School Board

Candidacy Papers filed!

Filing my papers at the court house
I am excited to announce today that I have filed my declaration of candidacy for the Fremont Unified School District Board of Education.

This is an exciting moment in the campaign. I want to thank everyone who has supported me. We’re doing very well, but we have a long ways to go. November 4th is not that far away, and I need everyone to continue pushing hard to get the word out about my vision for our schools.

Read my complete press release here.

6/11/08 School Board Meeting

Here are a few highlights from last week’s school board meeting (agenda and background packet).

This meeting was a meeting of recognition and celebration. From elementary spelling bee winners to teachers and administrators of the year. But two in particular were special to me.

Recognition of retiring Superintendent Doug Gephart
On a personal note, I've been a new board member twice now -- once in 1991 as a student board member and once as an appointee in 2006. Each time it was the superintendent that helped me succeed.

In 1991, Superintendent Raphael Belluomini served as a mentor and a friend to me. He helped me through difficult times including budget cuts as bad as what we face next year. But I will never forget two pieces of advice he gave me.
  1. Budget your time.
  2. Don't worry.

Superintendent Doug Gephart has also been an advisor and a friend to me. I really got to know Doug Gephart while I served on the board in 2006. I echo all of the board's remarks. He is well respected by staff and community and a man of integrity. I admire how he built up a district team that has achieved and will achieve great things for our district. When I was on the board in 2006, I pushed hard for the board to adopt district wide goals, but Doug was the catalyst that really rallied the district around these goals and made them happen. We worked together as a team.

Doug, you will certainly be missed at FUSD. Thank you for all you've done for Fremont.

Recognition of Student Board Member Eric Chen and SURF Board E
As a former student board member, I have tremendous respect for the contribution that Eric Chen and the SURF Board E made to the board and the district. For those not familiar, the Students United for Representation to the Fremont Board of Education (SURF Board E) is a board of students (2 from each high school) that come together to jointly represent all 30,000 Fremont students.

It is important to always have them there at the board meeting reminding us all why we're here -- for our students. More than that they bring a fresh perspective to issues from the people we are serving. We should never underestimate what their contribution is.

Strategic Goals Year in Review
This is the annual update from staff regarding the district's progress on the board's strategic goals adopted in 2006. There has been tremendous progress this year.

From the board agenda:

Over the course of the past two years, the Board of Trustees defined their overall organizational priorities for the Fremont Unified School District through the establishment of Strategic Goals. ...

Strategic Goals:

  • Organizational Development

  • Budget (Strategic Planning)

  • Student Achievement

  • Student Housing

  • Communications and Customer Service

  • Employee/Employer Relations and Contract Negotiations

  • Safe Schools

  • Technology

The Strategic Goals provide long-term direction for the school district and do not fluctuate from year- to-year based upon trendy ideas.


I helped put these goals in place while on the board in 2006. It is exciting to see the progress made. It is also sad to see the things that are working (Springboard staff development training to name one), but will likely be cut next year due to our state budget

While there have been huge leaps forward for the district, there are definitely improvements I want to see. I would like us to measure how we're doing. Each goal should have 2 or 3 key measures we use to show that all our work is having results we expect. Picking this measures won't be easy, but it is crucial to understanding our real progress. As management guru Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed.”

Sex Education Compliance
The board also address compliance issues with the district's junior high school curriculum.The Argus summarized this discussion best.

In response to findings that its 7-year-old junior high school sex education curriculum is an abstinence-only program that violates state law, the Fremont school board this week instructed the district's health and sex education advisory committee to recommend a new, comprehensive curriculum by January. The new curriculum should provide unbiased and medically accurate information about sex, contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as a discussion about abstinence, the board decided.


Read the article here for more details.
http://www.insidebayarea.com/argus/localnews/ci_9570148

Technology Year in Review
The district CTO, Dr. David Hotchkiss, entitled his update "Raising the bar" in reference to the fact that the technology department has made huge strides in improving services. Two examples:
  • Network bandwidth has grown tremendously at school sites - from 7 Mbps to 50 Mbps. Projecting next year it will start at 60 Mbps and grow to 100 Mbps. Reliability is up from 95% to 99.414%. This is huge as one of the major complaints has been around slow and not working Internet. They now have real-time network monitoring.
  • Customer service has improved too. There is much better tracking of work order and service calls. The new service desk has helped solve 30% of service calls remotely without going out to the site. Only missed 15 calls out of over 5000 calls.

