Why Dozier-Libbey Medical High needs to be an independent charter school

Guest Commentary

By Jeff Weber

The ongoing effort to convert Dozier-Libbey Medical High School, a high-performing pathway school in the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD), to a public charter school has swelled into a highly publicized, and at times ugly, battle in the court of public opinion.  Emotions are running high on both sides.  If there is a positive side to this political fight, it may be that the people of Antioch now have a much better understanding of their school district and of the wider charter schools movement in America.  Yet many are still asking, why is this all necessary?  Is this really in the best interest of our kids?  The answer is, it could be, if given the chance.  This article will attempt to explain in a rational way how Antioch could be better served by independent charter schools, and how we could get there with minimal disruption to our students.

Today more people in Antioch understand that an independent charter school is still a public school.  The general community will really see little change after a school converts from a district school to a charter.  The school will continue to serve the same students and meet the same state standards.  What will change is the governing board of the school.  A true charter school is independent and governed by a dedicated board of parents and community members that serve only that school.  A charter school’s board will not be distracted by the plethora of issues that the AUSD board of trustees must deal with in its 25-school district. 

It is also clear to most Antioch residents now that Dozier-Libbey teachers are not “stealing” their school.  In fact, the teachers are exercising their rights granted by the California legislature to convert a school to a charter if they feel doing so would better serve the students of that school. 

So why did the teachers of Dozier-Libbey take on this fight?  It was clearly going to be a David versus Goliath match-up from the start, with the district using its vast resources of public money and public employees, while Dozier-Libbey teachers worked extra nights and weekends and paid expenses out of pocket.  It was most certainly not so that teachers could stop giving ‘D’ grades to their students—a suggestion that has been highly publicized, but in fact does not exist in the charter petition objectives. 

The truth is, Dozier-Libbey teachers are risking a lot.  Most have decades of service behind them, and some are well within reach of a comfortable retirement.  They are giving up district tenure and seniority for an uncertain future and salaries that will stay on par with their previous district amounts, at best.  It would be impossible to argue that teachers are pushing the charter conversion for any reason other than the benefit of their students.

And their students do stand to gain a great deal from a charter conversion.  Here are some hard facts and numbers that show where Dozier-Libbey sits as a district school, and where it could be as an independent charter.  These are small examples among many that together represent a current system of educational management that is simply broken.

Early last year Dozier-Libbey teachers used grant money to purchase 15 new laptop computers to serve economically disadvantaged students.  Because of bureaucratic bumbling (an adequate cart could not be found), these brand new computers sat in a school district storeroom for over five months, despite repeated pleas from teachers, and have yet to reach the students who need them.  If Dozier-Libbey were a charter, this educational time would not have been lost.

This year, 20 students at Dozier-Libbey lost their job-shadowing opportunities with Sutter Delta Hospital because insurance forms were inexplicably held then mismanaged by the district bureaucracy, despite repeated calls from the Dozier-Libbey coordinator.  These valuable educational experiences would not have been lost if the necessary paperwork could have been handled in-house by a charter school.

Untold other educational opportunities have been lost to Dozier-Libbey, including real-time interactions with working doctors and nurses around the world, because district-wide policies could not be tailored to fit the needs of this unique school.  By their very nature, school districts like AUSD must operate on a “one size fits all” mentality in order to control such vast numbers of students and schools.  Dozier-Libbey was never designed to be a cookie-cutter high school.  It was created to be innovative.  Dozier-Libbey has numerous new programs ready to be implemented that address mastery learning of core subjects and credit recovery for struggling students, however these programs are not possible under AUSD, either because the other two high schools are not willing to embrace them (one size must fit all), or there is simply no funding to do so at Dozier-Libbey.

The state funding of public schools is based on the daily attendance at that school (known as “ADA”).  Schools like Dozier-Libbey with large percentages of economically disadvantaged students also receive additional federal funding, commonly referred to as “Title 1.”  All of this is taxpayer money that has been earmarked for educating our children.  However, school districts as large as AUSD have many layers of expensive bureaucracy that siphon off much of that student funding.  The combined salaries of the AUSD administrators (Don Gill, Tim Forrester, Stephanie Anello, Mike Santos, Louis Rocha, and Kenneth Gardner), who have spent so much of the past few months fighting the conversion charter, total over a million dollars.  That’s enough money to hire more than 20 librarians (DLMHS currently has one part-time librarian).  And there are literally scores of other administrators in Antioch being paid six-figure salaries who rarely venture near a classroom.  The more that schools operate independently, the less these central administration positions can be justified to the public—and that’s a very scary prospect for those individuals who enjoy them.

Dozier-Libbey receives from the district only a fraction of its ADA entitlements and none of its Title 1 monies.  The school site principal was given control of only $29,000 last school year, and of that funding amount $5,000 went toward paying a district-negotiated lease for the school’s copy machine.  Another $8,000 went toward paying the school’s librarian to stay an extra hour each day beyond the four hours for which she is contracted by the district.  Fortunately, many Dozier-Libbey teachers have been prolific in writing grant requests for their special projects.  Yet, even such grant money directed to Dozier-Libbey is occasionally siphoned off by the district for other uses.  And Dozier-Libbey suffers because of its own highly efficient fiscal management.  Antioch High School, a school only three times the size of Dozier-Libbey, receives eight times the operating budget from the district!  As a charter school, far more funding allocated by the state and federal government for Dozier-Libbey students would benefit Dozier-Libbey students.

So how does the charter conversion all turn out, and more importantly, what does it do for the kids?  At this point, there are two possible paths that the school district could take.

The first is for AUSD to continue with their current strategy.  The counter petition the district filed to make Dozier-Libbey a “dependent charter” stands on only the shakiest of legal ground, but it will serve to drag the conversion into the courts for possibly months or years—a stated objective made by the district at the school board hearing on their proposal.  They will spend untold thousands from public funds on litigation—money desperately needed by their own students.  (Dozier-Libbey charter petitioners are now receiving legal support from numerous pro-education organizations throughout the state.)  The district will undoubtedly also use this time to make staffing changes at the school, hamstringing a dedicated and highly professional team that has been years in development. 

However, another course of action could be for the leaders of AUSD to put the needs of the students of Antioch ahead of their own egos.  Allow the teachers of Dozier-Libbey, whom they’ve recognized as highly competent professionals, to run with their grand experiment unfettered and unchallenged.  If the charter succeeds, it will benefit not only the students at Dozier-Libbey, but will bring forth innovations and new ideas that can be shared with the entire district (as has been seen in numerous other charter-to-school district relationships).  But if Dozier-Libbey fails to meet its ambitious objectives as a charter, then the charter is simply revoked and the school returns to AUSD management.  These conversions, in either direction, do not need to be messy or expensive.  It is the district that is choosing to make it so. 

And so one can only wonder, what is the district really afraid of?

Jeff Weber is an 18-year veteran of AUSD, and currently teaches world history at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School and one of the organizers of the charter petition.

15 Comments to “Why Dozier-Libbey Medical High needs to be an independent charter school”

  1. Anna Morris says:

    Bravo! This is a well written article that gives some clarity to a complicated and emotionally charged battle. I commented on another article but think my comments and sentiments are still appropriate.

    I am a Parent of two Dozier Libbey students, one Sophomore and one incoming Freshman. I am in full support of the teachers and their petition for an Independent Charter. When we first heard of the petition for Dozier Libbey to convert to a Charter, I only thought that it would make the school better. We imagined with a Charter, resources will be readily available to the Teachers and Students. A concern before was that there were limited resources and classes available to the students at Dozier Libbey compared to the larger high schools. We had few options in classes that would prepare the students for the real world.(e.g. no technology classes, poor internet connection/ bandwidth issues through out the school, no options for more languages such as Chinese, little exposure to emerging medical technologies, etc..) It was apparent that there was a definite dysfunction and disconnect between the school and the governing AUSD. Despite the lack of resources, the school excelled and triumphed. It received a Distinguished School Award, the only school in Antioch to receive such an honor. I believe that was mainly due to the dedicated teachers, the supportive parents and of course, our bright, hard studying students. Dozier Libbey teachers have nurtured and honed our children. With this battle to cure what is ailing within our local school system, I know they are setting another fine example of how to stand by principles and what is fair. One will come across many types of adversities in life. I am confident that the Independent Charter has a solid plan to make Dozier Libbey an even better school, a more distinguished school than it is. We plead to the Board of Education that they give our teachers and students a fighting chance with offering them a life line of an Independent Charter.
    Anna Morris

  2. April Padilla says:

    I came in to this debate supporting the Dozier-Libbey teachers because I trusted them. The more I read, the more my DIStrust for the rest of the A.U.S.D grows.

    You cannot point to a school as the jewel in your crown and fight to keep it when you have done everything you can over the last several years to only dilute everything that made it special in the first place. You cannot tell us that the Antioch School District supports Dozier-Libbey and then systematically deny it the resources it needs to continue to succeed. You cannot leave it to the dedicated teachers of Dozier-Libbey to fill in the gaps that the school district has left wide open with their own time and money and then turn around and call them the problem. At least – you cannot do all of things and retain any integrity, or expect to be reelected.

    The longer this is dragged out, the more respect I gain for the teachers of Dozier-Libbey and the more I lose for the rest of the A.U.S.D.

    • Jeanne says:

      Hi April! Very well put! I am glad you can see the harm AUSD is putting our students, parents, teachers and everyone that works at this school! Jeanne

  3. Ann O'Nim says:

    Great article Jeff.
    Has anyone noticed the inherent conflict of interest involved with a “dependent” charter as crafted by the AUSD? The AUSD board would be in charge of their own charter school and would also have to make the decision when it was time to renew the charter. That is a big conflict of interest and not in alignment with the Charter Schools Act.
    I know it has been pointed out, but let me point it out again, since DLMHS is an existing school, in essence this would be a “conversion” charter, which requires 50% of the staff to sign the charter. How many DLMHS teachers signed Antioch USD’s petition? NONE.
    The readership of the Antioch Herald, the voting public and parents of DLMHS students must pick up your pens, let the AUSD board know that this dependent charter is not O.K. and that you favor the “independent” charter written by the teachers.
    Let them know that you unconditionally oppose the hiring of another Principal for Dozier-Libbey (they are doing that at this weeks board meeting).
    Let the Contra Costa County Board of Education members know that you support the “independent” charter created by the DLMHS teachers.(The appeal to the county goes to the board this week).
    If enough of the voting public exerts pressure on the Antioch USD board they might reverse their decision. I’m talking hundreds of people. Use your facebook and twitter accounts. That’s what it will take.

  4. Dozier Libbey parent says:

    Dozier-Libbey teachers are my heros! AUSD brought this on themselves. They should have been supporting their teachers instead of their bank accounts. And now they should be spending money on the students instead of expensive lawyers and those ridiculous banners!

  5. An Antioch Resident & Parent says:

    All I can say to AUSD “LET IT GO” you say that you only have the best interest in mind for students. You say lets be fair. How can you look at yourself and think that you have done the best you can for all students when you have neglected their needs.

    I now have finally heard what the Independent plan has to offer and it makes sense. What is AUSD’s plan? Status Quo with maybe a little more money and a lot more control.

    STATUS QUO = STAGNATION, LEFT BEHIND etc. Status Quo is just unacceptable!

    I support the Independent Charter and urge all parents of Antioch, Contra Costa Board of Education to do the same.

  6. Outraged says:

    This is a great article and points out the bureaucracy of the district. Voters please let AUSD and the School Board know that the dependent charter is ridiculous and spending taxpayer money to promote it is totally unacceptable! Let everyone know what they have done. I am so upset that the school district had the audacity to blatantly lie to us–it really makes me sick to my stomach.

    Let the Contra Costa Board of Education know that you support the Independent Charter and are outraged by the misuse of funds/resources/school time. Let your voice be heard! Our kids deserve the very best education and should not be in a district that undermines our core values. AUSD cannot be trusted!


  7. Ymi2fast4u says:

    I have been a district parent for 15 years, 11 of which are high school. I have had 3 children graduate from Deer Valley, and have a current Dozier student. Dozier staff should also consult with Ms. Beeson or others who ran the Law Academy at Deer Valley until last year. My daughter was in the law academy 09-13. They would get grants that were specifically earmarked for one thing, and the district would take the money and do what they want. Finally people in the legal community got wind and set up a seperate account for Dozier and threatned the district with legal action if the district if they attempted anything. The only reason the district started ANY of the academies is the special funding and the grants, once they get the money, they let the academy go to the dumps. They did everything they could to ruin the Law Academy, including running off the people who made it successful. They make promises to the community in order to collect the funds, and then use the money elsewhere and do nothing for the academies, misappropriation of funds to say the least. 3 years ago at a meeting for the business academy flat out said the district got special funding to provide equipment for the Business academy, but used the money on something else, so they were now without the equipment.

  8. Ymi2fast4u says:

    Also, regardless of the charter being granted, there should be a way to hold the district accountable for them stealing money from the schools. There should be a way to see to it that if money is granted for a specific reason, it be used for that. Wouldn’t one think otherwise they were committing fraud?

  9. It is my hope that the Dozier-Libbey Medical High School petition to become a public charter school will prevail over the efforts of the AUSD to keep DLMHS in the district. The statistics speak for themselves and Jeff Weber’s commentary makes a clear, concise case for the teachers, and students/parents of DLMHS. The AUSD should look at its policies/programs and ask, “how is it working so far?” Instead of trying to debase the one successful school, it should refocus its efforts on incorporating DLMHS’ successful practices among the other schools within the district. The district can only be as good as the sum of its parts.

  10. Citizen says:

    Thank you for putting this information out there. With all that is coming to light about how the district has managed the school, it seems like they should have seen this coming. You can’t continually mistreat people and expect them to sit back and take it. The Dozier teachers have done a great job the last few years shielding the students from the missteps of the district and found ways to minimize the impact on their education. It’s time to allow the teachers to stop looking over their shoulder for what “the suits” might do next, and allow them the flexibility to educate as they see fit.

  11. Arne says:

    Jeff, your comments were excellent and state exactly why Dozier-Libbey should be teaching to the highest standards (instead of to the lowest common denominator where competent students stagnate and lose interest).

    My granddaughter started her freshman year at Dozier-Libbey and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge to excel, before her family moved from Antioch.

  12. dotherightthing says:

    I so identify with Jeff Weber’s candid and explicit report of actual “facts” about the efforts of the educators at Dozier-Libbey. Myself, a retired educator of 33 years with experiences throughout eight school districts in California, north and south have been a recipient and/or witness of school districts that are run from top-down. In my observation, AUSD seems to be leaning to the the bureaucratic model of control and as Jeff puts it “ego”. However, it is more than both control and ego, I believe. It is that education in America has developed into this behemoth of a national entity that promotes and protects a heirarchy of the workforce to protect those who garner more wages and power within the system. So, any threat to this power or ego then, is greatly admonished. No one is more important that that person who is in charge and responsible in the immediate classroom. With administrative leaders who are instructional advocates, respectful and supportive of professionals in the classroom, a strong teaching staff develops. Teachers who have ownership and conviction about good teaching practices work collaboratively with each other. Good teachers are compassionate. Good teachers are intelligent. Good teachers are innovative. Good teachers are focused on student’s success at learning and gaining self-respect and initiative. Much has changed the “scene” of education in our country… the “race to the moon”, “the war on poverty”, the “no child left behind”. etc. All such oligarchical attitudes are manufactured by those tending toward egoism,power,control and might I say using all means possible to substantiate their higher incomes. Why is it that employees in a school district the farthest away from the classroom are the highest remunerated? The happiest years of my career were spent in those situations where I was engaged in a collaborative, respectful and empowered environment as a teacher. It is within such an environment that students are apt to be provided the very best of this interactive teaching-learning phenomena. The statements from parents, the risk the professional staff at Dozier-Libbey is taking to stick to their convictions give us witness that something else is in the minds of the AUSD “powers” as it may be. Otherwise, Dr. Gill, the administrators at the district and some administrative leaders in the other schools would be standing beside learning and considering from their colleagues the “promising, successful practices” that are working. And, why shouldn’t the Dozier-Libbey staff be independent from this administrative oligarcy. Mr. Weber points out some important frustrations that a professional staff with a vision and conviction have experienced. This staff has creatively figured out ways to bring the goals of this medical charter school to reality despite the lack of support from the controls of the District. I say to the present Superintendent and administrative staff to turn their efforts to “fixing” the schools within AUSD that need your attention and let the Dozier-Libby staff continue on their quest. Embrace this quest. Respect this quest.

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