Monday, November 23, 2009

Parent Testifies about Redistricting

Silverado Canyon resident and parent Jeff Wilson delivered the following remarks at the last OUSD board meeting:

I’d like to talk tonight about the move of my two children, a kindergarten and a second grader, to Trabuco Elementary. My family chose to be one of many who wanted to stay in a small, rural school similar to our own Silverado Elementary that was, of course, closed by a slim majority of board members. So we requested an interdistrict transfer and are pleased with our new school within the Saddleback Valley District. We would much prefer to have kept our local Silverado Elementary open with the opportunity to work to improve it, but that was not an option.

The main thing we notice about Trabuco Elementary is the difference it makes when the school district actually supports a school. Trabuco was refurbished a few years back, the buildings and facilities are top notch. The teachers are confident of job security, knowing their position will continue, and they plan accordingly with continuing academic projects and continuing curriculum from year to year.

The contrast with the last few years at Silverado Elementary under your leadership is striking. It is absolutely clear to me that the majority of the Orange Unified School Board intentionally starved Silverado Elementary for years. Starved! With no funding, with rumors of impending closure from year to year, with no interest in the programs, with leaving Silverado Elementary out as a listed option for open enrollment, it appears to me that the majority of you board members purposefully engaged in a campaign to reduce silverado elementary to a shadow of the distinguished school it once was, to the point where families began moving their children to other schools, fleeing the neglect by certain members of this school board. When you finally used the excuse of reduced state funding to close it, there really was very little left at Silverado Elementary. The majority of the board who voted to close the school had no interest in our work nor our plans to make Silverado flourish.

Even the board member whose jurisdiction included Silverado wanted it closed, and crowed gleefully that the vote to close the school was a “done deal” even before the vote took place.

Notice that I use the term “board member”, rather than the more official “Trustee”.

Wikipedia describes “trustee” as follows:

Trustees have certain duties - These include the duty of impartiality, the duty to account for their actions, the duty of loyalty, the duty not to profit, the duty not to be in a conflict of interest position, and the duty to administer in the best interest of the beneficiaries. Etc.

We who live within the boundaries Orange Unified District are the ones who entrusted you, the board members and superintendent, to protect the interests of our children. The majority of this board voted to close our school, and laws may have been violated in the process. In my opinion those individuals have not lived up to the elected responsibilities that come with the term Trustee.

Life is good in Saddleback Valley Unified School District. It was a good move for us.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Redistricting is on the agenda! The time to act is now.

The OUSD Board will meet on Thursday November 12 at 7 PM. At this meeting, the OUSD staff is scheduled to make their recommendations about redistricting the canyon community to Saddleback Valley Unified School District.

We are urgently looking for community members to speak to this issue at that meeting.

The two people who have been most stalwart in their public support, Dr. Deborah Johnson and Chay Petersen, cannot attend the November 12 meeting. We must have a presence at this very important school board meeting.

At the last meeting, the board members declared that they do not believe that the majority of the canyon residents support redistricting. So we agreed to circulate a petition to show them that the majority actually do support it. Debbie has written a petition that is currently being circulated. Some of you may have signed it at the community celebrations on Halloween. Volunteers are needed to circulate the petition in their neighborhoods.

Please talk to your friends and neighbors. We need people to not only sign the petition, but to write letters and emails in advance of the meeting and to attend the November 12 meeting. We need people to speak - very briefly - to this issue at the meeting.

We need to act to ensure that the needs of the canyon children will be met today - and in the future.

Below is Debbie Johnson's eloquent appeal which details the history and the rationale of this proposal. Read it and be inspired to write a letter of your own to the OUSD Board and Superintendent Drier. Check the sidebar for easy email links and mailing addresses.

September 24, 2009

Members of the school board, Superintendent Drier and members of the community:

In December 2008, we began a journey together. Motivated by the prospect of a new administration at Orange Unified and hopeful of reversing the declining enrollment at our community’s only school, a group of us met with OUSD administrators and outlined a vision for the future. Living in one of the most beautiful spots in southern California, a land where the mountain lions roam freely, chirping birds greet the sun and coyotes cross the roads, we sought to preserve the best of our land by passing on appreciation for it to our children and others.

At the time, our hope was to create The Silverado Environmental Science and Technology School, operated either as a charter or a magnet school within OUSD. Unfortunately, OUSD administrators never responded to our proposal. Instead the budget crisis intensified and discussions began about closing our school. You all know the ups and downs over the next few months. During that time, it became clear that the community didn’t have the funds, resources or skills to launch a charter. Hiring consultants would have cost thousands of dollars and we are not a wealthy community. We managed to raise about $20,000, but that wasn’t enough. Although several schools were initially proposed for closure, the only one actually shuttered was Silverado Elementary.

Closing the school created a tremendous hardship on our community. Established in 1903 when Joseph Holtz sold one acre to the Orange School District for $50, the school served as the site of community fairs, election voting, large-scale meetings and gatherings of local service clubs. Miles from the cities of Orange and (later) Lake Forest, the school provided a central meeting point for children, parents and community members. I used to buy my Christmas trees at the school every year and we all loved the regular fairs. School was where children throughout the far-flung canyons met and made friends.

With the nearest school miles away, families last month struggled with complicated logistics. They wrestled with questions such as: How can I get my son and daughter to school in time? Can my young child handle an hour-long bus ride? What will I do about child care? How early will we have to get up?

As the trucks hauled away the desks, chairs and other supplies…as our teachers moved to new schools or retired…our community began dividing. Students from outside the canyon area who had been attending Silverado went back to their home schools. A number of families organized a carpool and sent their children to Trabuco Elementary in the Saddleback district. Other families began rising hours earlier to get their children ready for a 6:30 a.m. bus pick-up.

Over the past months, the community had gingerly discussed the possibility of re-districting to Saddleback Unified. It was closer—Modjeska Grade Road was already in Saddleback. One community representative contacted Saddleback to ask if they would be interested in taking over the canyon area and how they felt about an environmentally-focused school. The reply was swift—Saddleback was very interested in environmental education (they were already doing it at Trabuco) and they had a vision for opening a K-8 school that served Silverado, Modjeska and Trabuco canyons. With Trabuco facing similar issues to Silverado’s declining enrollment, a school serving all three canyons could solve multiple problems.

I am here today on behalf of the canyon community, which includes Silverado, Modjeska, Williams, Harding, Ladd and Black Star canyons, to respectfully request that the Orange Unified School District transfer the canyon attendance area to the Saddleback Valley Unified School District. Here are our reasons:

1. Geographical Proximity
Schools within Saddleback are significantly closer to almost all canyon homes than those in Orange Unified. From a home near the entrance of Modjeska Canyon, Saddleback’s Portola Hills Elementary School is only 2.76 miles away. The nearest Orange Unified school, Chapman Hills, is 11.58 miles away. Nine miles represents a significant difference. Distances to the nearest Saddleback and Orange Unified elementary schools from various points in the canyons are in the table below:

Canyon Address Saddleback: Portola Hills
Distance/Time Saddleback: Trabuco Elem
Distance/Time Orange: Chapman Hills
Modjeska Entrance 28331 Modjeska Cyn 2.76 (6 mins) 6.05 (13 mins) 11.58 (16 mins)
Mid-Modjeska 28422 Modjeska Cyn 2.85 (6 mins) 6.75 (13 mins) 11.67 (16 mins)
Harding Cyn 17251 Harding Cyn 3.42 (8 mins) 7.31 (15 mins) 12.24 (17 mins)
Williams Canyon 28510 Williams Cyn 4.94 (9 mins) 8.83 (15 mins) 10.5 (15 mins)
Silverado end 31326 Silv Cyn Road 11.61 (22 mins) 15.5 (29 mins) 13.39 (24 mins)
Mid-Silverado 29772 Silv Cyn Road 9.93 (18 mins) 13.82 (24 mins) 11.7 (20 mins)
Black Star Cyn 27912 Baker Cyn Rd 6.92 (11 mins) 10.81 (18 mins) 8.72 (13 mins)

The table demonstrates that the nearest Saddleback elementary school, Portola Hills, is closer than the nearest Orange Unified school, Chapman Hills, to all points in the canyon except the very end of Silverado. From there, the difference between Saddleback and Orange is relatively insignificant—just 1.8 miles or two minutes’ driving time. Please note that times in the above table represent driving directly from one point to another---school bus routes take much longer.

As a result of the canyons’ distance from Orange Unified schools, many students, even those in kindergarten, are now boarding school buses as early as 6:30 a.m.

2. Unacceptably long bus rides for our young children
Educational studies set the maximum recommended busing time for elementary students at 30 minutes. Today canyon children are riding up to 1.5 hours each way, or three hours a day, going to and from school. Once the bad weather begins, these trips will take even longer. Many mornings, it is still dark when the children leave their homes. They wait outside with nothing to protect them against rain, sleet, hail and wind.

The long bus rides raise a number of significant issues:
• Safety is a primary consideration. There are no adults other than the drivers on the buses. Our young children have virtually no supervision.
• Canyon roads are winding and unsafe. Drivers regularly exceed the speed limit. In the early morning, especially January through March, heavy fog often reduces visibility on Santiago Canyon Road to zero.
• Food and drink are not allowed on buses. Many children leave home without breakfast and are hungry all morning.
• The buses have no toilets.
• The buses have no seat belts or car seats.

Because of the early bus pick-up, our children are losing an hour or more of sleep each night. Research has found that daytime sleepiness in children significantly correlates with lower academic achievement, higher absenteeism and reduced motivation in school.

3. Shared Community Characteristics
Recognizing that the canyons’ rural environment and lifestyle represents a unique asset, as long ago as 1974, Orange County developed the Foothill Corridor Policy Plan and community development plans for Silverado-Modjeska and Trabuco. All emphasized retaining the rural character and preserving its uniqueness. In 2001, The Irvine Company made a historic gift of 50,000 acres of public and private lands, much of which adjoins the canyons, for permanent open space. Currently the Irvine Company and the county of Orange are negotiating to transfer more than 20,000 acres near the canyons for a public park. The county also is taking title to the 3,500 acre Limestone Canyon Park across from the school.

Surrounded by open space, the canyon communities exist on a fragile wildlife/urban interface. Since the devastating Santiago Fire in 2007 (which jumped Santiago Canyon Road right near the school), the canyons have drawn together to work for our common good. Right now, the Inter-Canyon League is administering a $250,000 grant to remove hazardous trees and vegetation from private homes in Silverado, Modjeska, Williams and Trabuco canyons. Last weekend we participated in All Canyons Clean-Up, an annual event that brings together hundreds of canyon residents. In a few weeks, for the first time, the canyon directory will include Trabuco residents. Canyon leaders have begun discussing joint community governance; three years ago, residents paid for an initial fiscal analysis exploring the possibility of incorporating Silverado, Modjeska and Trabuco into a single entity called the Saddleback Canyon.

4. Philosophical Compatibility
Our dream was to transform Silverado into a cutting edge, innovative Environmental Science School offering a high quality education to students throughout Orange County. The school would provide a fresh, hands-on learning experience tied to nature and student-driven discovery.

Saddleback is already committed to environmental education. Students from throughout the district regularly visit Trabuco Elementary, where a Field Study Program offers science and nature study experiences aligned to grade-level science standards. The program involves guided trail studies and hands-on activities that increase learning of basic science concepts. To support the program, Trabuco houses a variety of animals and uses trails leading into O’Neill Regional Park.

An environmentally-focused curriculum is tremendously attractive to canyon residents. The community is also deeply committed to the concept of a K-8 school specifically for the canyons.

5. Limited Financial Impact on Orange Unified
Orange Unified’s own demographic experts predict a significant decline over the next seven years in the number of elementary-age students living in the canyons:

K-6 Resident Students
2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
69 65.2 56.8 45.9 45.1 41.9 28.2 27.8

Last year the canyons had about 40 students in Orange Unified middle and high schools. Re-districting now would involve a total of about 100 elementary, middle and high school students. Within a few years, the total will decrease to fewer than 50 students.

6. Strong Community Support
In July 2009, 834 canyon residents received an email asking whether they supported re-districting from Orange to Saddleback. Sixty-five residents replied; the overwhelming majority supported the move. On July 15, the Inter-Canyon League organized a community meeting to discuss re-districting. Forty residents attended; all voted in favor of the transfer. Last week we received one letter opposed to the transfer. There is little doubt that re-districting has widespread support.

A few more points:
1. The proposed area to be re-districted does not include the planned development around Irvine Lake.
2. While we hope that our elementary school can re-open, we have received no promises. We are not making this request to get our school back—we are making it because we truly believe that re-districting is in the best interests of our children and our community.
3. While our dream is for an environmental school that attracts children from throughout Orange County, we have received no promises. The community supports the transfer even without the environmental concept.

We have met with the Orange County Superintendent of Education to discuss the transfer process. If the majority of both the Orange and Saddleback Unified governing boards agree, it can be accomplished relatively quickly. If one board does not agree, the request will be submitted to the county superintendent of schools in the form of a petition signed by 25% of the registered voters in the canyon area. The County Committee on School District Organization then will hold a public hearing in each of the affected school districts and an initial study, possibly including an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), would be required. If the County Committee approves the transfer and one of the governing Boards does not agree, an election will be called and voters in an area determined by the Committee will decide.

In summary, I want to tell you a story. A few years ago, I was managing a large program in Nairobi, Kenya. On the property, I had an elementary school; an orphanage for 70 abandoned, neglected and AIDS-affected babies, and a residential center for 100 children with severe disabilities. I ran everything from the U.S., flying over every three to four months.

During the four years that I ran the Center, I had three directors handling daily operations. Each one started the same way—absolutely committed to caring for the children. It wasn’t hard to love these kids. They were so needy. But within a month, sometimes two, the same thing happened. I began hearing less and less about the kids and more and more about the staff. The staff needed this; the staff needed that. Why did this happen, I wondered?

It wasn’t hard to figure out. All day long, staff members were at the director’s door. They told the director about their troubles. They asked for help. They complained about the salaries and about each other. It wasn’t long before each director was worn out by their problems. And where were the kids? Not hanging out at the director’s door. Far from it. They were in their beds or their classrooms. Pretty much doing as they were told. Especially the babies.

Why am I telling you this? Because all day long, you’re surrounded by teachers, administrators, and other professionals. They give you information; they define your options; they prepare your agendas and they write your briefing papers. I know that each of you cares about the kids. But I also know that your caring is channeled within a structure that has its own demands.

We in the canyon are not really a voice at your table. We’re outsiders—literally and figuratively. But we care about our kids just as much as you care about your’s. And we have been doing everything in our power to try to make sure that they’re safe and protected. But their future—and our community’s—lie in your hands.

There is little doubt that canyon residents will vote to support the transfer. You can put that to the test and set in motion the petitions, hearing and special election that will be required if you oppose it. Or you can approve re-districting now and save considerable taxpayer expense and community heartache.

We appreciate Orange Unified’s generosity in approving inter-district transfers this year. It is our hope that your generosity of spirit will continue and that you will approve our re-districting. By doing so, you will give our children a much-needed sense of stability. They have been through a lot this past year.

Thank you.

Deborah Johnson, Ph.D.
President, The Inter-Canyon League
Member, Save Our School Committee

(The photograph featured above is from the county archives. Silverado School, 1903. Left to right: C. Edinger, A. Hughes, Willie Shaw, Rob Shaw, Naomi Ann Alsbach-15years, Ruth Clara Alsbach-13yrs, Mary Elizabeth Alsbach (Liz)-12yrs, Ruby Lola Alsbach-7yrs. Teacher not identified. Donated in 1988 by Mr. Harvey Shaw, Santa Ana.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

OC Register Coverage and Letters!

In today's OC Register, Fermin Leal writes about the redistricting proposal that OUSD will consider at Thursday night's meeting.

"There is almost unanimous support from this community to move into Saddleback," said Deborah Johnson, a parent of the former Silverado school.

Johnson says the proximity of schools in Saddleback Valley compared to Orange Unified, and other factors make sense for transferring the Silverado area. Ultimately, the goal is to have one kindergarten through eighth-grade campus that serves all the canyon communities in eastern Orange County, Johnson said.

To read the rest, click here.

Please consider joining concerned community members at the September 24 Thursday night meeting! 7 PM at 1401 N. Handy Street.

On a related note: Last week, the Register published a link to a datebase of the pensions given to local education administrators who earn six-figure penisons. The top recipient in the OUSD was the former super Thomas Godley who gets a monthy payment of $17,517.65 which works out to an annual payout of $210,211.80.

"Another member of the "100,000-plus" club, former Orange Unified School District Superintendent Thomas Godley collects $210,211 a year. He was the budget chief for Newport-Mesa Unified when a finance worker siphoned $3.7 million to buy such things as full-length fur coats in 1992.

Godley was one of several officials who received a vote of no confidence from Newport-Mesa teachers, although board members did not hold him responsible for the theft. Godley later became superintendent of Grossmont High School District in 1997, where he received another vote of no confidence from teachers at war with the school board."

For more details, click here.


In the wake of last week's road closure, concerned Silverado resident Laurel Ward sent this one to the OC Register:

Over the objections of local residents, the Orange Unified School District closed Silverado Elementary that serves the remote canyon communities of Orange County. As we argued, one of the main tragedies of this action is the long, winding bus ride on these narrow roads that our kids would be forced to endure. The bus route can take over an hour one way, and goes past the toll road intersection with Santiago Canyon, which is troubled by frequent closures. Last week the bus was observed driving poorly on Santiago Canyon road: weaving into the bike lane, driving at inconsistent speeds, trailed by a huge train of commuters and not getting to the right in the only passing zone. In a residential section of Silverado Canyon, the driver waved following cars around him (illegally) on a blind curve where there was oncoming traffic. Lastly, today, due to a vehicle fire, Santiago Canyon Road was closed to traffic in both directions, and the students stuck on that bus languished there for an extra 45 minutes. The OUSD has failed our children and betrayed the tax paying parents of this community by closing a school that has served this area for over a hundred years. Re-open Silverado Elementary!

And this letter was sent to OUSD officials:


To: Superintendent and School Board Members, Orange Unified School District

It seems probable that there have been multiple violations of the Brown Act on the part of Orange Unified Board Members and the Superintendent.

Over the past six months, Board Members have refused to meet with canyon residents on numerous occasions citing the Brown Act. But have they actually read it? The Brown Act forbids elected officials to meet and share information about public concerns outside of the public eye. However, it explicitly does not restrict elected officials from meeting with their constituents. The citations below are from the Attorney General’s office:

"Individual contacts or communications between a member of a legislative body and any other person are specifically exempt from the definition of a meeting. (§ 54952.2(c)(1).) The purpose of this exception appears to be to protect the constitutional rights of individuals to contact their government representatives regarding issues which concern them…

Accordingly, if a member of the public requests a conversation with an individual member of the board, who then acts independently of the board and its other members in deciding whether to talk with the member of the public, no meeting will have occurred even if the member of the public ultimately meets with a quorum of the body."
Given these clear guidelines, why have board members refused to meet with us under the guise of a possible violation of the Brown Act? We were told the Superintendent instructed them in this misguided denial of our civil rights. This action does appear to be a violation of the Brown Act.

In an earlier instance, prior to the vote to close Silverado Elementary School, a Board Member voiced publicly that the closure of the school was a "done deal". How would this Board Member know the vote was a "done deal" if she had not discussed the matter with other Board Members, in obvious violation of the Brown Act?
Communication from the Orange County District Attorney's office indicates there is reasonable cause to suspect Brown Act violations in these, and other instances. Interestingly, if an action by an elected body is accompanied by a proven violation of the Brown Act, the action is automatically nullified. That would be an intriguing turn of events.

Is this a relationship worth continuing? The situation has deteriorated to the point that Board Members will not meet with us, in mockery of their elected responsibilities. In response some are looking carefully at the potential illegality of the Board's actions. None of us in the Canyon Communities relish spending considerable time and energy on these matters, but we will if necessary. This is a sorry state of affairs, not productive for any of us.

The solution is to support the proposed redistricting of the Canyon Communities to Saddleback Valley Unified. Think of this as similar to a request for a divorce. There is no future for our community with Orange Unified. Why not just let us go our own way? Staying in a conflicted relationship is of no benefit to either party, nor to the children. Remember the children? The Canyon Communities' School children especially are being harmed the way things are.

Jeffrey Wilson and Marta Abello
Parents of two children now attending school in Saddleback Valley Unified School District


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back to School Update: Bus Rides and Car Fires

Now that so many of us are back at school - whether Chapman, Portola Hills, Trabuco Elementary - or the school that is homeschool - it's time to revive the blog with the latest news.

When we last left off, Silverado Elementary had been closed, its students scattered to the four directions, many opting for the long bus ride to Chapman Hills Elementary in Orange. Silverado Elementary School remains closed, its once green grass field turning brown.

In Modjeska Canyon, where my family lives, the school bus picks up students at 6:30 am.

I see the school bus leaving the canyon in the afternoons, around 4:15-4:30. That's a ten hour day, some three hours spent in transit.

This morning that commute was extended an estimated 45 minutes when the inevitable happened - a closure on that two lane rural road. (UPDATE: the bus that carries the elementary school children was not delayed - apparently only the high school bus was.)

A car fire near Irvine Lake closed Santiago Canyon Road in both directions. As you may know, parents and concerned community members warned the Orange County Board of trustees that the bus would often face significant road closures, resulting in extended commutes, missed classtime and other problems.

Serena Marie Daniels and Bruce Chambers writing in the Orange County Register report:
"Firefighters worked to knock out a vehicle fire at Santiago Canyon Road next to Irvine Lake this morning, causing morning traffic to backup in both directions, police said...California Highway Patrol officer Alvin Yamaguchi said when he arrived, the smoke was thick and he thought the canyon was on fire but it never got the vegetation."

To read the rest, click here.

(photos by Bruce Chambers, from the OC Register)

Please consider writing letters to the OC Register about these issues - as well as letter to the OUSD trustees.

Send your letters to:

To contact OUSD trustees, see the sidebar to contact info.

Mark Your Calendar:

The OUSD board has agendized the proposal to redistrict the community affected by the school closure to the nearby Saddleback Valley Unified School District.

Please plan to attend the Thursday, Sept. 24 AT 7 P.M.

Consider writing to the OUSD trustees with your views.

More information soon.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Foothills Sentry Coverage Continues

In the July issue of the Foothills Sentry's Canyon Beat column, Linda May celebrates the new Santiago Canyon bridge - and Lisa Alvarez and Andrew Tonkovich write about Silverado Elementary School.


Meanwhile, down the road from the new bridge, a sad example perhaps of what happens when the community is disenfranchised and ignored, offers itself in the now-abandoned and empty historic elementary school. Silverado Elementary, which served the children of the canyon for over a century, held its final class session on Thursday June 11 and was formally shuttered the following week on Friday June 19, this the result of the OUSD board vote two months ago.

Reports indicate that about half the canyon's K-6 children will be enrolled in the fall at Chapman Hills Elementary, their parents opting for the long bus ride or providing their own transportation. Understandably, residents continue to express concern about the duration of the bus ride and its impact on their kids' education and health. A 6:30 am pick-up is scheduled for the children of Modjeska Canyon. Parents point out that this requires a 5-5:30 AM wake-up call for the youngest of them – and a school day (including transportation) that approaches 9 hours. Many children have been enrolled at Trabuco Elementary School in nearby Saddleback Valley Unified District while others have embraced other options, including homeschooling and private schools.

But in the wake of the vote, efforts to challenge the vote, the school's closure and transfer of students, many parents express disappointment at the failure of district representatives, including board members, to bother to show up on the last day of classes or to otherwise acknowledge the tragedy of closing the campus, arguably the heart of the canyon community. Further, the apparent failure of district managers to develop a plan for the closing struck many as problematic, especially in light of the seemingly disorganized or unsupervised closing process.

Sure, the joyful end of the normal school year is always tinged with sadness but the sight of classrooms packed up and cleared out for good was chilling. The staff and heroic soon to be former teachers of the small school could be seen working beyond the call of duty but community members wondered indeed where the on-the-ground physical services support from the district was. The task of dismantling a school is enormous and district services and support staff didn't seem in evidence. One of the perhaps best, if easiest

The best evidence of their absence was what was found in the overflowing single recycling dumpster and the two trash dumpsters: books. A picture tells a thousand words, but in this case the single word seemed to be "waste."

So, diving in where the district would not, some concerned parents and children spent a recent morning in the school parking lot "dumpster diving," rescuing furniture, art supplies, bulletin boards, workbooks and, yes, hundreds of books --- hardbacks, textbooks, art books, readers and paperbacks --- sorting through and arranging them in boxes. The salvaged treasure was driven to Santa Ana where volunteers in a tutoring program were grateful to receive it.

A blog post at meant to call attention to the failure of administrative planning at the district level seems to have brought unwarranted scrutiny on school staff, with still no acknowledgement of the problem or any effort to address it.

Activist parents and community members say they are grieved by the sight of the empty school, whose community garden is abloom in sunflowers. They say they are still working on creating a future for the school within OUSD or without it.

Consider writing letters to the Sentry to keep this issue before the public.

To read the Canyon Beat column in its entirety, pick up a copy or visit their website:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

On the Road

My family will be heading out of town so posting will be intermittent for the next month or so...

Still, there's lots going on.

Most important is this upcoming meeting:
On Wednesday, July 15 at 7 p.m., you are invited to a community meeting at the Silverado Community Center. The purpose is to discuss the proposed school re-districting for the canyon area. IT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT THAT EVERYONE PROVIDE THEIR OPINION ON THIS ISSUE. PLEASE ATTEND THE MEETING.

Currently the canyons are in the Orange Unified School District (OUSD). As many of you know, OUSD has closed Silverado Elementary School and starting in September, will bus students to Chapman Elementary in Orange. This means that kindergarten students in Modjeska will be picked up by school buses as early as 6:30 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. class.

A group of concerned residents has been making inquiries about transferring to the Saddleback Valley Unified School District. Headquartered in Mission Viejo, SVUSD is Orange County’s fourth largest school district. SVUSD has twenty-six Elementary Schools, four Intermediate Schools, four High Schools, one Continuation High School, one Independent Study High School, and one Special Education School. It serves 35,000 students.

Our vision is to create a K-8 school to serve the canyons. SVUSD is willing to establish a committee that includes community representatives to work on fulfilling this vision.

The two questions before you now are:

1) Do you want the canyons to remain in OUSD?

2) Would you prefer for the canyons to join SVUSD?


Please attend the meeting or share your opinion. You can also send your thoughts to: The Inter-Canyon League, P.O. Box 301, Silverado, CA 92676.


The new edition of The Sentry should have an update - check out the Canyon Beat column.


As soon as I get more information, I'll post an interesting tale about fossils (on site at the school) that were given away on the day that some locals are already calling The Day of Looting. There's a happy ending here because the person who received the fossils recognized that they should probably stay in the canyon and handed them over to another educational institute. Whew.


Have a good summer - stay safe!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sublime Tomatoes!

CSA Meets SCC: Order Tanaka Farms Produce and Benefit the Silverado Children’s Center, Too!

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) will save the world. It’s a cooperative economic arrangement between local, organic, thoughtful produce growers and the rest of us. It removes the need to shop at dreadful superdupermarkets, saves energy and builds community. CSA keeps outfits as Orange County’s terrific Tanaka Farms in business and gets hearty, wholesome, fresh, in-season organic produce into your fridge. And now it’s part of canyon life because Silverado Children’s Center, always in need of your support, is now part of Tanaka’s “Fundraising for Schools” program. Do consider signing up to receive a bounteous carton of fruits and vegetables, delivered to the Center every other Thursday.

The Tanaka Farms folks currently deliver nearly two dozen of these cartons to subscribers, with different contents each time. The $25 cost includes $5 that goes to the Center.

For more information on the Tanaka Farms program, go to

To sign up right away, contact the wonderful and innovative Ms. Aimee Bryer, Director of the SCC at (714) 649-2214 or

Tell Aimee you’d like to help out the best day care center around AND support organic local agriculture, not to mention enjoy those righteous berries, beans, onions, lettuces, peppers and tomatoes you can’t find unless you go to farmers’ markets or pay twice as much at your local retailer.

Bon appétit!

Friday, July 3, 2009

In Case You Missed It:

from the June 23 OC Register and also reprinted in Canyon Life:

Protest continues over Silverado school closure

Two residents bring signs of protest to Santiago Canyon Bridge ribbon cutting.


SILVERADO CANYON – Canyon residents Lisa Alvarez and Andrew Tonka [sic] carried signs protesting the closure of Silverado Elementary School during Friday's Santiago Canyon Bridge ribbon cutting ceremony.

Residents continue to update the blog, Save Silverado Elementary School, documenting the closure of the century-old school. The latest blog post features pictures of the empty school.


For more (including photos), click here.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Inside the OUSD Budget - highlights

Someone over at the Greater Orange News Service does a lot of work.

Check it out.

There's much more on their site if you scroll around or do a search for Orange Unified.

Attorneys fees are generally appalling, but seem especially so in this year of cutbacks. The money the OUSD spends on lawyers - or consultants - could fund a small rural school.

Via the Greater Orange News Service:


A week after voters defeated six ballot propositions in the May 19th Special Election sending the state into financial chaos, the Orange Unified Trustees at their May 28 Board Meeting defeated a move to cut their $750 monthly stipend by 10% (to $675 a month) due to the current budget crisis. They also defeated a Board Bylaw change that would require the OUSD Trustees to pay the entire cost for their health care if they opted to use the school district’s health plan. The annual savings to the district taxpayers if the 10% reduction in pay were approved would have been $6,300 per year ($18,900 through July 2012) while the health care change would reportedly have saved $100,000 a year.

INSIDE the OUSD Budget

Total $1,041,000

2009 Attorney Fee Tally:
11/13/08 Parker & Covert (for 1/09 -6/09) $ 200,000
3/12/09 Atkinson, Andelson, Loya (Sp. Ed) $ 50,000
3/12/09 Parker & Covert (Special Ed) $ 98,000
6/18/09 Parker & Covert (09-10) $ 400,000
6/18/09 Parker & Covert (Special Ed) $ 200,000
6/18/09 Parker & Covert (property) $ 55,000
6/18/09 Atkinson, Andelson, Loya (property)$ 35,000
Total $1,038,000

2009 Consultant/ Speaker Fee Tally:
01/24/09 Leadership Associates Consultants $ 3,000
2009 TOTAL $1,041,000

Total for Watched Tax Dollars approved in 2008: $901,200
2008 Attorney Fee Tally:
6/19/08 Parker & Covert $ 60,000
6/05/08 Miller, Brown & Dannis $ 40,000
6/05/08 Parker & Covert $150,000
6/05/08 Parker & Covert $200,000
2/07/08 Parker & Covert $100,000
11/15/07 Parker & Covert (for 1/08 to 6/08) $200,000
2008 Consultant/ Speaker Fee Tally:
11/13/08 Subs for SDCDE (Reading First) $24,000
11/13/08 SDCDE (Reading First) $30,000
10/30/08 Dr. Willard Daggett (ICLE) $ 4,500
10/16/08 Dr. Parker 40 pt Consultant $ 4,200
9/25/08 Visual Ink for Sadler Consultant <$ 6,600> CANCELED in 2009
9/25/08 Bob Sadler Consultant Fee $ 8,500
9/25/08 Candace Simpson-Sadler Helper $ 5,500
7/24/08 Dr. Parker 40 pt Consultant $ 10,000
4/17/08 Dr. Kenneth Stichter Speaker Fee $ 6,500
3/7/08 Dr. Kathleen Weigel Speaker Fee $ 8,000
Consultant Total $ 101, 200
2008 TOTAL $ 901,200

Total for Watched Tax Dollars approved in 2007: $704,090.00**

2007 Administrative Conference/Travel: hidden since 6/8/06**

**JUNE 8th, 2006 Trustees VOTE to Give OUSD Superintendent the power to APPROVE Travel Requests taking this item OUT of the PUBLIC AGENDA

Total for Watched Tax Dollars approved in 2006: $849,717.00*
2006 Consultant Fee Tally: Total $176,400
2006 Attorney Fee Tally: Total Approved $655,000
2006 Administrative Conference/Travel: Total $ 18,317 *

* JUNE 8th, 2006 Trustees VOTE to Give OUSD Superintendent the power to
APPROVE OUSD Travel Requests taking this item OUT of the PUBLIC AGENDA

Total for Watched Tax Dollars approved in 2005: $978,300.00:
Total 2005 Conference Administrator/Board Fees: $ 7,500.00
2005 Attorney Fee Tally: $730,600.00
Total Watched 2005 OUSD Consultant spending: $ 270,200.00


Thursday, June 25, 2009


Trabuco Elementary. Small K-6 school in canyon setting. Well- maintained and thoughtfully designed campus with charming facilities and new playground. It's obvious that the district has invested money in this campus. 20 minutes from Modjeska.

I was told my son would be in a class with 18 other students.

I liked the campus, the friendly, welcoming folks, the small scale, how much the setting reminded me of Silverado.

So we signed the papers yesterday and have begun planning a carpool schedule. We can work it out. Let us know if you're interested.

I encourage other to check out Trabuco. Drive on down and see what it's like. Observe the 35 MPH speed limit and see how long it takes you to get there. Walk the campus. They have a summer program teaching kids to ride and groom horses. It's sweet.

Last week, at the bridge christening, I spoke with another longtime canyon resident. Her son rode that school bus into Orange during middle school and high school. She confessed that her marriage almost didn't survive that first year of getting him on the bus at 6:30 am. Her husband worked nights and she had to be at work at 7 - and her son had to be on that bus at 6:30, no matter what. And when he missed the bus or was late, well.

Think about it.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

If You're Not Outraged, You're Not Paying Attention

Granted, there is a lot of waste in any institution but the recent closure of Silverado Elementary reveals a level of waste that goes beyond, say, the normal end-of- school year cleanout.

The pictures tell the story better than can I.

But to be told that the district doesn't have enough money to keep your child's school open - and then to open the dumpster and see the equivalent of a small library discarded makes one wonder about management policies, oversight and, frankly, competence.

The books in the dumpsters added, say, insult to injury.

There is, one parent quipped, just one short step between throwing away usable books and burning them. Ouch.

I am often pleased to point out irony. The difference in usage, for instance, between the words oversight and oversight. One means accountablity and the other means error. But we here in the canyons have had enough irony, nearly losing our whole canyon and then our school. So, no, irony is not helpful today, not on a day spent rescuing books from god help us, a school! It's not so comforting or even helpful, not when it can't seem to find a place to mean anything. Sigh. Back to sorting. At least these lovely volumes will find new homes. They're destined for an after-school tutoring program in Santa Ana.

Now where is that copy of Fahrenheit 451?


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pledging Allegiance

I've been thinking of the point made by author Lynda Barry in her essay, "The Sanctuary of School," when she asks, - and I'm paraphrasing here:

America makes its school children say the Pledge of Allegiance every day at school, but when will the country turn around and say the pledge back to its children - and mean it?

Janet Wilson's article about the school closure appears in the June 9 edition of the Foothills Sentry. (Wilson, as some know, is a Modjeska Canyon resident who wrote for the LA Times from 1996-2008. She is now a Senior fellow of the Institute for Justice and Journalism at USC's Annenberg school for Communication.)

The Sentry is available online but its format can be difficult to read online (PDF file - Wilson's article on page 9), so you'll try to find your own copy to read Wilson's article in its entirety with ease. (Please note, I have bolded certain phrases.)


When Charles Chapman learned that his seven-year-old daughter would need to take an 85 minute bus ride to reach elementary school next fall, much of it with rowdy high schoolers, he was shocked. The native of Orange County's rural Modjeska Canyon still recalls the boredom, lack of bathrooms and almost daily fights that broke out on his nearly identical interminable ride to high school.

"I took that bus ride my freshman and sophomore year, and it was terrible, said Chapman. "At least I was 14 or 15. My daughter, she is only seven. I don't know what kind of effect that's going to have on such a young child."

He and his wife are among scores of parents in Orange County's last undeveloped outposts who are already coping with the decision by Orange County Unified School District to close their children's historic neighborhood elementary school to save money. Despite vows to share the fiscal pain, district board members and top administrators have not cut their pay or benefits. Parents are now being told that up to three hours of daily commuting will be required to reach the new school by bus, even though it is barely 11 miles away.

Long and winding road

Retiring Silverado Elementary School co-principal Patricia Evans outlined the complicated new busing arrangements in an interview, and said parents would be formally notified in take-home packets. Modjeska Canyon pupils would be picked up at 6:30 a.m. and taken to the centrally located parking lot of their padlocked former school. Middle school and high school students would board another bus and head into town, while elementary school pupils would wind through lengthy Silverado Canyon to pick up more young students, finally arriving at Chapman Hills Elementary just before 8 a.m.

That leaves working parents like the Chapmans grappling with tough choices, and will put canyon children on board with some disturbing national trends. While research is limited, studies funded by the U.S. dept. of Education and other have shown that such long school bus rides – three times the average commute for an adult working in Los Angeles – could affect academic performance, family relationships and even community cohesion

…A sharply divided board voted 4-3 in March for the closure, following findings by top staff that busing students to Chapman Hills Elementary School would shave $263,000 off a 30 million budget shortfall.

Since then, despite earlier vocal pledges by the board and the superintendent to shoulder some of the district's economic pain too, board members have decided to leave in place their own health benefits, and annual stipends totaling $8,100 each. Supt. Renae Dreier continues to earn $250,000 per year, with no salary cuts for her or other top administrators. Negotiations are underway to cut teachers' salaries by nearly four percent. Dreier and another administrator who handles transportation did not return requests for comment. Dreier's assistant said that the board might revisit stipend and salary issues next month.

Canyon residents have battled the closing of Silverado for months, saying the facility could be converted into a revenue generating environmental academy. The closure could backfire, with many parents now considering pulling their children from the district. If they leave, OUSD could lose federal and state matching funds, critics said. They are holding out hope that board members will reconsider the decision at their June 18th meeting. Only one would need to switch his or her vote, although none indicated that they would…

Yes, the next board meeting is tomorrow, Thursday June 18. I hear that some people are planning to go and continue to make our case that our children deserve access to a public education that doesn't come at the expense of their safety, their ability to learn - or at the expense of our community. The meeting begins at 7 PM at 1401 N. Handy Street in Orange.

Others are continuing to write letters to the board members, the superintendent and local elected officials. (Our sidebar still has all the relevant information.)

Do consider writing letters to the Sentry about Janet Wilson's article. You can email them at:

Or mail your letters via US Post to:

Letters to the Editor
Foothills Sentry
10642 Morada Drive
Orange, CA 92869

Do what others have failed to do: pledge allegiance to our children.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

June 11, 2009

Some scenes from today, courtesy of a Trabuco Canyon local.

Please note that if you click on the pictures, they get bigger.

More to follow.

Room 3:

Room 2:

The Library:

From a distance:

A few of us spoke with OC Register reporter Rashi Kesarwani this morning.

Here's an excerpt:

The big yellow school bus pulled into the parking lot of Silverado Elementary School for the final time today.

The school, which serves 75 students from Silverado and Modjeska Canyon, will be shuttered by June 19, according to co-principal Pat Evans, due to budget cuts facing the Orange Unified School District.

Today is the school's last day, with kindergarteners and sixth-graders celebrating their promotion for a final time in the school's century-old history...

To read the rest of her article, including quotes from canyon residents, teachers and Yours Truly sounding off about the legacy of Prop 13 and corporate property owners, click here.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Upcoming Events: School's Out for Summer!

Tomorrow, June 11, marks the last school of school for this session. We hope that members of the community will join us at Silverado Elementary School for the assembly that begins at 8:30 AM. If your schedule permits, please consider dropping by to show your support for the school that has served this community for 103 years.

Meanwhile, concerned parents are exploring options other than the bus commute offered by OUSD. Many are interested in transferring to the other nearby school which serves a canyon community: Trabuco Elementary.

Trabuco's principal Suzanne Westmoreland has graciously extended an invitation to interested Silverado Elementary students and their parents to visit the school at these dates and times:

Friday June June 12 at 8:15 AM and Monday June 15th at 9:00 AM.

School will be session so there will be an opportunity to meet the teachers and see the students in action.

Trabuco Elementary is located at 31052 Trabuco Canyon Road (Just keep driving past Cook's Corner. It's on the right - about 20 minutes from Modejska.) Their telephone number is 949-858-0343.

People are also exploring the option of setting up a homeschooling co-op - information can be had via good folks at the Silverado Children's Center.

Finally, just a reminder: it's not over when they take down the flag and lock the gate tomorrow.

The next day we'll still be here doing the work that needs to be done to make sure the educational needs of the children of this community, in the present and in the future, are fulfilled.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Is Silverado Elementary a "necessary small school"?

You learn something new everyday - or so my teachers always told me. They were right. It's certainly been true for us as we fight to defend our school, slated for closure at the end of next week. These last few weeks have taught us much.

What's today's lesson? Get this:

Since 1998, the state of California, recognizing the need to support small rural schools, has provided extra funding to sustain those which are deemed to be "necessary small schools." These are schools that need to have small populations, usually because they are in sparsely populated areas or serve special populations. Such schools receive extra funding because they cannot realize economies of scale.

Is our Silverado Elementary School one such "necessary small school"?

Could it be that OUSD has overlooked this program as a solution to the crisis facing Silverado Elementary School?

One would hope that the elected public officials and the district leadership would have exhausted all options before voting to close the school which has served this community for 103 years.

You decide.

Peruse the relevant section of Ed Code below.

California Education Code Section 42283
(a) For the purposes of Section 42282, a "necessary small school" is an elementary school with an average daily attendance of less than 101, exclusive of pupils attending the seventh and eighth grades of a junior high school, maintained by a school district which maintains two or more schools and to which school any of the following conditions apply:

(1) If as many as five pupils residing in the district and attending kindergarten and grades 1 to 8, inclusive, exclusive of pupils attending the seventh and eighth grades of a junior high school in the elementary school with an average daily attendance of less than 101 would be required to travel more than 10 miles one way from a point on a well-traveled road nearest their home to the nearest other public elementary school.

(2) If as many as 15 pupils residing in the district and attending kindergarten and grades 1 to 8, inclusive, exclusive of pupils attending the seventh and eighth grades of a junior high school in the elementary school with an average daily attendance of less than 101 would be required to travel more than five miles one way from a point on a well-traveled road nearest their home to the nearest other public elementary school.

(3) If topographical or other conditions exist in a district which would impose unusual hardships if the number of miles specified in paragraph (1) or (2) were required to be traveled, or if during the fiscal year the roads which would be traveled have been impassable for more than an average of two weeks per year for the preceding five years, the governing board of the district may, on or before April 1, request the Superintendent of Public Instruction, in writing, for an exemption from these requirements or for a reduction in the miles required. The request shall be accompanied by a statement of the conditions upon which the request is based, giving the information in a form required by the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall cause an investigation to be made, and shall either grant the request to the extent he or she deems necessary, or deny the request.

(b) For the 1998-99 fiscal year and each fiscal year thereafter, a "necessary small school," as defined in subdivision (a), shall be an elementary school with an average daily attendance of less than 101 reduced by the statewide average rate of excused absence reported for elementary school districts for the 1996-97 fiscal year pursuant to Section 42238.7, rounded to the nearest integer.

And how about these figures:

Necessary Small Schools: The Allowance for Necessary Small Schools is based on the combination of ADA and the number of full-time teachers (for elementary schools) or the number of certificated employees (for high schools), whichever provides the lesser amount. The allowance amounts, shown in the following tables, reflect the 5.66 percent COLA for 2008-09:

For a school of Silverado's size:
Number of Teachers: 4
Average daily Attendance: 73-96
Amount to be Computed: $531,500

We'll be meeting on Monday June 8 at 8 AM at Silverado to discuss these matters and others. Hope to see some of you there!

Please note: at the last board meeting Silverado Elementary School was singled out for praise. Check out a pic of the slide shown to the audience in the "Points of Pride" slideshow.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Pronunciation: \ˈgrē-vən(t)s\
Function: noun
Date: 14th century
2: a cause of distress (as an unsatisfactory working condition) felt to afford reason for complaint or resistance
3: the formal expression of a grievance : COMPLAINT

synonyms see INJUSTICE


The following letter was read aloud at the OUSD Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday May 28. Each board member received a copy.

May 28, 2009

I have a number of grievances I wish to bring to the Board:

#1: The board voted to close Silverado Elementary due to budget cuts. However, the actual savings by closing the school are about zero, with the loss of around 40 students to other districts or home schooling. In other words, the district has just thrown away about 200k by treating Silverado children poorly, and their actions have not saved one penny, but instead have tremendously displace scores of children and tremendously inconvenienced families in the canyon community.

#2: Our pronouncements about children as young as kindergarten being asked to ride the bus for 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get to Chapman Hills were scoffed at by some on the board. However, the district’s recently released bus schedule will have children in Modjeska canyon board the bus at 6:30 am in order to get to Chapman hills by 8 am, a 1 ½ hour ride. A staff person in the superintendent’s office remarked they are shocked (or some similar term) at such a long ride.

#3: Furthermore, part of that 1 ½ hour ride will combine high schoolers and elementary schoolers on the same bus, a situation usually avoided due to the potential exposure of elementary schoolers to the more offensive talk and behavior of high schoolers.

#4: A board member told us that, following their vote to close Silverado they suddenly realized that the elementary kids would be on the bus for long rides, on dangerous roads, potentially exposing them to significant danger, and that was a big concern - alas too late to do anything about it. It appears that concern is expressed only when nothing is going to be done about it.

#5: As a group, a number of parents have for months been working hard to find a good solution to reducing the costs of operating Silverado, including cutting costs, and setting up a Charter Environmental Science School to relieve Orange district from financial responsibility for the school. However the majority of the board have not worked with us, and several in fact will not respond to our requests to meet or discuss options. May I remind you that the school board is an elected body put in place to carry out the education of the community’s children. The majority of the board’s lack of willingness to work with us is, frankly, far beneath the dignity of your positions.

#6: The canyon community are the only children in OUSD now being asked to travel as much as 19 miles to get to the nearest school, Chapman Hills. Orange Unified is willing to include us in their tax base, and is willing to take our state money for each student in their district, but the majority of the board is unwilling to provide a school within a reasonable distance from our homes. No other child in the district – NOT ONE - has a school more than a mile or two from their home.

#7: Property values in our canyon community will be negatively affected by having no school within reasonable proximity. No other community in the Orange district will be left without a school close by. Families with children will not want to move into our canyons because of this.

And it goes on and on…

Therefore, I am formally requesting a response to each of the above complaints about the failure of the board to responsibly carry out their elected duties. I wish to know how those who voted to close Silverado elementary can justify the above actions and consider yourselves to be in compliance with your elected duties as board members. I will e-mail a copy of this letter to each on the board who voted for closure, including the superintendent, and I respectfully request not to be ignored – rather, I expect the issues to be “researched and responded to” by each of you, as stated by President Ledesma.


Jeffrey Wilson, father of two children from Silverado elementary


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

WANTED: Angry Parent with Law Degree

A friend asked me how the fight to save the school was going.

Well, I replied, the more we learn about the fate the OUSD board has chosen for our children, the angrier we get.

What you need, he advised, is an angry parent with a law degree.

What angers me today?

A concerned parent shared the following information with me:

The district’s recently released bus schedule will have children in Modjeska Canyon board the school bus at 6:30 am in order to get to Chapman Hills Elementary by 8 am, a 1 ½ hour, 19 mile ride. The children face the same length of time for the return trip in the afternoon.

Furthermore, a portion of that 1 ½ hour ride will combine high school and junior high students with the elementary school students on the same bus. This is a situation that is usually avoided due to the potential exposure of elementary school students to the talk and behavior of the older students.

In addition one of the groups - perhaps the younger students - will be pulled off the bus at a certain point and transferred to yet another bus.

This plan does not serve the interests of our children or our community - nor the stated mission of the OUSD: "...being committed to continual improvement, [OUSD] will offer a learning environment of excellence,with high expectations, to provide each student with the opportunity to be able to compete in the global economy."

Instead of educational opportunities, the children of the canyons are being offered three hours of daily bus travel, which, in some seasons will begin on chilly mornings before dawn.

The failure of the elected board members and the superintendent to face this issue is shameful.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Scenes from Silverado's 103rd Open House

The parents gathered, teachers were introduced, pizza was sold by Girl Scouts, proud students shared their work, classrooms were visited and admired - all was well except for the looming closure.

One wonders why the board of trustees and the superintendent didn't take the time to visit the little school in the canyon on this warm spring evening.

Surely if they believe so much in their decision they should stand behind it publicly, facing the very children and people it affects the most.

Their silence is deafening.