Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Dozier-Libbey teachers, district battle over effort to convert to charter school

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Analysis

By John Crowder

It was quickly apparent to those attending the Antioch School board meeting on Wednesday that it was going to be a hot night…and not just because of the broken air conditioning. At issue was the petition filed by the teaching staff of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS) to convert to a public charter school, and, once the meeting started, it didn’t take long before Superintendent Dr. Don Gill began to attack the teachers responsible for the petition.

Gill read from a FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) sheet, published by the school district, written in the form of questions and answers. The document, along with another similar paper, both now posted on the district’s website www.antioch.k12.ca.us, seems to be an attempt to paint the teachers supporting the petition as a small group of elitist teachers seeking to enrich themselves while excluding African American and Special Education students from their campus. These contentions, however, are not supported, even by the research studies referenced by the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD).

An answer to one of the questions posted by AUSD states, “A small group of staff at DLMHS…submitted a petition to the District to convert DLMHS to a charter school to be operated by a non-profit corporation.”

In fact, as has been widely reported in the media, 88% of the teaching staff at the school signed the petition requesting conversion to a charter school. On another website (www.facebook.com/dozierlibbey), created by those in support of the charter petition, it states that, “all of Dozier-Libbey’s teachers are very much united in this decision.” With respect to DLMHS being operated by “a non-profit corporation,” teachers explained at a subsequent meeting with the public held on Thursday evening that “the ‘corporation’ will be the community members who make up the charter board of directors…including parents [of students].”

The AUSD document makes more than one reference to the idea that, if the charter goes forward, actions they take “may further exclude students interested in the medical curriculum offered at the school.” With reference to a study done by Stanford University, a statement from AUSD reads, “However, that study failed to consider that by implementing a No-D policy and the requirement that all students take advanced courses not required for graduation, the school discouraged the attendance of its highest need students, including African American, English learner, and Special Education students, and effectively self-selected a high achieving population to remain at the school through graduation.”

That contention, however, is both directly refuted in the referenced study, and statistics published in the study support the idea that the programs at DLMHS are particularly beneficial for these very groups they are purported to exclude. In a table from the study that was shown on a slide during the Thursday night meeting (Click here) on page 8, table 2, it indicates that graduation rates for African Americans attending DLMHS in 2012 were 95%, while for AUSD as a whole they were only 67%. For the economically disadvantaged, the rate was 97% at DLMHS, but only 60% for AUSD.

Even more telling was the statistic regarding the percent of graduates completing all courses required for UC/CSU admission. For the class of 2012, African Americans attending DLMHS were successful by this benchmark 94% of the time, while at AUSD the success rate was an abysmal 15%, even below the state norm of 29% for this demographic. The Stanford study further states, “The author believes that DLMHS would benefit from opportunities to have some autonomy in defining its own enrollment, grading, graduation, and staffing policies. Because of its students’ success, DLMHS also has to combat the constant misperception that they enroll higher achieving students.”

The battle was joined, on both sides, when it came time for public comments at the AUSD board meeting. Parents, teachers, students, and former students all spoke on the matter. One parent, Jason Todd, was particularly incensed at the charter proposal. Referencing a discussion that had been held on Tuesday as part of the DLMHS Parent-Teacher-Student Association.

I saw a staff that was disrespectful of parents, disrespectful of this board…They say they’re successful in spite of this board,” Todd said. “The charter sets up to make it an elitist school. This is a bad way to go.”

Todd was contradicted in his assessment by both current and former students of DLMHS, all of whom spoke in favor of the charter petition.

This school does not discriminate against students, it simply pushes them…particularly students of low income and color,” said Antonio Hernandez, a graduate of DLMHS and currently a sophomore at Stanford University. “Students don’t go there who are higher achieving, they go there to become higher achieving.”

One thing that is clear, is that the teacher petition to convert DLMHS to a charter school has generated a tremendous amount of emotion, with the fight perhaps only just beginning. Those interested in the issue can continue to follow the positions taken by those on both sides at the above-referenced websites.

The Antioch school board has scheduled a special board meeting on Wednesday, March 19, to be held in the multi-purpose room of John Muir Elementary School at 615 Greystone Drive in Antioch. In addition to a public hearing on the issue, the board is expected to reach a final decision on the charter petition.

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Letter writer concerned about Antioch’s ordinance banning feeding of cats

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

In January, angry animal advocates packed the Antioch City Council Chambers to vehemently object to a ban on feeding community cats on public property and the requirement of a permit for households that own more than five cats. An annual application and fee of $108 is required for multiple pets and includes an agreement to have a home inspection if asked. The City Council delayed implementation and requested that the ordinance be discussed at a future meeting.

I have been told that the item is on the agenda for March 25 and the staff is coming back with the same recommendation with regard to a ban and a pet limit.

As an alternative to a feeding ban which has been ineffective in other communities, HARP and several organizations have proposed a community endorsed Trap/Neuter/Return (T/N/R) program in partnership with the city. No funding is being requested from the city. T/N/R has been going on for ten years. The groups humanely trap the cats, transport them for surgeries and immunizations, and recover them before they are returned to their original spot. Tame cats and kittens are placed for adoption. T/N/R decreases the number of kittens born and keeps the population from exploding.

One of the reasons the situation has gotten out of hand in Antioch is that an overwhelming number of cats and dogs are being abandoned by irresponsible people. This is a community problem and should be addressed. Pet abandonment will not be solved by a feeding ban.

Karen A. Kops, President, Homeless Animals Response Program (HARP)

President, Spay/Neuter Impact Program (SNIP)

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Watchdog – Background on the charter school vote at Dozier-Libbey

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Watchdog Logo 300x95 Watchdog – Background on the charter school vote at Dozier LibbeyBy Barbara Zivica

On February 20th, 20 members of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School’s faculty met with a charter conversion consultant and a representative from Clayton Valley Charter High School. Following a lengthy discussion the group unanimously decided to file a petition with the Antioch Unified School District 30 days before the last March school board meeting requesting to convert to an independent public charter high school. (A charter school is a school which receives public funding but operates independently).

I suspect what led to this decision was that the AUSD had been diluting the curriculum at Dozier-Libbey with courses unrelated to its original mission, eliminated the school’s “No D Policy” and allowed students to opt out of some courses. The diverging philosophies between the AUSD and faculty were hindering teachers from carrying out the innovative programs and curricula they built and which made the school a nationally-recognized model.

The reason for the rush to file the petition without including parents, classified staff and the principal was due to concern that, if word got out, the school would have no protection from district-directed personnel changes prior to the petition being filed.

Several public information sessions will be scheduled in the very near future as well as an online forum where parents, students and community members can share input and post questions.

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Watchdog – If you build it they will come – dealing with Antioch’s homeless

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Watchdog Logo 300x95 Watchdog – If you build it they will come – dealing with Antiochs homelessBy Barbara Zivica

In addition to having the highest number of Section 8 housing choice vouchers (HCV) in Contra Costa County, we now have the highest number of unsheltered homeless in the county. That’s why I was floored when I read Antioch’s plan to address the problem e.g. establishing a Suburban Poverty Task Force and creating a voucher donation program though local businesses and PayPal.

Sean Wright, the altruistic CEO of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce, who recently touted KIVA, a micro loan program to give borrowers in Kenya and the United States limited access to capital through interest-free loans, is quoted as saying “We need to empower people to change their own lives by teaching them to fish rather than creating dependency”.

Informing the homeless about available resources for addiction counseling, job training and temporary shelter is one thing, but handing out voucher donations, will only encourage more homeless people to relocate to Antioch. Regrettably, handouts such as unlimited welfare benefits or food stamps create dependency, they don’t “teach people to fish.”

Although Antioch has a law allowing it to fine private property owners for cleanup and ongoing inspection fees which Ryan Graham, Antioch’s deputy economic development director, states often compels the owners to break up homeless encampments, it is rarely enforced and doesn’t address homeless encampments on public property which are left to local law enforcement officers to deal with.

What is needed in this instance is proactive enforcement. Back in the days when the police department was located on 10 Street, there was a homeless population who used to camp in the city park on the corner of 10 and A Street. The Police Department at that time was so persistent in running them out, that one day a bunch of the homeless jumped aboard a boxcar and rode it out of town, never to come back. That’s the kind of persistence I’m talking about – not handing out vouchers which will only encourage the homeless to hang around for the “freebies.”

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Watchdog: Questions, concerns about Antioch’s Community Cafe’s

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Watchdog Logo 300x95 Watchdog: Questions, concerns about Antiochs Community CafesBy Barbara Zivica

A few years ago the Antioch Police Department, like many other departments nationwide, started holding “Coffee with Cops” chats with residents. The informal sessions were welcomed by the public because they were a two way street – the public received valuable information, could ask questions and talk about what they thought needed improving.

This year the City’s gone a different route. On January 23, 25, 27 and January 29, the City conducted what they called “Community Café” sessions, Mayor Harper saying “We want to hear from the community and get buy-in.”

The sessions were directed by consultant Stacey McLaughlin of Mountaintop Consulting, hired by the City on March 27, 2013 for a sum not to exceed $44,000 to assist in organization assessment, City Council governance training and group development, fiscal goal setting and budget prioritization, strategic visioning and planning.

Regrettably, the sessions turned out to be similar to those held to persuade county residents to buy into the “Shaping Our Future” vision, now more regionally known as the One Bay Area Plan, which undermines local control and seeks to have us live in multi-use “stack and pack” high-rise developments adjacent to subsidized transit.

Such sessions, although touted as “public input” workshops, are in actuality the opposite because the object is to “facilitate” citizens into posing appropriate “questions” and arriving at appropriate “conclusions.”

At the Antioch “Community Café” sessions, participants were seated at small tables, shown a PowerPoint presentation and then asked to contribute thoughts, suggestions and ideas on the questions posed. According to the council minutes on these workshops, after table discussions “debriefing” of the questions was held. During the debriefing, each table had a representative share what the core/common themes of the discussions were.

Use of the term “debriefing” is of concern to me. In most cases, the purpose of debriefing is to make sure that participants are fully informed about, and not harmed in any way by their experience in an experiment or from a traumatic experience. Debriefing is typically not used in surveys, observational studies or other forms of research that involve no deception and minimal risk to participants.

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Letter writer congratulates council on voting down Seeno development

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Editor:

Mayor Pro Tem Rocha and Council Members Gary Agopian and Monica Wilson, take a bow! You did the City of Antioch a great justice by your recent vote to deny the Pointe Project. That development would have ravaged 21 acres of hillside land at the western edge of the city, robbing God-given beauty and some wind barrier. 

More frightening for the future, it would have overturned a hillside development ordinance that has been in effect since 1981. That ordinance had been applied on at least six projects over the past three decades. It’s disregard would send a signal that agreements can be bent and broken when expedience dictates.

They say you can’t fight City Hall but in the Philippines, where my wife hails from, they call it ‘people power’. I applaud the residents of the Black Diamond Estates Project, Save Mount Diablo Organization and the Antioch Planning Commission for all standing tall and fighting the good fight.

Antioch takes its’ knocks. We can all agree it was overbuilt, is too saturated, too cookie cutter and in the case of our Malls, too boxy (how one wishes we had insisted on a pedestrian-friendly plan like the Streets of Brentwood, which has strolling charm). Be that as it may, our mistakes can’t be undone.  

We do, though, have three natural assets other locales don’t. One, obviously, is our seat at the Delta.  The River brings views, recreation and a cooling breeze. 

The second blessing is our undulating streets. Hillcrest and Deer Valley come to mind as a boon from monotonous straight lines! 

The third asset are the hills that we didn’t all chop off; some internal and some dramatically framing our town.  Guests visiting me who drive along Hillcrest marvel at the ambiance. It feels palatial.

Yes, more homes is easy money. We know and respect that the fees are tempting, what with city services having hit rock bottom. Things are on an upswing, though, and patience will be rewarded.  

In the meantime, let’s hope that whenever there is the next, let’s face it, inevitable ‘mini-wave’ the infrastructure is long set. Wouldn’t it be nice, then, to have something really different from the hum-drum, we’ve got plenty, tracts. How about senior developments like Trilogy in Brentwood; or McMansions on oversized lots that draw in the Blackhawk crowd who could set up needed business and light industry here? Now you’ve got my attention.

Yes, more city workers and a return to five days of City Hall service? Valued.

Respect for past agreements…. appreciation of the hills.

They are priceless.

Walter Ruehlig

Antioch

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Watchdog: taxpayers need to watch Antioch School Board

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Watchdog Logo 300x95 Watchdog: taxpayers need to watch Antioch School BoardIt behooves taxpayers to keep a close watch on the Antioch Unified School District Board.

On December 18th Joy Motts, Board President, put discussion of the anti-Prop. 13 resolution by Evolve-ca on the agenda. Evolve-ca is an activist group who’s attempting to persuade local school boards and city councils to support removing Prop. 13 protections for business property. They falsely claim that homeowners are paying a greater share of the total property tax today. That’s false. The percentage paid by non homeowner occupied property accounted for 58.16% in 1978-79 and increased to 60.26% of all assessments in 2011-12, meaning the percentage paid by homeowners has declined! Fortunately, thanks to valuable information provided to the Board by the Contra Costa Taxpayers Assoc. the board tabled the resolution.

Now the Board is once again contemplating putting a parcel tax on the ballot. The only difference between their 2008 and 2012 parcel tax measures and the one they are contemplating now is that the prior ballot measures were structured as school facilities improvement district bond measures, excluded residents in southeast Antioch who pay a Mello Roos tax and required only 55% of those voting to approve the measures for them to pass. (Both passed.)

This time the district is considering putting a parcel tax on the ballot which will apply uniformly to all taxpayers or real property within the district, exempt Seniors/SSI/disabled and permit an inflation adjustment. As of 2009, bonding capacity for unified school districts was 2.5% of assessed value, tax rate limitations $60 per $100,000. Revenues can be used for capital facilities or operations. This type of tax measure requires 2/3 voter approval.

Taxpayers should not approve another AUSD parcel tax! The AUSD is going to get additional money under Prop. 30 and from the Governor’s budget which repays school districts for Prop. 98 money it withheld during the state “crisis”. In addition, the district still has a considerable and controversial real estate portfolio. When I stated they should sell some of their holdings prior to the their previous tax measures, I was told that state law required the district to send back any money from the sale of properties until the district was no longer considered to be in a “hardship” status due to prior mismanagement. Apparently the district is no longer in a hardship status because they just sold 191 acres of the Moller Ranch property for $305,000. (The district paid $2.6 million for 206 acres in 1996).

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Watchdog – Concerns with Seeno’s proposed hillside development

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Watchdog Logo 300x95 Watchdog – Concerns with Seenos proposed hillside developmentBy Barbara Zivica

At their Tuesday, January 28 meeting, the Antioch City Council will consider Discovery Builders request for General Plan amendments for the Pointe project, (generally located west of the intersection of Somersville Road and James Donlon Blvd.) Specifically, the sought after amendments would change the zoning from low-density residential to inclusion in the Somersville Road Corridor Focus Area and waive the requirements of certain applicable sections of our General Plan relating to hillside development. The resolution before council is to deny the general plan amendments for the Pointe Project proposed by the Seeno company.

Background on the project which the developer wants rezoned from hillside residential development (1.2 houses per acre) to single family residential (2.4 houses per acre – or double that permitted) : The city did receive a request from Discovery Builders wanting to construct 60 single family homes, two open space parcels, two storm water basins, and a pocket park with a water feature on an approximately 21 acre property. The request was dated January 29, 2007, and amended or supplemented on January 15, 2008, April 2, 2008, December 21, 2010, August 30, 2013 and October 17, 2013.

Numerous hearings were held in which council provided direction and feedback to the applicant. On September 17, 2007 the Planning Commission held a public hearing, received and considered evidence, both oral and documentary and recommended denial to the City Council. On January 22, 2008 the City Council held a public hearing and approved 60 residential development allocations. The City then prepared an Initial Study to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of the Seeno Pointe Project.

On November 6, 2013 the Planning Commission held a public hearing on the matter, receiving and considering evidence, both oral and documentary but took no action, merely recommending denial of the Project to the City Council.

On December 10, 2013, the City Council held a public hearing on the matter but did not act at that time. In the interim the City determined the following: The General Plan Amendments are inconsistent with the General Plan’s goals and policies regarding hillside development, the amendments could potential result in the creation of a noncontiguous area within the Somersville Road Corridor Focus Area whose policies and goals do not emphasize lower density residential uses, but instead prioritize commercial tax revenue generating uses, In addition, the project undermines the efforts contained in the City’s General Plan and Municipal Code to preserve natural ridgelines within the City of Antioch. The removal of 104 vertical feet of hillside does not meet the intent of the hillside development policies or meet the definition of developable land as outlined in the General Plan.

Project approval would set an adverse precedent for future hillside development within the City.

Seeno is also currently proposing to build 356 single family homes on undeveloped grazing land south of Pittsburg’s city limits, known as the Montreux subdivision whose access would be via an intersection at Kirker Pass Road that would connect with the long planned 17 mile James Donlon Blvd extension which Seeno delayed construction of complaining of insufficient funding from the East Contra Costa Regional Fee and Financing Authority to do so. In addition, another Seeno project known as Tuscany Meadows, if approved, would result in another 917 single family homes and up to 365 apartments near where the extension would start. (Pittsburg’s new mayor Sal Evola is a cousin of Seeno III and once worked for Discovery Builders. Antioch’s mayor Wade Harper previously recused himself from a vote regarding possible litigation with Seeno regarding the Markley Creek Crossing stating that since Seeno donated to his campaign he has a conflict of interest.)

NOTE: The City has hired a consultant (same facilitator who conducted a “get to know me” session for the new council) to conduct four “Community Cafes” to solicit feedback from residents not in regard to what’s wrong with the city, but help find solutions. The meetings will be held in the evenings thus creating staff overtime costs. Frankly, I thought our gripes were well known and were what the city manager and council were hired/elected to fix. If they’re unsure what our gripes are, I suggest the City post an objective survey on the internet which would result in considerable more input and less expense than four 6:30 p.m. meetings will. (Wonder if the City runs a tab with Starbucks coffee. The Police Dept. holds Coffee with Cops meetings and it’s obvious the Chief sure loves the place).

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