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Saturday, October 11, 2008

AG's Report Does Not Resolve Woodland Taser Case

The local media, namely the Davis Enterprise and the Woodland Daily Democrat were quick to exonerate the actions of Woodland police officers in the death of former Davis resident Ricardo Abrahams who died of asphyxiation after he was repeatedly tasered.

The family responded yesterday by suggesting along with their attorney that the investigation is flawed.

I will state at the onset that I do not know what happened, however, I think it is premature to conclude that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the police officers.

Deputy Attorney General Davis Lowe wrote:
"We find no criminal conduct on the part of any of the involved officers..."
This is not a surprising finding and based on what little we know of the case, an accurate finding. The fact of the matter is, a criminal finding would have had to have shown that the police officers intended to do harm to this individual. That is a very high standard to meet and one that is not in agreement with the known facts of the incident.

In other words, there is no reason to have suspected that the officers acted in a malicious fashion. That would be the difference between an incident like Rodney King where the police officers were clearly using excessive force in an intentional and malicious matter. However, even in the King case there was no criminal conviction--rightly or wrongly. The King case in that regard represents the norm.

But that is not the end of the story. Criminal conduct is only a small amount of this case. The next question will be whether the police are civilly liable for Mr. Abraham's death. That is a much lower standard and one that it does not appear from media accounts that the AG's office looked into.

Sacramento Attorney Johnny L. Griffin represents the Abrahams' family in a pending wrongful-death suit.

In his statement to the Davis Enterprise, he entertained the possibility that the state's ruling was based on information submitted by the Woodland Police Department.
"If the material submitted by the Police Department is incomplete and/or inaccurate, the attorney general's findings will likewise be flawed... Bottom line, the attorney general's finding can only be as trustworthy as the information provided by the Police Department."
If that is the case, we have no evidence to suggest either way and will have to wait for the trial for that to come out.

What we do know is that based on the information that Woodland Lt. Charlie Wilts provided, an internal investigation concluded that the actions of the officers were "consistent with the department's use-of-force policies."

That leads me to two final observations. In Davis, after a serious of community complaints about a variety of incidents involving the Davis Police Department, the City Council authorized the City Manager to hire an Ombudsman who could investigate such complaints as an impartial and independent arm of the city. The advantage in such a case is that you would have independent eyes investigating police tactics and whether these officers followed proper procedure. The Ombudsman would have audited and reviewed the work down by the Woodland PD's internal investigation. Under some conditions, the Ombudsman himself in such a high profile case would have conducted the investigation.

The point here again is that the AG's office was looking largely (apparently) at criminal conduct, much as the District Attorney's office would have had they not been conflicted out. That is different than an internal review.

Unfortunately Woodland does not have an Ombudsman or any kind of independent investigator to do this work. Across the country, Internal Affairs units notoriously are reluctant to criticize and sustain citizen complaints on the use of force. In our investigation from two years in our Police Oversight Series, we found that nationwide over 90% of all use-of-force complaints were unfounded by IADs but a much larger percentage resulted in civil damages for the victim or the victim's family.

That is where this incident is headed--civil court. The family's only recourse is for this case to be adjudicated which is a very timely and very expensive endeavor. The Buzayan family's incident occurred in June of 2005, their case is still pending in Federal Court over three years and large amounts of money later. Most individuals simply cannot afford those kinds of expenses and they end up either settling, dropping their case, or in some circumstances representing themselves. As Davis recognized two years ago, there are better ways to do this and Woodland should look into some sort of independent review process.

Finally, the Woodland PD's finding is that the officers' actions were "consistent with the department's use-of-force polices." If that is true, they ought to take this opportunity to review those policies. Experts I have spoken too, while unfamiliar with the specifics of this case, suggest that the situation with a mentally impaired individual who is largely unresponsive to police commands is a particularly difficult situation for any officer to handle. It is difficult for them to assess what is wrong or how much danger the individual represents to himself or the community.

Several officers I have spoken with off the record privately suggested that they were uncomfortable with this case while stressing that they did not know the particulars. It is their experience that often, but not always, officers are too eager to use tools such as the taser and too reluctant to try to find lower use-of-force alternatives. Better and improve training could potentially have prevented this situation even if the officers did indeed adhere to department policy.

In summary, this is not the end of the story, there will be several additional chapters to be written. The family will move forward with their suit and more of the facts will likely come out along the way.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, October 10, 2008

What are good teachers worth?

Earlier this week, we broke down the district budget numbers and found that the major problem facing the school district right now is the lack of full state funding for the COLA. In short, the the state is funding .7% of the COLA when the districts should be getting somewhere around 5.5%. That works out to $40 per student when the schools should be getting $280.

The numbers work out to roughly $2.4 million district-wide and the district is placing a parcel tax on the ballot in less that four weeks.

Last Thursday members of the Davis Teachers Association showed up at the Davis school board meeting to demonstrate how many teachers would lose their jobs should Measure W fail.

Former DTA President Jerry de Camp said:
"Six months ago, we were in the worst situation I'd ever seen in 27 years with the district. We are facing the same potential next spring if Measure W does not pass.

It's essential that we understand that Measure W is not 'something extra.' Measure W continues programs that we've had a long time. It's not extra.

All the things that Measure W does are things we have come to take for granted. We've had the support of the taxpayers over and over. We must have it again now. What we have in this community is so precious and so good — and it's threatened if Measure W does not pass, because of problems with state funding."
Last week a column in the Davis Enterprise by Rich Rifkin put the blame for the current budget crisis on employee raises that were handed out a few years ago.

While the 6.5% teachers raise given out just two years ago, did in fact put a strain on district finances and the school board was misled by the district in terms of their ability to pay for that raise in the short run, given the state COLA at that time, it would have been difficult if not impossible for the district to give a considerably lower raise.

Moreover, when we look at the spending by the district since 2002-03, it is unclear that spending is the ultimate problem.

Over that period of seven school years, district spending increased around $14 million from $59.1 million to $73 million. That's roughly the rate of inflation. Teacher salaries account for $10 million of that money. In 2002-03 teacher salaries accounted for 64% of the total budget, in 2008-09 it accounts for 64.5% of the total budget. In other words, teacher salaries have basically increased in proportion to the rest of the budget.

82% of the budget for 2008-09 goes directly to the classroom.

Let us put it this way, is that not where we want the money to go? Do we not want money to go directly into the classroom?

The primary budget increases over this time come from the state. Now Measure Q did upwardly adjust the parcel tax but only commensurate with the rate of inflation. In real dollars, Measure Q was roughly the same as Measure N's funding.

Does Davis overpay its teachers?

I do not think so given (a) the relative experience of Davis teachers and (b) the cost of living in Davis compared with the state.

Davis' average teacher makes $63,378 in total compensation. The statewide average is virtually the same at $63,323. By comparison, Woodland teachers make an average of $57,688. However, not only is the cost of living in Davis higher than in Woodland, but the average Davis teacher has 3 more years of teaching experience than their Woodland counterpart. Moreover Davis has over a 6% higher proportion of credentialed teachers than Woodland.

Recall that the collective bargaining agreement grants for step and column increases to salary and those two factors--credentialed teachers and teaching experience likely account for that difference.

In other words, Davis' teacher salaries do not appear to be disproportionate either to the statewide average or even Woodland. You also have the bottom line in terms of the overall performance in Davis.

The other factor here is that DJUSD's belath benefits for teachers was in the lower tier for all districts until their recent increase. Teachers had to pay supplementals to health coverage, particularly to extend their health care benefits to their children. We complain in this society about companies and their responsibility for taking care of their a minimum level of health insurance to make sure that their employees were covered. The district is moving in that direction.

The bottom line, as with elsewhere, is that if you want quality teachers, you have to pay and give increases that are commensurate with surrounding districts.

To me you just cannot put a premium on good teachers. The cost of losing quality teachers and programs makes Measure W a pressing matter. Increasingly, it looks like Measure W will pass. Given where the economy is headed, this will help insure that Davis Schools will be able to function at a high level in the foreseeable future regardless of where the economy goes.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

25th Annual Yolo County Concilio Will Honor Arun Sen, Mary Lou Hernandez, and Rita Montes-Martin

Special to the Vanguard--Submitted by Rick Gonzales, Jr.

On October 18, 2008, the Mexican American Concilio of Yolo County will honor Davis Democratic Club President Arun Sen, former Board Member Mary Lou Hernandez, and member Rita Montes-Martin at their 25th Annual Recognition Dinner/Dance to be held at Waite Hall at the Yolo County Fairgrounds in Woodland. Julia Sanchez, another Davis Democratic Board Member was also going to be honored but had to decline at the last moment due to an emergency. Her daughter is having surgery in New York on October 15th. Julia will travel to New York to be by her side.

The Concilio will also honor fourteen students (two from each comprehensive high school in Yolo County) based on their GPA and their school/community service. They will each receive scholarships to attend college as well as certificates from the California Assembly and Senate as well as from Congressman Mike Thompson.

Arun has been president of the Davis Democratic Club for the past three years. The Concilio will honor one African American, one Asian American and one Native American as it celebrates the diversity of our county. These honorees are role models for their respective communities. Arun is being honored for the Asian American community and will receive a Board of Director’s Award. The other six adults are being honored for their impact on the Latino Community.

Mary Lou Hernandez will be honored posthumously. She died on August 20, 2008 after a very courageous battle with cancer. She will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. Mary Lou was an active Board member for fourteen of sixteen years. For fourteen years, she never missed a meeting of the Davis Democratic Club until her illness forced her to do so. Earlier this year, the Board of Directors voted to grant Mary Lou “Emeritus” board status, something that has been done only twice before in the Club’s fifty-six year history. Throughout the years, Mary Lou has been a mainstay at all of the Davis Campaign Headquarters Buildings. Her immediate and extended family are planning to attend this event as a tribute to Mary Lou.

Rita Montes-Martin has been a tireless worker for many causes including DQ University. She joined the Davis Democratic Club in 1993 and is still an active member.

Proceeds for this event will go toward scholarships for students entering college in Fall 2009. Last year, Concilio awarded eighty scholarships, more than any other organization in Yolo County. Contact Board member Rick Gonzales for tickets ($25) and information at (530) 758-2331.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Davis Crunch Lunch: Isn't Nutrition for Kids Its Own Reward?

For some reason the Davis Crunch Lunch program has become the target of those who believe that the district is wasting taxpayer money.

The argument against such a program seems to be that having and establishing good eating habits among students, particularly low income students is not its own reward and that we should continue to provide cheap and prepackaged food as a cost saver.

It may actually turnout that both premises are incorrect.

The idea behind this program is that good nutrition and a healthy diet are related to positive academic and behavioral student performance in the classroom. Thus a school program that "integrates educational curriculum with garden activities, nutrition education, and healthy food choices in the school lunch program will contribute to improved health and overall student achievement."

As a study suggests:
A number of studies have shown the correlation between learning difficulties and diet. For many children in the public schools, breakfast (if it is served) and lunch are the only nutritionally balanced meals they receive during the day. Although the National School Lunch program ensures a minimum standard of nutrition for meals served in schools, many children select à la carte items, which are currently not held to the same standards. During the last decade, school nutrition services departments have been under tremendous pressure to remain financially solvent. Labor costs and rising food costs have prompted food service directors to seek alternative methods of cutting costs. One of those ways is to contract with outside companies, such as pizza, taco, and soft drink companies, to sell food in the school. Oftentimes, these companies offer schools large sums of money for the opportunity to sell on campuses. Students respond to these products because of the intense advertising that surrounds them every day on television and in the culture at large.

