Home » Island News, Schools

Alameda schools are good

Submitted by on 1, May 21, 2009 – 5:45 am11 Comments

That’s the headline Superintendent Kirsten Vital offered on Wednesday night at Henry Haight Elementary School for the first of three talks about school finance and the future direction of our schools.(Then she told the six dozen or so folks who showed up that the district won’t stay that way on the ever-shrinking check we get from the state.)

The question on the table was whether the district can continue to operate on state funding. The answer appeared to be no (and especially not now).

The state gave the district $2 million less than it did the year before, and with the failure of five state props intended to help balance its budget for the next two years, it may take another $2 million away, Vital said.

Under the state funding-only scenario, options to handle such losses of funds include cutting programs like art, music and counseling or closing schools, she said.

Things get worse after our two school parcel taxes sunset in 2012, she said. If we didn’t have that money now, we’d be about $11 million in the hole by 2011-2012.

This year, the district’s plan to close its budget gap involves spending unused money from some of these programs to cover its bills.

“This is not the start of the next parcel tax campaign. But it sure looks like it when you look at the next couple of years and look at the cliff we’re heading off,” School board Trustee Ron Mooney said.

The district is ranked fifth among similar California school districts in per-child spending, but 14th in state-supplied general spending dollars per child (that’s an amount that doesn’t include money for other “categorical” programs like library and media center, teacher training and adult education). We have some of the lowest teacher salaries in Alameda County and are dead last in the county for administrative costs.

Seventy-seven percent of the district’s funds come from the state.

The next discussion is about how Alameda Unified would look if its schools all became charters. That’s set for June 2 at Edison School.


  • Rosemary McNally says:

    I have an Alameda address and check my snail mail daily and do not remember getting any notice about last night's meeting.

  • David Kirwin says:

    I did not get snail mail notification either, I wonder how the $5k was spent.

    It is also disappointing that with the $5M+ of Measure "C" funds that when to upgrading AUSD technology that AUSD's website doesn’t post things like a PowerPoint version of last night's meeting. It should not be up to Mike McMahon to do everything, but it's not on his site either.

    Often it seems the District does not want public input; like Measure H; or like putting together the K-5 curriculum for LGBT and 'Marriage Equality' promotion calling it anti-harassment. While I believe both goals have value, AUSD's methods are deplorable. Its like they put a gun to their own head and expect us to continually rescue them. They need to learn to ask for help the right way; to get the word out; to be willing to listen.

    Meeting agenda – and the full packet should be online well in advance of meetings. Last night’s presentation should have been review for those present, so intelligent prepared responses could have been presented. Is the plan to feign lack of community concern because they make it so difficult for the community to get the info?

  • Rob Siltanen says:

    R. Beck may not have been looking at the same numbers I was looking at last night.

    Based on the numbers I saw, I didn't see any way AUSD could come anywhere close to cutting the millions and millions of dollars that the Beck Plan would require and while remaining a functional school district.

    I also think R. Beck and I may have a different understanding of how union contracts work.

  • Rob Siltanen says:

    At the community workshop, the Superintendent explained why the materials weren't yet on the website and also explained that they would be there soon.

    The district wants public input. The district is putting resources into reaching out through this process. In fact, the *main point* of the six-seven month master plan process is to get community input on how best to move forward through an unprecedented series of public community workshops.

    The complete transparency of the entire AUSD budget (shared in recent budget workshops and at Board meetings this spring) as part of the new Superintendent's modified zero based budget process is also part of this openness.

    Everyone at the meeting last night was asked to think about and suggest ways to get more people involved in this process to maximize public input.

    In addition to being the subject of several blog/on-line news stories, the public learned about the meeting from the recent front page article in the Alameda Journal. Even if every household didn't receive one, many postcards went out (in three languages). Among other things, notices were also sent out through schools and information was shared via PTA's.

    Last night was an introduction to the whole months-long process with many many community workshops to follow. Based on what I've seen so far, I don't see evidence of a secret plan to "feign lack of community concern."

  • R. Beck says:

    They just don’t get it!!!!

    Last night I attended the community meeting at Haight School. I was disappointed, seeing only a handful of people there. I understand that every household in Alameda was notified by mail at the cost of $ 5000. ,according to the Superintendent. The people attending where mostly teachers and school personnel. We where ask to help to come up with a plan to generate funds to avoid cutting of programs and teacher layoffs. We where shown spreadsheets of moneys the AUSD receives and how the money is spent. According to Superintendent Vitale, the AUSD will be about 11 million dollars short in 2012 and that it could be as high as 28 million, when the two parcel taxes sunset. Ron Mooney was very quick to talk about new taxes; it seems that’s all he can think of. He and a small group of people are responsible for the fiasco of Measure H, which has divided the community and destroyed the good will of many Alameda people, who had a good relationship for many years / decades with the schools. With Measure H still tied up in court, it seems a bit premature to think about new taxes, especially a permanent one! Yesterday’s election should be a wakeup call to the Board of Education. Taxpayers are fed up and are not willing to pay any new taxes. So here is a message Mr. Mooney, unless the AUSD becomes fiscally responsible, you will never pass another parcel tax in this town. For nearly 25 years I owned a successful business here in Alameda and have always supported the schools with donations. There where times, when I had to lay off employees or cut their hours. Believe me, it was never an easy decision to make. Running a school district is like running a business, if you loose money you eliminate and cut, it’s that simple. It would be a start, if everybody’s salary gets cut by 10% starting with the new superintendent Vitale, who makes close to $200.000. a year. Teacher’s contracts can be renegotiated and if that doesn’t work give them their pink slips. Close some of the smaller schools like Franklin and increase the size of students in the classrooms. A good teacher should be able to teach more than just 20 students. When I went to school, there where 36 kids in my class and we all graduated. How many students are attending Alameda schools and don’t even live here? How much money does it cost to educate a student per year? According to the BOE enrollment is declining. It is time to sell some school property and think about having just one High School in Alameda. There are many ways to cut cost and it will not be easy, but the time is now, not next year. Don’t look upon the government or the Alameda taxpayers to bail you out; they no longer have the funds.
    R. Beck

  • Susan Davis says:

    DK wrote: “I wonder how the $5k was spent.”

    I received my post card last week. So I’m thinking the $5000.00 was spent on design, production, and postage.

  • David Kirwin says:

    Thanks for your comments Rob, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you are correct.

    Perhaps I was over-reacting to not being able to find any info on the meeting & I am very concerned about the Staff proposal to de-centralized budget accountability. I doubt our individual sites have the financial abilities that our District office should have. I believe England has a public school system which uses this decentralized process, but they also have “school inspectors” who wield a mighty hammer and there are serious repercussions for schools that proper use of funding. All this seems very interpretive to me and is a concern even with the powerful school inspectors.

    Superintendant Vital’s proposal scares me, more so since in recent news articles she is still stating a legal need for the proposed curriculum – a myth clearly debunked by anyone who has spent 10 minutes reading AB 537 which specifically states there is no requirement for such curriculum. By her states is she ignorant, deceptive or “feigning” something for an agenda she supports?

    I’m looking for signals of how truthfully the AUSD staff and BOE will be relating with the community.

  • R. Beck says:

    Mr. Siltanen, my business was a union shop and for 25 years I not only had to deal with one union, but two, which included the powerful Retails Clerks. I know very well how they operate and dealing with them was never pleasant. The Teachers Union is a very well orchestrated union and they have lots of money, but at the end it’s still up to the rank and file members to decide their own future. Case and point,San Francisco, the city just announced the layoff of 1000 city employees, who voted not to modify their contract. Have the teachers make that decision, they will understand the consequences. When 92% off all the money AUSD takes in goes to teacher and administrative salaries and benefits, there is something wrong. It’s seems to me, it is not about the kids anymore, but how much money everyone can make. Yes my suggestion where extreme, but there has to be a start somewhere. Show the taxpayers of this city that you are willing to make sacrifices and you will find them supporting the schools and donating again like we always have done.

  • Rob Siltanen says:

    R. Beck (sorry I don't know whether you're Mr./Ms/Mrs.): I appreciate your point about the importance and necessity of shared sacrifice as a precondition of moving forward.

    My guess is that we may disagree about exactly how that should and could work, but I don't disagree with the general principle behind your analysis. There is no doubt that tough choices and tradeoffs are ahead and that the burdens must be shared fairly.

    For now, I'll decline to comment here on the decentralization plan that Mr. Kirwin says concerns him except to observe that the plan moves not only responsibilities but also resources from the central office out to the sites that directly serve students.

    I'll also decline further comment on the Caring Schools Curriculum. At this point, I think all the arguments have been made.

    Have a good weekend.

  • R. Beck says:

    Thank you Mr. Siltanen, I am a Mrs. and I am a resident of this city for more than 45 years. I remember the times, when the community came together to help and give their time and money to a variety of worthy causes. I have, through my business, donated not just to the Alameda schools, but also to Meals on Wheels, the Brown Bag Program, the Sisters of the Poor and many other programs to help the less fortunate. I am retired now, but still very active in the welfare of this community. I do not want to be held hostage to the few people in the AUSD, who think that people like me are a easy target to further their agenda. Times are very uncertain right now and we all have to work together, to see us through this crisis. Hopefully the BOE will come to the right decision on all subjects concerning this community, especially the the way the business community has been treated with the passage of Measure H. You are hurting the very people, that have been your most ardent supporters over many years.Lets stop the lawsuits and sit down and talk about the future of this city and what we can do, to survive this crisis.I wish you a very good weekend also,

    R. Beck

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.