Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Are schools better than the CIA at keeping secrets?

I was struck by how much the following article reminded me of the manner in which school districts and their attorneys conceal problems in schools.

"...[R]edacted passages revealed the agency's incompetence, rather than sensitive information."

Aug 30, 2011 20:31 ET
Censored by the CIA
A 23-year veteran of the agency reveals how the vetting process is used to stifle critics of the war on terror
By Laura Miller

News that the CIA has demanded "extensive cuts" from a forthcoming book by former FBI agent Ali Soufan made the front page of the New York Times last week. But Soufan's isn't the only recent memoir to earn the intelligence agency's wrath by, in part, criticizing its use of brutal interrogation techniques in the decade since 9/11. There's also "The Interrogator," by Glenn Carle, a 23-year CIA veteran who was given the task of questioning a purported al-Qaida kingpin in 2002. Carle's book was published earlier this summer with many passages -- and occasionally entire pages -- blocked out with black bars to show where the agency had insisted on redactions.

Soufan has called many of the CIA's excisions from his own book "ridiculous," pointing out that some of the "classified" information is a matter of public record and appears in the 9/11 report and even in a memoir by former CIA director George Tenet. Carle had a similar experience; "The Interrogator" is laced with caustic footnotes explaining that redacted passages revealed the agency's incompetence, rather than sensitive information.

When I reviewed Carle's book in July, I made a few guesses about facts the author was obliged to leave out of "The Interrogator." Less than a day had passed before I learned that most of my guesses were wrong. Readers sent me helpful emails with links to articles supplying all the missing details, including the identity of the detainee Carle interrogated, a man he eventually came to believe was innocent.

If the CIA is trying to prevent information in Soufan's and Carle's manuscripts from reaching the public, they've obviously already failed. If anything, the agency's efforts to censor these and other books only seem likely to inflame interest in the forbidden material, which will surface anyway. Does the CIA's power to vet the writings of former government employees have any teeth in the Internet age? I decided to call up Carle to ask about his experience with the agency's censors...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Former Baseball Coach Sentenced For Embezzlement

It's interesting that folks who embezzle from schools get prosecuted all over San Diego County, but Chula Vista Elementary School District embezzlers get a pass. The PTA president of Castle Park Elementary was arrested for embezzling $20,000, but Bonnie Dumanis chose not to prosecute. Perhaps Bonnie didn't want to bring attention to all the problems at Castle Park Elementary. That certainly wouldn't have helped Cheryl Cox politically.

Former Baseball Coach Sentenced For Embezzlement
Larry Rinehart, 59, Guilty Of Embezzling Funds From Monte Vista High School
Channel 10 News
August 30, 2011

EL CAJON, Calif. -- A former Monte Vista High School baseball coach who stole $16,000 in team funds, which he used to gamble at county casinos, was sentenced Tuesday to 240 days in jail.

Larry Rinehart, 59, was convicted Aug. 2 of two felony counts related to embezzling team funds from 2005 to 2007.

In addition to the jail term, El Cajon Judge Lantz Lewis sentenced Rinehart to five years probation and ordered him to take anti-theft classes and stay away from casinos. He initially faced as much as three years in prison before Lewis opted for the lower sentence.

"You abused your position of trust," Lantz said to Rinehart, citing what he called "repeated acts of deceit," including more than 100 transactions involving team money that Rinehart used for gambling at local casinos.

The judge said he had to balance the criminal act against the fact that Rinehart spent his entire adult life teaching and coaching young people, and had no prior criminal record.

Rinehart did not speak at his sentencing, but his attorney read his words aloud: "To the community, students, administration and staff of Monte Vista High School, I apologize to all of you for betraying your trust."

The statement went on to say how Rinehart has paid a steep price for the decisions he made, losing his teaching credentials and being forced to resign from Mount Helix High, where he taught money matters and personal finance classes. It also said he will get help for both his depression and gambling "issues."

Rinehart's attorney argued that he should get probation, but Deputy District Attorney Daniel Shim argued that prison time was warranted because this was a long-term embezzlement scheme, impacting dozens of players on his team.

A representative for the Grossmont Union High School District read a statement to the judge: "As one of the largest school districts in the nation, I believe it is incumbent upon me as a representative of the district to let this court know that at any time, the loss of public funds creates a crisis it has a deep financial impact on student programs and results in a lack of confidence in the larger school community, which hurts all of us deeply. And in a time of fiscal crisis -- like that which we are currently experiencing -- the effect becomes even more profound on our students' opportunities."

The statement concludes: "It is our hope that all the monies will be returned as quickly as possible. Thank you for acting on behalf of our kids."

Rinehart was ordered to pay the money back in increments of at least $100 per month after his release from jail. At that rate, Shim said it would take 41 years to get full restitution.

Outside the courtroom, two parents of former players were disappointed with the sentence.

"It doesn't really send the message I was hoping it would send," said parent Kirk Gentry. "He's definitely betrayed the trust of the public, of the players, the school, the school district. It's very disappointing that they only gave him a short period of time in custody."

Gentry was one of the parents who helped investigators track the money, which he said Rinehart had placed in a hidden account.

Katherine Vance said a stronger sentence was warranted and she wants the embezzled money returned as soon as possible.

"I think that he should have to sell his house and pay back all the money," said Vance.

Rinehart's wife, Margaret, now faces two criminal counts of receiving stolen property and aiding and abetting a criminal act. Her trial date is fast approaching.

Prior to his arrest, Rinehart taught accounting, money matters and personal finance classes at Helix High School. He coached baseball at Monte Vista High from 2003 to 2007.

Judge: Missouri's 'Facebook Law' Violates Teachers' Free Speech Rights

Judge: Missouri's 'Facebook Law' Violates Teachers' Free Speech Rights
by Wendy Davis
Media Post Publications
August 29, 2011

A state judge in Missouri has struck down a new law in that state that would have restricted teachers' ability to use social networking sites.

The law, which aimed to protect students from sex abuse, prohibited teachers from having accounts on Facebook or other social networking sites that allow "exclusive access" with a student.

Last Monday, the Missouri Teachers Association filed suit to have the statute declared unconstitutional. The teachers' group argued that the law violates their First Amendment free speech rights. The teacher leading the protests, Christina Thomas, argued that the law's provisions were so broad as to make it illegal for her to communicate with her own child through social sites.

Late last week, a judge agreed. Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem issued an injunction banning the state from enforcing the new law for at least 180 days.

"The breadth of the prohibition is staggering," Beetem wrote.

"Social networking is extensively used by educators," he continued, adding that the law is so far-reaching that it "clearly prohibits communications between family members and their teacher parents using these types of sites."

It isn't surprising that the law was struck down, given just how broad it was -- and how little sense it made. Rather than protecting students, the law would cut off a means of communication for no reason other than a fear of technology. After all, teachers can talk to students in person every day of the school year.

Notorious El Nino Doubles Civil Wars, Scientists Say

Notorious El Nino Doubles Civil Wars, Scientists Say
International Business Times
August 24, 2011

The El Nino climate cycle brings not only high temperatures and dry weather, but also more chances of civil wars, a new study claims.

Between 1950 and 2004, the risk of civil wars doubled in 90 tropical countries when hit by El Nino, is the warm phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, a periodic warming and cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean.

A farmer guides his carabao on dried and cracked farmland in San Juan town, Batangas province, south of Manila April 18, 2010. A mild dry spell brought about by the El Nino phenomenon damaged the Philippines' agriculture sector and caused power shortages due to low water levels at hydro power plants.

El Nino Weather Events Linked to Tropical Civil Wars - Study

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While its partner La Nina is a cool, rainy period, El Nino brings high temperature and more scarce rainfall every three to seven years, impacting weather patterns across much of Africa, the Mideast, India, southeast Asia, Australia, and the Americas, which holds half the world's population.

Interacting with other factors including wind and temperature cycles over the other oceans, El Nino can vary dramatically in power and length. At its most intense, it brings scorching heat and multi-year droughts.

In the study published in Wednesday's Nature, scientists from Princeton University and Columbia University's Earth Institute used statistics to link global weather observations and outbreaks of violence.

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The scientists correlated ENSO from 1950 to 2004 with onsets of civil conflicts that killed more than 25 people in a given year. The data included 175 countries and 234 conflicts, with over half of which each caused more than 1,000 battle-related deaths.

The findings suggest that the arrival of El Nino doubled the risk of civil conflict across 90 affected tropical countries, and may help account for a fifth of worldwide conflicts over the past half-century.

Remarkable links were found between El Nino patterns and civil unrest in Peru in 1982 and Sudan in 1963.

Further, a strong link between violence and El Nino were also found in El Salvador, the Philippines and Uganda in 1972; Angola, Haiti and Myanmar in 1991, and Congo, Eritrea, Indonesia and Rwanda in 1997.

"This is the first major evidence that the global climate is a major factor in organized violence around the world," says Solomon M. Hsiang, the study's lead author, a graduate of the Earth Institute's Ph.D. in sustainable development.

While the study does not blame specific wars on El Nino, it confirms many scientists' speculation over the strong link between climate-conflict.

Just this July, the UN Security Council discussed on climate-driven conflicts. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that the possible adverse effects of climate change are "not only exacerbates threats to international peace and security; it is a threat to international peace and security".

"The most important thing is that this looks at modern times, and it's done on a global scale," said Hsiang. "We can speculate that a long-ago Egyptian dynasty was overthrown during a drought. That's a specific time and place, that may be very different from today, so people might say, 'OK, we're immune to that now.' This study shows a systematic pattern of global climate affecting conflict, and shows it right now."

"No one should take this to say that climate is our fate. Rather, this is compelling evidence that it has a measurable influence on how much people fight overall," said the co-author Mark Cane, a climate scientist at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

"It is not the only factor--you have to consider politics, economics, all kinds of other things."

According to Cane, the poorest countries respond to El Nino with violence.

The natural El Nino cycle is different from manmade global warming which continuously ramps up the temperature and extreme weather, according to the researchers. Global warming would have even greater impacts than the El Niño, and is more likely to provoke conflicts, noted Cane.

El Nino patterns can be predicted up to two years ahead, the study may give room for pre-emptive action for some conflicts and reduce humanitarian suffering.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Interactive Timeline of last 30 years from Education Week

K - 12 America Since 1981
Produced by: Education Week Staff
Background Photos by: Leah Nash for Education Week, Trent Nelson for Education Week,
Bernard Troncale/The Birmingham News/AP-File, Steve Helber/AP-File, Bob Daugherty/AP-File, and the White House.
August 24, 2011

This interactive timeline digs deep into the Education Week archives to tell the story of U.S. education and the changing policies, theories, and perspectives that have influenced it since 1981, the year the publication began.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Study Measures Bullying's Academic Toll

Study Measures Bullying's Academic Toll
By Nirvi Shah
August 23, 2011

While bullying is known to leave physical and emotional scars, a new studyRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader finds that victims may suffer long-lasting academic effects, and high-achieving black and Latino students are especially vulnerable.

Building off of previous research that found high-achieving black and Latino students are more likely to be bullied, Ohio State University doctoral student Lisa M. Williams and Anthony A. Peguero, an assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Tech University, found that bullying, in turn, could lead to lower achievement for victims.

Their study is due to be presented Tuesday at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in Las Vegas.

The sociologists found that the grade point average of all students who were bullied in 10th grade dropped slightly by 12th grade. By their senior year, black students who had a 3.5 grade point average, on a scale of 0 to 4, as freshmen, lost almost one-third of a point if they had been bullied. The result was more pronounced for Latino victims of bullying: They lost half a point. That compares with a loss of less than one-tenth of a point for white students who had undergone such harassment, the researchers found.

One reason minority students seemed to suffer larger academic aftereffects, Ms. Williams said, could stem from some of the stereotypes about minority students, including that they are tough or street smart, compared to their peers from other racial and ethnic groups.

“Schools may think that because students are black and Latino, they’re better able to handle bullying,” she said, “and their schools won’t have the same type of [bullying prevention] programs.”

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On the other hand, Ms. Williams said, there are often prevention strategies in place at many predominantly white schools. Instead, schools must employ bullying-prevention programs regardless of the racial and ethnic backgrounds of their students, she said.

This fall, the U.S. Department of Education will begin a study that looks at how local bullying policies are put into action in several individual school districts and states. At about the same time, the Education Department will share the results of an analysis of current state anti-bullying laws and model policies. The study will aim to identify promising strategies that school districts are implementing to combat bullying in schools. This information will be used by the department to better support bullying-prevention activities.

Ms. Williams’ and Mr. Peguero’s results were based on the academic performance of 9,590 students in 580 schools. While many factors contribute to students’ academic performance, the researchers controlled for some other variables often associated with students’ academic achievement. They eliminated family background, previous grades, and school characteristics when calculating the effect of bullying on students’ grades.

In a previous study published earlier this year, Ms. Williams and Mr. Peguero found that black and Latino students who have high test scores, countering stereotypes of low academic achievement among such students, are more likely to be harassed or teased at school. They also found that low-achieving Asian-American students—going against stereotype—were also particularly vulnerable to bullying. Another study by Mr. Peguero has found that black and Latino students bullied at school are more likely to drop out than their peers.

For the study released at this week’s conference in Las Vegas, Ms. Williams and Mr. Peguero came to their conclusions by comparing students’ academic baseline performance as 9th graders, before they had been bullied, with their academic achievement four years later as high school seniors. They found that about 40 percent of all students in their study answered yes to questions about being bullied, including whether they had been hit, bullied, or threatened with violence in the previous year.

Earlier this year, another studyRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader involving school bullies and stereotypes suggested that the most likely campus aggressors aren’t the most popular or most socially outcast students—those most typically thought of as potential bullies. Mapping of students’ social networks found instead that children somewhere in the middle of the social hierarchies in their schools were the most likely bullies on campus.

A chance to listen to Catherine Lhamon, one of the attorneys who won case about massive teacher layoffs at low-income schools (also Camille Zombro)

I attended this event, but we didn't find out why SDEA has added a vice-president. (See comment below.)

Talking Teacher Layoffs
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego
Aug 22, 2011

When teachers get laid off, disadvantaged schools often get hit hardest because they tend to have the newest teachers, and the newest teachers usually get laid off first.

Civil rights groups launched a suit to try to curb that phenomenon in Los Angeles, arguing that if teachers were laid off strictly by seniority, the neediest kids would lose the most.

Los Angeles worked out a controversial settlement that spared some schools from layoffs but worsened them elsewhere. But what will happen here? Though teacher layoffs have been lessened, hundreds of San Diego teachers are still getting the ax, resulting in big disruptions at schools.

Come listen to Camille Zombro, vice president of the local teachers union; Catherine Lhamon, one of the attorneys who lodged the Los Angeles case; and your humble education reporter (me) talk about teacher layoffs, their many impacts, and the debate over whether schools could find a better way at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law this Wednesday night.

There will be a reception from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and the panel will run from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The event is sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties and the San Diego Lawyer chapter of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy...


Emily, maybe you can tell us readers about the position of Vice President at San Diego Education Association. Is this a new position paid for by union dues? Is it a full-time job? Is the person annually elected to the position as the President is? When was this position established?

I had always understood that after an SDEA President completes two terms in office, he or she returns the the rank-and-file and the classroom. But here is Camille Zombro, SDEA Vice President after already having been President for two years, filling in for SDEA President Bill Freeman at your roundtable. What's with that?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Colleges and universities are making it harder for average American families to afford higher education, while making it easier for the wealthy

Even at Swarthmore, which runs its plan in-house, the fee is 2.6 percent, or an extra $1,330 a year...

The Hidden Costs of Higher Ed
New York Times
August 21, 2011

OVER the next few weeks, millions of Americans will be heading off to college, and despite the promise of need-blind admissions, more of them than ever will be struggling to pay for it. It’s not just the economy’s fault: even as they publicize lavish financial aid packages, colleges and universities are making it harder for average American families to afford higher education, while making it easier for the wealthy.

In the past, families and students covered their tuition with lump payments at the beginning of each semester. To ease the burden of such large bills — recent data shows that tuition and fees have increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007 — many colleges have instituted monthly payment plans, while charging zero interest. Even many families that could afford to pay an entire semester upfront find such plans appealing.

Though such plans have undoubtedly allowed a greater number of modest-income students to go to college, they can actually end up unintentionally raising tuition costs. While the plans typically don’t charge a fee for payments made by check or direct deposit, they tack on a hefty charge for credit card payments.

Why? Because most institutions outsource the management of their plans to private companies, which have to make a profit. They charge universities a fee for processing credit card payments, and the schools pass those costs on to students and families, amounting to over a thousand dollars or more per year in some cases.

For example, some of the top liberal arts colleges in America, including Williams, Amherst and Wellesley, use a company called Tuition Management Services, where the fee is 2.99 percent for each payment made by credit card. At Amherst, where tuition, room and board cost $53,370, that’s an extra $1,595 if all payments are made by credit card. Even at Swarthmore, which runs its plan in-house, the fee is 2.6 percent, or an extra $1,330 a year...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Strange redacting of public records at SDUSD: Sally Smith and Emily Alpert given very different versions of records

Maura Larkins comment: It's no wonder SDUSD wants to charge for producing public records. It takes a lot of time to do all that redacting!

S.D. Unified to review public records policy following complaint
Parent was originally told she would be charged for staff time to make copies
Ashly McGlone
San Diego Union-Tribune
Aug. 19, 2011

A parent-activist who was going to be charged for staff time so she could see San Diego Unified Superintendent Bill Kowba’s calendar won’t incur that cost, after her story was highlighted in The Watchdog.

The district ended up charging Sally Smith $2.70 — 10 cents a page — for the cost of duplicating the public record.

Smith had been told she would be charged 10 cents per page “plus clerical time for the actual duplication, at a rate of $20 to $28 per hour.”

Typically, public agencies charge for the cost of making a copy, not for staff time to do so.

After The Watchdog highlighted the effort to charge Smith for staff time, the district backed away.

The district’s policy of charging for staff time in such cases previously caught the attention of the Sacramento-based open-government group Californians Aware. That fee contributed to the district earning an F in the group’s audit of public agency compliance with public records law, released earlier this year.

District officials said they will now review their copying rates.

“We are entitled to recover the costs to produce a record that is maintained in electronic form,” said Andra Donovan, the district’s deputy general counsel. She added, “In light of the concerns raised by the U-T, we will review our copying charges to make sure they are an accurate reflection of the direct costs of duplication.”

Additionally, The Watchdog compared the calendar provided to Smith with a calendar provided to Emily Alpert of and found that Smith’s calendar was incomplete and the redacting was inconsistent.

Alpert’s version included auditor visits, as well as cabinet, area superintendent and principal meetings, charity meetings, chamber of commerce and city events, select employee travel, sexual harassment training for a staff member, and media interviews — all of which were left off Smith’s calendar.

Meanwhile, Smith’s calendar included a carpool meet-up with the dean of San Diego State University’s College of Education and other employee travel redacted from the calendar provided to Alpert.

By law, agencies may withhold documents related to pending litigation and personnel, medical or similar files if disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

Told of the discrepancy, Donovan said the district will reproduce a more complete calendar and give it to Smith free of charge.

“We will also review our redaction policies to make sure we are consistently and appropriately redacting information,” Donovan said.

Smith, who wished to compare Kowba’s appointments with those of former Superintendent Terry Grier, said she was concerned about the district’s handling of her request.

“Californians Aware graded school districts across the state and San Diego Unified got an F, and I can see why. It is intimidating to go in and ask for public records and have to encounter so much trouble getting them,” Smith said. “San Diego Unified has to be more transparent and has to be open to requests and let the public see what it is doing.”

In 2009, The San Diego Union-Tribune requested copies of the calendars for 55 local government leaders, including Grier. The requests were all fulfilled with no fees.

District officials said budget cuts no longer allow for such freebies.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Did Tri-City Hospital board member George Coulter, who accused Kathleen Sterling, give false testimony in his deposition?

Tri-City Healthcare board member George Coulter

"Court records indicate that Coulter testified May 27, during a deposition in a separate case involving Sterling, that he "had a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Gold Coast University in Orange County. Stone says in court documents that Gold Coast does not exist in Orange County or Ventura County."

OCEANSIDE: Fellow director's credentials questioned in Sterling case
August 18, 2011

A question over a colleague's credentials is the latest wrinkle to surface in the legal battle surrounding Tri-City Healthcare District director Kathleen Sterling.

Sterling's attorney, public defender Sherry Stone, is asking the court to force hospital director George Coulter to produce a diploma showing he has earned a doctorate in clinical psychology. A judge is set to rule on that request Aug. 26.

Court records indicate that Coulter testified May 27, during a deposition in a separate case involving Sterling, that he "had a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Gold Coast University in Orange County."

Stone says in court documents that Gold Coast does not exist in Orange County or Ventura County.

According to a transcript from a court hearing June 30, Stone's request for the diploma calls into question Coulter's credibility.

"We've found no evidence that he does possess that degree," Stone said at the hearing.

"He's stated in depositions, as well as at the preliminary hearing, that he had obtained it at two different universities, neither of which exists," she added. "So he's given conflicting testimony. His credibility is at issue."

Coulter did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment. A rebuttal filed by his attorney, Robert Ottilie, called Stone's subpoena "an abuse of process" and said whether Coulter can locate his diploma is not relevant to the case.

[Maura Larkins comment to Bob Ottilie: How about asking him to at least locate the university? That's a lot bigger than a diploma and should be much easier to find--if it exists.]

Sterling faces a misdemeanor charge of undue influence stemming from her decision to vote against sanctions against her approved by the Tri-City hospital board July 12, 2010.

It was at that meeting that the hospital board voted to forward information to the San Diego County Grand Jury regarding a now-controversial dinner meeting at a local steakhouse.

Prosecutors later brought two criminal charges against Sterling. On June 1, Superior Court Judge K. Michael Kirkman dismissed the most serious charge ---- felony vote-trading charge ---- but allowed a misdemeanor charge of undue influence to remain.

Stone had filed a motion to dismiss the remaining misdemeanor charge on grounds that the board's sanctions against Sterling, which eventually spawned the criminal investigations and charges, violated the hospital director's due process rights.

A hearing on Stone's motion to dismiss is set for Sept. 16.

Sweetwater Unified High School District didn't follow the rules in spending half a million dollars on PR

The Fine Print on Sweetwater PR
August 18, 2011
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego

Sweetwater schools spent more than half a million dollars on communications and outreach for their facilities bond, we reported today. Tracking those communication costs can be difficult because they're part of a bigger contract to manage the bond.

It's also tough because the contract itself never mentions the firm that got the work, Marston + Marston Inc. That surprised me: The bond management contract says if the company hires subconsultants like Marston + Marston, it will submit a written request that describes the work and name the subconsulting company and its hourly rates. Sweetwater then decides in writing whether to approve the deal.

That didn't happen with Marston + Marston. Program manager Jaime Ortiz said Marston was not brought up separately for written approval because its workers were already covered under a staffing plan that was automatically approved along with the bond management contract.

But Marston + Marston isn't actually named in that plan. The staffing plan just includes the names of positions like "communication specialist" and "outreach manager" and their fees and hours, which correspond to the hourly rates that Marston employees have been paid.

To read the contract for yourself, click here. The staffing plan is on pages 56 through 58.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

‘Truly Mind-Boggling’ Cuts Loom for Grossmont and Cuyamaca Colleges, Chancellor Says

‘Truly Mind-Boggling’ Cuts Loom for Grossmont and Cuyamaca Colleges, Chancellor Says
Cindy Miles, newcomer to La Mesa and community college district, says nearly 800 class sections will be lost and 5,000 students turned away.
By Ken Stone
La Mesa Patch
March 29, 2011

Cindy Miles says she didn't give a thought to the president's opening at San Diego State. "This is The Show," she said. "This is the real work."

Cindy Miles grew up in Pasadena, TX, then known as "Stink-adena" for its paper mills.
Cindy Miles says she's tried all the downtown La Mesa restaurants and "recommends them all."

In her first visit to Grossmont College, Cindy Miles said she thought the modular building housing the chancellor's office was a maintenance structure.
“Cheers” is Cindy Miles' signature sign-off in email—and her attitude toward life, she says.
If Cindy Miles had her way, the district would add a performing arts building with enough space to hold graduations.

Cuts looming for Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges are “truly mind-boggling,” says the leader of East County’s community college district, a new La Mesan who herself knows financial distress.

Under a “best-case” scenario, the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District would lose 600 course sections as a result of the state budget ax—after chopping 1,000 sections over the past two years, says Cindy Miles, chancellor since March 2009.

“We’re potentially cutting up to 20 percent of our course offerings”—under the best forecast, she said Friday—before Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision Tuesday to call off budget talks with Republicans on a June ballot on extending higher taxes.

The district now is operating under “Plan B” revenue assumptions (see attached letter), said district spokeswoman Anne Krueger on Wednesday. That includes funding under Proposition 98—the 1988 voter-approved amendment to the state Constitution that led to a minimum annual funding level for K-12 schools and community colleges.

Community enrichment classes? Stand-alone courses?

“They’re gone,” Miles said.

Students already will face a steep rise in costs. Last Thursday, Brown signed into law a boost in student fees from $26 a credit unit to $36 a unit, starting this fall.

That money won’t go to colleges, Miles notes, but into the state’s general fund which pays for public schooling.

Like many other educators, Miles, 56, said Friday she would tell Republicans in the state Legislature to allow a Brown-backed bill to go forward that would let Californians decide on extending several state taxes.

“Let the voters decide on how they want to spend our tax dollar—whether they are willing to extend these taxes to make sure the education and future of their state is protected,” she said.

And like many Americans, she has suffered in the economy—taking a big loss to sell her home outside Miami before moving to a rental near The Village, which she shares with her only child—son Gabriel, a recent graduate of Florida International University.

“I was caught up in the real estate crash like everybody else,” Miles said Friday in an interview at her modest Grossmont College office. Her mortgage was “upside down”—meaning the home near Miami she bought in 2005 at the top of the market was worth less in 2009 than what she owed on it.

“I lost a lot of money, just like everyone else in the nation,” said Miles, whose three-year contract through 2012 pays $245,000 a year, not including $1,050 a month for auto and other expenses.

Unlike K-12 school districts, however, Miles says hers isn’t planning pink slips.

In a “Dear Colleagues” letter circulated Thursday, Miles wrote: “Let me again reassure you that we have no plans for layoffs and we are not considering this option as we work with our budget councils and employee groups to solve our problems. Even in a worst-case scenario, we would call on our employees to help develop solutions to share the pain of cost-cutting with our students.”

But fewer students would be admitted to the two-campus district under any budget scenario, she wrote. Under “Plan C,” in fact, more than 1,000 additional classes would be cut—with 8,000 students turned away.

The district would freeze all but the state-mandated positions, purchase nothing but “indispensable items” and work with employee groups to identify “fair share” solutions—which could include voluntary furloughs, ending summer school and closing nonessential facilities.

But one effort that won’t end is a Department of Advancement Services in the chancellor’s office—a fundraising and “grant-development system that never existed” in the 50-year-old district.

“We’re very serious about this,” said Miles, who worked at Miami Dade Community College when it acquired a reputation as the most successful grant-generating community college in the nation.

Kids in La Mesa succeed in kindergarten when focus is broad, not just on academics

"And it’s become so academic it’s almost against my principles of teaching like this. Really. It shouldn’t be that way. That’s what made me make my decision.”

Unrelenting Ruth: Leiderman of Murray Manor is Longest-Serving Teacher
But kindergarten veteran is parting in sorrow and protest in 2012
By Doug Williams
La Mesa Patch
May 7, 2011

Even after all these years, Ruth Leiderman still gets nervous and can’t sleep the night before the first day of school in September. It’s the joy of being around children that keeps her going...

“She believes passionately that we not only teach the academics but also develop the whole child developmentally.

“The mentality that has crept into some educational institutions has been ‘put away the clay.’ Not Mrs. Leiderman and her incredible kinder colleagues. I can walk into her classroom on any given day throughout the year and she has something amazing going on for the students. It could be a life-size igloo made of milk cartons, a Polar Express train running down the middle of her room, or all the students dressed as kings and queens.”

Those are examples of the old-school kindergarten values that Leiderman still believes in.

While teachers are now held more accountable for test scores and measured student growth, Leiderman continues to incorporate as much hands-on play as possible.

In her classroom, she still has sand tables, easels, a playhouse and uses clay and Play-Doh, whenever she can mold them into the curriculum.

As she says, “I’ve adapted.”

Yet she disagrees with some of the change.

“The standards have increased,” she says, explaining kindergarten evolution. “And I don’t mind saying, I personally don’t feel for the better. ... I’m actually sad to see the way it went. Very sad.

“I still think the kindergartners should be doing things other than reading and writing. There’s plenty for them to do that’s developmental. … I think learning through play is lost. I truly believe that children learn through play. And that’s gone. All those discoveries that they used to make on their own.”

Leiderman says she’s grateful that at Murray Manor she’s been allowed to blend the old with the new. She knows it’s not the norm at some schools.

As the day unfolds, two hours of language arts are scheduled in the morning, followed by recess, math, lunch and then social studies, science, music, art and “developmental time” when she can blend in the clay and the play.

And is the old-school approach hurting the new-age expectations?

No, says Magliato. He says Leiderman still “maintains rigorous academics” and her class is exceeding the reading-level expectations for this year...

Next year is my last year,” she says. “Do you want to know why? Write it carefully when you write it. I don’t like the way education is going. I’m upset that there’s 30 kids in kindergarten. I think there’s no business for 30 kids to be in kindergarten. And it’s become so academic it’s almost against my principles of teaching like this. Really. It shouldn’t be that way. That’s what made me make my decision.”...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

School Board Member Among 270 Owing on ‘Delinquent’ Sewer Accounts

School Board Member Among 270 Owing on ‘Delinquent’ Sewer Accounts
School trustee Bill Baber, treasurer to several political campaigns, faces $407 lien on property taxes.
By Ken Stone
La Mesa Patch
August 17, 2011

Thanks to recent council action, La Mesa hopes to collect $126,000 from people who haven’t paid their sewer bills—about 270 residents, businesses and other property owners.

Among those targeted is Bill Baber, a three-term member of the La Mesa-Spring Valley school board who served as campaign treasurer for incumbent Ernie Ewin in the 2010 La Mesa City Council race and state Sen. Joel Anderson.

Baber, an attorney, is currently the treasurer of Steve Danon’s campaign to unseat county Supervisor Pam Slater-Price in 2012.

Baber owes the city $407.72, according to a list of delinquent sewer accounts dated Aug. 3 (attached).

When contacted Tuesday night, Baber said he didn’t know he was on the sewer lien list—approved by a 5-0 vote of the City Council on July 26.

“I will investigate [the bill],” Baber said after Tuesday’s school board meeting. “If it’s a valid claim, I’ll take care of it.”

Also on the delinquent account list is Richard Bucklew, a member of the PBID Formation Committee, which is working to create a system in The Village where property owners tax themselves for various improvements and services.

Bucklew, owner of Don Keating Used Cars on La Mesa Boulevard, owes $747.56 on two parcels, according to the delinquent account list. In 2008, he owed $233.29. (The 2008 delinquent list said 359 accounts owed the city a total $103,747.)

An email to Bucklew’s business address wasn’t returned by late Tuesday night.

By far the largest amount owed by an individual is $9,521.50 by Joyce A. Peterson, who had to pay $4,457 in 2008 as well. The No. 2 individual is Charles Rowe, said to owe $1,428.

Sotal University Inc. owes $8,328, according to the 2011 list, and Sideral Systems Associates Inc. owes $1,039. In 2008, it owed $670.

On Nov. 8, a news release from Flocke & Avoyer Commercial Real Estate noted that Peterson had leased about 2,480 square feet at 5611 Lake Murray Blvd. to Scott Winston for a fitness center.

“The lease is for five years with a consideration of $195,708.12,” said Flocke & Avoyer.

The City Clerk’s Office said Tuesday it sent the names of delinquent accounts to the county Recorder’s Office so these can be added to the property tax bills of the listed people. When property tax bills go out, residents with liens will have to pay extra—the amount owed on sewer bills. The city then get its money.

Baber was first elected to the school board in 2000; his current term ends in December 2012. He has served as treasurer for Oceanside Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, a group reportedly backed by Associated Builders and Contractors, which is critical of labor unions.

Baber is listed as government affairs director for ABC’s San Diego chapter.

In December 2010, the state Fair Political Practices Commission found that Baber had violated state law “because you should have reflected the name of your sponsor in the name of your committee” during an Oceanside campaign.

But the FPPC levied no fine—only a warning...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Trustee seeks to keep bonus issue before school board

Trustee still irate over retirement bonus
Written by
Jeff McDonald
Aug. 11, 2011

County schools Trustee Jerry Rindone continues to rail against a $25,000 retirement bonus given to Superintendent Randolph Ward — and is complaining about how his no vote was recorded.

At the Board of Education meeting this week, Rindone requested that the two issues be added to a future agenda for further discussion.

“I am asking my board colleagues to support this request since Superintendent Ward in fact requested not to receive a $25,000 retirement payment in fiscal year 2009 due to the very difficult economic times,” Rindone said.

In addition to the $25,000 bonus approved earlier this year, Rindone objected to the way the board meeting notes discounted his opposition to the payment approved in June. He voted against approving the minutes and requested a discussion over how board notes are written.

It is unclear whether the board will comply. A majority of trustees declined to pursue the discussion Wednesday despite Rindone’s request.

Board President Susan Hartley did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Earlier this year, the board voted itself a modest pay raise, with Rindone opposed.

For-Profit College Group Sued as U.S. Lays Out Wide Fraud

For-Profit College Group Sued as U.S. Lays Out Wide Fraud
New York Times
August 8, 2011

The Department of Justice and four states on Monday filed a multibillion-dollar fraud suit against the Education Management Corporation, the nation’s second-largest for-profit college company, charging that it was not eligible for the $11 billion in state and federal financial aid it had received from July 2003 through June 2011.

While the civil lawsuit is one of many raising similar charges against the expanding for-profit college industry, the case is the first in which the government intervened to back whistle-blowers’ claims that a company consistently violated federal law by paying recruiters based on how many students it enrolled. The suit said that each year, Education Management falsely certified that it was complying with the law, making it eligible to receive student financial aid.

“The depth and breadth of the fraud laid out in the complaint are astonishing,” said Harry Litman, a lawyer in Pittsburgh and former federal prosecutor who is one of those representing the two whistle-blowers whose 2007 complaints spurred the suit. “It spans the entire company — from the ground level in over 100 separate institutions up to the most senior management — and accounts for nearly all the revenues the company has realized since 2003.”

Education Management, which is based in Pittsburgh and is 41 percent owned by Goldman Sachs, enrolls about 150,000 students in 105 schools operating under four names: Art Institute, Argosy University, Brown Mackie College and South University. ..

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The ACLU of Virginia protects art teacher; San Diego is far behind in protecting teachers' free speech rights

Obviously, the ACLU in Virginia is far more interested in protecting free speech rights than the ACLU in San Diego. David Blair-Loy is the head counsel for the ACLU in San Diego.

Fired Art Teacher Wins $65,000 Settlement from Chesterfield County School Board

March 7, 2008
ACLU says First Amendment Rights Vindicated

Chesterfield County, VA — The ACLU of Virginia today announced that it has reached an agreement with the Chesterfield County School Board in the case of former Monacan High School art teacher Stephen Murmer. Murmer was fired in January 2007 for creating paintings rendered by transferring paint from his body onto canvasses. The paintings were produced at Murmer’s own expense and during his private time away from work.

"I am glad the School Board saw fit to pay Mr. Murmer about two years’ salary to compensate him for the harm he suffered,” said ACLU of Virginia cooperating attorney Tim Schulte. “I only wish that the students at Monacan High would also be compensated for the loss of an exemplary teacher who was brave enough to stand on principle."

“Our founders recognized that even controversial speech should be protected in a democracy,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg. “The fact that some administrators were offended by Stephen Murmer’s speech did not give them the right to fire him.”

“The government has limited power to interfere with our private affairs, especially when those affairs are perfectly legal and protected by the Constitution,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Chesterfield made a mistake when it fired Mr. Murmer for conduct completely unrelated to his ability to be an effective teacher.”

“I am pleased with this settlement,” said Stephen Murmer. “I hope my case will cause schools to think twice before they fire a teacher for expressing himself outside the classroom. This settlement represents a vindication of me and the First Amendment.”
Murmer is represented by ACLU cooperating attorneys Tim Schulte and Blackwell Shelley of Shelley and Schulte, P.C. in Richmond, and ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg.

A copy of the original complaint filed in U.S District Court in Richmond in October 2007 is available online at

You thought it was hard to fire a teacher in the US? A drug lord who hasn't worked in years is collected his paycheck in Mexico

Mexico keeps reputed drug lord on education payroll
By Nick Miroff
August 5m 2011

MEXICO CITY — Mexican security forces would like very much to capture, or even kill, reputed crime boss Servando “La Tuta” Gomez, leader of the cultlike Knights Templar drug gang.

But getting Mexico’s Education Ministry to stop sending Gomez paychecks may prove a much bigger challenge.

According to Mexico’s El Universal newspaper, the former schoolteacher is still on the ministry’s payroll, even though federal prosecutors are offering millions in reward money for his capture — and despite the fact that he hasn’t set foot in a classroom in more than a decade.

What’s worse, Gomez was issued checks totaling more than $2,000 in the first three months of 2011, although the paper first reported the unseemly payments in December. Mexican lawmakers opened an investigation this week, demanding to know why Gomez — who was also indicted for drug trafficking by a New York federal court in 2009 — hasn’t been fired.

Given the relatively small amounts of money involved, it seems unlikely that the payments are a case of direct corruption. Instead, experts say, they appear to be something possibly more embarrassing — a galling reminder of the immense power of Mexico’s teachers union and the difficulty of dismissing bad teachers, even if they are notorious drug lords.

“Firing a teacher is nearly impossible here, a true bureaucratic labyrinth,” said Otto Granados, a professor of public policy at Mexico’s Tecnologico de Monterrey university. “This kind of thing happens all the time,” he said, citing a recent study that found that more than 100,000 Mexican teachers were drawing salaries despite not showing up for work.

The country’s main teachers union — the largest in Latin America — is a political juggernaut so powerful that it assigns jobs through an extensive system of patronage, Granados said. Only teachers who have been convicted of a crime can be fired, and since Gomez remains at large, he apparently can’t be taken off the payroll...

Former judge sentenced to prison for "kids for cash" scheme

Former judge sentenced to prison for "kids for cash" scheme
By Dave Warner
Aug 11, 2011

A former Pennsylvania juvenile court judge was sentenced on Thursday to 28 years in prison for accepting payment to send juveniles to a for-profit detention facility in a scandal dubbed "kids for cash,".

Former Luzerne County Juvenile Court Judge Mark Ciavarella, 61, accepted nearly $1 million from a developer who built the detention facility, prosecutors said.

Under the "kids for cash" scheme, thousands of juveniles were shipped to the private center on minor or questionable charges by Ciavarella and another former judge, Michael Conahan, according to juvenile advocates.

"Mr. Ciavarella abused his position of trust and inflicted a deep and lasting wound on the community he vowed to service," U.S. Attorney Peter Smith said following the sentencing.

"The scheme involved a corrupt agreement with the operators of the for-profit juvenile facilities," Smith said. "It was a wholesale arrangement in which the judges concealed their interest and thereby did great damage to the public."

The U.S. Attorney's office called the case the "largest and most sustained political corruption inquiry" in the area.

Ciavarella was convicted in February of 12 charges, including racketeering conspiracy and money laundering.

During the trial, Ciavarella testified that the money he received from Robert Mericle, the facility's developer, amounted to "finder fees" and had no connection to the fact that he was a sentencing judge.

Al Flora, Ciavarella's attorney, said he would appeal.

Conahan, formerly the president judge of the Luzerne County court, has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing.

Prosecutors said Conahan closed the publicly owned Luzerne County Juvenile Detention Facility and helped arrange financing for the private facility.

Both former judges obstructed efforts to investigate the county's use of the private facility and also their financial relationships with Mericle and Robert Powell, the owner of the juvenile center, prosecutors said.

The U.S. Attorney's office said more than 30 local and state government officials and contractors have been convicted or are awaiting trial in the case.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Johnston)

Monday, August 08, 2011

Maryland mom who killed son agonized over school costs

Md. mom who killed son agonized over school costs
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Ben Barnhard had reason to be optimistic this summer: The 13-year-old shed more than 100 pounds at a rigorous weight-loss academy, a proud achievement for a boy who had endured classmates' taunts about his obesity and who had sought solace in the quiet of his bedroom, with his pet black cat and the intricate origami designs he created.

But one month before school was to start, his mother, psychiatrist Margaret Jensvold, shot him in the head, then killed herself. Officers found their bodies Tuesday in the bedrooms of their home in Kensington, Md., an upper-middle class Washington suburb. They also found a note.

"School - can't deal with school system," the letter began, Jensvold's sister, Susan Slaughter, told The Associated Press.

And later: "Debt is bleeding me. Strangled by debt."

Although family members said they were stunned by the killings, they also said Jensvold had become increasingly strained by financial pressure and by anguished fights with the county public school system over the special-needs education of her son, who had an autism spectrum disorder. They said the school district - apparently believing it could adequately educate Ben - had refused to cover tuition costs for the boy to attend a private school for special-needs students. Jensvold didn't have the money herself and didn't want to return her son to public school, where relatives said she felt harshly judged and marginalized and where Ben had struggled.

"It was a huge stress," Slaughter said. "It's very hard being a single parent under any circumstances, but to have a high-needs child is overwhelming. And then to have him inappropriately placed in the school, and have the school fighting with her, was really traumatic."

Jensvold also offered an explanation for taking her son's life.

"She did mention in the note that she knows people whose parents committed suicide when they were children and how difficult and traumatizing that was, and she didn't want to do that to Ben," Slaughter said.

"It is very true," she added. "I can't imagine Ben ever recovering from the loss of his mother."

Special needs education is an emotionally freighted issue, perhaps especially so in Montgomery County - an affluent region where parents tend to be actively engaged in education and where schools are consistently rated among the country's best. School district spokeswoman Lesli Maxwell said that privacy laws prevented her from discussing the particulars of Barnhard's case, but that the district offered vast options for its 17,000 special-education students and will refer students for private schooling when it can't meet their needs.

Jensvold, a Johns Hopkins-educated psychiatrist specializing in women's health, was passionate and determined. She made news in 1990 by filing a gender discrimination lawsuit against the National Institute of Mental Health, where she was a medical staff fellow. A judge ultimately ruled against her, calling her version of events an "illusion." She later had her own private practice but most recently was working at Kaiser Permanente.

She also was a protective mother, constantly fighting with Montgomery County schools over how best to accommodate her son. He was her world, said her divorce lawyer, Robert Baum.

"She came with an album of pictures of her in a very warm and endearing type of situation," he said. "Her arms around him playing outside, amusement parks, all the types of things you'd love to see of parents dealing with their kids."

Ben was an active infant - his family nicknamed him "ATB," or All-Terrain Baby - but became increasingly withdrawn and isolated, and relatives said as a child he developed an autoimmune disease that's sometimes triggered by strep. A divorce court filing lists 18 specialists involved in Ben's care, and Jensvold's own suicide note hints at some of the child's difficulties: "writing problems, migraines, hearing things" - and "a bit paranoid."

He had a small group of friends and enjoyed computers, origami, animals and picking tomatoes with his grandmother, his father said. But school was difficult for him, and his weight - topping 275 before his weight loss-program - made him a target for teasing. He found comfort with even more food.

"He used to say, `Mom and Dad, I don't want to go to school. I don't want to deal with those people. They're mean to me and they hurt me,'" recalled Jamie Barnhard, Ben's father and Jensvold's ex-husband. "It broke both of our hearts."

The couple placed their son in the county's special education program, but Barnhard said his son struggled in the system. He spent about nine months at Wellspring Academies, a weight-loss boarding school in North Carolina, returning in May more than 100 pounds slimmer and more confident.

"He wanted to ride his bike. He wanted to be a kid again," Barnhard said. "He wanted to go out and have fun. He wanted to fly airplanes with his dad. He wanted to just do anything."

But there were still concerns about where to send Ben to school.

Jensvold appeared consumed by his education at her father's memorial service last spring, Slaughter said. She confided that she was having trouble paying the roughly $50,000 tuition for Ben to attend Wellspring. She presented a binder about five-inches thick detailing his academic needs, along with a chart showing how his IQ had fallen over the years.

At the end of June, Slaughter wrote her sister to say their mother would pay for Ben's education for the coming year. Jensvold had planned to enroll her son in the Ivymount School, a Rockville, Md., private school specializing in autism and other learning disabilities. Tuition there ranges based on a child's needs, but can be more than $60,000, the school said Monday. Her mother said she'd send a check.

In her final months, Jensvold only sporadically communicated with her family, as she had for years, Slaughter said. Emails frequently went unreturned, mail sometimes unopened.

Ben spent July 4 with his divorced parents aboard his dad's restored boat, treading past the Washington Monument with a picnic dinner of barbecue and pineapple. It was a final moment of serenity.

He died a month later. One day after his body was found - co-workers hadn't heard from Jensvold for days and newspapers had accumulated outside the house - a $10,000 check from Jensvold's mother arrived, Slaughter said.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Lesson learned: adults can cheat, kids can't

I have seen so much dishonesty, cheating and corruption among top officials in schools that I find student cheating to be, well, kids' stuff. The thing about it that bothers me most is that it may be a harbinger of things to come. Will these kids grow up to cheat like the adults who run our schools?

Administrators are expected to kow-tow to the powerful. Apparently this principal kow-towed to people who weren't powerful enough to protect him.

2 Sweetwater administrators resign

CHULA VISTA — Two administrators in the Sweetwater Union High School District resigned this week.

Diego Ochoa stepped down from his new post as principal of Bonita Vista Middle School less than two weeks into the new school year.

The Watchdog reported that Ochoa signed off on the improper erasure of 115 Ds and Fs from student transcripts while principal at Castle Park High School, and he was subsequently demoted. He said he simply used the wrong form to enter scores from a credit-recovery program.

“I have chosen to resign voluntarily from the district and pursue options elsewhere. I enjoyed my time working in the district,” Ochoa said.

Castle Park’s former assistant principal of student activities, Abram Jimenez, also resigned this week from his new post as assistant principal at Bonita Vista High School. Attempts to contact Jimenez were unsuccessful.

Jimenez oversaw the Associated Student Body at Castle Park, including a fund with $58,000 at the end of the 2010 fiscal year.

As management employees, Ochoa and Jimenez will receive 90 days of pay— Ochoa will receive $54,000 and Jimenez $51,000 — in addition to vacation and sick leave pay.

No details were given on their departure, but acting Superintendent Ed Brand said, “The Sweetwater district is always looking to improve itself and we are going to be posting these positions and will be filling them in the near future.”

Ochoa was set to be promoted to executive director of high schools under the former superintendent, Jesus Gandara. When Brand was hired in June, he changed course.

Sweetwater legal fees exceed peer districts

Bertha Lopez is quite changeable in her support of outrageous spending on lawyers. She herself joined the unanimous Chula Vista Elementary Board time after time is authorizing hundreds of thousands of dollars to be paid to lawyers to cover up district wrongdoing.

The San Diego Union-Tribune is also all over the map regarding which lawyers it protects and which lawyers it exposes. It hasn't breathed a word about the unconstitutional injunction obtained by San Diego County Office of Education's favorite law firm.

Sweetwater legal fees exceed peer districts

The cost is more than $33 per student, compared to $11.65 elsewhere

CHULA VISTA — The Sweetwater Union High School district is paying almost three times as much per student for legal services as its peer districts, according to a survey by county education officials.

The district is paying about $1.4 million per year to its general counsel, Garcia Calderon Ruiz LLP of Los Angeles, and other firms, according to the review of the past two years of data.

With an enrollment of about 42,000, that amounts to more than $33 per student per year. The county compared Sweetwater to five peer districts, which collectively spent $11.65 per student per year.

The district with the next highest annual cost per student was Escondido Union High School District, at $22.13. The lowest-cost district was San Marcos Unified, at $5.51 per student per year.

The comparison was conducted at the request of acting Sweetwater Superintendent Ed Brand, who is reviewing a wide range of district operations after the removal in June of Jesus Gandara as top administrator.

“The County Office of Ed did the analysis comparing us with five other districts in the county and we turned out No. 1 in terms of total costs, so in terms of our comprehensive review, we want to be at the other end of the spectrum,” Brand said.

While Sweetwater’s law firm declined to comment on the specifics of the report, Spokesman Dave Garcia said, “GCR will provide the taxpayers and children of the district the best representation available and will use all tools available to maintain that standard of support.”

According to the county’s report, Sweetwater’s legal bills also were higher as a portion of operating budget. Over two years, Sweetwater paid 0.43 percent of its operating budget for legal fees, compared to 0.16 percent in the peer districts.

The lowest legal cost as a percentage of budget was, again, San Marcos — where Brand last worked as a superintendent. The district spent 0.07 percent on legal fees.

The report notes that the Sweetwater law firm’s $83,000 monthly legal retainer is “not common among other local school districts” and could be the cause of the higher bills.

The county’s largest district, San Diego Unified, has an in-house general counsel on salary, while Poway Unified and Grossmont Union High School District maintain no general counsel and simply contract with firms as needed. Both Chula Vista Elementary School District and Vista Unified maintain an outside firm as their general counsel and are paid on an hourly basis.

Sweetwater school board President John McCann said in a statement, “The district needs to reform and restructure the way it handles its legal services to decrease costs. I believe that the district can save up to a half a million dollars in legal fees by improving decision processes and implementing cost controls.”

Trustee Bertha Lopez, who has taken issue with the district’s legal services for months, said, “The audit just confirms what I had been thinking that GCR had been overcharging us and in these crucial budgetary times, we need to make cutbacks and GCR was one of the ones on my priority list.”

In addition to costs, Brand said he is reviewing the structure of legal fees — that is, the retainer setup and whether an attorney needs to be present at all board meetings. He’s also examining a contract clause that has been criticized, which allows the law firm leeway to hire outside consultants such as public-relations professionals at district cost.

Brand will make a recommendation on how to decrease the district’s legal costs at the Aug. 30 board meeting.

The county analysis follows a report completed by the district in June, before Gandara was fired. That study by district staff indicated the legal fees were not out of the ordinary.

In that analysis, San Francisco Unified and Sacramento City schools were cited as districts that spent a larger percentage of their operating budget on legal fees than Sweetwater did in 2009-2010.

When Brand took over, he determined those results could have been skewed by the districts selected and sought the independent review of districts he found more comparable.

The firm’s main lawyer for Sweetwater is Bonifacio Garcia, who was hired by Brand in the mid-1990s during Brand’s previous tenure as superintendent.

Trustees have already taken steps to change the way legal services are obtained in the district.

Under Gandara, all legal and investigative services for the district were obtained under the authority of the general counsel, as authorized by trustees. On July 20, trustees voted to authorize the superintendent, not general counsel, to obtain legal and investigative services for the 2011-2012 school year.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Spending far from equal among state’s school districts, analysis finds

I think children should get the same education everywhere in California.

One tiny district, the Pacific Unified School District on a remote stretch of the California coast near Hearst Castle, spent close to $60,000 per student.

Spending far from equal among state’s school districts, analysis finds
June 2, 2011
Louis Freedberg and Stephen K. Doig
California Watch

Logan Salcido shows parents Katie and Bernardo his work during an open house at Veterans Elementary School in Bakersfield.Casey Christie/Bakersfield CalifornianLogan Salcido shows parents Katie and Bernardo his work during an open house at Veterans Elementary School in Bakersfield.

State lawmakers have struggled for decades to bring equality to how school districts are funded, yet some districts receive thousands more per student than others, a California Watch analysis has found. And the data shows spending more provides no assurance of academic success.

Last year, California schools spent an average of $8,452 to educate each student, a figure that includes money from local, state, and federal sources, including one-time stimulus funds.

But that average masks enormous differences in spending. The Carmel Unified School District, for example, spent nearly three times as much as the Norris School District in Bakersfield. One tiny district, the Pacific Unified School District on a remote stretch of the California coast near Hearst Castle, spent close to $60,000 per student.

Figures are typically available only for how much districts, not individual schools, spend on their students. But according to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, some of the smallest schools in the Sierra foothills, with just a handful of students, received about $200,000 per student.

Public schools consume the largest share of the state’s shrinking general fund – 42 percent of the $86 billion total. How those funds are allocated is coming under increasing scrutiny by education leaders, advocacy groups, school districts and lawmakers.

In April, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, introduced legislation to reform education financing. Similar to a plan proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown during his gubernatorial campaign, the bill would simplify funding formulas and direct money to students with extra needs, such as those from low-income families.

“We talk a lot about the achievement gap, but there is also a parallel financial gap,” Brownley said. Unless the system is reformed, she said, “we will continue to have this disparity and this divide.”

As districts struggle to cope with massive budget cuts, an extra few hundred dollars per student can make a significant difference. In a school district like Los Angeles Unified, by far the largest in the state, $500 more per student would yield about an extra $300 million, precisely the amount the district aimed to save when it sent out thousands of layoff notices this spring...

Oversight problems prompt freeze of school reform funds

San Francisco Unified, for example, did not replace any staff at schools who chose the "turnaround" option, despite the requirement that all be removed and no more than 50 percent rehired, federal officials found.

Oversight problems prompt freeze of school reform funds
Corey G. Johnson
California Watch
August 1, 2011

This year's payout of a three-year $416 million federal grant to struggling schools has been delayed for several California schools after monitoring teams found the state Department of Education and local districts not implementing required reforms.

At a tense meeting last month, unhappy State Board of Education members unanimously voted to withhold funds from 90 schools until they meet all conditions of the grant. The board also rejected the applications of 54 additional schools and ordered sweeping corrections in oversight at the state Education Department.

“I think that what appeared today was a major breakdown in the implementation of an important federal program,” board President Michael Kirst told the Top-Ed blog. “We got a significant rebuke from the federal government and we felt we had to act in order to show that we’re really trying to implement the federal law with integrity.”

Last year, schools on a controversial state "persistently low performing" list pledged to carry out broad reforms, ranging from firing their principals and half of their staffs to closing and restarting as charter schools. In return, each school received U.S. Department of Education grants of up to $2 million each year for three years. State education officials promised to ensure the reforms were carried out.

But when federal monitoring teams went to Los Angeles Unified, San Bernardino City Schools and San Francisco Unified in February, they found reforms not being implemented and the state completely unaware. San Francisco Unified, for example, did not replace any staff at schools who chose the "turnaround" option, despite the requirement that all be removed and no more than 50 percent rehired, federal officials found...

Monday, August 01, 2011

Duncan: Teacher Salaries Should Be $60,000 to $150,000

I agree with Arne Duncan: better teachers require better pay.

Duncan: Teacher Salaries Should Be $60,000 to $150,000
By Michele McNeil
July 29, 2011
Education Week

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for a radical upending of the nation's teaching pipeline—higher salaries, improved performance-based teacher accountability, and a higher bar for prospective students to enter schools of education.

In remarks today to a conference of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, he called for teachers to start out making $60,000 a year, topping out at around $150,000. His speech comes as thousands of teachers from across the country descend on the nation's capital to protest many of the Obama administration's policies, from the increasing reliance on standardized tests to using test scores to help evaluate teachers.

"We must think radically differently," he said, according to prepared remarks. "We must ask and answer hard questions on topics that have been off limits in the past like staffing practices and school organization, benefits packages and job security—because the answers may give us more realistic ways to afford these new professional conditions."

Top salaries of $150,000 a year won't come cheap, and Duncan acknowledged as much.

"And it will cost money—and—given the current political climate with the nation wrestling with debt and deficits—I am sure some people will immediately say that we can't afford it without even looking at how to redirect the money we are already spending—and mis-spending.

He called on colleges of education to raise the bar for prospective students, to lure the brightest in. "Top undergraduates will flock to a profession that demands high standards and credentials," he said...

Shelia Jackson brouhaha gives us a peek into the everyday world of principals and teachers

There are two common scenarios in schools, and one that is about as rare as a perfect SAT score:
1) The principal does whatever the teachers want, or
2) The teacher and principal are always at each others' throats, or, in rare instances,
3) The principal is a strong leader who is able to give direction to teachers and keep them happy at the same time.

Sadly, this story reveals the truth about how principals and teachers commonly behave. It's not a pretty picture. Teachers in the four schools I taught at during my career were very aggressive toward their principals. More often than not, the principals just caved in and gave them what they wanted. One principal tried so hard to please the teachers that he ended up $14,000 over budget and got fired. After he left, the staff talked about how nice he was. I spent years at one school watching staff members yell at the principal for two hours straight at staff meeting after staff meeting. I remember those teachers were upset when I left to pick up my son when his daycare closed. They were going to yell, and we were all going to listen.

My last school, Castle Park Elementary, recently had eleven principals in eleven years.

Trustee's Relationship Complicates School's Principal Saga
July 31, 2011
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego

When Gwendolyn Kirkland took over Fulton, the interim principal immediately stepped into controversy.

...Before Kirkland came, it had had the same principal for seven years. Former Principal Caroline King made a point of keeping her door open and once treated her teachers to massages and manicures.

Gwendolyn Kirkland was a different kind of leader. Teachers complained she was hard to reach and unwilling to compromise. They rattled off a litany of concerns from scheduling things at the last minute to breaking union rules.

"It just seemed like she wanted to do it her way or no way," said Sherie Edwards, a Fulton parent who also works there as a special education technician.

Some parents thought Kirkland was a welcome change. Nikena Carter felt like the last principal just wanted to be friends with everyone, but Kirkland was willing to challenge teachers to help kids. Kirkland said she was worried by "toxic types of behavior" on campus, unprofessionalism and rudeness.

"She always wanted to know what our issues were," said Carter, who has two children at Fulton. "She even cared what our children had to say."...

Several parents lodged complaints about a teacher who had spoken up in front of the school board. Principal Kirkland had been sympathetic to their concerns.

"The teacher said my child wouldn't go to college. That she'd work at Burger King or McDonald's," said Veronica Muñoz, another mother who backed Kirkland. "But Ms. Kirkland helped me a lot."

Some teachers saw the complaints as mere retaliation for questioning Kirkland and Campbell...

[Maura Larkins' comment: I know that many, if not most teachers, are frightened and hostile when a parent complains. Why not just listen to the parents? If their complaint is justified, do something to fix things. If it's not, the least a teacher can do is show respect and concern for the parent and child.]