Thursday, December 30, 2010

Chula Vista charter school getting high marks for efforts

Chula Vista charter school getting high marks for efforts
By Ashly McGlone
December 30, 2010

The Chula Vista Learning Community Charter School, where students sporting uniforms learn about English diphthongs and the nuances of Spanish, could be easily mistaken for a pricey private campus.

The 12-year-old school has risen from the black sheep of the Chula Vista Elementary School District to a model education system and is ranked among the district’s top 10 in student achievement, according to Principal Jorge Ramirez.

The school has raised its Academic Performance Index nearly 200 points from 680 in 2005 to 878 in 2010, exiting the federally sanctioned Program Improvement status in 2008 and evading the revocation of its charter.

“We were working hard, but we weren’t working smart. Now I can say we are working smart and hard,” Ramirez said.

The 800-student campus is the only school in the Chula Vista Elementary School District that offers a dual-language immersion program where preschoolers through eighth-graders spend half of their day in English-only courses and the other half in Spanish-only courses...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chula Vista elementary district plans for $6 million deficit

School deal with police questioned
Community letters: on school funding, library hours and more
The San Diego Union-Tribune
January 6, 2011

...In response to “Funding deal reached for police at schools” and “Elementary district plans for $6 million hole” (Local, Dec. 29): One article states that the Chula Vista Elementary School District is projecting a $5.9 million deficit in next year’s budget. Right above it is an article stating that the Sweetwater and Chula Vista Elementary school boards are choosing to pay $915,000 to supplement the School Resource Officer program.

My question is where is Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano’s allegiance in all of this, since he also serves on the Chula Vista Elementary school board? Does he care more about saving his School Resource Officer program or about serving the needs of Chula Vista elementary school students?

The city is facing a deficit and so is its elementary school district. One of Bejarano’s jobs on the school board is to oversee teachers, who contribute 8 percent of their salary toward retirement. However, his police officers pay absolutely nothing toward their retirement.

Bejarano should convince his police officers to pay their fair share toward their retirement to help reduce the city’s deficit instead of using money from the school district to supplement a police program.

Harvey Petty
Chula Vista

Chula Vista elementary district plans for $6 million deficit

By Ashly McGlone
December 28, 2010

The state’s largest elementary school district is looking at a $5.9 million deficit in next year’s nearly $193 million budget, according to preliminary estimates.

Chula Vista Elementary School District officials said the deficit could rise if the state makes additional midyear cuts.

No cuts, however, are proposed to next year’s budget, according to assistant superintendent of business services Oscar Esquivel. He said the district’s reserve — currently at $31 million — will help cover the shortfall.

State law requires the district to set aside an amount equaling 3 percent of its general fund — about $5.7 million — in reserve.

Some $1.1 million of the district’s reserve was used to satisfy the deficit in this year’s $192 million budget.

Managers are taking seven furlough days this academic year and next, classified staff are taking two to six furlough days and teachers are taking 5.5 furlough days.

Also, this year is the first year the district’s cap of 20 students per class has been removed. Average class sizes this year are 19.9 children for kindergarten through third grade, up from 18 students last year, and 28.9 children for fourth through sixth grade.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Study claims big Chula Vista reserves

Study claims big Chula Vista reserves
The city says the funds are restricted, can’t be used to avoid cuts in servces
By Wendy Fry
December 26, 2010

Calling plans to slash public services disgraceful, an economist hired by Chula Vista’s police union performed a study of the city’s financial condition and reported Chula Vista has an “exceptionally high” reserve ratio and hidden financial resources.

At a public forum last week, budget analyst Peter Donohue said the city began the 2009 fiscal year with more than $33 million in general fund reserves — about 23 percent of that year’s operating budget. The study claims the city had $154 million in unrestricted net assets at that time.

His report, which also examined the city’s bond rating and internal cost-allocation plan, concluded that Chula Vista has the financial resources to mend its $18.5 million budget hole without cutting public services.

“I wish it were true, but it isn’t,” City Manager Jim Sandoval responded. He said the city’s available reserves are currently at 7.2 percent of this year’s $133 million general fund. Municipalities typically set aside 7 percent to 15 percent of their budgets for unanticipated expenditures and economic downturns.

In June 2009, the redevelopment agency owed the city about $23 million. That outstanding loan amount was included in the General Fund reserves, but it was not available for spending.

“(Donohue) is insinuating those are spendable resources and they’re not,” said city finance director Maria Kachadoorian.

She said the redevelopment agency’s outstanding loan accounts for the difference between city’s calculation of its reserves and Donohue’s estimate. A $10 million repayment from the redevelopment agency was recently used as a one-time source of income to balance Chula Vista’s current budget.

The Chula Vista Police Officers Association paid about $20,000 for the Donohue analysis. Donohue, who has a doctorate in economics from the University of Texas, began examining the city’s finances in November. He said his study does not reflect the most current fiscal reports because those haven’t been released.

“City officials’ refusal to maintain police protection is hard to understand,” his study said. “Chula Vista residents and businesses should question reduced spending on services, including critical public-safety services.”

Donohue said the city has about 150 funds with a total of $154 million in assets, but Kachadoorian said all revenues can’t be lumped into operating costs. The excluded ones include sewer revenues and money from bonds issued for redevelopment.

About 32 police officers received layoff notices in October. A recent agreement between two South County school boards and the Police Department allowed that number to drop to 23 targeted layoffs, about 15 percent of the police force.

Sandoval, the city manager, said that altogether, 101 positions must be eliminated citywide by Jan. 7. “We’ve been through four years of cuts with no impact on public safety,” he said.

Donohue contends that city administrators are overstating the city’s financial difficulties.

“Sometimes jurisdictions have a particular political agenda and the actual numbers don’t support the agenda,” Donohue said. “The sky was about to fall on you guys for a number of years now. It hasn’t yet.”

While ongoing labor negotiations between the city’s two public-safety unions haven’t been successful, the three other employee unions in Chula Vista have agreed to wage concessions. Their pacts include contributing the 8 percent employee share of their pensions, forgoing contractual raises and accepting a less-generous benefits plan for new hires.

Planned service reductions


Civic Center branch to be closed Sundays and Mondays.

South branch to be closed on weekends.

Eastlake branch to be open only from 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays.

•Recreation centers:

All the centers to be open only two days a week. Hours will vary.

Loma Verde center to be open Mondays and Wednesdays.

Otay center to be open Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Veterans center to be open Fridays and Saturdays.

Montevalle center to be open Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Other centers’ hours will be available on their websites.


Park-ranger program to be eliminated.

Graffiti-abatement team for private property to be eliminated.

Tree-trimming services provided on emergency basis only.

Custodial services at Rohr Manor and Ranger Station to be eliminated.

Holiday lighting for Starlight Parade and downtown Third Avenue to be cut.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Democracy, anyone? Popaditch supporters tread on Bob Filner

Some people in Chula Vista are sore losers.
Video from Chula Vista Star-News

2010 Election Wrap Up
posted by: Carlos Davalos
Grannies for Gunny Pop.

Go ahead and to take her sign from her. She dares you.

The loudest and most boisterous supporters of the night were, by far, the men and women who wanted to see Republican Nick Popaditch unseat Rep. Bob Filner in their battle for the 51st Congressional District seat.

Chanting “Pop-a ditch! Pop-a-ditch!” throughout most of the evening, the Marine gunnery sergeant’s followers relentlessly waved their campaign signs and shouted Popaditch’s name any time a Filner supporter crossed their path.

But the usual civil political rivalry that’s found at Election Central turned tense quickly as Popaditch supporters chased down the Congressman and surrounded him in the Golden Hall lobby. At one point Popaditch squared off with Filner and called him a “Damn liar.”

In the 60s Filner marched during the Civil Rights movement. He spent time in jail for his role in the Freedom Rides. Undoubtedly the New York native has been shouted at and down by people with different perspectives.

But that was more than 40 years ago. Since then it’s hard to guess when the last time it was that Filner was chased down by a mob and the candidate they were supporting. It was a surreal moment.

One observer said Popaditch had dead eyes. In reviewing the video, Gunnery Sgt. Popaditch reminded me of a great white shark. His is a massive presence. But with all that said it was the crowd that was predatory.

Chula Vista has millions at its disposal

"...In related news, Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano announced Wednesday that the Chula Vista Elementary School District and the Sweetwater Union High School District have agreed to pay $915,000 toward the School Resource Officer's $1.9 million program through the 2011-2012 fiscal year. The funding will save eight positions."

Chula Vista has millions at its disposal

Allison K. Sampite
Dec 25 2010

During a press conference Wednesday, an independent financial analyst revealed that the city of Chula Vista has tens of millions of dollars available for any legal use they choose, including saving police officer positions.

...In related news, Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano announced Wednesday that the Chula Vista Elementary School District and the Sweetwater Union High School District have agreed to pay $915,000 toward the School Resource Officer's $1.9 million program through the 2011-2012 fiscal year. The funding will save eight positions.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Castle Park and Juarez-Lincoln schools are moving to Year 2 of Program Improvement

The API scores don't tell us if individual children are making progress. Sometimes the scores are simply a result of the brightest kids moving out of one school and into another. Castle Park Elementary and other schools suffer from "brain drain" as a result of staff problems. The parents of the brightest kids are often the first to get their children out of a troubled school. After they were transferred out of the school, teachers like Peg Myers (currently president of Chula Vista Educators teachers union) and Robin Donlan worked hard to spread the impression that there was something wrong with the school. The problem was Peg and Robin and their power-hungry associates, and the school is still suffering from their power grab.

"...Castle Park and Juarez-Lincoln schools are moving to Year 2 of Program Improvement..."

Schools Achieve Historic Firsts: A record number of schools top the 800 benchmark on the state’s Academic Performance
By: Chula Vista Elementary School District
September 13th, 2010

...Heritage Elementary posted the highest API score in the District at 916, followed by Olympic View at 914, Arroyo Vista Charter at 902, Thurgood Marshall at 901, and Salt Creek at 900. Closely on their heels was Veterans Elementary at 897. Leonardo da Vinci Health Sciences Charter School, the newest charter in the District, was the lowest performing out of 45 schools. Da Vinci recorded an API of 742. Clear View Elementary, formerly a charter, grew by 29 points as a noncharter, posting an API of 854. The federal government identifies Title 1 schools for Program Improvement status if they have not met “adequate yearly progress” goals schoolwide or for target populations for two consecutive years. Greg Rogers and Fred H. Rohr elementary schools are entering Year 1 of Program Improvement; Castle Park and Juarez-Lincoln schools are moving to Year 2 of Program Improvement. Mae L. Feaster and Karl H. Kellogg schools made “safe harbor,” meaning they remain in Year 1 of Program Improvement.

Of special note was Parkview school’s exit from Program Improvement. Parkview Principal Bonnie Nelson earned high praise as among the select few principals in the state to have moved two schools out of Program Improvement during their education careers. Nelson had previously led Palomar Elementary out of Program Improvement.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sweetwater moves toward stricter grad requirements

Plenty of the teachers didn't meet these requirements when they were in high school. If the teachers were capable of bringing the kids up to this level, it would be a different matter, but instituting these requirements in the present situation just means more kids are going to fail. Why is the ACLU getting involved in this? I ask this as a card-carrying liberal. Sadly, I believe the answer is that the ACLU is trying to get publicity and drum up support. I am familiar with several of the leaders of the San Diego ACLU (including Kevin Keenan and David Blair-Loy), and my experience is that these individuals are not so much interested in the success of students or in holding schools accountable for following the law, but rather in advancing their own careers.

Sweetwater moves toward stricter grad requirements
San Diego Union-Tribune
By Ashly McGlone
December 17, 2010

It may get harder to graduate from the Sweetwater Union High School District.

The Board of Education this week voted to require that students meet University of California and California State University admission requirements before they can earn their high school diploma.

No timeline has been set. The requirements include 15 college-prepatory classes in seven academic areas.

Waivers will be available for special needs students and those not fluent in English who enter high school during their junior and senior year.

Trustees opted against a timeline that would have required the courses beginning with the freshman class of 2012.

The resolution passed in a 4-1 vote. Trustee Pearl Quinones, citing her 20 years as a dropout prevention counselor, voted against it.

“Not one size fits all ... What about the ones that don’t want to go to college? All they want to do is graduate.”

According to a presentation by Maria Castilleja, executive director of curriculum and instruction, one-third of last year’s graduates completed the so-called A-G courses.

Nearly 22 percent of seniors currently taking A-G courses are passing with the B average or better, the standard required for university admission.

Students must achieve a C or better in an A-G course in order to receive credit for graduation.

Unknown is how much the transition will cost the district in new textbooks, teacher reassignments and training. The district is looking to cut $23 million from next year’s $320 million budget.

Castilleja said that the board’s move underscores the district’s commitment to college readiness.

In June 2009, San Diego Unified School District became the first district in the county to require A-G standards for graduation, beginning with the 2010 freshman class, but an external audit in September revealed that some 34 percent of students still don’t have access to the courses they need to meet those requirements. Grossmont Union High School District offers A-G courses but does not require them to graduate. Some 37 percent of Grossmont’s 2010 graduates completed the A-G course sequence.

The ACLU has been pushing for districts in California to adopt UC standards. Districts in Los Angeles and San Jose, among others, have made the switch.

Teacher’s union president Alex Anguiano spoke in favor of a gradual transition, suggesting the district begin by ensuring foreign language and art classes are offered at the middle schools.

Residents Karen Janney and Stewart Payne urged caution, saying the district needed to look at data and seek input...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Compton parents pull parent trigger

Chula Vista has something in common with Compton--Richard Werlin, the administrator who made a mess out of Castle Park Elementary School.

Compton parents pull parent trigger
Parents demand to bring in charter operator
By John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

Today, parents at a Compton Unified elementary school will become the first in the state to use a new “parent trigger” law. They will demand that an outside charter school operator be brought in to take over their low-performing school. Organizers predict that parent groups in other districts, fed up with poor achievement and unsuccessful district reforms, will follow the lead of McKinley Elementary parents.

Confident that they have more than the majority of families’ signatures needed to exercise their right, the parents plan to drop off their petitions at the Compton Unified’s central office. The petition asks the board specifically to bring in Celerity Educational Group, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that runs four charter schools, starting next fall.

The Legislature passed the “parent trigger” law in January as part of legislation to strengthen the state’s unsuccessful Race to the Top application. The provision was pushed by Los Angeles Sen. Gloria Romero and opposed strongly by the California Teachers Assn. A half-dozen other states are considering adopting California’s law.

Under parent trigger, a majority of parents within a school can request one of four reform options similar to models that the Obama administration is requiring for failing schools: closing it down, transforming it through a longer day and other changes, restarting it with mostly new teachers and a new principal, and converting to a charter school. Most parents are expected to pursue the latter option, and the burden will be on district trustees to justify why they shouldn’t agree to that choice.

Schools that have failed to make targets under the federal No Child Left Behind law four consecutive years qualify for the parent trigger – about 1,300 of the state’s 10,000 schools. The law capped the number of parent trigger schools at 75. Getting enough signatures, amid expected opposition of teachers and districts, could prove daunting in many cases.

Last month, the Little Hoover Commission endorsed the parent trigger in a report on charter schools, saying: “This latest development expanding opportunities for parents to petition to convert existing schools into charter schools is another step in the right direction, … The Commission believes that parents should have the opportunity to petition to convert poor-performing schools into charter schools.”

Parents at the 500-student McKinley Elementary have been organizing since the summer, according to Ben Austin, a member of the State Board of Education and a leader of Parent Revolution, a non-profit organization that that lobbied for the law and has sought out parents to take advantage of it. Austin said he’s confident McKinley leaders have gathered signatures of 62 percent of parents. Under temporary regulations adopted by the State Board of Education, parents are entitled to one signature per student.

“It’s been an uphill fight,” Austin said. “The district holds all the cards. Only it knows the enrollment numbers and controls contact information for parents.” Organizers had to counter lies by opponents, Austin said, that a charter school would charge tuition and exclude special education students.

McKinley Elementary, with low-income minority children, scored in the bottom 10 percent of schools statewide, with an API score of 684, an increase of 26 points from 2009. African-American children’s scores dropped seven points to 635.

The district itself has struggled for years. Only 47 percent of students graduate, and only 3 percent of seniors – one tenth of the statewide average – have passed enough courses with high enough grades to qualify for a four-year public university.

In a scathing evaluation of the district this fall, a state District Assistance and Intervention Team concluded, “We remain deeply concerned about the commitment to student achievement across the district, and have grave reservations at this time, about the capacity of the District to make significant gains for students.” The report cited a focus on “adult issues as a priority before student needs;” a lack of civility and respect for people in meetings and during school visits; and a failure to hold adults accountable for their work and for unethical behavior.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Controversial Southwestern College Prez Raj Chopra Resigns

Controversial Southwestern College Prez Resigns
November 30, 2010
Voice of San Diego
by Emily Alpert

The controversial president of Southwestern College announced his resignation today, leaving roughly a year and a half before his contract was set to expire. Raj Chopra, whose resignation is effective today, will get the equivalent of six months' salary, according to a press release issued by the college.

From the release:

"I believe some important objectives have been achieved," Chopra said. "The College, in spite of unprecedented financial problems at the state level, remains in good financial standing."

To understand what Chopra meant to the school, read this terrific piece written by Southwestern College students and contributors Sean Campbell and Lyndsay Winkley earlier this year. It explains why Chopra was so controversial, calling it "an almost constant battle since Chopra was hired in August 2007."

The president has acted unilaterally to enact massive budget cuts in the face of deep financial troubles, breaking course with previous administrations who involved faculty in decision-making. Now, three pro-Chopra board members are facing a recall, faculty is complaining of a culture of fear and California's college accreditation commission is threatening to shut the whole place down if the campus environment does not change.

The blunt and confrontational Chopra has a long history of turning around troubled districts and educational systems — and of igniting brutal labor clashes. And he's drawn more scrutiny here for accepting a pay increase while laying off long-time employees, cutting classes and for apparently boosting a paragraph from Southwest Airlines' CEO in his Thanksgiving letter to employees.

Hundreds of college employees have united against Chopra and are taking out their frustrations on three members of the Southwestern board. In the crosshairs are trustees Jean Roesch, Terry Valladolid and Yolanda Salcido.

Salcido lost her spot on the board in the November elections; Valladolid kept hers and a third trustee, Jorge Dominguez, lost his spot as well. The press release from Southwestern College said that Chopra stepping down would allow the new board, which comes in next month, to choose a new leader.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Problem? English. Could the Cure Be Spanish?

Actually, native English speakers are sometimes in the same boat as these English learners. They have simply not been exposed to a broad range of words and ideas in oral discussions, and they hit a wall when they are suddenly expected, at about fourth grade, to be able to decode words and understand concepts that they have never seen in print before.

Middle class kids usually have no trouble making this leap because their parents have enriched them with daily discussions and a broad range of experiences. But intellectual discussions between parents and kids is not part of the culture of many working class families, and sometimes parents are working too many hours to have time to talk to kids. Schools have to fill in the deficit before kids can progress.

It's silly to be pushing kindergarteners to start reading when what they really need is to think and understand and speak. For many kids, mastery of written English would happen sooner if it were started later. The kids discussed in the article below would have been better off if they'd received instruction in critical thinking skills in a language they understood when they were in the early years of school. The problem isn't just vocabulary and grammar, it's grasping the world of ideas.

In Castle Park Elementary School, a kindergarten teacher lost her job because her class of English learners needed instruction in basic concepts, and she gave it to them. The other two kindergarten teachers demanded that the principal get rid of her because she wasn't teaching beginning reading skills.

The Problem? English. Could the Cure Be Spanish?

November 18, 2010
by Emily Alpert

Alexis Rodriguez has gone to California schools since kindergarten. The 13-year-old jokes with other kids in English between lessons. Some of his classmates groan when asked to write in Spanish.

They don't look like the English learners you might imagine when the phrase pops up, the kids new to the country and struggling to speak English at all. Most of them have spent at least five years in the United States. And yet Rodriguez and his classmates are still grappling with English fluency.

Nearly 40 percent of English learners in San Diego Unified fail to become fluent by the time they reach middle school. Now, schools are starting to eye them, zeroing in on what holds them back.

They're called "long-term English learners," students who still fall short of fluency after five or six years in U.S. schools. Like Rodriguez and his classmates, they can gab easily in English, but run into trouble with more sophisticated reading and writing in school. They make up almost 60 percent of English learners in California middle and high schools, one study found, belying the idea that newcomers are the big problem.

Pacific Beach Middle School is testing one way to tackle their needs, a way that might seem odd at first glance. To help seventh and eighth graders who still struggle with English, it is bulking up their skills in both Spanish and English. They take an extra class that teaches them Spanish vocabulary and grammar, then ties it back to what they're learning in English.

The idea is that once tweens better understand the grammar and structure behind Spanish, they can better translate that savvy to English. Principal Julie Martel and her teachers found that many of their students who were behind in English were also weak in Spanish, even though they speak it at home. Most had never been schooled in Spanish at all.

"They're illiterate in their native language," Martel said...

Traffic accidents costly for school district

Traffic accidents costly for school district
San Diego Union-Tribune
By Ashly McGlone
November 18, 2010

The Chula Vista Elementary School District has paid nearly $27,000 to settle claims involving five traffic accidents over the past two years.

According to district documents, four vehicles were sideswiped and three were rear-ended. Most of the incidents happened on Hilltop Drive, where Hilltop Elementary, Hilltop Middle and Hilltop High schools are located within one mile of each other.

An average of $3,800 was paid per claim.

District spokesman Anthony Millican said the number of accidents is minimal given the more than 190 district vehicles in operation.

“We take safety very seriously,” Millican said. “If the driver is investigated by the CHP (as in the case of all school bus accidents), the driver is put on administrative leave until it is resolved.”

Some 109 school buses operate in the state’s largest elementary school district, which educates more than 27,000 students.

Not all accidents involved school buses, though.

Bus drivers in the district are paid between $16.46 and $20.89 per hour and are required to have a high school diploma or equivalent and must hold a valid commercial driver’s license and a California School Bus Driver Certificate. They also must maintain a good driving record, among other qualifications.

Luci Fowers, 2007 CA Charter School Principal of the Year

Luci Fowers taught at Castle Park Elementary and Sunnyside in Chula Vista Elementary School District.

Luci Fowers, 2007 CA Charter School Principal of the Year
See video

Luci is now at Goethe International Charter School in Los Angeles.

Ms. Fowers is currently the Chief Education Officer and has previously served as the Principal of Albert Einstein Academies. In 2007 she was elected as the Charter Principal of the year by the CCSA. Ms. Fowers has also worked as an elementary school teacher for 9 years. She earned a Masters of Arts with a Focus on: Curriculum and Instruction Development from the San Diego State University in 2000.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Who cares about kids at CVESD?

Chula Vista Elementary School District cut the number of days that teachers were paid to prepare for the current school year. The union, Chula Vista Educators (part of CTA), told teachers not to do any preparation other than what they were paid for. Teachers who obeyed were stressed and disoriented for quite a while at the beginning of the year, and considerably less effective than they normally would have been. Some union leaders just don't use their heads, and neither do the teachers who follow like sheep. I think the union should have accepted that teachers would need to prepare on their own time, then, if it felt it had to take some action, it should have planned a sick-out later in the year. Instead, a great deal of harm was caused for no apparent gain. CVE proved that some teachers are willing to damage the education of children, and it also proved that the school board is willing to harm the education of children. I have long said that there are big problems in Chula Vista, but even I was disappointed at this turn of events.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Contractors donating big to incumbents at Southwestern College and Sweetwater High School District

Bond Money Figures Big in South Bay Schools’ Elections
San Diego Reader
By Susan Luzzaro
Oct. 30, 2010

Southwestern College, the Sweetwater Union High School District, and the Chula Vista Elementary School District, all located in the South Bay, have several school-board seats up for grabs in a few days. The level of campaign contributions received by candidates at Southwestern and Sweetwater is considerably higher than the contributions in the elementary school district. Could it be because of bond money?

Southwestern College is currently spending $389 million of Proposition R funds approved in 2008 and $120 million that remains from Proposition AA, approved in 2006.

One of the most contested races in the Southwestern College district is between Yolanda Salcido, the president of the board, and Norma Hernandez, former president of the college. In Salcido’s most recent campaign-donation filing (covering the period of October 1–16), Seville Construction Services, the company managing Southwestern’s bond money, donated $7500. The majority of the $57,250 picked up in this period is from contractors or is contractor-related. Salcido has received a total of $102,598.

Salcido’s opponent, Hernandez, received no donations from contractors in the last filing period. Her two largest donors during the first half of October were Pacific Spanish Network, which gave $5000, and San Diego PAC, which gave $2000. She has received a total of $40,001.51.

Voters approved Proposition O in 2006, which gave Sweetwater Union High School District $644 million to use for construction and reconstruction. Incumbent Sweetwater boardmember Jim Cartmill and Karen Janney, a retired educator, are waging a fierce battle.

The Seville Group Inc., which is managing the Prop O construction, gave Cartmill $20,000 on October 2. Most of the $34,884 collected in this period came from contractors. Cartmill’s total to date is $85,970.

Cartmill’s opponent, Janney, has altogether $40,638. No contractor donations are listed in her latest filing. The majority of her donations were for $100. Her highest donation was $5,625.46, from the Sweetwater Education Association PAC...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Castle Park Elementary is second highest in district with 32 student suspensions per year

The teachers at Castle Park Elementary who called themselves the "Castle Park Family" created an atmosphere of hostility toward students and other teachers. The school has been suffering ever since that group of teachers came to power in the 1990s, even though most of those teachers have left the school, because the community lost faith in the school. Only five members of the "Castle Park Family" are still on the staff, but the "Family" still has power since one of its foremost members, Peg Myers, is now president of Chula Vista Educators.

"Upon review of other Safe School Plans — including Castle Park Elementary with the second highest district suspensions at 32 — previous plans often gave little or no detail regarding school crime.

Castle Park’s solely stated 'The district office publishes regular reports on school crimes and safety data.'"

District revamps safe school plans
By Ashly McGlone
San Diego Union-Tribune
October 22, 2010

CHULA VISTA — The state’s largest elementary school district is revamping the way it compiles its Safe School Plans.

Staff at Chula Vista Elementary School District announced a “call to action” at Tuesday night’s board meeting, laying out new efforts to ensure plans are compiled at school sites properly.

The annual plans — outlined in the California Education Code — require assessments of school safety based on the review of crime data, something that was not happening at some campuses.

Kellogg Elementary school site council member William Perno raised concerns over the plans at the district’s September board meeting, prompting the district to look into the matter.

Among other concerns, Perno cited incongruity with the plan and district-reported data on the California Department of Education website.

For the last two years, the plans at his school included the following statement on crime: “Crime at Kellogg Elementary School is minor and infrequent. Police reports of assault vandalism, theft or other crimes are rare. Graffiti is a minor problem.”

On the state website, 16 suspensions are noted at Kellogg Elementary in the 2008-09 school year, 12 of which are violence and drug related.

Upon review of other Safe School Plans — including Castle Park Elementary with the second highest district suspensions at 32 — previous plans often gave little or no detail regarding school crime.

Castle Park’s solely stated “The district office publishes regular reports on school crimes and safety data.”

Still, board member and Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano said on Tuesday that the city, and in turn its schools, are among the safest in the county.

“The City of Chula Vista, and obviously that includes the 44 schools we have in the district, remains one of the safest cities in the county... There’s only two cities — the cities of Coronado and Carlsbad — that have lower violent crime rates than we do; keep in mind we are the second largest city. And then overall, again, we are one of the safest cities in the county.” Bejarano said. He also cited the district’s partnership with the police department providing school resource officers as a district asset, as did other board members.

Nancy Kerwin, executive director of student, family and community services, district Spokesman Anthony Millican and Sgt. Carlos Valdivia presented the report, in which Valdivia gave the district an “A” rating, but improvements were nonetheless identified.

“In reviewing our Safe School Plans, we identified a number of weaknesses,” Kerwin said, citing inconsistency among the school plans, minimal review of crime data and staff unfamiliarity with Education Code requirements.

“Hence, we contacted Stephanie Papas with the California Department of Education’s safe school office and frankly declared that we believe our past plans are insufficient to meet our extremely high standards as a system,” she said. District, state and police crime data will be now be provided to schools.

District Spokesman Anthony Millican said the district will be using a nearly $300,000 federal grant recently awarded to fund the creation of a standardized Safe School Plan template, as well as staff training...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why do architects in Carlsbad give money to CVESD incumbents?

My guess is that Carlsbad architects give money to CVESD incumbents either to reward them for giving work to the architects, or to encourage them to give work to the architects.

"The largest contribution to date — $1,500 to the incumbents — came from David Ruhnau of Carlsbad-based Ruhnau Ruhnau Clarke Architect. The firm was the lead architect on construction at Wolf Canyon Elementary, as well as other schools throughout the South County."

The money from local labor unions is different. Local workers have kids in local schools, and unions in general tend to support money for education, so the union local clearly has an understandable interest in supporting the best candidate for the school board. On the other hand, the unions obviously hope that their candidate will support hiring union workers for school jobs.

Money coming in for Chula Vista school board race

By Ashly McGlone
San Diego Union-Tribune
October 18, 2010

CHULA VISTA — Challenger Nick Segura, with nearly $5,000 in contributions, has raised more money than any single candidate seeking a seat on the Chula Vista school board, according to the latest financial disclosure forms.

Incumbents Larry Cunningham, Douglas Luffborough and Pamela Smith — who are running as a team — have collected a total of $7,000.

There are 11 candidates on the ballot.

Segura is the assistant business manager for the local division of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and most of his contributions came from the electrical industry. His employer donated $900 and the San Diego Electrical Contractors Association donated $500.

The largest contribution to date — $1,500 to the incumbents — came from David Ruhnau of Carlsbad-based Ruhnau Ruhnau Clarke Architect. The firm was the lead architect on construction at Wolf Canyon Elementary, as well as other schools throughout the South County....

Retired educator Francisco Sevilla has raised more than $1,500, much of it from retired teachers...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

How dumb are some employers? Really, really dumb.

How dumb was the Silicon Valley hiring conspiracy? Let us count the ways
By Chris O'Brien
Mercury News

When I think of Google, Apple, Intel, Intuit, Adobe and Pixar, the words that come to mind are usually innovative and progressive.

In the wake of their shocking settlement with the federal government Friday over charges they colluded to not hire each other's employees, another word comes to mind:


It's not just that their actions are shameful.

It's not just that these actions violate everything Silicon Valley represents.

These agreements reveal a profound insecurity about their ability to compete on free and fair terms with one another.

But more than that, these actions are unspeakably DUMB.

How dumb was this ill-conceived and poorly executed conspiracy? Let us count the ways.

1. There is no way that potential savings from these ridiculous schemes could have warranted the risks. Just how much money are we talking about saving by not losing a few important employees? Thousands? Chump change. Dumb.

2. Whatever the costs, we're talking about multinational corporations with billions of dollars in the bank. Really, they couldn't dip into those rainy day funds to counter a few offers? It's not just miserly. It's dumb.

3. We knew Apple was a bully. Turns out, it is an even bigger bully than we realized. According to the complaint: "Apple requested an agreement from Adobe to refrain from cold-calling each other's employees. Faced with the likelihood that refusing would result in retaliation
and significant competition for its employees, Adobe agreed." Pissing off a key ally? Dumb.

4. Now, everyone working at one of these companies has got to be thinking the same thing: "Did I get screwed?" That's not exactly the kind of gung-ho, morale-building conversations you want going on. Dumb.

5. Those who do think they got the shaft may sue. And because this is an antitrust finding, the settlement will allow anyone who wins in federal court to "recover three times the damages the person has suffered." Say goodbye to whatever measly amounts the companies saved through these agreements. Dumb.

6. People maintained lists. They kept records. According to the complaint: "Pixar instructed human resources personnel to adhere to the agreement and maintain a paper trail in the event Apple accused Pixar of violating the agreement." Dumb.

7. Under this settlement, the Justice Department gets to check up on the companies just about whenever it pleases. Thought the federal government was interfering too much before? Well, congratulations. It will get worse. Dumb.

8. Did they really not think this would come to light? Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

School board gathers before convening, then goes on to cast mostly-unanimous votes

It's quite a surprise to learn that CVESD board members were chomping down on chicken and steak kabobs from Daphne's Greek Cafe at taxpayer expense at the same time that they were humiliating children in school cafeterias with the notorious "cheese sandwich, a modern day version of the scarlet letter (see Los Angeles Times story at bottom of this post).

It took a great deal of effort by parents and community members to end to the policy of humiliating children who didn't have lunch money by presenting them with the much-dreaded "cheese sandwich." (Cheese sandwiches are terrific, it's just that kids came to associate them with punishment.)

I think it's long past time for board members to bring their own lunch money.

Chula Vista sessions raise open-meetings issues
School board gathers before convening, then goes on to cast mostly-unanimous votes
San Diego Union-Tribune
September 2, 2010
By Ashly McGlone

Chula Vista Elementary school board members have been gathering in the superintendent’s office before their public meetings, asking questions about agenda items and eating restaurant take-out food paid for by taxpayers.

State law generally requires elected officials to post public notices so citizens can attend when public business is discussed with three or more board members. But district officials say the pre-meeting sessions are not subject to those requirements.

The practice raises the possibility that a consensus could be reached in private, depriving the public of the right to know what went into board decisions.

The Watchdog reviewed minutes of all board meetings from December 2008 to the present. Of 130 motions, 129 passed unanimously. The one split vote, in February, concerned the order of agenda items.

Records obtained by The Watchdog under the California Public Records Act reveal $2,035 in meals have been billed to the district’s general fund since December 2008.

According to board vice president Larry Cunningham, food is “always there. If we have a board meeting, it’s there.” He said the meals have been standard practice since he joined the school board more than 16 years ago and no one has ever raised a concern.

The informal gatherings give board members a chance to grab a bite to eat and get their questions answered by staff members, Cunningham said.

“If you have a question to ask staff, you have a chance to go ask staff about that. It is nothing. We don’t meet with closed doors. The doors are always open,” Cunningham said. “We find it is easier to do that than ask a lot of questions at board meetings. We feel the board meetings are there for input for the public.”

Max Batangan, assistant to the school board and the superintendent, distributes meeting agendas and notifies members of any changes, according to the superintendent and board members.

Superintendent Lowell Billings, who is set to retire in December after nine years as superintendent, said, “It is a staging for the main board meeting which is held in open session. Meaning, you gotta have a place to show up, and I hold it in my office, so I am the gatekeeper.”

Generally, board members said the meeting allows them to ask one-on-one questions of staff members for clarification.

“I read the packet myself. The protocol is to take any questions to the superintendent or other district staff for more verification or information,” board member Douglas Luffborough said.

The idea of one-on-one questions may be a key distinction, experts said, as any group discussion of issues in the pre-meeting would be forbidden under the state’s open-meetings law, known as the Ralph M. Brown Act.

Dan Hentschke, a former Oceanside, San Marcos and Solana Beach city attorney and current general counsel for the San Diego County Water Authority, conducts trainings for elected officials on open-meetings law. Briefings on changes to the night’s agenda could be an issue, he said.