Especially touching were to two special technology projects:
  • Establishing a video conference link between Niles classroom 2 and Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital for Luna Martell, age 6, Niles first grader in Mrs. Jackson’s class. She has Stage 4 liver cancer. Through a video phone link she and her classmates enjoyed their Valentine’s Day 2008 party. And she used it again to tell class she had a liver donor!
  • A video conference link was also established for Matthew McCullough, age 11 between Mrs. Chudler’s classroom at Avery Middle School and Matt’s grandmother’s home in Fremont. Matt has a malignant brain tumor. The computer link allows him to attend class and socializes with classmates & relatives.

Doug shared this with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. They want to talk to David to find out how they can get more directly engaged in supporting and spreading this program. This is just the beginning of a huge experience for kids.

Next year: Pressing on. This year the focus was on the Wide Area Network (WAN). Next year focus on the Local Area Networks (LAN's) at school campuses.

Speeches and Writings added

I have added a new section to the web site with some of my speeches and writings from my time on the school board. You will learn a lot about my views on education and the role of a school board member in these writings.

9/26/07 School Board Meeting

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

STAR/API/AYP testing report

This was a fascinating presentation. API scores in Fremont have flattened this year. District wide API was 839 in 2006 and is 834 in 2007. The slight decline is probably not statistically significant. From 2002 to 2006, Fremont has gone from 797 to 839. These have been huge jumps. Board President Nina Moore helped explain that many districts have seen these big growth's in scores as they have updated their curriculum to cover the then new California state standards. After the initial growth, many districts see flat growth which may be what Fremont is seeing now. Essentially, teachers and students are using better tools and instruction has been more effective.

How do we continue to improve?

Superintendent of Instruction Milt Werner looked at this. In particular he went to schools that are having success in working with lower performing students. He asked them how are they being so successful. They mentioned there aggressive academic interventions, but more interesting was that all of the schools also highlighted the "culture and climate" work they are doing at their schools. This includes things like celebrating diversity, providing students with engaging activities, and inviting parents of low performing students. Put another way when the students are engaged they do better and schools and communities that work to engage their students succeed.

I will save a discussion for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for another blog post, but suffice to say the bar for student achievement that the Federal government has set will be jumping aggressively every year from now until 2014 and even great district's like ours will not be able to meet it. The mandates are unrealistic and woefully underfunded.

Bottom line: When you look at all California schools, Fremont schools continue to be among the best, and we should all be proud of the work our students, teachers, and parents have done. We have fantastic schools. But we can't stop there, and I am thrilled to see how hard staff is working to find ways to continue to improve our schools.

Sabercat Development Attendance Area Assignment
On the heels of deciding to allow non-contiguous school boundaries on 9/11, the board decided that students generated from the proposed Sabercat development go to Irvington schools even though it is currently in the Mission attendance area. Mission schools are overflowing and just don't have physical space for any more students. In the past 6 years there have been around 300 units added in the Mission area. Sabercat would add 158 more generating an estimated 65 students. This seems to be one of the few options the board has to manage the overcrowding from Mission area developments.

Other Notes
  • Community meetings on facilities and overcrowding are being scheduled.
  • We've seen declining enrollment this year, which can have serious budget impacts. In their Oct 10 meeting this will be discussed more.

Mike McMahon's web site

Board member Mike McMahon has an excellent web site that contains a host of information for those interested in school issues and especially how school boards and districts work. It is focused on Alameda Unified School District where he currently sits on the board, but is useful for all interested in school issues.

Click here: Mike McMahon AUSD

I first met Mike at the Alameda County School Board's Association. This group meets once a month to discuss issues that effect all boards and districts. It is an incredibly useful resource for school board members.

9/11/07 School Board Meeting

I will do my best to share my observations and thoughts about the school board meetings I attend in the next year on this blog. Starting tonight here are a few highlights from tonight's school board meeting (agenda).

  • Springboard Partnership Agreement -- This is an exciting program. It is a coordinated district wide consulting partnership. Together with FUSD they developed a "plan that includes coaching and professional development to assist site administrators and teachers in raising student achievement and closing achievement gaps." I think staff development is so important and think this is a worthwhile investment. It is important that the right metrics in place to measure it's success before we make this an ongoing expense, but this first year collaboration is a great proactive step.
  • Discuss Master Facility Plan Goal on Contiguous Boundaries -- The board decided to change the policy to allow non-contiguous boundaries. This means that in impacted areas when a new development comes in the district will have the option to assign just the houses in that development to a school that is different from the schools the surrounding neighborhood is going to. This is a good move that gives the district more flexibility especially given how tight space is in many of our schools.
  • Sale of Site Funds -- This refers to the fund containing all the one-time funds from the sale of sites over the last 5-10 years. Among other things this fund has been used for the MVROP building, leased classrooms, and permanent classrooms.
  • MVROP -- Great news! We have completed the new MVROP facility on budget, and the land we were selling to pay for it has been sold. In this real estate market we are very fortunate no problems happened with this deal. I am president of the district's financing corporation and signed this $18 million bridge loan that allowed us to build the new MVROP building. On top of this the district has applied for about $5 million in matching state funding. A great move to stretch our dollars.
  • Leased classrooms -- The district routinely leases modular classrooms to handle temporary fluctuations in student populations at various schools. Paying for these ongoing costs out of a one-time fund is not a great long term solution, but is the best option at the moment.
  • Permanent classrooms -- On the flip side the district is also using this money to replace the temporary classrooms with permanent construction.
  • Mission San Jose Elementary project -- With this nearly $2 million project the site will get 2 new classrooms, an updated library, an updated computer lab, and a staff room. It's hard to spend this much of the sale of site funds on one school, but this school is particularly small and overloaded, which contributes to the high cost of this project.

The board has also added some of the Mission area developments to the 9/26 board agenda to discuss which attendance area they will be in.

The school board and city council have a joint meeting on Oct 1. The city and school staff's are working on a draft white paper to share at the joint meeting.

My History with Fremont Schools

I have been involved with Fremont school issues since 1992 and was a student in Fremont schools since 1979.  Here are some of my accomplishments.
  • Advisory Commission on Instructional Equity (2007 to present)
  • Board of Education Trustee (2006)
  • Financial Advisory Committee (2003 – 2006) – Served as Chairperson in 2005.  Advised the district on $9 million in budget cuts in 2003.  I worked to develop the district’s User Friendly Budget.
  • FUSD Educational Facilities Financing Corporation (2004 – present) – As president of the board of directors, I signed the $18 million loan required to build the new MVROP facility at Kennedy High School.  The loan is to be repaid from the sale of the Liaola site.
  • Superintendent’s Technology Advisory Group (2005 – present) – A joint effort by staff and the community to establish a FUSD technology vision and technology advisory committee.
  • School Services State Budget Workshop (May 2005) – As FAC chair I was invited to attend the May Revise workshop.
  • Technology Task Force (2003-2004) – Member of this superintendent-created 6-month task force
  • Citizen’s Facilities Committee (1998-99)
  • Graduate of Fremont schools – Washington High School, 1992
  • FUSD Student Board Member (1991-1992) – Served on the board during the 1991 Measure A bond and the approximately $5 million in budget cuts.

The Purpose of School Boards

As the only elected officials that represent children, the school board’s fundamental role is keeping the district focused on the learning and achievement of all students. The board accomplishes this by:
  • Setting the strategic direction of the district for staff and the community
  • Listening to every view in the community to inform their deliberations
  • Evaluating and adopting policies consistent with the district vision
  • Equitably allocating district resources based on the district’s vision and goals, and monitoring the district’s fiscal health
  • Operating openly and honestly
  • Performing regular and timely evaluations of the superintendent’s and the district’s effectiveness
  • Representing and protecting the district’s interests at the local, state, and federal levels

[I originally posted this on Friday, June 16, 2006 on a previous web site.]

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.
© 2007-2016 Friends of Bryan Gebhardt • FPPC # 1299394 Contact Me