Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Registration is now underway for the 2014 Free BART Rides for School Field Trips program

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

BART FieldTrip 2 Registration is now underway for the 2014 Free BART Rides for School Field Trips program

Approximately 40,000 Bay Area students (up to age 18), teachers and chaperones will have the opportunity to ride BART free for educational field trips thanks to a partnership with Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is funding the program.

Bay Area schools may now apply for free BART rides for educational field trips online on a first-come, first-served basis. Registration ends December 31, 2014 or sooner if the program reaches 40,000 riders.

Enrolled students of elementary, middle, and high schools located in the Bay Area on school-sponsored field trips for educational purposes are eligible.

To better serve more students throughout the Bay Area, each school is limited to six field trips. This will allow more schools to participate in the program. To register, go to www.bart.gov/fieldtrips

Partnering on ‘Free BART Rides for School Field Trips’ is a natural extension of our commitment to a making sure children in the region have a rich educational experience,” said Mimi Hahn, vice president of marketing and communications for the nonprofit aquarium.

Here is a list of some BARTable cultural and educational destinations:

See more by clicking here.

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Analysis – County Office of Education addressed Assadoorian recusal question

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

By John Crowder

A review of emails obtained through a California Public Records Act request reveals that the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) considered the issue of a possible conflict of interest for board member Richard Asadoorian in the Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS) conversion charter school petition appeal. Asadoorian is married to Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board Member Barbara Cowan, who voted against the DLMHS conversion petition. There had been some discussion that he should recuse himself from the appeal process.

Emails reveal that county staff were considering how to advise Asadoorian on this matter by mid-April. In an April 11 email from CCCOE Controller Jane Shamieh to Associate Superintendent Bill Clark, she relates a discussion she had with attorney Adam Ferber, from whom she had been seeking advice on the charter question. She says, “He (Ferber) asked if the board member (Asadoorian) with the conflict is going to recuse himself.” She continues, “When I told him I wasn’t sure he said that he absolutely should.” She goes on to say that this opinion is based on community property law, and that his wife has a financial interest because she is paid by Antioch.”

According to Asadoorian, he was approached by county staff with a recommendation that he recuse himself. “Staff presented cases based on common law. My own attorney looked at it, and (rejected their analysis). My own legal counsel saw no case study substantiating the idea that I should recuse myself, and I know other spouses have been in similar situations.”

Indeed, conflicts of interest are extremely common, in government and otherwise. The existence of a conflict of interest is not, in and of itself, an indication of unethical behavior or wrongdoing. Conflicts can exist whenever a situation occurs in which a person has more than one interest at stake in a decision. Concern arises when the possibility exists that a secondary interest might overshadow a primary interest. In this case, the questions raised were twofold. One was whether or not Asadoorian would be able to vote differently than his wife simply because of their relationship. The second, and the one being addressed by the CCCOE, was whether the stipend she received as an AUSD board member might influence his vote.

With respect to laws concerning conflict of interest, the husband/wife relationship is not even a consideration. Examples abound of relatives holding government offices (even the same offices held by Asadoorian and Cowan, as Walter and Cynthia Ruehlig were similarly situated in the not-so-distant past) and, while there exists the possibility of someone wanting to do a favor for a relative, conflict of interest laws do not generally focus on this relationship because it is so difficult to quantify the effect. Therefore, such laws focus on financial interest, because they are easier to quantify and are more objective.

In this case, Cowan is not employed by AUSD, but she does receive a stipend of $400 per month for her service on the board, along with another, smaller payment she receives in lieu of insurance offered to board members. It was argued that Asadoorian has a financial interest because of community property laws.

Public officials are expected to put their duty to the public (their primary duty) ahead of any secondary interest (such as an interest Asadoorian might have in the stipend received by Cowan). Conflict of interest laws are supposed to prevent decisions that could reasonably be perceived as being unduly influenced. Ultimately, it was up to Asadoorian to make the decision as to whether or not he might be influenced by the stipend his wife receives. It is hard to imagine that this small stipend could exert that level of influence. This is especially true when you consider that some, if not all of it, must be expended by her in the performance of her duties, i.e., local travel and other necessary expenses associated with serving on the board, for which she is not reimbursed.

