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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fight For Valley Oak Goes to the County... And Beyond

As if Valley Oak did not have enough obstacles already, looking at the budget situation for the Davis Joint Unified School District gives one the clear impression that the school district could not afford to lose another couple of hundred students to a Valley Oak Charter School under the auspices of the county. How they choose to deal with that reality at this time remains somewhat unclear.

However, on March 6, 2008, a Thursday in the evening there will be a public hearing at the County Board of Education in Woodland where Valley Oak's Charter petition appeal will be heard.

There are more hurdles. If the County chooses to accept the charter petition, the teacher salary schedule is considerably lower than at DJUSD. Their health benefits program is more limited. How this impacts the charter and its ability to attract teachers is unclear at this time.

According to the County Board of Education's website, the board decision must be made no later than April 4, 2008.

The public has a number of different means by which to comment. One of course would be to show up at the meeting on March 6, 2008.

However, the public may also leave a voicemail message of up to five minutes in length at: (530) 668-3751.

They may also email the county at:

Valley Oak supporters are urging the public to send an email or a voice message to one of those two sources.

Valley Oak Teacher and one of the key organizers Bill Storm told the Vanguard:
"We need people to check our website and offer their support as is suggested there. I’m sure the district will have plenty to say against us, as will those people in Davis who want us dead and the neighborhood left unserved. Community voices will be important here."
Sarah Fonte, a teacher at Cesar Chavez, in a letter to the Davis Enterprise stressed that the Charter School is a free public school that is nevertheless unique.
"As a strong proponent of equitable public education for all students, I am glad to know that the proposed charter school is, in fact, a free public school. Like all schools in Davis, state academic standards will be taught and student academic performance will be measured through the same testing structures currently used in California's other public schools.

What makes this school unique, however, is that a board of teachers, community members and parents will work together to determine how these standards should be presented to best suit the needs of all of the school's students."
She adds that while the Charter School primarily intends to serve the neighborhood students and families, she believes "students who live in other areas in and around Davis will be able to take advantage of the school's programs as well."
"This charter school effort is not a privatization scheme, and in no way is it an effort to undermine other great programs present in the Davis school district. Instead, the goal of this school is to support the low-income and culturally diverse students, among others, who are effectively being denied equal educational opportunity because of the Board of Education's decision to close their highly successful neighborhood school."
Finally a letter from Henry Anker, a student at Holmes Junior High wrote an eloquent letter to the editor that was published on Valentine's Day.
"I am a student at Holmes Junior High, and Valley Oak Elementary School is part of my community. The issue of whether Valley Oak should become a charter school is not financial. It is social. The charter was turned down, but it is not clear why. It would be funded by the state of California and not Yolo County or Davis.

I went to a meeting at Valley Oak on Feb. 2. One person at the meeting who is a Valley Oak teacher and who lives in the neighborhood said, 'Valley Oak is more than a school.' What she meant by that was Valley Oak is a unique school that cannot be replicated anywhere else. It is unique because of where it is located, who it serves and how it educates.

When I was at the meeting, I could see why Valley Oak is unique. There were children, adults and old people; Spanish and English speakers. One teacher said there were 23 languages spoken at Valley Oak. There were always at least two people on stage explaining things - one in Spanish and the other in English.

They explained that if the school becomes a charter, it would be a cooperative. A cooperative empowers people to learn by participating. I learned a lot at that meeting - it was an example of the cooperative spirit that makes Valley Oak unique.

One person in the audience, Mariko Yamada, said her children went to Valley Oak once. She told everyone what a great school Valley Oak is, and she said, 'Most of the battles you will fight in your life you will lose, but if you don't fight - then we lose them all.'"
The message is clear. Members of the Valley Oak community want the public to know that this fight is not over. That the community is not giving up. That they will continue to fight and take this to the county. That if they should not prevail at the county-level they are going to the state.

There has been too much energy spent on keeping the hope of Valley Oak alive to give up now. Valley Oak represents a strong education for the children of a community that is often under-served. It means a strongly knit and closely bonded community. And the bottom line is that Valley Oak has succeeded despite all of the obstacles in the past. In this time of budget cuts and cutting of programs it is more important than ever to insure that our most vulnerable students have the best possible education.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, February 22, 2008

Commentary: Okay we get it, Don't Cut Music

Yesterday I made a phone call to one of the school board members on an unrelated matter. She asked if I was calling to tell her not to cut the music program. I said no somewhat jokingly but quickly added, but you shouldn't cut the music program.

It was then that it was clear that the school board had been flooded with calls on the matter. The view was find us a way to save money or something else to cut.

The problem with cutting $4 million is that you are going to cut programs that are good, that are necessary, that people love. How do you not?

While it was refreshing to see cuts to upper administration in the form of Ginni Davis among other cuts backs in the district office, there are not enough employees there, not enough expenditure to account for much more than symbolic cuts.

A few comments.

I thought Richard Harris was out of line suggesting to teachers that they should give back part of their cost of living increase. Especially the way he in which he went about doing it. He is going to have to learn a bit more diplomatic, even when he raises valid points. I also thought he had some interesting ideas about how to save some money that the district ought to look into.

I spoke to someone about the climate coordinator position, they agreed that the position needed to be saved and seemed to believe there would probably a way to get categorical money to fund the position. There is simply too much progress that would be lost if they had to scrap this position. I understand we could say the same for fifty other positions, but this one is at least not hugely expensive.

One of the points of real concern is the shape of the district's budget even without declining enrollment and the ensuing statewide budget cuts. For the last perhaps four years, the district has been eating into their reserves. Now to clarify, this is not the state mandated 3% reserve, as a board member explained to me that money might as well not exist. But the district also maintains its own reserve.

What happened is that under the previous CBO, they used one-time monies to fund ongoing programs. Worse yet is that the district and board really were not told this was the case. Basically as it was explained to me, the district would get these one-time monies on a consistent basis so it would look like ongoing money but the same revenue source was not consistent. Over time some of these monies would decline or fall off which put the district into the red in these areas. The district began eating into the reserves the last few years, they have now figured out why that has occurred but it has left them around $1.5 million in the hole. More on this in the future.

As I said earlier, the amount of money we are talking about is painful. It is interesting that this discussion really did not occur during the campaign for Measure Q. I'm not sure how the public would have responded if they knew that even passing Measure Q they we would be looking at this much in budget cuts. Even without state cuts, the district is still looking at $2.5 million.

As I stated before, the governor's budget is appalling and it puts school districts across the state in dire straights. Similar levels of cuts are expected in other districts from what I have been told. A lot of these cuts will be reversed during the budget process but when you have a March 15 deadline, when the budget is probably not going to be signed until October, it just puts everyone in a bad position from a budget standpoint.

With softer cuts from the state and best prior fiscal management, we could have landed much softer. Particularly if we still had that reserve in place.

I think the district and schools need to look into perhaps non-traditional sources for revenue to help sponsor programs like music. I agreed with every said last night by the multitudes of students, teachers, and parents. It breaks my heart to watch students up there in tears some of them, asking the district to save the music program. The district should be proud with the level of articulateness of their students. This is a horrible thing to have happen.

So I agree with the board. I do not want to hear one program played off against another. One person's heartache and pain for another does not work for me here. I want to hear out-of-the-box solutions to cutting money but also finding some alternative revenue so that we can at least save some of the programs.

I also want to reiterate a point. The best thing about what the district is doing is that they have cut a key position from the upper administration. They may cut some salaries. They are going to reorganize some of those departments. The employees who remain will likely have more responsibilities. Whatever you want to say about the operations of DJUSD, on this score they have done the right thing.

There are fortunately not three votes it appears to increase administrator salaries as Board member Susan Lovenburg suggested. In my view, I have nothing against administrators, they work hard and they do good things most of them. But you do not raise salaries of upper management during times of budget cuts. You do not tie raises of administrators to those of teachers. That is unethical. So I applaud the district and the board for being more ethical and considerate than the UC Board of Regents.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Young Man Faces 7 Years in Prison for Allegedly Stealing Less Than $100 Worth of Property

During the course of following cases such as the Buzayan case, I have often openly wondered on this blog what would happen if the individuals involved did not have the vast resources of the Buzayan Family. Unfortunately, I have now learned the answer and for now 21 year-old Jeffrey Lockwood it is going to change the rest of his life.

In June of 2005, Jeffrey Lockwood had no record, no priors. According to his mother, Tammy Lockwood, he had never even seen the inside of the principal's office in school. He went to high school in Woodland and was a baseball star. But his life would change forever when he went to party at a friend's house.

It was there that he allegedly took a female that he only knew from one class upstairs into a closet and fondled her. Then he supposedly took her to another bedroom and had sex with her.

He denies both actions. Witnesses at the party deny both actions. According to his mother even the DNA evidence suggests that it was not him. Nevertheless, the girl accused him of rape.

According to his grandfather, the rape case would have been resolved if he had pled guilty to "consensual sex with a minor less than three years younger," however the young Mr. Lockwood insisted that he had never touched the girl and the case went to trial. The girl was just under 18 and Mr. Lockwood was just over 18.