As a recent alternative to this situation, some school districts have developed salad bar programs that offer students the option of eating fresh fruits and vegetables. The assumption is that this not only reinforces life-long healthy eating habits, but improves their overall school performance. Sometimes these salad bars are an integrated component of a comprehensive Farm-to-School program that includes produce purchased from local farmers, visits to local farms, school gardening, cooking lessons, and enhanced nutrition education.
Back in 2001, Davis had a relatively low proportion of low-income families. A small percentage of students were eligible for free and reduced meals under the National School Lunch Program--13% free and 3% reduced.

This year the program has been expanded thanks to Measure Q and the Farm to School Program. We now have an Elementary School Salad Bar and Korematsu hot lunch and Salad Bar.

Most of the food services budget is a separate fund from the general fund with the exception of the Measure Q enhancement. The district needs to sell more food in order to break even in this program. The way to do that is to serve the kind of quality food that crunch lunch provides.

The results are promising. Normally meals average between 15 and 18 percent of total students. On pizza day and BBQ day, it goes up to as much as a third of the total students.

Those numbers have increased with the new program however. On Salad Bar Days to 10% in meals served and Korematsu has seen a 30 percent plus increase in the number of students served since the new program was implemented or 70 percent more meals.

On the other other, a lot of the pre-packaged salads are going unsold. Many school districts have tried to increase their sales by providing more popular but less nutritious food. This is in my opinion the wrong approach.

As we have discussed before, the crunch lunch program does not require additional staff. So there cost is not there to the district in terms of additional staff. This inaccurate statement has been repeated on a continual basis in the comment section. So I reiterate, the crunch lunch program requires no additional staff.

Davis Farm to Schools is a partner in this program. However, they are non-profit. No district funds flow through that organization.

The bottom line here that this program has the potential to be cost neutral. That is achieved because the school district has seen vastly improved sales on the days when the Salad Bar Days are served and the days when the Korematsu hot lunch days are served.

Right now, the district is implementing this on a pilot basis. They are rotating the programs between the schools on a daily basis in order to minimize stat-up costs while they assess the usage. Given the fact that the early results are so promising, we can expect the district to expand these lunch services and if they do, they will be more likely to break even or even have a net revenue. It is all based on providing a service that is needed--providing healthy and nutritious lunches to students who need to form good eating habits from day one. This is the type of program that we should be encouraging, not discouraging.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

City Saves Money By Plugging a Hole in "Extra Duty" Police Program

In August 5, 2008, the Vanguard examined the 100K Club of Davis and looked in particular at the amount of overtime each department received.

On August 14, 2008 the Vanguard acting on a tip examined an aspect of the overtime given to the police department. We learned of an "extra duty" program that is sometimes given to police officers in their time off. For instance it could be for various groups event who contract with the city, it could be for patrolling apartment complexes for four hours at a time when they have had problems with parties. Some officers like to pick up the extra work, some do not.

The groups who request the extra duty officer get sent an invoice and the officer gets paid time and a half. The city accounts for this under program number 5619--everything listed under 5619 is being paid by sources other than city money.

It turns out, roughly $70,000 of that $627,000 in overtime is not paid for by the city but rather by these private groups.

At the time, we were told that this money was paid for by these private groups to the city. The belief was that it was not costing the city anything to administer these programs.

That belief turns out to not be true. But to the credit of the city in this case, they have re-negotiated this portion of the MOU with the police department in order to plug this hole and make it revenue neutral. This past week, it appeared as a consent item on the agenda.

The staff report begins as follows:
"For years, the City of Davis has contracted with local businesses within the city to supply sworn Police personnel to provide private security. Previously employees electing to participate in the extra duty employment program were paid at time and a half their normal rate."
Here's the key point however:
"Unfortunately, the rate the City charges the local businesses did not cover the cost of the program."
It goes on:
"Currently the City charges businesses $66.50 per hour to provide sworn Police services. The cost to the City has been higher than the priced charged due to the combined cost of salary and benefits at time and one-half of the employees providing the services. In the past two fiscal years the Police Department had to absorb approximately $23,000 to cover deficit this program has caused."
So this program actually cost the city a net $23,000 over two years to cover something that should have been cost neutral.

Again to the credit of the city in this case, they have plugged this hole.
"Staff met with Police and Finance staff and members of DPOA to try to come to an agreement that would stay within the fee currently charged and to fairly compensate the sworn Police personnel performing the work. An agreement was reached to pay all sworn Police personnel at step 5 of the Police Officer Salary with Longevity and Advanced Certification pay. This rate of pay should keep the program cost neutral to the City, without having to raise the current rate charged to the public."
The Vanguard believes that there are problems dozens of programs like this that should be cost neutral to the city, but are not for various reasons. This is a simple way for the city to save money--find these problems and fix the holes to make them as a close to cost neutral as possible. No one loses in these types of exchanges. In this case, the city will save an additional $11,500 per year. That might not be a huge amount by itself, but if they find a number of them, it will begin to add up. The Vanguard applauds the city for spotting this problem and fixing it.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Supervisor Rexroad Inexplicably Goes To War Against Flatlander

On July 19, 2008, Yolo County Supervisor Matt Rexroad, an elected public official in this county for some reason decided to launch a war against the Yolo County Flatlander, a small, low profile, alternative news publication that is published and distributed primarily in Davis on a bi-monthly basis.

The Supervisor wrote:
"I encourage new ideas, new blogs, and new publications in Yolo County. The Flatlander however, had been a complete piece of trash in the past few years.

We really have no idea who the publishers are and the authors of "articles" are not usually included in the publication. The only thing I can do is hold the advertisers accountable.

If the Flatlander is the same sort of crap it has been, please let it be known that I will be working to hold the advertisers accountable -- all of them. I don't want to hear "I didn't know" or "I can't control content" comments. This publication has a shameful history that certainly is well known by anyone with a clue is aware."
The crime committed by the Flatlander was unclear. However, the Supervisor seemed to back off his threat later on--which was the correct course of action--unfortunately it did not stay that way.

However, this month's publication of the Flatlander seemed to incite him once again.

They write:
"Yolo County Supervisor Matt Rexroad is carrying censorship's flaming torch. In our August issue, we reported on Rexroad's adventures in print-banning."
They continue:
"Of course as an attorney, Woodland's flaming torch of censorship should know that if he uses his position as an elected official to block trade or censor free speech, he will lose his license to practice law. After two-month's, no Flatlander advertiser told me of any response from Rexroad."
Still they say,
"Flatlander editors couldn't help but feel flattered that book burners of the world took the time to classify the Flatlander as a banned paper."
They then inflame passions comparing the Supervisor's censorship attempts to those of Hitler, Stalin, and Sarah Palin?
"Rexroad's flaming torch of censorship puts him in the same category as Hitler, Stalin, and Sarah Palen (sic)."
They conclude,
"Flatlander editor Sally Parker denies that the paper is as dangerous as Rexroad claims. She assures readers, 'The Flatlander is safe to read, just don't inhale."
For his part, Matt Rexroad told me that he does not believe they can sue him based on his proposed boycott.

As he wrote yesterday:
"I am happy to take my understanding of the first amendment and my ability to practice law in this state over theirs. As a result I am boycotting the following businesses..."
He then goes on to list a number of the advertisers of the Flatlander, I shall not repeat them in this space except for two which really emphasize I think how absurd the Supervisor has become on this issue.

"Further -- Vote No on Measure N... Don't reward Manuel Cosme with your vote for Assembly"

In other words, he is now urging that people vote against Republican Assembly nominee Manuel Cosme, who faces Mariko Yamada for the 8th Assembly District and vote against Davis' Charter City, because both have decided to advertise in the Flatlander. Why is he taking his vendetta against the publication out against public policy? Why is he letting this grudge interfere with his primary duty as an elected public official?

He continues:
"If I forgot anyone -- then I am boycotting them too. Everyone that paid to help put out the Flatlander."
Just to be clear here, in the text of his entry he says that he is boycotting those business but the title of the entry does attempt to incite others to do so as well:
"Boycott the following businesses."
Contrary, to the Supervisor's assertions, I had no trouble tracking down the editors, one of whom was mentioned in the article, Sally Parker, and the other is Jim Leonard.

In response, Jim Leonard told me that he thinks Rexroad is a "bad Republican" for undermining small business, a "bad American" for undermining free speech.
"He's in a position to support the will of the people, but he undermines it to achieve his own private ends. Therefore, he's a fraud."
From my perspective, I do not understand why a public official is spending time on this. Matt Rexroad is an elected public official, he has other things that he should be concerned with other than a publication that frankly spends a good amount of its time trying to argue that 9/11 did not occur. The issue here is not what you think of the Flatlander. From my perspective I do not always agree with them, but I do not see a good reason to spend time attacking them either when I disagree. They have the right to lampoon Mr. Rexroad, a public official as they see fit.

Mr. Rexroad's conduct in this instance is completely irresponsible and unbecoming of a public official.

He claims that this is not a tort offense, I have heard varying opinions on it, but that almost does not matter. In this case, his actions seem petty, childish, and he looks like a fool. He needs to drop this nonsense and focus on the serious issues that are facing this county as the result of what is developing into a severe recession and a budget crisis. If the Flatlander what's to satirize him, let them. I have always respected the fact that Mr. Rexroad has been open to criticism and upfront on where he stands on public policy matters. Frankly this is not the kind of conduct I have learned to expect from him.

In short, this needs to stop and we need to get back to the business at hand. There is not another public official in this county that I would have expected to see take on this kind of issue. Can you imagine anyone else doing this? It is very disappointing to see it happen here.

Let me be very clear here: Matt Rexroad's conduct here is irresponsible and unbecoming of a public official. Again, I cannot picture another public official in this county behaving as Mr. Rexroad has. It is very disappointing to see him do this.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Lois Wolk closes Gap on Spending in 5th Senate District; Campaigns have spent nearly $2 million combined

Prior to the last reporting period, Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian had a large advantage in money raised over his opponent, Assemblywoman Lois Wolk. However, the last reporting period ending on October 6, 2008 has shown that gap has shrunk considerably.

Los Wolk who represents Yolo and Solano Counties amassed $683,734 in contributions this period compared to Greg Aghazarian's $213,838. Overall Aghazarian has still outraised the heavy favorite Wolk by raising $1.36 million to Wolk's $888,736. However, Wolk now ends the period with $205,000 cash on hand to Aghazarian's $174,000.

A huge amount of Aghazarian's expenditures for this period was a $480,000 TV and Cabale ad buy.

Aghazarian's biggest campaign donors remain the Republican party, however, as you can see from the complete donor list, at least 530 individuals and groups have donated $1000 or more to the Assemblyman's campaign.

Lois Wolk has also spent over $400,000 on campaign ads in the past month with three different TV or Cable ad buys.

Lois Wolk's, like her opponent, biggest campaign donors are from the Democratic party. She has had around 340 individuals and groups donate $1000 or more to her campaign.

Where does that leave this campaign? From what we have seen up in Davis, the campaign is starting to heat up in terms of the number of ads that are running. However, despite the nearly $2 million combined expenditures between the two sides, it appears still a fairly low profile race. It is not the constant air war barrage that we saw four years ago when Incumbent Mike Machado and Former Stockton Mayor Gary Podesto waged a no-holds barred affair.

By contrast this race is tame. We will see if the two parties continue to pump money into this race. It is our guess that internal polls probably show Wolk with a sizable lead and as a result the spending in this race may decline. We will have to monitor to see what is happening.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Budget Picture Bleak for School District: Full Examination of DJUSD Budget 2009-10

All you have to do is turn on the news these days to see the bad economic news. Experts are predicting now a deep recession. And due to a number of structural problems at the federal level and most notably at the state level, the economic picture and thus the budget picture looks bleak for the foreseeable future.

As many know, DJUSD faces a $2.4 million deficit for the fiscal year of 2009-10. The district was able to plug their deficit from 2008-09 due in part to the generosity of this community through donations to the Davis Schools Foundation that totaled roughly $1.8 million.

When the revised state budget came through, the district was able to use $1 million in one-time carryover money in addition to that $1.8 million plus some other budget cuts to hold off deep cuts to teaching staff. However, that is not likely going to work in the future.

Why we need Measure W to pass

Each year expenses go up. If you think about your household expenses as an analogy--let us say you have the same job and you do not get a cost of living increase to your salary from one year to another. You live in the same home and you pay the same bills each year. If you look at your expenses from this year and compare them to last year, you will notice that expenses go up. Gas prices rose, food prices rose, energy costs rose, water bills rose dramatically, etc.

If you do not get a payraise for cost of living, you in effect make less money this year than last year.

People generally cover that in one of two ways. One way is to cut discretionary costs. So in tough times, you make fewer big and luxury purchases. You go on fewer trips. But generally those are one time expenses and they are dwarfed for most people by the everyday costs of doing business.

Let us look at gas prices alone. Let us say that on average gas went up $1 per gallon over last year. Let us further say that you have to consume 10 gallons per week. That's $10 per week more money than last year or $520 per year. And for most of us, 10 gallons per week is probably on the low side. So for many we are spending between $500 and $1000 more just on gas. That's just one expense that will take a chunk out discretionary spending. Again, some of that we can save by driving less, but you can only cut so much.

The other way that people finance themselves through tough times is with credit. They go into debt. The school district cannot go into debt however. So they have two options, they can cut spending and at a certain point they have to cut programs and teachers since that is where most of the discretionary money goes or they can ask the taxpayers for a parcel tax.

But let's get back to cost of living increases because they explain why the school district is facing future deficits.

In a normal year, the school district funds COLA (cost of living allowance). When the state funds COLA, that enables the teachers to get a cost of living increase at a similar rate and it also enables the district to be able to pay for the increased cost of doing business.

However, due to the budget crunch at the state level, the state is not funding COLA this year. So the cost of living for the district is going up by $329 per pupil but the state is only funding about $40 of it. That is going to leave the district this year with a $2.4 million revenue deficit.

Does that number look familiar? It should, that is the same amount that Measure W funds. The reason the district asked for the $120/ per parcel tax is that is what it needs in order to make up for the loss of COLA. The school district is putting Measure W on the ballot in order to cover the funding for our programs and teachers that directly impact our students. Its passage would avoid deep cuts to programs and teachers.

If the state fully funded COLA for 2009-10, we would not need Measure W. Instead the state is funding the COLA at .7% which is far below the 5.5% that was due to schools. This results in far less money for the district. The bottom line is that state money does not cover our current programming, so local dollars have to fund what state dollars do not or we will have to cut programs and teachers.

The bad news

It turns out that each year the state does not fund COLA, actual costs of living go up roughly $1.2 million. So what happened is that we were able to cover the $1.2 million for COLA in the current budget. But next year we have to cover that $1.2 million plus another $1.2 million.

Where does that money come from?

The big expense is the Step and Column increases. Teachers will not get a payraise this year, and at some time I can explain the basic fair-share formula that would explain when they do and when they do not get a payraise. For now, it is most important to realize that it is heavily tied in with state funded COLA. However, just because teachers do not get a payraise does not mean that teaching expenses do not go up.

Built into their contract are step and column increases. Step increases are based on seniority, so each time they go up in seniority, they get a payraise. In addition, also built into their contract is a column increase. Let's say they take classes in the summer to increase their level of education. They can bump themselves into the next column and get a payraise that way. The district has no control over these increases, they are built into the collective bargaining agreement.

The rest of the inflation costs are utilities (which obviously we understand), insurance increases, and then special education costs (which are restricted dollars).

It is important to understand that as much as a quarter of the spending in the district is tied to restricted money or categorical funds, which means the money has to go to those programs and those monies cannot be transferred to other spending. If you look through the budget for the district, you will see a number of spending lines that have references to legislation that dictates exactly how that money can be spent. Some of these restricted programs were not fully funded, including special education. The district is required to provide them, but does not get reimbursed.

The really bad news

If you are following along, you see where this is going. Let us say we pass Measure W, the district would get an additional $2.4 million which would cover the last two unprovided COLAs for the state.

However, now let us suppose that for 2010-11, the state still does not provide COLA. If that is the case, then the district again runs a deficit of $1.2 million. And that deficit increases by $1.2 million or so each year that the state does not provide COLA.

The other bad news is that this happened in the 1990s the last time the economy was really bad. What happened then is that it took several years before they could catch up with the missing COLAs.

If the budget picture improves, the state could partially fund COLA by 2010-11 and with Measure W, the district would be able to survive without further cuts to teachers and programs. If the state fully funds COLA, in three years years from now, the district would not need to renew the Measure W portion of the parcel tax.

If you are like me, you probably have the same question I did at this point. The budget forecast looks bleak as does the economic forecast. That means if the state does not fund COLA in 2010-11, we end up back in deficits. At that point, does Measure W really matter?

The answer is yes. First of all, Measure W locks into place those programs that it funds. That money is not discretionary money anymore, it is de facto restrictive, just as Measure Q money must go to the programs that it was written to fund.

Second, a $1.2 million deficit is better than a $3.6 million deficit. Neither are good, but the cuts for the former are obviously much less than the cuts for the latter.

Finally, perhaps the worst news for last is the possibility that the state might in the next few months suspend Prop. 98 which guarantees a certain proportion of the budget to schools. If that happens, money could be even more scarce for local school districts. That would make it all the more important that the districts be able to raise money locally to keep programs and teachers afloat.

The bottom line in this analysis is that the problems that the district faces beginning the year 2009-10 are limited to state budget problems. The $2.4 million projected deficit is a direct result of the anticipated zero COLA. It has nothing to do with fiscal mismanagement and nothing to do with declining enrollment. To reiterate, if the state suddenly came through with COLA for 2009-10, Measure W would not be needed and the district would be able to balance its budget.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, October 06, 2008

Responding to Judge Rosenberg on Proposition 5: We Need to Fix the Drug Court System

Anyone who has been in Judge Rosenberg's court has professed an admiration for his inherent fairness as a Judge. I have spoken with a number of people who believe he is sincere, fair, and listens to both sides and they feel that they get a good and fair hearing from him regardless of the outcome of his case. I want to emphasize this, because in other matters, I have to question to his judgment.

I start by examining his Op-Ed that he co-wrote with Judge Janet Gaard, a judge in the Yolo Superior Court. Her current assignment is to preside over all drug courts, Prop. 36 courts, juvenile drug courts and domestic violence court. How appropriate is it for sitting judges to weigh in on electoral politics? That is difficult to assess.

For their part they defend their decision to weigh into proposition politics by arguing that "when ballot measures directly impact the administration of justice, judges can, and do, voice their opinions." I am not so sure that defense is a valid. Nevertheless, this is not an article that focuses on a personal decision to weigh-in on this vital issue, but rather their position which seems cynical and to some degree self-serving.

I will start by saying this is far from a perfect measure and I think Judge Rosenberg and Judge Gaard have some valid criticisms of it. However, from my standpoint, they missed key benefits of the law. The bottom line here, the current system is broken, prisons and courts are overwhelmed by a large number of non-violent drug cases that clog the court system and fill our prisons. Drug use and abuse is a serious problem in this society, the question is whether the best means to treat it is to incarcerate otherwise non-dangerous individuals or to provide treatment for them.

What this bill does is not just talk about treatment for drug defendants, but it actually provides a funding source for it. The fact of the matter is that regardless of the proposal, prosecutors do not support treatment over incarceration. So while this is not a perfect bill by any means, it is the best law we could get and it is far better than the current system.

I will begin this by laying out what the law does. It is striking that most of the Judges objections are based on by-products of the measure rather than the major tenets. Again, I think some of these are valid points, but they do not consider in their op-ed the major benefits of the program. (And to be fair, I have much more space to flesh out these arguments than they do).

The major objection that the courts have is that this law would limit the courts' authority. In this case, it would limit the courts’ authority to incarcerate those who commit certain drug-related offenses, break drug treatment rules or violate parole; and shorten parole for certain nonviolent offenders. To which I say, darn. I simply do not believe the current system has the benefits that they apparently believe it does.

But do not take my word for it. Much of what follows is from the non-partisan, impartial analysis of the League of Women Voters. According to the League of Women Voters' analysis:
"Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act, would make major changes to state law governing the sentencing, parole, and rehabilitation of nonviolent drug offenders. There would be a strong emphasis on providing rehabilitation and counseling services for nonviolent drug offenders both in sentencing and upon parole. In addition, administrative and organizational changes would be made to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to centralize accountability and governance."
The proposition would do five basic and major things:
  1. Expand drug treatment diversion programs for criminal offenders,
  2. Modify parole supervision procedures and expand parole rehabilitation programs,
  3. Allow inmates to earn additional time off their prison sentences for participation and performance in rehabilitation programs,
  4. Reduce certain penalties for marijuana possession, and
  5. Make miscellaneous changes to laws relating to state administration of rehabilitation services.
Here's what supporters argue:
  • State prisons are badly overcrowded, with many proposals to build even more prisons rather than try to reduce the number of prisoners. This proposition safely reduces prison overcrowding.
  • Judges retain the discretion to divert nonviolent offenders into treatment and demand accountability during treatment.
  • Rehabilitation or treatment to reduce recidivism of inmates would pay for itself by reducing costs of incarceration.
  • These programs create treatment options for people with drug problems with early intervention programs and accountability.
  • Since 85 to 90 percent of inmates are returned to society, there must be programs to prepare them to become more productive citizens upon their return.
  • Proposition 36 has graduated 84,000 people and saved almost $2 billion since 2000. We need to build on this type of successful approach.
  • This measure creates an efficient, centralized system of data collection and independent oversight mechanisms for drug treatment and rehabilitation programs
Here's what opponents argue:

  • Proponents want the public to believe this is about keeping “nonviolent offenders” out of prison, but according to L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley, “No first-time offender arrested in California solely for drug possession goes to prison—ever.”
  • The measure limits the courts’ authority to incarcerate offenders who violate probation or parole, and shortens parole for most drug offenses.
  • Proposition 5 weakens drug rehabilitation programs by allowing defendants to continue using drugs while in rehab.
  • These changes in the law could provide, in effect, a “get-out-of-jail-free” card, letting defendants charged with crimes to effectively escape criminal prosecution and be returned to our neighborhoods.
  • This measure creates numerous divisions, boards, commissions, and reporting requirements regarding drug treatment and rehabilitation.
  • Because it is really a constitutional amendment rather than a statutory change, a petition has been filed with the state Supreme Court to block this initiative.
Now that we have discussed the basics on the law, let us look at the Judge's points.

The Judge lists seven major defects, I am going to look at a few of them.
"This is an initiative written by an advocacy group. It is very long, encompassing 36 single-spaced pages in a relatively small font. It makes intricate and detailed amendments to a significant number of existing statutes and executive policies. We doubt that 5 percent of the voters of California will have read the entire text of this new law before they vote on it. Is this a good way to make state law?"
I think this is a fair point that probably extends to all complex laws written by the proposition system. The problem with this point is that this law would never have been drafted by prosecutors who would want to retain authority and most seem to favor incarceration for non-violent drug offenses. So if you want reform you have to do it in initiative form. It seems unlikely that this law will pass and it would never get through the legislative system as too many powerful law enforcement interests would block it and not enough powerful interests support it.

The most important point the judge makes is both increased workloads on the courts and increase cost.
"Prop. 5 imposes dramatically increased workloads on courts and judges without providing any increase in the number of judges or needed funding."

"The estimated cost of Prop. 5 is $1 billion annually and none of this funding may be used for drug testing."
Let us look at the costs first and then discuss I think two good objections by Judge Rosenberg and Judge Gaard.

According to the league of Women Voters, the costs is indeed $1 billion.
"Total state operating costs could potentially exceed $1 billion annually."
However, what the judge does not mention is the potential cost saving which could exceed $3.5 billion--$1 billion for reduced prison and parole operating costs and a $2.5 billion for capital outlay savings.
"Most of those savings would be attributable to savings over time in prison and parole costs resulting from the following: (1) diversion of offenders from prisons to treatment programs, (2) exclusion of some parole violators from state prison, (3) reduction in prison time due to expansion in credits, and (4) reduction in time of parole supervision for certain drug and nonviolent offenders.

State Capital Outlay Savings: There could be net savings on state capital outlay costs exceeding $2.5 billion, resulting from lower prison construction costs due to a reduction in the inmate population. Those savings may be partially offset by costs for increased prison rehabilitation programs.

County Operations Costs and Funding: Increases in county costs for new drug treatment diversion programs and juvenile programs would probably be in line with increased state funding. There may be unknown increases and reductions in county operating costs and revenue.

Summary: In summary, increased state costs could exceed $1 billion for the expansion of drug treatment and rehabilitation programs. Savings to the state could exceed $1 billion due to reduced prison and parole operating costs. Capital outlay savings for prison facilities could exceed $2.5 billion."
Here's the draw to this bill for me: we spend a lot of money each year to lock up non-violent drug offenders. That includes an incarceration cost and it also includes the costs of building more and more prisons. Just look at the re-entry facility proposal in Yolo County. What if we didn't have to build these facilities because we did not incarcerate all of these non-violent drug offenders?

The Judge objects to this law based I think on two key things--lack of funding for new judges and also lack of funding for drug testing, with the cost savings here, they could easily remedy those problems. Those problems could be fixed by simple legislation.

The Judge then argues:
"Drug courts as we know them - which tend to focus on first-time offenders - would be virtually destroyed. Prop. 5 would require courts to take into their drug court system offenders who have suffered up to five convictions of any offense within a 30-month period. Effectively, the target population of drug courts will become the most incorrigible and difficult-to-treat offenders at the expense of new or first-time offenders."
I have two different responses to this criticism. First is that this initiative would double the funding for adult drug courts statewide. Currently that funding is at $24 million and it would go up to $45 million.

Here's the non-partisan analysis by the League of Women Voters on this:

"Proposition 5 would establish a three-track drug treatment diversion program, expanding and largely replacing the three existing drug treatment and diversion programs.
  • Track I. Offenders charged with nonviolent drug possession offenses, with no prior violent or serious offenses, could enter into a deferred entry of judgment arrangement with the court that does not require probation supervision. Similar to Penal Code Section 1000, an offender who completes the assigned drug treatment program and stays out of trouble would have the charges against him/her dismissed. Also, rather than the offender paying for the cost of the treatment program, the state funds these programs.

  • Track II. A modified form of Proposition 36, this track would generally divert offenders convicted of a nonviolent drug possession offense to treatment and probation for up to a year (with a maximum of 24 months if extensions are granted). Offenders cannot participate if convicted of a violent or serious felony during the prior five years. Offenders with five or more offenses in the prior 30 months are not eligible.

  • Track III. This is similar to existing state-funded drug court programs for adult felons. This track generally provides treatment and probation supervision in lieu of incarceration in prison or jail for up to 18 months (with a maximum of 24 if extensions are granted). In general, judges would be provided discretion as to which offenders would be admitted.
Offenders who fail in Track I may be shifted to Track II; Track II failures may be shifted to Track III."
What this would do would be to expand the types of offenders eligible for diversion and provide to the funding to them to go to drug treatment. It would also give the drug court judges considerable discretion as to who can go through these programs.

Judge Rosenberg and Judge Gaard are arguing that this would destroy the drug court system, but that seems like a very cynical view. They essentially argue that the system will fail.

On the other hand, the current system is broken--people are going to jail for non-violent drug offenses and that is clogging up other portions of the system and exploding the budget of the corrections system. Meanwhile the recidivism rate is extremely high and we are not doing a thing to treat the problem, we are only throwing them into storage. That doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.
"Addicted defendants will be permitted five violations of probation or treatment failures based on drug use and judges will be unable to meaningfully intervene until the sixth violation."
Perhaps five is too high. I can accept that. But let's look further.

What does that mean to intervene? Does he mean, to incarcerate? Is there any evidence that incarceration does anything to prevent future drug violations? Is there any evidence that incarceration leads people to stop doing drugs.

The Judges tip their hands with the next objection:
"The proposition dramatically restricts a judge's ability to impose some jail time as a sanction in drug court. Judges who operate drug courts have found that the ability to impose a brief stint in jail - even the possibility of that imposition - can have dramatically positive effects in convincing drug-addicted defendants that it is better to stay in the treatment program and stay clean rather than risk the wrath of the judge. This proposition removes that tool from judges."
Of course, the Judges present no evidence by which to back up that assertion. The statistics show otherwise.
"We believe in drug courts and the real possibility that drug courts can help people escape addictions and turn their lives around. We believe that Proposition 5, while well-intentioned, does far more harm than it provides benefits. We have serious concerns that drug addicts who run afoul of the criminal justice system will not be well-served by this proposition. "
And I simply disagree. The best way to help people escape addictions is to provide them with treatment. This creates a funding mechanism for treatment that is likely revenue neutral for the statement if not a net cost savings once all factors are taken into account.

Judge Rosenberg and Judge Gaard act like the current system is working. The problem is that they offer no evidence that it is working. This is far from a perfect bill. Some of their objections can be fixed with subsequent legislation, the rest are simply a matter of opinion that they have not offered tangible evidence to support. Does anyone believe that drug courts work? Does anyone believe that they help people avoid drug addiction? Is there any evidence concrete to support that assertion?

This seems like a cynical view that this treatment system is doomed for failure before it begins, that court system works, and that this new system would take away key powers from judges to impose punishment. Perhaps modifications in this law would help, but taken as a whole it is a huge step up from the current system that is clearly, despite protests to the contrary, broken.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, October 05, 2008

5th Senate District Race: War of Words

We have spent a lot of time in the last few days on the national race, something that is rarely done on the Vanguard, a blog that focuses almost exclusively on local issues. In fact, I have probably covered more national issues in the last few weeks than in the previous two years combined.

I have still not heard a coherent, fact based defense for Sarah Palin.

The other race that we are following closely is the race for the 5th Senate District that goes from Stockton to Yolo and Solano Counties. This is a tough race to evaluate. Greg Aghazarian at last reporting had a strong money advantage. However, it is a strongly Democratic year and a district with a 15-point partisan advantage for the Democrats in registration.

So Assemblyman Aghazarian who has a fairly conservative voting record is trying to run as a non-partisan.

He just released his second ad that features his calling for a non-partisan legislature. Again, as we argued earlier in the week, this is simply disengenuous.

The ad features Aghazarian's three sons playing a game called "Legislature."

One son says:
"It's all about me! It's all about me!"
The other puts his fingers in his ears and says:
"I can't hear you..."

"Talk to the hand."
This game, according to Aghazarian who appears on the ad, represents how the legislature operates. He calls for legislators to be elected on a non-partisan basis.
"Our current system of electing legislators by party has created gridlock, with party bosses more interested in preserving their power than solving problems."
Lois Wolk was on the UC Davis campus on Thursday at a College Democrats rally. She attacked her opponent for not acknowledging that he is a Republican.
"I am running in the Senate, as you've heard, against someone who won't even mention the fact that he's a Republican. He won't mention his party. He's not proud he's a Republican. He never mentions it and I understand why. In the Assembly, the Republicans and my opponent have opposed some very interesting bills.

They have opposed the successful effort to ban lead from children's candy. Think about that for a minute. The Governor, a Republican, signed that bill.

They have opposed cleaning up the polluted air in the valley. One in four children takes an inhaler to school. Think about that.

They have opposed most recently the effort to clean up the shoddy mortgage broker practices that have been occurring in this state. Think about that in a Senate district that is probably number one in terms of foreclosures.

They and my opponent have opposed flood protection for homeowners in the Central Valley--an area that floods all too commonly.

And they voted against protecting seniors from those whose caregivers would steal their money.

That's why Republicans are running away from being Republicans."
The Wolk campaign for their part has focused a negative ad on the issue of collecting per diem payments for travel as a legislator despite only living 40 miles from Sacramento. Frankly, though the ad focuses on one of Aghazarian's goals of fiscal responsibility it is not clear why they would choose this above other issues. Indeed, her speech on Thursday would seem to be a far better mode of attack.

Politicker reported on Thursday that the Assemblywoman is paying more for her television commercials in order to avoid a requirement that commercials must feature the face of the candidate who pays for them.

The Politicker explains that campaign commercials are normally charged a lesser rate than other types of ads--as much as 20 to 50 percent lower depending on the policies of the TV station. However, in order to qualify for that lower rate, the candidate's face must appear in the commercial at some point.

The Aghazarian campaign is seizing on this issue. Kevin Spillane, a spokesman for Aghazarian's campaign, said:
"Obviously, her campaign doesn't want to associate her with negative attack, cookie-cutter ads... She's obviously embarrassed about the ads."
He estimates that the Wolk campaign is spending thousands of dollars more for the ad in order to avoid the requirement, a notion that he suggests is "unheard of to me."

The ad in question was featured on Tuesday on page A3 of the Sacramento Bee as part of its "Ad Watch" segment.

The Bee's analysis does point out that only one senator (Sacramento-based Darrell Steinberg) and three Assemblymembers, all of them Sacramento-area members, do not take the payments, including Wolk herself.
The ad is an attempt by Wolk to portray Aghazarian as a hypocrite for taking travel money when he commutes to work.

While per diem may have been designed for legislators who travel long distances, all are entitled to augment their $116,208 annual salary with about $35,000 a year for living expenses while on legislative business in Sacramento. That includes weekends, as long the Legislature is not in recess for more than three consecutive days.

The overwhelming majority of state lawmakers claim the tax-free money. Only one senator, Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, does not accept per diem year round. In the Assembly, Wolk is among three Sacramento-area members who do not take the payments. She commutes from her home in Davis.

The 5th District seat is one of the few competitive legislative races. Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, won with less than 53 percent of the vote in both of his elections. Holding the seat would further the Democrats' goal of a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate and allow them to pass a budget without Republican votes.
The question that is unanswered is whether this is really an ad that is going to hold sway over voters during a time of a perilous economy, huge cuts to education, fees raised for college students, and a whole host of other issues facing the state legislature. Why focus on this issue? Again, I think her speech got much more to the heart of the matter.

This week, Lois Wolk came out as a supporter of Proposition 11, the proposition that calls for redistricting reform. Campaign spokespeople did not respond to an email from the Vanguard asking for comment.

So where does this race stand? This is a question that many people throughout the district are asking. With no known polls out it is difficult to assess. Some in San Joaquin County have suggested that her profile there is not very high. Certainly the ad wars have not sufficiently heated up as of yet. There seems to be a level of nervousness being aired privately in some circles, but the fact remains that in a district with a 15 percent partisan advantage favoring the Democrats, in a Democratic year, it seems difficult to conceive of a scenario short of some huge revelation where Wolk would not easily win this race.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting