Report Card

News and discussion on K-12 schools in the greater Sacramento region

February 27, 2013
Galt police to take teachers to firing range for gun safety course

galt.JPGTeachers and school staff in the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District will be offered training in how to handle and fire a gun through a partnership with the Galt Police Department.

District trustees voted 5-0 Wednesday night to offer a gun awareness and safety course, which includes a trip to the Galt Police Department's firing range and help identifying the capabilities of different weapons.

"I'm all for it," said Myla Frantson, the president of the district's classified union. "Educating people is important. If you know what you are up against, you know what your alternatives are."

For more on this story, read The Sacramento Bee on Thursday.

(Photo: Galt Police Chief William Bowen tells school trustees about the safety course proposal on Wednesday night.)

February 27, 2013
Sacramento Council PTA seeks prom gear for donation closet

prom.JPGThe Sacramento Council PTA is seeking donations of gently used men's and women's formal wear that can be worn at prom by high school students in the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Donation items, such as gowns, suits and accessories, are tax-deductible. This is the second Cinderella's Closet for the Sacramento Council PTA and first time offering a Prince Charming's Closet.

Those interested in donating items can drop off them off at the Serna Center Parent Resource Center, 5735 47th Avenue, Suite 236. To send a monetary donation, visit saccouncilpta.com.

February 25, 2013
Senator Huff proposes pushing back teacher layoff deadlines

layoff2.JPGSenate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, introduced a bill that would push back deadlines for sending layoff notices to California teachers. Huff said in a media release Monday that moving the March 15th deadline for preliminary notices and May 15 deadline for final notices would save school districts millions.

School districts typically overestimate how many layoff notices they need to send since they don't have a finalized budget in place by March 15. Teachers who receive pink slips are entitled to a hearing to ensure their seniority and credentials were correctly assessed. Those all day hearings mean districts must bring in substitute teachers.

In most cases, layoff notices are then rescinded.

February 21, 2013
For latest on Sac City school closures, check here

closure3.jpegUpdate 12:38 a.m.: Trustees in the Sacramento City Unified School District voted 4-3 to close seven schools at the end of this school year after a lengthy school board meeting Thursday night.

The schools that will be closed are Washington, Maple, Collis P. Huntington, Fruit Ridge, Joseph Bonnheim, Mark Hopkins and Clayton B. Wire. Trustees Jeff Cuneo, Patrick Kennedy, Jay Hansen and Darrel Woo voted in favor of the closures, while Gustavo Arroyo, Diana Rodriguez and Christina Pritchett voted against.

Board members were scheduled to vote on the closure of 10 elementary schools on Thursday, but three were pulled from the list at the start of the meeting. Superintendent Jonathan Raymond said concerns raised about the closure of Susan B. Anthony, Bret Harte and James Marshall warranted a second look.

Raymond said enrollment at Susan B. Anthony and Bret Harte will be affected by residential developments planned near the schools. The superintendent said he heard objections from some James Marshall parents whose children would have been zoned for A.M. Winn, which is transitioning to a Waldorf-inspired school.

The board is scheduled to vote on whether to close Tahoe Elementary or Mark Twain Elementary at a March 7 meeting.

"School closures are a part of what needs to happen in our district," School board president Jeff Cuneo said. "The fact is we have not enough kids for our schools at this time."

Update 11:55 p.m.: Trustee Jay Hansen, who may end up being the swing vote tonight, said there are long term gains to be had by closing schools, which may be hard for those experiencing the short term pain to see.

Hansen took a defensive tone with his comments, saying he's been surprised by the hateful emails he has received and felt some speakers tonight were disrespectful.

Hansen was appointed to the board in December to fill the vacated seat of Ellyn Bell. As part of his appointment interview, Trustee Darrel Woo asked Hansen what his thoughts were on school closures.

Hansen said they should be a last priority and should come after an open and transparent process.

Update 11:10 p.m.: In my story today, I wrote that sources told me that newly appointed board member Jay Hansen would be the swing vote for closures tonight.

Here's how that is playing out right now. Board members Darrel Woo, Jeff Cuneo and Patrick Kennedy have each spoken in support of doing the fiscally responsible thing by closing schools.

Board members Christina Pritchett, Gustavo Arroyo and Diana Rodriguez have each expressed grave concern with the closure process and the disproportionate effect on low-income and minorities communities in south Sacramento.

What about Hansen? He hasn't spoken yet.

Update 10 p.m.: Public comment continues 3 1/2 hours after the Sacramento City Unified board meeting began. There are about 10 speakers remaining before trustees will begin to discuss and vote on the school closures.

Update 9 p.m.: Several speakers have called the district's recommendation to remove three schools from the list of 11 slated for closure as "dividing and conquering."

A long list of speakers remain. Board won't begin discussing the closures until after public comment ends. In the meantime, check out the photo gallery by Bee Photographer Paul Kitagaki Jr. by clicking HERE.

Update 8 p.m.: Public comment has begun at the Sacramento City Unified School District school board meeting, where more than 100 people have submitted speaker cards to address the board regarding the school closures. Each speaker is given two minutes. Just a dozen speakers in, many have gone over their two minute allotment.

So far, Superintendent Jonathan Raymond has pulled three schools from the closure list - Susan B. Anthony, Bret Harte and James Marshall elementary schools. Raymond said enrollment at Susan B. Anthony and Bret Harte will be impacted in the future by residential developments planned near the schools. The superintendent said there were reasonable objections from James Marshall parents whose children would have been zoned for A.M. Winn, which is transitioning to a Waldorf-inspired school.

Update 7:30 p.m. - Superintendent Jonathan Raymond said he is now recommending pulling James Marshall, Bret Harte and Susan B. Anthony elementary schools from the closure list.

Update 6:30 p.m. - The board room is packed, as was expected. As I drove up at 6 p.m., there were a few dozen people outside with signs protesting the proposed closures.

Former Sacramento City Unified board president Roy Grimes is here. Grimes said he had no comment on the current school closure proposal, but instead is here to urge trustees to engage the community moving forward.

Sacramento City Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell said she is here to offer support of community members.

"Parents are so upset," Pannell said. "They aren't sure about the process and neither am I."

Board President Jeff Cuneo just announced the beginning of the meeting. Check back.

---

Tonight's Sacramento City Unified School District school board meeting begins at 6:30. Check The Report Card for the latest news on the district's proposal to close 10 elementary schools at the end of this school year.

I will also be tweeting from the meeting, which you can read below or find me on Twitter @MelodyGutierrez. If you're reading this on your smartphone, follow me here.

I will be checking for reader questions on this blog, so feel free to post.

February 20, 2013
Steinberg urges Sac City trustees to support school closures

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, issued a statement today supporting a recommendation by Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jonathan Raymond calling for 11 under-enrolled elementary schools to be closed at the end of this school year.

Trustees will vote Thursday night on whether to close 10 elementary schools. A vote on whether to close Tahoe Elementary or Mark Twain Elementary is scheduled for March 7.

Here is Steinberg's statement:

"Closing a neighborhood school can be heartbreaking for students, parents and educators. I know Superintendent Raymond is making this recommendation with a heavy heart. I also know the pain of being forced to make drastic cuts that affect real lives when you're faced with budget deficits and a struggling economy.

February 15, 2013
Watchdog agency fines Twin Rivers trustee for illegal loans

Cortez.jpgTwin Rivers school board President Cortez Quinn was fined $14,000 by the Fair Political Practices Commission Friday for illegally accepting $55,000 in personal loans from a district employee in 2010 and 2011 and not reporting them on financial disclosure forms.

At the time Quinn accepted the loans, he was the district director for Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, a position that also required annual financial disclosure forms.

Three of the five violations that the state watchdog agency announced Friday against Quinn related to his previous position with Dickinson's office. The remaining two violations stemmed from his position as an elected board member of Twin Rivers Unified School District.

Quinn did not return a call for comment on Friday.

In addition to the loans, Quinn also illegally accepted a gift of $4,000 from the same school district employee, Sherilene Chycoski, according to FPPC documents outlining the circumstances of the case.

The Political Reform Act prohibits elected officers of local government agencies from receiving personal loans of more than $250 from employees and gifts of more than $420.

Chycoski is listed on the Twin Rivers website as the visual and performing arts director. Chycoski filed a paternity suit against Quinn in June 2011.

The Bee first reported in May 2012 that Quinn had accepted illegal loans. Two weeks later, Quinn won a second term as a Twin Rivers trustee and was voted school board president by fellow board members in July.

Dickinson parted ways with Quinn in August for undisclosed reasons, calling it a "personnel matter."

According to documents obtained by The Bee last year, Chycoski loaned Quinn $35,000 on Feb. 24, 2011. Other documents showed bank transfers from Chycoski to an account allegedly belonging to Quinn and cash advances on a credit card in which Quinn allegedly was a secondary cardholder.

Chycoski said in a sworn statement on May 17, 2012, which her attorney provided the school district, that she felt the money was obtained "through fraud and misrepresentation."

The FPPC's $14,000 judgment against Quinn indicates the school board member consulted with an attorney and opted to waive his rights to a probable cause conference and an administrative hearing. Quinn was facing a maximum administrative penalty of $25,000.

Quinn's fine, which will be paid to the state's general fund, is pending FPPC approval at its Feb. 28 meeting.

February 13, 2013
Sacramento City may swap schools on closure list

schoolclosure.JPGThe vote on whether to close Tahoe Elementary in Tahoe Park is being delayed by the Sacramento City Unified School District in order to consider closing Mark Twain Elementary instead.

Parents of children at both schools were being notified today about the possible change, said district spokesman Gabe Ross. Mark Twain is located on 58th Street, about a mile from Tahoe Elementary.

Sacramento City Unified trustees are weighing the closure of 11 under-enrolled elementary schools. The vote on the other 10 schools will continue as planned on Feb. 21.

The decision on whether to close Tahoe or Mark Twain elementary schools will be March 7.

Ross said concerns at a Tahoe Elementary community meeting prompted district officials to reconsider their plan. Currently, Mark Twain students eat lunch at West Campus High School due to the elementary school not having a fully equipped kitchen. Tahoe Elementary parents voiced concerns about that arrangement.

February 13, 2013
Read the report Twin Rivers trustee calls a roadmap for district

Several readers have expressed an interest in reviewing the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team report commissioned by the Twin Rivers Unified School District. So, here it is.

FCMAT.pdf

The 88-page report found Twin Rivers has too many administrators and too little communication among departments. Twin Rivers trustee John Dexter called the FCMAT report a "roadmap, much like the Grand Jury report."

"It's a good starting point," Dexter said today.

To read my original posting with findings from the report, click HERE.

February 11, 2013
Video: Kindergartener asks board not to close his school

Six-year-old Gavin Whelan approached the podium with confidence, stepping onto a stool and leaning into the microphone at Thursday's school board meeting regarding school closures in the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Whelan immediately won the hearts of the room, as you'll see in the video below that captures the last half of his speech. For his bravery, as well as his patience in waiting through three hours of prior public comment, Whelan earns this blog's Gold Star award.

January 8, 2013
New investigation puts cheating scandal to rest, Rhee says

Rhee2.JPGEducation reformer Michelle Rhee said today that a federal investigation should put to rest allegations that educators cheated to improve test scores during her tenure as Washington, D.C., public schools chancellor.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General announced Monday that its investigation found no widespread cheating on state standardized tests during 2008-2010.

In a statement, Rhee said the conclusion supports previous investigations into the allegations, which will be the focus of a "Frontline" episode on PBS that is scheduled to air tonight at 10 p.m.

Rhee, the wife of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, runs the national education lobbying group StudentsFirst, which is based in Sacramento and promotes education reform measures.

"The results confirm what we've long believed, that the vast majority of educators would never compromise their personal or professional integrity to cheat on a test, thereby cheating children," Rhee said in the statement.

The hour-long Frontline program, which The Bee reviewed in advance, primarily recounts Rhee's time as the chancellor of public schools in Washington, D.C., two years ago. After detailing her successes and challenges, the program ends by questioning whether tremendous test score gains could be attributed to widespread cheating.

USA Today first reported in 2011 that, during Rhee's tenure, there were a high rate of erasures at Washington schools with high test score gains.

The Frontline segment questioned whether enough was done to investigate the erasure irregularities.

Rhee's statement said the probe by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General supported previous inquiries and findings by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General and two private investigations.

"At StudentsFirst we believe it is incredibly important to take all allegations of wrongdoing seriously and we thank both offices for doing so," Rhee said in her statement.

January 7, 2013
Cheating scandal resurfaces in Rhee film airing Tuesday

Rhee.JPGEducation reformer Michelle Rhee is in the news today and will continue to be as a Frontline television documentary is scheduled to air Tuesday.

The hour-long program, which The Bee reviewed, mostly recounts Rhee's time as the chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public school system two years ago. After detailing her successes and challenges, Frontline ends by questioning whether tremendous test score gains could be attributed to widespread cheating.

USA Today first reported in 2011 that, during Rhee's tenure, there were a high rate of erasures at D.C. schools with high test score gains.

Tuesday's Frontline raises the question of whether enough was done to investigate the erasure irregularities.

The documentary is scheduled to run Tuesday at 10 p.m. on KVIE channel 6.

(Photo courtesy of Frontline.)

January 2, 2013
Group says it won't fight Sac City Unified's trustee appointment

It's starting to look like newly appointed Sacramento City Unified trustee Jay Hansen will not have his seat challenged through a petition calling for a special election.

Prior to Hansen's selection, the district's five bargaining groups and an outside coalition urged the school board to reconsider their decision to appoint someone to resigning board member Ellyn Bell's seat. However, board members said they did not want the district to have to pay up to $274,000 for a special election, particularly in a time of budget cuts.

Annette Deglow of the coalition Citizens to Elect School Boards by Areas said she was ready to challenge any appointment to the board because it did not allow the voters of Area 1 to select who would represent them for the remaining two years of Bell's term. Area 1 includes Land Park, downtown, midtown and Curtis Park.

However, Deglow said Wednesday that she has decided not to initiate the petition.

"There is no way to do it without it being personal," said Deglow, one of the original petitioners of measures that created trustee area elections in Sacramento City Unified.

"The only thing I wanted was for the community to select their candidate," she said. "My time at this point would be better spent fixing the problem, instead of muddying the waters. I oppose the process, but not one candidate over the other."

Deglow said her issue is that she could not challenge the district's decision to appoint a candidate prior to trustees making a selection. That, Deglow said, makes it seem like she opposes Hansen, when, in fact, she opposes the appointment process.

State Education Code allows for 30 days to challenge a trustee appointment. In Sacramento City Unified, a successful petition would need 2,500 signatures by Jan. 19 turned into the Sacramento County Office of Education.

Washington Unified in West Sacramento recently went through a similar process. Petitioners gathered 345 signatures to force a special election after trustees appointed a board member to fill a vacated seat. The special election is scheduled for March 5.

October 19, 2012
Sac City school trustee Ellyne Bell will resign

AOC_SchoolConference_105w.JPGSacramento City Unified School District trustee Ellyne Bell announced Thursday night that she will be stepping down from the school board at the end of the year.

Bell gave a 60-day deferred resignation after completing two years of her four year term.

After taking a job in San Francisco six months ago, Bell said she plans to relocate there at the beginning of the year.

"The work is increasing all the time and to run an organization and do this work to the best of my ability, I need to commit to being here in the city," said Bell, who is the executive director of the SAGE Project, an anti-human trafficking organization.

October 15, 2012
No blue ribbon for local schools

For the second consecutive year, there were no schools in the four county region named a National Blue Ribbon School.

Statewide, 23 public schools and one private school received the honor from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for the 2011-2012 school year.

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private schools where students achieve at high levels or have made significant progress to close the achievement gap.

The last school named a National Blue Ribbon School in Sacramento, Yolo, El Dorado or Placer counties was in 2010 when Aspire's Capitol Heights Academy and Camellia Basic Elementary School, both in Sacramento City Unified, received the award.

October 5, 2012
Petition may force West Sac district to hold special election

A recently appointed school board member in West Sacramento could be ousted from her seat after a petition was submitted Friday.

If 345 signatures on the petition are verified, the Washington Unified School District will be forced to hold a special election, which could cost the district around $100,000.

"This is a two year appointment," said Elizabeth Bagdazian, whose appointment has been called into question. "Our schools, our kids can't afford this."

Bagdazian was appointed Sept. 5 following the resignation of trustee Sandra Vargas.

After the appointment, Mayor Christopher Cabaldon alleged that the school district broke the law to keep the seat vacated by Vargas off the November ballot. Cabaldon said it was well known Vargas had moved out of the district and that her resignation was pending for many months.

He said her resignation arrived right after the deadline that would have put her seat on the November ballot.

"That magically gave the board the ability to appoint the seat," Cabaldon said recently. "The board is required by law to vacate the seat and take appropriate action. That would have been to put it on the November ballot."

For more on this story, read The Sacramento Bee on Saturday.

Get caught up on issues facing the Washington Unified district by reading this story HERE.

October 1, 2012
Rocklin superintendent disappointed in retaliation ruling

Rocklin Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Brown said he is disappointed in last week's Public Employment Relations Board decision that found the school district retaliated against four nurses.

Brown said he will recommend that school trustees appeal the ruling here RocklinPERB.pdf, which ordered Rocklin Unified to reinstate the nurses with two years of back pay, plus 7 percent interest.

Brown said the PERB Administrative Law Judge Robin Wesley "took the latitude to assume what our motivation was and then developed an argument to support her conclusion in spite of the evidence that was presented."

Wesley's ruling, which was reported by The Bee on Friday, found the Rocklin district violated the Educational Employment Relations Act by laying off nurses Jennifer Hammond, Genevieve Sherman, Susan Firchau and Jennifer Bradley.

September 28, 2012
Rocklin Unified retaliated against school nurses, judge says

The Public Employment Relations Board found Rocklin Unified School District retaliated against four nurses and ordered the district to reinstate them with two years of back pay, plus 7 percent interest.

In a ruling released today, Administrative Law Judge Robin Wesley found Rocklin school district violated the Educational Employment Relations Act by laying off nurses Jennifer Hammond, Genevieve Sherman, Susan Firchau and Jennifer Bradley.

"We've always been very unhappy with what happened and we feel vindicated," Hammond said today. "I'm ready and willing to take my job back."

The Rocklin Teachers Professional Association filed an unfair practice charge against the school district in 2010, alleging the four nurses were laid off in retaliation for asking their union for assistance regarding workload and safety issues.

In PERB documents, the district argued that the nurses routinely said no to many requests and claimed their nursing licenses would not let them perform certain work.

For more on this story, read Saturday's Bee.

September 27, 2012
Sacramento Police may lead Twin Rivers cops, district says

The Twin Rivers Unified School District is working on a contract with the Sacramento Police Department to have a police captain and lieutenant help the school district's police department with short term oversight.

Sacramento Police Captain James Beezley would be assigned to the Twin Rivers Police Department for administrative functions at the request of the district's school board, said Assistant Superintendent Tom Janis.

Janis said he did not know who the lieutenant would be.

"We are trying to work together," Janis said. "We have common goals and our jurisdictions overlap."

Beezley has been with the Sacramento Police Department for 20 years and is currently the fiscal and personnel captain.

The Twin Rivers school police force has faced a year of continued scrutiny, from allegations of excessive car tows in order to generate profit to a former officer facing criminal charges for allegedly assaulting detainees.

September 18, 2012
Crocker Riverside principal takes leave amid allegations

Crocker Riverside Elementary School Principal Carl Westphal will take a medical leave for the remainder of the school year, a move that comes after a sexual harassment complaint and two investigations into his recent actions.

At a parent meeting tonight at 6 p.m., the Sacramento City Unified School District will announce the name of an interim principal to replace Westphal, who will not return to the school after his medical leave, said district spokesman Gabe Ross.

A permanent replacement will likely be named at the end of the school year, Ross said.

September 13, 2012
Questions remain over Twin Rivers school police dog

lacosse.sales.JPGTwin Rivers' Acting Police Chief Scott LaCosse may be in his final days on the job, but the questions that led to his resignation remain. LaCosse and Lt. Mike Sales gave the school district their 30 days' notice on Aug. 28 after school trustees overruled their decision to discontinue the school police force's K9 program.

In a letter sent to school board members on Wednesday, LaCosse said he is "hopeful, but not optimistic, that you will recognize your folly in spending your time 'down in the weeds' rather than setting policy direction and relying on your professional management staff to carry it out."

September 12, 2012
Duncan meets with mayors, school superintendents

duncan.JPGWhile in Sacramento during a national bus tour, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the biggest challenge facing public education is complacency. He challenged parents and students to demand more of those in charge.

Duncan spoke Wednesday to a group of more than 40 mayors and school superintendents from across the state, who met in Sacramento for a panel discussion on education issues, such as California's No Child Left Behind waiver and the hot button topic of tying test scores to teacher evaluations.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson hosted the education panel, which included his wife, Michelle Rhee, founder of the school reform group StudentsFirst.

September 5, 2012
Twin Rivers interim says he is a strong leader

Newly appointed Twin Rivers Unified Interim Superintendent Joseph Williams said one of his top priorities during this school year is to make the school district a place of choice.

Williams was named interim during Tuesday night's school board meeting following a 5-2 vote, with Trustees Walter Garcia Kawamoto and Rebecca Sandoval voting no.

Williams will earn $210,058, plus an $800 monthly car allowance. Williams' contract includes a stipulation that if he is not chosen to be the long-term superintendent before his contract ends June 30, he will become an associate superintendent through 2015 or 2016, said board President Cortez Quinn.

"We chose the right person," Quinn said. "He has been in the business a while ... He will be considered for the permanent position if he applies."

August 30, 2012
Did The Bee get it wrong?

Twin Rivers Police Officers Association President Arlin Kocher said my story in today's paper mischaracterized what Officer William Cho said during Tuesday's school board meeting.

During Cho's speech to trustees, the past police union president said the Twin Rivers police department's leadership has created a hostile work environment and that morale has never been worse. Cho did not identify the top brass by name, but his comments were clearly directed toward Acting Police Chief Scott LaCosse and Lt. Mike Sales, who are both resigning.

Cho also said the department had a sterling reputation prior to LaCosse and Sales taking over. I took those comments to be a defense of the previous Twin Rivers administration, which was rebuked by the grand jury.

Kocher said the Police Officers Association is not aligned with Police Chief Christopher Breck, who has been on paid administrative leave since November.

"We fully support a new revised mission in line with the job we were hired to do," Kocher said.

I asked Cho for a copy of his speech on Tuesday night. He refused.



About Report Card

Loretta KalbLoretta Kalb started her reporting career at The Sacramento Union, moved to KOVR-13 as a television reporter, editor and producer, headed to The Associated Press in San Francisco and eventually returned to Sacramento and joined The Sacramento Bee. Throughout her career, she has covered the state Legislature, courts, local government and, now, education. She is a Chico native and an Elk Grove resident.

Diana LambertDiana Lambert began her journalism career as a proofreader at the Lodi News-Sentinel. She is now a senior writer at The Sacramento Bee covering K-12 education and California State University, Sacramento. Previously she was The Bee’s Elk Grove bureau chief. Lambert was raised in a military family and lived at bases around the globe. She attended four high schools, graduating from Tokay High in Lodi and then Sacramento State University. She lives in Elk Grove.

TELL US WHAT’S GOING ON AT YOUR SCHOOL
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Twitter: @LorettaSacBee

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Twitter: @dianalambert

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