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.”...