UPDATED - Fremont Education Coalition update - May 14th local budget rally

May 14, 2008 Day of the Teacher Rally
Join educators, students, support personnel, administrators, parents, FUSD School Board members from 2:30 pm - 5:30 pm. We will rally together in front of all five high schools to inform the Fremont community that “Education Cuts Never Heal.” Wear your school shirts and band aids! Details will be posted on http://www.fremontedcoalition.com.

UPDATED: See the flyer at left for details on the event.

Pictures from PTA-sponsored Rally at Senator Ellen Corbett's Office
I also posted pictures form our successful rally at Senator Corbett's office











Upcoming budget rallys and events!

The Fremont Education Coalition and the Fremont Budget Task Force have a number of events coming up. Please join us to rally support for education and to learn how you can take action.

PTA-sponsored Rally at Senator Ellen Corbett's Office


"Education Cuts Never Heal"
Please join us, as we rally to protect our schools!
Friday, April 25th, 2008 from 9am to 10.30am
Senator Ellen Corbett's office,
1057 MacArthur Blvd., Suite 206, San Leandro, CA 94577


Education Coalition Info Night


Join Us to Take Action and Stop the Cuts!
You are invited to attend an Informational Workshop presented by the Fremont Education Coalition. The agenda will include:
• brief introduction on the general timeline for the legislative budget process
• summary of the past and present budget cuts in Fremont Unified
• presentation of strategies to lobby the members of the California Legislature
• activities planned by the Fremont Education Coalition
• things you can do to stop the budget cuts

Thursday, April 24 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.
FUSD Board Room
4210 Technology Drive


There are more events planned by the Fremont Education Coalition. Find out more at their web site. http://www.fremontedcoalition.com/

Proposed FUSD Budget Reductions posted on the web

On Friday Fremont Unified School District posted a list of potential reductions here:  2008-2009 Proposed Budget Reductions. This list is being used to get feedback from everyone (teachers, staff, parents, community).  These will be discussed at the public forums. You can get more background on the process at http://www.fremont.k12.ca.us/PotentialBudget.html.

Looking at them it reminds me yet again how important it is we change the conversation from cuts to how to do the best for our students.

Budget Crisis Page / Potential Budget Cuts in Fremont

Budget Crisis 2008-09 Web Page


I have added a web page of resources to my site. It's a good starting point for finding more information about the state budget and it's impact on our Fremont schools. There's also a lot of good information in my blog post - A Coward's Budget.

Potential Budget Cuts in Fremont Schools


Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) has posted a web page on the potential budget cuts. Already the school board has increased class size in our Jr. and Sr. High Schools, and the district has implemented other mid-year cuts to save $5 million. But we still have over $4 million more to cut to meet the Governor's budget.  The Potential Fremont Budget Cuts Presentation is the best way to learn how the state budget has and potentially will impact our students.

Community Public Forum Meetings


FUSD is holding two public forums with the community to get input on the
potential budget cuts. The date/time/locations are:

Date: 4-21-08
Time: 7:00pm
Location: Centerville Jr. High School Gym

Date: 4-28-08
Time: 7:00pm
Location: Irvington High School Gym

Please attend! We all need to work together on this.

A Coward's Budget

I apologize for the dearth of blog postings lately. I've been very busy meeting with people and preparing for the election. I attended the excellent ABC's of Campaigning workshop that the League of Women Voters put on at the end of March. I also met with every school district labor organization (FUDTA, SEIA, CSEA, and FSMA). Communication is so critical to the success of a school district, and I work hard to keep the lines of communication open.

But what I want you to focus on is the severe budget cuts that the Governor proposed in January. This is truly ...

A Coward's Budget


Let me remind you the definition of a coward.

Coward - a person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things.

Governor Schwarzenegger made no attempt with his budget to set any priorities. He simply slashed spending across the board. Contrast his budget proposal with the one from the California Legislative Analyst's office (LAO). It contains much more targeted reductions that better reflect Californians' priorities. I encourage you to read it for yourself - LAO 2008 Budget Analysis: Alternative Budget Overview. If we were to adopt the LAO's proposed budget our schools would still face cuts in services, but would get $2 billion more than the Governor's budget.

