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Friday, March 16, 2007

No Decision Yet on Fate of Valley Oak

Last night, the Davis Joint Unified School Board met for nearly four hours listening to more information from the Task Force, representatives of the Davis OPEN group, and the general public. In the end, given the late hour they decided to forestall a staff presentation and board comments until a special meeting on Monday, March 19, 2007.

In the meantime, critical information was presented to the board. In particular the board was given answers to question of a half-mile distance from Valley Oak. At the March 1, 2007 meeting and in the report, the Task Force presented travel distances for one mile walking distance and one and one half mile walking distance. These data showed virtually no change in the walking distance for student if Valley Oak were closed down.

However, the problem with that data is that especially for young students, one mile distance is not walkable. Indeed, the Davis OPEN group in their presentation showed that ideally, a six year old would take 44 minutes to walk a mile but only 22 minutes to walk half a mile. Moreover as we discussed last time, few people would allow their Kindergartener to third grader to walk that distance to school.

The board asked for the distances for half-mile and the results of that data show a very large difference between leaving Valley Oak open and closing it down.

In an email from Scott Torlucci of Davis Demographics & Planning, Inc. (DDP) to the Davis School Board, of 100 K-3 students who reside in the Valley Oak attendance zone and attend Valley Oak, 50 are within half a mile of Valley Oak. If Valley Oak were to close, only 2 of those 100 students would be within half a mile of an alternate school.

Of the students outside of that half mile walking distance to Valley Oak, 27 of them appear to be closer to Valley Oak than to an alternative school while 9 appear closer to an alliterative school than to Valley Oak. There are also 14 that reside on Olive Drive and are not close to any school.

The Task Force defended their findings suggesting that only around a quarter of all students live within half-mile of a school and that would impose a standard that is not used anywhere else in the district.

Unfortunately, they completely miss the point here. First of all, this data conclusively demonstrates that closing the school would have a negative impact on the specific students that attend Valley Oak regardless of the standards for the rest of the district. Second, many students at Valley Oak have transportation issues since they are Title 1 students and this close would be a larger burden on them than on students in other attendance areas going to other schools.

The Davis OPEN group was able to present their counter-proposal for a good length of time last night. They reported that 1600 people signed their petition to keep all nine elementary schools open--a figure that represents a very impressive number.

Baki Tezcan presented evidence that cast some doubt on the methodology used to come up with the projections. His presentation was impressive enough to prompt Task Force Chair Kirk Trost to come back up to clarify their findings with numbers that did not seem to match the numbers used by Tezcan.

Baki Tezcan pointed out as we did the change in the projections from December 2006 to January 2007. The key difference was the use of Mobility #3 in December to using Mobility #2 in December and that shifted the finding from a stable +/- 186 K-12 students to an approximate decline of 400.

Tezcan said that method #2 compared all students in each attendance area from year to year while method #3 had a sampling of students. He suggested that sampling was the more preferred method for projecting and that it was the Task Force rather than DDP that made that call to switch to Method #2.

Tezcan then presented three sets of projections, the third one being "October projections" based on 2005 student data. These data show an actual small increase in enrollment. Tezcan demonstrated that the projections using this methodology more closely were demonstrated by actual numbers than the preferred methodology of the Task Force. When he averaged those three studies, he found a slight increase rather than decrease in enrollment over the next few years.

He then cited Stuart Sweeney, a professor at UC Santa Barbara:
"Beyond three to five years, projections are 'not at all certain and shouldn't be portrayed as such. Forecasting is never an exact science and ultimately rests on the validity of the assumptions used to initiate the model. ... Which assumptions are the 'correct' ones can certainly be influenced by politics.'"
Rick Gonzales presented data on the EL program. His main case was that the EL program at Valley Oak was exemplary. A higher percentage of students end up graduating from the program than is the norm in the district. Moreover a number of students go from EL to GATE which is extraordinary. Finally, the programs take a total commitment by staff and students. They take two years to put into place and closing the school would put these students who are already at risk, at even greater risk.

A number of parents and past students gave very emotional testimony about how much this school and this program had helped them and that they feared it closing.

The school board now has a number of factors to consider--first whether they can even close down a school at this late date and second whether they should close down the school. While the parents in attendance give perhaps a skewed view of the numbers in the community who support this, the near unanimity of the speakers in support of Valley Oak along with the 1600 collected signatures speaks volumes for the community. The decision is now in the hands of the school board who have not heard yet from staff on a variety of issues including fiscal ones and have yet to really discuss it among themselves. Meanwhile the parents at Valley Oak, wait with baited breath.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting