thousands — or hundreds of thousands — of dollars in campaign contributions from tax-exempt foundations and SRVUSD vendors / contractors. Since "Sylence Dugood" apparently likes Latin: They appear to accept Cicero’s rather cynical view of things: “Nihil tam munitum, quod non expugnari pecunia possit.” (“There’s no fortress so strong that money cannot take it.”)
Teacher unionists, their long-term actions (and those of their hand-picked politicians) are therefore entirely predictable -- as I mentioned above: all they ask is less work to do and higher pay when they don’t get it done.
Their actions are predictable in the short term as well. If Measure D is defeated, but not by a large margin, they will return to the ballot as soon as they think they can get away with spending more taxpayer dollars on another election.
They will still be seeking a bond measure which includes "deferred maintenance" expenditures -- thereby freeing up general fund dollars to facilitate the next round of unmerited raises.
If they prevail, then Act II follows: wait a little while longer, then implement cross-the-boards retroactive raises.
If past is further a prelude, and if the margin of defeat is very small, they won’t hesitate to spend even more taxpayer dollars on lawyers who will attempt to rehabilitate illegal ballots.
Act III: they follow a few years later (presently, in 2015-16) with a parcel-tax-increase measure to fund yet another round of unmerited raises, galloping further ahead of the inflation rate.
But a substantial defeat of Measure D could hold things off for a while!
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 28, 2012 at 7:49 pm
The tax-exempt foundations (and funds) I mention in the last post are SRVUSD's individual school-based foundations. Many or most of the parents dragooned into "contributing" to those foundations/funds likely don't anticipate that their $$ will be used in a campaign to tax them further on their homes.
Posted by Sylence Dugood, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 28, 2012 at 11:34 pm
I'm impressed with your prognostication - it might actually be right. Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Forsan miseros meliora sequentur (Virgil).
Regardless of my own perspectives on the value or not of Measure D for SRVSD, I do presume that it may have too great a hurdle to overcome within the current political climate.
I will offer that I have witnessed over the years a number reaffirming reasons to believe there is still hope for a brighter future because of local schools. I'm not one for offering the one-off anecdotal story-lines regardless of how heartfelt. I respect those who offer them as they show conviction. I'm also fairly sure that even the most seething antagonist for SRVUSD can find something of merit that they do right in the education of the generation that will one day be making decisions for all of us whether we like it or not.
All that is really left for any of us is to go vote then sit back an see how your respective side does. I think Victor Hugo put it well in words over 125 years ago..."Many great actions are committed in small struggles".
Posted by Dave, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm
(1) Although Mr. Arata's selective use of data could cause the casual reader to believe that the education provided in our school district is, in his words, "mediocre," a closer look puts some of his numbers in perspective. It's not just what he tells you, it's what he doesn't tell you. For example, he mentions the Early Assessment Program numbers for the district. This is based on test scores from 11th graders to determine, at that point, whether they are ready for college English and math (with a full year of high school still to go). And indeed, in 2011, 49% of our 11th graders were ready, even before taking their 12th grade courses. So, the point of the exam is not to measure the success of our high school graduates at graduation (or their teachers); the point is to give 11th graders early feedback, so that they can make an adjustments in their 12th grade courses, if they are not yet prepared for college. Seems to me that having 49% of our 11th graders already prepared for college even before their senior year isn't too bad. (53% in 2012, as Mr. Arata notes.). And their college math readiness by 11th grade is even better, at 81% of 11th graders.
But, let's get some comparisons. Pittsburg rolls in at a dismal 6% in English by 11th grade. Statewide it's only 23%. Pleasanton comes in slightly ahead at 57%. And what about that wealthy enclave of Piedmont? It's at only 31% for 11th graders.
(2) The selective (and misleading) use of test scores by Mr. Arata is not surprising. His goal is not to give a balanced view of the performance of our school district. No. As one of the supporters of the official ballot statement against Measure D, he wants to defeat this (and every) school bond measure -- not because he wants the scores to be higher, but, rather because spending tax dollars on necessary school facilities does not fit within his extreme socially and fiscally conservative view of the world. All one has to do is recall the positions he has taken over the years.
We are fortunate that he and his small cadre of anti-tax zealots do not represent a majority of our community. If their views had prevailed on previous bond and parcel measures, our students' test scores and college admissions rates would be significantly lower and we wouldn't have such high demand by people wishing to move into our community for the schools. I am optimistic that most people will ignore their doom-and-gloom outlook and will recognize the value we add to our children's future and to our community when we support our schools.
Posted by Mike Arata, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, on Oct 31, 2012 at 10:56 am
“Dave” still remains otherwise anonymous, and still doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
1. My application of the word “mediocre” further above was in this statement:
“AS USUAL, SRVUSD'S PROMOTIONAL MAILING CONCEALED MEDIOCRE API PERFORMANCE RELATIVE TO SIMILAR CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS, AVERAGING JUST 5.73 OUT OF 10 — SLIGHTLY BELOW 2002’S 5.83 AVERAGE, WHEN SRVUSD PASSED ITS PREVIOUS $260 MILLION BOND” (capital letters substituted now, for emphasis).
So far as I am aware, SRVUSD never informs parents and other taxpayers of its individual schools’ API performance rankings relative to SIMILAR schools, as selected and compared by the California Department of Education.
And especially in the context of the present campaign for another $260 Million bond, SRVUSD apparently does not want to reveal the particularly troubling fact that nine District schools are listed with rankings of 4 or lower (out of 10) in the most recent API Similar Schools comparison. So it’s really a case of what SRVUSD (like “Dave”) “doesn’t tell you.”
Given SRVUSD socioeconomics — including family incomes and parental education levels — applying the term “mediocre” as a descriptor of the District’s API Similar Schools ranking actually OVERSTATES the District’s performance level. In terms of Similar Schools comparisons, and recalling that California is near the bottom of state-by-state national scholastic rankings: SRVUSD isn’t even the best of the worst.
And were I presently the parent of a child in one of the nine SRVUSD schools with API Similar Schools rankings of 4 or below, I’d want the District telling me.
I’d want SRVUSD letting me know as well about the 6 elementary schools which have dropped substantially in such scoring (3 or more ranks — one of them from a 9 to a 2, for example) since 2002, when SRVUSD passed its last $260 Million bond. And I’d want the District undertaking a crash program to improve such performances, irrespective of any new dollars (given what taxpayers already provide).
“Dave,” meanwhile, avoids the API Similar Schools ranking problem altogether, and skips on to SRVUSD results in the Early Assessment Program (EAP) — which refers to tests of college readiness in English and math, as conducted by the Cal State system for high school juniors.
2. But demonstrating “college readiness” in the EAP tests, as informed individuals (in the present context, those familiar with middle school and high school curricula) will recognize, actually requires only 6th grade through 10th grade skill sets.
Ordinary 12th grade courses, per se, add nothing to the needed background — unless they suddenly, by very large degrees, increase outside reading requirements and class-assigned, meticulously graded writing exercises.
So again: the fact that only 49% of SRVUSD junior-year students in 2011 — and then 53% of them in 2012 — showed what the Cal State system considers “college readiness” in EAP English testing is itself, at best, a mediocre performance.
The English multiple-choice sections, for example, include very-short-passage reading comprehension; contextual meaning of words; relationships of sentences and phrase pairs (e.g. does one sentence contrast with, contradict, explain, or clarify the other?); choosing alternative word order to give identical meaning; sentence correction; filling in a missing sentence in a short paragraph (again, multiple choice!); and choosing a sentence which supports the thesis of a leading statement.
So far, that matches the elements of the reading and usage tests I took in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, over 50 years ago — and in which I and many classmates routinely received grade-level rankings at 12+, which seemed unrealistic to us at the time.
But in fact, anyone of reasonable intelligence ages 12 and up who regularly reads books can easily do well in the multiple-choice sections described, even without undertaking the online practice sections available. ( See Web Link . These practice tests are provided to help students prepare for either EAP or Cal State Placement tests — those two actual tests themselves being interchangeable.)
EAP also includes a 45-minute essay, graded simply on a scale of 0 to 6. But the essay test requires only a grade of 4 or higher to qualify as “college ready.” And teachers are encouraged to involve their students in online UCLA/CSU “Calibrated Peer Review” composition for prep sessions to improve their writing in advance of EAP.
Essays scored at “4” out of six (“Adequate’): “(a) address the topic, but may slight some aspects of the task; (b) demonstrate a generally accurate understanding of the [given] passage in developing a sensible response; (c) may treat the topic simplistically or repetitively; (d) are adequately organized and developed, generally supporting ideas with reasons and examples; (e) demonstrate adequate use of syntax and language; and (f) may have some errors, but generally demonstrate control of grammar, usage, and mechanics.”
So again, the 11th grade EAP English test does not require anything beyond a reasonable 10th grade education, if that. And practice tests point to language-skill deficiencies, thereby helping students and teachers repair any gaps, prior to testing on the record.
3. Practice tests — once again interchangeable with Cal State Placement tests — are also available for EAP math (Web Link). But the EAP math test (numbers and data, 8th/9th grade algebra, 9th/10th grade simple geometry) is not a difficult test for students who paid attention in their 7th through 10th grade classes.
4. “Dave,” meanwhile, conflates SRVUSD’s EAP math scores (from 2011) “Ready for College” (33%) and “Ready for College — Conditional” (48%) — to say that “their college math readiness by 11th grade is even better [than their English readiness], at 81% of 11th graders.” [The corresponding numbers for 2012 are “Ready for College” (34%) and “Ready for College — Conditional” (51%)].
But students in the “Conditional” categories, if they wish to avoid being among the more than 60% of entering CSU students who require remedial work — and whether in English or math — must take an approved remedial high school course in their senior year, or take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or other CSU honors-approved course work (!).
How one succeeds in an advanced course while trying to remediate fundamental deficiencies in presumably prerequisite skills is beyond me. I don’t imagine that it happens often.
And to the extent that remedial courses are undertaken in high school (in place of regular senior-year courses) or in college, they represent an extra cost to taxpayers, for students and/or teachers who didn’t do the job the first time around.
5. As a 20-year classroom teaching veteran and former coach, I’m not concerned about merely besting institutions which are scoring even lower than SRVUSD. I want kids and schools to be the best they can be. But that can be accomplished without spending more than we do already. As I editorialized when I was still teaching, we need and can have far better schools, without more taxes.
Adjusted for inflation, per-student funding has tripled since I was in school, without significant gains (if any). So I’m not content to wait the 100 years posited by CTA’s executive director (when I debated him at the Commonwealth Club 19 years ago, as mentioned further above) as the time frame needed for extensive school reform and measurably large improvements in academic performance, in both absolute and relative terms.
And there have been substantial reasons, stated in writing, for voters to oppose each and every one of SRVUSD’s bond and parcel-tax measures. But one gets the impression that “Dave” (and some other supporters of such measures) would simply like a clear field for each such campaign, without taxpayer push-back, indeed without opposition of any kind from some of those who will pay the prospective new taxes.
Meanwhile, “Dave” has still not identified himself. While supporting SRVUSD’s routine misdirection and/or concealment of the District’s Similar Schools API performance and financial condition, he has not enumerated his credentials or other qualifications for addressing such issues — though along with his disinformative posts, he’s revealed himself as being rather expert at baseless name calling, inversion, ignoring the pearl of the argument, unsupported and irrelevant platitudes, and other logical fallacies.
6. In summary: it’s “Dave,” once again, not I, who seeks selectively to mislead, not to clarify. As pseudonymic “Sylence Dugood,” who (like I) appreciates Vergil, might add: “Latet anguis in herba” (et “alitur vitium vivitque tegendo”).