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Letter to the Editor: Equal Funding is a Fair Charter Solution

Walnut Creek City Councilman Kish Rajan believes Clayton Valley Charter High School should receive the same funding as the other district high schools.

By Kish Rajan

On November 8, the Mount Diablo School Board intends to make its decision on whether to grant final approval to the Clayton Valley charter application. The decision they make, and how they make it, has enormous implications to our District that is at a critical crossroads. 

It has been well chronicled, perhaps at times overly so, that our District suffers from a myriad of challenges. Persistent state budget cuts have been particularly damaging to large unified school districts like ours that are mandated to serve a large and diverse range of educational needs. Though our district leadership has done their best under increasingly difficult circumstances, to be sure, over the years they have made some errors of commission and omission. Together, these factors have caused frustration among the widely disparate communities tied together by district boundaries drawn decades ago.

Despite this frustration, I believe that the large majority of parents in our District are driven by a yearning to see things improve for our District in general, and certainly for their children in particular. The recent effort by some Northgate parents to explore a transfer of that feeder pattern into a different district was one expression of that. And now, of course, the Clayton Valley charter petition.  In each instance, the primary motivation is sincere and understandable. Undeniably, for the MDUSD, some things must change. Indeed I believe the district leadership wants positive change.

The question therefore should turn from whether our district should be reformed, to how. Where can we make fundamental improvements in the education program, curriculum, structure, district operations, and district culture? How can we leverage the talented and committed people who abound in our community to participate in that effort, both to create near-term reforms and to engage the broader community in supporting our schools for the long term?

But in order to get to that important discussion, we first need a thoughtful, constructive resolution to the Clayton Valley charter application that gets us beyond the vitriolic tone that has defined it to date. To this point, the process has unfolded as a battle between one community and our District (literally described at one point as “war”). The matter is also provoking a conflict pitting individual feeder patterns against one another. Should it conclude as such, this will result as a battle in which all sides lose.

The charter proponents (driven by parents, teachers, and community leaders) are raising serious concerns about the state of their campus, e.g. safety, campus conditions and the overall quality of education. They believe strongly that under a new operating structure, with localized leadership, accountability, and flexibility to innovate, they can make substantial improvements.  Their community has spoken out with passion and conviction about their commitment to supporting the school, and in so doing is demonstrating the kind of community engagement and commitment we need district wide. The Clayton Valley charter should be used as an opportunity to experiment and evaluate how we can improve all of our high schools (and all schools for that matter).

The problem with the approval is the potential negative budget impact on the balance of our District. Under the state law that defines this process, it appears that the new charter school would be funded at a higher rate than the other high schools in our district, and that difference must come from our District budget. However, also per the state law, this broader financial impact is not one of the approval criteria the School Board may use in making their decision on the application. Nevertheless, it would be unconscionable to take resources away from the balance of our kids to support one school, particularly amidst these brutal economic times.

The solution and the opportunity are clear. There should be an agreement to approve the charter application with an understanding that the new charter school would be funded at the same rate as all other high schools in our district.  This would grant the Clayton Valley community what they seek: a new way forward for their school with the local control, flexibility and accountability that they covet. Yet this would be accomplished in a way that is financially responsible, fair and reasonable toward the balance of our District.

Should all the parties involved join in this solution, they would transcend conflict, embrace positive change, and set an example of collaboration.  This could also commence a new chapter for our District: one of reform, innovation, and planning that welcomes change while reaffirming our commitment to serving our entire community and all of our kids. 

Let’s use this moment to do what is smart, fair and right. And let’s remember our kids are watching.

Sincerely,

Kish Rajan
MDUSD Parent and Walnut Creek City Council Member

Mom of the Horde November 05, 2011 at 09:23 PM
The grass really isn't greener on the other side of Walnut Creek. I have kids in both WCSD and AUHSD schools, and there are things going on that are equally frustrating. The WCSD superintendent and school board are just as frustrating to deal with as MDUSD's are, no joke. RE: the solar panels, if those were funded by a bond, they could not take that money and use it for cirriculum and payroll. I was frustrated too, when WCSD put new playgrounds in at several sites one year, while laying off several teachers. Bond measures are for facilities, parcel taxes for programs. I think that the problem with MDUSD and getting measures passed is that you're having to "sell" the idea of parcel taxes and bond measures to a much larger and much more economically diverse population than WCSD and AUHSD do.
Walnut Creek Schools Together Now November 05, 2011 at 11:49 PM
Hi Mom of the Horde, Actually our WCSTN campaign has more to do with City of Walnut Creek, and less to do with MDUSD. Our main goal is to unite the city and youth programs, and get us on a level field for school taxes and teacher salaries. The City has 5 school districts which is unmanageable, and only meets with one (WCSD) which doesn't fulfill the City's General Plan (Action 9.3.1). I started WCSTN 4 years ago because my child (and his NHS classmates) didn't have a math teacher and had 12 substitutes over 3 months. Northgate had lost half of its math teachers, some were hired away by AUHSD which was paying $25,000 more including medical benefits. The same thing was happening in other subjects such as Spanish and Biology. Since then Northgate has turned around, thanks largely to a wonderful new principal and staff. However even this year because MDUSD doesn't have a parcel tax, some important teachers are getting pink slips and are applying to work for other districts. Northgate's revolving door for teachers still continues and affects our children's education. I believe uniting our city schools would benefit all of us. Concord and MDUSD would benefit from a smaller district, to work together on youth programs and to pass a parcel tax. Northgate would be added automatically to WCSD and AUHSD parcel taxes, bringing another $4+ million to our city schools. Northgate has great schools and families. Together, we could improve all schools and unite our city.
DubCeemom November 06, 2011 at 12:26 AM
My kids go to Las Lomas, and I can't agree with your more, Ruth. MDUSD is way too big--instead of economies of scale, they have major inefficiencies. It is not a well-run district, and size is a big factor. Northgate is a highly academic school and would fit in well with the AUSD -- its scores a close to those of Las Lomas. It makes so much sense for all the grade and middle schools in Walnut Creek to be part of the WCSD. We need to think of the right thing for the kids.
Walnut Creek Schools Together Now November 06, 2011 at 12:46 AM
Thank you for words of support! Anyone who wants to join the WCSTN email list (no cost, no obligation, membership is confidential) can email ngparents@gmail.com. We are asking the City Council and school districts to have open-minded discussions. Walnut Creek has tried to unite the schools since 1948, and it's time finally to make it happen!
michael frederick November 07, 2011 at 09:47 AM
Kish, I'm growing into a fan. I hope that admission doesn't kill a political career! I like the proposal for an independent audit, to take the self-serving mathematical gymnastics out of the equation. I believe the board is required to not consider cost -- I don't think they're in a position to barter votes, publicly. However, one would hope charter proponents would be intelligent enough to recognize public affirmations of this need as a means of getting their charter streamlined, while maintaining harmonious relations. This is particularly true of those named "Shuey", as I can only assume this is a distant relative... It is nice to see a WC leader perform regional leadership, beyond the incessant rhetoric of the last twenty years... Having an ethical public stance, from WC, will hopefully be something that helps people like Linda and Ruth to accomplish something that works well for everyone. I appreciate those who promote a greater WC, instead of a sliced-up one that is politically manipulated. I believe WC benefits via public education on and pride in WC. In short, I believe in one school system or anything else that promotes WC, for WC -- all of it. I respect those who participate with their kids in mind, because they have higher standards and a vision for the future that has, until recently, been our hallmark ... from Day 1. I also think well of public officials with the decency to address the public directly and responsively, as you have here.

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