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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Commentary: The School Board--Where they got it right, Where they got it wrong

It was with great sadness that the Davis Joint Unified School District made their decision in the end to support the closing of Valley Oak. There are a number of mistakes that have been made along the way, some by this school board, some by the district under the leadership of David Murphy as Superintendent, and some by the previous School Board. All said it is a very complicated process and I think the public needs to understand where actual fault lies and where this school board has done the right things.

We start once again with David Murphy. I hear the consistent complaints from the public and from Valley Oak parents looking suspiciously toward the district paying for two superintendents. There is much to criticize this board for. The superintendent situation however, in my opinion, is not one of them. First of all, the blame needs to rest with the previous school board. When BJ Kline, Joan Sallee, and Marty West left office in 2005, at the 11th hour they extended by a 4-1 vote, the contract of David Murphy for three additional years. Jim Provenza was the only no vote. They did this to protect Murphy from the new board. They also wrote into his contract a provision that required that any termination of Murphy by the new school board would still require that he be paid in full for the entire length of his contract.

There are a whole host of reasons why Murphy needed to go, really we have already discussed many at length, the King High School debacle being one of the more recent ones and that was quite a bit of money that the district lost. But look no further than the debacle with Montgomery Elementary School. Deputy Superintendent for Business Tahir Ahad formed his own private educational consulting company while still employed by the school district. He took with him several current and former employees of the district. The District was aware of this situation and there was no attempt made by the board majority or the administration to put an end to this situation. The attitude was that Tahir was brilliant and could do anything.

However, Tahir would miss filing paperwork for a critical deadline for the Montgomery Elementary School that would cost the district $5 million. It does not take a lot of math, to understand why it would probably be more financially sound to eat $160,000 to $200,000 on an additional superintendent rather than taking a chance on further financial debacles. It also doesn't take much to realize how much losing $5 million would impact the district's overall budget.

So despite the apparent unseemliness of the arrangement, it is my view that the district did what they had to do with regards to the superintendent situation.

Where I criticize the majority of the school board is how the Task Force report was handled. The previous board named this Task Force. It was not originally designed to be a close the school task force. However, at a very early stage Chair Kirk Trost decided that a school had to be closed and that it needed to be Valley Oak. Trost then turned his mission into an advocacy mission and all findings directed him toward those ends. This is not the role a Task Force should have played. The final report read like a legal brief rather than either an academic paper or a Task Force report with a number of alternatives and with specific research to justify assumptions and conclusions.

Rather the Task Force should have been there to provide the District with an array of alternatives that they could then choose from. This Task Force took the decision making effectively away from the District. The members felt obligated to follow the direction and advise of this board that had spent considerable time.

This was no more evident when not only did the board defer to the Task Force on the issue of enrollment and demography, but so did the interim Superintendent. This despite the fact that the Task Force had no particular expertise with demography and had in fact driven the process by selecting which assumptions should be made--assumptions that ran against what the demographers (the actual experts) would have suggested. My unfortunate first impression of Interim Superintendent Richard Whitmore is unfortunately a negative one. I am grateful to the board for making the right decision on firing Murphy, but they left Murphy's staff largely in place and that showed on Monday night.

I honestly believe that the decision to close Valley Oak for both Gina Daleiden and Tim Taylor was an exceedingly difficult decision. While I do not agree with them on their final analysis, I also believe they they shared the best interest in of the students.

However, I think Tim Taylor made a monumental error for both the Valley Oak parents and the district as a whole by making a well-intentioned attempt at compromise.

The district relies on the parcel tax to account for 5.5% of their budget and fund a number of very important programs. It must be renewed every so often with a two-thirds vote by the electorate.

Board Member Tim Taylor made the suggestion that a second parcel tax be placed on the ballot. It could only win if the first parcel tax won. And the second would fund Valley Oak Elementary and enable it to stay open. If it fails in the fall of 2007, Valley Oak would close in 2008.

Taylor was attempting to give the Valley Oak parents an alternative. It was a well-intentioned move by him, however he made a large error by bowing to Keltie Jones' browbeating of him on the issue of having the two parcel taxes on the ballot. Jones was concerned that the second one being on the ballot may doom the first one. The compromise means that they will poll the parcel tax to determine if having the second parcel tax on the ballot will cause the first one to lose.

Jones, overreacted and failed to recognize that by having a large and energetic group from Valley Oak working to pass both parcel taxes, it made it more likely to pass.

However, if the board makes the determination that having the second parcel tax on the ballot would harm the first parcel tax and decides to stick with only the original parcel tax, that would create a potential backlash. Moreover, given the numerous problems that have beset the district, the passage of the main parcel tax is no longer a given.

It may be that the parcel tax was in jeopardy even before and without this issue. But tying the issues together may cripple it regardless no matter what the district does.

The bottom line here is that it was probably a mistake to close a school before a critical election was held on the parcel tax. The closing of the school comes before the new enrollment figures of the fall. They may show another rise in enrollment, in which case, some of these fears may be false. Moreover, as Board President Provenza has suggested on multiple occasions there is no current financial crisis.

In the end and despite protests to the contrary, the board made this decision too quickly without a full exploration of alternative funding sources. In fact, the administration never addressed the issue of how it could keep open nine schools financially. They spoke at length about how to close down a school and in what time frame, but there were never really alternatives presented.

In the end, I guess the saddest part of this is that this school was a successful school and that the district closed it down because of concerns that were not directly related to its performance.

My enduring memory from this issue will be the sight late Monday night of parents with tears streaming down their faces as the district had made it clear that Valley Oak was closing. And that is something that I will never forget.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, March 23, 2007

Jim Provenza Announces Bid for Fourth District Yolo County Supervisor

This afternoon before a good sized crowd of supporters, Davis School Board Member Jim Provenza announced his intention to run for the 4th District Yolo County Supervisor Seat. The seat will be vacant due to Mariko Yamada's run for the Democratic nomination of the 8th Assembly District.

Provenza announced with his wife, Donna, at his side. He was also flanked by a number of current and past elected officials including Supervisor Mariko Yamada, whose seat he is seeking, City Councilmember Lamar Heystek, two of his colleagues on the school board, Gina Daleiden and Sheila Allen, former Davis Mayor Maynard Skinner and former Davis City Councilmember Ted Puntillo.

I am running in order to preserve and protect open space and farm land; to promote and enhance services for seniors, children, and the disabled; and to improve our law enforcement and criminal justice system. These are important issues that need to be addressed.

Supervisor Mariko Yamada added remarks after Provenza had finished speaking. She described Provenza as exactly who Yolo county needs, "Jim has the intelligence, integrity, and independence to be a great Yolo County Supervisor. He’s the right fit for the District and Yolo County."

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Councilmember Souza running for reelection; Pledges to Balance the City Budget

The Davis Enterprise reported on Thursday that Davis City Councilmember Stephen Souza announced his bid for re-election to the City Council.

What I find interesting aside from again the sheer earliness of a reelection bid are goals if reelected.
“I would like to see an urban transition zone. I would like to move toward reducing our global footprint, provide police and fire with the tools they need to keep us safe, and balance our budget completely.”
Leaving aside the inconsistency between reducing our global footprint and big box development such as Target, the idea of balancing our budget completely should draw question and scrutiny given the record of Mr. Souza and his council majority cohorts in this regard.

One might rightly ask, and it is probably true that at an announcement is perhaps not the time to do so, what Mr. Souza has done to balance the budget in his first three years on the council?

If anything, as we discussed last week, Mr. Souza has contributed to the spiraling structural fiscal problems of the city of Davis by failing to act on the runaway pension problem.

As we reported last week, the city has been extremely generous with retirement benefits and after just five years of city service, a city employee is entitled to lifelong retirement benefits. If allowed to continue this will simply suck up all of the resources of the city. Moreover, the city is becoming increasingly hamstrung by upper management salaries. The combination is likely to mean fewer services and higher taxes down the line.

And yet, as recently as Mid-March, Souza continued to approve such measures that extend those benefits.

Furthermore as the Davis Enterprise reported on March 14, 2007: City leaders, led by you guessed it, Stephen Souza, have proposed "building, equipping and staffing a fourth fire station, something that would cost $5.2 million to get off the ground and $1.7 million per year to operate."

This feeds right into Mr. Souza's goal of providing fire with more tools to keep us safe, but again, is something that the city does not have money for.

On March 13, 2007, the city had serious talks about their financial future. Finance Director Paul Navazio painted a bleak picture:
"At current funding levels, projections show streets will continue to deteriorate over time," said Finance Director Paul Navazio.

The city budget is a delicate thing, depending on just a few revenue streams. The bulk of the revenue comes from property tax and sales tax, and half of that sales tax comes from car sales, Navazio said.

The City Council has made efforts to diversify the city's sales tax base by approving retail developments such as Target and Interland, but those projects have yet to be built and yet to start producing revenue.

But even that revenue could be diminished if a half-cent sales tax that voters approved in 2004 isn't reinstated in 2010, leaving the budget with a $3.2 million hole.

A parks tax, renewed by voters last year, will expire in 2012, taking $1.3 million in revenue with it if it is not renewed again.
The answer to the funding problem: you guessed it, new and more taxes.
"The answer could be a new and different tax with clear information about what it funds. Both the sales tax and the parks tax go into the general fund and can be used for any number of things."
What the discussion did not talk about is that a lot of the revenue problems and short-falls are being driven in part by structural spending problems created by locked in salaries and benefits that have been set at too high a level with little or no flexibility.

It is nice to talk about balancing the budget, but we need an honest discussion about how we got to where we are now and what it will take to balance the budget. That will require an explanation of why increasingly large amounts of city spending is going towards the payment of high ranking city officials and those who will have to pay the brunt of it will be the taxpayers and the heaviest burden will fall on new home owners and others who can least afford to pay that burden.

It is nice that Mr. Souza is now talking about a balanced budget because he has contributed as much as anyone to the runaway structural fiscal problems that this city has faced.

In fact, perhaps the most responsible councilmember in this regard has been Mayor Sue Greenwald who has voted against numerous pay increases, pension increases, and who has been warning us for years now of an impending crisis as the city council continues to lock up more and more future revenue into these expensive contracts that go heavily and increasingly toward wealthy, top-end personnel. As Mayor Greenwald said at a recent meeting, if the contract was merely going to rank-and-file, she would have no problem with it, but going to upper management, she could not in good conscience support it.

At some point we need to have an honest discussion of the city's fiscal situation, unfortunately many of us have little faith that the current news media in this city would understand the problems enough to hold the public official's feet to the fire.

In the meantime, Souza is running for re-election along with colleague Don Saylor. The question now is who will run against them. We will be watching closely as this develops.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Assembly Campaigns Tout Education Endorsements

Education is one of the main pillars of the Democratic Party, so it is no surprise to see Democratic candidates jostling for support and endorsements from the education community. What is a shock is how early this is occurring in the 8th Assembly District.

This morning, I attended a rather interesting press conference by the Christopher Cabaldon for Assembly Campaign held at the Sacramento City College Davis Extension Campus in South Davis. Cabaldon was there touting his record on education and receiving an endorsement from State Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell.

The event itself was well done and interesting, it was held in a classroom on the Davis Extension Campus, during class time. Actual students were in attendance. One of them told me that they were supposed to take a test today, but that was changed in order to accommodate this event.

What I do not understand is how a press conference of this sort can occur at a taxpayer financed classroom during class time. The administrator and teacher were obvious supporters of Cabaldon, but one must question the usage of state and classroom time for campaign purposes.

I have known Jack O'Connell since he was an Assemblyman down in Santa Barbara and later he moved his family to San Luis Obispo to become State Senator. O'Connell was always a strong advocate for schools and a representative in the state legislature.

The Los Angeles Times "Capital Blog" criticized elected officials including Jack O'Connell for ducking the controversial vote on College fee increases for UC and CSU.
"Lt. Gov. John Garamendi issued a statement today calling the fee hikes at the University of California and Cal State University system "an unfair tax on California's youth, and a dangerously shortsighted move." California, he said, has a "moral obligation to invest in our future generations."

Yet Garamendi skipped a vote yesterday by the UC Board of Regents that raised college fees 7%, and he missed the Cal State University trustee meeting that hiked fees 10%.

In fact, not a single elected official with a vote showed up yesterday at the UC meeting in Westwood and the Cal State meeting in Long Beach. Garamendi and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (pictured together), Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and schools chief Jack O'Connell were elsewhere. All four serve as voting ex officio members of the two boards."
Meanwhile, the Mariko Yamada for Assembly Campaign issued a press release yesterday announcing the endorsement of Davis resident and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin.
"Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin has endorsed Mariko Yamada’s candidacy in the Democratic Primary for the 8th Assembly district. Eastin lives in Davis.

Yamada, current Chair of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, has also earned the endorsement of Cirenio Rodriguez of the Yolo County Board of Education, Jim Provenza, President of the Davis Joint Unified School District and Sheila Allen, PhD member of the Davis Joint Unified School District and Rogelio Villagrana, a Trustee of the Woodland Joint Unified School District."
This is an extremely high level of intensity for March of 2007, nearly 15 months before the primary election. Someone was telling me that in other Assembly Districts, people were announcing that they are strongly thinking about running for Assembly and in this race, there is a furious pace to line up the support of elected officials.

All of which makes for interesting times as someone following this race. Stay tuned.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

In-Car Police Computers Remain Inoperative

In the Ombudsman’s report to City Council presented on February 20, 2007, one of the biggest areas of concern was the fact the in-car police computers did not work. This means that police cars could not know where each other were at all times. It also inhibits the ability and ease of checking license plates.

As Davis Police Ombudsman Robert Aaronson wrote:
As I understand it, a substantial number of the in-car computers remain unreliable and cannot be depended upon to remain in contact with dispatch. This is a serious officer safety issue. It adversely impacts Department morale and undermines the quality of service the Department can provide to the community. Given the long period (many months) that this has remained unresolved, it is high time it was fixed once and for all.
And in fact these computers have never worked and to this day continue to not work. The primary problem with them seems to be hardware-software compatibility. The software is newer than the hardware and causes the hardware to crash.

This mirrors the problem of in-car cameras, which for months were not working and so the officers were not getting reliable recordings of an on-scene encounters. However at last month’s City Council Meeting Aaronson told council:
“It's been my view all along that the in-car computers are more critical than the in-car cameras."
The safety issues involving the officers and the convenience of having readily accessible information aside there are several very concerning factors about this inability to get this technology to work.

The first and most obvious one is that this is hardly re-inventing the wheel. We could likely go across the country and find almost every police department and almost every police vehicle with computers in the vehicle. And I think it is safe to say that in almost every police department with in-car computers, the computers are operational. They work. This is not rocket science. There is no logical technical reason that you cannot make computers in a police vehicle work.

That leads us to the second problem. This is not an unknown problem. Mr. Aaronson has mentioned it in public several times. And he mentions it frequently in conversation. That means not only does the police department know but the city manager’s office knows and city staff knows. Perhaps I am na├»ve about how all of this stuff works, but I would think this would not be a difficult problem to resolve.

In part this gets at Mr. Aaronson’s concern about leadership within the department:
The second [problem], based on many discussions with Department members, is the need for quality leadership and clear supervision that uniformly holds people accountable. Without intending to disrespect the hard work of current and former supervisors and administrators, it does appear that the turnover in staff, and particularly in chiefs, has undermined the organization’s supervisory chain of command, its vision and its morale.
And while in many ways this clearly is a police leadership problem and it exemplifies the concerns that Mr. Aaronson has about leadership. It is also broader than a police problem. It is a city problem. Mr. Aaronson came before City Council last month. Each of the five city council members are aware of this problem as is city staff again, from the City Manager on down.

So why is this problem not solved? How much money will this problem cost the city in an attempt to resolve? Who is accountable for the failure of these computers to work? Will the City Manager, the Interim Police Chief, and/ or the City Council hold people responsible for this failure? None of these answers are clear, although it appears from the outside that no one will be held responsible for this.

What is clear is that newly hired Police Captain Landy Black both cannot get here fast enough and has his work cut out for him. The department needs a strong leader than can resolve these problems, but again the responsibility here does not end with the Interim Police Chief and that might be a bigger problem in the long run.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

News Analysis: Parcel Tax in Jeopardy?

Last night at the Davis City Council Meeting, I sat by School Board Members Sheila Allen and Gina Daleiden as they waited patiently for an extended period of time for the council to finish deliberations on a development agreement. I am still not certain who was more tired last night--them or me--we had all been up very late on Monday night and yesterday was not much shorter.

While this commentary is primarily focused on the parcel tax, I want to take a moment to criticize the council in the way they deliberated on the development agreement for a South Davis subdivision. One thing that was readily apparent last night was that the city council erred in attempting to deliberate on the finite details of such an agreement in public--they would have been better served having given staff direction and bringing the item back for approval as a consent item.

As it was, what appeared on the agenda to be a short meeting went well past midnight.

In the meantime by 10:45 or so last night, Board Members Allen and Daleiden presented information about the extension of the parcel tax.

The parcel tax represents roughly 5.5 percent of the district's revenue. It is assessed at $166.90 per parcel in the past measure and the renewal would add an additional 20 dollars to this tax--a modest increase that represents a basic COLA increase.

The parcel tax is vital to the district. At the elementary school level it helps fund classroom size reduction and an elementary reading program. At the secondary level it funds the seventh period for the junior, extended hours for the library and help for at-risk kids. In addition it funds $20 per student for classroom supplies district-wide, technology, counseling, nurses, and training for teachers.

Without this parcel tax the district would be in serious financial jeopardy. The problems that the district faces now, pale in comparison to the problems that it would face if the parcel tax were to fail.

Board Member Keltie Jones became very alarmed when fellow Board Member Tim Taylor proposed a second parcel tax measure on the ballot tied to the passage of the first that would fund the nine school option. Jones was concerned that the second measure on the ballot would cripple the chances that the first measure would pass. Both of these measures require a two-thirds vote and that is a daunting task.

One thing that I think people do not understand is that the character of Davis has shifted somewhat and you have a large, fiscally conservative new development center in south Davis that will make passage of the original parcel tax much more difficult.

Introducing the second is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, having too many tax measures on the ballot--and there is a library tax measure as well--will make it harder for any of them to pass. On the other hand, Jones overlooks the grassroots energy that the Valley Oak and Davis OPEN parents would provide to help run a campaign to pass the parcel tax.

Without both measures on the ballot, the district does not have this already organized and strongly energetic parental base to rely on.

However, there are still serious concerns I have.

First, the parents at Davis OPEN were demoralized by the vote to close the school. Will they be able to get off the deck and organize for the passage of two measures?

Second, there is a resentment factor that I have already seen with the suggestion that the board is trying to win its campaign on the backs of its poorest and most vulnerable parents and students.

Third, what happens if the polling shows that the second parcel tax would doom the first? You may turn the Davis OPEN parents to work actively AGAINST the parcel tax. Then what?

This has the makings of a serious miscalculation. And it is a cumulative thing. First you have the superintendent issue--I think the board did the right thing, but to many, it looks unbecoming and questionable to pay for two superintendents even after you explain that it may save the district money even in the short run.

Second, you have a number of other "scandals" that this board is trying to deal with.

Add to those factors now a new hazard,very angry and demoralized base who is organized but exhausted and they are now in the position to go either way.

Looking at this landscape if I am on the board, I would be scared to death that the parcel tax is in jeopardy. Not because of the second proposed parcel tax but because of how this process has played out.

I understand that the board received pressure in both directions on the school issue with people threatening to vote no on the parcel tax is Valley Oak remained open, but this development cannot have helped it.

Right now the passage of the parcel tax appears to be in serious jeopardy. Are they going to get two-thirds of the public to back this? It looks very dicey right now.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

City-County Discussions Continue to Generate Heat

Most residents of Davis were likely unaware of the County General Plan update process until the County Planning Commission returned with a report recommending several development projects on the periphery of Davis including a 2100-unit senior housing unit in the Northwest Quadrant. This sounded an alarm to many activists and other residents concerned with peripheral growth. At this point, that specific proposal seems dead, however, the contentiousness is far from over.

On Monday, the City of Davis-County of Yolo two-by-two committee met. This body is composed of two members from each body--Sue Greenwald and Don Saylor from the city council and the two Davis County Supervisors--Helen Thomson and Mariko Yamada.

There were moments of relief such as when both Thomson and Yamada indicated their support for the current pass-through agreement indicating that there would not be any move to renegotiate it.

The pass-through agreement is an agreement by the county not to develop within the sphere of influence of the city of Davis, in exchange, the city agrees to give the county a share of the redevelopment money they would have been entitled to had they developed. In this case, Davis gives the county roughly $2.7 million (the figure was somewhat in contention with the county suggesting it might be $2.1 million).

This is a much larger number than the county likely would get if they tried to develop the land. Moreover, it is considerably larger than the pass-through agreements between the county and Woodland and West Sacramento. So when the county talks about not having enough revenue, it seems like Davis ought to be the last place that the county is looking towards.

Moreover, while the county members were suggesting that Davis needs to take on its fair share of growth--a point reiterated by Supervisor McGowan at the County Supervisor's meeting on Tuesday, City Councilmember Don Saylor on Monday, adamantly said that Davis has exceeded all SACOG requirements on fair share of growth in the past. So again, this entire discussion focusing on Davis seems very odd.

Councilmember Saylor was very clear that the City of Davis through the pass-through agreement, maintained the land-use authority on the periphery. He also strongly maintained his opposition to the specific projects mentioned. The county was adamant however that this has not been a project-based plan so far but rather that they are looking at concepts and philosophies. However, specific sites have been identified as possible study areas by the county.

A few weeks ago, the city of Davis agreed in principle to have some sort of joint meeting with the county to discuss common destinies. The county would take up this issue on Tuesday. On Monday however, Councilmember Saylor was very clear that by agreeing to talk that is all the city was doing. They were not agreeing to reconsidering issues such as peripheral growth.

The issue of the joint study sessions at this point seems to be the sticking point. The county is looking at the change of designations of very land areas. This seemed strongly opposed by both Greenwald and Saylor. Greenwald viewed this as the first step toward development process.

Greenwald in speaking of lands on the Davis city-edge: “I would expect the county to keep its agricultural designation... It would be a somewhat hostile act that would impede cooperation.”

Yamada took exception to the use of the term hostile, but Greenwald's point here was dead-on: the county should not be changing the land-use designation here. At this point, the joint study session is viewed by Davis council as a means by which to try to force a change and that is not supported, at least from what I have seen, by the council. In the end, I think this proposal will be dropped, but as of now it is THE point on contention.

A few weeks ago, again, the city council in principle agreed to meeting with the county for a meeting on joint destinies. Supervisor Yamada brought this before the Yolo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. It became clear that she did not have the votes to support a County-City specific meeting. Neither Rexroad nor McGowan supported that idea as they did not want the county to intrude into their spheres of influence or their respective cities.

Supervisor Rexroad pointed out that he generally defers to the Davis supervisors on Davis issues and thought it should be handled by the two-by-two which is a process already in place. If there was a formal process between Davis and the county, he would have to play a more active role.

Supervisor McGowan suggested that growth on Davis border was a "false alarm." That there was no need to rehash the general plan. He was not interested in meeting with jurisdictions right now to see what it looks like, not on narrow and specific interests. He said these concerns expressed by Davis are not going to happen. This was local stuff that he did not want to get involved with.

McGowan reiterated previous comments--that he was not interested in telling anyone where they should grow, but all are responsible for caring about increased growth that will come down from SACOG. He was not interested in a county absorbing specific growth because a city does not take on their fare share. (Again, Saylor's point is important that Davis has exceeded its fair share, so it is not clear where this concern is coming from).

Supervisor Chamberlain made the point that he was interested in meeting with Davis because they want to control business around Davis which are in his district. The Oeste project (Northwest Quadrant) would have bordered his district and he did not think it should go forward without input from the 5th District. (Again the Supervisors were adamant that this project is off the table).

Thomson supported the idea of an all-city-county meeting. This would be between the four cities and the county sometime in September or October (which likely means even later). This ended up being the compromise that was supported by all of the members.

It seems clear that the County General Plan update generated a huge amount of alarm in the city of Davis--and some of that appears to be justified. The process seems to be moving in the right direction however the joint study session idea is still a large concern to residents of Davis who wish to protect against peripheral growth and the county overstepping its land-use authority as authorized in the pass-through agreement.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

3-2 Vote Moves Valley Oak Officially to the Chopping Block with only a Small Reprieve

The day began with a show of force--the force of dozens of small school children laughing and screaming in the hopes of saving their school as they slowly marched from Valley Oak Elementary School to Council Chambers. It was a distance of nearly a mile and remarkably it seemed to take 45 to 50 minutes for their small legs to cross the distance.

They were hopeful and anxious, but soon enough that joy and anticipation turned into stone cold reality.

It was a night where the fate seemed sealed rather early on. In fact, most of the way through the staff presentation and question and answers, Ginny Davis, one of the assistants to the superintendent, made the comment that the staff was not making a recommendation to close Valley Oak this evening, a proclamation that induced a number of hearty laughs because from the very beginning it seemed that staff had in fact been a very heavy lean toward closing Valley Oak Elementary School and if they were not overtly recommending it, they stopped just shy of such a recommendation.

Superintendent Richard Whitmore gave a presentation in which he made a strong case that the district could close Valley Oak by 2007, however, in the end that seemed too liberal an estimate even for the majority on this board. And it would save enough money for the district given not only closing costs, but also a $50 to $75 thousand dollar consultant cost in addition to simply retaining all of the certificated staff (i.e. the teachers) and moving them from one location to another. So the costs would be heavy and the savings rather light in 2007-08.

One exchange in particular kind of summed up how this evening would go--Board Member Tim Taylor would mention that there were differing interpretations of the enrollment projections and he asked Mr. Whitmore which he should believe. Mr. Whitmore pointedly said that none of the staff were demographers, but that the Task Force had worked long and hard with the demographic data and he would tend to take their findings strongly into account.

By the time, the board went around the room and spoke, it was fait accompli. First, Board Member Keltie Jones somewhat tearfully suggested she had no choice but to close the school. Gina Daleiden followed suit. And then after a long and vigorous defense by Sheila Allen, Tim Taylor made it clear that this would be a 3-2 vote in favor of closure. They cited the report by the Task Force, they praised the work of the task force, they said this was the toughest decision that they had to make and that no one had gone onto the board believing that they would close an elementary school.

Jim Provenza introduced a substitute motion that would forestall the decision until the fall when they had the new enrollment data, and while Sheila Allen joined him, it failed by a 3-2 vote. Provenza argued that there was no immediate fiscal crisis and that this school was working and that the EL program at Valley Oak was exemplary.

This argument was countered by staff that argued that they could make the program work well wherever it moved and by the board majority who argued that this was about programs not facilities and that they could have successful programs regardless of where. The counter-argument that these are assumptions seemed to fall on deaf ears. The most vulnerable students in this district are being moved based on beliefs and assumptions by staff and trustees and not based on the actual knowledge that they can simply move a program from one school to another. We simply do not know.

In the end though, it seemed that the board, or at least Tim Taylor, while believing nine schools was unfair to the other eight, fiscally irresponsible, and unsupported by the demographic data, could not deliver the final death knell. He offered a massive motion which would do the following:

1. Open Korematsu as a K-2 school for 07-08.
2. Keep Valley Oak open in 07-08
3. Open Korematsu as a K-6 school in fall of '08
4. Close Valley Oak in fall of '08
5. Place on the ballot a second parcel tax to fund Valley Oak in November of 2007 provided that the first parcel tax passed.

This was too much for Keltie Jones who pushed hard and was very fearful a second tax bill would doom their first. She got Taylor to water down even the compromise language so that a poll would be taken and the second parcel tax would be put on the ballot only if it wasn't going to doom the first. Now perhaps what Jones was forgetting is that by putting them both on there and tying the fate of Valley Oak to the first parcel tax, they are in essence recruiting 50 to 100 dedicated parents who have a vested interest in doing the grass roots work to get them both passed. If only the first parcel tax were on the ballot--none of those folks would work to get it placed on the ballot. So in actuality it might be more likely to pass because it is tied to Valley Oak than if it were not.

The final passage was 3-2--giving the parents at Valley Oak a glimmer of hope amid a huge valley of despair. At just after 1 am, the fate seem cast officially. A mix of anger, frustration, sadness, and exhaustion seemed to grip the people. And through it all, the folks at Valley Oak Elementary School still do not know their fate for sure, but somehow they managed to not die enough to perhaps muster the will and determination to fight another day.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, March 19, 2007

Monday Brief Announcement

Join the Dragon

Monday, March 19th, 2007
Walk for Valley Oak
Give our Children a voice without speaking!!!!!

Join us as we walk from

Valley Oak to the District Offices at B Street

4:30 pm~ Line up at Valley Oak
5 pm~ walk to offices.
6 pm~ School Board Meeting
It might be a good idea for families, friends and groups to leave a
car (van) near the District Offices and one at Valley Oak.
Please remember we're a family, meet others and carpool.

Wear Valley Oak Shirts and Make Signs.

No matter how you feel about this issue,
come and support the children of Davis!!
Children and Adults:
remember to respect others and their views!

Sunshine Week: Davis City Council Survey

Last week being Sunshine Week, I decided to see how responsive the Davis City Council Members would be to an email. I wasn't sure exactly how they would respond, but I got responses from all five members of the Davis City Council. Here is my initial email and then will be their responses in the order in which I received them:
The following is an audit to test your responsiveness to constituency email. All answers and responses are “on the record” and will be use verbatim and unedited in a future People’s Vanguard of Davis story and all non-responses will be mentioned and noted.
  1. What is the most common way that constituents communicate with you?
  2. What is your preferred way for constituents to communicate to you?
  3. In general, how often do you check your city email account?
  4. What is the most outrageous/ funniest story you have about constituent communication?
  5. How do you think the city can better meet the needs of transparency of government actions?
  6. What measures would you be willing to support in order to meet those stated goals?
Stephen Souza:

1. Email

2. Email

3. 4 to 6 times a day.

4. Most of the communication I get from community members comes from emails and are about serious matters. I have had several communications sent to me with good jokes and there was one where the City Council was confused with the School Board and our duties concerning construction of one of the schools.

5. The city by law is already very, very transparent in all matters except property, labor, legal and personnel matters until they come to a resolution and then the outcome is announced and they too become transparent. Everything said and written is public. There is very little that is private when you are a publicly elected official.

6. As I have said above we our by law very transparent. We have one of the most responsive city clerks office to public records requests, as you know David, the best cable broadcast station in the area, one of the best web pages in the state and now we have a radio station that has been used and will be used more often in the future. One of the things we could do is to televise more of our commission meetings. I will seek more input and look at what other governmental bodies have done to see if there is more that can be done to let the sun shine on our actions.

Don Saylor:

What is the most common way that constituents communicate with you?

One of the most rewarding parts of my public service in Davis is the opportunity to hear from, exchange ideas with, and interact with community members on matters affecting their lives and the community we all love. I feel fortunate to live in a community with so many insightful and caring people. Members of the Davis community contact me in a number of ways. E-mail is probably the most common, followed by phone calls. Hard copy letters are probably the least common.

Many members of the community ask to meet to discuss issues or concerns in detail; I cannot recall any such requests that I have not been able to accommodate.

I am frequently approached by community members in public places, such as Farmers' Market, community events, grocery shopping, or at coffee shops. I make it a point to allow time for these interactions wherever I go. These unplanned interactions often provide great insight into the life of the community.

What is your preferred way for constituents to communicate to you?

I am open to all forms of communication and various approaches have different benefits. E-mail is a very efficient way for community members to express their views, request a meeting, ask a question, or raise an issue or concern. E-mail communications can be sent, read and responses given at times that are convenient for the senders. I read every e-mail that comes to my city e-mail address. This also allows for sharing the actual words of the community member as appropriate to request assistance . E-mail communications, however, are not a substitute for face to face interaction on complex matters.

Often the issues of concern to a community member can only be understood by seeing the area first hand. I find that one of the most

effective and enjoyable forms of communication is a site visit to a neighborhood, an intersection, a park location or a backyard. Whenever possible, I conduct site visits to gain a better understanding of the issue. These visits have taken me to locations in our community I might not have otherwise encountered and have provided me with an ever
increasing tangible sense of our community.

In general, how often do you check your city email account?

I check my City of Davis e-mail address several times each day.

What is the most outrageous/ funniest story you have about constituent communication?

I take every communication with community members seriously.

How do you think the city can better meet the needs of transparency of government actions?

I am totally committed to transparency in all government actions and I personally support ongoing extensive activities to inform and engage community members in governmental decisions. One of the strengths of our community is active participation in our government and our public life. I appreciate the opportunity to share with you some of the ways that community members can access information about our city government.

As a Council Member, I am committed to the letter and the spirit of all open meeting laws and to assuring that the business of the public is done in public. All meetings of the City Council are conducted in an open posted public meeting, unless the subject of the meeting is explicitly exempted by law due to the subject matter (personnel, litigation, collective bargaining negotiations, property acquisition). Any closed session discussions are monitored carefully by the City Attorney to assure that the scope and content of the posting is accurate and appropriate for closed session discussions and that the actual discussions in these meetings are conducted legally.

About 95% of all City Council meetings are televised and broadcast on cable TV and via streaming video on the internet live and on archive ( Since I was elected to the Council in 2004, every meeting of the City Council where an action was taken has been televised. The small handful of workshop meetings that have not been televised have been held in locations other than the community chambers or have been special roundtable discussion sessions. All these meetings have been posted and members of the public have been invited to speak and allowed to videotape the proceedings as they desired. No actions have been taken in any of these meetings and all meetings posted for action have been televised and included public comment periods.

All agendas and staff reports are published on the City's web page prior to the meetings (; this is typically done on the Friday before a Tuesday meeting. In addition, the City web site contains archival links to a wide variety of detailed
staff reports, agendas for Council and Commissions, major documents (such as Environmental Impact Reports and economic studies for major projects), and useful information on city services and contacts.

The minutes of meetings of the City Council and all City Commissions are also published on the city website so interested persons can track the actual actions on subjects of concern to them.

Interested community members may subscribe to a city e-mail service to have agendas of the City Council and any of the Commissions e-mailed to their personal addresses on the day the agenda is posted (

Major issues are often addressed in the quarterly hard copy publication called "Focus" that is mailed to every household in the community.

With the 19 Commissions and Task Forces assigned to specific policy areas within the City's jurisdiction, it is rare for any topic to come before the Council that has not first been aired at public meetings of another body. I have actively supported the training of all Commission members in the provisions of the Brown Act to assure that Commission processes are also conducted legally.

All meetings of the Council are preceded by a news release in the Enterprise listing all the items on the agenda. Often there is also an article that describes and discusses the agenda highlights.

What measures would you be willing to support in order to meet those stated goals?

From time to time we hear that an interested group has not been aware of a matter before us that concerns them. I am interested in finding ways to enhance awareness of issues by affected stakeholders at an early stage of issue development. Whether an individual or group believes an eventual decision is appropriate or misguided, all affected parties should be aware of the unfolding processes. While we do a lot already in this area, there is always more to do. We can make better use of our e-mail blast capacities and community groups like neighborhood associations to get the word out on emerging issues.

A second issue that I am concerned about is assuring that all community generated concerns are considered and have a clear response. With the volume of communications received by Council and city staff, sometimes individuals have not been given a clear sense of how their issues are addressed. Whether or not a community concern is resolved as requested, there needs to be a clear response on what has happened and how the community member might proceed if not satisfied. City Manger Bill Emlen is currently working on an approach to monitoring the response to community concerns.

Lamar Heystek:

1. Via e-mail.

2. In person. I'm usually at City Hall after 3:30 p.m. on weekdays. I try to call City staff to let them know I'll be in so that anyone who may want to see me can call in advance and meet me at City Hall. Anyone who calls City Hall and wants to meet with me can leave a message so that I can try to make it over if I weren't already planning on it.

3. Daily.

4. Let me get back to you about that one!

5. As many Commission meetings as possible should be televised. All Council meetings (whether they are joint meetings with other bodies or not) should also be broadcast. We are not maximizing the effectiveness of our government channel if we are not broadcasting this kind of programming to the fullest extent.

6. I would support budgeting more money to this end.

Ruth Asmundson:

1. What is the most common way that constituents communicate with you? - by telephone (530-753-7884) or by email (

2. What is your preferred way for constituents to communicate to you? - email

3. In general, how often do you check your city email account? - every night as much as possible but I can't respond to all at once. I average about 80 emails a day coming from Davis and other parts of the world. In general, when an email is addressed to all council members, the protocol is for the mayor to respond on behalf of the council.

Sue Greenwald:

What is the most common way that constituents communicate with you?

Answer: By e-mail and stopping me in the street.

In general, how often do you check your city email account?

Answer: Many times a day.

What is the most outrageous/ funniest story you have about constituent communication?

Answer: The numerous folks who have asked me if I am married to you.

How do you think the city can better meet the needs of transparency of government actions? What measures would you be willing to support in order to meet those stated goals?

Answer: Some of the most important questions that we have dealt with have not been put on the agenda for adequate discussion. For example, the Target EIR, fiscal impact report, zoning and development agreement all should have been put on the agenda, far in advance of the final council decision, for separate, in depth discussions. Unfortunately, this did not happen. All of these items, as well as everything else relevant to the Target decision, was rammed into two council meetings right before the vote. In fact, If I hadn't made an issue, there would have just been one all night marathon meeting to discuss all of these Target-related items.

I am doing my best to assure that the most important issues are placed on the regular calendar for city council meetings (not on the consent calendar). One example of this has been my ongoing insistence on scheduling the wastewater and surface water projects, and their associated rate increases, on the regular calendar for full discussion.

Quick comments: I want to sincerely thank each of the council members for taking the time to respond to this survey. I think it provided the public with some valuable information and insight. And I may do this again in the future on other topics.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, March 18, 2007


The People's Vanguard of Davis urges the Davis Joint Unified School Board to do everything possible to keep Valley Oak Elementary School open.

The current Davis Joint Unified School Board has done some very important things to help the children of Davis and to improve the schools. Going no further than the dismissal of Superintendent David Murphy that will enable the school district to get itself on stronger and more stable financial ground. (Murphy had presided over a mismanagement of finances and an administration of ethical & financial conflicts of interest.) Not to mention many other changes that needed to happen but could not happen because of the impediment that Superintendent Murphy represented. African American families have come forward asking for the district to make minority hiring a priority. Murphy had been an impediment to that. We have less than five African-American teacher's in the district. How can that be allowed to continue? And yet, I have every confidence that under the leadership of the interim Superintendent and this board, that those wrongs will be righted.

However, for all of the good accomplished by this school board, this decision of whether or not to close Valley Oak Elementary School in the minds of so many will make or break their legacy. Will this be a great school board? Then they need to find a way to keep this school open. The People's Vanguard of Davis cannot in good conscience support any member of this school board that does not vote to keep the school open. It is that simple. This issue is a make or break for us. That is despite the overall good record that its membership has.

In the nation's second most educated city, this should not be an issue. Education should not be a priority--it should be THE priority. There should be no other consideration than the education and the welfare of our students.

The moral measure of a society is judged on how well it treats the least among us. There is one school in the district that is majority-minority. There is one school in the district that is heavily Title I. Our legacy will be judged based on the decisions we make on this school.

Today we throw out the fiscal points--there are strong arguments to be made both ways on the fiscal points. And we focus exclusively on what is best for these students.

On Thursday night, we heard parent after parent get up and attest to the strength of the Valley Oak Elementary school educational program. We heard Rick Gonzales, Jr. get up there as part of the Davis OPEN presentation and talk about how good an English Language (EL) program exists at Valley Oak. Gonzales dedicates his life to getting minority students to college through the Yolo County Concilio student scholarship program, whereby the Concilio gives disadvantaged students scholarships so that they may be able to go to college. Often these kids are the first in their families to go to college. This is an amazing program and requires amazing dedication on the part of the Concilio and the community as a whole.

Gonzales spoke forcefully on the need for continuity in the EL program and how high a success rate that this program has. He showed us how many of these students at Valley Oak Elementary School go from the EL program to mainstream and even to GATE classes. And how if they were to move the school, it would take two years for the program to be rebuilt. That may not seem like a big deal until you realize that there are children there that will be set back by two years. These are the most vulnerable children in this school district who cannot afford to lose two years. These are children that get one chance to catch up to their peers and if they miss it, their entire futures are put into peril. Which is why you saw mothers and fathers on the verge of tears begging the school district to keep THEIR school open.

When the task force speaks about walking distance, they are not taking into account that for k-3 students, they cannot simply walk one-mile to school. They are not taking into account that if they close down Valley Oak elementary school, the vast majority of the students will have to travel further to school. When they say this distance is the accepted standard by various groups and that only 25% of children district-wide are within half a mile of a school, they are failing to look out for the best interest of these children. We are not talking about a decision that is district wide, we are talking about closing down this school, a neighborhood school, a neighborhood school where a large percentage of kids are within real walking distance of the school and whose parents have to work to be able to put food on the table and make their payments.

We are talking about putting these children at risk. And for what? To what end? To save what in the scheme of the district is literally pennies on the dollar? Because the school district may have a very small decline in enrollment over the next 10 years based on some sets of assumptions? To what end?

It is time that we throw out our points of law, our projections, our budget forecasts, and we ask the simple human question: is it right to close this school down that means so much to so many?

The answer to this question from our perspective is an unequivocal NO. This district should be dedicated to keeping all schools open and providing the best possible educational opportunities for all. To the members of the school board: The whole city is watching and your legacy will be defined based on this decision. Please make the right one.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting