Charter Schools in WCCUSD

I have mixed feel­ings about char­ter schools in gen­eral. I don’t know how mixed their feel­ings are, but there are moves afoot to look at char­ters in Pinole and El Sobrante.

Anyway here’s the lo­cal ar­ti­cle:

A group of char­ter school ex­perts and the city of Pinole are gaug­ing in­ter­est in cre­at­ing a new char­ter in West County.

A Pinole City Council spe­cial work­shop to­day will aim to an­swer ques­tions about char­ters and will fea­ture John Schilt, a Pinole res­i­dent, at­tor­ney and mem­ber of the city Economic Development and Housing Advisory Committee who is in­ter­ested in even­tu­ally es­tab­lish­ing a char­ter school in Pinole.

There cur­rently are five char­ter schools op­er­at­ing in West County, all in Richmond: Leadership high, West County Community high, Making Waves mid­dle, Manzanita mid­dle and Richmond College Prep el­e­men­tary.

El Sobrante res­i­dent Al Kirkman said he is gaug­ing com­mu­nity in­ter­est in cre­at­ing a char­ter el­e­men­tary in El Sobrante in light of the West Contra Costa school district’s de­ci­sion to close El Sobrante Elementary to save money. Kirkman said he plans to at­tend tonight’s meet­ing and en­cour­aged other El Sobrante res­i­dents to come.

Creation of West County char­ter school in fo­cus —

Now, the min­utes from the Pinole work­shop are up.

Some Problems with “Class-Size-Reduction Reduction”

This en­try is part 3 of 3 in the se­ries Class Size Reduction Reduction

This is part of my chain of posts about us­ing the flex­i­bil­ity in the rules for the cur­rent Class Size Reduction re­im­burse­ment pro­gram to deal with a ma­jor bud­get cri­sis in WCCUSD that is both spe­cific to WCCUSD andpart of the gen­eral State bud­get cri­sis. Here are three spe­cific prob­lems with im­ple­ment­ing the sce­nar­ios pro­posed by staff for what I like to call Class-Size-Reduction Reduction:

  1. QEIA Schools
  2. The Current Teachers’ Contract
  3. The Parcel Tax “Contract”

QEIA Schools

QEIA (Quality Education Investment Act) is the prod­uct of a le­gal suit by the pre­dom­i­nant State teach­ers union, the CTA, over our con­vo­luted State school fi­nance mea­sure called “Prop. 98.” The set­tle­ment re­solved that the schools were un­der­paid by a cer­tain amount in 2 years. However, in­stead of just giv­ing the money to school dis­tricts, a new cat­e­gor­i­cal pro­gram was cre­ated. Schools ap­ply for the grants. Of course, one of the main fea­tures of this pro­gram is to re­duce class sizes.

WCCUSD has four el­e­men­tary schools in this pro­gram. As part of the law (ac­cord­ing to this ASCA re­port), re­duced class sizes in K-3 to 20:1 have to re­main in place, so no across-the-board in­crease in K-3 class sizes can ap­ply to them.

The Current Teachers Contract

Article 12 of the cur­rent teach­ers col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing con­tract [PDF file] deals with staffing ra­tios. It says:

Where class re­duc­tion is im­ple­mented in grades K-3, the District will fol­low ap­plic­a­ble State Class-Size-Reduction leg­is­la­tion.

The teach­ers union (UTR) main­tains that, as long as a class size re­duc­tion pro­gram is in place at the State level, the 20:1 ra­tio needs to ap­ply. I would ar­gue that the K-3 Class Size Reduction was never a man­date, but a re­im­burse­ment pro­gram whose net pay­outs heav­ily in­cen­tivized a 20:1 or noth­ing ap­proach in the past. The net pay­outs are the pro­gram. Now the penal­ties and thus the pro­gram are dif­fer­ent.

This will ul­ti­mately have to be fought out through the griev­ance process. I thinks it’s fair to say that nei­ther side in the con­tract agree­ment en­vi­sioned this kind of change in the CSR pro­gram would oc­cur in­stead of just main­tain­ing or elim­i­nat­ing it.

The Parcel Tax “Contract”

In WCCUSD, there is a par­cel tax that was re­cently re­placed by an­other par­cel tax. In both mea­sures, this is one of the pur­poses:

Maintaining re­duced class sizes for kinder­garten through third grade stu­dents

Legally, this doesn’t man­date that this be done. It only per­mits this use for des­ig­na­tion for par­cel tax ex­pen­di­ture.

Over time an ex­plicit al­lo­ca­tion from the par­cel tax has been made of about $1.9M. This is the amount stip­u­lated by staff to be the net sav­ings from fully staffing K-3 classes af­ter dis­pens­ing with the CSR re­im­burse­ment en­tirely. Now that the re­im­burse­ment pro­gram has changed, this amount has now bal­looned. The staff sce­nario with the largest net sav­ing would save $4M. The amount to fully staff has to be more than this. $5M or $7M or … It would have to be cal­cu­lated. So, fol­low­ing the ex­ist­ing fund­ing mech­a­nism would re­quire main­tain­ing the older CSR class sizes to take up most of the $9M to $10M par­cel tax. Is this worth it com­pared to other pos­si­ble uses?

As some­one who has par­tic­i­pated in all 4 par­cel tax cam­paigns, I think there was al­ways the idea that if the CSR re­im­burse­ment were to go away, sup­port CSR min­i­mum class size would have to be re­vis­ited. The re­im­burse­ment has not been elim­i­nated, but has been prac­ti­cally elim­i­nated.

Others (like most of the Budget Advisory Committee that I chair) ar­gue that none of this num­ber stuff will mat­ter. People will feel be­trayed. Maintaining the 20:1 ra­tio is a “third rail.” Messing with this will elim­i­nate any chance of pass­ing an­other par­cel tax.

Maybe there are more im­por­tant things than pass­ing the next par­cel tax. The cur­rent one ex­pires in 2014. We have a $25M hole now. Being fis­cally re­spon­si­ble re­quires tak­ing a chance. I would rather grab the third rail and try be­ing hon­est with peo­ple. Yes, this is not K-3 class size re­duc­tion as many peo­ple con­ceived it when they sup­ported the par­cel tax (let’s say it’s been “aban­doned” just to keep things sim­ple), but it is what is nec­es­sary given the cur­rent bud­get sit­u­a­tion even with a par­cel tax in place.

Class Size Reduction

This en­try is part 2 of 3 in the se­ries Class Size Reduction Reduction

In my Classroom Size Reduction Reduction post, I showed how I was urg­ing the WCCUSD Board to agendaize the topic of in­creas­ing K-3 class sizes, yet again. So, how did we get to this point in the first place?

What dri­ves class sizes in K-3 in California is the State’s Class Size Reduction re­im­burse­ment pro­gram. This is a set of rules that pro­vides a $1,070/student re­im­burse­ment for classes up to about 20 stu­dents and then takes the money back through penal­ties if the class sizes for re­im­bursed classes creeps up even a lit­tle over the 20:1 ra­tio. Under the sys­tem in place, there was very lit­tle lee­way for inch­ing up the class size.

Now the rules have changed for this year on. But, in­stead of just elim­i­nat­ing this cat­e­gor­i­cal pro­gram and fold­ing the money into the pal­try gen­eral funds avail­able for schools, the State adopted a wacky ap­proach that would sim­ply re­lax the penal­ties and al­low school dis­tricts to “choose” how much to use flex­i­bil­ity from re­duced staffing to fill their bud­get holes. (Here’s a page on the Association of California School Administrators Web site with a good de­scrip­tion of the new rules.) All of the po­lit­i­cal flak comes down on lo­cal school boards, not the State, if they dare to move on this. Thanks!

To show the dif­fer­ence be­tween the old and new pro­grams, I posted a spread­sheet on Google Docs. It con­sists of tabs show­ing (in a very sim­pli­fied way) the im­pact on a dis­trict like WCCUSD un­der the new rules, the old rules, and a chart show­ing the dif­fer­ence. The net sav­ings avail­able from go­ing away from 20:1 while still re­ceiv­ing some re­im­burse­ment are sub­stan­tial.

Is up­ping the sizes for classes from 20:1 the end of the world? No. The ev­i­dence for the ben­e­fits of smaller classes is ac­tu­ally some­what mixed, es­pe­cially when we’re talk­ing about rel­a­tively high sizes like in California. Here are links to The Center for Public Education and EdWeek’s Research Center. The con­sen­sus seems to be that, in or­der to get re­sults, you need to go down to the num­bers from the Tennessee STAR study, 15:1.

It’s un­de­ni­able that smaller classes have ben­e­fits out­side of the scope of these stud­ies. Smaller classes are one way to at­tract and re­tain teach­ers. Also, smaller classes are an eas­ily vis­i­ble fea­ture for pleas­ing par­ents. But, in the face of a large bud­get cri­sis, these are not suf­fi­cient rea­sons to hold to the 20:1 class size for every school.

At the last 2 Board meet­ings, sce­nar­ios have been pre­sented by staff for a par­tial re­trench­ment from the 20:1 class size in K-3. (Here’s a sum­mary of the op­tions taken from the staff doc­u­ment.) These sce­nar­ios all in­volve across-the-board change in class sizes for dif­fer­ent grade lev­els. None of them in­volve a com­plete roll back to max­i­mum or close-to-max­i­mum class sizes. For one thing, not enough lay­off no­tices were ap­proved by the March 15th dead­line to do any­thing like this. (This pos­te­rior-back­wards method of bud­get de­ci­sion-mak­ing will have to be a sub­ject of an­other post.)

I’ve sug­gested an al­ter­na­tive ap­proach that would still ob­tain net sav­ings. The rules of the CSR pro­gram al­low dif­fer­ences on a school-by-school ba­sis and not just grade-by-grade. Why not al­low the class sizes to go up to the max­i­mum or al­most max­i­mum in schools that don’t need the ben­e­fit of smaller class sizes as much and fo­cus re­main­ing re­sources on Title I schools that need it the most. Treat smaller class sizes as a tar­geted in­ter­ven­tion in­stead of as an equally spread en­ti­tle­ment. With the ex­panded Title I money in the stim­u­lus that will prob­a­bly stick to some de­gree on an on­go­ing ba­sis, these schools can fur­ther drive down the ra­tios to Tennessee-STAR lev­els of 15:1 where they might make a dif­fer­ence in terms of the con­sen­sus of re­search.

Classroom Size Reduction Reduction

This en­try is part 1 of 3 in the se­ries Class Size Reduction Reduction

Supporting “class­room size re­duc­tion re­duc­tion,” mov­ing some of the money the State of California al­lo­cates for Classroom Size Reduction us­ing a new flex­i­bil­ity in the pro­gram to sup­port fill­ing in the huge struc­tural deficit in the WCCUSD bud­get, is not a pleas­ant task or a great way to make friends, but it’s some­thing that must be done or at least con­sid­ered to the very end of the bud­get process. I’ll fol­low up with some more about this, but here’s a let­ter I sent to the agenda-set­ting com­mit­tee for the WCCUSD School Board. Yes, I know it’s Good Friday, but I wanted to get it in in time:

Subject: Request for Agenda Item: Class Size Changes in K-3
Date: Fri, 10 Apr 2009 12:12:00 -0700
From: Charles Cowens 
To: Audrey Miles ,  Antonio Medrano , "Harter, Bruce" 
CC: Linda Grundhoffer>,  "Gamba, Sheri" 

As an action agenda item at your next Board meeting, I hope you will
consider again the issue of increasing target class sizes in the K-3
grades as a cost savings measure. I also ask that you consider publicly
confirming one way or another as soon as the decision is made whether or
not this will be on the agenda.


1. Changes in the State Classroom Size Reduction (CSR) reimbursement
program have made it possible to achieve significant net savings in a
whole continuum of scenarios up to staffing to the legal maximum for
grades K-3.

2. The potential savings far exceed the amount set aside in previous
parcel tax designations for supporting CSR ($1.9 million stipulated as
the foregone savings from staffing to maximum, given the old CSR
program's rules and actual staff salaries).

3. WCCUSD has a $25 million structural deficit.

4. The Board has already passed a PKS for eliminating positions in K-3
that when combined with projected attrition could allow the elimination
of around 95(?) FTE of K-3 teachers.

5. At the last meeting of the Board, 4 scenarios were presented within
the constraints of the PKS and projections for attrition.

6. 4 out of 5 Board members supported some proposal to increase class
sizes in grades K-3, but no one proposal had a majority.

7. There was no motion made or discussed to reject any attempt to use
the new CSR flexibility out of hand.

8. No alternative source of funding that didn't require contract
collective bargaining was proposed at the meeting.

9. Deadlines are approaching for the next interim budget report and
confirming notices associated with the PKS.

10. While using the new program rules for CSR reimbursement for net
savings is not yet a public explicit budget "check list item" like
school closures, completely foregoing this new flexibility to help
reduce the structural deficit can only increase the chances that WCCUSD
will eventually lose local control.

Charles Cowens

Grad. Ceremony for Students Who Haven’t Passed CAHSEE Yet

I’ve kvetched about this be­fore, but now I’m go­ing to make an­other stab at get­ting this on the agenda with a new School Board in place. Here’s my email ask­ing to put it on the Board agenda:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Request for Agenda Item: Participation in Graduation Ceremonies
Date: Wed, 01 Apr 2009 13:45:32 -0700
From: Charles Cowens 
To: Audrey Miles ,  Antonio Medrano , "Harter, Bruce" 

I hope you will consider it worthwhile to add this issue as an item to
the agenda for the next meeting. The issue is whether students who
fulfill these conditions should be allowed to participate in graduation

(1) Completed all requirements for graduation except for the exit exam
(2) Registered to take the exit exam right after graduation

BACKGROUND (not a proposed precis)

1. Passing the High School Exit Exam became a requirement for districts
to grant diplomas.
2. The Ed. Code leaves it up to local districts to determine graduation
ceremonies except for Special Ed. students who must be allowed to
participate if they have a certificate of completion.
3. WCCUSD implemented a policy of complying with State law, but also
allowing students who had completed all requirements for graduation
except for the exit exam to participate in graduation ceremonies.
4. For political reasons, the Board later banned participation by such
students and even banned certificates of completion for non-special-ed
5. The Board then rescinded the ban on issuance of certificates of
completion for non-special-ed students.
6. Now, every year, families of students who are trying to pass the exam
have to deal with the uncertainty of whether their child will pass the
exam in time for the graduation ceremony. This creates a great hardship
for the families who often must buy tickets to come from great
distances. Also, it seems like every year a story comes out in the
newspaper about this kind of hardship case reflecting negatively on the

Charles Cowens