Asadoorian ultimately determined, after consultation with county staff, and with his own attorney, that it was not appropriate to recuse himself. After a thoughtful consideration of the matter, it is hard to understand how he could reasonably have been expected to do otherwise.

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Alleged Brown Act violation by County Board of Education during Dozier-Libbey charter issue

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

By John Crowder

A closed session meeting of the Contra Costa County Board of Education on May 7 resulted in an alleged violation of the Brown Act, according to attendees.

The Brown Act is California’s open meeting law that is meant to ensure that public business is, with specified exceptions, conducted openly. In accordance with the act, items discussed by public bodies, such as boards of education, even in closed session, must be properly noticed on the agenda for a meeting and a report must be made following the session stating what decisions were made.

Emails obtained from the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) through a California Public Records Act request reveal that, during the May 7 closed session meeting of the board, attorney Adam Ferber appeared and spoke with those present about the Dozier Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS) conversion charter petition.

The meeting in question came two days after a letter was sent to Bill Clark, Associate Superintendent of the CCCOE, from Scott Holbrook, which stated that his firm, “serves as legal counsel to the Antioch Unified School District. In the letter, Holbrook states, “This controversy (the DLMHS charter petition) has resulted in several streams of litigation which the Contra Costa County Board of Education and Contra Costa County Office of Education will very likely be pulled into if the conversion petition is approved on appeal.”

After listing the potential litigation, Holbrook’s letter concludes, “In light of the foregoing, I strongly urge the Contra Costa County Board of Education and Contra Costa County Office of Education to avoid this controversy in it entirety. My advice to the county boards of education and county offices of education that I regularly counsel under these circumstances would be, at a minimum, to take ‘no action’ and punt this matter to the State Board of Education.”

Ferber’s statement during the board meeting which, according to participants, also recommended that no action be taken on the DLMHS petition, caused some of the board members considerable distress. CCCOE board Vice President Dan Gomes, said, “I think that, in a way, that attorney was working for the district. I was taken aback by the letter from AUSD. This fellow (Ferber) that came in and recommended we do nothing was along the same lines as the AUSD lawyer.” He went on to say, “Ferber went over a script, we ignore, just skip over (approving the petition). I thought to myself, ‘I’ve heard this before (from the AUSD letter)’.”

According to board member Pamela Mirabella, “I was confused about why we were talking about Dozier Libbey in closed session. There were four things on the agenda…not included was Dozier Libbey.”

Board Member Cynthia Ruehlig was even more concerned with Ferber’s presentation. “I think there was an intent to influence the board,” she said. She also stated, “To correct a Brown Act violation, you must report what was said, put it in the minutes, and, if grievous enough, you must report it to the District Attorney.”

Board member Richard Asadoorian stated, “What concerned me was that we were advised to let this attorney speak, and we couldn’t really extend the closed session, and had no real time to respond to this presentation. The only Brown Act issue was that it wasn’t properly put on the agenda.”

Nonetheless, over the next several days, both Mirabella and Ruehlig followed up on their concerns in emails and letters to Dr. Joseph Ovick, Superintendent of Schools for Contra Costa County.

In an email sent on May 12, Mirabella states, “I didn’t agree with the ADUSD lawyer to ‘not take action.’” She goes on to say, “Legal Counsel (Name? Not Cynthia discussed with the County Board anticipated litigation regarding Dozier-libbey and the board took no action. Do we have a brown act problem by not reporting out correctly to the public?” In another email sent by Mirabella to Ovick on May 20, one day after a second closed session meeting which, according to Clark, was held in order to cure any Brown Act problem, she says, “Closed session—after I asked you to remind Dan G. to report out to the public that in closed session the board took no action, he did so. This is against the Brown act and very serious.”

On May 8, the day after the closed session meeting at which Ferber spoke, Ruehlig sent a letter to Ovick, and, in an indication of the seriousness with which she viewed the matter, sent a copy to the Contra Costa County district attorney. In it, she begins by stating, “This letter documents the violations which occurred during closed session of May 7, 2014.”

The letter states, “At this meeting, Atty. Ferber (who was not invited and was, in fact, unknown to all Board Member) discussed an item which was not on the agenda; specifically a threat of a lawsuit from the Antioch Unified School District. This is a violation of the Brown Act that ‘no action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda’.”

In addition, Atty. Ferber provided every Board Member with a copy of a letter threatening the Office of Education with a lawsuit from the Antioch Unified School District.”

Contact with Atty. Ferber was evident by the District lawyer’s public comment urging the Board to listen to staff and ‘our counsel.’”

Ruehlig describes the presentation by Ferber as a “prohibited ex parte communication,” and urges that several steps be taken to correct the situation, including publishing the comments he made.

Associate Superintendent Clark, in an interview conducted last week, acknowledged a possible Brown Act problem with the meeting, but said he believed it had to do with the technicalities of the agenda and reporting requirements, and not with the discussion of the Dozier-Libbey matter.

Exposure to legal risk was heightened by this case,” Clark explained. “Enrollment, assumptions with revenue, and the independent charter’s right to occupy the building could be found faulty, and might make us subject to a lawsuit from AUSD. We had every right to discuss this in closed session,.”

He also shared Ferber had been hired to help county staff understand the legal nuances of this particular petition. Clark also noted that, on advice from County Counsel, he believed any Brown Act problem had been cured by the closed session meeting held on May 19, at which the agenda and reporting requirements were met.

The district attorney’s office was contacted, last week, but it was not yet confirmed whether the office was investigating this matter.

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Former Dozier-Libbey principal Nancie Castro leaves Antioch Unified School District

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
Dozier Libbey Principal Nancie Castro speaks at this years graduation 1024x597 Former Dozier Libbey principal Nancie Castro leaves Antioch Unified School District

Former Dozier-Libbey Principal Nancie Castro speaks at this year’s graduation.  by Luke Johnson

By John Crowder

Nancie Castro, the embattled former principal of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS), announced today that she has accepted a position as Director of Human Resources and Curriculum with the Jefferson School District in Tracy.

Castro had been with the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) since 2008, when she was hired to be the first principal of the newly formed DLMHS. During her time as principal, the school was repeatedly acclaimed for its success. In 2011, it was awarded a Distinguished School award from the California Department of Education. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, on hand for the award ceremony, touted the high Academic Performance Index scores achieved by the school and its rigorous, real-world education focused on helping students prepare for careers in the medical field.

Most recently, DLMHS was listed in the top 700 schools in the United States by U.S. News and World Report, which lauded its 70% Advanced Placement Test participation rate with a student body that has minority enrollment of 77%.

Last February, however, Castro was caught up in controversy after a large majority of the teaching staff filed a petition to convert the campus to a charter school. According to the petitioners, the move was made because of “diverging philosophies between the district and site staffs for program implementation at this innovative, health career-themed school.” AUSD, on the other hand, has characterized the move as “extremely divisive,” and took the unheard of step to create its own, dependent charter school, to thwart what has been labeled by their supporters as a “mutiny.”

On April 9, the district appointed Scott Bergerhouse as principal of the dependent charter school, and Castro was told in late June that she would be moved to a teaching position at another Antioch high school.

In announcing her new position, Castro said, “I feel blessed to have worked alongside the incredibly talented and dedicated teachers and staff, industry partners, supportive parents, and amazing students at Dozier-Libbey for the past eight years. With this team approach our students excelled, and I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished. I was disappointed to be transferred out of Dozier-Libbey, but I am very excited for this new opportunity with the Jefferson School District. I wish the teachers at DLMHS the best in their continued pursuit of excellence.”

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Antioch School Board Adopts Annual Budget That Digs Into Reserves, Approves LCAP

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

By John Crowder

At their June 25th meeting the Antioch School Board adopted a budget with about $6.5 million in deficit spending for the 2014-2015 school year and also approved a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) that had been the subject of considerable discussion by local community groups at previous board meetings.

Prior to board approval Tim Forrester, Associate Superintendent-Business and Operations and Mia Cancio, Director, Fiscal Services, provided the board with a power point presentation regarding details of the budget. According to Forrester, the deficit spending in the budget was continuing, “for a very good reason…there are programs we wanted to support.” He emphasized that the amount of deficit spending in the current budget was less than that of the previous year, and that it would continue to decline, reaching slightly over $10,000 in the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

Forrester also noted several challenges involved with putting the budget together, including the fact that student enrollment in the district was continuing to decline, the unpredictability of special education costs, potential increases in CalPERS and CalSTRS contributions and uncertainty concerning the impact of costs associated with the Affordable Care Act.

Following Forrester’s presentation, Cancio discussed the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) which, along with the LCAP, had been the focus of so much recent concern in the community. Several community groups had been requesting that the Supplemental and Concentration Funds, generated by the number of high-needs students in the district, be used solely to increase services for these students, and not for the population as a whole. In explaining the rationale for district spending, Cancio quoted from a portion of the education code.

(A school district) may demonstrate it has increased or improved services for (high-needs students) by using funds to upgrade the entire educational program of…a school district…(when it has) an enrollment (of high-needs students) in excess of 55% of the district’s total enrollment,” she said.

The number of high-needs students in Antioch is over 67%. Cancio also presented a slide listing programs, including expenditures, that she said would benefit such students.

Board members, responding to community concerns, commented on the budget process, including the work involving the LCAP.

Board Member Barbara Cowan said that, although it was necessary to approve the LCAP because they were “on a deadline,” it was nonetheless a “living, breathing document.”

Board Member Claire Smith echoed her comments, noting, “the budget can always change.”

The reality is, the process is going to continue,” Board Vice President Gary Hack added.

In other news, the board informed the community that Scott Bergerhouse had been appointed principal of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS), effective immediately. He replaces Nancie Castro, who had been the principal of the school since its inception eight years ago.

Two members of the public protested the change in DLMHS leadership during the meeting. Mimi Metu, a recent graduate who had also been the student representative from DLMHS to the board for the last year, told the board that it was wrong for Castro to be demoted. Edgar Osorio, past president of the DLMHS Parent-Student-Teacher Association (PTSA) told the board that the move, “sounds like retaliation to me.” DLMHS teachers have been engaged in a fierce struggle for control of the school since 23 of the school’s teachers, 88%, filed a petition to make it an independent charter school in February.

Cheryl Cooper, board president for RAAMP Charter School, noted that Monday would be the last day for that school to be in operation. She expressed concern that the district was back pedaling on their commitment to “ensure the emotional well-being of our students.”

Two other members of the public also spoke up about concerns regarding their children’s education. One spoke about trying to establish an IEP for her son for over a year, but being met with continuing delays, while the other stated that she had been assaulted by the mother of a teacher on the Lone Tree Elementary School campus, and that she had found it necessary to bring the police into the matter. In response to the latter comment, Board Member Diane Gibson-Gray asked that she leave her contact information with staff so that, it can be passed on to the next level.

The adjournment of the meeting brought to a conclusion board meetings for the current school year. The next scheduled board meeting, beginning the 2015-2016 school year, is scheduled for August 13. Meetings are held at the district office at 510 G Street, typically beginning at 7:00 p.m.

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Back to Drawing Board for Antioch School District LCAP, Budget

Friday, June 20th, 2014

By John Crowder

The Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Trustees conducted a Special Board Meeting on Wednesday, June 18, for the purpose of holding two public hearings, one on the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), and one on the annual budget.

The hearings were in advance of the regular board meeting scheduled for June 25th, at which both items are currently listed on the consent calendar (www.antioch.k12.ca.us). By the end of the meeting, however, the LCAP was sent back to staff in order to incorporate the expenditure amounts for programs listed in the document, and later, the board recessed in order to take up the budget again on Monday, June 23rd, in order to give the public time to view the document online.

The first of the public hearings opened with the public invited to comment on the LCAP, which, as previously reported, is a requirement of Local Education Agencies (LEA), such as AUSD. The LCAP is supposed to describe how an LEA “intends to meet annual goals for all pupils.” It anticipates parents and the public having a significant voice as to how such goals are to be accomplished, and how funds will be expended in order to accomplish those goals, particularly with regard to “high needs students,” such as English Language Learners, low-income students, and foster children.

Over a dozen members of the public, some representing a coalition of advocacy groups, addressed the Board about the LCAP. All of the comments made were similar, many reading a scripted message, while, to varying degrees, also adding personal anecdotes to their statements. While many lauded AUSD, and, in particular, Associate Superintendent Stephanie Anello and her staff in Educational Services for including ideas generated by the community in their revised LCAP, they nonetheless expressed concern that there were no monetary amounts included in the document.

Speaker after speaker told the board that Supplemental and Concentration Funds, which they pegged at amounting to about $8.4 million for the next year, were being generated because of the large proportion of high needs students in the district, and were to be used to benefit these same students. They repeatedly quoted Education Code 52604, which, according to the LCAP template produced by the California State Department of Education, “requires a listing and description of the expenditures required to implement the specific actions.”

Speakers were also under the impression that AUSD was only planning to spend $650,000 for high needs students. Synitha Walker, one of the founders of Parents Connected, whose children attended both Deer Valley High School and Dallas Ranch Middle School, expressed the sentiments of many present.

There is no way the district can implement (the programs) fully and effectively in the first year with only $650,000 designated for the students it is supposed to serve,” she stated.

There is a lot of confusion within the local community regarding the money that AUSD is expected to receive from the State under the programs that are designated to serve high needs students, and part of this may be due to the fact that, under both the old and new funding formulas, AUSD is spending much more than it receives, steadily depleting its reserves. In fiscal year 2013-2014, AUSD had total expenditures under the General Fund (i.e., the operating fund) of $159.1 million on revenues of only $138.8 million, a deficit of $20.3 million. For 2014-2015, the picture is somewhat better, with revenues expected to be $151.4 million and expenditures $157.2 million, but that still leaves them with deficit spending of roughly $5.8 million.

After public comments on the LCAP concluded, Board Vice President Gary Hack asked AUSD staff why there were no numbers in the document they had been presented. Dr. Donald Gill, AUSD Superintendent, responded that, “Up until two hours ago,” the County Board of Education had been advising them not to include numbers. Tim Forrester, Associate Superintendent for Business and Operations, concurred with him. Gill then told the board that, now that they were being told to include numbers in the document, they would do so.

The hearing on the annual budget was then opened, and once again members of the public rose to express their dismay with the process. Willie Mims, Education Chair for the East County NAACP, expressed concern that the budget was not posted online, and, that because of this, “the people are operating at a serious disadvantage.” Once public comments concluded, Board President Joy Motts asked staff if the budget was posted online. Forrester said that it was, which immediately drove many in the room to their phones and computers to verify whether or not this was true. Several commented they could not find it, and board member Diane Gibson-Gray finally said, “It’s not there.” After further discussion, Motts asked, “When can we get the budget online?” Forrester responded that it would be there, “tonight.” The board then determined to reopen the hearing and recess until a at a special Board Meeting this Monday, June 23, at 6:00 p.m., in order to give the community time to review the document.

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Money issues dominate Antioch School Board meeting

Monday, June 16th, 2014

By John Crowder

Show me the money” could have been the theme for the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) School Board meeting held on Wednesday, June 11 at the School Services Building.

Early in the meeting, a presentation was made by District personnel regarding the development of AUSD’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). The development of an LCAP is a requirement of all Local Education Agencies (LEA’s), including AUSD, under the latest methodology used by the state of California in determining school funding. Its purpose is to describe how a school district plans to meet “annual goals for all pupils.” Further, all LEA’s are required to “obtain parent and public input in developing, revising, and updating LCAP’s.” In other words, it is supposed to allow parents and the public a say in how education funding is spent.

Tim Forrester, Associate Superintendent-Business and Operations for AUSD, made a presentation to the Board regarding the AUSD LCAP budget. Included in his presentation were a list of services currently provided by AUSD, including such things as counseling, additional student support for special education, instructional and bilingual aides, and numerous other items.

Several citizens spoke about the LCAP process during the public comments portion of the meeting. First to speak on the subject was Yuritzy Gomez, Community Organizer with the group Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO). The organization bills itself as “a multiracial, multigenerational, interfaith federation committed to building civic engagement and increasing public participation by those most affected by injustice and inequity in Contra Costa County.”

Let us, community members, work with you,” Gomez said to the board, with respect to developing the LCAP.

Later in the meeting, she stated that she had provided a “Community LCAP” plan to AUSD via email earlier in the day. Several other community leaders, including representatives of the Education Trust-West, NAACP, Parents Connected, and RAAMP all spoke in favor of incorporating ideas from the Community LCAP in the AUSD LCAP.

Some of the Board members seemed to be taken aback by the public comments regarding the LCAP process.

Board member Diane Gibson-Gray asked why, based on the public comments, it appeared that AUSD and community members were separated on the process. Stephanie Anello, Associate Superintendent of Educational Services, responded that the two plans were “not that far apart,” and that she had spoken with Gomez about the matter earlier in the day. In later remarks, she noted that the district had held 27 meetings and spoken with approximately 1000 parents, students, and community members about the process.

We are committed to including as many of these recommendations as possible in our LCAP,” Anello stated.

A request to fund instrumental music in Antioch schools was also made during the public comments. Betty Lawrence, a former instrumental music teacher at AUSD and founder of the Antioch Strolling Strings, along with three others, all stressed the importance of music in providing a quality education.

Another issue that generated some controversy, even among Board members, was the adoption of two math programs for the local high schools, College Preparatory Math (CPM) and Big Ideas by Houghton Mifflin.

Julie Young, a mother of a student at Deer Valley High School, spoke in opposition to the adoption of the CPM books. Quoting directly from research studies conducted by college and high school mathematicians, she told the board that CPM was known to follow a “guess and check” method that, according to one author, produced “mathematical morons.” She derided the program as one that had been tried before, and had horribly failed. Her daughter, Megan Young, a former AUSD student, also spoke, reading a statement given to her by Deanna Donaldson, the parent of a Deer Valley High School student.

Kids do the teaching, not the teachers,” she said.

Mrs. Young and her daughter were supported in their assessment of the program by board member Claire Smith. Even so, after Board Vice President Gary Hack received assurances from Anello that Antioch’s math teachers had vetted the curriculum, it was approved by a majority of the board.

The next board meeting, a special meeting dealing with the LCAP process, will take place beginning at 6:00 p.m. on June 18th. The next regularly scheduled board meeting will take place on June 25th at 7:00 p.m. Both meetings are slated to take place at the School Services Building, 510 G Street.

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Antioch student again earns Dean’s List recognition at Norwich University

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014
Ethan Bilotti FB Antioch student again earns Deans List recognition at Norwich University

Ethan Bilotti – from his Facebook page.

In order to be eligible to be on the Dean’s list a student must carry at least 12 credit hours and attain a grade point average of at least a 3.0.

Bilotti is studying biology and serving the U.S. Army while attending college.

Norwich University is a diversified academic institution that educates traditional-age students and adults in a Corps of Cadets and as civilians. Norwich offers a broad selection of traditional and distance-learning programs culminating in Baccalaureate and Graduate Degrees. Norwich University was founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge of the U.S. Army and is the oldest private military college in the United States of America. Norwich is one of our nation’s six senior military colleges and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). For more information visit www.norwich.edu.

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