Wednesday, February 16, 2011

School Closures: Let's talk options

Ok, enough of the attacks, put downs and complaining.  Let's get down to what could be REAL options.

Believe it or not, I know some of the board members read this blog, as do many community members.  The hits show hundreds of unique visits, just not as much interaction.  But that's ok, we know people are reading.

So when I read the Times article recapping the meeting last night, I noticed this idea from retired teacher, Skip Weinstock:

Weinstock proposed another new idea: Keeping Glenbrook sixth-graders at elementary schools and moving Glenbrook seventh- and eighth-graders to El Dorado.

Couldn't that be the best of all worlds?  It seems to me the school closure subject is hottest around Concord where there are many elementary schools with empty classrooms.  This is one reason most likely, the idea to close Westwood came up.  So why not keep all those 6th graders at their home elementary schools. What are the elementary schools that feed into both Glenbrook and El Dorado, is there room, that instead of closing or moving an entire student body, they can simply retain their students one additional year? 

Wouldn't this keep Westwood intact with their special ed and deaf learning environments?  Wouldn't the 7-8th graders from Glenbrook still fit at El Dorado (in the proposed plan it was insinuated they would).

Interesting idea, and this is what we need.  Ideas, thinking outside the box.  

What are your ideas?


  1. Back in the 80's, when I went to Westwood it was k-6. I don't know when the schools switched to k-5

  2. Long-time Board WatcherFebruary 16, 2011 at 2:22 PM

    I think the district leadership should consider having some K-8 schools. Many districts--and charter schools--are using that model these days. Could any of the existing middle schools accommodate a K-8 program? Would Holbrook families rather send their students to elementary schools in other neighborhoods or down the street to Glenbrook as a K-8?

    Many people have written about the importance of choice in their child's education. With the need to close/consolidate school buildings, the district leadership should take the opportunity to look at creative and positive ideas for change, such as having one or two K-8 schools; perhaps a 7-12 (in Bay Point?); a campus or two (elementary, middle, and high--other districts do this) dedicated to specific curricular areas (science, arts, environment); etc.

    This could be a time for some productive thinking and planning about how a public school district can best serve students in today's world. Unfortunately, I think the district leadership has missed the opportunity to combine such thinking with the need to close schools. Decisions will be made without it.

  3. Long-time Board Watcher,
    Yes - that is what happens when a District operates without a strategic plan.

  4. Can we substitute the words "strategic plan" with "coconut bra" in the future?

    We know - we get it. The board has no coconut bra. They really need a coconut bra. They won't get around to formulating a coconut bra until at least April. Many people think the board is making a mistake not having a coconut bra.

    Ah. Now I feel better.

  5. coconut bra, funny.

  6. I'll call it SP. The district needs a SP. The board members want an SP. The consultant told them their job is developing a SP. It doesn't have to be specific for the next 2-5 years, but should be a general document to guide the district decision-making process.

    Walnut Creek school district has a SP, and has another SP meeting coming up on Feb. 22. "The strategic planning process in the Walnut Creek School District guides our work and enables our community to focus its effort in service of our vision and mission. It is an ongoing process where the Walnut Creek School District annually examines what it does, and why it does it."

    One impressive result is that WCSD spends an 71% of its budget on classroom expenses.

    It's scary how MDUSD keeps making rookie mistakes, now about losing Glenbrook's SIG grant money, which they've already spent and how will they return it?

    They need a SP. Don't use a silly name. It's not funny.

  7. I completely disagree with those of you that think the district is lagging because of the lack of a strategic plan. They have goals and objectives, but having a long term plan right now is not reasonable and hasn't been for quite a while. There seems to be no way to plan long term when every time they turn around the state takes away more money. The strategic plan would have been thrown out the window by now. It's something to work towards when the state gives our schools more money but right now when we are looking at the amount of cuts that have been made and the fact that at least another 11 million will need to be cut a strategic plan would not be helpful. Our district is down to the bare bones and the only planning that needs to be done is planning to figure out how we can raise more money and how we can continue the programs that are in place. We need a parcel tax or we are going to continue to go downhill and the public needs to realize this.

  8. I agree with you Momof3, this coming from another Mom of 3. Every district surrounding the MDUSD has a parcel tax and that is how they are able to sustain programs that the MDUSD has not!

  9. Mom of 3

    A strategic plan is not about spending money. A strategic plan is about understanding your strenths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities. It is about having a clear vision of where you are and where you need to be. It is the framework in which every decision should be made including school closures, school improvement plans, parcel tax campaigns, budget cuts, employee hiring, department reorganizations, etc... today all of these major decisions are being made outside of the context of an overall plan.
    How are those G&Os working? What are they? Who had input in their development? Who is assessing them? When has the Superintendent mentioned them, or any progress related to them, since he first introduced them? When was the last time you heard the Board say, "We should "cut/reorganize/close X" because it is in alignment with our G&Os? Our G&Os were thrown together by the Superintendent because he was getting pressure about strategic planning. You are mistaken if you think they are a substitute for a strategic plan.

    Yes, we need a parcel tax. Before the bond measure 80% of the families, and 70% of the rest of the community in this district did not have confidence in the district's handling of finances. The vast majority of voters did not believe the district offered a quality education. So what has changed to make you think MDUSD could get 2/3 of the voters to support a parcel tax today? What has our District done to restore trust and confidence? I suspect the numbers might be worse today. Remember only 20% of the voters in this District have kids in school.

  10. Yes, we get it. We need a coconut bra. The Board is not even going to address the issue until April - if then. Can you people quit whining about it now and focus on what IS happening, which is school closures?


  11. Long-time Board WatcherFebruary 17, 2011 at 12:53 PM

    Anonymous, 11:46 AM
    Agreed. "The need for strategic planning" was never more than a campaign slogan to bring about the change in the district leadership two years ago. Hiring a superintendent who has no experience in strategic planning and, according to some who've met with him, no interest in it was an early sign that those who believed in the campaign promise would be disappointed.

    Yes, as far as the school closure issue is concerned, complaints about the lack of a strategic plan do not advance the discussion nor affect any decisions the Board will make. So the question is how parents, staff, and community members can be involved, be heard, in the discussions about closing/consolidating schools and, it would follow, in other important discussions as well.

    MDUSDParents is doing a great service in inviting positive ideas for the district's mission and for reorganizing schools and programs to be more cost effective. How do these ideas get from a blog post to a Board member's attention?

    Is there a forum for community participation in district issues that the leadership will respect? The school closure committee knew it was forwarding a controversial proposal in the option that listed the so-called "choice" schools for closure. A public discussion of that option could/should have prompted consideration of the merits of both neighborhood and "open enrollment" schools. It may have led to making more schools available as a "choice" and/or more awareness of which schools are essential to their neighborhood's needs. The Board President's initial reaction to the committee's report was to eliminate that option without hearing public comment.

    It seems that at least four entities, working separately, studied and offered proposals in the school closure issue: the Closure Committee of school reps, the Superintendent's Council, the Superintendent, and the Board President. But there was no forum for collecting and assessing all ideas.

    A strategic planning process would provide that forum, and that's why I think strategic planning proponents keep talking about it. But this district leadership is never going to buy any coconut bras. So, Anonymous, where does that leave us?

  12. I'm a 3rd MomOf3...

    If there are goals and objectives, then why is the district still making these rookie mistakes...?

    Linda is right, there's no parcel tax because there's no strategic plan. There will be no parcel tax until there's a strategic plan.

    We need board members who will drop everything in their personal lives and develop a strategic plan!

  13. @ Longtime BW: Linda's post on the purposes of a Strategic Plan could not be more on point. The Board are OUR elected officials -- they had better listen to their constituents if they want to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Right now Gary is playing darts in the dark. Its time to turn on the lights and stop putting holes in the living room wall. Gary has the chance to emerge as a hero but I am afraid that although he was at the meeting with Berger on Sunday and heard him, he didn't 'listen' to him. I just hope Gary has the strength of character to change -- we all know he has the stubborness to resist change. The Board needs to have the courage to tell Lawrence -- we don't like any of the options -- go back to your staff and come up with a comprehensive plan. Let the Supt and his staff figure it out -- they might have to work some weekends to do it.
    Doctor J

  14. . . .Or maybe stay home from next weeks Monterey conference. :-)

  15. That is a good idea about keeping the 6th graders at their elementary school but how would that work for the Holbrook-Glenbrook feeder pattern? Where would the Holbrook 5th going on 6th grade go? Like the idea of making the schools K-6th...But is this a realistic option for the Board to consider? I don't think moving all of Glenbrook to Westwood is a good one, they should stick with their original option of Silverwood...they got alot of votes based on the criteria...Westwood did not.

  16. Would making all (not just a few) of the elementary schools K-6 affect the numbers in a good way?

    Or start with two-three schools and then roll it out district wide as part of a strategic plan?

  17. The reason the district cannot pass a parcel tax is because it's too big. Everything west of 680 ought to be a separate district.

  18. and Walnut Creek!

  19. The overwhemling reason is because the public doesn't believe that the Board spends money wisely.

  20. Specifics on your comment please Anon 10:02am. The budget is on the MDUSD website. I believe that many just don't want to attend meetings, read the information and the budgets. They would just rather blame, blame and blame again.Easier to place blame then actually get in there and learn and help.

  21. @Anon 10.37 -- Its the public perception. The Board took the poll over a year ago. That's why the Board pursued the Bond instead of the parecel tax. What's with the post a few minutes ago where Gary asked an energy expert about the solar bond and was told not to waste the bond money on solar ?

  22. Anon 11:48,

    Please get a second and maybe third source when you are reading something that someone anonymous writes. If you don't, you end up believing that I spoke with an "energy expert" and was told the solar doesn't make sense.

    There are two reasons that it's difficult to pass a parcel tax. The number one reason is because in the State of California we are required to pass a bond with a 2/3rds majority. That is a very difficult margin to achieve. In fact, for the entire State of California in the November 2010 election, only 2 parcel taxes passed statewide. The second largest reason that parcel taxes are difficult to pass is people do not bother to educate themselves on how the schools around them are doing and what the schools around them need. Most people are too busy to care. Heck, many people don't even care enough to vote.

    So we passed a general obligation bond and we are making some strategic investments in our facilities that will enable us to reduce ongoing costs, thus freeing up general fund dollars and accomplishing the same thing that we would have if we had passed the parcel tax. In fact, the solar project alone is going to free up about $200 million over the next 30 years, which is many times the amount that our parcel tax would have generated. If we didn't have those dollars we would be closing more schools and laying off more people.

    The real issues are in Sacramento and were not caused by anything that we have done locally.

    I agree with you it's the public perception. We can and must work on people's perception. The challenge will be that with anonymous blog posters making amazing claims and with a public that's willing to believe everything they read, it's a difficult and uphill battle, but a battle we must fight.

  23. Gary, I really think that the people on this blog are quite familiar with those two points. This discussion is becoming pointless. We get it. You don't think we can have a parcel tax.

    Now, to repeat OUR talking points for one more go-round...If it's so hard to pass a parcel tax, how did so many of the districts around us get one? Even the WCCSD, has more problems, less affluence, and less parent involvement even than MDUSD. Maybe their school boards and administrations decided to come out in favor of the tax and provide some leadership? Maybe their teachers came out strongly in favor of the tax, since it benefits them more than anyone else employed by the district? We had NONE of that support, coordination or leadership in MDUSD, and we STILL came in just a few points shy of the two-thirds needed. The only thing that a parcel tax lacks vs a bond is the ability to dole out contracts and other favors with significant discretion. That can yield a lot of political capital come election time. The REAL disadvantage of a parcel tax, at least in THIS district, is that it would go directly to classroom instruction and provide much less grease for incumbants and administrators planning their next career move.

    Now it's your turn to respond -- not to these points (I've lost hope for that) but simply to repeat your two points above.

  24. 10:33,

    Do you have any proof of all of the conspiracy theories that you just rattled off? Of course you don't. But your diatribe about political favors and contracts to political supporters sure does provide extensive support for the points that I made. Lots of accusation and innuendo with little or no proof. Still, what is more exciting to read? Your comments of course. And when comments like that are supported by newspapers, who also do not have any proof, the community buys the story hook line and sinker.

    You purport to to be supportive of a parcel tax and I would bet that you know very clearly that the only way for a school district to pass a parcel tax is for the school district to be in high regard with the public. Yet you spend your time ensuring that the public thinks that the school district is poorly run and is not worthy of the public's investment.

    I do believe that a parcel tax would be a good thing for our schools, our students and our community and I do plan to suggest to my Board that we try for a parcel tax in the near future. That said, we will get to the same 60% approval level if people like you are going to continue to spread accusation and rumor without substance. That said, we have to try for our students.

  25. Gary, I'm surprised that the Supt has not told you about a successful Parcel Tax election held in his former county of residence in August 2009. A friend told me about this in Placer County. Apparently in the Nov 08 General Election a parcel tax for park maintenance was defeated because it only got about 60% of the vote -- sounds familiar, eh ? So they pursued an "all mail ballot" election in august 09. It won by over 80% of the votes. Pure Genius. I think the Board ought to look into this. Here is a link from Placer County.
    Don't drop the ball on the Strategic Plan !
    Doctor J

  26. I am asking the question and pursuing discussion on my blog. Please feel free to take part in the discussion if a parcel tax is of interest to you. If I thought there was support in the community, I'd jump on it immediately. If we could head off some of these cuts, it would be a good thing for our students.

  27. Where did the money come from for all of the expensive marketing behind the solar bond measure? According to the CC Times, much of it came vendors, contractors, bond counsel, and others who stood to gain finanically from its passage. Are we to assume that none of these entities, once they get their big contracts, will ever get another call from anyone in MDUSD asking for a favor or two?

    Look, this behavior would not be unique to MDUSD. It's the way things work when there's big money to distribute, and it definitely puts a parcel tax campaign at an disadvantage. Most parents I know who supported the parcel tax believe two things: 1) if we'd had the district support and the marketing dollars used on Measure C, the parcel tax would have gootten the few extra points needed to pass; and 2) the info that came out AFTER Measure C passed did more damage to public perceptions of MDUSD's financial competence than anything else in recent history.

    Go ahead and blame the blogs that maybe 200 people read for the poor perceptions of MDUSD. Parents can see what goes on daily in their children's schools. And the rest of the voters can read plenty of additional info in the local papers. If people see that more decisions are being made in the interests of students, not just the adults in the system, and if they begin to see economic decisions that don't leave us as the laughing stock of the media and even other local educators, then MDUSD will start to recover the trust that is needs to avoid more failure.

  28. Gary, I have always supported the Parcel Tax even when I was vociferously against the Solar Bond. Apparently the beauty of the "all mail ballot" [yes, humble yourself and give me credit for my suggestion]is that passionate voters in favor are more likely to return the ballots than those who just oppose every tax. Also, the ballots returned by mail -- since there are no real polling places -- are returned by younger voters who are probably more likely to vote in favor of education. Another key is that it is not linked to any other election.
    Doctor J

  29. I have talked to a number of fellow Pleasant Hill residents who voted against the most recent MDUSD parcel tax attempt but who said they would vote in favor of one if our town had its own school district.

  30. and Walnut Creek!

  31. I guess people in ph are dumber than I thought. There will never be a separate school district. Accept that and support the one you live in. Morons. Walnut Creek too!

  32. PH has more residents than Lafayette, Orinda, and Moraga and is similar size to Martinez and all those towns have their own schools (at least at the elementary/middle school level). Heck, the town where I grew up has fewer than 5,000 residents and even *IT* has its own district.

    The Walnut Creek schools in MDUSD should be in the same district as the rest of WC. Same goes for the Martinez schools in MDUSD. And PH should have its own district.

  33. You can have any opinion you want. You can compare to WC, Lafayette, etc. It will still never happen. Wasting your time wishing for it won't help your community or your kids. Every few years some hopeful, ccommitted, resourceful parent comes along who thinks they are simply more talented or smarter than those who have tried before. The fact is that the days if breaking up school districts are history for many reasons. The only potential change now is consolidation and that will never happen in MDUSD because it us already large. If you don't believe this, spend time talking to Ruth Carver and Gary E or Paul Strange. They can tell you more.

    Just forget about this and focus on improving MDUSD.

  34. 8:06
    Focus on improving MDUSD?
    I have heard that before and I once believed it to be possible. It isn't. The time you spend trying to make MDUSD better will become the same impossible task you claim creating new school districts to be.
    If you don't believe me ask the numerous parents who once had hope and wanted to be part of the solution only to find road block and incompetence at every turn.
    I now happen to believe dividing MDUSD is an easier task than fixing it and I have no illusions as to how daunting a task that is.
    Times change and in the current state of public education I would suggest that once impossible structural changes might actually become possible... all in the name of what is best for the students. Obviously MDUSD will never come to this conclusion but others might.