In that case, he was represented by Bob Blasier, renowned defense attorney who had worked on the OJ Simpson Dream Team in 1995. Despite not being able to introduce key evidence showing the girl had used sex issues in the past when she was mad at someone, including a sexual harassment charge against a fellow student that result in that student being expelled from school for six months, Mr. Blasier nearly was able to get Mr. Lockwood acquitted.

According to Mr. Blasier and the family, the jury deadlocked 9-3 with the 9 favoring acquittal.

The district attorney involved in this case tells a different story, according to Steve Mount, the jury indeed reached a 9-3 verdict, but it was really 3 to 3 with six others in the middle realizing that it was hopelessly deadlocked they apparently agreed to hang and all voted against the verdict. Those familiar with such cases were skeptical of Mr. Mount's claim, nevertheless, Steve Mount made it clear that this case will be revisited.

Unfortunately for Jeff Lockwood this was not the end of his dilemma but simply the beginning.

Three weeks after the rape incident allegedly occurred, Mr. Lockwood was drving to Gamestop in Woodland with a friend who was perhaps more of an acquaintance, Dennis Pineda. When they arrived at the Gamestop, Mr. Lockwood saw the contents of the bag. Apparently they belonged to the brother of Mr. Pineda.

However, once Mr. Lockwood helped Mr. Pineda carry the bags into the store he became involved in the situation despite immediately going back outside, something that was caught on the video tape. Upon being questioned by the Woodland Police Department, Mr. Lockwood admitted that he had helped to carry the stuff into the store even after learning that it was stolen. The officer told him that his story matched what they saw on the video, but he would probably be charged with receiving stolen property, a misdemeanor.

However Deputy DA Steve Mount made a deal with Pineda and he received six months probation for the burglary despite a fairly lengthy record and Mr. Lockwood only having the pending rape charge. According to both the family and their attorney, Pineda told several different conflicting stories to the police and the court.

Nevertheless, Jeff Lockwood was charged with felony burglary since he had allegedly taken the Playstation from Pineda's brother's house. This despite the fact that the only evidence tying Mr. Lockwood to the house was the testimony of Mr. Pineda. There was no physical evidence that Mr. Lockwood had ever set foot in the house.

The worst part for the Lockwood family is that during the course of financing Jeff Lockwood's defense during the rape trial, his mother mortgaged her house. They paid out over $100,000 in legal expenses, an amount not dissimilar to what the Buzayans had to pay. In short, they simply ran out of money to pay for Jeff Lockwood's defense. So for the burglary charge, they were represented not by Bob Blasier but by the Yolo County Public Defender.

Because the burglary charge is a felony and deemed a serious charge, it carries with it a mandatory sentence of seven years in prison of which he can serve no less than 85%. The value of the Playstation was deemed to be less than $100.

On Friday of last week, Jeff Lockwood was found guilty of first degree burglary. He has been remanded into custody in Monroe detention Center, where he is being housed in the section with the most violent inmates, since he is listed as a sexual offender, despite the fact that he was never convicted of the rape charge. He resides next to the man who is on trial for killing the California Highway Patrol Officer.

There are a number of aspects of this trial that are disturbing. Judge Johnson resided over both trials. Apparently during the first trial he made disparaging remarks about the defendant being a privileged high school baseball player. Despite these comments, he was allowed to preside over the second trial as well.

Furthermore the family alleges that when arrested Mr. Lockwood was questioned despite repeated requests for counsel. This they claim was caught on videotape.

The most troubling aspect is that had the family been able to retain the services of Bob Blasier, he likely never would have been convicted on the burglary charge. According to my sources, this particular Public Defender has a reputation for being a very poor defense attorney.

While Jeff Lockwood certainly was not blameless here. He used incredibly poor judgment in aiding Pineda with the stolen property, itself a misdemeanor. He probably chose poorly in who he associated himself with. However, he also does not deserve to face at least 7 years in prison and possibly 13 years total if they get a conviction when Steve Mount retries the rape trial.

Nevertheless, this appear to be yet another case of overzealous prosecution by the Yolo County District Attorney's office. When I spoke to Deputy DA Steve Mount, he told me since this was still ongoing he could not speak to the specifics of the case.

What I want to ask is why he decided to charge Mr. Lockwood for first degree burglary rather than plea down to possession of stolen property, a misdemeanor. And second, I really want to know what the community interest is in sending a young person to prison for seven years for stealing less than $100 worth of property.

Finally, to this community, I wonder how many more of these cases there actually are. Since I began this blog a year and a half ago, more and more people have come forth with simply mind boggling stories about the way this District Attorney's office handles itself. The unfortunate thing about it is that even if you are innocent and you lack the resources, they will eventually wear you down. And once you end up in the Public Defender's office, things can go either way.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Breaking News: Three Students Arrested for Trespassing at DQ University

The Vanguard responding to reports that students at DQ University had been arrested for allegedly trespassing went to the campus this afternoon to find it for the most abandoned and empty. However, at the entrance a number of the students who witnessed events spoke to us.

One of the students, a female, told the Vanguard:
"Early this morning there were arrests that happened, three of our students were arrested for trespassing supposedly."
The Sheriff's deputies entered the grounds this morning. Some of the students came out to find out what was going on and were arrested at that time. But other students who remained inside the dorms were neither arrested nor told to leave according to those who stayed behind.
"The cops they went around through the building without a warrant and they were searching for more students. All the doors are locked right now."
According to a student identified as Steve:
"I woke up and some of the other guys they woke me up, board members were standing outside and we all tried to get everyone together in the dining hall... As we were having our meeting the cops came, sheriff I guess, Yolo County and we started locking the doors because we didn't want them to come in."
However, three of the guys went out to talk to the Sheriff's Deputies.
"Those three guys went out to talk to the cops and see why they were here. I was on the second floor with a video camera."
They were just trying to figure out what was going on.
"The cops they've been here before, but they've never arrested anyone."
There were separate complaints about use of force. The student had received a text from a fellow classmate saying that the Sheriff's had arrested him.

The female student told the Vanguard:
"They were very forceful. Five cops took him down and he's a very skinny, passive, gentle young person and he didn't even resist or anything at all. They just arrested him along with two other students."
Steve agreed.
"They started really forcefully gathering students, arresting them, taking them down... One of the guys, he was just trying to explain to the cops what was going on here and how we had just as much right to be here just as anybody else, because it's native land and everything... So he was just out there explaining to the cops, they didn't come with a warrant, they didn't come with any legal papers, they said they had some, but we kept asking for it but they never showed it to us."
When the students refused to leave, they were arrested.
"Five guys took down Chris, he's a pretty skinny guy and they were very forceful with him."
The events of today are part of a continuing dispute between the students and the new board.
"This is part of an ongoing psychological warfare being conducted by people on the board that for some reason or other don't want us running programs here or being on campus."
According to the female student,
"I'm not sure why trespassing, we have as much right to be here as the board does. There's not any law or treaty that states that we cannot be here. So I'm not sure what grounds they were arrested on."
In 2005 the school lost it accreditation and since then the board and the students have been struggling to get along.

Last Saturday tensions increased during a public board meeting when the students tried to bring cameras to the public board meeting.
"This Saturday we had a board meeting and they attacked us. It was quite funny because they didn't want the video cameras in. We're allowed to have video cameras in a public forum, a public board meeting. So we're not quite sure what that was about."
Members of the board allegedly assaulted the students grabbing them by the arms and by the camera. One of the witnesses believes that a student has actually filed charges against the board for that alleged assault.

Meanwhile the students told the Vanguard that they were not ordered to not return, so we shall see how this situation continues to develop.

The Vanguard will continue to monitor this situation for any updates.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Emergency Preparedness, Emlen: "We were Fortunate"; Atria Has Serious Explaining to Do

On Tuesday night at the Davis City Council meeting, the city finally received a full report on the handling of the storm from early January along with its subsequent power outages.

In some ways, this report seems a bit late especially in light of the fact that a good portion of the storm season passed us by before the report was delivered. Moreover some of the events simply were not as fresh in our minds as they would have been a month ago. On the other hand, it did give the city council a chance to evaluate in a thorough and reasoned manner what went right and what went wrong in the city emergency prepared plan.

The discussion began with what I thought was a very stark and appalling admission by city manager Bill Emlen:
"When we left this a couple of weeks ago, we kind of acknowledged that we were fortunate in that the incident that we dealt with during those few days could have been something far more greater, but what it did do was provide an opportunity for us to really go back and look at our approach to these situations in our emergency preparedness in general. [Fire Chief] Rose [Conroy] and she's preached to us many, many times and I think we didn't always take her as seriously as we should because we haven't had to deal with this sort of thing all that often as we went through that we realized the benefits of thoroughly thinking out preparedness and so as we came together as a group, Rose put together an emergency response team and we went through the whole event and things that we need to do differently as well as things that we did do right."
There are two points that the city manager raises that I think bear scrutiny. First the acknowledgement that "we were fortunate." This is a key point I think a lot of people who were involved in the discussions immediately after the event failed to recognize. The complaint for the most part was not that we were in serious peril during this particular storm, or that it was for most of us anything more than simply an inconvenience. Rather it was an acknowledgement that in a real emergency, it did not seem were were ready. The city manager essentially acknowledges that complaint as valid.

Second and I think more problematic and to use the word again, appalling is the admission that Fire Chief Rose Conroy had been warning about preparedness in emergencies and that we, and I assume he means city staff, did not "always take her as seriously as we should." I am hoping he was being a bit flippant there, because he was not, that is very disturbing that the city was not taking heed warnings they were getting from the fire chief.

If we did not take emergency preparedness seriously enough before, we need to now. As was pointed out by all involved, this event really was about an electrical outage with some corresponding fallen trees. The roads held up well. There was no need for evacuations. There was no need to have to clear major thoroughfares for evacuation routes. Next time if this is a flood, a fire, or an earthquake, the problem could be far more serious.

Chief Conroy spent a good amount of time talking about what worked and did not work. I think it was a good and forthright discussion. This will focus mainly on what did not work but at the outset, I want to stress that a number of things worked well including public works and their ability to keep the streets clear and usable throughout this emergency.

A lot of the problems had to do with the failure of communications devices between the public and the city and the city and the public.

The 911 phone lines went down for 18 minutes--again they were fortunate that there were no major emergencies during that relatively short period of time, but that is a big concern in a larger emergency.

The internet was largely unreliable, it went down during from Friday morning until Saturday evening.

They did not utilize the AM Radio 1300 as they could have to provide key information to the public. This was a big area of focus by the council as radio is the easiest and most reliable means for getting emergency information during a storm.

A PG&E spokesperson spent time going through PG&Es response. People at the time were concerned with the length of time it took to restore power. Frankly I think that is difficult to evaluate and depends largely on how widespread and severe the outage was.

The worst problem was really lack of good information and updates. I think their spokesperson was forthright about that. The 800 number was not updated frequently enough an the internet was not properly utilized. Remember a lot of people had access to the internet in a variety of different ways in the age of wireless connections and internet phones. Many also were waiting elsewhere for when the power would be restored and having people drive unnecessarily to see if the power is back on presents its own hazards depending on the conditions at the time.

There is also the issue of the shelters. I am still unclear as to why there were not shelters on Friday night, particularly for elderly residents.

Chief Conroy acknowledged:
"Not one of our shelter locations had power during these events."
Clearly that is something that they need to plan for in the future. Obviously they cannot predict who will and who will not have power. But they can plan with emergency generators to have operational shelters in the event of a city-wide blackout.

Atria Covell Gardens

During the course of the presentation Chief Rose Conroy told the council:
"In the fire department, we contacted, we made as many contacts as possible over the phone, or by person going to that address, where large numbers of vulnerable populations live. Those included assisted living facilities and apartment complexes with large numbers of elderly."
To me that simply did not square with the litany of complaints offered up by residents at Atria Covell Gardens a few weeks ago during their demonstration.

At that time, residents had serious complaints about the impact of power outages, the most serious had to do with availability of oxygen for infirmed patients, another was seriously injured during a fall.

For most of us as I have said before, this was simply an inconvenient situation. I think Councilmember Don Saylor was exactly correct when he said that by Sunday he getting anxious and annoyed that the power was still out and he could not use his TV and computer. That's a convenience issue, not a safety issue.

That is not the case for seniors. So spoke with Chief Conroy after the agenda item had concluded. I am appalled (to use that word again) by what she told me.

She told that she had called the facility at least five times on Saturday morning to find out how the residents were doing, whether they need assistance. She was told that everything was fine. That the residents were having a party together and that things were going well and that there was no need for assistance. She told me that she personally called them multiple times throughout the day to insure everything was alright.

As we have discovered, this was not an accurate picture. She was not sure why residents did not call the fire department if there were problems--but there clearly were and the description given by those at Atria was completely inaccurate.

Frankly the city or someone with jurisdiction over this matter needs to investigate this incident and determine exactly what happened.

If it turns out that Atria was dishonest and put their residents in peril then the public needs to know about.

Again, I think we need to look more into this situation, but based on what the fire chief told me last night, I am very concerned.

Overall I think we learned valuable lessons. The fire chief told the council that only three people were injured during this event. The most serious was an individual who was hit by a tree that fell as they went from their house to their car. This underscores the fact that we ought to stay indoors as much as possible during such events.

The chief also mentioned that we need to plan to be self-sufficient for up to 72 hours during an emergency--that means being prepared with food, water, flashlights, batteries, and radio during that time frame.

Finally I share again the evaluation of the city manager--we were fortunate that this was not more serious. It is better always to be lucky rather than good, but this gives us a chance to rectify our weaknesses in a situation where mistakes turned out not to be fatal ones.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Local Presidential Results a Microcosm of the Debate About to Sweep The Nation Regarding the Role of Superdelegates

In a year where the Democratic Presidential Nomination is coming down to the wire, it is interesting to look at how things have transpired locally for the Democratic Race.

Davis and most of Yolo County are represented by Congressman Mike Thompson in the First Congressional District. When Thompson first became Congressman, the first district was a swing district, it had been held at times by Republicans, most notably by Frank Riggs who was elected in 1990 but lost in 1992, then won again in the tumultuous 1994 election and held it for two terms.

However after the districts were redrawn, Congressman Thompson's district was given an inland intrusion to include liberal areas such as Yolo County to make it a safe seat.

Two weeks ago, the first Congressional District of California went to Barack Obama by 450 votes. Barack Obama won Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma, and Yolo Counties. While Hillary won Del Norte, Napa and Lake.

It was Yolo County's razor thin 900 vote win that put Obama over the top. It was Davis' 3400 vote landslide where Obama took all but one precinct that put Obama over-the-top on election night.

But now the battle turns to the Superdelegates. This is a system that has really not been tested. It is rooted in the McGovern-Fraser reforms. In many ways this was result of the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention, really the last time there was a contested Democratic nomination.

The commission examined rules and recommended broadening participation. Part of that included an opening of the delegate selection procedures where party leaders could no longer simply secretly handpick the convention delegates and these delegates were to be propportional to the population of the state.

The result was that most states went to a primary election in order to select convention delegates.

The system has been in place since 1972, really to great controversy. Most believe that for instance George McGovern who was among the namesake for the commission would never have won the Democratic Nomination under the old rules. And some have wondered if the people do the best job of picking the nominees.

However for the purposes of our discussion, one of the factors that is coming to light is that this system has never been put to a test. We have not had a contested nomination in the true sense where the winner was unclear under this system.

So now you have a large number of Superdelegates, most of whom are simply elected officials and the margins of the committed delegates are such those Superdelegates--i.e. in many respects party insiders, will become the swing votes.

The question is, what would happen if one candidate won the majority of the vote and committed delegates but the other candidate won due to the Superdelegates? Would this create a Florida style controversy in the Democratic Party that would tear it apart, much as the 1968 Convention would tear it apart literally. There have been nine presidential elections since 1968, the Democrats have won just three of them.

Some have suggested that Superdelegates should be mindful of the choices their electorates have made and follow their lead to determine who they ought to vote for.

That brings us to our own mini-controversy if you will. Congressman Mike Thompson lives in a district that voted narrowly for Barack Obama. However, he is a Hillary Clinton endorser.

The same city of Davis that makes this a safe Democratic seat is the same city that gave Barack Obama this congressional district.

On the other hand, as narrow a vote as it was district wide, it is difficult for the voters to demand that he follow their narrow will rather than his own conscience. However, it is a factor that should at least be taken into account.

For the first time 40 years the Democrats appear to have a tightly contested nomination. Perhaps one in nine is not a reason to revisit the rules. Perhaps it is.

Regardless, it is likely that people like Congressman Thompson will play a large role in determining whether the party tears itself apart or whether they can forge out a consensus so that we can all come together and win in November which is the real battle--not with each other but with the Republicans--to decide who gets to determine the course of the nation for the next four years.

A close election battle is a good thing for the most part but if it ends in controversy, if it drags until the convention, then it will be tough to regroup in time to win come November. The first step on that road is the determination of Superdelegates as to how they should vote. And one factor there ought to be the direction that their district went.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, February 18, 2008

Commentary: DJUSD Cut of Climate Position Threatens To Set Back Efforts by Two Decades

Within the course of cutting $4 to $4.5 million from the school district's budget, you know that the cuts are going to - for the most part -be deep and painful. In fact, that is one reason I have mostly avoided hitting this topic head-on. I have a full understanding that there are going to be painful cuts for all.

That being said, with proposals now on the table, I think we also have to think about the bigger picture and along those lines I have some concerns about some of the cuts.

However, I will start with perhaps some good news, without being too flippant or speaking too far out of school. On the other hand, this is the Vanguard and people have perhaps come to expect a bit of irreverence and even honesty that you will not find elsewhere.

Personnel matters are tricky, in fact, as I would suggest, I think state law goes too far to protect the privacy of top level employees. It is one thing to protect the private records of assistants and custodians and other classified employees. It is another thing not to disclose that a top level public official such as a Superintendent or City Manager has been fired and not explain why that occurred. When you have huge amount of responsibility and large salary, I do not think you have the same privacy rights as those making $30,000 per year.

Yesterday's Davis Enterprise reveals that Ginni Davis, the associate superintendent for educational services is leaving the school district.

In a somewhat contradictory release at first it says
"she decided last month not to renew her contract when it expires in June. Her decision is becoming public now, as part of the district's plans to reduce staffing in many areas to correct a growing budget deficit."
She's quoted as saying:
"I'm part of that proposed $200,000 in reductions among district office administrators."
As is often the case there is something happening between those lines.

While I cannot say for certain what happened, I do know some board members have had deep concerns about her for a good deal of time. At the end of the day however the Superintendent was going to be allowed to make his own personnel decisions. I have no direct knowledge of what happened here, but I suspect that this was not merely a budget move.

I first became aware of Ms. Davis during the case of the junior high school student who was bullied on the Harper Junior High campus largely, because he has two gay fathers. It was Ms. Davis, who became so intransigent during talks with the family that it turned from simply a complaint to a lawsuit. This was in late 2006 and early 2007.

More recently word has it that the truancy issue became a far bigger problem with the school district last fall due to decisions made from her office not to fully disclose to the school board what was occurring. Indeed, Pam Mari who was newly appointed as Director of Student Services, was hung out to dry in that meeting, believing that the board knew of this policy and she was merely providing an update for them. The board had no idea what was going on and Ms. Mari was left in a very bad position.

Finally, it was Ginni Davis who authored the resolution that opposed the Valley Oak Charter School. This resolution in December was very antagonistic and set the stage for what would happen in January. At that time, the Superintendent had to step in and put forth a large amount of work to reconcile the district's position with those of the Charter Petitioners. Prior to that point the district was very reluctant to meet or help out with the charter petition and it seems that Ms. Davis played a large role in that as well.

At the end of the day, Board President Sheila Allen issued a statement:
"We want to thank Ginni for her leadership during these difficult times, and we wish her luck in [her] next endeavors. I think she knows a lot about the educational process; that's a strength she brought to the position."
I am hopeful that when this budget emergency passes, the school district will find a new associate superintendent of educational services that will work well with the new superintendent to serve all of Davis' students.

I am less hopeful about the cut of the School Climate Coordinator position.

This position arose out of very serious concerns in this community about the "climate" on campus especially with regards to race relations and bullying. Indeed in 2004, several hundred parents and students came forward at a Davis Human Relations Commission meeting held at the Veteran's Memorial Center to press for changes to district policy on bullying and racism.

One of the outcomes of the changes was the creation of the then part-time School Climate Coordinator position which is now held by Mel Lewis.

In the fall of 2006, in the wake of events that centered on the anti-gay harassment of a junior high school student, one of the proposals put forth was to expand the climate coordinator position to full-time.

The Vanguard wrote on November 21, 2006:
"During the meeting last week, the school board asked Mel Lewis, now the district's School Climate Coordinator, to draw up an action plan designed to reduce or eliminate harassment not just at Harper but at all Davis schools.

Lewis at the meeting pointed out he was doing a 1.5 time job on a half-time salary. The school board seemed to agree that the Mr. Lewis needs to be better sourced as did the father of the student, Guy Fischer. Fischer said "this is a full-time problem. There are a lot of things that could be done."
What followed in 2007 was a series of events on the Davis High School Campus and in the community that underscore the need for a continuation of that program.

Instead what we see is that as soon as the budget gets tight, this will be one of the first things that go. Nevermind the recommendations that have come from a whole variety of studies that the district has invested time and money into. Nevermind the continuing complaints about disparate treatment for students of different races with regards to discipline policy. Nevermind the stark findings of the Achievement Gap Task Force or the DHS Catalysts for Social Justice Student report. Nevermind that last year Tansey Thomas stood up and told the school board that in 1990 they had done a "Racial Climate Assessment Report" and at that time the district struggled with the same problems that they are currently struggling with. Those recommendations were put on a shelf and never acted upon. Let us shelve promising new programs such as the school ambassador program, because we simply are out of money.

I understand that we need to cut money. I also understand that we cannot cut money from core programs if possible, and that these cuts will be painful to all. But if we set ourselves back we are literally setting ourselves back another 18 years, because these programs will not come back until the next incident occurs. And, we will once again wonder why it is that we never acted upon the recommendations of the 2007 Achievement Gap Task Force just as we never acted upon the recommendations of the "Racial Climate Assessment Report."

When we cut programs for the most vulnerable students, the students who we have long since determined are at-risk, we risk truly damaging the students.

For all of the people who have said that this school district is irresponsible and we should not approve a parcel tax until they demonstrate they have their house in order, I disagreed. I disagreed because these are students, they are kids, and I do not believe we can play politics with the education of students.

At the same time, we cannot merely cut programs for at-risk kids, because we have a budget crunch and it is "easy" (and I know it is not easy) money to cut. Too much work went into establishing this program and this position in the first place to merely throw it out the door.

We need to have the same commitment to school climate and helping at-risk kids as we have for core curriculum because for some kids, without this work and these programs, there is no core curriculum. The achievement gap will grow. Students who are at-risk will not graduate, they will not go to college, they will not succeed in life. That sounds harsh, perhaps too harsh, but in my mind that is what we are facing here.

I'm sorry, but I think we have to find a better way than to balance our budget on the backs of the most vulnerable in our schools just as at the state and federal level we cannot merely balance our budget on the backs of the poor and the working class.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, February 17, 2008

UC Regents, Fee Increase, Pay Raises All Par For the Course

On Wednesday, at UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef's quaterly brown bag lunch he laid out a number of very bleak scenarios for steep cut backs ahead in the wake of Gov. Arnold Schawrzenegger who is calling for across the board cuts.

While Larry Vanderhoef stated that everything was on the table, he listed off several possible areas for cuts and/ or cost savings. Most of them either impacted students or low end employees. These suggestions included a student fee increase higher than the 7% increase already in consideration, freezing increases to enrollment that would turn away as many as 5,000 otherwise eligible students this coming fall, cutbacks to health benefits for low end employees, and cutbacks to services for students. In this post-Virginia Tech era that ominously includes counseling services.

One thing that was not mentioned that was "on the table" and I have been kicking myself for four days not having asked the question is whether his salary would be examined for possible cuts. Whether the salary of the top administrators at UC Davis would be examined for possible cuts. If they are talking about everything being "on the table," if they are talking about pain being spread around, then they have to include their own livelihood in it, even if those cuts are only symbollic and do not help them meet their budget priorities.

Indeed, it was in mid-January that the UC Board of Regents outraged many students in a meeting on the UCLA campus.

There they gave a 26 percent pay increase of $61,000 to Secretary/ Chief of Staff Diane Griffiths. That raised her annual salary to just under $300,000 less than a year after she was hired to her position.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time:
"Students in the regents meeting audience on the UCLA campus waved signs protesting the university's priorities. "Where is the money going? Not toward lowering student fees!" "Where is the money going? Not 2 Students!" "Where is the money going? Executive compensation!"
The only regent opposed to this salary increase Lt. Gov. John Garamendi.

However, this time students are not taking this lying down. Across the state students are now circulating petition for a ballot measure that would freeze tuition at University of California and California State University institutions for five years.

And this measure will be paid for by levying a 1-percent tax on those taxpayers who earn over $1 million. I found this greatly ironic for some reason. They have 150 days to amass 433,971 signatures.

For more information or to sign the petition online click here.

It is also important to understand that what is happening at UC could happen at Davis Joint Unified. The local school district is projecting at present around $4 million worth of cuts to programs and possibly teachers. They have already discussed at length the prognosis and the implications. And while it seems likely that Democrats in the legislature will never allow these cuts to go through from the state level, the cycle of budget for many of these institutions means that the state budget will be passed long after all of these institutions have had to make their own cuts.

And yet it seems ironic further still that DJUSD is while at the same time talking about huge cuts, also talking about increases in salary to administrators. The move for this appears to be coming from newly elected Board Member Susan Lovenberg.

We see it all across the state, agencies facing the same cuts, and we see it all across the nation, major corporations laying off thousands while giving huge salaries and salary increases to their CEO and Board of Directors. We see Exxon-Mobile making tremendous profits off the pay of gas consumers. And we see no end in sight to these examples of shear corporate greed coming at the expense of the average customer, the tax payer, the lower level employees.

As one of our public officials told me in a conversation about UC, it is remarkable that as poorly managed as UC is, as unresponsive and insulated from public accountability, as unresponsive and insulated from the accountability of elected officials, the UC system as a whole works as well as it does at the most basic level of giving California's students a good education at a still not bad fee.

However in the last 25 to 30 years we have gone from a system that allows students to attend school for a very modest fee to a system that forces students to pay an ever increasing burden on their educational costs. It is still a good system but it has lost some of its earlier advantages.

At the end of the day though it will be interesting to see how this first ever student-based initiative will fare in California's electoral system and whether the top administrators will still get away with taking hope their all-too-lucrative salary while the bottom level employees are still fighting for affordable health care and struggling to make their ends meet.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting