About this site

I am currently a Governing Board Member of the San Carlos School District, elected November 2007 and again in November 2011. I created this site to keep in touch with folks who want to know more about what is happening in the District and what it's like to be a Trustee.

Please note that ANY OPINION EXPRESSED HERE IS PURELY PERSONAL AND DOES NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT OFFICIAL POSITIONS OR POLICY OF THE SAN CARLOS SCHOOL DISTRICT NOR THE OPINION OF ANY OF MY COLLEAGUES ON THE BOARD.

The blog is intended solely for the purpose of informing and communicating with constituents. It is not intended in any way to participate in discussions with fellow board members.

I encourage everyone to visit the District web site as well as attend School Board meetings.

I will not accept anonymous comments, and all persons who post comments must have a valid e-mail address. Note that I reserve the right to edit, reject, or delete posts based on spelling, grammar, readability, or my judgment of what is appropriate discourse.

 

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2012-2013 End of Year Wrap-Up

Friends & Supporters,

I’m sending you my traditional end-of-the-school-year wrap-up of all of the happenings in the San Carlos School District. We did tackle all of our big goals for the year as I outlined in my beginning-of-the-year summary, but here is an overview of the year’s big news:

  • Bond/Facilities — The big milestone in the year was the passage of Measure H, our $72 million bond measure to build new facilities in our district to handle our ever-increasing enrollment. Along with this was the finalization of our Facilities Master Plan, which is the road map for our new building and renovations over the next decade. In addition to technology upgrades and various projects at each school site, the primary focus of this plan is building two new 4th-5th grade schools to be located at the current middle school campuses. This plan will relieve overcrowding at all of the existing schools and provide us an opportunity to build new schools with a modern design to support our strategic plan (see below). As you can imagine, there is a ton of work to be done in the implementation of this plan — the current projection is that some projects will be complete by the start of the 2015-2016 school year but that the first 4-5 school will open for the 2016-2017 school year. We have already executed on the first part of this plan, which is to find a new location for the District Office — once the transaction is completed this summer, the office will move to 1200 Industrial Road (corner of Howard) and would consolidate the district staff from current dispersed locations and provide sufficient facilities for professional development, teacher training, and public meetings as well as free up significant space on the Central Middle School campus. Note that we had a number of other small wins in this area, as we were able to re-finance some of our older bond issuances at lower interest rates to save taxpayers money.
  • Strategic Plan — although technically not final yet (it should be approved by the end of this month), the new Strategic Plan is quite the breakthrough. It will force us to rethink almost everything we have done in public education (including the curriculum itself as well as the very way we structure classes, school, and the role of educators), and I think it will be a model for many other districts. Of course, the implementation of the plan will be difficult and take many years, but it’s a great vision with so much collective support among administrators, teachers, parents, and board members! Note that both the Strategic Plan and the Facilities Master Plan were the result of dozens of meetings among staff member and community members at school sites, in various working subcommittees, and in a number of very successful district-wide community meetings. Thanks to everyone who participated in this process. I encourage everyone to read the Strategic Plan. The first step (which has begun) in implementation is the creation of a dedicated Design Team — a team of administrators and teachers who will work over the next 18-30 months to design the curriculum, structure, and personnel model of our new schools and for the district in general. This will ensure that the physical design of the schools aligns with the curricular design as we re-think many of the historical elements of public education to implement a real 21st century learning environment.
  • Electives — This was the first year of our expanded electives offerings at the middle schools (including the introduction of theater classes at Central thanks to our partnership with SCCT), and there will be a further expansion for this year. This is great progress, but this is an area where more work must be done. Consistent with our soon-to-be-approved Strategic Plan, we need to figure out a way to offer a greater variety of electives, create the ability to participate in multiple areas of interest, and build a much more student-centered curriculum. Stay tuned.
  • Math Curriculum — Long overdue, we finally implemented a new approach to middle school math progression which will allow more students to take higher-level math, not force TL kids to go to Carlmont for geometry, and make consistent between the two middle schools the placement criteria. This coming school year will be its first year of implementation, so I’m certain there will be tweaks needed along the way, but it’s a long overdue and very exciting change.
  • Sustainability Policy –The District adopted a new Sustainability Policy which addresses integrating environmental education and stewardship into the curriculum, developing programs to monitor consumption and conserve use of natural resources, building capacity for renewable energy generation for all school sites, and committing as much as possible to use of green building materials in new construction. Like the Facilities and Strategic plans, the hard work is yet to come and it will take years to fully implement, but I’m very exciting about having this new policy. We should definitely be seeing solar panels as part of our new building projects!
  • Finances – This remains a focus for the District given the environment in which we live and our dependence upon the state budget for funding. No doubt you have heard that the Governor is proposing a new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) as part of the state budget. Most folks in education agree with the main principle — which is to allocate more money to students with greater needs — but given the current low level of funding for all schools, it’s a tough time to redistribute slices of an already shrunken pie. School districts like San Carlos won’t see extra money under this new formula, but given that the overall state financial picture has slightly improved, it’s possible we will see a very slight increase in our funding level next year. Details are still to be worked out, but the bottom line is that we will remain in a very tight fiscal situation for a number of years. On the bright side of the financial picture, we finally received the money from the settlement of the lawsuit with the Redevelopment Agency which although was a one-time infusion of money, definitely shored up the District’s finances a bit. Although not totally unexpected, one negative development this year was the final dismissal of our suit against the former County Treasurer for his mismanagement of funds (including ours) in his investments in Lehman Brothers. We unfortunately won’t see any relief from that incompetence and negligence.

There were a bunch of other improvements and policy adjustments over the last year, including successfully transitioning CLC to its independent non-profit status for the full year and building a stronger relationship with the District, stopping the practice of vendors giving commissions to schools for services, starting the monthly Superintendent newsletter, implementation of the new transitional kindergarten, a new partnership with the City of San Carlos for after-school athletics, and great hires in folks like Robert Porter (Chief Operating Officer) and Chelle Pell (Head of Facilities).

Next year will prove to be equally as exciting, as we take on the tasks in our Facilities Master Plan and Strategic Plan. In addition, we’ll see the finalization of the Governor’s LCFF, and the state will begin to implement the Common Core Standards. Common Core will be a huge focus for every school district over the next two years, as it will be a massive change in curriculum, testing, and teaching methodologies. Our District is investing a lot more in staff professional development related to Common Core implementation. You’ll be hearing lots more about this in the coming year.

Another interesting regional development is the agreement in the San Jose Unified School District on a new teacher evaluation system. It’s truly a breakthrough development that creates a system for real performance evaluations worthy of professionals that both provides the support required to improve teaching and learning as well as the accountability for high performance. Although not perfect , it’s smart and balanced, not relying on the nonsensical notion of test scores but rather on stronger and more frequent reviews (including by peers), a connection between performance and pay, new career positions for teachers, and a better system for helping (or removing) under-performers. I believe this is going to prove to be a model for many other school districts including ours. It is very consistent with our Strategic Plan, and I believe you’ll start seeing similar discussions in our district this coming year.

Personally, I continue to be involved in regional and state issues related to public education. I continue to write for EdSource and sit on the board of the San Mateo County School Boards Association (this month I wrapped up my second year as President). This year I joined the San Mateo County Core Organization Task Force and the Peninsula Partnership Leadership Council, the latter being focused on expanding preschool and increasing reading proficiency. As some of you know, I also tried expanding my personal horizons within the arts by getting involved in SCCT’s community production of The Wizard of Oz, which was tremendous fun. Thanks to all of you who came out and supported me!

But the most important personal development of the year is that my oldest child is graduating from the San Carlos School District this month! (My younger one is entering 7th grade next year). It has been a remarkable nine years, and he has grown tremendously thanks to the “village” of our school district and our community that help raise all of our children. I want to thank all of the teachers, counselors, administrators, librarians, and other students and parents who collectively made this a wonderful experience. It is a truly bittersweet moment!

Finally, this year is a school board election year! There are three seats open (mine isn’t open until 2015), and it’s certainly possible there will be some vacancies. As always, I encourage anyone with even the slightest interest to learn more about running and serving on school board. It’s a remarkable experience that I highly recommend and one that has changed my life in so many ways. If you have any interest or would just like to learn more, feel free to contact me anytime.

And once again, thank you for all of your support of our school district and our students — I look forward to a number of exciting years ahead. Have a great summer!

Spring Update

I have not given an update in two months, so here’s my “getting close to the end of the year” update. In particular, the District staff, architects, and project managers have been hard at work honing the details of our facilities planning, including preparing for the first bond issuance, analyzing timelines and logistics, and sharpening pencils on budgets. Specific updates include:

  • New District Office — the district placed an offer on a building to re-locate the district office. The transaction is still in the “due diligence” phase, but it looks promising to close. The new district office would move to 1200 Industrial Road (corner of Howard) and would consolidate the district staff from current dispersed locations and provide sufficient facilities for professional development, teacher training, and public meetings. The space will cost us significantly under what we had budgeted, and it is in move-in condition with furniture and infrastructure. if all goes to plan, the district office will be able to move over the summer. This will also free up significant space on the Central Middle School campus.
  • Timeline for new schools — based on recommendations from the architects and our facilities committee, we are pushing back the dates for completion of both the middle school renovations as well as the new 4/5 schools. The board discussed this last night and agreed that although we recognize we need the additional space as soon as possible, we want to make sure all of this is done correctly and prudently. The new planned timeline for completion is as follows: Central and TL — Fall 2015, 4/5 school adjacent to Central — Fall 2016, 4/5 school adjacent to TL — Fall 2017. The various projects planned at the elementary schools will be done throughout this whole time.
  • Bond Issuance — The district has received its credit review and is ready for its first bond issuance. However, as I noted in my recent article in EdSource, pending state legislation — AB182 (which has already passed the Assembly) — has the real risk of hampering our bond program. It could substantially delay projects if passed (for example, if bond issuances had to be limited to 25 years, we may not be able to float all of the bonds already approved within the timeline we plan). Our financial advisor is looking into our various alternatives, but it’s worth noting this regulatory risk based on a very ill-conceived bill from Sacramento.
  • Strategic Plan — we’re getting close on finalizing the district Strategic Plan. This is going to a be a groundbreaking document forcing us to rethink almost everything we have done in public education, and I think it will be a model for many other districts. Of course, the implementation of the plan will be difficult and take many years, but it’s a great vision with so much collective support among administrators, teachers, parents, and board members! Our recent community meeting on May 2nd yielded some additional strong feedback which will be incorporated into the next version of the document — stay tuned. The goal is to pass the plan by June.
  • Budget – we should know within a few weeks what the effect of Gov. Brown’s budget proposal (including his new Local Control Funding Formula) will be on San Carlos. It appears that we may see a very modest increase in our per-pupil funding and overall our financial profile will not change much. More to come on this as well.

As we approach the end of the school year (about four weeks from now), I’ll give a more comprehensive wrap-up.

Facilities Master Plan Approved

Last night the Board approved the District’s Facilities Master Plan (FMP) — this is the road map for the building and renovation of our facilities over the next decade. The version posted online was not the final one passed — there were a few minor changes in language and organization of “phases” for certain projects — the revised one will be posted soon on the district web site. This is a major step forward and allows us to start the work on design and construction.

The FMP is not just about Measure H — it’s about our broader facility needs, and as you can see in the plan, we outline projects that cost far in excess of the $72 million authorized under Measure H. However, we identify other potential sources of funding, which include state grants, separately financed projects (such as for sustainability initiatives), and private grants and donations. Although the intent is to do projects at each school site (particularly on technology infrastructure and sustainability), the bulk of the work will happen at the middle school sites and in the building of our new 4-5 schools. In addition, it is a priority to find a new location for the San Carlos Charter Learning Center (CLC) in order to create more space on the Tierra Linda campus.

On a related note, the Board gave direction to the Superintendent to proceed with his proposed Design Team for the new 4th-5th grade schools. This is a team of administrators and teachers who will work over the next 18-30 months to design the curriculum, structure, and personnel model of our new schools. Their role will also be to ensure that the physical design of the schools aligns with the curricular design. This will be the first substantial opportunity to re-think many of the historical elements of public schools and to implement a real 21st century learning environment, both in terms of the physical learning spaces as well as the very design of the curriculum and school day itself. It will be the first instantiation of our overall District Strategic Plan which we will finalize by the end of this school year. I’m looking forward to seeing it develop!

New Sustainability Policy

Last night the board passed the first ever Sustainability Policy adopted by the San Carlos School District. I’m very excited about this!

The policy is of course just a first step toward (and a prerequisite for) real action on this front. The policy is designed to be reasonably holistic and cover a number of areas, including:

  • Integrating environmental education and stewardship into the curriculum
  • Develop programs to monitor consumption and conserve use of natural resources such as energy and water
  • Build capacity for renewable energy generation, e.g. solar power, for all school sites
  • Commit as much as possible to use of green building materials in new construction, including all our upcoming construction related to our Facilities Master Plan and recent bond measure passage.

Of course this is all easier said than done. It will take a lot of work and many years to fully implement the ideals stated in this policy. But this policy will give us a road map for future work and will also potentially allow us to qualify for grants to pursue additional projects in the area of sustainability. In addition to the obvious ideas such as adding solar panels at each school site, we have to think about how do implement programs that both make our infrastructure more energy (or water) efficient but also potentially change behavior to reduce our footprint. So, I predict a lot more to come in this area, but it was certainly a big step last night. I’m proud to live in a community that almost universally has such a commitment.

Click here to read the full policy.

Hold Harmless not so Harmless

Last month I gave a preliminary take on the Governor’s proposed budget, which looks to replace our existing funding system with a new Local Control Funding Formula. Last week the State Department of Finance released it’s district-by-district calculation on the impact of the LCFF. It should probably come as no surprise that San Carlos comes out at the low end of that calculation (it would remain the lowest funded district in San Mateo County) with its relatively high income population and low percentage of English language learners, while at the same time being a Revenue Limit district. Unlike a similar proposal the Governor made last year which would have actually re-distributed existing funding, this proposal has a “hold harmless,” meaning that no district will lose money compared to what it has now. Although I like the concept of this new system, there are issues in the details, particularly as it relates to San Carlos. Unfortunately we may be held to a low funding level for a long time. I re-print my article published yesterday in EdSource today which goes into more explanation:

I want to like the governor’s proposal — I really do. Governor Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula is certainly the first sign of real and meaningful education finance reform in decades. As a very active voice decrying our dysfunctional system, I should be jumping for joy right now, shouldn’t I? The governor absolutely needs to be commended for his political courage and vision to change this system, and the notion of directing more money to districts with higher needs is spot on. And folks who are more politically savvy than I in the ways of Sacramento tell me this is the best chance we’ll have to make these changes. So, what’s the problem?

To be clear, I have always argued that communities with economically disadvantaged students and English-language learners should get more funding, and if anything the weights in Gov. Brown’s LCFF probably aren’t nearly enough to compensate for the inherent challenges in educating certain populations. However, I have also argued that adding universal preschool would go a long way toward leveling the field for our students, and ironically may even be more powerful—and maybe even cheaper in the long run—than compensating districts in later grades for more challenged populations. Despite the recent attention this issue has been getting (not unrelated to the president’s call for expanded preschool), this issue seems to be mostly absent in this conversation at the state level about education finance reform despite its clear linkage.

The LCFF also presents some very practical challenges for districts such as my own. Ours, like 90 percent of districts in the state, is a Revenue Limit district, meaning that its funding is essentially dictated by the state, but we live in a high cost-of-living area with a middle-upper income population. So, properly, we’re on the low end of this weighted formula, but that hardly accounts for what it really takes to educate our children. For example, the most obvious “weight” missing in the LCFF formula is regional cost of living. Ultimately, it’s not the inputs (e.g., money) that matter but rather the outputs—what you can do with money. We must pay teachers a higher amount than most other places in the state or else they wouldn’t even be able to afford to live within a commuting distance! So, the same dollar does not buy the same teacher (or administrator, or counselor, or librarian, etc.) across the state. I’ve discussed this issue with a number of our state representatives who generally agree that although this is an honest intellectual argument, it’s a dead political one. No one is going to stand up and advocate to give more money to “rich” districts despite the truism that some places get more for their dollar than others. Although this issue is a challenge for my district, it also affects the number of economically disadvantaged communities within our county that still suffer from the same relative high cost-of-living pressures. Although they will gain from the “weights” in the LCFF compared to a district like mine, they will still lose out compared to similar districts in other counties.

One potential political “compromise” here is the lowering of the parcel tax threshold to 55%. SCA 3 would place a measure on the ballot, which if approved by voters would lower the threshold to pass a school parcel tax from the current two-thirds required. Although I am a supporter of doing this in any case (as the 2/3 requirement has been particularly onerous, and lowering it will allow more communities to help fund themselves), its passage would act as a bit of a counterweight to the inherent bias in the current LCFF formula against districts in higher cost-of-living areas—many of these (although not all) have demonstrated an increased capacity to tax themselves to compensate.

The next big issue is the definition of LCFF’s “hold harmless” concept (the promise that no district will lose money versus what it gets today). Of course the LCFF is a major improvement over last year’s Weighted Student Formula, which would have actually taken base money away from districts (including mine), but the hold harmless provision still misses two key points. First, we will still be losing some streams of “categorical” money that we received in the past and which, in our case, won’t be made up by the new LCFF weights. Second, many revenue limit districts are funded at a rate 20 percent below what they were pre-recession. And California wasn’t exactly funding our schools well even at that time. So, the promise to hold us flat at our current lower level is cold comfort. According to our preliminary calculations, our district will crawl back to its pre-recession funding level once the formula is fully implemented (assuming state revenue projections hold up). This is consistent with the governor’s plan to take seven more years to bring districts back to their 2007-08 funding levels, but this means it effectively will have taken over a decade—more than an entire generation of students in our K-8 district—just to return to the modest level of funding we had before. The obvious alternative—as discussed in the interview with Assembly Chair Joan Buchanan in EdSource Today back in November—is to first restore all districts to pre-recession levels before implementing the weighted formula. But of course this would cost a lot more money and would delay relative funding for those districts most in need.

Lastly, we have an expectation-setting problem. Each of our local communities (and our employees) may have greater expectations than reality will bear out. On a statewide level, just like the passage of Proposition 30 last November, LCFF implementation runs the risk that it will give many the erroneous assumption that we have now “fixed” the problem. It’s a major step in righting the ship, and I continue to applaud the efforts. But unless we recognize that it is just a first step, California will continue to systematically underfund public education and shortchange our future…we will have just spread around the misfortune a little more rationally.

Middle School Math Changes – Update

Last night the administrative team came back with the proposal for middle school math based on the board discussion we had in November. The plan is a very rational approach — developed by the teaching and administrative staffs at the middle schools and the district office — that aligns the approach between the schools and gives more students an opportunity to take higher level math classes.

As I wrote about then, this has been a long-standing issue in our district that has unfortunately been ignored (including by the Board). Historically, our two middle schools have approached math differently, both in terms of the criteria of which (and how many) students get into Algebra and Geometry and how they teach Geometry (Central has a teacher, TL kids go to Carlmont to take the class). In addition, the district has been very conservative compared to comparable neighboring districts in terms of the percentage of students who are placed in higher math classes (e.g., we place about half as many kids in 8th grade Geometry as do Belmont or Menlo Park, and in those two districts, 100% of their kids still score proficient or advanced — so clearly they are not stretching by any means).

Although the full effects of the changes will take two years to implement, the schools will begin applying the new criteria for placement for next school year. And we will use the same methodology at both Central and Tierra Linda. The criteria will include a number of factors, including multiple test data points, course grades, and teacher judgment. We also discussed last night how we can create a system to get both student and parent feedback into the decision process. The staff will develop the specific criteria over the next couple of months. Also, TL will join Central in having it’s own Geometry teacher, ending the practice of sending kids across the street to Carlmont to take that class. The chart below outlines the general pathways that students will have through middle school math.

Math Paths

Clearly the major decision points will happen between school years, but this system will also be designed so that there is some fluidity with students moving up or down as appropriate during a school year, most likely at the end of trimesters. Although those adjustments should be rare, we certainly want to give the opportunity for students to be re-assigned if the original placement wasn’t appropriate. We must also recognize that some of the specifics may change as we migrate to the Common Core Standards. Lastly, we all agreed that this remains a work in progress — we should monitor the outcomes of the system at the end of each year and adjust as necessary.

This is one of those “it’s about time” moments, and I appreciate all of the hard work by the district office and the teachers to finally make this a reality.

Responsibility Shirked

Four and half years ago, the then San Mateo County Treasurer (Lee Buffington, now deceased) lost tens of millions of dollars from public agencies across the county because he held almost 6% of the county portfolio (in which all public agencies are required to invest their cash) in bonds of Lehman Brothers. SCSD lost around $600,000. Although I won’t recount all of the details (I first wrote about the loss in October 2008), the level of incompetency was incredible (both to miss the warning signs about Lehman which were common knowledge as well as the practice of putting that high of a percentage of a portfolio in any single issuer), but perhaps even more incredible was the lack of responsibility taken by the Treasurer.

Two years later, I reported that our district had joined many others in a lawsuit against the Treasurer (with a subsequent update in January 2011). In the meantime, the then Deputy Treasurer, Sandie Arnott, won election as the new Treasurer in November 2010, and Mr. Buffington passed away in December 2011.

The wheels of justice turned very slowly, and unfortunately not in our favor. In November of 2011, the court gave a tentative ruling denying the plaintiffs’ claims. And just this week, a three judge panel of the State Appellate Court affirmed the earlier court’s ruling. Although I imagine we could appeal again, I suspect this is the end of the line.

The court essentially ruled that the Treasurer and his office have immunity from these sorts of civil suit. As I am no attorney or expert on government law, I can’t comment on that specific legal issue. However, I will say that a wrong was certainly not righted. Maybe the Treasurer does have legal immunity, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about the loss to our public schools due to the incredible incompetence and negligence of that office. We all deserved better.

Cautious Optimism

The education community is positively giddy about Governor Brown’s budget proposal announced yesterday. All the details will not be released for a few weeks, but the major points appear to be the following:

  • Overall increase in education spending by 5%
  • Beginning to pay off the “deferrals” to schools (those payments made in the following fiscal year)
  • The phase in of a new Local Control Funding Formula
  • Removal of most “categorical” programs and increase of flexibility and control to local districts
  • An overall state budget that is balanced and perhaps may even see a surplus

Clearly, some of the Governor’s flexibility is due to the passage of Proposition 30 (and 39), but presumably some of it must be based on more optimistic overall economic projections. This may be justified, but I remain cautious. For the last few years, we’ve been witness to budgets that have been pure fiction, requiring downward revision in the middle of the year. I believe Gov. Brown is genuine in his attempt to have a rational and balanced budget, and I take him at his word that education is a priority. However, after five years of bad news, the education community is chomping at the bit for a glimmer of hope, so let’s come down from the cloud and set our expectations appropriately.

The Local Control Funding Formula (which is effectively a rename and a tweak of the last year’s proposed weighted student formula), makes a lot of sense. It made sense last year, although then it was based upon a zero-sum game, where some districts would get money redistributed from others. The reason that WSF didn’t go anywhere last year was the strong objection from suburban districts — including ours — that would have been severe losers in such formula. Yes, Ravenswood needs more resources than San Carlos, but even San Carlos is far below where it needs to be, which is why any new formula requires more money in the system. And like last time, the formula doesn’t appear to take into account one of the biggest drivers of costs — regional cost of living. I appreciate the political difficulty in getting folks to agree to that, but perhaps the simultaneous approach by the state to place a measure on the ballot to lower the parcel tax threshold to 55% would somewhat mitigate this problem.

We probably won’t know for a few weeks how the new formula will affect each district — it’s implicit in the Governor’s statements that perhaps by raising the overall base funding for all districts (and/or having a “hold harmless” or phase-in), there won’t be districts that will lose money based on this approach. But we need to wait and see. The San Mateo County School Boards Association is having an event with state representatives Rich Gordon, Kevin Mullin, and Joan Buchanan (chair of the Assembly Education Committee) and by that time we should get more details, and I’ll report back.

Looking at the big picture, we have to recognize that most districts have had their budgets cut by 20% or more over the last five years (and even five years ago it was hard to argue that education wasn’t underfunded), so it seems like just having a stable state budget — albeit good news — is only a first step in starting to reinvest in education. We should expect that it will still likely take many years to get to where we should be.

Moving Onward on Facilities

Last night we wrapped up our discussion about grade configurations for our Facilities Master Plan. The bottom line is that the board agreed to proceed with the plan to include the 4/5 schools on both the Central and Tierra Linda campuses and to plan for CLC moving to a new location. Not knowing how long it would take to find a suitable site, it was well understood that we would leave CLC where it is in the meantime and thus could have an interim state where the new school, TL, and CLC remain on that campus until CLC is moved. Although the traffic was the number one concern in this scenario (regardless of how temporary or permanent it is), there would be significant mitigation efforts done as part of the construction, and we have known for sometime that we have to look at other solutions for TL (such as transportation, entrance from Alameda, etc.) even if we did nothing. Also, this approach gives us future option value to move CLC at any point in time — to either a new location or one we own. In any case, it was clear that from a financial standpoint, the goal was to ensure that the cost of moving CLC would effectively be funded by other sources, which could be state money allocated specifically for charter schools, a capital campaign by CLC itself, or funding from partners. Therefore, the total cost to the district wouldn’t be any greater than just leaving CLC (and renovating it) in its current location.

The first part of last night’s discussion included information brought back by Dr. Baker and his team at the request of some of the board members from previous meetings, including discussion of the operating cost differences among the plans proposed and some of the pros and cons related to implementing our new 4/5 configuration in different scenarios. We also reviewed our original criteria for making this decision and discussed scenarios that we had (some time ago) taken off the table. Lastly, we saw a review of some of the design elements — both the physical and the curricular — of our new 4/5 21st Century Learning environments as envisioned. But as Dr. Baker reminded us, it will take a good 12-18 months of work to build the specific curriculum, which can only start once we’ve decided on our overall configuration plan and phasing for actual implementation at each site.

Without recounting the entire discussion, it was clear that the consensus of the board was the the 4/5 configuration on the middle school was the best solution from an educational perspective, and that trumped all other concerns. I earlier wrote why I think that is so — particularly the issues of equity, scale, leveraging existing assets on the MS campuses, and a smoother transition for kids. One of the teachers that spoke described this outcome as a “dream come true” for kids and for the district.

Although this was a long process — having been discussing facilities planning and grade configuration for almost two years now — and a bit difficult in the last month or so as more members of the community have weighed in and expressed angst with the plan — it is hard not to be excited at the innovative journey we are about to take. And you can also see that excitement in the SCSD team that spoke about our approach to 21st Century Learning. The possibilities to make real strides in implementing our strategic plan and remaking education in the modern era can happen now because of the intersection of our pedagogical vision and our facility needs.

But now the hard work actually begins. To be clear, the board didn’t approve any specific project or budget — it agreed upon the major configurations of our Facilities Master Plan. The next steps include the following:

  • Complete the Facilities Master Plan (perhaps sometime in the late winter)
  • The board review a specific set of plans — and budget — consistent with that plan
  • Start the process (”get in line”) to be eligible for state matching funds for construction
  • Develop a full “phasing” plan for construction projects
  • Identify potential sites for CLC and determine feasibility and funding

It’s still unclear when actual construction will begin. Although the original plan had some work — likely at the Central site — begin as early as Summer 2013 and finish some work for the 2014-2015 school year, it’s possible that is too aggressive and work would start later in the year or the following summer. This is all to be determined. The Board would of course have to approve all final construction plans, phasing, and of course budget. We were also reminded that in all scenarios, our desires exceed the money raised by Measure H, and that the district would continue to find other sources of funding (including potential state grants). We will have to carefully consider the phasing of projects so that we can prudently build within our means but at the same time plan for a longer time frame. Note that the Facilities Master Plan would look beyond Measure H in terms of time and scope.

I would like to commend my colleagues for putting in the massive amount of time and effort to study the issue from all angles, speaking with so many community members to get input, and for finally making a difficult decision that they believed was in the best long-term interest of our students and our community.

One Step Closer

Yesterday the school board had a special meeting to continue the discussion from last week regarding the Facilities Master Plan, and specifically the grade configurations related to TL, Heather, and Arundel. It was a thorough discussion lasting 3 1/2 hours. The first part of the meeting was devoted to delivering more information that the board requested last week, including issues related to CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), operational costs for the district in different scenarios, as well as issues of future flexibility.

The board then discussed the scenarios presented in the prior meeting. Firstly, almost all board members acknowledged the overwhelming feedback they had received from the community and remarked that there was quite the diversity in opinion. One of my colleagues remarked that she wished everyone who had written could have been able to see the letters from everyone else who had written! Personally, I have made an effort to respond to everyone, and I appreciate the conversations (via e-mail, this blog, and the phone) that I’ve had with so many folks.

It didn’t take long for the Board to come to consensus on its number one preference — what we called Option 2 last week — building the 4/5 school at Tierra Linda and moving CLC to a new site. We discussed that option for a while recognizing that it could take a year or two to identify a suitable site, but Dr. Baker was optimistic that finding one was a distinct possibility. Although there were no formal decisions made at this meeting, the board agreed that it wanted to go forward on this plan (a) given a reasonable timeframe to find such a suitable site, and (b) the overall cost of this option wouldn’t materially exceed the next best option. There was some optimism that the costs involved (including potentially purchasing a new site) would be reduced through partnerships with other entities, including perhaps the city, the CLC community, and other organizations. But we also acknowledge that there were forces outside our control that could prevent this plan from happening, so the board agreed that it needed a back-up plan in the case we were unsuccessful in moving CLC to a new location. It’s difficult to predict the likelihood of our being successful, but most certainly we would need to plan for — and budget for — such a back-up plan.

On this issue there was not universal agreement. However, the board quickly agreed to remove Option 5 — moving CLC to Arundel — off the table. In addition, most board members did not like the idea of moving CLC to Heather, but some were OK with leaving it in its current location. Although I thought that moving CLC to Heather is a better idea purely from a land use perspective, leaving CLC on its current campus could be a significantly cheaper scenario and thus would give us more resources for all schools as well as for traffic mitigation measures, for example. So, I did not have a strong opinion between those two back-up plans. Two board members appeared to favor the mini 4/5 schools — Option 3 — as their back-up plan, but at the end of the discussion it appeared a majority would adopt Option 1 — CLC staying where it was — while we looked for a new site for the school.

The goal would be to finalize this decision at our next meeting December 20th. To be clear, next week’s decision is around the configurations and land use in our Facilities Master Plan. It’s not an agreement to break ground, but rather the plan would guide future planning and potential proposals for outside grants. Based on this decision, the team would then have to come back with a more detailed budget and timing plan for all sites. The board would then need to consider and approve those budgets and specific construction plans. Also at that time, the district would be in a position to apply for potential state matching grants or other sources of funds. Note that this will be a very long process. Specific construction decisions will be likely be made over the next couple of years and some projects — given the way it will likely be phased — will take years beyond that to be completed. Obviously all of this detail is still to come.

I appreciate that no matter what the ultimate decision is, there will be folks who won’t agree or feel like their voices weren’t heard. I will say, in reflection, that although sometimes the process seems a bit messy at times, this is how it’s supposed to go. I’m quite certain that all of my colleagues have spent an amazing amount of time absorbing feedback, studying the issue, and applying their best judgement to what is an extremely complicated puzzle. And all for no other purpose than what each thinks is in the best interest of all of our students. Regardless of the outcome, I hope folks appreciate that. And I’m confident that we’re going to continue the amazing work in this district and provide some very exciting opportunities for all students!