“Updating collectively, that’s a problem,” Hentschke said. “If they are hearing collectively information, that should be held in an open meeting.”

“These kinds of meetings are ones that we use as an example of ones that can be very problematic,” Hentschke said. “The law is very clear that gatherings of a majority of a legislative body have to be open-noticed and public if there is any discussion among the board members of public business. Gatherings of this nature can be held in compliance, but it is very difficult because they cannot talk about matters of agency business.”

Attorney Michael Jenkins, chair of Brown Act Committee for the League of California Cities, also said that a notification of agenda changes would be considered school business.

“Under the Brown Act they are not allowed to hear, discuss or deliberate on any matter of district business. That’s a problem because that’s business that pertains to the school district. It’s just not a good idea to have them all together,” he said. “I can’t say if their particular practice is a violation. I will say it could be under certain circumstances that they need to avoid.”

Theresa Acerro, president of the Southwest Chula Vista Civic Association and a retired teacher, said, “I would be really concerned about that. I think those questions should be asked in a public meeting because it is likely that members of the public would have those same questions.”

Former district board member and retired economics professor Peter Watry, 79, also expressed concern over the board dinners. Watry — who said the meals were not present when he served on the board from 1976 to 1980 — currently serves as vice president and acting president of the nonprofit Crossroads II, aimed primarily at monitoring land use decisions by the Chula Vista City Council...

Cheese sandwich stigma is biting

Calif. district cracks down on lunch debts
June 23, 2007
By Richard Marosi
Chicago Tribune reprint of Los Angeles Times story

CHULA VISTA, Calif. — When too many parents fell behind on paying for school lunches, the Chula Vista Elementary School District decided to get tough -- on the children.

They told students with deadbeat parents that they had only one lunch choice: a cheese sandwich.

The sandwich, served on whole wheat bread, came with a clear message: Tell your parents to pay up, or no more pizza and burgers for you.

Cheese sandwiches and other "alternate meals" have been added to menus in school districts across the country as they try to deal with lunch debts.

The strategy worked in Chula Vista: Lunch debts in the district fell from about $300,000 in 2004 to $67,000 in 2006. Some angry parents say success came at too high a cost, however.

The cheese sandwich, parents say, has become a badge of shame for children, who get teased about it by their classmates. One student cried when her macaroni and cheese was replaced with a sandwich. A little girl hid in a restroom to avoid getting one. Many of the sandwiches end up untouched or tossed in the garbage.

"I think it's an infamous cheese sandwich," said Frank Luna, whose son, Christopher, just finished 6th grade.

A year ago, Luna said, a cafeteria worker took away Christopher's pizza and forced him in front of his friends to pick up a sandwich instead. A similar incident occurred when Christopher was in 3rd grade.

"The kid was humiliated," said his father, who added that he did not realize he owed less than $10.

In Chula Vista, the largest elementary school district in California, administrators said they had to control the ballooning debt before it forced them to make cuts in such areas as classroom equipment and books.

"When we did nothing, there was no incentive to pay," said Dennis Doyle, assistant superintendent of the district, which serves about 18,000 meals daily, including about 400 alternate meals...

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Francisco “Pancho” Sevilla running for school board

Meet Francisco “Pancho” Sevilla who is running for school board

Candidate for:

Chula Vista Elementary School District

Governing Board Seat # 3

Campaign KICK-OFF!

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Time: 1 p.m. - 3 p.m.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ousted worker Sherrod rejects return to Agriculture agency

Tuesday 8/24/10
Ousted worker Sherrod rejects return to Ag agency

Shirley Sherrod, ousted from the Agriculture Department during a racial firestorm that embarrassed the Obama administration, rejected an offer to return to the USDA on Tuesday. But at a cordial news conference with the man who asked her to leave — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack — she said she may do consulting work for him on racial issues.

She was asked to leave her job as Georgia's director of rural development in July after comments she made in March were misconstrued as racist. She has since received numerous apologies from the administration, including from President Barack Obama himself, and Vilsack asked her to return. But she said at the news conference with a clearly disappointed Vilsack that she did not think she could say yes to a job "at this point, with all that has happened."...

"I look forward to some type of relationship with the department in the future," said Sherrod, who is black. "We do need to work on the issues of discrimination and race in this country."

Vilsack had asked her to become the deputy director of the Office of Advocacy and Outreach, a new position designed to bolster the department's shaky record on civil rights. He had also given her a chance to return to her former job. Both of them said Tuesday Sherrod may return to the department as a consultant once an ongoing review of the department's efforts on race issues is completed.

...He said a consulting job may work better for Sherrod, who was concerned about assuming administrative duties like budgeting. She said she was reluctant to be responsible for the weighty duties of the position she was offered...

Sherrod was forced to resign after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted an edited version of a March speech in which said she was initially reluctant to help a white farmer save his farm more than two decades ago, long before she worked for USDA. Vilsack and others, including the NAACP, condemned the remarks before grasping the full context of her speech, which was meant as a lesson in racial healing.

...The USDA has a long history of discrimination of black farmers who sought out loans and other aid, and the government this year settled a second round of damages stemming from a class-action lawsuit originally settled in 1999.

The department also released a list of recommendations stemming from an internal investigation into the Sherrod controversy on Tuesday. Vilsack blogged on the USDA website that "we need to improve protocols for internal communications at the department, and create a set of safeguards to avoid the sort of hasty action which led to the mishandling of the matter with Mrs. Sherrod."

Associated Press writer Ben Evans contributed to this report.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

San Diego's social welfare programs and denial rates

You can read more about San Diego's social welfare programs and denial rates in VOSD's special report "Out of Reach". How about it, Supervisor Greg Cox?

San Diegans Still Need Help
Voice of San Diego
Letter by Joan Dahlin, La Jolla

San Diego County government appears to operate "under the radar." How else can we explain why wanton disregard for the suffering of poor families creates barely a ripple?

San Diego County has the distinction of being the very worst county in the nation in terms of percentage of low-income households approved for food stamps. This is not due to lack of need.

The Department of Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) prefers to spend its money on tracking down fraud (fingerprinting and home investigations) in spite of ample evidence that there is very little fraud in this program, and the only impact of these activities is that families choose to go hungry rather than struggle through a tangled, humiliating process.

On top of this dismal record, HHSA recently failed to apply for millions of dollars in federal stimulus money designed to create jobs which could include staff to assist in reducing barriers to food stamp access. The excuse was that 20 percent matching funds were required (much of which could have been met through in-kind services) and that the guidelines were "unclear."

Somehow, 47 of the other 58 California counties were able to figure it out and avail themselves of these precious funds.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Will $100,000s of tax dollars help CVESD improve its reponse to reports of possible disaster? There is reason for doubt

U.S. Department of Education Awards $28.8 Million to School Districts To Improve Readiness and Emergency Response Plans

August 19, 2010

School districts across the country will be able to improve and strengthen their emergency management plans as a result of $28.8 million in grants awarded today by the U.S. Department of Education. The Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) discretionary grant program will enable 98 school districts in 28 states to improve plans that address all four phases of emergency management: Prevention-Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.

“No student should feel unsafe in school,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. “The fact is that no school can be a great school until it is a safe school first, and these grants will support that effort.”

In addition to addressing the four phases of emergency management, plans must commit school districts to coordinate with officials in law enforcement, local government, public safety, public health and mental health; train school officials in emergency management; and provide a method for communicating emergency and reunification procedures to parents and guardians. Projects should support the implementation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and include plans designed to prepare districts for infectious disease outbreaks and take into consideration districts’ special needs populations.

Funds may be used to coordinate with local emergency responders, including fire, police, and health and public health agencies; conduct drills and exercises; purchase emergency supplies and equipment; and to train staff and students on emergency response procedures.

The grants are housed within the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, which supports efforts to create safe schools, respond to crises, prevent drug and alcohol abuse, ensure the health and well being of students, and teach students good citizenship and character. The office also coordinates the Department’s efforts in these areas with other federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A complete list of the 98 grant awards follows:


Russellville City Schools
Russellville, AL


Paradise Valley Unified School District No. 69
Phoenix, AZ


Antioch Unified School District
Antioch, CA

Chico Unified School District
Chico, CA

Chula Vista Elementary School District
Chula Vista, CA

Coachella Valley Unified School District
Thermal, CA

Desert Sands Unified School District
La Quinta, CA

Fresno Unified School District
Fresno, CA

Hacienda La Puente Unified School District
City of Industry, CA

Imperial County Office of Education
El Centro, CA $313,122

Kern County Superintendent of Schools
Bakersfield, CA

Los Angeles Unified School District
Los Angeles, CA $710,053

McKinleyville Union School District
McKinleyville, CA

Merced Union High School District
Atwater, CA
Oceanside Unified School District
Oceanside, CA

Orange Unified School District
Orange, CA

Petaluma School District
Petaluma, CA

Sacramento City Unified School District
Sacramento, CA

Santa Ana Unified School District
Santa Ana, CA

South Bay Union Elementary School District
Eureka, CA

Tustin Unified School District
Tustin, CA $358,476

West Contra Costa Unified School District
Richmond, CA

Study: Chula Vista has fewest firefighters for its population; San Diego also rates poorly

Fact Check: Fewer Firefighters Than Other Cities
Voice of San Diego
Keegan Kyle
Aug 19, 2010

"San Diego already has the lowest firefighter to population ratio of any major metropolitan city in California," Frank De Clercq, president of the San Diego firefighters union, said Aug. 5 at a press conference supporting a half-cent sales tax increase.

Determination: True

Analysis: For years, some firefighters, researchers and residents have called for San Diego to build its firefighting arsenal. Now, the city's mayor is forecasting even fewer firefighters.

If the city faces a more than $70 million budget shortfall next year, Mayor Jerry Sanders has promised to cut the number of firefighters and police officers. That focus on public safety is part of the campaign to increase the city's sales tax by a half cent.

At a press conference alongside Sanders and other sales tax supporters, De Clercq tried to put those potential cuts in a comparative light. Even before the cuts, he said, San Diego has fewer firefighters per resident than the state's largest cities...

Monday, August 16, 2010

The history of grass at Castle Park Elementary

I used to feel a nostalgic twinge when I stepped over the wide strip of beige dirt at the south entrance at Castle Park Elementary in 1997; it looked exactly as it had in 1957 when I was a second-grade student at the school. That old, familiar strip of dirt disappeared this summer.

The history of grass at Castle Park Elementary

This landscaping work might seem like something akin to a rip in the fabric of the universe when you consider what it took to get grass planted on the soccer field at the school. I got so tired of having my students fall and slide on the hardened dirt of the soccer field over the years that I complained, but it did no good. Then I hit on an idea. I got a friend to write a letter to the Chula Vista Star-News about the problem. The paper didn't print the letter, but I believe that they forwarded it to CVESD. Within two weeks there were crews at the school installing deep green sod. It was beautiful.

On June 2, 2008 I asked, "Since half a million dollars spent on lawyers didn't fix Castle Park Elementary; how about trying honesty and respect?"

Board members Pam Smith and Larry Cunningham are sticking to their guns, standing firm against truth and reconciliation at Castle Park Elementary, but they do apparently have a new plan: landscaping!

This summer things changed at Castle Park. The CVESD website boasts:

"Landscaping improvements already a hit with students, community

Castle Park Elementary welcomed students back to school with a new look. A campus beautification project along Naples Street, off Hilltop Drive, provided a welcome facelift. Landscape improvements included trees, shrubs, planters and more greenspace.

Even as work crews were busily laying mulch, watering and applying finishing touches, a passing youth on a skateboard yelled out, "The school looks great now!"

District Facilities crews added landscaping such as drought-tolerant sod and carrot wood trees, and irrigation to the campus. Mulch was added to all planter areas to reduce watering and weed growth. Water-saving sprinkler nozzles were used throughout the project. The irrigation system is connected to the site master control valve, which links to the District's weather stations, that in turn to help regulate water usage and alert personnel to any leaks.

Existing banks at the site were further enhanced with multi-trunk pepper trees and numerous shrubs.

[Maura Larkins comment: Trees are awfully nice on a hot day when a child is seeking relief from the hot noon sun.]

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's official: Francisco Escobedo is new CVESD superintendent

See all Francisco Escobedo posts.

I'm happy to see that the process of choosing a superintendent has become transparent and wide-ranging at CVESD.

It was less so in 2002, when Lowell Billings was selected without any search at all.

Lowell Billings is a board member at The Accelerated School ("TAS") in Los Angeles, where he hired his long-time boss, Patrick Judd, a CVESD board member who was voted out in 2008. At the time he was hired at TAS, Judd had accumulated an interesting employment history. In early 2008 Judd went on a mysterious leave from his job as superintendent of Mountain Empire Unified School District. A Mountain Empire board member told the press that Judd was on sick leave, but Judd said he was not on sick leave. Judd has never publicly revealed the reason for his sudden exit from his job. A few months later, Judd retired without ever going back to work. Interestingly, TAS is now conducting a secretive search for a permanent replacement for Judd. According to the board minutes, an anonymous "recommended CEO candidate" was interviewed by the TAS board on July 28, 2010.

Chula Vista elementary district gets new leader
By Ashly McGlone
August 11, 2010

CHULA VISTA — A new superintendent has been named at the Chula Vista Elementary School District. Francisco Escobedo, 49, will officially take the reigns of the largest elementary school district in the state in January.

According to the district website, the incoming superintendent will begin job shadowing in September.

Trustees approved the hire in a 4-0 vote on Wednesday. Board President Russell Coronado recused himself, citing “the public and professional relationship that I currently have with the finalist for superintendent.”

Escobedo is currently Coronado’s boss at the neighboring South Bay Union School District.

“Thank you for this honor to serve this great district,” Escobedo told the board. “You will not be disappointed in selecting me, so thank you for your confidence.”

Since the board named Escobedo as a sole finalist on July 27, some have questioned the selection because two of the five members on a search committee work for Escobedo.

Vice president of the school board Larry Cunningham addressed the recent coverage by The Watchdog, saying Coronado in “no way tried to influence anybody” in Escobedo’s selection.

Escobedo began teaching in 1988 in the South Bay Union School District, later moving on to National School District and Chula Vista Elementary School District. In 2008, he earned a doctorate in educational leadership through a partnership between University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University.

Escobedo will replace Lowell Billings, who will retire in December. No salary or start date has been set for the incoming superintendent. Billings’ annual salary is $247,000.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tax breaks in the cross hairs

Battle is joined over business tax breaks
By Michael Gardner
San Diego Union-Tribune SACRAMENTO BUREAU
August 10, 2010

A battle is brewing over proposals to delay or repeal three corporate tax incentives:

Single sales factor: Allows selected multistate corporations, such as those in the biotech and high-tech sectors, to choose to have their corporate income taxes based solely on sales within the state starting in 2011. This policy is used in various forms in a number of other states.

Current law bases corporate income taxes on a percentage of sales, payroll and property.

Value: $1.1 billion.

Net operating loss: Two parts of this tax code section are included. The first allows businesses that make a profit one year to reduce their tax liability by writing off losses that go back up to two years. For example, a business could deduct a 2011 loss against a 2009 profit by amending its return.

The second extends the number of years companies have to carry losses forward, to 20 from 10 years. This allows companies with little immediate profit potential to pursue long-term projects knowing early, heavy losses can be recouped when balanced out against eventual profits from breakthroughs years down the road.

Value: $100 million.

Tax credit sharing: Allows a business entity to transfer tax credits to one of its related companies all within the same group. For example, a California-based company can earn a research and development tax credit for a new high-tech product. If that company earns more tax credits than it owes the state, it can spread some of those credits to other companies within its group, such as the business arm that makes the sale.

Value: $100 million.

Value source: Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Proposition 24 on the November ballot would repeal a series of tax benefits for California corporations that were set to begin taking effect next year.

Pro: Lost tax revenue will magnify cuts to education and social services, which threaten the jobs of teachers and providers of child care and health care for the poor. Large business is the primary beneficiary.

Con: High tax rates are a major contributor to California’s job losses and threaten to slow recovery. Without the incentives, more companies will shrink or move to states that offer better tax incentives.

SACRAMENTO — Battles over tax breaks for businesses will be waged on two fronts this year, in the Capitol and at the ballot box.

A campaign is under way to repeal or suspend an estimated $1.3 billion annually in promised tax credits for businesses approved as part of past budget compromises. That money has become an attractive target given another year of gaping deficits, this one $19 billion.

Powerful opposing interests, from the California Chamber of Commerce to the California Teachers Association, are immersed in the legislative budget negotiations over the tax breaks with eyes cast toward the November election.

That’s when voters will decide Proposition 24, an initiative sponsored by the teachers association that would permanently repeal the pro-business tax policies.

The San Diego County life-science and high-tech industries have been eagerly anticipating the tax benefits, which are scheduled to begin taking effect over the next two years. They argue the incentives are needed to create jobs and support emerging technologies in California.

But teachers, social services advocates and their allies say the more immediate need is to use that money to soften budget cuts to schools, health care and other services.

The experience of Genentech , a large biotech company with a plant in Oceanside, underscores the need for the tax credits, according to supporters. Four years ago, frustrated with California’s tax laws, Genentech expanded in Oregon, bringing a $400 million facility and 300 jobs to Hillsboro despite having available land in California. One influencing factor: Oregon offered some of the same tax breaks California didn’t have at the time and may now repeal.

“California’s tax structure didn’t support in-state growth,” said Caroline Pecquet, a Genentech spokeswoman. The company opposes Proposition 24, saying “the tax reforms that would be revoked are “important economic incentives that support job growth and encourage innovative companies like Genentech to make investments and expand operations.”

Jim Groth, an elementary school teacher in Chula Vista, said those policies favor larger companies with no guarantee of a return to the state.

“They get the tax breaks but they don’t have to create or protect any jobs,” said Groth, who is also a representative of the California Teachers Association. “They can continue to outsource outside of California or outside the U.S.”

He said that deep budget cuts are costing “real jobs” now, particularly in schools, local governments and among those who provide health care and child care services for the poor...

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

CVESD's Francisco Escobedo and Russell Coronado were fellow employees, but Lowell Billings and Patrick Judd personally hired each other

New CVESD superintendent Francisco Escobedo

See all Francisco Escobedo posts at San Diego Education Report blog.

Once again, the SDUT fails to give the full story about Chula Vista Elementary School District. Until he was voted out of office in 2008 (and replaced by Russell Coronado), CVESD board member Patrick Judd was an employee of CVESD Superintendent Lowell Billings in another school district, The Accelerated School (TAS) in Los Angeles. At TAS, Lowell Billings was on the board that chose Patrick Judd as executive director of the school.

But here's the big difference between the two situations: Escobedo didn't personally hire Coronado. Lowell Billings, on the other hand, was personally involved in the hiring of Patrick Judd, and Judd was personally involved in hiring Lowell Billings.

The board minutes for CVESD do not indicate that Patrick Judd recused himself from voting for Lowell Billings' employment, nor does it appear that Billings recused himself from voting for Judd's employment.

See blog posts about The Accelerated School (TAS) in Los Angeles.

Shame on the San Diego Union Tribune for cherry-picking the facts it gives to readers. This story reminds me of the "Castle Park Five" story, in which the SDUT was outraged that five teachers were transferred, but never told readers that several of those teachers were deeply involved in illegal actions. The district had paid $100,000s to defend them. The teachers weren't grateful for the district's assistance in covering up their wrongdoing, however. When they were transferred, they filed a complaint against the district!

Chula Vista superintendent candidate had inside track
The president of the school board works for him at another district
San Diego Union Tribune
August 2, 2010

One candidate for superintendent of Chula Vista’s elementary school district had an inside track — one of his employees is the president of the school board.

Francisco Escobedo last week was named the sole finalist for the job, which paid its last occupant $247,000...

It wasn’t mentioned in the news release, but The Watchdog has learned that Escobedo is Coronado’s boss at the South Bay Union School District. Escobedo is assistant superintendent of educational leadership there, a post he has held since 2007. Coronado is the director of student services.

Coronado was one of two board members on a selection committee, which also included a parent, a principal, a labor representative and a taxpayer. That committee passed along three finalists to the board, which narrowed the field to one by a unanimous vote that included Coronado.

Coronado on Monday said his relationship with Escobedo at the South Bay district was not a conflict-of-interest and had no bearing on the recruitment at the Chula Vista Elementary district...

Still, Coronado said, he has decided to recuse himself from the final vote to hire a superintendent, possibly on Aug. 17, “so that there wouldn’t be any misinterpretation.”

Escobedo said he sees no conflict with applying for a job controlled in part by a subordinate.

“I wouldn’t say that is the case,” Escobedo said. “[Coronado] has two roles to play: one as the school board president when he works for Chula Vista. He does an exceptional job at differentiating what his roles are in those two positions.”

Larry Cunningham, the other board member who served on the selection committee, said the relationship between Coronado and Escobedo was “not a discussion item” but that he was aware that they worked together. Asked whether he knew that Escobedo was Coronado’s boss, he said, “I don’t know what the structure is.”

[Maura Larkins' comment: Come on, Larry. Don't be so afraid to admit the truth. If Escobedo is the superintendent, then he's the boss of every employee in the district. I wish you would start giving straight answers to questions. This evasiveness is getting to be a very bad habit.]

Jim Groth, former president of the teacher’s union for the district, said he was unaware of the connection.

“As far as my reaction to it, it’s not uncommon, but it would be proper for a board member not to vote on the process,” said Groth, now a member of the California Teachers Association board. “Everybody in leadership kind of knows everybody else in leadership. To directly supervise them though, in the state of California, I am sure it happens, but as an elected official, you need to be very careful.”

[Maura Larkins comment: But you didn't want Lowell Billings to be careful, did you, Jim? At least not regarding issues that you and he were hiding from teachers and voters, right?]

The successful candidate will replace Lowell Billings, who will retire midway through his ninth year as district superintendent in December. His salary is $247,000, although a replacement with less experience might be paid less.

At South Bay Union, Escobedo’s salary stands at $144,000, and Coronado’s is $124,000.

Escobedo, who has a doctorate in education and has worked in education for 22 years, should not be excluded from the Chula Vista job because a board member happens to work for him, Billings said.

“Do you exclude someone that you really really like because you have a history with them? He is a really good educator,” Billings said. “You have to look at the track record of the candidate that has been selected, and it is immaculate.”

Billings said there was no problem with the news release quoting Coronado praising Escobedo, without disclosing their outside relationship.

“I think you have to put it in the context of how pleased the other board members are,” Billings said. “One board member is not the board. He is not giving his sole opinion. He is voicing the consolidated opinion of the board. He doesn’t speak for himself.”...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CVESD Announces Dr. Escobedo as Finalist for Superintendent

See all Francisco Escobedo posts at San Diego Education Report blog.

Board of Education Announces Dr. Escobedo as Finalist for Superintendent
Entered By: Chula Vista Elementary School District
July 27th, 2010

Francisco Escobedo, Ed.D., has been selected as the sole finalist for superintendent of the Chula Vista Elementary School District. The Board of Education announced that Escobedo emerged as its leading
candidate after interviews of two others for the position. Pending the outcome of due diligence, including site visits, Escobedo could be recommended for hiring at the Board’s regularly scheduled meeting of August 17, 2010, or at a Special Board Meeting.

“Dr. Escobedo has the qualifications, experience, and character we were looking for to continue the academic growth expected in the Chula Vista Elementary School District,” said Board President Russell Y. Coronado. “We look forward to the next step, and look forward to the outcome of the Board’s site visits.”

Escobedo would succeed Superintendent Lowell J. Billings, Ed.D., who has announced his retirement...

About Dr. Escobedo

Currently Assistant Superintendent, Educational Leadership, in the South Bay Union School District, Imperial Beach, Calif. He supervised principals of 13 elementary schools, serving more than 8,000 students. He has served in education the better part of 22 years. His experiences include serving as a principal research analyst for the American Institute of Research, as well as serving as California Regional Vice-President of Achievement/Operations for Edison Schools. He has served as a principal in CVESD at then-Mae L. Feaster-Edison Charter (now Mae L. Feaster Charter) and in the National School District at John A. Otis School...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Schools in CVESD to start classes on Wednesday, July 21

Schools in CVESD to start classes on Wednesday, July 21 (a minimum day).

School starts on Wednesday, July 21, which is a minimum day, at schools in the Chula Vista Elementary School District. Check with your child's charter school for charter school starting dates. Note that verification of residency is an annual requirement. If you are new to the area, or have not completed these requirements, please ensure to act now to avoid last-minute crowds on the first day of school. To register your student, you need to present:
1. Birth Verification
2. Immunization records
3. Documents to verify home address (residency)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

UPDATE: Chula Vista teacher sued in $7.7 million fraud

UPDATE: The husband of "Castle Park Five" teacher Robin Donlan has completed his federal prison sentence for stock options fraud, and returned to San Diego in late 2009. I am thinking he may be the person who sent me the email on this page.

I got a kick out of watching Robin Donlan's interview in a video from last year's Comic-Con (or was it 2008?). She spoke of fielding complaints from customers who, in Donlan's words, thought they were "special little snowflakes." Ah, yes. Sarcasm in the right hands is a marvelous thing. But "snowflakes"? Who talks like that? It sounds like something that a cyncial elementary school teacher might say about a child who was seeking attention. My advice to Robin: try to cultivate a greater sense of respect for others.

See all Robin Donlan posts.
See Vencent Donlan posts.

Del Cerro couple sued in $7.7 million fraud
Wireless Facilities, SEC file civil lawsuits in case
By Kathryn Balint and Keith Darc�
May 4, 2007

In a new twist on the burgeoning stock options scandal, the former stock options manager for San Diego-based Wireless Facilities and his wife have been accused of fraudulently issuing company stock options and selling them at a profit of more than $7.7 million.

Vencent A. Donlan, and his wife, Robin D. Colls Donlan, both 44-year-old teachers in local schools, were accused in civil lawsuits announced yesterday by Wireless Facilities and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Wireless Facilities is among more than 200 U.S. companies that have launched probes or are under federal investigation for backdating stock options without disclosing the practice to shareholders. It said the Donlans' “elaborate scheme” came to light during its internal review and it notified securities regulators.

The accusation that an options administrator defrauded a company of stock is unusual and suggests another avenue of wrongdoing that has, as yet, gone undetected.

“I'm pretty sure there has never been a case like this,” said Kelly Bowers, a senior assistant regional director of enforcement for the SEC.

“This is an example of a different scheme that (other) companies should take notice of,” he said. “They should make sure they have proper policies and procedures to make sure this is not happening under their watch.”

The SEC obtained a court order freezing the Donlans' assets to guard against what it said was the “imminent danger” that they would transfer or hide proceeds from the “fraudulent scheme.”

The Wireless Facilities case accusing the Donlans of “breach of duty and loyalty” was filed Wednesday in San Diego Superior Court, while the SEC case accusing them of violating federal securities laws was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in downtown San Diego.

The Internal Revenue Service, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney General's Office and the San Diego District Attorney's Office all would neither confirm nor deny any criminal investigation.

The street in front of the couple's gated, two-story house on Norman Lane in Del Cerro was busy with activity late yesterday. Two men in an idling gold Ford Crown Victoria refused to identify themselves but one held a black binder embossed with a federal seal and the words “Corporate Fraud Division.” A process server waiting to deliver Wireless Facilities' lawsuit said they had earlier identified themselves as federal agents.

Vencent Donlan, a physics teacher at the San Diego High Education Complex School of Business, and Robin Donlan, a fourth-grade teacher at Hilltop Drive Elementary School in Chula Vista, didn't return phone messages yesterday and could not be reached at home to comment.

The SEC lawsuit describes a process in which Vencent Donlan, a former Charles Schwab broker, had primary responsibility for entering Wireless Facilities' stock options data into company software.

According to the lawsuit, he fraudulently issued and transferred 728,229 shares of stock and options to himself and his wife between November 2002 and November 2003.

Donlan, who was being paid $65,000 a year when he left Wireless Facilities, hid the unauthorized transactions by creating accounts with abbreviated names of real employees' names linked to his wife's Social Security number.

The couple made at least $7.7 million through the sale of shares and exercise of options that were illegally transferred, according to the lawsuit.

The SEC said it seeks the return of the “ill-gotten gains” as well as civil penalties against Vencent Donlan.

According to court and real-estate documents, the Donlans bought the five-bedroom home in Del Cerro in 2004 for $942,000 in cash. Earlier this year, the couple paid $655,000 in cash for a three-bedroom home in Julian.

Since owning the Del Cerro house, the couple have added a pitched roof, a wide second-story deck, a security gate and wall, extensive landscaping and other additions.

“The amount of activity, financially, is incredible,” said Sal Dauria, who lives two houses down.

“I was told they were teachers,” he said yesterday. “There is a disconnect with what normal people make in income and the number of people” the Donlans have hired to work on the house.

It was not unusual to see as many as 10 laborers arriving in the morning, Dauria said.

Vencent Donlan, reportedly a former Navy pilot, and Robin Donlan, a volunteer vice president of events for Comic-Con International, are both science fiction fans. They were married in March 2002 in a “Star Trek”-themed Las Vegas ceremony that was featured in an article in Las Vegas Weekly.

Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer said yesterday that Robin Donlan has been involved with the group for many years. He said he didn't know anything about the fraud allegations against the couple...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Search committee for the new CVESD superintendent

Here's the search committee for the new CVESD superintendent:

Superintendent Search Committee

Russell Y. Coronado (Board)
Larry Cunningham (Board)
Matt Tessier (Principal)
Peg Myers (CVE)
Ernie Gutierrez (CVCEO)
Lourdes Valdez (Community Leader)
Glendora Tremper (Parent Leader)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

An offer to Robin Donlan and Peg Myers

Dear Robin and Peg,
I think we should have a truth and reconciliation meeting. I believe that the truth about what happened at Castle Park Elementary will continue to extend its reach (skeletons have a habit of falling out of closets), so why not let the district and the teachers union quit spending money covering it up, and just deal with it openly and honestly? Everyone would be happier, I believe.
Maura Larkins

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cheryl Cox's supporters will do just about anything to win, it seems; Steve Castaneda cleared of charges

Castaneda cleared of charges
Campaign finance complaints against Chula Vista councilman tossed
By Tanya Sierra
May 25, 2010

CHULA VISTA — An independent investigation into claims that Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Castaneda violated campaign financing laws dating back six years has found the complaints lacked merit and were politically motivated.

Julia Sylvia, the Los Angeles attorney looking into the matter, deemed the charges against Castaneda “unsubstantiated innuendo, arguments and allegations.”

Angel T. Castillo, a Chula Vista resident who once served on a homeowners association board with Castaneda, filed complaints in November and December alleging multiple campaign violations in 2004, 2006 and 2008. He claimed Castaneda should be prosecuted and forced to pay $472,679 in fines.

Castillo, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, alleged that Castaneda misreported campaign expenses in 2004; violated personal financing limits in 2005; and did not declare postelection expenses in 2006. The allegations also state that contributions from a former business partner exceeded what is allowed under campaign laws.

Castaneda, who is running for mayor in the June primary, said in a City Hall news conference that he knew he would be cleared. He charged Castillo with regurgitating issues that had been settled.

Silva agreed.

“A majority of the allegations in the complaint have been thoroughly investigated by other public agencies; namely the Fair Political Practices Commission,” she wrote. “The FPPC has concluded that there is no conflict of interest and there is not violation of the Political Reform Act by the candidate.”...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Good news for 160 Chula Vista teachers: they're not going to be fired after all !

KPBS reporter Ana Tintocalis

I'm guessing that in the story below Ana Tintocalis meant to say that Jim Groth is on leave from his job as a teacher in CVESD. In fact, Mr. Groth works full time for the teachers union. But perhaps he didn't make this clear to Ms. Tintocalis.

Chula Vista Teachers Keep Jobs But Others Not So Lucky
By Ana Tintocalis
May 19, 2010

Chula Vista Elementary School District officials told about 160 of its teachers they were out of a job at the end of the school year. But school officials rescinded all those pink slips on Monday.

School officials say the district's budget improved based on the Governor's May Revise released last week.

Jim Groth is with the California Teachers Association. He's also a teacher in Chula Vista.

"Obviously it's good news for the students of Chula Vista because they will be having their teachers return to the classroom. And that's what we're all about." Groth said.

But other teachers in San Diego County will get official pink slips this month. They were first notified that they could lose their jobs in March.

The California Teachers Association says Oceanside Unified is laying off 60 teachers. The Sweetwater Union High School District in the South Bay will layoff about 30 teachers. And San Ysidro will layoff more than 20 teachers.

Hundreds of temporary teachers around the county will not get their contracts renewed. The CTA reports 112 temporary teachers in the San Diego Unified District will not return.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Who destroyed Castle Park Elementary? It was a cooperative effort by the district and the teachers union

I was shocked and disappointed to learn that the school I attended as a child and worked at as an adult has gone down hill so rapidly since I left it in 2001.

Castle Park Elementary has the lowest API score in Chula Vista Elementary School District. This wasn't always the case.

When I was there, scores were well above the bottom despite the low socio-economic level of the neighborhood. Then current Chula Vista Educators president Peg Myers began clawing her way up the ladder to power with the help of a group of teachers that had been sowing discord before Peg arrived. Peg got lots of help from Jim Groth, who is now a statewide CTA director, and Beverly Tucker, the head legal counsel of California Teachers Association.

Castle Park Elementary Chula Vista Elementary 754

A small group of teachers chewed up and spit out a long string of principals and good teachers. The goal was power for their group, not education for children. The district supported Robin Donlan, Karen Snyder, Peg Snyder and their associates until it realized in 2004 that the teachers were out of control. Then the district ended up hiring lawyers to defend itself against the teachers that it had spent $100,000s of tax dollars defending. Shame on Larry Cunningham and Pamela Smith for knowingly defending teachers who had committed crimes.

I notice that the enrollment at Castle Park Elementary has gone down to 312. It appears that everyone who is able to do so finds another school to go to.

The school had 11 principals in 11 years before the current principal was asked to try to make some sense out of the wreckage. I suggest a Truth and Reconciliation Committee for the school--and the district. Problems need to be fixed, not hidden, as Lowell Billings has done.

Were teachers "blindly-led"?

Here's a quote from an AOL News article about the Tonya Craft case:
"It's divided the community between those who are intelligent and can think for themselves and those who are blindly led," local resident Harmony Lefler told AOL News. "It's horrible to say that, but it is the truth."


'Bright flight' fight
Castle Park Middle School students get help from teachers to stay there
By Chris Moran
March 3, 2007

Smart kids grow up in Chula Vista's Castle Park area, attend the neighborhood elementary schools and then leave for other parts of town for seventh grade.

This academic diaspora is so persistent and troubling that Sweetwater Union High School District educators have given it a name: “bright flight.”

A federal law intended to help low-scoring schools such as Castle Park Middle School appears to have accelerated the brain drain. The No Child Left Behind Act gives parents the option to send their children to higher-scoring schools when their neighborhood school doesn't make the grade.

This school year, the families of 168 students used No Child Left Behind to leave Castle Park Middle School. That coincides with a plunge in the number of students in the school's advanced academic program. There are about one-third fewer seventh-graders in the school's fledgling International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme than there were last year...