The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

March 24, 2009
CA congressional delegation sizzles even as state Leg fizzles

California's economy may be down and out and state legislators may struggle to pass a budget, but the state is still tops in political power in the nation's capitol.

 

No other state comes close to California in congressional power, according to Roll Call newspaper's latest rankings: "Hill Clout: California is Still Golden"

 

California ranks No. 1 by far:

 

The Golden State boasts the Speaker and two Senate committee chairmen (and they're all women), as well as the chairmen of the House Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, Foreign Affairs and Veterans' Affairs committees. Lots and lots of people in the state. And lots and lots of Democrats in the House delegation -- more Democrats, in fact, than any other state has Members. The Big Enchilada. 'Nuff said.

 

Roll Call gives points to each state based on several factors, including: size of the delegation; number of full committee chairmen and ranking members; number of Members on the most influential committees; top leadership posts; number of Members in the majority party; per capita federal spending received; seniority; and, power rating of the opponents.

 

California received 1,343 points; the next state received only 775.
March 24, 2009
What to do with two Sac City Unified middle schools?

From my emails, phone calls and the crowds that show up at Sacramento City Unified school district board meetings, I can see that one proposal is causing the most conversation:

Interim Superintendent Susan Miller's idea for two Grade 7-8 schools that are 27 blocks apart (2 miles).  She wants the school board to "consider alternative program delivery model" for Kit Carson Middle and Sutter Middle: "one school program, 1 leadership focus, blending of staff."

Much of the consternation has been because of the utter lack of detail.  What, exactly, does Miller mean by this proposal?  The Editorial Board of the Sacramento Bee does yet not have a position on this proposal, nor do I as an individual.  We need much more detail -- and so does the public.

But I'd like to raise some issues.

The main problem to be addressed seems to be Kit Carson.  The building has a capacity for 1,256 students.  It peaked out at 728 students in 2003-04 and has been declining precipitously since then.  This year it has enrollment of 478 -- and that is expected to drop again next year.  It had been in Year 4 of Program Improvement (one year away from drastic action) in 2005, but exited in 2006; unfortunately, this year, it's back in Program Improvement status, not a good place to be.

If you close that school, then you have to figure out what to do with 400 to 450 students.

   

If you keep it open, you have to find new ways to attract students -- i.e., you have to put a successful program in there.

 

Interim Superintendent Miller believes, apparently, that the Sutter program can be replicated -- not by creating a whole new program from scratch, but by utilizing the leadership and staff that have made that program successful.  Why do Sutter parents think that's not possible? 

 

Could the existing Sutter campus do more with students if it had two smaller campuses of 800 students?  Why is working with 1,200 students in one building better than working with 800 students in two buildings?  Recall that Sutter had 800 students only a decade ago.  It is only since the 2001 school year that the school has had 1,200 or more students.  Is 1,200-plus really the right size for that school?  Why wouldn't you want to go smaller? 

 

Expanding Sutter's program to include Kit Carson (even if in 2 separate buildings that are 2 miles apart, 27 blocks) could benefit Sutter -- because it would create smaller class sizes.

   

For example, Sutter has 61 teachers for 1,294 students (an average of 21 students per teacher).  Kit Carson has 28 teachers for 478 students (an average of 17 students per teacher, and is expected to decline again next year).

 

If you do as Miller suggests, limiting enrollment at the two schools combined at 1,600, then you could have smaller classes. You could have, say, 42 teachers at each school working with 800 students (an average of 19 students per teacher).  Why wouldn't that be a good thing?

 

Anyway, it seems that between declining enrollments and budget difficulties, this is a time to get creative. If not Miller's solution for Kit Carson and Sutter, then what other solutions? Send in your ideas.     
March 19, 2009
Private emails or public records in Mayor Kevin Johnson's office?

The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday celebrated California's "Sunshine Week: Your Week to Know."

But they didn't just celebrate.  They took an important action.  In setting a new policy to handle private-sector volunteer/consultants acting as de facto employees in the mayor's office, the council established a new public records policy.

Here's an example: A volunteer/consultant acting as Mayor Kevin Johnson's public information officer, Steven Maviglio, used to send out emails regarding city business on a private yahoo.com account.

The new policy requires professional volunteer/consultants such as Maviglio "to have and always use City email addresses when communicating about City business."  That policy took effect immediately, on Tuesday, so we look forward to communicating with Maviglio on his new city email account.

Further, the California Public Records Act is unclear about whether the emails, text messages, voicemails and other writings produced on non-City equipment and property are public records.  Well, Sacramento's new policy explicitly states that any writings that would be city public records if produced by city employees or consultants would be public records if produced by the new professional volunteer/consultants.  Amen to that.

So the sun shines a little brighter in Sacramento.

Update:  Steven Maviglio has requested that the private yahoo.com email account that he had been using to conduct city business (and that I had included in an earlier version of this posting) not be made public, so I've taken it down.  However, Maviglio writes (from his private account) that, "I dont have an official city account yet."  So how should members of the public who want to contact the mayor's public information officer by email do so?  What email address should they use? 

Update2: As a test of his commitment to transparency during this Sunshine Week, Mayor Johnson should come out and say whether the public should be able to communicate by email with his public information officer. It is odd, to say the least, that the public currently cannot contact by email the "public" information officer who does most of his communications by email.  

March 3, 2009
New study: California has out of whack home price/income ratio

The foreclosure crisis is a California crisis -- along with a few other states. A new study out of the University of Virginia, "Foreclosures in States and Metropolitan areas: Patterns, Forecasts, and Pricing Toxic Assets," shows that clearly:

 

In 2008, California had only 10 percent of the nation's housing units, but it had 34 percent of foreclosures.

California was vulnerable to foreclosures because it had, by far, the highest ratio of housing value to median income in the country.  The median value of owner-occupied housing in 2007 was 8.3 times the median family income ($535,700/$64,563).  The next highest was Nevada at 5.1. 

 

In 2000, the median housing value in California was 4 times the median family income.  That's still high (the ratio should be about 3).

 

The worst is still to come: The study estimates that "66 percent of potential housing value losses in 2008 and subsequent years may be in California, with another 21 percent in Florida, Nevada and Arizona, for a total of 87 percent of national declines."

 

The big question:  As the economy recovers, will developers build and price houses for the income profile of the state?  Or will they continue to build houses that require people to spend more than a third of their monthly income on housing? 


About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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