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|Contra Costa County, CA||November 4, 2008 Election|
Answers To Questions Of Parent In The Mt. Diablo USD
By Jeffrey L. "Jeff" AdamsCandidate for Board Member; Mount Diablo Unified School District
This information is provided by the candidate
The Mt. Diablo Unified School District faces very difficult issues and problems that have led to a variety of questions. This paper provides an introductory statement and my 10 answers to 10 questions posed by a concerned parent in the District.Thank you for the opportunity to provide a brief statement about why I am running for the MDUSD Board and to answer your questions touching on key issues facing the District.
Our children need a quality education to be able to flourish in an ever increasingly complex world and parents have a right to expect this from their public schools. In my view, the School Board is not doing its part to make this happen.
I am greatly concerned at the divisiveness that has dominated the interactions of the current Board resulting in critical work on behalf of our children simply not getting done.
Indeed, circumstances are currently so bad that in a recent Board meeting which I attended (on August 26, 2008) in which the Board announced it would be discussing development of a District Strategic Plan for students, families, teachers, staff and others in the District, the Board members spent almost the entire time addressing what I would describe as bickering amongst the Board members. Instead of formulating a strategy to address the fiscal crisis we face (and which we, no doubt, will face again and again given political circumstances in Sacramento), the Board discussed whether or not the two members were being heard. Instead of developing a strategy to address the current impasse in collective bargaining negotiations with MDEA where fiscal issues are difficult, the Board debated what a democratic 3-2 vote means. Instead of unifying on a strategy to solve problems concerning curriculum, budget, complaints of teachers and parents, school facilities, extracurricular activities and the like, the discussion turned to a lengthy disagreement about negative misinformation being electronically and publicly disseminated.
And back and forth it went--while absolutely nothing was being accomplished in regard to developing a strategic plan for the future of our children and their education.
Bottom line, we must change composition of the Board in order to replace unproductive bickering with true leadership and effective advocacy for our children.
Question 1: Teacher contracts, the lack of good faith negotiations on both sides. How will this get resolved?
Answer: The District is currently at a crippling impasse in collective bargaining negotiations with MDEA and has already engaged in the negotiation and mediation processes leaving the door open for MDEA to soon call a strike, if it chooses to do so. As we all know, such a strike would hurt our children and families in the District and would likewise hurt our dedicated teachers--the very last thing families in the District want to happen. As an attorney who has practiced employment and labor law for about 16 years in Walnut Creek--with specific, practical, hands-on collective bargaining experience--I feel I am better qualified than the other candidates to oversee, address and solve this issue because I have the professional experience they do not have.
The first step in addressing this issue is to understand that the Board, along with Mr. McHenry and the District bargaining team, is ultimately responsible to ensure a unified collective bargaining approach on behalf of our children. According to the organization which trains board members in their duties (CSBA), the members of the Board (not Mr. McHenry) have specific responsibility to unitedly "create a framework for negotiations by determining the district's approach to bargaining, deciding on the district's bargaining representatives and clarifying roles and responsibilities [and] ... provide leadership if there is an impasse...." This requires the Board to act "as members of a team ... rather than [as] individuals on the board" where Board members are "supportive, respectful, trustworthy, fair, good and communicating and professional. Effective boards collaborate with staff, families, other agencies and business...." Mr. McHenry's job is to then ensure the work is done in accordance with the unified direction of the Board.
For some time now, I have not seen effective, united, or collaborative leadership on the part of the Board members in this major area of responsibility. To the contrary, I have seen a 3-2 Board split with two Board members publicly criticizing Mr. McHenry, thus undermining his effectiveness in negotiations with MDEA, rather than working with the other members of the Board and Mr. McHenry toward a resolution. As CSBA directs, "the most important element of any process used is that it must enable consensus to be forged. Establishing the educational direction for a school district cannot be done with a 3-2 board vote." Certain board members have failed in this key responsibility by refusing to come to a consensus and must now be held accountable.
Second, the solution must come in a collaborative way in arms-length negotiations. For example, the teachers are telling all of us that they need medical benefits as part of their compensation package. The District is pointing out that 80.86% of all District general fund expenditures in the 2008-2009 Adopted Budget are already dedicated to District employee salaries and benefits and that budget funds are continuing to be cut with declining enrollment (and, thus, less funds from state mandated ADA calculations). Parents all over the District are telling us that it is unacceptable to be losing so many great teachers through a revolving door. Members of the community are telling us that the current economic circumstances are tough and there is little sympathy for proposals for additional taxes as, for example, a parcel tax. The solution, then, must combine all such interests into the mix and negotiate in good faith to forge a compromise. In my experience, that takes a great deal of work by all involved.
Third, all parties to the negotiations must respect the other parties' position and be willing to work toward a compromise. The District must recognize that teachers are not receiving the compensation and medical benefits they deserve, and there must be a good faith goal and plan to achieve such compensation goals for teachers over time via, for example, dedication of a percentage of State funding increases in future years to teacher compensation. The teachers must recognize that the financial situation faced by the District does not allow for significant raises and full benefits due to recent and anticipated, significant budget cuts from the State.
Question 2: Low teacher morale and a mass exodus out of MDUSD. Northgate has lost 50% of its teachers in the last 3 years. How will we solve this issue? If we can't compensate our teachers what programs should be in place at the site level to motivate and support them?
Answer: I don't think there can be any question that the great failing of this District--and therefore the Board--over the years has been its failure to consistently attract and retain great teachers. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, teachers are underpaid compared to what teachers are paid in other districts. As long as that is the case, we will continue to lose great teachers. We can and must start making fresh commitments to our teachers--solidified in a collective bargaining agreement--pointing out a direction of improved compensation over a series of years. This must start now by addressing the issue of medical benefits--a key issue in the current impasse. If elected, I pledge to do all that is in my power to reverse the worsening trend of losing teachers by starting the process of reprioritizing the District budget.
Finally, I have seen the willingness of parents to be more involved in groups, committees, and organizations to help our teachers. My wife, for example, taught in the PEP drug, tobacco and alcohol prevention teaching program for perhaps 10 years at Mountain View Elementary. On a broader scale, we have seen tremendous parental involvement in PFC's, fluency centers, reading labs, fundraising efforts, traffic control, chaperoning for school trips and events, classroom assistance, boosters for athletics, music, drama, and so forth. Part of the solution must include a continuing encouragement and support of such parental involvement at all levels, including elementary, middle and high school support--something I think we all very much appreciate.
Question 3: Inadequate revenue source--do you believe a parcel tax is the answer? If no, why? If yes, how much will it take per parcel to solve the problems of the district? How son can it, or should it, be done?
Answer: I believe that the voters would reject a parcel tax given the economic climate faced by the families of this District. Therefore it is not a currently viable alternative. However, I believe we must have a parcel tax at some point if the current methodology of public school funding controlled by the State is not addressed and correct.
Question 4: Many people agree that Mr. McHenry is a nice man but he does not have the vision or leadership skills to navigate MDUSD through these difficult times. He should not have had to be told that the district needed a strategic plan, he should have known that. It should have been his first course of action when he came on board. He IS responsible for the budget and should never have said that he wasn't. He should be moving the district forward with respect to the parcel tax. He is allowing Eberhart and Strange to set the agenda. Do you believe he should stay in his current position as superintendent?
Answer. I, too, have heard many people in the District, including teachers and other District employees, express negative opinions about Mr. McHenry. However, I believe that both the Board and the superintendent are responsible for the successful management of the District. I also believe that certain Board members seek to deflect blame onto Mr. McHenry for problems for which they are responsible as Board members.
The Board--not Mr. McHenry--is responsible for the vision of MDUSD. CSBA confirms that "the most important action elected school board members take is to set the educational direction for the school district by establishing a district vision." If it is true that MDUSD lacks vision, then the Board members--not Mr. McHenry--must be held accountable for that failure.
The Board is also responsible to exercise its leadership obligations by directing, supporting and correcting Superintendent performance. CSBA makes it clear that "employment of a superintendent is the direct responsibility of the board..." This includes the responsibilities to "forge and maintain a working relationship with the superintendent" and "support the superintendent." The CSBA specifically directs board members to "act as a team" in directing the superintendent and not give "mixed signals" to the superintendent as such can "complicate ... the long-term relationship between the board and the superintendent."
The Board is likewise responsible for developing the strategic plan with the superintendent. Speaking again about Board member responsibilities, CSBA confirms that "we [the Board] must determine main strategies for achieving the desired `future state'we envision.... No matter what strategic areas a particular board believes are appropriate for the local school district, it is vital that top priorities or primary focus always be on student learning. Every other activity of the district should be dealt with based on its impact on improved student learning." I agree with this assessment and disagree with two members of the Board who, for example, blame Mr. McHenry for the lack of a strategic plan while they have refused to unify with other members of the Board and Mr. McHenry to develop such a plan, as is their responsibility.
The current Board has, frankly, likewise failed in these important oversight responsibilities. In my view, Board members cannot attempt to wash their hands of their superintendent oversight responsibilities and deflect all blame upon the superintendent for the problems in and failures in the District. That solves nothing. The two incumbents seeking reelection in November--both of whom share responsibility for direction of the Board to Mr. McHenry for the past eight years--stand accountable for Mr. McHenry's performance because he has acted under the Board's direction. If Mr. McHenry has failed, the incumbents who have directed him for about eight or nine years have likewise failed and stand accountable for that failure. However, if Mr. McHenry has succeeded, Board members deserve credit for that success.
At the same time, Mr. McHenry must account for his actions, or inactions. I have spoken to teachers and parents alike who feel they are not getting the support and service they need from the District. Mr. McHenry must respond to these concerns. On the other hand, I have learned that some of the information being disseminated publicly about Mr. McHenry is false. I have concluded that Mr. McHenry should be held accountable for his actual performance and should not be judged on misinformation. Until we sift through and disregard the misinformation about Mr. McHenry, I am not in favor of asking for his resignation.
Please note that I am not defending Mr. McHenry. I am advocating holding the Board responsible for its lack of leadership over Mr. McHenry and certain members of the Board for misinformation that has been disseminated publicly about him.
Finally, it is the Board that is ultimately responsible for the District budget. As CSBA confirms, "The school board is responsible for adopting and monitoring a district budget which focuses on achieving the results described in the district vision for student learning. Taxpayers expect to see public dollars spent effectively. Ensuring this happens and communicating the fact are major aspects of the board's fiscal accountability role." Obviously, Mr. McHenry likewise has key responsibilities for the budget. However, the ultimate responsibility for the budget belongs with the Board, and Board members stand accountable for the budgets approved rather than deflecting blame to the superintendent for that which is a Board responsibility.
Question 5: Northgate and its feeder pattern schools have been ignored by this district until this year when a group of parents said, "enough is enough, we want out." An ineffective principal was finally replaced and an awful VP left. Northgate schools are ranked in the 9th and 10th decile with respect to their API scores yet when compared to similar schools they are all ranked below level or well below level. Northgate has lost it competitive standing amongst other college prep schools in the area. How would you address this issue.
Answer: I would address this issue one step at a time, starting immediately where the rubber hits the road--the classroom where teachers teach students. We have a crisis with the loss of great teachers in the District, the consequences of which include the issues you mention in your question. I am dedicated to starting a new path of leadership at the Board level which includes better treatment of our teachers because that is what our children need--teachers, who are professionals, getting better compensation and support from the District. We must negotiate a competitive teacher compensation package or our teachers will continue to bolt to greener pastures. Right now, that means finding a way to start providing medical benefits comparable to those offered by other Districts and completing a collective bargaining agreement on which the teachers may rely to plan their lives in this District rather than being forced or tempted to look for better opportunities elsewhere.
Question 6: Walnut Creek Schools Together Now! Believes MDUSD is too big. How do you respond to that? They believe this district has taken a one size fits all approach to education and are not addressing many of the issues facing students at Northgate. How do you respond to that? They believe that there is no Walnut Creek representation on the board and the community in which they live, shop and play is a community divided by its schools. How do you respond to that?
Answer: Clearly, MDUSD is one of the largest school districts in California. I am not currently in favor of splitting the district as I believe the first order of business is to correct flaws in the District. For example, the loss of great teachers at Northgate, it seems to me, is a result of two interrelated problems: (1) the financial crisis facing the District and continuing loss of budget funds from the State and (2) a failure to do what is necessary to attract and retain outstanding teachers. Problems notwithstanding, the Board must make a steady commitment to being competitive in attracting and retaining great teachers--now.
I do not believe in a "one size fits all" approach in education. Rather, I believe that educational leadership requires a balance of interests. One the one hand, we must recognize that there are certain minimum standards that all of our students must achieve both as a matter of pragmatism (i.e. our children must be able to live and succeed in our society) and as a matter of legislative mandate (e.g. No Child Left Behind). There also remains an achievement gap and I am dedicated to closing that gap as all students must succeed. At the same time, the very essence of education is the ability of our children to become independent and deep thinkers and doers, with power to speak and act and make contributions in productive and lawful ways in our society as they work to have joy throughout their lifetimes. That requires both a commitment to flexibility and diversity in its truest form each of our children has different gifts and abilities that must flower and bloom during their adolescent years.
Election to the Board occurs on an at-large basis. I am keenly aware that, as a result, there are parents in some areas of the District that feel underrepresented or not represented at all in the public education process. If elected to the Board, I have every intention of representing all in the District to the best of my abilities and address the needs of all children.
Question 7: Do you believe in 7 period days for high school students?
I appreciate the opportunity my children have had to go to school for six period days with the option of another, seventh "A" period during the hour before the regular school day begins. It has offered my children more flexibility in scheduling classes they both needed and wanted. I also understand many other parents feel the same way and have likewise encouraged their children to take advantage of that extra period.
Question 8: Do you believe that students who play sports should get PE credit for doing so?
Yes. I was the beneficiary of such a policy when I played on my varsity basketball team many years ago. My experience then and my observations in the past years confirms that in many, if not all, cases students who participate in sports spend significantly more time in practices during the time they are participating in interscholastic sports than they do in P.E. classes and that they need the extra time to do homework.
Question 9: What is your vision for this district and how can it be realized?
Every student must learn to succeed in an ever increasingly complex world. Hence, every child must have an available path in the system to succeed. My vision is that every student can and will succeed such that when they have completed high school they are ready to take on the world, whether they go on to college or directly to work--and enjoy it!
Question 10: What do you think is the greatest challenge facing MDUSD today? How would you address this challenge?
Ensuring that our children come first--always. Currently, attracting and retaining the best and brightest teachers is the greatest challenge of this District to meet that objective. If we take care of that issue as a matter of the first order, other problems--of which there are many--will be easier to address. We must never forget that the teacher teaching the student is the essence of what education is all about. The revolving door must stop. "Children First."
Position Paper 2
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