Here are just some of the recommendations I've seen that would target cuts and generate revenue for our schools.
  • Roll back Prop 49 after school program spending saving almost $400 million. We lived without these programs in 2005-06 and can live without them again.
  • Suspend or reverse the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA), which settled the billions borrowed form schools in 2004-05 but only provided it to low performing schools. We can all live without this money in tough budget times. Suspending it for the 2008-09 year would save approximately $450 million.
  • Combine the state’s 43 categorical programs into fewer programs (as the Legislative Analyst recommends) freeing districts to spend the money most efficiently. (LAO 2008 Budget Analysis: K–12 Categorical Reform)
  • Last year schools were given an Art, music and PE discretionary funds. As important as these are, they are the easiest to give back to help avoid cuts in other areas.
  • Raise new state revenues through eliminating tax credits and/or raising taxes. For example, the Legislative Analyst estimates $1.3 billion in new revenue from reducing the child tax credit. I would gladly give back my child tax credit if I knew it was going to our schools.
Our schools can and will do there part to tighten our belts during these tough times. But our Governor has to try harder for our kids.

What can you do?


To start with you can write the Governor and your legislator. (Example letters can be found here.) Attend rally's being put on throughout the state.

In Fremont, I recently joined a group of concerned parents, teachers, and citizens that are trying to mobilize Fremont. The Fremont School Budget Task Force meets every Sunday and is looking to join with other groups though out the city. In addition to making sure our legislators understand the cost these cuts will have to our kids, we are just as focused on helping put better to the budget crisis. Email me to find out how to get involved.

I truly believe education is the bedrock of our society and our democracy. That’s why I have devoted so much of myself to public schools. And that's why we must stand up to this cowardly budget.

Other resources:

Other state budget-related items and links


  • WHY THIS YEAR IS DIFFERENT by Jean Ross (the executive director of the California Budget Project (CBP), a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research group based in Sacramento). I heard Ms. Ross speak at a town hall meeting put on by our Assemblyman Alberto Torrico in March. This is one of the best explanation I've seen of the budget mess we're in.
  • The Argus recently posted an interesting editorial entitled California schools can survive budget cuts. I don't completely agree with this editorial. Yes our schools may survive, but at what costs to students that only get one education. Still I am glad that they reference the Legislative Analyst's recommendations. They are very sensible.
  • For more Fremont-specific background refer to my posting from February. It is still mostly correct. I will post more as I learn about it.
  • Next week I am going to the 2008 EdSource Forum on California Education Policy where the subject will include budget and education reform.  This has been an informative conference in the past. I hope all our legislators pay close attention to the recommendations coming from this and other sources.
  • For those of you who like details, this Analysis of Governor's 2008-09 Budget does a good job of explaining how school funding is calculated and what funds the Governor's budget cuts.

1/9/08 School Board Meeting

Here are a few highlights from tonight's school board meeting (agenda and background packet).

Employee Contracts
The board ratified the agreement between Local 1021 SEIU and Fremont Unified School District for 2007-2010. Additionally, a tentative agreement is now in place with the teacher union (FUDTA). Both of these contracts only set salaries for one year, which means next year the district and employee groups will have to negotiate salary again, but given the ominous state budget deficit it may be for the best.

Community Day School
Val Williams (Directory of Pupil Services) presented her teams report on finding a location in Fremont to set up a community day school. She is exploring the Fremont Teen Center.

I am very supportive of this initiative. The challenges are many but I can think of no more important group of kids to invest in. It makes me think back to what former school board member Guy Emanuelle has said, "“Never give up on a student even when a student may have given up on themselves."

Having served on the board, I can say one of the most difficult jobs a school board has is being the final review for all student expulsions. I am thankful that we had the option to send our students to Hayward Community Day School, but that is not a great solution because many of the students never make it there. It's just too far. When you look at Robertson Continuation School that serves another group of at risk students, routinely 30% of their students miss school. And to those who say these kids don't try hard enough, you try being a 14 or 15 year old and take public transportation for as much as 3 hours a day to school from north Fremont.

You have to remember that these are kids that have "given up on themselves." We need to show them we value them, they are part of our community, and that there are other ways to behave and succeed. They benefit and we, society, benefits. And frankly, $155,000 in additional money it would cost is a cheap way to provide hope and help to this group of kids.

Two-Story Modular Construction and Approve Classrooms for Warm Springs Elementary School.
The board approved adding 7 classrooms to Warm Sprints Elementary School. These are the first two story modulars in the district. They are much more expensive than single story classrooms, but given the size of our sites in the north and south of Fremont and the growth at each end of the city I think we'll be seeing more pressure for two story construction. The big question will be how to fund these.

Safe Schools
When I was on the board in 2006, we established district-wide goals including one focused specifically on safe schools.

2007-2008 Safe Schools Strategic Goal:

To ensure that our schools provide a safe environment, conducive to learning, for all students and staff, and that our schools encourage positive behaviors and choices, teach students to respect themselves and others, and provide appropriate discipline and counseling for negative and self- destructive behaviors.



This update presented the many types of programs that the district and community have organized to make schools safer and give students the skills to resolve conflicts. Students need to feel safe at school, because only students who are safe will be able to focus on learning.

I had the great fortune to talk a bit with Jan Steed the assistant Director of Pupil Services. She really helped me understand that safe schools programs are about helping student make better choices. We want to arm our students with the skills to choose words over fists, compassion over ignorance, understanding over name calling.

But how do you measure safe schools? For example, the number of suspensions and expulsions are a bad measure. Suspensions and expulsions are tools to improve school safety, like any other program. The measures need to be the behaviors we're seeing in our students. Maybe we measure the number of fights in schools or continue surveying our students. I don't know what the right measures are, but we need to find the best ones to evaluate our programs and the choices our students our making.

The next board meeting is on January 14, 2008 (next Monday) for a Patterson Ranch study session and to ratify the teachers contract. It's at 6:15 pm at City Council chambers.

Two other important unscheduled but upcoming items:
  1. The updated SchoolWorks demographic study and report is almost ready and will be is coming soon to the board.
  2. Length of residency as an overload requirement is being evaluated by legal council now.

2/13/08 School Board Meeting - BUDGET UPDATE

Here are a few highlights from tonight's school board meeting (agenda and background packet). The board considered several items tonight including the high school course catalog, summer school, and technology-related items, but by far the most important was the 2007-08 and 2008-09 Budget Report.

2007-08 and 2008-09 Budget Report
Assistant Superintendent of Business Bill Stephens in the board agenda item states, "It is the worse budget [the California] education [community] can recall being presented." That summarizes this dire situation well.

There are two aspects.
  1. The governor has declared a financial emergency and called for mid-year budget cuts (including $400 million in statewide education cuts. In the worst case that could mean a $1.3 million cut in Fremont. However, the state analyst believes there are enough categorical funds at the state level to cover these cuts.
  2. Next year's budget -- (2008-09): The state has a deficit of $14.5 billion or more. The cuts proposed to education are enormous -- over $4 billion. Preliminary figures suggest cuts of almost $7 million to Fremont's budget. More details can be found in Mr. Stephens' agenda item which I have attached with my notes from the meeting.

In preparation for this, FUSD has identified $1.6 million dollars that can be saved now mostly from not filling vacant positions. While that is by far the least painful way to save money, it still means there are important services are students aren't getting.

A more detailed list of budget impacts will be presented at the next school board meeting. The Argus also provides a good summary of the steps Fremont and other local school districts are taking to prepare for budget cuts at Inside Bay Area - Fremont schools brace for cuts.

Superintendent Doug Gephart urged everyone to reach out to their legislators now. "Right now it is quiet on this topic in Sacarmento... We can not wait until May. We have to assume the worst case scenario now and get the word out to our legislators." I agree. It is likely that the legislature won't cut education as severely as the governor proposes but it will be a difficult fight in Sacramento. Without a doubt education will be impacted like many programs, but the more we can educate our legislators the better decisions they can make. Instead of a blunt across the board cut in budgets they can be more targeted.

Are these real cuts?
Many parts of the state budget grow each your by a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), which is a figure that accounts for the increase in costs (e.g. rising health insurance, employee salaries, rising energy costs, etc.). So while we call these cuts many are really just a slowing of how much the budget will grow over last year. But the impact of this is still there. If revenues don't keep up with the increase in costs, then valuable programs and services get cut.

However, the governor's education proposal is more than just a slowing; it is a real cut. From the California School Board Association: "Since the Proposition 98 guarantee will grow by less than $4 billion next year, there will be an actual year to year reduction of $865 million."

On the personal side...

Unfortunately, I have a lot of experience dealing with tough school budgets. This is the third time I've seen severe cuts in Fremont education.
  • 1991-92 - As a student board member I had to accept the elimination of counselors among other serious cuts. Some of these cuts have never been restored.
  • 2002-03 and 2003-04 - As a member of the Financial Advisory Committee I helped the district and board evaluate over $7 million in cuts. Much of this was never returned to our district when the CTA and governor settled on a deal that provided that to low performing schools. (I have no problem supporting low performing students and feel the money should have gone to the students not the schools. Our low performing students are left out of this source of funding.)
  • 2007-08 and 2008-09 - We don't know how bad it will be this time, but the district is right to prepare as best as we can. I will be doing everything I can to help our district this time too.

So where's the hope?
As grim as this seems, I know we will find a solution. If we can confront the brutal facts without losing sight of the students and staying positive I believe we will survive this and even thrive. This is one of the key tricks to building a great organization.

The excellent book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't which was recommended to me by Trustee Lara York talks about this as the Stockdale Paradox.

The Stockdale Paradox:

Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.
AND at the same timeConfront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

This applies just as much to school districts as it does corporations.

Other places to find budget information

1/14/08 School Board Meeting

Here are a few highlights from tonight's school board meeting (agenda and background packet).

Board Discussion on the Proposed Patterson Ranch Development
The school board discussed a number of aspects of the development including the following aspects.

Size: How many students? From the board packet:

The projected number of elementary students generated from the 800 unit Patterson Ranch development is estimated at 171. The projected number of elementary students generated from the 276 unit Villa d’Este development is estimated to be 94. Elementary K-6: District-wide average from all homes is .339 per home X 1,076 homes = 365 [elementary] students American High School total enrollment is 2,060 with an anticipated increase in student enrollment ranging between 89 students and 102 students... Based upon these calculations, the new development will generate between 48 and 54 students [at Thornton Junior High School].


That's 365 elementary students and around 150 secondary students.

Staff has recommended an elementary school with enough core facilities (bathroom, multi-purpose room, etc.) for 840 students to accommodate growth and enough classrooms for 600 students as follows:

School Cost for 600 Students: Adding underground infrastructure for future expansion of 11 more classrooms for a potential build out to 840 students would add $3.85 million dollars to the project. For planning purposes $26.85 million would be a 2007 cost estimate.


Another benefit is that it provides potential space for Forest Park and other overcrowded American attendance area elementary schools. An interesting and related comment from trustee Lara York was that the previous developments in that area were Patterson family land and have generated many more students than planned for. It can be said this is just the next phase in the development of that whole area. Staff is going to research this.

Location: All elementary kids would have to cross Ardenwood Blvd. This is a non-starter for safety and traffic reasons. In the current proposal they have placed the church closer to the homes than the school! That makes no sense to me.

Costs: In summary, the board wants the developer to cover all the costs. "It's important that all the costs and fees ... are born by the developer," said trustee Larry Sweeny. Cost considerations include:
  • The board was very strong in saying the school must be ready before they sell the homes, and that this be committed to in the development application. If not, then the houses will be assigned to another elementary school with capacity which could be quite a distance from the homes.
  • Inflation factors need to be built into the building costs.
  • The developer needs cover any additional costs that accrue due to any delays.
  • The district would very much like to own the land.
  • The developer should also provide funding to mitigate the impacts on secondary schools impacts.

Process: Need the school and housing application to go forward at the same time and that they be linked. The housing application can not go forward without having agreement on the school development. Superintendent Doug Gephart summarized it well. "We need to be a prime player. Our interests need to be considered at the same time as the others. This should be done simultaneously." I agree. Schools are not a secondary concern. They are the primary concern of many if not most of those home buyers.

Unfortunately, there has been little dialog between the developer and district at this point. The developer wanted to do their own independent assessment of the costs of the school. After that they do want to work with the School Board.

This is the second of two major proposed developments (the other being the A's ballpark village) in Fremont that the board has discussed in the last 6 months. This is a great proactive step to put the district's needs in front of the developers. Unfortunately, the district has little leverage in negotiations with developers.

Fortunately these two development are big enough to really call for a new elementary school to be built, and it is in the developers best interest to make sure a school is built. However, I am not sure developers may truly appreciate the needs. The pessimist will say they are looking to minimize costs, which I am sure is a consideration. But it's really impossible for them to truly understand the schools' needs. That's the job of the school district. But it's critical that the city and developers seek to understand this need.

Teachers and other contracts
FUDTA (the teacher's union) and the school board have ratified a one year teachers contract agreement. The contract includes a 4.55% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for this year (2007-08) only. This contract only set salaries for one year, which means next year the district and employee groups will have to negotiate salary again, but given the ominous state budget deficit it may be for the best.

Additionally, the assistant superintendents and superintendent have been given a 4% cost of living adjustment. The district has also extended the 3 assistant superintendent contracts to all be July 1 2008 to June 2011.

All COLAs are retroactive to July 2007.

1/23/08 School Board Meeting

Here are a few highlights from tonight's school board meeting (agenda and background packet).
  • Progress Report on Preparation for Closed Campus - I support the goal of closing our high school closed campuses, but it's clear from this report that it's more expensive than the district can afford at this point.
  • Secondary Passing Times - This was in response to a request from a parent who was concerned there was not enough time for restroom use and breaks during the day for our secondary students. While I don't disagree it is an important issue, I believe this is not a great use of board time. This is better left to the sites and staff to solve with students and parents. The board should focus on higher level policy issues with its precious time.
And just such an important issue was on the agenda.

Science Course Sequence Options
The science curriculum in our 5 high schools are similar, but not the same. One of the key differences is that American high school has in recent years has made Biology a 9th grade class, while in other high schools Biology is normally a 10th grade course and integrated or earth science is a 9th grade course. (I am oversimplifying this a little, so please review to the board item for more details.)

This is an important item from both a philosophical and policy level. The board and district have to balance several difficult concerns.
  • Equity - Is it equitable that one high school offers a 9th grade Biology and others do not? Yes and no. We need to provide the best mix of classes we can for each high school student population, but we also need to not leave any students out.
  • Student choice - This is closely related to equity. We want to provide students with as many choices as they can and as many ways as possible to meet the standards we've set for them.
  • Teacher freedom - Teachers should have the freedom to teach the best way they can - to apply their expertise. We should set clear goals and desired outcomes and let teachers figure out the best way to get there with their students.
  • Staffing - Credentialed science teachers are difficult to find. Additionally starting in 2006 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires all teachers to be Highly Qualified (credentialed) in the subject they teach.

The district science curriculum committee recommended standardizing on Integrated science courses as the 9th grade class. I understand why they came to this pragmatic solution. However the board did not go with that exact recommendation. They voted to:
  • Offer at 9th grade 3 options: Integrated science, Biology, and Honors Biology,
  • Change the 8th grade honors science class to Integrated science, and
  • Ensure that 9th graders in Integrated science can have the option to apply for Honors Biology in 10th grade.

I agree with the thinking that the board went through to come to this decision. I think Peggy Herndon summed it up best in saying, "I think we need to offer our students more not less." Student choice and the equity of that choice are the prime concerns. Only slightly behind that in my mind is academic freedom. We must provide as much freedom as possible to allow our teachers to reach our goals using a variety of methods, and we must measure the results of these offerings. Are they effective? Would there be better options? Setting and measuring goals is crucial here. Freedom to do your job how you see fit only works when there is accountability.

So as a policy decision, the board, in my opinion, made the right call. Restricting equity, choice, or freedom because you can not find the teachers would be the "easy" way out. There were also concerns about the rigor of the curriculum, having enough lab facilities, and impact to test scores as a result of offering more choice. I believe there are solutions to each of these like the ones we will have to find for staffing. If these challenges prove too difficult we may end up having to go with the science committee's recommendation, but we have to at least try.

I am glad the board set the bar higher, and asked our district, "What more can we do for our students?"

5/28/08 School Board Meeting - Budget Reductions Adopted

Here are a few highlights from tonight's school board meeting (agenda and background packet).

Approve 2008 – 2009 Budget Reductions
Tonight the school board approved almost $9.4 million in budget cuts. These cuts were necessary because proposed cuts in the state budget. The Governor did present a revised budget on May 14th, but it still has over $4 billion in education cuts statewide. See my previous blog post for more background.

There is still a lot of uncertainty as the Legislature and Governor will likely not have a final state budget anytime soon. The final state budget is likely to have less cuts, but it could even have more cuts. The district has chosen to adopt the necessary cuts, but to defer as many cuts as possible until we have a final state budget.

This is the hardest thing a board has to do. These are deep cuts including cuts in counselors, staff development, technology, secondary transportation, updated elementary text books, and increased class size in jr. high schools and high schools.

In my mind there are two priorities you balance as you decide on these cuts.
  1. Keeping the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible and minimize the impact on our students.
  2. Avoid laying off personnel. It's important to preserve valuable people and the experience and programs they bring to our students. These are much harder to rebuild than cuts to text books or staff development (although even these programs are costly to rebuild). The heart of the district (like most corporations) are it's people. Saving jobs sends a signal that the board and district values them and their contribution.

As hard as these cuts are they are a necessary step to keep the district solvent, I feel they have largely accomplished a balanced approach to these two priorities.

One thing the Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) recommended was for the board to consider dipping into the 1% board reserve, which the board did not agree with. Initially I agreed with FAC, but given the uncertainties in the state budget over the next few years we may need this reserve not for next year but the following year. I think even more important than that is having the reserve to cover any cuts that do not materialize. The complexity of cutting such large amounts from the district budget leads to a lot of uncertainty. Many of the cuts are soft costs and as they are implemented we may not realize the savings we thought. I speak from experience here as this is what happened during the 1992 cuts when I was on the board as a student and also in 2003 cuts.

The board was also in general agreement that all of these priorities would be reviewed and potentially re-prioritized if more money is available.

Health & Sex Education Committee Annual Report
The key issue covered in this presentation was does FUSD meet the requirement for a comprehensive sex education. As of 2004 California law requires comprehensive education including all methods of birth control including abstinence and must be medically accurate. Parents can opt their children out of the sexual education program. One of FUSD's current programs (Await and Find) is an abstinence-only program and is not compliant with state law. The board has asked staff and the committee to get the district back in compliance as quickly as possible.

2007 API Base Scores Presentation
This is not really new news. The 2007 API Base API scores represent a recalculation of the 2007 API Growth report from last August. Each year the state adjusts how the scores are calculated when they issue a base score. This new methodology is used in the 2008 Growth API report coming in August. So you can compare the 2007 base with the 2008 growth knowing they were calculated with the same methodology. Similarly you can compare the 2006 base with the 2007 growth report. Comparing, for example, the 2006 base with the 2008 growth is useful from a trending position, but can be misleading depending on how the score calculations have changed.

Some specific observations:
  • 27 of our 38 tested schools are considered high performing schools (API over 800).
  • Oliveria and Irvington have moved up to the 800 API and are considered a high performing school.
  • Grimmer has increased their similar school ranking to a 5. This is primarily due to the increases in STAR test scores at the school, and the hard work students and teachers have put in to get there.
  • Students with disabilities have the lowest API scores (at 605) however the trend shows an increase from year-to-year.
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