Monday, March 28, 2011

Must-Read Stories on Bridgepoint

See all Bridgepoint posts.
See all posts on for-profit education companies.

Click on the following title to get the VOSD website original story with all the links:
Must-Read Stories on Bridgepoint
March 23, 2011
by Will Carless
by Liam Dillon
Voice of San Diego

In putting together our story on what for-profit education company Bridgepoint Education means to San Diego, we relied on a trove of other media coverage.

Here are some must-reads:

• This fascinating story by The Huffington Post's Chris Kirkham explained the company's business model, gave us insight into the company's marketing techniques and why they've been so controversial. Kirkham sought out several former Bridgepoint employees and was able to paint an intriguing picture of the company's corporate culture. Here's a snippet:

Behind the university's rapid growth is a pressure-cooker recruiting environment that treats prospective students like figures on a balance sheet, not people seeking opportunity through education, according to more than a half-dozen current and former employees ranging from management to entry-level recruiters interviewed by The Huffington Post in the past month.

Kirkham called Bridgepoint's Iowa-based school, Ashford University, the "Potemkin University" because it has just 700 students on campus, but serves as the physical anchor for tens of thousands of students studying online. We liked that description so much we made it a subhead in our story. The videos in the story are pretty cool, too, if you're interested in seeing what Ashford actually looks like.

• U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin's Senate committee hearing, which we refer to in our piece, led to a series of stories examining Bridgepoint and the for-profit education world. Two of the best pieces were a column in the Financial Times that was a well-balanced take on the arguments and motivations on both sides of the debate and a context-laden story in the online newspaper Inside Higher Ed.

• Bridgepoint executives wouldn't talk to us, so we had to seek out other stories where they did speak to learn some of their history and hear their voice. Bridgepoint CEO Andrew Clark did a Q&A with the Union-Tribune in June. Clark also wrote a piece for Inc. Magazine explaining his success in 2008 and did a similar story with the San Diego Business Journal a year earlier.

As we mentioned in our piece, Bridgepoint has also released its own website defending itself in the wake of the Senate hearing.

• Bridgepoint, like other for-profit colleges, has a huge military presence among its enrollees. In January, the New York Times did a story on scrutiny these colleges were facing because of how they recruit veterans. The piece quotes a former recruitment advisor from Bridgepoint's Iowa college describing aggressive recruitment tactics:

"We know they are going to pay, that they had a guaranteed way to get money," said Brent Park, a former Ashford University recruitment adviser, who worked there until 2008, when the university had already started to see a surge in veterans enrolling under the previous G.I. Bill.

Finally, we would be remiss if we didn't mention Don Bauder at the San Diego Reader who puts up a post almost every time Bridgepoint is in the news.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Summer school on the chopping block: is teacher quality the reason it doesn't seem to help kids?

See all posts on summer school.

We seem to be assuming that failure is inevitable for the legions of kids who end up dropping out. Why has no one questioned the QUALITY of summer school instruction? We do NOT give those coveted summer school positions to the best teachers, we give them to the most senior teachers. If the best teachers were given these jobs, maybe summer school would be an effective means of boosting student achievement.

Summer School Back on the Chopping Block
March 25, 2011
by Emily Alpert

Last year I wrote about how San Diego Unified was at risk of cutting back on summer school, weakening an already limited lifeline for kids who slide behind.

The school board ultimately voted to keep the program intact last year. But now summer school is on the chopping block again. Money earmarked for summer school went to plug budget holes; stimulus money that helped pay for summer school last year dried up.

Providing summer classes for students at risk of being held back in first, third and eighth grade, and all high schoolers who need to make up credits would cost $2.6 million. San Diego Unified has only $1.14 million to spend, so district staff recommends paring back on summer school for high schoolers short of their senior year.

That would mean that only an estimated 170 high schoolers would have a shot at summer school, compared to more than 5,800 high school students who took it last year. Here's what I wrote last year about the risks of cutting summer school for teens:

Roughly 12 percent of high schoolers relied on summer school to boost their grades last year. Freshmen in summer school saw the biggest gains, upping their average grades by half a letter grade. That's the difference between a D+ average and a C; the difference between staying on track to graduate or not.

Summer school isn't perfect. It's underused and inconsistent even when budgets are flush. Last year, our analysis found that the neediest kids are unlikely to enroll and become less and less likely to go every year. Summer jobs and family demands pull many failing students away. One in three students who went to summer school didn't improve their grades at all, we found:

But unless San Diego Unified comes up with a similar plan to offset the lost chance to turn things around for teens, trimming summer school may only exacerbate some of its existing weaknesses. It will only reach seniors at the last minute, instead of helping troubled freshmen set their report cards right. Delaying chances to make up classes for failing high schoolers will hurt kids who are already the most likely to drop out — and who need help fast to turn things around.

Studies from Chicago have found that freshman year failure is an extremely accurate predictor of whether a child will drop out, but if a student makes up classes by sophomore year, their odds of graduating improve. Cutting summer school gives failing freshman one less option. ... And while San Diego Unified may still offer summer school to struggling seniors, a single summer usually can't bail out kids with extremely low grades. Three out of four high schoolers with a D average who went to summer school last year left with their grades still at or below a D average and well below the C average needed to get a diploma...


deBeck posted at 9:31 pm on Fri, Mar 25, 2011.
deBeck Posts: 368

Interestingly enough there is no LOCAL evidence that summer school raises student achievement (based on national tests) It does allow students who have failed to continue on in a process we can easily lable as social promotion. I include the makeup courses for CREDIT SHORT seniors when I say this. The data I obtained about this situation about a year ago showed that summer school students who were far below basic, were highly likely to pass summer school and very likely to move on to ANOTHER YEAR of being far below basic in the next grade. This was standard data from the School District's own records. A few kid benefit, but the data show that summer school, despite its popularity, is ineffective. Of course the teachers love summer jobs at pro rata pay. The cost effectiveness makes this cut a no brainer.

...Maura Larkins posted at 9:54 am on Sat, Mar 26, 2011.
Maura Larkins Posts: 70

We seem to be assuming that failure is inevitable for the legions of kids who end up dropping out. Why has no one questioned the QUALITY of summer school instruction? We do NOT give those coveted summer school positions to the best teachers, we give them to the most senior teachers. If the best teachers were given these jobs, maybe summer school would be an effective means of boosting student achievement.

...Frances O'Neill Zimmerman posted at 10:44 am on Sat, Mar 26, 2011.
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman Posts: 352

Once again, Mr. deBeck speaks the truth. Summer school does offer employment for teachers and administrators and possible enrichment for regular students -- or a way to "get ahead or or get some unpleasant (courses) over with quickly," as mentioned above. But for underperforming students who are at risk of not having enough credits to graduate? Nada. I once taught summer school and saw many such students in the seats, getting to know cute classmates of the opposite sex and not doing an ounce of work. Summer school is an expensive luxury for these hard times, probably best restricted this year to the 170 hard cases who may benefit from it.

Maura Larkins:

A really good teacher can get underperforming students interested in learning. It's not in our interest as a society to allow a huge and growing percentage of our children to choose failure. It's our responsibility to see that all those who are able to learn get an education, and we shouldn't shift this responsibility to our expanding population of disconnected children.

Maura Larkins:

To John De Beck: I want to make clear that there is, of course, significant overlap between the most senior teachers and the best teachers. Experience is extremely beneficial to teachers who are in a learning mode. I hope I didn't make you feel insulted as a teacher who has taught summer school. I trust you agree that summer school teachers, just like the teachers who avoid layoffs, are chosen based on seniority.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bridgepoint: Education Scam or Economic Engine?

See all posts on for-profit education companies.
See all Bridgepoint posts.

Education Scam or Economic Engine
Bridgepoint Booms Over Troubled Waters

It's the fifth-largest private employer in the county and spreads money around through political lobbying and sponsorships of events like the Holiday Bowl. But just a few years ago you probably wouldn't have known it. Neither would have its many critics, including a U.S. senator who called it "an absolute scam."

The company is Bridgepoint Education, a for-profit company that owns two universities and educates 99 percent of its students online.

"Criticism of the company centers on its remarkable ability to attract students and remarkable failure to graduate them, all while receiving hundreds of millions in federal student aid dollars," Liam Dillon and Will Carless report. "The complaint: Bridgepoint has set up a system to use federal dollars to line investors' pockets rather than enrich students' minds."

Bridgepoint matters locally because of its jobs, money, and influence. One study concluded that Bridgepoint added, directly or indirectly, more than $500 million to the local economy. Since that report was written, the company has grown even bigger, which means Bridgepoint's ability to withstand lawsuits and attacks from critics will have a direct impact on San Diego's well-being.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Smooth lawyers defend Barry Bonds in perjury case

Prosecutor: Bonds’ Defense ‘Utterly Ridiculous’
In day two of trial, Barry Bonds' attorney charms the audience, but can't rattle steroids investigator
By Zusha Elinson and Steve Fainaru
March 22, 2011
The Bay Citizen

In a smooth baritone that filled up the federal courtroom, Allen Ruby, Barry Bonds’ lawyer, laid out the defense of the home-run king, charging the U.S. government and some of Bonds’ ex-friends with rigging up a baseless perjury case against his client.

Ruby repeated Bonds’ assertion that the slugger used steroids but didn’t know what they were at the time he injected and ingested them. The defense strategy was clear: discredit the government, its witnesses and the media’s portrayal of Bonds — without going so far as to say Bonds is a nice guy...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Question for San Diego ACLU: 'Why Isn't That Happening Here?'

One possible explanation for ACLU's inaction in San Diego schools is ACLU attorney David Blair-Loy's fawning obsequiousness toward school attorneys. He seems to want to please them more than he wants to protect the rights of students and employees. At Fay Elementary School, 25 out of 27 teachers will get pink slips.

'Why Isn't That Happening Here?'
March 20, 2011
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego

Class sizes will balloon all over the city if San Diego Unified goes ahead with plans to slash one out of every six teachers. But the blizzard of pink slips is hitting some of its poorest schools the hardest because the newest teachers are the first to lose their jobs — a phenomenon dubbed "last-in-first-out."

That has happened over and over in San Diego. Yet just two hours to the north in Los Angeles, the practice is being curbed.

Civil rights groups sued Los Angeles Unified and came to an unusual settlement: Schools with high turnover and low but growing scores will be spared when it hands out pink slips. That means that more senior teachers at less troubled schools will go onto the chopping block instead, upsetting the seniority-based system that drives layoffs at most public schools.

San Diego Unified hasn't followed the lead from Los Angeles, at least not yet. It hasn't taken any steps to dampen the impact of pink slips on poorer schools. And it hasn't had to grapple with a lawsuit pushing them to do so.

"Why isn't that happening here?" asked Fernando Hernandez, principal of Perkins, a K-8 school in Barrio Logan that could replace nearly a third of its teachers if layoffs go through. "I don't think it's fair."

The Los Angeles case has been greeted as a gamechanger, but school districts across the state fear it could be a legal minefield. Few are reluctant to pick new fights with their unions. School board President Richard Barrera said the solution is just to stop the layoffs entirely.

"Any solution other than that is going to put the district in court one way or another," Barrera said.

[Note to Barrera: Why not evaluate teachers effectively and fire the worst-performing teachers?]

The Los Angeles deal depends on wiggle room in California law: While schools are supposed to let go of their newest teachers first, they can skip over teachers who are highly needed or hold rare credentials. San Diego Unified is already doing that for a select group of science and special education teachers.

Districts can also deviate from last-in-first-out layoffs to ensure kids have equal rights under the state constitution. Civil rights groups argued in Los Angeles that students in schools that were battered by layoffs and already wracked by teacher turnover were unfairly deprived of their right to an education. They say the law already allows districts to skip over selected schools to protect them from layoffs.

"They shouldn't wait to be sued," said Catherine Lhamon, director of impact litigation for Public Counsel, one of the groups that sued Los Angeles Unified. "They can take that action today."

The case is still being appealed by the teachers union in Los Angeles, which argued it didn't address the root causes of turnover and called it irresponsible to send veteran teachers at other schools packing. But courts have agreed to let the school district go ahead and avoid layoffs at some of its neediest schools.

[Note to teachers union: wouldn't this be a perfect time to fire incompetent teachers? It's not fair to get rid of excellent new teachers while protecting floundering veteran teachers.]

In Los Angeles, attorneys pointed to the devastating effects on a select group of schools — something that San Diego Unified argues it would need to analyze before it could try to skip over specific schools or teachers for equity...

Layoff Déjà Vu for This Hard-Hit School
March 16, 2011
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego

The same City Heights school that thought it could lose nearly all of its teachers three years ago is now threatened with losing nearly all of them again.

Fay Elementary, which used to be known as Jackson Elementary at another site, stood to lose 24 out of its 26 teachers when layoffs were threatened three years ago. The Union-Tribune wrote about its plight. It looked like it was going to be hit harder than many other schools because like many disadvantaged schools, it had a newer, younger staff — and the newest teachers are cut first.

Most of the teacher layoffs ended up being canceled. None of the Jackson teachers lost their jobs. But now Fay has an uncomfortable case of déjà vu.

Out of the 27 regular teachers at the school, 25 will get pink slips and another is a temporary teacher who had no guarantee of keeping his job anyway. That means only one teacher is slated to stay at the site. Most of them are the exact same teachers who were faced with losing their jobs last time.

The big numbers were a big surprise. As of Friday, Principal Eileen Moreno had handed out eight pink slips to warn teachers that they could be laid off. But after San Diego Unified ramped up the number of layoff warnings from just shy of 1,100 to more than 1,300, their numbers grew. The cuts are part of a plan to close an estimated $120 million deficit...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Torlakson: School Survival Depends on Brown Budget

"Once pitched as a lush revenue stream that would augment the state's education budget, the lottery contributes only 1 ½ percent of school funding, said CTA board member Jim Groth."
--(This sentence was removed from the original article. See Google result below.)

Torlakson: School Survival Depends on Brown Budget
By Rebecca Rosen Lum
San Bruno Patch
March 15, 2011

Flanked by students bearing signs that read “Where’s our bailout?” and “Yea in May,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson barnstormed in support of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget in San Bruno Tuesday.

Dubbed “Red Tuesday” because March 15 is the date by which school districts must let teachers know they've been targeted for layoffs in the coming school year, the “day of action” at Portola Elementary School provided a supportive backdrop for Torlakson and other speakers who condemned the 12 preliminary pink slips handed out in the San Bruno Park School District, at least 60 in San Mateo County and nearly 20,000 statewide.

“I urge legislators to act in a bipartisan way,” he said. “They can choose whether we will slide to the bottom of the western industrial world or rise again back to the top.”

The budget, which closes a $27 billion deficit, proposes to raise $12 billion in tax extensions and fee renewals, and by cleaving another $12.5 billion through a variety of cuts. Voters would have to approve the proposal in a special election in June.

Without the extensions, the schools budget could be gutted by as much as $4.5 billion, or 10 percent...

Google result:

Torlakson: School Survival Depends on Brown Budget - San Bruno, CA ...
- 8:16am
Jerry Brown's proposed budget in a press conference at Portola ... Once pitched as a lush revenue stream that would augment the state's education budget, the lottery contributes only 1 ½ percent of school funding, said CTA board member Jim Groth. .... Contribute. + Send us news tips; + Put an event on the calendar ...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In my 24 years of education, I have never seen a teacher released due to their ineffectiveness

South Bay Principal Open to Salary Cuts

A principal at a high school in Otay Mesa says he and others are willing to take pay cuts to save the jobs of four instructors, the U-T says. If the instructors are laid off, the average class size at Montgomery High will grow from 31 to 34 students.

"In my 24 years of education, I have never seen a teacher released due to their ineffectiveness," the principal said, touching on the continuing debate over how difficult it is to get rid of bad teachers. "To lose some of the people who work the most or are effective, that's just not right."

--from Voice of San Diego Morning Report by Randy Dotinga

South County principal calls for salary cuts to save teachers
By Ashly McGlone
San Diego Union-Tribune
February 22, 2011

OTAY MESA — Montgomery High School Principal Lee Romero sees the $24 million deficit the Sweetwater Union High School District is trying to close in its $320 million budget through layoffs and wonders if there isn’t a better solution.

Such as salary cuts.

Romero said he and his wife, who is a teacher, along with others would be willing to take a pay cut if it meant saving the four instructors slated to be laid off at his school if class sizes grow from 31 to 34 students, as proposed by the district.

“At what point do we do the right thing and take the cuts away from the classroom, because it is going to hurt our kids? Nobody including the district, including the unions, are talking about taking a pay cut,” Romero said. “If we go this route (by increasing class sizes), it is going to be bad for everybody.”...

Among the teachers Romero expects to lose under seniority rules that come into effect during layoffs is special education teacher Juan Carrillo and county Teacher of the Year nominee Rhea Walker. They have been teaching for four years and 11 years, respectively.

According to Romero, those who could lose their jobs have contributed to his campus seeing an 85-point increase on the state’s performance index.

“To have more students in a classroom means more special ed students in a classroom, and it almost seems impossible,” Carrillo said.

Romero said no one should be laid off.

“In my 24 years of education, I have never seen a teacher released due to their ineffectiveness,” Romero said. “To lose some of the people who work the most or are effective, that’s just not right.”

Walker can see both sides of the tenure system.

“Time and again you have proven your worth, but the bottom line is still the dollars,” Walker said. “You are thankful and grateful to have something there to guarantee you have a job, but at the same time it’s a double-edged sword.”

Romero said pay cuts need to be addressed.

“There’s 10 percent unemployment in California and people are taking cuts, but we have not,” he said.

About 110 pink slips were issued last year; all but six Spanish teachers were called back to work. Administrators are taking four furloughs this year...

The district cut $11 million from this year’s budget to help close a more than $23 million deficit. The shortfall was covered with stimulus funds and previously restricted money that the state freed up for use in other areas.

Charter School Shuts Out Investigator

Charter School Shuts Out Investigator
March 3, 2011
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego

I'm not the only one who has trouble getting access to schools sometimes: A San Diego Unified official who is investigating a Chollas View charter school was turned away from the school last month.

San Diego Unified has been investigating Promise Charter, where a group of parents and teachers say Principal Jose Orozco has intimidated parents who disagree with him on school decisions by barring them from campus and harassing their children. Orozco and his supporters have denied the allegations and stood behind his choices.

The school district launched an investigation into the concerns last month, interviewing parents and staff and poring through documents. In a letter to the charter school board, Moises Aguirre wrote that when he came to the school in February, Orozco demanded that he leave and escorted him out.

Aguirre, who helps oversee charter schools for San Diego Unified and is assisting the investigation, wrote that keeping him out of the school was a violation of state law and grounds to revoke the charter.

"This conduct obstructs the District's ability to meet its oversight obligations and will not be tolerated," Aguirre wrote.

Charter schools are independently run, but the school district is supposed to provide oversight because it approved the schools in the first place. Charters can be shut down if they violate their rules.

Orozco said there was a misunderstanding about how the investigation would work, pointing specifically to a section in their agreement with the school district that says that complaints about the charter school should be sent to the school. But another part of the same agreement explicitly says the district can make "reasonable" unannounced visits to oversee the charter school.

"Since then, we have been working collaborative with the School District on their investigation," Orozco wrote in an email...

Possible Layoffs Would Hit Schools With Poor Students Hardest

Possible Layoffs Would Hit Schools With Poor Students Hardest
March 9, 2011
by Emily Alpert

Seventeen schools in San Diego Unified would lose more than one-fourth of their teaching staff if the school board votes for layoffs this week, according to a memo from its deputy superintendent. The hardest hit school would be Baker Elementary, which would lose 44 percent of its educators.

Under state law, the newest teachers are generally the first to lose their jobs. It's commonly known as "last hired, first fired." That means schools with lots of new teachers get hit harder when layoffs strike, as we recently explained with NBC San Diego. Most of the hardest hit schools have high percentages of disadvantaged kids.

To put these numbers in perspective, the average San Diego Unified elementary school has 64 percent of students eligible for free or reduced price lunches; middle schools average 60 percent eligible.

The new numbers back up an old worry: That layoffs have a disproportionate impact on the neediest schools. The biggest school district in the state, Los Angeles Unified, recently struck a legal settlement with the Public Counsel Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California to protect disadvantaged schools from teacher layoffs.

That means more senior teachers in other schools will end up losing their jobs instead. Los Angeles fought the settlement. Unions have generally argued that seniority is the fairest way to make the painful choice of which teachers should lose their jobs.

The same issue exists in San Diego Unified, but so far, there is no public plan to address it. The lawsuit in Los Angeles sets a legal precedent that someone could use to press the same case in San Diego, but the ruling only applies to Los Angeles. While state law says schools must pay attention to seniority when they lay off teachers, there is some wiggle room in the law to include other factors.

For instance, school districts can skip over employees in scarce or highly needed positions, sparing them from layoffs. San Diego Unified currently plans to skip employees in a few selected science and special education positions, such as physics teachers or educators who work with severely disabled students. I'm waiting for a call back to find out if there is any plan to spare struggling schools.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

California outranks only Mississippi in science

Congratulations, At Least You Aren't Last

February 22, 2011
by Allen Hemphill
Voice of San Diego

Congratulations to California education for ranking higher than Mississippi in science knowledge at the 4th and 8th grade! The bad news is that Mississippi is the only state where California ranked higher.

Almost every year, the US Department of Education issues the National Report Card on one or two subjects. This recent ranking was the result of testing 150,000 students in each of two grades, 4th and 8th. (Since a Gallup Poll seldom polls more than 1,500 people to be statistically relevant, 300,000 students is a really good testing sample.)

Last year the reported subjects covered were math and writing, and California stood higher than several states, but still finished only 46, 47 and 48, depending on subject and grade.

The new federal report on science knowledge includes a statistical breakdown of states in addition to their standing. For each state there is a breakdown by free lunches, disabilities, ethnicity, English learners and several other categories. Twelfth graders were added this year, but they were underrepresented in the testing (only 11,000 or so), and there was no breakdown by state.

There are several problems here: the results in science, the trend results and the lack of reporting on the subject. Looking at results back a decade shows similar results in different subjects and almost no reporting on the subject in California, although newspapers do usually carry an Associated Press release annually on the aggregate national scores.

Unfortunately, because California media generally ignores the dismal California results, California parents, teachers, and administrators do not face questioning about the obvious: demonstrated failure of the California education system.

Allen Hemphill lives in Escondido.

In SDUSD, who is "leading the chorus of fear-mongering"? Not Richard Barrera.

"Should the Board's absurd decision stand, our schools will simply cease to function."
--San Diego Education Association

The SDEA seems to be suffering from some mental confusion. If the sentence above isn't fear-mongering, then I don't know what is. So who is actually "leading the chorus of fear-mongering"?

I'm sure that the teachers union is happy about one thing: pink slips will be distributed to the newest teachers. Incompetent and mediocre teachers with tenure will be protected from losing their jobs. Your failure to promote effective evaluations of teachers is your real violation of the trust of the voters, Richard Barrera.

The way I see it, Barrera's decision to warn teachers of the possibility of layoffs was akin to President Obama's decision to bail out the banks. Some people are going to be agnry about these decisions, but they'd be even angrier later on if the whole system fell apart because of bankruptcy.

What exactly was Richard Barrera trusted to do? Apparently, many people trusted him to always obey orders from the teachers union.

But I'm sure that there were plenty of voters who trusted him to behave responsibly towards students. He hasn't violated that trust.

‘I Am Going to Violate Your Trust in Me Tonight’
Voice of San Diego
March 11, 2011
by Emily Alpert

The biggest surprise at the school board meeting Thursday night was that board President Richard Barrera — a labor organizer long seen as a union ally on the school board — ended up voting to warn teachers of layoffs.

Barrera himself told the crowd of teachers, counselors, nurses and other workers who packed the auditorium: "I am going to violate your trust in me tonight. I'm going to vote for the superintendent's recommendations. Doing so goes against everything that I believe in."

Teachers shouted, "So don't do it!" Barrera continued: "I don't think doing this is right. I don't think doing this is smart." And he believes the school district will end up canceling most or all of them anyway.

But school district staff warned that if San Diego Unified did not prepare for layoffs, the County Office of Education, which vets its budget plans, could stop them from borrowing money to pay its bills. That was what swayed Barrera to vote to start sending out pink slips. The teachers union has argued that the layoffs are unnecessary and based on faulty predictions.

"Shame on you Richard!" someone yelled from the back of the auditorium.

What makes this remarkable is that Barrera has been at the forefront of plans to avoid sending out pink slips, this year and in the past. Two months ago he was one of the board members who floated a bold and possibly risky plan that would bank on tax extensions or a quirk in the layoff laws to prevent warnings from going out. He has never voted for pink slips before. In earlier years, Barrera pushed to find other savings and dodged layoffs. From my 2009 story:

"I kept hearing (last year), 'We've done everything we can possibly do and we have no other options than layoffs,'" said new school board member Richard Barrera. "And from our experience this year, that wasn't true. We found more savings."

Conservative critics have long pegged Barrera as a labor lackey for backing a union pact on school construction and opposing Race to the Top, a competition between states for federal stimulus money that put a premium on tying teacher evaluations to test scores. Now Barrera has seriously upset the teachers union, which denounced the decision on its website last night:

In violation of the trust placed in them by parents, educators and the broader San Diego community, Trustees Richard Barrera, Shelia Jackson and John Lee Evans voted to issue more than 1,000 absolutely unnecessary certificated layoff notices, with Superintendent Bill Kowba leading the chorus of fear-mongering and bad advice supporting their poor choice. Only Trustees Kevin Beiser and Scott Barnett had the courage of conviction to do the right thing and vote against layoffs. Should the Board's absurd decision stand, our schools will simply cease to function.... Tonight Trustees Richard Barrera, Shelia Jackson and John Lee Evans violated our trust and took the easy way out.

Evans and Jackson are also being criticized, of course. Jackson tried to advance an alternative budget plan that would consolidate more central office departments. Evans also wrestled with the decision at the meeting Thursday, saying that while he agreed that the school district should resist the cuts, this wasn't the time to do it, since it would cost them the control of the district.

"This is actually a decision that makes me very sick," said Evans, who mentioned that he wore a black suit to the meeting because it felt like a funeral.

But Barrera was the surprise vote, the one that made people gasp in the auditorium...

ACLU sues to keep Alpine schools trustee in race

Here is a story from 2010.

ACLU sues to keep Alpine schools trustee in race
By Nathan Max
September 17, 2010

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a local school-board member to help him continue his campaign in this fall’s election.

Alpine Union School District Trustee Christopher Newcomb could be forced out of the race if the government determines his candidacy is in violation of the Hatch Act, which stipulates that federal employees cannot run in partisan elections. Newcomb is a federal employee who works for the military.

School-board elections in California, by law, are supposed to be nonpartisan. But the U.S. Office of Special Counsel informed Newcomb in an April letter that if other candidates pick up partisan endorsements, he could be deemed ineligible even though he is running as an independent.

Laughlin McDonald, the director of the ACLU voting rights project, said cases of this nature are extremely rare. McDonald said he can recall the ACLU taking on just one other case involving the Hatch Act since 1972.

Newcomb was out of the country Friday and could not be reached for comment. Phone messages left for the Office of Special Counsel were not returned.

“What’s wrong here is the federal government is saying, ‘It’s not what you do. It’s what your opponent does,’” said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the ACLU’s San Diego and Imperial Counties office. “I don’t think that’s right or fair.”

Newcomb was appointed to the Alpine Union school board on July 8, 2009 after former Trustee Scott Barr moved out of the district. There are eight candidates running for three seats, including Newcomb’s, in the upcoming November election. At least two other candidates have picked up party endorsements, leaving Newcomb’s candidacy vulnerable, Blair-Loy said.

The Office of Special Counsel wrote Newcomb that there is no clear-cut basis for determining when a nonpartisan race turns into a partisan one, and that it would have to make such a determination on a case-by-case basis. However, the letter said if other candidates pick up the support of a political party, then the race becomes partisan.

Blair-Loy argued in his motion that a candidate could simply force a federal employee out of a nonpartisan race by claiming party affiliation.

“We understand the federal government has a legitimate interest in retaining the integrity of the civil service, but this is not about that at all,” Blair-Loy said.

“We don’t think there’s anything about Christopher Newcomb running for Alpine school board that threatens that. He’s not seeking a party endorsement, and he wouldn’t take it if it was given to him. He’s an independent, and it’s a completely nonpartisan election.”

If the Office of Special Counsel finds Newcomb’s candidacy in violation of the Hatch Act, he would be forced to chose between his job and his campaign. A hearing has not yet been scheduled, Blair-Loy said.

It's Hatch Act Season
By Allan Holmes

It's election time, so that means it has to be Hatch Act time, too.

At least two federal employees are entangled in the nuances of the law, which prohibits federal employees from running in partisan elections. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Friday that Christopher Newcomb, identified only as a military employee, is running for the Alpine Union school board. From the Tribune:

School-board elections in California, by law, are supposed to be nonpartisan. But the U.S. Office of Special Counsel informed Newcomb in an April letter that if other candidates pick up partisan endorsements, he could be deemed ineligible even though he is running as an independent.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Newcomb, challenging the special counsel's investigation.

In Virginia, the Alexandria Times reported this week town council member Alicia Hughes may be the subject of an inquiry by the special counsel. Hughes works for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Like Newcomb, Hughes is an independent with no partisan endorsements. But as the Times reported:

Hughes ran for City Council as an Independent last year but was backed by factions like the Alexandria Republican City Committee. Her photograph and name appear on the ARCC website under the heading "On Council," below Republican Councilman Frank Fannon and above a photo President Ronald Regan.

Link: November 2010 election results.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Let the Sunshine In

Let the Sunshine In
Voice of San Diego

It's Sunshine Week, when media organizations around the country emphasize the importance of open and accessible public information. In a timely move, CityBeat and a new group called Open San Diego have created a website with more than 200 bookmarks linking to resources for those who want to better understand government and our community.

"We want to make the case that more openness is a good thing for everyone, including policymakers and public servants," Open San Diego's Jed Sundwall tells CityBeat. "There's a strong current of 'We need transparency so we can catch people with their pants down' among open-government advocates ... but I want to emphasize that it helps journalists tell the truth about great work being done just as easily as it allows them to tell the truth about poor work."

In other words: Keep your pants on and do the right thing, government folks, and you'll be fine. You might even look great.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Schools, Union Not Getting Anywhere

I recommend clicking on the link to the original article in order to see all the links in the text!

Schools, Union Not Getting Anywhere
Voice of San Diego
Scott Lewis
March 7, 2011

San Diego Unified School District is facing three scenarios that may lead to the layoff of 1,300 school employees including 500 teachers -- or worse. The first is what the school board hopes for: The governor is able to get state tax extensions on the ballot, and voters approve them, and the deficit they face won't be as breathtaking.

The second is what they seem to be preparing for: Those tax extensions don't pass. They aren't even guaranteed to get on the ballot. This would lead to 500 teacher cuts.

The third scenario is a nightmare: Those tax extensions fail and the state makes even further cuts to education.

The Union Tribune today touches on one potential program on the brink: music.

Newly elected school board member Scott Barnett persuaded his colleagues to open up talks with the teachers union. They've been working under a closed three-year contract. But it doesn't seem to be going well, Barnett reported on his Facebook page. He acknowledged that the school police have been willing to talk. But other employee groups?

"So far we have not had any real movement on any discussion with all the rest. This is far a failure of both school board and union leadership which we are all responsible for. It takes both sides to lead," he wrote, in a discussion that opened up on his page.

Last week, education writer Emily Alpert and NBC San Diego took on the teacher layoffs for San Diego Explained. The so-called "last hired, first fired" rules mean that if the layoffs do come, they'll affect the least senior teachers and therefore usually lower income-area schools. Alpert touched on how a civil rights lawsuit in Los Angeles, which was supported by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, has challenged the teachers union and the seniority rules.

[Maura Larkins comment: The San Diego ACLU has steered clear of any lawsuit against wholesale layoffs of teachers in low income schools. The Los Angeles ACLU is taking up the slack. San Diego ACLU attorney David Blair-Loy believes in being extremely polite to school attorneys. He says litigation is the "worst" option. For his excessive politeness, he was awarded a "civility" award by the San Diego Bar Association. See all Blair-Loy posts.]

The New York Times explained that issue Friday.

Friday, March 04, 2011

ACLU asks DA to drop charges against homeless man

ACLU asks DA to drop charges against homeless man
By Nathan Scharn
San Diego Union-Tribune
March 2, 2011

The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the District Attorney’s Office to drop charges against a homeless man who was dragged out of a Carlsbad City Council meeting for using words considered by some to be profane.

However, the office might not handle the case.

Police officers took Richard Shapiro from the speaker’s lectern after he used a word often used as a substitute for “wussies” during the public comment period at a council meeting Aug. 24.

He was charged with violating the Carlsbad Municipal Code’s section on council decorum, which is listed in the municipal code as a misdemeanor offense that would be prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office.

“The removal of Mr. Shapiro from this public forum was a clear violation of First Amendment law,” said Sarah Abshear, staff attorney for the San Diego ACLU, in a news release. “His speech did not interrupt the council, and he cannot be censored simply because the council found the speech offensive.”

The ACLU says the wording of the city’s code is unclear, and does not explain what language is considered “vulgar, profane, loud or boisterous.”

“This content-based restriction of political speech is unconstitutional, period, end of sentence,” David Blair-Loy, legal director for the San Diego ACLU, said in the news release.

[Maura Larkins' comment: That's not what Blair-Loy said when this blogger criticized school attorneys. He said I had to obey a brazenly unconstitutional order to erase all mention of the attorneys in question from my website. Blair-Loy loves to talk about the settlements he has reached with these school attorneys. And apparently he loves the "civility" award he got for being so nice to these attorneys. It seems that he supports the constitution in some cases, and vigorously opposes it in others.]

The charges were actually infractions — comparable to traffic tickets — the district attorney determined. The office typically does not prosecute infractions, and has recommended the Carlsbad City Attorney handle the case, said Summer Stephan, chief of the office’s North County branch. Infractions are less severe than misdemeanors.

Because it is unclear which agency will prosecute, the District Attorney’s Office did not yet have a response to the ACLU letter.

Shapiro pleaded not guilty Oct. 6. A trial date has been set for April 26.

SDCOE must pay Rodger Hartnett over $200,000

San Diego County Office of Education Superintendent Randy Ward and risk management director Diane Crosier lose in court.

Judge Orders Back Pay for Fired Schools Employee
March 3, 2011
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego

A Superior Court judge has ruled that a former San Diego County Office of Education employee who filed a wrongful termination suit against the agency must be given more than $200,000 in back pay and medical premium reimbursements — more than 11 times as much as the agency initially sought to pay him.

Rodger Hartnett once helped oversee litigation as a claims coordinator for the Risk Management Joint Powers Authority, a public agency run through the county office that handles lawsuits for schools.

He was terminated more than three years ago and has been locked in a lengthy legal battle with the office since then. Hartnett claims he was fired for blowing the whistle on conflicts of interest at the agency; the office says he was fired for negligence, insubordination and dishonesty. An internal commission found that Hartnett's termination was "for good cause and not excessive."

The same judge ruled nearly two years ago that Hartnett should be reinstated and awarded back pay to the date of his firing, concluding that the office did not investigate Hartnett's claims about "insider dealings" before his firing. The judge didn't address whether Hartnett was justified in those claims.

We've reported on a several issues that Hartnett raised in his suit, including the fact that another employee has advised her boss on whether to retain attorneys for personnel cases, something that routinely led to business for her husband's law firm. The issue is now being investigated by the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

The County Office of Education gave Hartnett less than $18,000 in back pay after his earlier reinstatement. He took the office back to court, arguing it had underpaid him. The key issue was whether the office could dock Hartnett for time when he was medically or psychiatrically disabled from working.

The court ruled that it could not, concluding that his stress was directly related to disputes with his employer. The judge did not settle larger issues that remain in the Hartnett litigation, including whether the alleged conflicts of interest were real and whether Hartnett was retaliated against as a whistleblower. The County Office of Education declined to comment on the ruling.

What happened to Mark Bresee, the recently-resigned general counsel for SDUSD?

He's up in Ventura, where the new school board is taking action against a superintendent popular with the old board.

Rio board moves to buy out superintendent's contract
By Cheri Carlson
Ventura County Star
March 2, 2011

Rio School District
trustees announced in a split decision Wednesday night that they will buy out schools chief Sherianne Cotterell's contract, which would make her the third consecutive Rio superintendent forced out by a board.

It was the fourth week in a row that trustees scheduled a closed-door discussion for a performance review of the superintendent. The discussions came just three months after four new trustees were sworn in after being elected to the five-member board.

Weeks before the new members took their seats, Cotterell had received excellent ratings in a performance review by the former board.

In a 3-1 vote Wednesday, newly elected board President Eleanor Torres and trustees Henrietta Macias and Ramon Rodriguez voted to exercise a provision of Cotterell's contract that allows the board to terminate the employment agreement without cause. They also announced that Cotterell will be put on paid administrative leave, effective at the end of business Friday.

The board will provide Cotterell with 60 days' written notice of its decision today, board attorney Mark Bresee said.
The contract requires written notice before a termination without cause.

Any discussion and the vote itself took place in closed session. Torres declined to comment about why the decision was made.

Trustee Mike Barber, who was absent Wednesday, said he had requested the meeting be held on a different day because of previously scheduled plans. A statement he wrote was read into the record before the closed session.

"I want to be clear and on the record that I am against the action that certain members of the board are taking," Barber wrote in the statement. "I support our current superintendent and the job she is doing for the district."

Trustee Tim Blaylock, the sole remaining member of the previous board, was the only vote against the move Wednesday...

The board's action came amid criticism of the superintendent's misdemeanor conviction on shoplifting charges last year, and a long-strained relationship between the teachers union and district administration.

Torres, Macias and Rodriguez were endorsed by the Rio Teachers Association.

Cotterell's contract was to expire at the end of this June, but the former board met in November and gave her positive performance ratings for the past two years, triggering a two-year contract extension.

A maximum cash settlement for the board to end Cotterell's employment without cause likely would equal 18 months of pay, or $247,500. Cotterell gets a base salary of $165,000 annually, according to her employment contract.In recent weeks, some have lauded her work in Rio. Others have criticized her, as well as former trustees, for extending her contract before the new board was seated...

Rio revolving door

March 2003: Superintendent Yolanda Benitez is suspended.

June 2003: The board fires Benitez and appoints Patrick Faverty as superintendent.

September 2003: Benitez files suit against the district and three board members, claiming wrongful termination, breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

June 2005: Board decides not to extend Faverty's contract.

November 2005: Faverty says he will resign at end of the school year.

January 2006: State appellate court rules trustees violated state open-meetings law when they fired Benitez.

March 2006: Board settles with Benitez, paying her and her attorneys nearly $1.4 million.

July 2006: Board appoints Sherianne Cotterell as superintendent.

August 2006: Three board members are recalled.

Nov. 2, 2010: Four new trustees are elected to the board.

Nov. 4, 2010: Cotterell gets excellent performance review from board, before new trustees take office.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Why the Silence of the Schools?

Let's face it: school board members often care about playing politics to advance their own careers more than they care about kids.

Why the Silence of the Schools?
Randy Dotinga
Voice of San Diego

Local school districts are not exactly rushing to support the governor's plan to kill redevelopment, which is designed to pump billions into education. In fact, they're silent or close to it when asked if they're with the program.

That's more than just peculiar, a lobbyist and consultant says: "they ought to be ashamed of themselves...

Schools Pull Punches in Redevelopment Fight
March 2, 2011
by Emily Alpert
by Liam Dillon

In his effort to eliminate redevelopment in California, Gov. Jerry Brown has pitted developers against schools. He's argued that the state doesn't have enough money to subsidize both, and as it stands, his plan directs billions of would-be redevelopment dollars to education.

Yet few local school districts have rallied for redevelopment's demise. Ask school systems from San Diego to Coronado to Los Angeles about the idea and they tend to be cautious or silent — hardly the reaction you might expect for one key part of a plan to lessen budget cuts at schools statewide.

"It's been tepid," said Stephen Rhoads, a lobbyist and consultant for Strategic Education Services, a Sacramento firm that works with school districts across the state. "And they ought to be ashamed of themselves."

Schools' reluctance to aggressively back the proposal stems from confusion over how the state funds education and subsidizes development, murkiness on how exactly ending redevelopment would work and a lack of trust in the state to follow through on its plans.

That reluctance has cost the controversial plan to axe redevelopment the moral force that an outpouring of kids, parents and teachers can provide — something Brown is banking on to advance his idea that redevelopment comes at schools' expense. But if the fears that have held school districts back from vigorously endorsing the plan are real, it supports claims that the governor is merely using children to sell his budget.

San Diego Unified hasn't called to end redevelopment, even as it has tried to capitalize on the statewide debate that has weighed schools against it. Last week, school board president Richard Barrera asked the city to advance the schools $64 million from future downtown redevelopment funds to reduce its estimated $120 million deficit. Helping schools could be a selling point to save redevelopment, Barrera said.

Throngs of education supporters packed San Diego City Council chambers Monday when Barrera made his plea, one show of the power that schools can muster. But Barrera and other school backers have been much less bullish on ending redevelopment, saying they're still analyzing its effects. As of now, San Diego Unified is not planning any public stand on the governor's plan...

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Florida man cuts off legs of spearfisher with his boat propeller, then sues for defamation after he is convicted of violating boat safety code

This defamation lawsuit to stifle free speech is shocking in its abusiveness. This Nocosia character is much nastier than the folks who are suing me in an effort to shut down this blog. My case is now in the Court of Appeal.

Click HERE to see CMLP article.

Roger Nicosia
Lisa Rollins, Christopher Bartlett, John Etzler, Philip A. Grogan d/b/a Publications

Threat Type: Lawsuit
Date: 01/10/2011
Location: Florida
Legal Claims: Defamation; Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress; Tortious Interference

On January 9, 2009, Plaintiff Roger Nicosia navigated his boat into a dive area and ran over diver Robert Murphy (“Murphy”). The boat’s propellers sliced through Murphy’s legs, resulting in amputation of both legs below the knee. The collision was so violent that, when explaining the events once he reached shore, Nicosia stated that his boat had a “big, big vibration” when traveling above 8 knots on the way to shore because of presumed propeller damage.

Understandably, the gruesome incident received widespread attention in the news media, and, as alleged in the Complaint, on Internet discussion forums such as “Spearboard,” which is a discussion board (or “forum”) dedicated to spearfishing and diving enthusiasts. Within hours of the tragedy, the spearfishing community, of which Murphy was and is a member, began discussing the incident and praying for Murphy via Spearboard. In the months leading up to the State of Florida charging Nicosia with violating navigation rules, as well as in the months during the trial, the media, including discussion forums such as Spearboard, continued to report on and debate the incident.

Nicosia’s actions that day resulted in Martin County Judge Kathleen Roberts convicting him of violating Florida’s boating navigation rules resulting in a boating accident, a second degree misdemeanor.On August 18, 2010, the day that Judge Roberts delivered her verdict, a public outcry ensued based on the farcical punishment allowed under the statute that Nicosia violated.

As one commentator (who is not a Defendant in this case) wryly stated a few days after the verdict, the monetary punishment amounted to “$125.00 a leg.” Other commentators, including the Defendants in this case, also exercised their First Amendment right to comment on this matter of public importance. In response, they have been sued in a troublingly blatant attempt to shut them up. By burdening Defendants with the monetary and emotional expense of litigation, Nicosia is engaging in the classic SLAPP tactic to silence protected speech.

Which part of “PUBLIC schools” don’t you understand?

The Educated Reporter
December 11, 2009
Which part of “PUBLIC schools” don’t you understand?
Linda Perlstein

Major-league kudos to Michael Miner at the Chicago Reader, who writes about the culture of fear in that city’s school system that shuts out reporters—and, by virtue, the public. Reporters around the country tell me it has gotten worse for them, nowhere moreso than in districts led by big-shot reformers. There is no justification for filtering every single contact between journalists and educators through PR people, or creating a climate in which nobody feels free to talk about ... anything.

Miner writes that the head flack at Chicago schools “spoke of the value of having ‘everybody on the same page.’” Ack. I could rant pretty thoroughly about how creepy and unproductive it is to want everyone in a massive organization to be on the same page—and foray into my loathing of how “being a team player,” which principals say all the time, has come to mean “not questioning anything”—but perhaps today is the day I should start trying to blog shorter.

I’ll just say two things:

1. The “same page” climate means that only the crankiest, most out-there gadflies have the guts to question or criticize, which is not as productive as an honest dialogue among everyone.

2. Reporters should write forthrightly, in the stories themselves or on their blogs, about every roadblock they face in this regard.


john thompson said...

"Everyone on the same page" may be the most destructive cliche in education. It tends to be an exxcuse for ... whatever, as in "this will only work if everyone is on the same page."

If its Tuesday, everyone must be on the same page, is the most destructive sentiment around. One of the best lines in The Wire was the teacher's comment on nonstop test prep, "this year the term is curriculum alignment."

How does the Chicago flack reconcile his statement with secretary Duncan's recent endorsement of "creative insubordination?"

dlaufenberg said...

In a time of technological development that makes transparency so easy, it is interesting to see the 'age of accountability' in education coupled with less access for the media. How perfectly contradictory.

Mar 1, 2011
What Happens When Schools Shut Me Out
by Emily Alpert

I heard recently that the four small high schools on the Kearny High campus are slated to lose their nurse. While other schools have trimmed back a few days of nursing, the Kearny campus is going from a full time nurse to none. It's the most dramatic cutback in nursing I've heard about in San Diego Unified.

What will that mean for Kearny? I wanted to find out by shadowing the school nurse to see what she did. The nurse was OK with the idea. But after a week of going back and forth with Laura Bellofatto, one of the Kearny principals, I was told in an email that "we are not moving forward with the visit."

Why? I still don't know. Getting shut out of schools happens to me much more often than I'd like. While California law does not require journalists to register with the principal to gain access to a school, San Diego Unified policies give principals the ultimate say over whether journalists are allowed in.

I can walk onto a school without principal permission. But teachers and other staff are often reluctant to talk to me if they haven't heard from their principal that I'm coming to campus. So I ask first. And that has made a big difference in which stories I tell and how I tell them.

Some schools just don't return my calls. I've been sending emails and phone messages to Michael Jimenez, the principal of Serra High, for a month. I don't have any specific story in mind; I just want to visit the Tierrasanta school since I've never been there. Principal Jimenez, if you see this, please call!

Others tightly control media access. For instance, the King-Chavez charter schools require all media questions to go through their CEO. When I rung up a teacher after school to ask about how an infusion of federal money was impacting his classroom, he said he couldn't talk to me directly about it. Instead I had to email CEO Tim Wolf my questions for the teacher, who emailed responses back to Wolf.

This might just sound like griping about people making it harder for me to do my job. (OK, a little bit of it is.) But the bigger reason that I get frustrated is that it makes it impossible to show what really happens in schools — good, bad, ugly or fabulous. Does it matter if Kearny loses its nurse or not? It's really hard to tell if you can't sit down and see what she does. And at a time when San Diego Unified could be cutting back significantly on nursing, it's something that parents, elected officials and the public should know about.

This isn't just a problem in San Diego. Linda Perlstein, who helps education reporters around the country as the public editor for the Education Writers Association, wrote last year:

There is no justification for filtering every single contact between journalists and educators through PR people, or creating a climate in which nobody feels free to talk about ... anything. ... The "same page" climate means that only the crankiest, most out-there gadflies have the guts to question or criticize, which is not as productive as an honest dialogue among everyone.

Thankfully, most schools are willing to let me in. For instance, Principal Stephanie Mahan at Carver, a K-8 school in Oak Park, was incredibly helpful when I wanted to know about their unusually small classes. Mahan spoke candidly with me, introduced me to teachers who talked to me on their own, and let me watch classes in action as long as I liked. That made the difference between hearing small classes matter to Carver and seeing why they do.

Of course, getting into a school doesn't mean school leaders always love what I write. And I don't expect schools to spend a lot of time accommodating me — that's not their job and it shouldn't be.

But I worry when public schools shut the media out. And frankly, it usually makes me way more suspicious than anything I find out when I actually get into schools.



Emily: I must agree with you that this sounds suspicious. Everyone's busy, but I think it is more of a fear of the bad reality getting out, than someone not being willing to accommodate a reporter. I'd rather know the truth and the reality; be it good bad or ugly. It is what it is and as taxpayers, we have the right to know.

Maura Larkins

It's surprisingly rare to find a school where the staff is truly in a learning mode, willing to freely discuss the best solutions for problems. Usually the decision-making process is controlled by a few powerful teachers and/or administrators. If everybody and his brother were sticking his nose into how the school operates, offering suggestions and asking for explanations, that would make the whole process less comfortable for those in control. But a little discomfort is needed in our failing schools. If the adults don't know how to solve problems, how can they teach that skill to students?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The interesting relationship between the ACLU and San Diego Unified School District

It's strange that the ACLU left SDUSD out of its lawsuit regarding school fees. I have often wondered if ACLU attorney David Blair-Loy has compromised the ACLU's basic principles in his eagerness to get along with school attorneys. I think Blair-Loy has worked harder to get his "civility" award from the San Diego Bar Association than to defend the Constitution of the United States.

See all posts re David Blair-Loy.

San Diego Unified Not a Defendant in School Fee Suit
September 10, 2010
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego

While schools in San Diego Unified School District have repeatedly gotten in trouble for charging fees for school activities and supplies, the American Civil Liberties Union ultimately decided not to name the district in its lawsuit against the state of California.

The suit, which accuses the state of failing to protect the right to a free public education, mentions school districts across the state that charge for classes. David Blair-Loy, legal director for the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said unlike others, San Diego Unified has taken significant steps to solve the problem, such as posting information about the law on the school district website.

None of the districts cited in the lawsuit are actually defendants; the ACLU is suing California itself. Blair-Loy said that while schools should not charge illegal fees, the bigger problem is that California has failed to adequately fund schools.

"We know they're getting starved by the state. We sympathize with their dilemma," Blair-Loy said. "The problem would be unlikely to arise if districts were adequately funded to begin with."

Sally Smith, a mother who repeatedly raised the issue of school fees, charging that the practice was illegal, says despite its efforts, San Diego Unified has still failed to explain the law to all parents. Many families lack computer access and need explanations in languages other than English.

School district attorney Mark Bresee said while San Diego Unified is not planning to mail out information about school fees and the law to all parents, the district has provided sample language for schools to use in their own parent newsletters and other communications with families.

"We don't view not being named in the (ACLU) complaint as some sort of vindication," Bresee said. "We had issues in San Diego. We still have issues in San Diego. And we've been working harder than any school district I know of to remedy them."

Here's the letter the ACLU wrote to Bresee explaining why the school district was not named in the lawsuit.