Uploaded: Tue, Oct 16, 2012, 5:14 pm Battle lines drawn in Measure D fight
Voters asked to approve $260 million bond measure for schools
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. The bond proceeds could also be used for furnishing and equipping of school facilities and the acquisition or lease of property and construction of a new school in Dougherty Valley.
Bond sale proceeds could only be used for the purposes specified in the measure, and repayment would cost an average of about $27.75 per $100,000 of assessed value. To pass, Measure D needs a super-majority of 55 percent of voter approval.
In support, aside from the members of the school board that approved the ballot measure, are some well-known names, including two politicians: former Danville mayor and current Contra Costa Court Supervisor Candace Anderson and former San Ramon City councilwoman Carol Rowley.
Also in favor of the measure's approval is Rebecca S. Livingston a parent and president of the San Ramon Valley Council of PTAs, Steven Mick, a member of the citizens facilities oversight committee, which recommended the bond, and Darren S. Day, a teacher and president of the San Ramon Valley Education Association.
Opposed is a grassroots coalition of residents, including two Danville residents, Beverly O'Connor, a retired teacher and grandmother of a SRVUSD student, and Heather Gass, who describes herself as a homemaker, former network engineer, and community action volunteer, among other things.
Two San Ramon residents are also members of the coalition. Geoff Massa is a contractor and parent of two current students and one graduate; John A. Kolberg, is a retired executive and the parent of SRV school district graduate.
Also on the coalition is Alamo resident Patrick R Walt, a commercial real estate broker and parent of two.
At issue is the cost to taxpayers. The opponents claim the new bond measure, if approved, would cost $75 annually per $100,000 of assessed value, or about $375 for a home assessed at $500,000. The opponents note that's based upon the District's projections and estimates only, and are not binding upon the District.
Those in favor, meanwhile, say safety is a prime concern, noting that many of the schools are in need of fire and earthquake improvements, along with upgrades for aging classrooms, science labs, and technology.
Measure D proponents also point out that no money could be used for administrator salaries and that a citizens oversight committee would monitor the spending.
Those opposed, however, say oversight committees just go to validate spending, and note that the new bond proposal does not allow senior exemptions.
a resident of Danville
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.
a resident of Danville
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!
a resident of Danville
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.
a resident of Danville
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.
a resident of Danville
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.
a resident of Danville
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.
a resident of Danville
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.
a resident of Danville
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).
a resident of Danville
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").