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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Valley Oak Elementary Update: Movement To Create Charter School for Valley Oak

In the wake of the announced closing of the Valley Oak Elementary School, the school board has been looking into the possibility of passing a parcel tax that would provide the funding to keep Valley Oak Elementary School open.

This option was presented by School Board Member Tim Taylor as part of the motion to close Valley Oak following 2007-08 school year. At that time, fellow Board Member Keltie Jones pressed Taylor to weaken his motion by suggesting that the inclusion of the second parcel tax would doom the first one. The school district is now in the process of developing an implementing polling to test these concerns and if the polling comes back poorly--as some members expect-- the second parcel tax would not be placed on the ballot.

An option that the Davis OPEN would have preferred was including the additional $20 on the initial parcel tax. This is an idea strongly opposed by Best Uses of Schools Task Force member Jan Bridge. In an email from March 14, 2007 that we obtained via a public records request, Bridge wrote,
"Placing additional money in the parcel tax to support keeping 9 elementary schools open will doom the parcel tax--DJUSD will lose the 5.5% of the budget that is supported by the parcel tax--as well as having to close an elementary school in the process.

Please do not allow the parcel tax to become a vote of support or rejection of keeping valley Oak open--the community will lose too much."
Leaving the issue of whether a task force member should be lobbying the school district in this way aside, she raises an interesting but incomplete point. First, she makes the assumption that this would cause it to lose--but on what does she base it on? She ought to know that they will poll extensively, why not let the expert pollsters determine what is viable and what is not viable?

It seems to me that a combined parcel tax may stand a better chance at passage than two parcel taxes. It also seems to me that unless you are rigidly set on wanting to close the school RATHER than the expressed concern about finances or demographics, that you may want to explore all options to keep the school open. Statements like these however belie a strong motivation to close the school. Those who have suggested to me that Ms. Bridge did not want to close the school but felt there was no other choice, apparently did not read the volume of emails that she wrote in the last three months of the issue. Someone who had an interest in keeping Valley Oak open, would not have written that. Someone who had an interest in keeping Valley Oak open, would have continue to pursue other options. The task force claimed that this was a painful decision--and it may have been. The task force also claimed that they had exhausted all reasonable options--that does not appear to be the case as there are currently several options on the table that they would have had to dismiss. I do not know the motivations of the task for or Ms. Bridge, but from these statements it is very clear to me that she wanted to close Valley Oak Elementary. Her writings speak volumes.

That said, Bridge does bring up a key issue--she is concerned that having a Valley Oak option will doom the parcel tax and that if the parcel tax becomes a vote of support or rejection of keeping Valley Oak--the community loses out. It is not clear that the community as a whole would vote against such a proposition and again, it would be interesting to have actual polling results rather than assumptions.

However, if I were to make an educated assumption of my own, I might suggest that the opposite could just as easily be true, that if we do not have an option for keeping Valley Oak open and combined with a number of the other problems that have been covered on these pages regarding the school district and some of the issues that they are facing, that the Parcel Tax is in jeopardy. And the largest block of dissatisfied parents are those upset at the way the Task Force itself conducted their report.

We have covered a lot of the methodological problems of the task force report and some of the non-reported but key findings such as the issue of the walking distance and the assumption that schools of 420 students and larger are the only viable sizes.

However, one of my chief problems with the task force was simply their lack of professionalism. On Monday of this past week we reported that Jan Bridge became outraged and threatened to resign over the prospect of signing a conflict of interest disclosure form.

At the meeting, the chair Kirk Trost became incensed during a very mild exchange where he and the task force were criticized. However, in a March 18, 2007 letter Trost wrote the school board:
"I am, as I hope you are, appalled at Mr. Tezcan's letter. The attempts to impugn the character of members of the Task, the threats to us and to you, the distortions, and the potentially libelous statements are simply outrageous... These threats and allegations do not merit a response."
Of course the letter had no such threats.
"I finally figured out what happened between the first optimistic set of projections and the last one: it is not the move from Mobility # 3 to Mobility # 2, but the elimination of 2001 data at some point between September 25 and December 6, a period during which the BUSATF did not hold a single public meeting but the DDP was in contact with some of its members (I bet it was Kirk and Mr. Foster). 2002 was the last year in a long series of years during which our enrollments were going up; once the 2001 data is eliminated, the mobility factor goes down, and then the future enrollment projections follow suit. "
Mr. Tezcan then suggests:
"If you could persuade the former members of the BUSATF to withdraw their report until a new set of data becomes available, or if you can get together and make this decision among yourselves."
These exchanges demonstrate the high level of heat and emotions that bore down on this process both in private and in public. It is clear that the district needs to ascertain the level of anger and animosity that exist in this community at this point in time. The polls that will be commissioned can hopefully clarify the level of anger, frustration, and resentment in the community, but right now I would not be resting easy if I were in charge of making sure the parcel tax--even the original passes. And yet it is all too vital that it does. That is 5.5% of the funding at a time when even all the funding is not enough to fund all the programs that the school district and school board want and need. It funds vital programs.

Under these conditions it is little wonder that the folks who support keeping Valley Oak open have shifted their strategy to something that is much more in their control--creating a charter school.

Parents and teacher's at Valley Oak Elementary School are moving forward on plans to at least explore the option of creating a charter school.
There will be a meeting to explore the idea of creating a charter for Valley Oak Elementary School. All members of the community and school staff are invited to attend.

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007,
Valley Oak Multi-purpose Room
7:30-9:30 p.m.

For further information and future updates please check out the Valley Oak Charter School website.

It would serve the community well for there to be a large contingent of folks with good backgrounds in education and other vital areas to assist these people in planning their children's and their school's future.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting