Saturday, January 29, 2011

Children who are slightly too young for kindergarten will get an extra year of public schooling

California Ups Age for Starting Kindergarten
October 1, 2010
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego

It's official: Soon California will only open the gates to kindergarten for kids who have turned five years old by Sept. 1, moving up current cutoff date from early December.

The new law, signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger yesterday, is meant to ensure that children enter kindergarten more prepared. The idea behind the law is that older kindergarteners will be more mature and ready to handle school, giving them a better start for their whole school careers.

Children who are slightly too young for kindergarten will get an extra year of public schooling -- a new grade called transitional kindergarten -- and then go to kindergarten. The change will be gradual: The kindergarten cutoff date will move to November in 2012, October in 2013, and finish up at September in 2014.

Want to learn more? Read our article about the worries over kindergarten readiness that led to this bill or get more of the background from blogger John Fensterwald. You can also check out this interesting letter from reader Jamie Ginsberg about why she believes the switch could actually exacerbate inequalities in kindergarten.

Mother admits killing teens for being 'mouthy,' police say

Mother admits killing teens for being 'mouthy,' police say
By the CNN Wire Staff
January 29, 2011

A mother in Tampa, Florida has admitted in detail to killing her two teen-aged children, police said.

Police checking on the family at the request of a relative found Julie K. Schenecker, 50, on the back porch of her home Friday morning, dressed in blood-covered clothing, according to a police statement.

They found her son, Beau Powers Schenecker, 13, dead in the family's SUV, which had been parked in the garage, the statement said. Calyx Powers Schenecker, 16, was in an upstairs bedroom, also dead.

"She did tell us that they talked back, that they were mouthy," Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy told CNN affiliate WTSP. "But I don't think that will ever serve as an explanation to the rest of us of how you could take a child's life."

The woman shot her son as she drove him to soccer practice and returned home to shoot her daughter as she studied on her computer, CNN affiliate WFTS reported, citing investigators.

Police were called to the house after Schenecker's mother called to express concern about her daughter's welfare, saying she was depressed, the police statement said.

Schenecker was initially booked into jail, but was transferred to Tampa General Hospital for treatment of an existing medical condition, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, according to WTSP.

Hundreds of people attended a candlelight vigil on Friday night in memory of the siblings, according to WTSP.

"It's just sad that his mom did this to him and his sister because he didn't deserve this," one of the mourners, Hailey Johnson, told WTSP. "He was the sweetest kid ever."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Efforts to Stop the Practice of Recruiting for Commission in Private Universities

See all posts on for-profit education.
See all posts on for-profit college recruiting.

Efforts to Stop the Practice of Recruiting for Commission in Private Universities

This guest post is contributed by Mark Davies, he writes on the topic of Masters Degree Online. He welcomes your comments at his email id:

Education has become more of a commodity these days than the essential right that it should be; what with exorbitantly high tuition fees and the rising overall cost of education, students end up paying through their nose for the rest of their lives if they sign on for a college degree. What’s worse in recent times is that private, for-profit colleges have taken to hiring people to recruit students for their courses; it’s a commission-based business which leads to a payment once a student enrolls based on their recommendations and marketing.

This alarming trend is surprising in one way because we’ve seen how hard it is to get admission into a decent college. So the news that private colleges are looking to reel in students by hiring commissioned agents to sweet-talk them raises red flags for more reasons than one. For one, it opens up the possibility of corruption in the world of education where degrees are sold to the highest bidder and where standards are not maintained; and for another, it allows colleges to fleece students and charge them much more than normal by preying on their desperation to earn a degree.

In August 2010, the Government Accountability Office reported that several for-profit institutions adopted deceptive recruiting practices which included providing misleading information about costs and potential future earnings and urging students to provide falsified information on financial aid applications. The revelations were part of an undercover investigation into the recruiting practices of colleges by investigators posing as prospective students. It was found that most institutions engage in deceptive practices and some even in downright fraud.
Students sign up thinking they’re investing in an education for their future; instead, they’re forced to pay much more than normal, they’re conned into providing false information on their applications for financial assistance, they’re given false promises of jobs with high salaries when they graduate, and they’re coerced into taking out student loans even though they have money saved up. Recruiters even go so far as to tell the students that “no one repays educational loans and that your lender will not come after you if you fail to pay up.”

Most recently, the parent company of the University of Phoenix paid up nearly $80 million to settle charges with the US Department of Education that it had violated a federal ban to reimburse recruiters based on the number of students they recruited. Also, in 2007, Corinthian Schools settled for $6.5 million with the California Attorney General’s office for using false information on job salary and placement to lure students to sign up with them.

According to the US Public Interest Research Group and the US Student Association, there is enough evidence to prove that the career education sector relies on high pressure sales tactics to recruit students; what’s worse is that these recruiters also coerce these students with false information to take out loans to pay for programs that offer them little by way of return and only serve to saddle them with lifelong debt. This group is pushing for regulations that would protect students from these unscrupulous practices.

Accordingly, new program integrity rules have been introduced to maintain the quality of federal financial aid programs and protect students enrolled in vocational courses. The US Department of Education is hoping to curb these deceptive practices by looking into and rectifying loopholes in regulations that allow schools to pay recruiters based on the number of students they recruit and the amount the students have borrowed.

Even though federal law prohibits schools from offering financial incentives or commissions to recruiters, educational institutions still persist with this practice; and unless strict measures are taken to curb these practices, students from minorities and low income families will be the ones who bear the brunt of them and be saddled with debt for a lifetime just because they aspired to gain an education.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ohio Mom Jailed for Lying About Kids' School Residency

Is this judge admitting that many poor people are forbidden by law from obtaining a good education for their kids?

I have had personal experience of a school district (Chula Vista Elementary) tampering with records, but still it doesn't surprise me that school attorneys would try to put a parent in jail for doing the same thing that some school officials have done. I've come to accept the moral selectivity of school attorneys. The treatment of parents by school attorneys can be shockingly malicious, but those same attorneys work hard to protect school personnel from responsibility for violations of the law.

Ohio Mom Jailed for Lying About Kids' School Residency
Jan 26, 2011
Lisa Flam
AOL News

How far would you go to get your children into a better public school? The best intentions of one Ohio woman landed her in jail.

In a highly unusual case, Kelley Williams-Bolar, a single mother who lived in Akron public housing, was convicted of lying about her residency in order to send her two daughters to a highly ranked school. Her sentence, which inflamed emotions in the community, was 10 days in jail, according to reports, and is due to end this week.

"It's overwhelming. I'm exhausted," she told ABC News. "I did this for them, so there it is. I did this for them."

Four years ago, Williams-Bolar, 40, sent her girls, now 12 and 16, to the Copley-Fairlawn school district that was outside her Akron district of residence, reports said. Her father lives in the Copley-Fairlawn district, and she said she lived with him part-time after her home was burglarized and she wanted her children safe.

"When my home got broken into, I felt it was my duty to do something else," Williams-Bolar said, according to ABC.

But the district accused the aspiring teacher of lying about her address, falsifying records and having her father file false court papers to circumvent the rules, ABC said. The school asked her to repay $30,000 in tuition, saying her daughters were getting a quality education without paying taxes to contribute to the cost. She refused and was indicted.

A jury convicted her Jan. 15 of two counts of tampering with records, and she was sentenced three days later, the Akron Beacon Journal reported. She was ordered to begin the sentence immediately and was taken from the courtroom sobbing loudly, the newspaper said.

Before she was sentenced, she told the judge "there was no intention at all" to deceive the school, the Beacon Journal reported, and she pleaded to be spared jail time.

Her father, Edward Williams, 64, went on trial with his daughter, but the jury deadlocked on the charge of grand theft, the paper said.

In a jailhouse interview with the paper last week, Williams-Bolar said she'd do it again if she had to.

"If I had the opportunity, if I had to do it all over again, would I have done it?" she said. After pausing, she answered: "I would have done it again. But I would have been more detailed. ... I think they wanted to make an example of me."

Presiding Judge Patricia Cosgrove seemed to agree.

"I felt that some punishment or deterrent was needed for other individuals who might think to defraud the various school districts," she said, according to ABC.

The school district spent about $6,000 to bring Williams-Bolar to trial, a sum that included hiring a private investigator to follow her and her children, Newschannel5 reported.

Copley-Fairlawn Superintendent Brian Poe said the district has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars because of children illegally enrolled in its schools. The cases are usually resolved by parents proving they live in the district, taking their kids out of the schools or paying tuition of about $800 a month, the station reported.

Williams-Bolar's case was the first residency challenge to reach a criminal courtroom, but Poe said it was to send a message. "If you're paying taxes on a home here ... those dollars need to stay home with our students," Poe said, according to the station.

The sentence puts Williams-Bolar's teaching career at risk. She is close to graduating with an education degree from the University of Akron and works as a special needs teaching assistant at a high school, the Beacon Journal reported.

"I'm not going to give up on my education," said Williams-Bolar, who plans to appeal the conviction.

But the judge said as of now, she can't become a teacher.

"Because of the felony conviction, you will not be allowed to get your teaching degree under Ohio law as it stands today," the judge said. "The court's taking into consideration that is also a punishment that you will have to serve."...

'A Rosa Parks moment for education'
By Kevin Huffman
Washington Post
January 31, 2011

Last week, 40-year-old Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar was released after serving nine days in jail on a felony conviction for tampering with records. Williams-Bolar's offense? Lying about her address so her two daughters, zoned to the lousy Akron city schools, could attend better schools in the neighboring Copley-Fairlawn district.

Williams-Bolar has become a cause célèbre in a case that crosses traditional ideological bounds. African American activists are outraged, asking: Would a white mother face the same punishment for trying to get her kids a better education? (Answer: No.)

Meanwhile, conservatives view the case as evidence of the need for broader school choice. What does it say when parents' options are so limited that they commit felonies to avoid terrible schools? Commentator Kyle Olson and others across the political spectrum have called this "a Rosa Parks moment for education."

For me, the case struck an additional nerve. As a young teacher nearly two decades ago, I taught bilingual first grade in Houston. Some of my students were in this country illegally; by my third year, a number of them also lived outside the school and district zone. Given their substandard neighborhood options, some parents drove 30 minutes or more each way just so their kids could be in my class. I was supportive of, and flattered by, their efforts. These were good parents, doing the best they could for their families.

In this country, if you are middle or upper class, you have school choice. You can, and probably do, choose your home based on the quality of local schools. Or you can opt out of the system by scraping together the funds for a parochial school.

But if you are poor, you're out of luck, subject to the generally anti-choice bureaucracy. Hoping to win the lottery into an open enrollment "choice" school in your district? Good luck. How about a high-performing charter school? Sure - if your state doesn't limit their numbers and funding like most states do. And vouchers? Hiss! You just touched a political third rail.

Williams-Bolar lived in subsidized housing and was trapped in a failed system. In a Kafkaesque twist, she was taking college-level courses to become a teacher herself - a dream she now will never realize as a convicted felon. It's America's version of the hungry man stealing bread to feed his family, only to have his hand cut off as punishment...

Sarah Palin's weird 'Sputnik' story

Sarah Palin's weird 'Sputnik' story
By Stephen Stromberg
Washington Post

On Wednesday night, Sarah Palin attacked the "Sputnik moment" line from President Obama's second State of the Union address.

That was another one of those WTF moments, when he so often repeated this Sputnik moment that he would aspire Americans to celebrate. And he needs to remember that what happened back then with the former communist USSR and their victory in that race to space, yes, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.


In her rant, Palin wildly misconstrued the president's argument, which was not about emulating the Soviets in the 1950s but instead about the Americans who responded to early Soviet success in space exploration by educating themselves and out-innovating the Soviets. Did she listen to the speech? Alexandra Petri has more on this here.

But let's pretend that wasn't Obama's point. The Soviets didn't have an empire-draining debt problem until some 30 years after Sputnik passed over America. And when they did, it was in large part a result of massive overinvestment in heavy industry, which supported Soviet military pretensions. None of this is to argue that the Soviet economy is anything we should emulate. But let's at least get the basic facts right when we criticize it.

It's a fair guess that Palin thought she was borrowing her "insight" from the mythology of Ronald Reagan, who massively increased America's spending to spur the sort of competitive expenditure that contributed to the ballooning of Soviet debt in the 1980s. According to many conservatives, this was a -- if not the -- crucial factor that catalyzed the Soviet collapse.

But in claiming that the Soviets incurred their consequential debts long before Reagan was president, Palin ends up arguing that the Gipper wasn't nearly that responsible for the USSR spending itself to death...

In U.S. courts, Facebook posts become less private

In U.S. courts, Facebook posts become less private
By Brian Grow
Jan 27, 2011

It's the latest litigation tactic in the online age: U.S. lawyers are trying to mine the private zones of Facebook and other social-media sites for photos, comments, status updates and other tidbits that might contradict what their opponents are saying in court. And increasingly, judges in civil cases are granting access to online caches that had formerly been considered off-limits.

Defense lawyers in personal-injury cases, in particular, are finding social networks to be a rich source of potentially exculpatory evidence. In one recent case, a New York woman who claimed to be bedridden after falling off a defective chair showed up in family Facebook photos smiling happily in front of her house...

Getting American students to find the goal posts of success

Getting American students to find the goal posts of success
By George F. Will
Washington Post
January 27, 2011

"Since 1995 the average mathematics score for fourth-graders jumped 11 points. At this rate we catch up with Singapore in a little over 80 years . . . assuming they don't improve."

- Norman R. Augustine, retired CEO of Lockheed Martin

What America needs, says one American parent, is more parents who resemble South Korean parents. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, 46, a father of a third-grader and a first-grader, recalls the answer Barack Obama got when he asked South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, "What is the biggest education challenge you have?" Lee answered: "Parents are too demanding." They want their children to start learning English in first rather than second grade. Only 25 percent of U.S. elementary schools offer any foreign-language instruction.

Too many American parents, Duncan says, have "cognitive dissonance" concerning primary and secondary schools: They think their children's schools are fine, and that schools that are not fine are irredeemable. This, Duncan says, is a recipe for "stasis" and "insidious paralysis." He attempts to impart motion by puncturing complacency and picturing the payoff from excellence.

He notes that 75 percent of young Americans would be unable to enlist in the military for reasons physical (usually obesity), moral (criminal records) or academic (no high school diploma). A quarter of all ninth-graders will not graduate in four years. Among the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations, only four (Mexico, Spain, Turkey and New Zealand) have dropout rates higher than America's, whose 15-year-olds ranked 23rd in math and 25th in science in 2006. Canadians that age were more than a school year ahead of their American counterparts; Koreans and Finns were up to two years ahead. Within America, the achievement gaps separating white students from blacks and Hispanics portend (according to a McKinsey & Co. study) "the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession."

Another study suggests that a modest improvement (from a current average of about 500 to 525) over 20 years in an international student assessment of 15-year-olds in the OECD nations - improvement in reading, math and science literacy - would mean a $115 trillion increase in these nations' aggregate GDP. Of that, $41 trillion would accrue to America. McKinsey calculated that if American students matched those in Finland, America's economy would have been 9 to 16 percent larger in 2008 - between $1.3 trillion and $2.3 trillion.

For now? "We go where the smart people are," says Howard High of Intel Corp. "Now our business operations are two-thirds in the United States and one-third overseas. But that ratio will flip over [in] the next 10 years." Annual federal funding of research in mathematics, engineering and the physical sciences is equal to the increase in America's health-care costs every nine weeks. A National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report says that in 2000, more foreign students than American students were studying engineering and the physical sciences in U.S. graduate schools.

Familiar recipes for improvement are dubious. "Many high-performing education systems, especially in Asia," Duncan says, "have substantially larger classes than the United States." In South Korea, secondary-school classes average about 36 students; in Japan, 33; in America, 25.

Duncan knows that Americans are uneasy about any national education standards that might emanate from a Washington they distrust, but he insists that it is irrational to have 50 different goal posts. Perhaps, but 50 different approaches might yield a few that are truly superior. Unfortunately, the response to that is this:

Allowing states to define academic proficiencies, while federal policy gives financial rewards for achieving those proficiencies, produces perverse incentives. The NAS report says that in New York, the percentage of eighth-graders reaching the state's proficiency standard increased dramatically, from 59 percent to 80 percent, between 2007 and 2009. Yet the eighth-graders' scores on a national math test "remained virtually unchanged."

Conclusion? The state defined proficiency down. Solution? Penalize that. Regarding grades K through 12, federal education policy - if such there must be - should permit, indeed encourage, 50 laboratories of educational experimentation. Federal policy should be confined to providing financial rewards contingent on improvements confirmed by national metrics - Duncan's single goal post.

The Education Department sits at the foot of Capitol Hill, where many new legislators consider "federal education policy" a constitutional oxymoron. They have a point. They might, however, decide that the changes Duncan proposes - on balance, greater state flexibility in meeting national goals - make him the Obama administration's redeeming feature.

New groups poised to change state education landscape

New groups poised to change state education landscape
January 25, 2011
Louis Freedberg
California Watch

As schools in California brace for another difficult year, new forces have emerged that are poised to reshape the education landscape in California.

In recent months, most attention has focused on traditional power centers of educational politics in California, including the governor, the State Board of Education, local school boards, and teachers' unions. But the appearance of new players, some with substantial financial backing, has added an element of unpredictability to the mix.

Most prominent is StudentsFirst, the new organization formed last month by Washington, D.C.'s controversial ex-schools chief Michelle Rhee. She has not yet spelled out her plans for California, but she is engaged to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who announced last week during his State of the City address that the organization will be headquartered in Sacramento.

As we anticipated several months ago, Rhee's involvement with education politics in California was almost inevitable after her mentor, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost his re-election bid last September. She told the Sacramento Bee editorial board last month that she would not consider moving to California until her daughters finished up school at the end of the year.

But she is already spending a good deal of time here. This Thursday, for example, she is scheduled to meet with parent groups in Los Angeles.

Rhee has set a goal of raising an astonishing $1 billion and recruiting 1 million volunteers. She may be the only person in the country who could reach her fundraising goal, in light of her embrace of and by philanthropists, corporations and major media companies. Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad has already declared that he expects to be a major donor.

A good portion of the $1 billion will be used to help elect school board members and other elected officials sympathetic to Rhee's education agenda, which includes charter schools, changing the way teachers are evaluated and the teacher tenure system. StudentsFirst could emerge as the first major electoral counterweight to teachers unions in electoral politics in the state.

Another group to watch is Democrats for Education Reform, a New York-based group established with the backing of hedge fund billionaires like David Einhorn. Until now it has not been active in California, but it recently hired former State Sen. Gloria Romero, the former chair of the Senate Education Committee, and author of the controversial "parent trigger" law allowing a majority of parents to force major changes in their children's school.

Romero ran unsuccessfully for Superintendent of Public Instruction last year, and was defeated at least in part because of opposition from the California Teachers Association which backed the ultimate winner, Tom Torlakson.

Romero's hiring was announced explicitly as part of the group's strategy to expand its activities in California. She has already allied herself with Rhee and her agenda. "I am proud to march shoulder to shoulder with Michelle Rhee and millions of parents and children. ... Si se puede – yes we can!" Romero was quoted as saying in the press release announcing the formation of StudentsFirst in December.

Its major focus will be on the Democratic Party in California, Romero explained in an interview. Because of Democratic dominance here, that would inevitably touch the core of the political power structure.

"We have to tackle the special interests which for too long have dominated the education discourse in our party," Romero said in an interview. By special interests, Romero had in mind not only teachers unions, but also school administrators represented by the Association of California School Administrators. "There has been a reluctance to embrace reform that has been good for kids, because of the political interests that have supported the Democratic Party," she said. Charter schools will be "a part, but not the main part" of its agenda.

Romero said the group will be forming political action committees that will also be involved in electoral politics and education-related initiatives in the state. The organization, she said, would take on "political reform, not just education reform.

Not surprisingly, her organization has been harshly criticized by teachers' unions.

On a more grassroots level, two new parent-driven groups, Educate Our State from the San Francisco Bay Area and Support California Kids from the Sacramento area, joined forces last month to put more pressure on the Legislature to support K-12 schools.

"Working together rather than as isolated individuals is the common theme of organizations like ours," said Catherine Goddard, President of Support California Kids. "We are joining together to put more steam behind a train running straight to the state Capitol”

The two organizations will merge under the Educate Our State banner. Unlike StudentsFirst and Democrats for Education Reform, they have no billionaire backing, and have no paid staff or office. Their fundraising is limited so far to a "donate" button on the group's website.

Goddard, whose three children all graduated from Shelton High School in the Elk Grove Unified School District, told California Watch last month that she had not talked with Michelle Rhee, but hoped to do so in the future. Without providing specifics, she said while her organization is not against the PTA, she felt that it was PTA was excessively influenced by unions and driven more by teachers interests rather than parents.

The smallest new group is NewTLA, a dissident group with a catchy name formed by teachers in Los Angeles as a force for change within UTLA, by far the most powerful local teachers union in California. Last month, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa blasted the union as "one unwavering block to reform." LA Unified school board member, and Villaraigosa ally, Yolie Flores welcomed the new group as "music to my ears."

Co-founder Mike Stryer, a social studies teacher at Fairfax High School, told California Watch that NewTLA only has 50 members (out of some 35,000 teachers in Los Angeles). But, he said, "we represent the silent majority of teachers who are looking for a different approach within our union."

The group has no office, officeholders or funding – and isn't looking for any. "Our immediate goal is to built up our presence and to clearly articulate our positions," he said.

NewTLA's goal is not to become an alternative to UTLA, but to become a force for change from inside the union...

Parents are once again in charge of DELAC meetings in Vista Unified School District

The lawyers are gone from VUSD DELAC meetings. The parents are in charge again. The school district has failed in its attempt to take over the District English Learner Advisory Committee, which is required by law to be elected and operated democratically by parents.

See all VUSD posts.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Two Donors Give Big to Campaign to Expand School Board

Two Donors Give Big to Campaign to Expand School Board
January 26, 2011
by Emily Alpert

A group of philanthropists, parents, business leaders and others seeking to revamp San Diego Unified school board elections raised more than $451,000 last year, according to its most recent campaign filings. Most of that money came from just two donors.

A company owned by philanthropist and businessman Rod Dammeyer, CAC Advisory Services LLC, gave $300,000 last year to San Diegans 4 Great Schools. Qualcomm cofounder Irwin Jacobs gave $150,000. The group also got smaller donations from several retirees, including retired school administrator Linda Sturak, who gave $500.

"We've had a couple other donations but at this point, they're really providing the bulk of it," said Scott Himelstein, the group's president. Himelstein said while the donor list is short, the campaign was still meeting its fundraising and spending targets so far.

Last year, the group spent or owed more than $50,000 of that money for radio advertisements, more than $130,000 to pay petitioners and more than $115,000 in consulting costs, according to documents filed with the city yesterday that cover the last few months of the calendar year.

San Diegans 4 Great Schools is campaigning to expand the school board, now composed of five elected members, to include four more appointed members. The campaign would also set term limits and elect school board members exclusively from geographical subdistricts instead of making them campaign in the school district at large.

Its backers say the changes would stabilize and depoliticize the school board, stopping the political turmoil and the revolving door of superintendents in past years. Opponents, including existing board members and the teachers union, call the plan elitist and undemocratic and say it won't help schools.

(Full disclosure: Camille Gustafson, VOSD's marketing director, also donated $100 to the campaign.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Governor's Retort: Cities have an obligation to help fund schools

Click on this link to get the original article with lots of wonderful links: Morning Report: The Governor's Retort
January 25, 2011
Voice of San Diego
by Andrew Donohue

The San Diego leaders fighting Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to kill redevelopment have a simple, digestible argument: Sacramento should get its grubby hands off of our local money and solve its own problems.

Looks like Brown, though, might have just one-upped them.

He's framing the debate in a different way: His plan takes $1 billion away from redevelopment and gives it to the state's ailing schools. Scott Lewis takes that a step further and shows how education was originally supposed to be the very check and balance against redevelopment abuse, but Prop. 13 did away with that.

People like Mayor Jerry Sanders and Councilman Kevin Faulconer have big dreams for San Diego's redevelopment money - things like Convention Center expansions and football stadiums - and are fighting hard against the governor.

"But Brown has now illustrated better than ever before that the money for these dreams comes from education more than anything," Lewis writes. "The state will continue to plow money into education but it's time for downtown and other redevelopment areas to do their part.".

And the Blight Beat Goes On

• Faulconer got six of his colleagues to join him in waving their fists at the governor on Monday night, though they have yet to engage in the last-second redevelopment binges that other cities have enjoyed.

• Our Liam Dillon, meanwhile, is waving his fist right back at the city's downtown redevelopment agency. He's begun our latest public records battle — Blight Watch.

That agency, the Centre City Development Corp., has refused to turn over documents that go to the very core of the agency's continued existence. Agencies have 10 days to turn over documents after a public records request except in extraordinary circumstances. It's been than seven weeks and all we're hearing is that "it's complicated."

We'll be dialing up the pressure this week to ensure that the public records do indeed become public.

• There's another aspect of redevelopment suddenly getting attention now that it's in jeopardy: affordable housing.

One CCDC official recently made the bold claim that his agency had created more affordable housing units than all of Los Angeles' redevelopment areas combined. We fact checked it and here's what we found: A big fat "false."...

Juarez Elementary is like family: a regular teacher is in the family, hourly teachers, clerks and assistants are not

See update below.

I have found that when people at schools start talking about "family", they are really talking about the personal politics that seem so often to control school districts. Was this decision made in the best interest of students? Or was it made in the interest of the most powerful adults?

Budget Cuts at One Small School, Part Five
January 24, 2011
Voice of San Diego
by Emily Alpert

...Juarez [Elementary] could pay to keep one of the two teachers who were in jeopardy of losing their jobs at the tiny school, which would keep class sizes down. Or it could continue to fund hourly teachers who work in small groups with children during Power Hour, something Juarez credits for boosting kids' scores.

The school staff was split right down the middle on the two options.

"It would be wonderful to have class-size reduction," said Nicole Bell, the first grade teacher. "But we're feeling success with Power Hour and we don't want to lose all that extra support."

Everyone wanted to have both. And Principal Marceline Marques said it couldn't be done, not with the amount of money they were given. From time to time, the meeting grew so quiet that you could hear the whisper of markers as two girls sat drawing in the corner of the school library.

I've been following Juarez, a small school in Serra Mesa, as it figures out how to slash its budget. Under a new way of budgeting in San Diego Unified, schools have more power to decide what to cut as the district plans for an estimated $120 million deficit. But that power has been a painful one. Juarez had to decide how to cut an estimated 11 percent of its school site budget.

This was my fifth visit to the school. And it was decision time. Marques said she needed to decide how the school would spend its money before she met with a budget analyst on Saturday. A committee of parents and teachers met in the library at 8 a.m. Friday. But it was nearly 9 a.m. before they decided.

...Slowly they came to their conclusion. Mother Kamisha Umbarger summed it up: Juarez is like a family. The best thing the school could do is keep that family intact. She opted to pay to keep at least one of their teachers. If more money came to the school later, they could spend more on hourly help.

And that was what the group decided to do: Pay to keep at least one of its endangered teachers. But the plan still means disruption at Juarez. There will be much less time and help for Power Hour. Instead of spending $65,000 on hourly help for it, Juarez will spend less than $23,000 next year.

The office staff will get thinner. A health worker and a guidance assistant will come in just three hours a day, about half as often as they used to; the library assistant will come in even less often than that. The school clerk, now a full time job, will also come in just three hours a day.

Juarez is replacing its school assistant with a bilingual school secretary, a job that the longtime assistant Treasure Love can't fill because she isn't bilingual. Other nonteaching employees may be bumped because more senior workers displaced from other schools could grab their jobs at Juarez...

"'I don't want to lose any teachers. We lose 'em and we get someone new we don't
know,' said Kamisha Umbarger, president of the PTA."

Budget Cuts at One Small School, Part Four

January 20, 2011
by Emily Alpert

Brenna Kielty inhaled and tried to explain why her job should be saved.

She is the English-learner support teacher, a job that entails everything from
training teachers to gauging whether students are ready to be declared fluent in
English. Her voice wavered as she spoke to the crowd in the school library.

"This has been an extremely uncomfortable couple days for me," Kielty said slowly. "I
thought I'd be able to handle it. I wanted to come in here and say, 'Whatever you
decide.'" But Kielty said she decided to speak up because she does believe her
work matters to children.

What might seem strange is that Kielty didn't need to plead for her job. After days of discussion about whether her job can be trimmed back or altered, the principal said she planned to keep that job intact.

Juarez Elementary has become a pressure cooker it tries to figure out what to cut
under San Diego Unified's new, neighborhood level budgeting approach. And at a
small school where everyone knows everyone, no one can help feeling that the cuts
are personal. Even if those cuts are already off the table.

Mary Chicorel, the third grade teacher, talked to Kielty at a Wednesday meeting,
praising her work ethic, professionalism and intelligence.

"This is not about who you are as a person," Chicorel said. "It's about that chunk of
money. Struggle against that feeling that it's personal. Because it's not."

I'm following Juarez, a tiny school in Serra Mesa, as it figures out how to shrink its budget. Schools now have more power to decide what to keep and what to cut. But
the power has been a mixed blessing, leaving schools to make painful decisions
about people they know.

This is my fourth stop at the school. After school on Wednesday, a committee of
parents and teachers met to figure out how to spend the special money that Juarez
gets for disadvantaged students and English learners. Those choices, in turn, could
shape how it spends all the funds at the school.

Their decision has boiled down to a tradeoff: Is it worth spending money to
spare at least one of their teachers and clamp down on class sizes?

Or should they devote those dollars to keeping other staff intact, such as the school
clerk or the health technician or the "push in" teachers who work one-on-one with
kids on an hourly basis?

If Juarez does nothing, it stands to lose two of its 10 teachers. The two least senior teachers are in jeopardy.

"I don't want to lose any teachers. We lose 'em and we get someone new
we don't know," said Kamisha Umbarger, president of the PTA...

[Maura Larkins comment: This sounds like personal politics. Does "someone
new we don't know" means "someone we can't count on to do what we
want."? If schools properly evaluated teachers, they could replace politics
with professionalism.]


The balance of power has shifted at Juarez Elementary.

Budget Cuts at One Small School, (An Unexpected) Part Six

January 30, 2011
by Emily Alpert

Principal Marceline Marques was still recovering from a fever when she came to school Friday.

...The problem was that Juarez had not counted on one type of benefits that are afforded to all employees, part-time or full-time. When Marques sat down with a budget analyst to enter her financial plan into the computer, she discovered that because of the benefits, they had roughly $20,000 less to work with than they thought.

Mother Kirsty Holland described it like this: "The rug was pulled out from everyone's feet."

To cope, Juarez could cut the school clerk, yank more than $3,500 out of the school supplies budget, spend less on lunchtime supervision and trim back spending on the school copier to the point that if the machine broke down, the school couldn't afford to repair it. The principal didn't like the way it looked.

So teachers and parents sat down in the Juarez Elementary library again before school to reconsider the budget. Marques asked them a touchy question: Should they keep paying for an extra teacher?

Earlier, Juarez had decided to use a sizable chunk of its funding to spare at least one of the two teachers who were expected to lose their spots at the small school because class sizes are growing and enrollment is predicted to drop.

But with the new numbers, parents and teachers decided it wasn't doable to pay for a teacher. "I don't think we can afford it," mother Hope Thomley Bell said wistfully.

Juarez quickly redid its budget to stop paying for the extra classroom teacher. To try to compensate, it will bring in less expensive classroom assistants to blunt the impact of bigger classes. And it will add more hourly teachers to help with a special program in which kids break into small groups to get more attention. It will still cut the clerk, but it is ramping up the hours for its guidance assistant.

The school committee also decided to pony up more to keep the elementary assistant, Treasure Love, instead of replacing her with a secretary who cost less and could speak Spanish, as it had planned last week. Parent Kamisha Umbarger said that if the office was thinner, they should have a known face...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

SD4 wants to take control of San Diego Unified from voters

The thing I like about Voice of San Diego's Morning Report is that it contains summaries with lots of links. Click on the link below to see what I mean:

Morning Report
...Fake Name, Fake Pitch:

He said his name is "Jeff Smith." That's not true, and neither was the professional petition gatherer's claim about a proposal to expand the size of the San Diego school board and bypass voters.

According to the U-T, "Smith" offered this to passersby at the Target in Mission Valley: "Want to help San Diego schools? Get more accountability on the board? Get more teacher voices on the school board? Sign here."

San Diego Fact Check says his claim about teacher voices is misleading.The petition gatherer later fessed up to giving a fake name to the U-T reporter: "'This is very competitive, people are cutthroat. People get up at 3 a.m. to stake out a place to work,' said the worker, who declined to disclose his real name. 'This place is a gold mine, but I don't want to mess things up. I'm not trying to give anyone bad information, I'm just doing my part to get this to a ballot so the people can decide.'"

Two of our commenters are unhappy with our Fact Check story. One says "the fact that a paid signature gatherer gave misleading information to get a signature (that's how he gets paid) isn't newsworthy," while another complains about slamming a guy who's "trying to earn a living for his family." Reporter Emily Alpert, who wrote the story, responds: "It's appropriate for us to let people know the facts."

The school board ballot measure is in the news at City Hall too. City Council President Tony Young wants the council to discuss it.

Other big cities mingle city politics and education (New York and L.A. come to mind), but San Diego doesn't. The mayor and council have tended to stay out of school affairs, although the mayor has visibly thrown his support behind the new measure.

The proposed measure would force the council to pay attention to education. It would change the city charter and require the council to hold an annual hearing on student performance.

CityBeat, meanwhile, urges readers to not sign petitions supporting the measure. It says several provisions are "non-starters" and attacks backers for their union-bashing: "The teachers union at times puts its members' interest over the interests of students, as was the case when the union opted to shorten the teaching year in lieu of a pay cut. But blaming the union entirely for the state of local schools is nutty."...

The Parent Revolution You Might Not Expect

Morning Report preview of article:

Point Loma parents are mulling independence - of some sort - from the San Diego school district.

"We're tired of just having a voice. It doesn't go anywhere. We can give feedback until we're blue in the face. Until we sit at the decision-making table, we're done," one parent says.

The parents in Point Loma have a variety of options, from full independence to some sort of other arrangement. A new law could help them make a break for it, but a variety of challenges may stand in their way. For one thing, many of them seem happy with their schools even as they gripe about a lack of power...
--Randy Dotinga

January 5, 2011
The Parent Revolution You Might Not Expect
Voice of San Diego
by Emily Alpert

Point Loma seems like an unlikely place for a parent revolution. Its scenic hills are dotted with elementary schools a real estate agent could crow about, funded by a muscular foundation.

Still, some parents in this seaside burg are quietly considering how to stake out more independence for their schools — or whether to secede from San Diego Unified and form charter schools. A new law could give their push new power, letting parents force dramatic change at some schools.

Their worries have persisted even as San Diego Unified pledges to give communities like Point Loma more control over school budgets and reforms. Point Loma is often seen as a shining example of that community control, a humming network of parents, teachers and principals that prodded to bring more Mandarin into its schools and just got a city crosswalk in front of Correia Middle.

A small but devoted group of parents argues they still have too little sway over their schools. While most love their schools, they are less enamored with the rules and red tape that come with the district.

The group has floated a bevy of ideas, from eking out greater freedom inside the school district to converting all their local schools into charters. Though parents haven't settled on a plan, they've started talking with parent organizers and scheduled an upcoming forum called "Are Charters a Better Way?"

"We're tired of just having a voice. It doesn't go anywhere. We can give feedback until we're blue in the face. Until we sit at the decision-making table, we're done," said parent Julie Cramer.

Point Loma schools were supposed to get extra freedom over their budgets last year. But when San Diego Unified lost its finance chief, the idea dropped off the map. Parents complained that the central offices controlled too much of the money.

"It sounds good. But it didn't do much," said Matt Spathas, a Point Loma parent who has been at the forefront of the talks. "It's really hard to make change."

The budget isn't their only worry. They also lament bureaucratic hassles and labor rules that make it harder to change school schedules or find more time for teachers to collaborate. Some parents are aggravated by the dizzying staffing systems that can pull teachers from schools or bump secretaries on seniority.

And some are simply inspired by what they see at charter schools like High Tech High. Point Loma parents have toured the lauded school in Liberty Station for ideas. Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run, free from school district rules. Most aren't unionized.

"It really opened my eyes to the possibilities," Ocean Beach parent Shelli Kurth said about visiting High Tech High. She likes that charter schools aren't like a big school district that has to juggle different areas and their needs. "They're not trying to fit their students into a giant puzzle. They're fitting everything to the needs of their students."

Parents are also eyeing a new law called the parent trigger: If more than half of the parents at a faltering school sign a petition, they can force it to replace its staff, become a charter school or make other changes. While schools can already opt to convert into charter schools, the thing that makes the parent trigger different is that teachers don't have to agree to it — one thing that killed the idea at Correia.

None of the Point Loma schools have struggled enough to be eligible for an overhaul, but parents believe Point Loma High could fit the bill next year if it keeps missing No Child Left Behind targets. They've invited the activist behind the trigger, Ben Austin, to talk to them at their February forum about charter schools, along with the High Tech High founder and the dean of a local school of education.

"People say they want parents involved, but all they want are bake sales. If you make too much noise, they put you on a committee," said Gabe Rose, deputy director of Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles group that organizes parents to demand school change. "This is parental empowerment. And it scares people."

The question is whether their quest will catch on with a wider group of moms and dads. Point Lomans have flirted with making their middle school a charter school, even batted around the idea of forming a separate school district. Both ideas fizzled.

"Everything falls short of what Point Loma wants," said former school board member John de Beck, who unsuccessfully proposed the separate district. "They want independence. They're not going to get it."

When schools have split from San Diego Unified or threatened to do so in the past, they've been driven by discontent: Parents at Gompers Middle School were upset with sagging scores. La Jolla High nearly became a charter in a revolt over a previous round of reforms.

In Point Loma, even the parents pushing for more power say they're happy with their schools. New school board member Scott Barnett said the biggest worry he heard from Point Loma during his campaign was over athletic fields. He can't remember a single email complaining about the schools.

"If it's working, why change it?" asked Loma Portal Elementary Principal Glenda Gerde, who fears the charter talks could distract from bigger issues like the budget crunch facing schools.

Carving off schools from San Diego Unified could also run into practical problems. Roughly 35 percent of Point Loma High students come from other areas in the school district, part of the reason that the idea of a coastal district dissolved. Losing them would mean losing diversity and funding.

Parents are also keen on keeping their schools together, which could be difficult to do if just a few schools split off as charters. While a few small school districts elsewhere in California have converted entirely to charter schools, Point Loma would be the biggest area to try to do the same, said Lisa Berlanga, the regional director of the California Charter Schools Association.

While Point Loma asks whether charters are a better way, San Diego Unified says not so fast.

"If people have clear ideas for change and they feel that the school district is an impediment to that, they should sit down with us," said school board President Richard Barrera. "We're open to that."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

For-profit college group sues to block federal rules

Too many tax dollars go to private schools that take the money but don't provide the education that's promised. I agree that recruiters should not get commissions for signing up students with government benefits. It's a recipe for fraud.

See all posts on for-profit education.
See all posts on for-profit college recruiting.

For-profit college group sues to block federal rules
By Nick Anderson
Washington Post
January 22, 2011

A group representing for-profit colleges sued the Education Department on Friday to try to block new federal rules relating to how the schools pay recruiters, how they represent themselves to prospective students and how states oversee their activities.

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities alleges in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, that the regulations published in late October are unconstitutional and violate federal administrative law.

The association represents 1,500 for-profit schools, including those operated by The Washington Post Co.'s Kaplan unit and several other publicly traded companies.

At issue in the suit are three regulations scheduled to take effect July 1.

One specifies minimum steps a state must take to authorize postsecondary programs that participate in federal student aid programs. Another strengthens federal authority to take action against schools that engage in deceptive marketing. A third reinforces a federal law that prohibits schools from paying recruiters based solely on how many students enroll.

Administration officials describe the proposed rules as responses to reports of abuses in the for-profit sector of higher education. "We're confident that the published regulations will do the best job of protecting students and taxpayers," said Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the Education Department.

Harris Miller, the association's president, called the rules "vague and poorly written" and said "They will have a chilling effect on job creation and innovation."

The suit does not address the department's proposal to require for-profit schools to take steps to contain student debt and increase loan repayment rates. The proposed "gainful employment" rules, which the industry has fiercely opposed, are still pending. The Obama administration has said it aims to publish a final version of those rules early this year.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jobs are not at the top of the Republican agenda;campaign contributions flow from health insurers and banks

Industry giving to GOP House leadership
Washington Post
Jan. 21, 2011
The new House committee chairmen have in many cases received campaign donations from the industries their panels oversee.

72 super PACs spent $83.7 million on election, financial disclosure reports show
By T.W. Farnam
Washington Post
December 3, 2010

The newly created independent political groups known as super PACs, which raised and spent millions of dollars on last month's elections, drew much of their funding from private-equity partners and others in the financial industry, according to new financial disclosure reports.

The 72 super PACs, all formed this year, together spent $83.7 million on the election. The figures provide the best indication yet of the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions that opened the door for wealthy individuals and corporations to give unlimited contributions.

The financial disclosure reports also underscore the extent to which the flow of corporate money will be tied to political goals. Private-equity partners and hedge fund managers, for example, have a substantial stake in several issues before Congress, primarily the taxes they pay on their earnings.

"Super PACs provide a means for the super wealthy to have even more influence and an even greater voice in the political process," said Meredith McGehee, a lobbyist for the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for tighter regulation of money in politics.

American Crossroads, a conservative super PAC that outspent its peers, pulled in six- and seven-figure donations from the financial industry. That included $500,000 from Anne Dias-Griffin, founder of the Aragon Global Management hedge fund, and her husband, Kenneth Griffin, founder of the Citadel Investment Group hedge fund.

Crossroads, which was founded with the support of Bush administration adviser Karl Rove, raised $70 million, much of it used to support 10 Republican Senate candidates and 30 Republican House candidates...

Corporate contributions have surged for new Republican leaders in House
By Dan Eggen and T.W. Farnam
Washington Post
January 22, 2011

The new Republican leaders in the House have received millions of dollars in contributions from banks, health insurers and other major business interests, which are pressing for broad reversals of Democratic policies that affect corporations, according to disclosure records and interviews.

72 super PACs spent $83.7 million on election, financial disclosure reports show
New Republican lawmakers are hiring lobbyists, despite campaign rhetoric
Incoming GOP freshmen rapidly embracing big-money fundraisers
Campaign cash: Who's spending where in 2010

Much of that money flowed to the GOP chairmen overseeing banking, energy and other key committees - leaders who will play a central role in setting the House agenda over the next two years.

The impetus behind such largess is simple: Many companies and industry groups hope House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) and other Republicans will succeed in rolling back Democratic policies they find objectionable, including environmental and Wall Street regulations.

GOP lawmakers took their first step in that direction Wednesday by voting to repeal President Obama's health-care overhaul law. Major health-care firms and their employees gave Republican leaders at least $5 million over the past two years, including well over $2 million to Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), according to a Washington Post analysis of contribution data...

Petty Bickering Trumps Jobs Need as Republicans Vote to Repeal Health Care Reform

by Mike Hall
Jan 19, 2011

What do Republicans do with their first big chance as the U.S. House majority? Address the economy, create jobs? Nope. They vote to repeal health care reform. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says the action “signals that they won’t let go of old grudges to do the work of the people.”

The nation is in its 20th straight month with unemployment above 9 percent. The electorate in November told lawmakers to “focus less on petty partisan bickering and more on jobs, jobs, jobs,” says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

But in their first significant action since taking majority control of the U.S. House, Republicans chose bickering instead of jobs and threw a huge hunk of red meat to their right-wing backers today by voting (245-189) to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The action came, although repeal has no chance of succeeding—the Senate will not take the measure up and President Obama has said he would not sign it...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Assault with deadly weapon charges expected in LA school shooting: report

Bullying needs to be stopped in order to save the lives of bullies, victims and bystanders.

Assault with deadly weapon charges expected in LA school shooting: report

New York Post
January 19, 2011

The Los Angeles high school student whose gun injured two classmates when it accidentally fired was Wednesday not expected to be charged with attempted murder, but rather will face charges of assault with a deadly weapon.

According to the Los Angeles Times, prosecutors have not said when they will formally charge the 17-year-old suspect or whether he will be charged as an adult.

On Tuesday, a 15-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy were shot at Gardena High School, located about 15 miles (24km) south of downtown Los Angeles, after a weapon fired from inside a backpack, discharging a round of bullets.

The girl was in critical condition after being shot in the head while the boy, who was shot in the neck, was listed in serious condition.

It was not known how the weapon was brought into the school undetected, but police sources told the Times that the student may have been the victim of bullying and had brought the gun for protection...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Poverty supresses children's genetic potential, study says

Many teachers say it's the parents' fault that their children are failing, and that teachers shouldn't be asked to do the parents' job. But what if parents simply can't do that job? Are teachers in the right when they wash their hands of their students' fates? I think not. Teachers should continue to do as much as they can for every child, and not say, as I heard one teacher say at Castle Park Elemetary, "I don't have time to help the kids who are behind." Too many teachers feel justified in placing invisible "rejected" stamps on the foreheads of kids who are "too much work."

Jan 10, 2011
Poverty supresses children's genetic potential, study says
Psychologists at University of Texas say the difference is about opportunity, not superior wealthy genes
By Adam Clark Estes

Researchers at the University of Texas claim that poverty may affect how children achieve their genetic potential. Using 750 sets of twins as subjects, the team of psychologists led by assistant professor Elliot Tucker-Drob found that 50 percent of the progress wealthier children show on mental ability tests can be attributed to genetics. Children from poor families, however, showed almost no progress attributable to genetics.

Don't get too carried away with the conclusions this might suggest. Based on this study, rich kids are not genetically superior to children of poverty. They're simply provided with more opportunities to fulfill their potential.

Of course, this conclusion holds some interesting implications for the field of childhood development. From the University of Texas announcement about the findings:

These findings go to the heart of the age-old debate about whether "nature" or "nurture" is more important to a child's development. They suggest the two work together and that the right environment can help children begin to reach their genetic potentials at a much earlier age than previously thought.

As the nation pulls out of the greatest economic disaster since the Great Depression, such a breakthrough could serve to shift attention toward taking better care of America's youth.

One out of every five children in the U.S. lives in poverty. That's a lot of lost potential...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2nd witness says Scotty Eveland complained of headaches before collapse

See related case:
What happens when a coach tries to protect a student's health? the Coach James Ted Carter case

Sept. 2011: Attorney Dan Shinoff's request for gag order in Eveland case is denied

Kids are taught to do what coaches and teachers want without question.
Why? Because it's easier that way--for the adults. I think we'd have a
better-educated population if adults were willing to subject at least some of
their decisions to a critical-thinking process involving students. Sometimes adults are wrong, and there is no need for them to be ashamed of this fact. It's inevitable that adults will make mistakes.

What they should be ashamed of is covering up their mistakes and lying
about them. Of course school employees are told to keep quiet. Also,
school attorneys instruct witnesses not to answer questions during
depositions. I wonder how many times this happened during the 50
depositions in this case? It would be a lot easier for the courts to administer
justice if lawyers instructed their clients to tell the truth.

2nd witness says Scotty Eveland complained of headaches before collapse
By J. Harry Jones
January 15, 2011

SAN MARCOS — A former student trainer has testified that a few days after Mission Hills High football player Scotty Eveland collapsed during a game in 2007, the school’s lead trainer confided that Eveland had asked to sit out because he was suffering from headaches and disorientation but was called in anyway by the head coach.

The account, given during a deposition completed Wednesday, corroborates testimony from another former student trainer who was deposed in October.

The San Marcos Unified School District has maintained that Eveland showed no sign of medical problems before the collapse. Scott Gommel, the lead trainer, said the same during his deposition four months ago. A judge has agreed to let lawyers for Eveland’s family redepose Gommel because of the new information.

Eveland has remained in a mostly vegetative state since his collapse. Doctors think he will need constant medical care that could cost millions of dollars over his lifetime.

Testimony from the two former student trainers is part of evidence collection in an ongoing lawsuit filed by Eveland’s family against the school district.

San Marcos Unified is confident it will “absolutely be vindicated” at trial, said Daniel Shinoff, a lawyer for the district. He also urged that facts be decided in a court of law and not in the court of public opinion.

Shinoff said it’s a complicated case “in terms of people’s perceptions, people’s recollection, and there’s a large passage of time.”

On Thursday, school officials denied a request to interview Gommel and the head football coach, Chris Hauser, who has not been deposed.

Robert Francavilla, an attorney for Eveland’s family, said the latest deposition confirms what really happened.

“Scotty lives every day with an injury that we believe could have been prevented,” Francavilla said.

Eveland’s parents, Diane Luth and stepfather Paul Luth, said they had no idea their son was experiencing headaches. They now devote themselves to caring for him.

Until Breanna Bingen’s deposition in September, there was no mention of Eveland having a health complication.

More than 50 depositions have been taken for the lawsuit — from doctors, paramedics and others connected to the football team or the game. Only Bingen and now Trevor Sattes have spoken about Eveland complaining of headaches, although one player testified that Eveland was acting disoriented during the game.

Until this fall, the family had focused their lawsuit against the maker of Eveland’s helmet and the question of whether Eveland was sent to the hospital in a timely manner. The information from Bingen and Sattes has changed the target dramatically, Francavilla said.

Bingen testified that she was one of several student trainers on the field the night of Eveland’s collapse. She recalled that he twice complained about headaches during the week before the game and sat out parts of two practices. She also remembered overhearing him tell Gommel a few minutes before the game about not being able to see the football because his head was killing him.

Eveland wanted to skip at least the first quarter in hopes that his head would feel better, Bingen testified, but Hauser disagreed and told Gommel, “you’re no doctor.”

Bingen, now a member of the Army National Guard, hasn’t been available for comment.

The person who corroborated her testimony was Sattes, now 21 and a college student studying to become a trainer. Sattes testified that he considered Gommel to be his mentor, and that he met with Gommel for lunch the Monday or Tuesday following Eveland’s collapse.

In a statement signed by Sattes and then confirmed during the deposition, Sattes said: “While eating lunch, I asked Mr. Gommel again what happened with Scotty. He told me he was going to explain what occurred in order to make me a better trainer. ... Mr. Gommel then stated that Scotty told him he did not feel well enough to play the first quarter and that Scotty did not feel like he should play. Mr. Gommel told me that he assessed Scotty’s condition and found him to be a little wobbly and having trouble focusing.

“Mr. Gommel then told me he went to Coach Hauser to discuss Scotty’s condition. ... Mr. Gommel said Coach Hauser made the decision to play Scotty.”

Through school officials, Hauser declined to comment for this story.

During her deposition, Bingen also testified that Principal Brad Lichtman, Gommel and an assistant football coach told her and others to not talk about the case with lawyers or the media. An attorney for the school district said that never happened, and Sattes didn’t address that issue in his deposition.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Shooting victim arrested, accused of threat

Apparently, when someone puts two bullets in you, you get emotional.

Shooting victim arrested, accused of threat
By Nicole Santa Cruz and Kate Linthicum
Los Angeles Times
January 16, 2011

A man who was wounded in last week's shooting rampage in Tucson was apprehended by authorities Saturday after he allegedly threatened a "tea party" activist at a town hall meeting of victims and eyewitnesses of the attack.

James Eric Fuller, a 63-year-old Democratic activist, was arrested after shouting "You're dead!" at Tucson Tea Party spokesman Trent Humphries, said Pima County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jason Ogan. Fuller was shot in the knee and back Jan. 8 when a gunman opened fire, killing six and injuring 13, including Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Fuller, a disabled veteran and former campaign volunteer for Giffords, was charged with making threats, intimidation and disorderly conduct and was involuntarily committed for a psychiatric evaluation, Ogan said.

In an interview with Democracy Now on Thursday, Fuller linked the shooting to conservative leaders associated with the tea party, including Sarah Palin, Fox News commentator Glenn Beck and Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle. "It looks like Palin, Beck, Sharron Angle and the rest got their first target," Fuller said.

The town hall, organized for an ABC News special, "After the Tragedy: An American Conversation Continued," was held at St. Odilia Catholic Church, which two of the shooting victims attended.

Jim Kolbe, a former Republican congressman, said Fuller "was clearly more emotional about the town hall than anyone else" at the event. Near the end of the taping, the subject turned to gun control. Humphries, who has opposed gun-control laws, was being interviewed on the matter when Fuller interrupted. Deputies escorted him from the scene...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Balancing 'Parent' and 'Volunteer' in the New Year

Balancing 'Parent' and 'Volunteer' in the New Year
January 11, 2011
by Bey-Ling Sha
Voice of San Diego

With the start of a new year, many parents resolve to volunteer more often at their children's school. After all, the opportunities are nearly endless. From cutting out shapes for kindergarten art projects to grading math worksheets, from chaperoning field trips to planning school dances, parents' volunteer efforts are invaluable.

Of course, if you had to put a price on it, you could. Laura Schumacher, president of the San Diego Unified Council of PTAs, which oversees PTAs in the San Diego Unified School District, reports that total volunteer hours for the school district came to 161,767 last year, or an estimated $3,767,559.20 worth of human resources donated to more than 80 schools.

But, the real value of parent volunteerism may lie neither in the assistance provided to teachers and schools, nor in its monetary equivalence.

Rather, the real value of parent volunteerism may lie in what children — ours and others' — learn from our presence: That school is important. That children are precious and deserving of attention. That the community cares about how kids are educated.

These lessons, taught by parent volunteers without their even realizing it, are critical to our youth. Many elementary school children don't get these lessons in their own homes. Many kids in middle school are absorbing contrary messages from the news and entertainment media. And many high school students seem to think that "volunteerism" is community service that one is required to do, either for class credit or for college applications.

But, parent volunteers also need to be mindful of the dark side of the "Volunteer Force." As Yoda tells Luke Skywalker, "Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they." Volunteer burnout is real, with potentially serious personal and professional consequences. And without realizing it, we might be teaching our children a whole different set of lessons: That the needs of our own family are less important than those of our school family, that saying "no" to our loved ones is easier than saying "no" to volunteer demands, that we care more about our roles as volunteers than about our roles as parents.

Every parent volunteer needs to find his or her own personal balance between "parent" and "volunteer." This is not only my personal belief, but also my personal new year's resolution. If other parent volunteers out there have tips for me, please share!

Meanwhile ... May the Volunteer Force be with you. And stay away from the dark side.

Maryland father uses robocall to get revenge on school officials

Md. father uses robocall to get revenge on school officials
By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 14, 2011

Perhaps the idea of revenge came from his sleep deprivation.

Awakened at 4:33 a.m. Wednesday by a ringing phone, Aaron Titus jumped out of bed in a panic. Maybe something terrible had happened, he thought. Even if nothing was wrong, his heart raced with other considerations: His five children, ages 5 and under, including his week-old daughter, were mercifully still asleep, and he wanted to keep it that way.

In a blurry rush, Titus answered the phone halfway into the second ring, listening in disbelief to an automated caller tell him what he already knew: It was a snow day. School would open two hours late. In other words, he and his family could sleep.

But now he couldn't.

"I thought, 'C'mon, people. Really?" he recalls.

Sometime later in the day, the 31-year-old father from Fort Washington, a lawyer who knows a thing or two about technology, made a decision that might well bring amused satisfaction to like-minded parents everywhere.

Titus arranged for an automated message of his own.

He found a robocall company online, taped a message and listed every phone number he could find for nine school board members (sparing the student member), Superintendent William R. Hite and General Counsel Roger C. Thomas.

At 4:30 a.m. Thursday, phones began ringing with 29 seconds of automated, mocking objection:

"This is a Prince George's County School District parent, calling to thank you for the robocall yesterday at 4:30 in the morning. I decided to return the favor. While I know the school district wanted to ensure I drop my child off two hours late on a snow day, I already knew that before I went to bed. I hope this call demonstrates why a 4:30 a.m. call does more to annoy than to inform.'' ...

Miss Porter's school settles bullying case

See all posts about Miss Porter's School.

Friday, Jan. 14, 2011
Conn. prep school, ex-student settle bullying suit

Attorneys say a former student at an elite Connecticut prep school is dropping her lawsuit over alleged bullying by a clique of cruel girls.

Attorneys for Miss Porter's School and Tatum Bass said this week in a joint statement that they resolved the 2008 case "with mutual respect" on Dec. 31.

The settlement terms were not disclosed.

Bass, of Beaufort (BYOO'-fert), S.C., was a student government leader and athlete before the alleged harassment. Her lawsuit had said that administrators failed to protect her from a group of girls who bullied her in classes, in the dorm and on Facebook.

Miss Porter's School in Farmington is among the nation's most selective all-girls boarding schools. Its alumnae include Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and Gloria Vanderbilt.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

After Giffords Shooting, Several AZ Republicans Resign Amid Fears of Tea Party Violence

Gabrielle Giffords' Arizona shooting prompts resignations
by Edythe Jensen
Jan. 11, 2011
The Arizona Republic

A nasty battle between factions of Legislative District 20 Republicans and fears that it could turn violent in the wake of what happened in Tucson on Saturday prompted District Chairman Anthony Miller and several others to resign.

Miller, a 43-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills resident and former campaign worker for U.S. Sen. John McCain, was re-elected to a second one-year term last month. He said constant verbal attacks after that election and Internet blog posts by some local members with Tea Party ties made him worry about his family's safety.

In an e-mail sent a few hours after Saturday's massacre in Tucson that killed six and injured 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Miller told state Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen he was quitting: "Today my wife of 20 yrs ask (sic) me do I think that my PCs (Precinct Committee members) will shoot at our home? So with this being said I am stepping down from LD20GOP Chairman...I will make a full statement on Monday."

Pullen was in Washington, D.C. and not available for comment, an employee in his office said. State party spokesman Matt Roberts said he could not discuss details of the district's disputes but, "Anthony has been a good Republican and was really involved in LD20."

The newly-elected Dist. 20 Republican secretary, Sophia Johnson of Ahwatukee, first vice chairman Roger Dickinson of Tempe and Jeff Kolb, the former district spokesman from Ahwatukee, also quit. "This singular focus on 'getting' Anthony (Miller) was one of the main reasons I chose to resign," Kolb said in an e-mail to another party activist. Kolb confirmed the contents of the e-mail to the Republic.

District 20 includes parts of Chandler, south Tempe and Ahwatukee Foothills. Republican state Rep. Bob Robson of Chandler and Sen. John McComish of Ahwatukee said they had supported Miller as chairman and were sorry to see him go. "It's too bad," McComish said. "He didn't deserve to be hounded out of office."

A longtime Republican activist, McComish said contentious battles for local party leadership posts are nothing new, but this one appears to be more extreme, especially since there are no partisan elections in 2011 and by next year district boundaries will change.

Kolb said the Tea Party and associated conservative groups ran their slate of candidates for seven Dist. 20 leadership positions, winning three -- the treasurer's post and two vice-chairmanships. However, Miller beat challenger Thomas Morrissey for the top post after Sheriff Joe Arpaio made a personal appearance for Morrissey. Phone messages left for Morrissey were not returned.

After the election and around the December holiday season, some of Miller's detractors made an issue of the residency of Dickinson, the first vice-chairman. Dickinson, who did not return phone messages, was a supporter of Miller's and allegedly moved to a different precinct within Dist. 20 last year, making him ineligible for the leadership post. Miller said he told the critics he would handle the matter after the holidays. In the meantime, a series of accusatory e-mails was exchanged among party members. Some blasted Miller's support of McCain, called him a "McCainiac with a penchant for violating the rules" and a "McCain hack."

Members of the Ahwatukee Tea Party group did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.

Miller said when he was a member of McCain's campaign staff last year has been criticized by the more conservative party members who supported Republican opponent J.D. Hayworth. The first and only African-American to hold the party's precinct chairmanship, Miller said he has been called "McCain's boy," and during the campaign saw a critic form his hand in the shape of a gun and point it at him.

"I wasn't going to resign but decided to quit after what happened Saturday," Miller said. "I love the Republican Party but I don't want to take a bullet for anyone."

Agency to Investigate County Office of Education Employee

When I saw the title of this article, I thought that I was going to read about Dan Puplava or Diane Crosier. But it seems that investigators prefer to look into small-time shenanigans rather than broad institutional corruption. Those who care about honest government can only hope that this investigation will shed some light on other operations at the risk management office at SDCOE.

January 12, 2011
Agency to Investigate County Office of Education Employee
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego

A state agency that regulates financial conflicts of interest is launching an investigation into whether San Diego County Office of Education employee is illegally enriching her husband and herself.

The investigation stems from concerns that Michele Fort-Merrill advises her boss on whether to retain attorneys for personnel cases, which routinely leads to her husband's law firm getting business from the County Office. Here's how we explained the issue when I first reported on it almost two years ago:

Michele Fort-Merrill, who oversees the agency's human resources department, is married to William Merrill, a partner in Best, Best & Krieger, a San Diego law firm that frequently represents the county office. She has a financial interest in the firm of more than $100,000 annually through his income, according to state forms that disclose her economic interests.

When an employee is disciplined or other problems erupt with employees in the office, Fort-Merrill weighs whether or not an outside attorney is needed to help navigate legal issues, or whether human resources staff can handle the problem, County Superintendent Randolph Ward said in a recent interview. If she believes that lawyers are needed, she makes a recommendation to Ward, who then makes the ultimate decision on whether to hire an attorney.

Public officials are generally barred under California law from making or helping to make government decisions in which they or their spouse have a financial interest. Being involved in the decision can include advising the decision maker, as Fort-Merrill does. Though Ward said Fort-Merrill does not directly assign legal work to any firm, her advice helps him decide whether the office turns to outsiders or its own staff, which impacts the amount of work going to her husband.

We later analyzed which attorneys were granted the work on personnel cases and found that in past years, it was almost guaranteed that those kind of cases would go to her husband's firm. It is unclear, however, whether her husband, dubbed a partner in the firm, profits from the overall success of the firm or solely from his own billings.

Rodger Hartnett, a former employee who is suing the agency for wrongful termination, complained to the state Fair Political Practices Commission that Fort-Merrill has a financial stake in sending work to his law firm. The FPPC sent Hartnett a letter last week saying it would investigate the allegations.

Not all complaints are investigated: The FPPC typically reviews complaints and decides within 14 days whether to investigate them or not, said spokeswoman Tara Stock. The agency bases its decisions whether the alleged actions could be a violation of the state Political Reform Act. Opening up an investigation does not mean that the allegations are valid or that the accused people are guilty.

Hartnett alleges he was fired for blowing the whistle on what he described as "a culture of corruption" at the agency. He is suing not only the office but two of its employees, including Fort-Merrill, as individuals because he claims they personally retaliated against him. The County Office and its employees counter that Hartnett was discharged for misconduct and poor performance that occurred months before he began raising concerns.

His "inflammatory and unsubstantiated claims against [Fort-Merrill] were an eleventh hour smokescreen to obscure the true reasons for his termination," wrote Pamela Lawton Wilson, one of Fort-Merrill's attorneys, in a legal brief.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bertha Lopez, Jose Lopez and Bonny Garcia: no longer one big happy family at Otay

See more on Otay Water District.
See all posts re Bertha Lopez

Law firm gets caught between agencies
Otay water district’s attorney steps aside, stays on with Sweetwater schools
By Tanya Sierra
January 5, 2011

A law firm that represents two South Bay governments, a school board and a water district, has had to drop one because of an apparent dispute between the agencies.

Garcia Calderon Ruiz, LLP, has tendered its resignation to the Otay Water District board after 10 years, in a letter saying partners had “been placed in the middle of adversarial relationships that have developed between members of the Otay board of directors and the board of trustees of the Sweetwater Union High School District.”

The firm would not elaborate.

The president of the Otay water board, Jaime Bonilla, said he may have caused the rift by making an offhand comment to one of the attorneys at the firm.

Bonilla is friends with Bertha Lopez, a board member of the Sweetwater Union High School District who is being sued by a district admistrator who accuses her of meddling in the alternative education department. Lopez says she was just doing her due diligence as a board member.

Bonilla commented to a Garcia Calderon Ruiz attorney that he thought Lopez was being treated unfairly.

Bonilla said he was later informed by the law firm that Sweetwater officials issued an ultimatum — either Otay went away as a client, or Sweetwater would.

The firm chose to drop Otay, which also has Bertha's husband Jose Lopez on its board.

The decision will cost the firm about $500,000 a year from Otay, but will allow it to keep making about $1 million a year representing the Sweetwater schools.

Sweetwater’s legal budget is $750,000, but it paid the law firm $1.2 million two years ago and at least $904,000 last year.

Calls to Sweetwater Superintendent Jesus Gandara were not returned Wednesday. A district spokeswoman said he would be unavailable, as he and other administrators were on unpaid furlough due to budget problems.

Bertha Lopez failed to do due diligence at Castle Park Elementary, so what exactly was she doing at Sweetwater Union High School District?

See all posts re Bertha Lopez

I know that school board member Bertha Lopez kept her head firmly planted in the sand during a serious crisis at my school in Chula Vista Elementary School District. Rather than do due diligence, she preferred to pay lawyers $100,000s of tax dollars over a period of years. She and other board members refused to turn over Bate-stamped documents, and refused to testify. Why? Well, it's sort of a vicious circle: it's what the lawyers told them to do!

So I'm not inclined to fully believe her when she says she was doing due diligence at her new district. What she was doing, in my opinion, was playing politics. If the politics had been different, Bertha would have switched over to the other side in this case in a heartbeat.

I do believe that most judges feel obligated to find in favor of school districts. People in government feel a duty to protect government. And schools are such a slimy mess, what judge in his right mind would want to wade into the swamp?

Sweetwater official loses suit against trustee

Administrator claimed intrusion, board member said she was just doing her job
San Diego Union-Tribune
By Tanya Sierra
January 11, 2011


An administrator who sued Sweetwater Union High School District board member Bertha Lopez lost her case last week.

Charlene Lemons-Shivers, who was director of alternative education, claimed she suffered undue scrutiny from Lopez for reporting unapproved overtime for an employee. She complained that Lopez targeted the program through questions and unannounced visits. Lopez said she was doing her due diligence as a board member.

Last week, Superior Court Judge William Cannon ruled in favor of Lopez and the district by dismissing the case.

“It is critical that our elected officials feel free to express their concerns without fear of litigation,” Lopez attorney Dan Shinoff said in a statement. “Otherwise, our elected officials would have to balance their concerns with fear of personal concerns of litigation. She was sued personally and had to deal with the anxiety of litigation for many months. Ms. Lopez and the District have been vindicated.”

Lemons-Shivers did not return a call seeking comment. The administrator was recently reassigned from her position over Alternative Education, where she supervised nearly 200 people over several campuses. She is now director of Educational Technology & Data, in which she supervises seven people. Her pay of $131,397 has not changed.

Linda Jenkins, who worked with Lemons-Shivers on the African-American Student/Parent Conference and a tour of historically black colleges, praised her as a strong role model for black students.

“Who is going to lead the black kids now that she’s been beaten into the ground?” Jenkins said.

Shinoff said he intends to seek reimbursement of about $30,000 from Lemons-Shivers for defending the case.

Law firm gets caught between agencies: Otay water district’s attorney steps aside, stays on with Sweetwater schools

Overtime issue erupts into Sweetwater lawsuit: Administrator says she faced retribution

Bills total $83,000 in administrator case: Department head sued Sweetwater Union High School District

Struggling students excluded from test scores: Sweetwater recalculation shows test gains would have been smaller without realignment

Sweetwater special ed set-up faces state review

Eliminationist rhetoric lies behind the rising tide of violence

Climate of Hate
January 9, 2011
New York Times

When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?

Put me in the latter category. I’ve had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach ever since the final stages of the 2008 campaign. I remembered the upsurge in political hatred after Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 — an upsurge that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. And you could see, just by watching the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies, that it was ready to happen again. The Department of Homeland Security reached the same conclusion: in April 2009 an internal report warned that right-wing extremism was on the rise, with a growing potential for violence.

Conservatives denounced that report. But there has, in fact, been a rising tide of threats and vandalism aimed at elected officials, including both Judge John Roll, who was killed Saturday, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords. One of these days, someone was bound to take it to the next level. And now someone has.

It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.

Last spring reported on a surge in threats against members of Congress, which were already up by 300 percent. A number of the people making those threats had a history of mental illness — but something about the current state of America has been causing far more disturbed people than before to act out their illness by threatening, or actually engaging in, political violence.

And there’s not much question what has changed. As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it’s “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.” The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.

It’s important to be clear here about the nature of our sickness. It’s not a general lack of “civility,” the favorite term of pundits who want to wish away fundamental policy disagreements. Politeness may be a virtue, but there’s a big difference between bad manners and calls, explicit or implicit, for violence; insults aren’t the same as incitement.

The point is that there’s room in a democracy for people who ridicule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn’t any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary.

And it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence...