Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bullying supported by staff at Kansas school

Amended suit alleges new abuses at Kansas school
Associated Press
March 24, 2012

A California boy attends only four days at a Kansas military boarding school where he is tormented by staff and students after breaking both his legs in separate incidents. A Tennessee student's stomach is forcibly branded as a rite of initiation. A Florida cadet breaks his hand fending off a student with a history of sexual abuse who tries to grope him, and school officials refuse to investigate or inform his parents of the attack.

These claims are the latest additions to a growing list of former cadets who allege in a federal lawsuit they were abused at St. John's Military School in Salina, Kan. An amended complaint filed Friday in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., now includes six sets of named parents who have filed on behalf of cadets, plus one ex-cadet who is now an adult. The plaintiffs come from California, Florida, Tennessee, Colorado, Texas and Illinois.

The Episcopal boarding school, which charges families nearly $30,000 per year for students enrolled in grades 6-12, draws students from across the nation.

Two new defendants are named in the revised lawsuit: The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America and the Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas, entities which the suit says created the school.

"The parents of these kids don't want any other kids to suffer the way their kids did," said Dan Zmijewski, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.

Their lawsuit contends that the school allows and encourages older students to physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually abuse young students. According to court filings, the legal action purports to chronicle a "dangerous and disturbing culture at a boy's military school which must end."

St. John's has settled nine previous abuse-related lawsuits filed since 2006, court records show.

Amid widening media coverage of the latest lawsuit, more parents and cadets are coming forward with stories of abuse, Zmijewski said.

"It is just more kids who suffered extreme abuse at the hands of students while staff is watching — and is more indicative of what is going on there," he said...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Anxiety Makes Brain Poor At Math For Some Children

Brains of Kids With Math Anxiety Function Differently, Says Study
ABC News
Mar 23, 2012

Kids who get the jitters before a math test may actually have different brain functions than kids without math anxiety, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine recruited about 50 second and third graders and separated them into either a high-math anxiety group or a low-anxiety group based on a standard questionnaire they modified for 7- to 9-year-olds. They scanned the children’s brains while the kids did addition and subtraction problems.

They found that children with a high level of math anxiety were slower at solving problems and were less accurate than children with lower math anxiety.
“Children who said they had math anxiety had greater responses in the areas of the brain implicated in processing negative emotions like fear, particularly the amygdala,” said Vinod Menon, a co-author and professor of child psychiatry, neurology and neuroscience at Stanford. “We also saw reduced activity in areas normally associated with mathematical problem solving.”...

“Math anxiety is underappreciated in young children, but it is very real and very stimulus-specific,” Menon said. “These children do not have high levels of general anxiety.”

...The findings, the authors said, could eventually be used to develop ways to address this specific type of anxiety, which “has significant implications for an individual’s long-term academic and professional success,” they wrote.

Anxiety Makes Brain Poor At Maths For Some Children
Medical News Today
23 Mar 2012

A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine is published this week in Psychological Science showing that children who experience difficulty with math exhibit an altered brain function from anxiety.

When it comes to equations and formulas, all you have to fear is fear itself it seems, with second and third grade students showing brain activity associated with panicky or frightened feelings, decreasing activity in the part of the brain that handles math...

Menon says that's its also possible for someone who is considered good at maths to have a bad day and feel the anxiety that blocks his or her skills...

The two groups of good math and bad math / anxious students showed differences in performance: Children with high math anxiety were less accurate and significantly slower at solving math problems than children with low math anxiety. These results indicate that math anxiety, basically math-specific fear, jams the brain's information-processing capacity along with the ability to reason through a math problem. Perhaps the process of being fearful, by way of the animal type survival mechanism it originates from, has evolved the brain to be spontaneous and intuitive rather than logical and mathematical in frightening situations...

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Come one, Bonnie. Your Public Integrity Unit looks more and more like its involved in political payback. You never go after corrupt white Republicans. This is all starting to look less like a campaign against corruption and more like legally-sanctioned dirty tricks campaign in support of your political friends.

Wendy Fry
March 20, 2012

CHULA VISTA — District Attorney’s investigators executed search warrants Tuesday morning at the homes of two former elected officials at Southwestern College.

Investigators retrieved pictures, computers, cell phones and documents from the Chula Vista home of former college board President Yolanda Salcido, 54, and the Jamul residence of former trustee Jorge Dominguez, 63.

Teams arrived at each person’s home around 7:30 a.m. Affidavits justifying the searches for a judge are expected to be unsealed within a week.

The D.A.’s office is gathering a case alleging that South County elected officials accepted thousands of dollars worth of gifts, entertainment and meals in exchange for votes on millions of dollars of construction contracts under voter-approved bond programs.

Dominguez and Salcido could not be reached for comment.

The D.A.’s office declined to comment on the investigation, beyond confirming it is in the midst of a broadening corruption probe. Homes of seven other people connected to the college and the Sweetwater Union High School District were searched in December.

A 41-page affidavit used to gain approval for the prior round of searches mentioned Salcido 19 times, alleging she went to meals at the expense of contractor Henry Amigable, who has since pleaded not guilty to bribery charges.

The document says Salcido accepted $960 in meals in 2006 and 2007 from Amigable, a business development executive who worked at Gilbane Building Co. and then Seville Construction Services.

For example, according to the D.A.’s documents, Amigable treated a Sweetwater schools official and his wife, along with Salcido and Southwestern administrator John Wilson, to an $802 meal on Feb. 24, 2007, at Baci Ristorante in San Diego.

The affidavit lists several such meals at which Amigable picked up the tab for Wilson and Salcido before Nov. 18, 2009, when the college board adopted Wilson’s recommendation to grant a $2.7 million contract to Seville Construction Services. The contract was terminated in January.

“Amigable was instrumental in Seville Construction Services being awarded the Proposition R program management contract at Southwestern College due to his close relationship with SWC board member Yolanda Salcido and John Wilson,” the affidavit says.

Regarding Salcido specifically, it adds, “Her dating relationship with Wilson during this critical time frame and Wilson’s relationship with Amigable and SCS clearly appear to be a conflict.”

Amigable’s attorney, Dan Greene, emphasized that none of the entertainment was billed to taxpayers, and all of it was routine business expenses approved by superiors at construction firms.

“These were business expenses, or in other words, part of the anticipated cost of doing business,” Greene said.

The other former board member whose home was searched, Dominguez, is mentioned twice in the previous affidavit, in reference to two $2,000 political contributions he received from Seville Construction Services.

An internal Southwestern probe released last week found that Seville donated $30,000 to Salcido’s failed re-election campaign.

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis charged four current and former Sweetwater school officials in January, and they pleaded not guilty to corruption charges. No charges have been forthcoming regarding the Southwestern bond program.

In the November 2010 election, she lost her college board seat to challenger Norma Hernandez, the college’s former president. Dominguez lost his seat to Tim Nader, a former Chula Vista mayor.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Jurupa School District and CTA lose another case

The teachers union has a bizarre agreement with the Jurupa School District: if a teacher sues, the union will pay all the district's expenses!!!

Naturally, ordinary teachers aren't represented by the union (although I'm sure that the deal includes special treatment for union officials and their pals).

Here's the latest from Lenore Boykin:

The decision arrived today, Ermine Nelson WON her PERB complaint against
JUSD... details to come later. JUSD was found to be in violation of the
EERA, a law. The Union did not even go to the hearing.

[Note to Jurupa employees:] Look for postings at your JUSD job site regarding retaliation for filing grievances or complaints; it is ordered by PERB! The notice should be signed by Tamara Sue Elzig or by Elliott Duchon; it is ordered by PERB! The postings must remain in place, not reduced in size, for a MINIMUM of 30 days.

Stokley of The Press Enterprise NEVER reports wins against JUSD. I won my
Writ of Mandamus,(RIC 10019006), against JUSD in December, 2011, which the
Union did not attend either, but Stokley never reported that. I was even
told by the Union President, John Vigrass, that I was in no way employed by
JUSD although a Superior Court Judge ordered my reinstatement. Ed Sibby,
our CTA liason, did even less. Who does the Union really help?...

It is also glaringly apparent that the Union should have taken the district
to task rather than leave the work to a private attorney. That must be why
PERB exists. I don't know why the union does any more.

Lenore Boykin

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Suspensions at Northwestern High in Maryland create an uproar

Suspensions at Northwestern High in Md. create an uproar
By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post
March 12, 2012

One week, Shane James, an honor roll student at Northwestern High School in Prince George’s County, was lauded for his political activism.

The next, he was removed from classes for attempting to effect change.

Northwestern Principal Edgar Batenga suspended James, 16, and three other students on March 1 for organizing a walkout to increase teacher pay, improve the quality of education and demand an apology to Filipino teachers who will lose their jobs because their visas will expire.

“We were trying to be politically active and show our concern for education,” said Boris Mitiuriev, 18, a senior who planned to participate in the walkout. “It’s just outrageous.”

The suspensions have created a firestorm. Many, including community leaders and Occupy protesters, argue that the students’ rights to free speech and to assemble appear to have been violated. They are demanding that the suspensions be removed from the students’ permanent records.

“I am really upset,” said Danielle Duvall, James’s mother. “My son didn’t do anything that was illegal or wrong. He’s not a troublemaker. He’s one of the good guys.”

Batenga said the students received a five-day suspension because they incited a disruption.

The students spent months planning the walkout, and they had more than 400 members of the 2,274-member student body prepared to participate.

According to the plan, the demonstrators were to meet outside at 2:40 p.m., at the end of third period. No one showed up, however, because Batenga, a first-year principal, had squashed the plans that day. He became aware of the planned demonstration the night before and made an early morning announcement instructing students not to participate.

The principal said that even though students did not exit the building, several dozen left their classes, causing a “major issue” in the hallways.

James and the three students were not among them. At the time, they were in the principal’s office.

Batenga said he identified two people he thought had organized the demonstration, based on Twitter feeds, and brought them into the office. They offered the name of another student, he said. James went to the office after learning that his friends had been called in. Before third period was over, they tweeted that “Project XBox,” the code name for the walkout, was “dead,” the principal said.

Batenga said he made his decision to suspend the students based on the school system’s policies and procedures, which allow him to suspend for “inciting others to disturbance and/or violence.”

“My intention was never to suppress anyone’s viewpoint,” Batenga said.

One of the suspended students, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was concerned about additional punishment, said he was not surprised that he was called to the principal’s office, a first for him.

“I read history, and I know activists are not the most loved people,” he said. “I knew they would try to intimidate me.”

...Occupy Education — a coalition of Occupy, labor and community groups — designated March 1 as the National Student Day of Action. Students across the country tailored their demonstrations to address specific issues affecting their schools.

“I just hope that in the future, there is positive communication about educational issues with students and the administration, not just here, but across the country,” said James, a gangly junior who has maintained a 4.5 weighted grade-point average over the past two semesters...

Obama administration says San Diego cross should stay

The San Diego ACLU has taken contradictory positions on expressions of religion in public places. It wants the Soledad cross removed, but it has fought for religious banners to remain in Bradley Johnson's Poway classroom. Perhaps in San Diego the ACLU can't get enough donations from people who believe in civil liberties, so it simply follows the desires of whoever happens to donate the most money.

Obama administration says San Diego cross should stay
The solicitor general, in an appeal to the Supreme Court, says the government should not be required to remove a war memorial atop Mt. Soledad because it is not an endorsement of religion.
By David G. Savage
Los Angeles Times
March 17, 2012

The Obama administration is asking the Supreme Court to allow a 43-foot-tall cross that serves as a war memorial to remain atop Mt. Soledad in San Diego, arguing that the cross has been there since 1954 and is not an endorsement of religion.

The government should not be required "to tear down a cross that has stood without incident for 58 years as a highly venerated memorial to the nation's fallen service members," Solicitor Gen. Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said in a new appeal to the high court.

He urged the justices to reverse a decision last year by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that said the cross was primarily a Christian symbol and therefore unconstitutional. Its prominent display on public land in La Jolla amounted to an official "endorsement of religion" in violation of the 1st Amendment, the panel of judges said in a 3-0 ruling.

If the Supreme Court takes up the case this year — which is likely — the justices could be forced to finally resolve whether religious symbols, such as crosses or depictions of the Ten Commandments, can be prominently displayed on public land.

Two years ago, the high court rejected a challenge to the display of a small cross in the Mojave National Preserve, but the five justices in the majority disagreed on the reasons. The 9th Circuit's latest opinion mostly ignored that ruling.

Since 1989, lawsuits from several veterans have challenged the Mt. Soledad cross, arguing that a single religious symbol did not speak for all veterans. But the San Diego city government and, more recently, Congress have intervened to preserve the cross.

Critics say the cross is unquestionably a religious symbol, not a universal symbol that honors all fallen soldiers. The 9th Circuit judges said the cross "has never been used to honor all American soldiers in any military cemetery." For example, Jewish soldiers often have a Star of David on their headstones in military cemeteries.

The 9th Circuit judges also noted that until the 1980s, the Mt. Soledad cross was a gathering place for Christians and a scene for Easter services. Its role as a war memorial came only after the litigation began, the judges said.

Defenders of the cross say it serves as a symbol of sacrifice and a memorial to honor the nation's fallen soldiers dating back to World War I. In 2006, Congress moved to take possession of Mt. Soledad and its cross to preserve the memorial.

If the Supreme Court were to deny the appeal, Verrilli said the cross would have to be taken down. Such an act "unnecessarily fosters the very divisiveness" over religion that the Constitution was designed to avoid, he said.

The justices are likely to decide this spring whether to hear the case, known as U.S. vs. Trunk.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Accountability is more important than one teacher

Accountability is more important than one teacher
March 16, 2012
Washington Post

It was only a matter of time before The Post published a story featuring a young teacher who lost her job in the District, painting her as a victim to the District’s new “get-tough” evaluation system. While I won’t pretend to know anything about Sarah Wysocki’s teaching abilities, I believe that the March 7 front-page article “D.C. teacher firing offers window into evaluations” did an injustice to D.C.’s effort to hold teachers accountable for results.

No evaluation system will be 100 percent accurate. Therefore one story, even one as compelling as Wysocki’s may appear to be, is not evidence of a discredited system.

Moreover, The Post did not point out that, under the rules of D.C.’s system, the principal can request a waiver of a teacher’s dismissal. Apparently, we can presume that Wysocki’s principal did not.

For years, schools have employed evaluation systems that gave teachers the benefit of the doubt, if not an outright free pass. In order to refocus our attention more properly on the long-neglected needs of students, we need to also accept the fact that schools, like all employers, can’t always make the right calls.

Kate Walsh, Washington

The writer is president of the National Council on Teacher Quality

‘Creative ... motivating’ and fired
By Bill Turque
March 6, 2012

By the end of her second year at MacFarland Middle School, fifth-grade teacher Sarah Wysocki was coming into her own.

“It is a pleasure to visit a classroom in which the elements of sound teaching, motivated students and a positive learning environment are so effectively combined,” Assistant Principal Kennard Branch wrote in her May 2011 evaluation.

He urged Wysocki to share her methods with colleagues at the D.C. public school. Other observations of her classroom that year yielded good ratings.

Two months later, she was fired.

Wysocki, 31, was let go because the reading and math scores of her students didn’t grow as predicted. Her undoing was “value-added,” a complex statistical tool used to measure a teacher’s direct contribution to test results. The District and at least 25 states, under prodding from the Obama administration, have adopted or are developing value-added systems to assess teachers.

When her students fell short, the low value-added trumped her positives in the classroom. Under the D.C. teacher evaluation system, called IMPACT , the measurement counted for 50 percent of her annual appraisal. Classroom observations, such as the one Branch conducted, represented 35 percent, and collaboration with the school community and schoolwide testing trends made up the remaining 15 percent.

Her story opens a rare window into the revolution in how teachers across the country are increasingly appraised — a mix of human observation and remorseless algorithm that is supposed to yield an authentic assessment of effectiveness. In the view of school officials, Wysocki, one of 206 D.C. teachers fired for poor performance in 2011, was appropriately judged by the same standards as her peers. Colleagues and friends say she was swept aside by a system that doesn’t always capture a teacher’s true value.

Proponents of value-added contend that it is a more meaningful yardstick of teacher effectiveness — growth over time — than a single year’s test scores. They also contend that classroom observations by school administrators can easily be colored by personal sentiments or grudges. Researchers for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reported in 2010 that a teacher’s value-added track record is among the strongest predictors of student achievement gains.

Which is why D.C. school officials have made it the largest component of their evaluation system for teachers in grades with standardized tests. The District aims to expand testing so that 75 percent of classroom teachers can be rated using value-added data. Now, only about 12 percent are eligible.

“We put a lot of stock in it,” said Jason Kamras, chief of human capital for D.C. schools.

Yet even researchers and educators who support value-added caution that it can, in essence, be overvalued. Test results are too vulnerable to conditions outside a teacher’s control, some experts say, to count so heavily in a high-stakes evaluation. Poverty, learning disabilities and random testing day incidents such as illness, crime or a family emergency can skew scores...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mary Brown, 'Obamacare' foe -- and broke

Mary Brown's hospital bills will be shifted to others since she refused to carry health insurance

Mary Brown, 'Obamacare' foe -- and broke
A woman whose case is before the Supreme Court is an exemplar of a problem the healthcare law was designed to address.
Los Angles Times editorial
March 11, 2012

Mary Brown, whose case against the 2010 healthcare reform law is pending before the Supreme Court, argues that the government shouldn't be able to force her to carry health insurance. Joined by three other individuals and a small-business trade association, she's asking the justices to rule that the law's insurance mandate is unconstitutional and that the rest of the act should be thrown out with it. But new revelations about her own situation make the case for the other side.

As The Times' David Savage reported, Brown and her husband have fallen on hard times since filing the lawsuit, largely because their auto repair business in Florida failed. The couple have filed for bankruptcy protection, asking a federal court to wipe out close to $60,000 in consumer debts. Significantly, their unpaid bills include $2,750 owed to a local hospital and physicians group and $1,735 to out-of-state medical specialists.

The disclosures are political gold for the Obama administration, transforming Brown from a champion of individual liberty into an exemplar of a problem the new law was designed to address. Uninsured and underinsured Americans rack up about $60 billion in medical bills every year that they cannot afford, forcing doctors and hospitals to pass those costs on to federal taxpayers and those patients who can pay their bills. It's not impinging on personal freedom to ask people to cover their own medical tabs. The mechanism Congress created to do that is the individual mandate.

Departing Goldman banker slams 'rip-off' culture

How do you find out the truth about what's going on in secretive organizations? From disgruntled ex-employees! Everyone else is keeping his/her mouth shut in order to get ahead. Who agrees with me on this? A whole lot of investors.

Goldman Stunned by Op-Ed Loses $2.2 Billion for Shareholders
By Christine Harper
Mar 14, 2012

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) saw $2.15 billion of its market value wiped out after an employee assailed Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein’s management and the firm’s treatment of clients, sparking debate across Wall Street.

The shares dropped 3.4 percent in New York trading yesterday, the third-biggest decline in the 81-company Standard & Poor’s 500 Financials Index, after London-based Greg Smith made the accusations in a New York Times op-ed piece.

A departing Goldman Sachs Group Inc. employee mounted an unprecedented public attack on its "toxic and destructive" culture in a New York Times opinion piece, becoming the first serving insider to openly criticize the firm. Goldman Sachs said it disagreed with comments made by Greg Smith, identified by the newspaper as an executive director and head of the firm’s U.S. equity derivatives business in Europe. Gigi Stone and Christine Harper report on Bloomberg Television's "In the Loop."

Smith, who also wrote that he was quitting after 12 years at the company, blamed Blankfein, 57, and President Gary D. Cohn, 51, for a “decline in the firm’s moral fiber.” They responded in a memo to current and former employees, saying that Smith’s assertions don’t reflect the firm’s values, culture or “how the vast majority of people at Goldman Sachs think about the firm and the work it does on behalf of our clients.”...

Departing Goldman banker slams 'rip-off' culture
By Douwe Miedema and Lauren Tara LaCapra
Mar 14, 2012

(Reuters) - Goldman Sachs faced an unprecedented assault from one of its own after a banker published a withering resignation letter in the New York Times, calling the Wall Street titan a "toxic" place where managing directors referred to their own clients as "muppets."

It was the latest blow for the storied investment bank, which has long supplied senators and cabinet secretaries to Washington but now draws comparisons to a "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity."

In an opinion column in Wednesday's Times, Greg Smith, who worked in equity derivatives, said Goldman had become "as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

"It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as 'muppets,'" Smith said.

In the United States "muppet" brings to mind lovable puppets like Kermit the Frog, but in Britain, "muppet" is slang for a stupid person.

..."Part of Goldman's defense is everybody is sophisticated and everybody knew as much as we knew did," the lawyer, Eric Lewis, said. "But if you're calling your clients muppets -- most muppets don't have the cranial capacity of Goldman."

In recent years the company has faced other high-profile incidents damaging to its image after the near-collapse of the global banking system in 2008.

Earlier this month it was accused of a major conflict of interest for advising El Paso Corp on its sale to Kinder Morgan, while being a significant shareholder in Kinder Morgan.

One of its bankers, Fabrice Tourre -- who referred to himself as "fabulous Fab" in emails -- is still embroiled in legal claims in the United States after allegations that he duped buyers of a complex credit instrument.

And two years ago, Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein caused a media storm when he said that as a banker he was just "doing God's work," defending high banker pay and the role their institutions play in the economy.

Paul Volcker, a former Federal Reserve chairman, called the Smith piece a "reflection of the change in market mentality over the last 15, over the last 20 years."

At an economics summit in Washington hosted by the Atlantic magazine, he said when Goldman went public in the 1990s and bought a large trading operation, "it became a trading organization and not customer oriented."...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Free speech, illegal search: R.S. v. Minnewaska Area School District No. 2149

Here's what I don't understand about this case. If the mother who complained did not have access to the girl's Facebook page, then why should she be taken seriously? If she did have access, then why didn't she give the access information to the school?

R.S. v. Minnewaska Area School District No. 2149
Threat Type: Disciplinary Action
Date: 03/06/2012
Status: Pending
Location: Minnesota

On March 6, 2012, R.S., a minor, and R.S.'s mother S.S., filed suit in federal court in Minnesota against Minnewaska Area Middle School, the school district, the county, and a number of school and county employees (including the county Sheriff). All of the individuals were sued in both their individual and official capacities, except for the Chair of the County Board (who was sued only in his official capacity). The complaint alleges a series of incidents involving R.S.'s out-of-school Facebook use.

The first set of events alleged in the complaint involve Facebook posts R.S. wrote about one of the school's adult hall monitors. R.S. allegedly complained on Facebook about the hall monitor, and the post was brought to the attention of the school. The post was, according to the complaint, "purely off-campus speech," having been written off hours, involving no use of school equipment. R.S. was given detention, and required to write an apology to the hall monitor. R.S. then posted again on Facebook, wanting to know "who the f%$# told on [her]." This second post earned R.S. one day of in-school suspension.

A subsequent Facebook-related incident began when another student's mother called the school, concerned that "her son was communicating via his computer with R.S. about sex." Eventually, R.S. was called into a room with two school employees and a Deputy Sheriff, who "demanded" R.S.'s email and Facebook login information. R.S. "eventually" gave the information "involuntarily," and the school employees proceeded to search R.S.'s Facebook account on the Deputy's computer. Again, the complaint alleges that all of R.S.'s communications were made off-campus, without using school equipment.

R.S.'s lawsuit alleges a number of federal and state law claims:

42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims, alleging violations of R.S.'s First and Fourth Amendment rights under the Federal Constitution;

42 U.S.C. §§ 1985 and 1986 claims, for conspiracy to violate R.S.'s constitutional rights, and failure to prevent the violation of her rights;

Violations of R.S.'s Minnesota state constitutional free-speech and freedom-from-unreasonable-search rights; and

State common-law claims of invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The complaint also seeks a declaratory judgment that R.S.'s constitutional rights were violated. For relief, the complaint seeks a mixture of injunctions, damages, changes to school policy and training, an apology, and costs/fees.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Retired Teachers Glad to See Union Director Benched

Retired Teachers Glad to See Union Director Benched
March 8, 2012
By Will Carless

A former faction of the San Diego Education Association that represents retired teachers is hoping the recent suspension of teachers union Executive Director Craig Leedham becomes permanent.

As I reported this week, Leedham has been placed on administrative leave. A divisive staff leader, he was credited by several former SDEA officials as pushing the union in a more combative, hard-line direction in recent years.

Two members of the retired teachers group said Leedham was the primary reason their group split with the SDEA.

Tim Jenkins, who acts as a liaison between the retired teachers group and the SDEA, said there are members of the union's leadership who don’t support collaboration between the union and his group. But Jenkins expressed optimism that, if Leedham’s removal becomes permanent, wounds could be healed between the two organizations.
"It remains to be seen if we could go back to where we were before, but we certainly hope this could move us closer together," Jenkins said.
Jenkins also expressed hope that he would no longer have to work with Leedham. In the years he has communicated with the executive director, he has found him to be extremely aggressive, rude and unprofessional, Jenkins said.
That jibes with what other people have told me about Leedham and what I have so far written about his leadership.
To make his point, Jenkins told an anecdote about a meeting his group held with SDEA leaders a couple of years ago. He said his wife, who is also on the retired group, tried to ask Leedham a question at the end of the meeting.
"He just started shouting and waving his hands in her face," Jenkins said. "It was completely unprofessional. She didn’t know what to say."
The retired group also put out a brief press release yesterday that sought to explain its position in the light of our recent coverage of the union’s inner workings. The release included a statement from Norma Heeter, president of the group.
Here it is in full:
San Diego Education Association-Retired has had a long and positive history with the San Diego Education Association for many years. Our members wished to maintain ties with our local, state and national affiliations by continuing to support public education and issues important to our active colleagues. Our members share the concerns of our active brothers and sisters in their efforts to support the physical, social, and academic growth of the children of San Diego.

The members of SDEA-Retired are very concerned and disappointed with the separation of our organization from SDEA. We fought hard to stop the efforts of a few current leaders to remove the retired educators’ representation in SDEA, but we ultimately lost the battle. Separation from SDEA has resulted in frustration for retirees, since we no longer have a venue or support for the voice of current and future retirees. We are concerned, because we have no advocates for issues of importance to retirees, such as health benefits, pensions, etc. Our efforts to represent ourselves on District committees that deal with health benefit issues including the Health Benefits Trust have been blocked by SDEA.

The members of SDEA-Retired hold the members of the SDEA in the highest esteem. After all, we helped build the organization, monetarily, voluntarily and intellectually.
Leedham’s permanent removal from the union would have consequences beyond the SDEA’s relationship with the retired group.
Currently, district leaders are calling on the SDEA to negotiate with them over possible concessions in teacher pay and benefits. District Superintendent Bill Kowba says those concessions are the only way to avoid laying off at least 1,000 teachers this year.
Under Leedham’s tenure, the union has withdrawn from negotiations or even discussions with the district and other unions. The organization has, as a result, become increasingly isolated in its stance.
Leedham, along with union Vice President Camille Zombro, have led the charge on this shift.
Zombro is up for re-election this spring and is being challenged by the union’s board secretary.
If Leedham’s removal becomes permanent, that election could be pivotal in determining the philosophical direction the union takes in the coming months and years.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Divisive SDEA Teachers Union Director Craig Leedham Placed on Leave

Divisive Teachers Union Director Placed on Leave
March 6, 2012
By Will Carless
Voice of San Diego

Craig Leedham, the outspoken and controversial executive director of the San Diego Education Association, is no longer working at the union’s headquarters in Mission Valley.

The union confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Leedham had been placed on leave. “San Diego Education Association Executive Director Craig Leedham is on paid administrative leave. It is inappropriate for further comment at this time about what is an internal matter,” President Bill Freeman said in a brief statement.

The union didn't explain the reasons behind the move.

As the SDEA’s top staffer, Leedham has been a divisive figure. Along with SDEA Vice President Camille Zombro, he has been credited with pushing the union towards a more hard-line, confrontational approach in its dealings with the San Diego Unified School District.

Leedham was hired as the union’s executive director in 2009. According to the SDEA’s tax records, he received total compensation of $226,367 in 2010.

As I outlined in this story last month, the union has become increasingly isolated in recent years, and former SDEA leaders have publicly voiced concern about the union’s confrontational approach.

In more than a dozen interviews for that story, people who have worked or still work with Leedham described him as "nasty," "aggressive," "profane" and "paranoid."
Three sources interviewed for that story also described an outburst by Leedham at a multi-union committee as indicative of his divisive behavior:

At a union committee meeting in 2010, Leedham exploded with rage at a school district staffer who was whispering while he was making a presentation, three people present at the meeting said.

Leedham launched into a profanity-laden tirade at the staffer that shocked the union reps present in the room, the three sources said.

"I've been in this business for more than three decades, and I've never seen anything like it. It was totally unprofessional," said one of the sources, who did not want to be named because of their ongoing relationship with the teachers union.

Former Vice President Mark Capitelli had this to say about Leedham when I interviewed him for last month’s story:

"He has his view of the world. For Craig, it's either black or white. You're either with him, or you're against him," Capitelli said. "I wouldn't put him as my friend — ever — but if I was in trouble I'd want to have him on my side. You want the nastiest lawyer around, but you don't want to eat dinner with him afterwards."

The decision to place Leedham on leave was made by the SDEA’s board of directors and comes at a crucial time in district-union negotiations.

Last week, District Superintendent Bill Kowba and school board President John Lee Evans held a press conference in which they called on the union to get in contact as soon as possible. District leaders want the union to consider a slew of concessions that could save as much as $50 million and, they say, could allow the district to avoid hundreds of layoffs.

So far, the union hasn’t budged.

Meanwhile, there have been grumblings about the union's leadership from local teachers in the wake of the union’s apparent backtracking on its cooperation with the district to extend the March 15 deadline for issuing layoff notices to teachers.
Freeman, the president, at first supported the legislation. Indeed, the bill was created by Assemblyman Marty Block after Freeman called Block and pledged support for it.

A day after putting out a press release saying it would support the legislation, however, the SDEA backed off, saying it wouldn’t support the bill without a guarantee that no teachers would be laid off.

Then the union again changed its position. Freeman told San Diego CityBeat that the SDEA would not oppose the legislation, but stopped short of saying the union would support it.

These erratic shifts in direction have led individual teachers to call on the union to sharpen its message and to reinstate support for the legislation, which could lead to a delay in teachers being issued pink slips.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Is San Diego Education Association (SDEA) President Bill Freeman the only reasonable man in the union?

When CityBeat interviewed board member Richard Barrera, he didn’t mention Armageddon as an option. Instead, Barrera expressed faith that the teachers and their union president, Bill Freeman, will eventually come around.

“I think that the majority— probably the overwhelming majority—of teachers wants the district and the union to figure out a solution to this budget crisis so that there’s not mass layoffs,” Barrera said. “I think that voice is certainly going to become louder and louder within SDEA going forward. I have, actually, quite a lot of confidence in Bill Freeman.”

That would suggest that there are formidable forces within SDEA that are aligned against the union president. SDEA will hold elections for board members in mid-March. Those elections could change the union’s stance.

For his part, Freeman declined to discuss the union’s internal politics, instead focusing on struggling teachers.

Feb 29, 2012
San Diego Unified: A lose-lose situation
District and its teachers union battle over an evaporating pool of education money
By David Rolland
City Beat

Scott Barnett is considering the nuclear option.

“I haven’t decided that that’s what I’m going to do,” he told CityBeat, “but I have to say, I’m seriously looking at that as a consideration.”

Barnett, a member of the San Diego Unified School District’s Board of Education, is talking about forcing the district to wave the white flag, admit failure and run itself out of money. Insolvency.

Right now, the school district is looking at a worst-case scenario of being short about nearly $122 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1. But that’s merely an estimate, based on how much money Gov. Jerry Brown has said he’ll spend on education. The numbers can change during the spring; the state doesn’t finalize its budget until June. So, school districts have to plan based on available information, and San Diego Unified is planning for a budget deficit that’s roughly equal to 18 percent of its discretionary spending.

It’s a huge hole. To get out of it, the district’s superintendent is proposing to lay off nearly 1,200—more than 15 percent—of its teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses and sell off $21 million worth of the district’s real-estate holdings, in addition to other cuts and budget maneuvers. The result of the layoffs would be extraordinarily high class sizes across all grade levels—as many as 50 students in high-school classes—which would certainly degrade the quality of education. Layoffs, for the most part, are based on a last-hired, first-fired system.

Would that be better or worse, Barnett asks, than giving up and allowing the state to send a trustee in to run the show?

San Diego Unified School District Board member Scott Barnett thinks it might be time for Armageddon.
Photo by David Rolland

“I’m at a point in my mind now that we are essentially insolvent today—if not legally, [then] de facto,” Barnett said. “We have been using tens of millions of dollars in one-time revenues, reserves and so forth to balance the budget—ba sically our piggy bank. And, next year, the staff’s proposing, for the first time, starting the selling of our assets to help balance the budget—one-time revenue.”

Put another way, imagine a family with seven kids booting the youngest child from the house and holding a yard sale in order to feed the rest of the family and pay the mortgage. That’s what it’s come to for San Diego County’s largest school district.

However, “San Diego Unified is no different than any of the 500-plus districts around California,” said Jim Groth, an educator in Chula Vista and a member of the California Teachers Association’s Board of Directors. “Everyone has taken [a total of ] over $20 billion worth of cuts over the last four years, and all districts are scrambling, trying to make sense out of what’s taking place.”

Roughly $39 million of San Diego Unified’s $122-million deficit is the result of a deal the district struck in 2010 with the San Diego Education Association (SDEA), the union that represents teachers. The teachers agreed to cut one week off the school calendar for two years (reducing pay by 2.7 percent each year); in exchange, the district agreed to raise pay a little more than 4 percent for the upcoming school year (2012-13) and another 3 percent in 2013-14 and add that week back to the calendar.

Gov. Brown has proposed a tax increase for the November election that, if successful, would net the district about $40 million; it’s one of three proposed tax measures that would increase education funding. But since that election comes two months into the school year and more than four months after the district has to set its budget, the district can’t count on that money. If it materializes, it’ll be rolled into the following budget year.

Most of the planned layoffs can be avoided if the teachers agree to not only say goodbye to the raises and continue taking the furlough days, but also accept pay cuts and healthcare-cost increases that would be rolled back if the tax measure passes. But the district is powerless to make that happen; the teachers union would have to volunteer to come back to the bargaining table. So far, the union has expressed no such willingness.

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So, as most of the players see it, there are two choices: mass layoffs or huge union concessions. Barnett sees his nuclear option as another route: Don’t lay anyone off and purposefully run the district out of money: “I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights trying to think of a third way. That’s why I’m seriously thinking that insolvency is a third way. But it has a lot of risk.

“In theory,” he says, “we could not do the layoffs, which is what the union wants, but then still come to an agreement with the unions on concessions—on salary cuts and so forth—if they don’t want a trustee to take over. In some ways, I’m wondering if the unions will ever seriously negotiate if they don’t believe we are going to go under. So, it’s truly an Armageddon solution.”

If he decides to vote that way, Barnett would need to convince at least two of his four colleagues on the Board of Education to do the same—a tall order because if the unions don’t buckle, it could amount to political suicide for the board.

“Obviously, as politicians, your career is over,” he said. “So, if you have interest in a career in the future, you’ll always be known as the person who brought San Diego Unified down.”

When CityBeat interviewed board member Richard Barrera, he didn’t mention Armageddon as an option. Instead, Barrera expressed faith that the teachers and their union president, Bill Freeman, will eventually come around.

“I think that the majority— probably the overwhelming majority—of teachers wants the district and the union to figure out a solution to this budget crisis so that there’s not mass layoffs,” Barrera said. “I think that voice is certainly going to become louder and louder within SDEA going forward. I have, actually, quite a lot of confidence in Bill Freeman.”

That would suggest that there are formidable forces within SDEA that are aligned against the union president. SDEA will hold elections for board members in mid-March. Those elections could change the union’s stance.

For his part, Freeman declined to discuss the union’s internal politics, instead focusing on struggling teachers. “I know 61 teachers right now that have lost their homes,” he said. “I know 38 teachers that have moved in with each other in order to keep from losing their homes.

“We don’t know whether the district has a budgetary problem. The district doesn’t know whether they have a budgetary problem— because we don’t have a budget,” he said. “We’re having to lay teachers off based upon this in-the-dark budgeting. That’s what’s frustrating to me.”

Freeman, like everyone in this drama, simply wants clearer information before having to make major decisions.

“Whenever the district has come to us with clean numbers and they had a problem, we have never turned our heads to them. And I don’t think that we will do that,” he said. “But I don’t want to open our pockets and say, ‘OK, you may have a problem. Here, take what you think you may need.’ What they think they may need isn’t something that would come back to us if they don’t need it. So, that’s not something I’m willing to do.”

March 15 is a crucial date for school districts statewide. That’s when the state requires districts to notify teachers that they might be laid off in June. If a teacher doesn’t get a pink slip in March, that teacher is safe for another year. The March 15 deadline is a big reason districts have to come up with a budget before they know how much money the state will give them. But, also, the county requires an interim budget from school districts in March.

Some relief may be on the way for San Diego Unified. At the urging of the district and the teachers union, state Assemblymember Marty Block introduced a bill last Friday that would allow the March 15 deadline to be moved to June 15— for San Diego Unified only. It must clear several committees in both houses of the Legislature and get affirmative votes from two-thirds of all legislators in order to impact the upcoming budget year, and that has to get done in two weeks.

“It’s going to be difficult to get it done by March 15 under the best of circumstances,” Block told CityBeat. “We’re going to try.”

SDEA’s stance on Block’s bill has been chaotic. After asking Block to introduce the bill, SDEA announced on Feb. 15 that it would oppose it unless the district first promised not to send any pink slips in March. But if the district were to give that promise and the bill were to fail, the district would lose the ability to balance its budget through layoffs. Eight days later, the union flipped again. “We have backed off,” Free man said, “and we have said that we will not oppose that legislation.”

The March 15 deadline is in place to give teachers time to look for work elsewhere. But because districts lately have had to send out more pink slips than they’ve ended up needing to, it’s created a different kind of anxiety for those receiving them. Last year, hundreds of pink slips were rescinded, although two board members—Barnett and John Lee Evans—voted against rescinding them.

“I think most teachers would say, ‘This process creates more disruption in our lives than if we had a chance to wait it out and not receive a pink slip in the first place,’” Barrera said.

Of course, all this tension is the demon spawn of hard economic times.

“It’s safe to say,” Barrera said, “that the relationship between the district and the union was the best that it had certainly been in San Diego Unified in a couple of decades prior to us issuing pink slips last March.”

Before that, he said, the two parties, along with individual schools, were collaborating on reforms that give schools more decision-making power, kind of like charter schools. “And then all that stopped when we issued the pink slips in March,” Barrera said, “and since then, the relationship has been, for the most part, just no communication.”

SDEA has become less talkative with the press, too. CityBeat called and emailed Freeman for two weeks before getting him on the phone. SDEA’s media message has largely been made up of confrontational charges of district misinformation and scare tactics. Freeman’s been represented in the press as believing the district will find money somewhere, and he’s pointed to the board’s decision last year to rescind layoffs as proof.

Barnett said that by calling back those teachers, the board, in a way, “enabled” the union’s hardline stance, “using money we didn’t really have.” He said the board’s majority, led by Barrera, has erred on the side of hoping that the economy will improve and the state will send more money down the pike, and he acknowledged that doing so is in the best interest of quality education. But, Barnett said, it’s still a gamble...