Monday, March 30, 2009

"The closing of a school should be seen by any measure as a profound failure"

On Thursday, March 26th, Andrew Tonkovich, Modjeska Canyon resident and father of six-year-old Louis, addressed the OUSD board:

This board made a very poor decision two weeks ago, and we are back tonight to ask you to please reconsider. The closing of a school should be seen by any measure as a profound failure, in this case your failure. It is the absolute worst decision any board can make, notwithstanding one member’s assurance that the campus might somehow be reopened at a future time. The standard for judging your success as a group of elected decision makers is not in your ability, finally, to transport students on a bus or to sacrifice one one community toward presumably preserving another.

(Louis Tonkovich on March 5, 2009)

Our little elementary school is, we know, a singular campus in a singular community. We are indeed small and unique and remote and politically vulnerable. It seems that we are also the test-run decision for a worst-case scenario, perhaps as a way to see what the rest of the district will put up with by way of closing other schools. But so far we have been the singular worst case.

I know that your decision was for you individually a difficult one to make, but it was, finally, also just too easy. Close the smallest school, regardless of the actual savings, regardless of the effect on pedagogy, regardless of the impact on kids. Isolate and abandon and use as an object lesson the school with the fewest children.

(Silverado Elementary students, circa 1918)

I’m still not sure you understand the likely effect on our community, even though we have explained that the school is the thread that weaves our families and citizens together. In giving up on our school you are now helping to dismantle our community.

And that is also your failure, and your loss. Because you have in our Silverado group activist parents, community members, educators, environmental ed managers and administrators, potential donors and grant writers and business folk who asked you only to please, please give us a chance to work on something with you, to propose a way out --- who offered you a chance to not close a school.

(Silverado Elementary Students, circa 1930)

Our plan was --- is --- viable and real, a program for an environmental sciences education campus that could positively address not just the short-term difficult decision but build for a brighter future --- not only for the canyons but for the district.

We are still here, and still asking. We have not given up, and we have not given up on you. Please. We need your imprimatur, your sponsorship, we need one year to help all of us in the district --- not just Silverado Elementary --- be creative, risky, imaginative and brave. Closing a school is, finally, just not acceptable. I am confident that you know that too, and I hope that some among you will be brave enough to see that you have a chance, still, to revisit a mistake, to address a mistake, and to try harder. We pledge to do our part and you can know that the faith you will have won from not just our community but the entire district will be profound and long-lived.

(Silverado Elementary School, circa 1930)


Write those letters and emails! See the sidebar on the right for more information.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

"They need to cut the money at the top"

In the March 25th edition of the OC Register, Kimberly Edds reports on the funding crisis facing the Orange County Fire Authority.

Edds interviews Modjeska Canyon resident Janice Beasley whose home was lost in the October 2007 Santiago fire.


"The help needs to go to our fire department," she said. "We didn't have enough help to begin with, and now this?"

The Santiago fire destroyed 15 homes in the canyon communities of Modjeska and Trabuco. ..For more than a year, the Beasleys have been living out of a trailer. They lost most of their possessions and relied on friends and neighbors for handouts.

Budget crisis or not, Beasley's anger at the cutbacks spilled out to include the announced closing of nearby Silverado Elementary School and other things she sees as community necessities.

"They need to cut the money at the top, from the salaries of the senators and the other politicians who continue to get raises," Beasley said. "My husband took a pay cut because of the poor economy – why not these people?"

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

Janice Beasley makes an excellent point about the need to chop from the top, one that you might want to echo in your letters to local elected officals.

Please see the recently updated sidebar to the right for information on how you can communciate our concerns to those who can make a difference.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Father Speaks: Do no harm

A number of people spoke at the Thursday March 26 OUSD board meeting. Here's an excerpt from one statement.

Tim Thompson was accompanied to the podium by his seven-year-old son Cole who was dressed in a fireman's outfit. Thompson had this to say:

"Saddleback Unified School District got it right too. They got it right about utilizing a small school as an asset rather than as a “liability of inefficiency," "a “burden,” as Silverado has been portrayed by some, Saddleback Unified not only saved Trabuco Elementary [their district's so-called small, rural school] , they turned it in to a money making, revenue generating school. And not just for the small surrounding Trabuco community, but they developed it into a resource for all of the citizens and students throughout their district. They bring in a 100 students a day on buses from around their district at $15.00 per student. That's $1,500.00 per day, $4,500 per week, $18,000 per month. Trabuco is still a small school of 75 students, but unlike all the other schools, it’s paying its way and then some.

(At left, Tim Thompson and his son Cole at the March 12 OUSD meeting.OC Register photo)
The OUSD has been given a proposal by the canyon community that has been 2 years in its genesis. The plan is to create a similar self-sustaining charter/magnet school for Silverado. We need time, a short amount of time, one year. We urge the four trustees revisit this decision for a reconsideration based on these factors:

1. The new financial changes to the – (negative) side of the revenue issue, following the latest offer from Ms. Pat Evans.

2. The polling results since the board’s vote on March 12, which shows that as of today 50% of existing Silverado students will transfer out of OUSD at a cost of approximately $200,000 in lost ADA revenue. These transfers are not to be construed as a threat. Rather, these are the very real actions of a determined community to see that their children/students grow and prosper in the environment in which they live and are intimately a part of - a rural habitat not a city setting.

3. The millions of dollars of economic stimulus money that is slated to begin coming into California schools.

Is OUSD able to provide a school for environmental programs & green technology? Absolutely. What school in OUSD could possibly offer anything remotely close to what Silverado is surrounded by, the Irvine Co’s 360 degree open space preserve of wilderness lands and trails?

We ask that you follow the lead of your fellow three trustees that see these possibilities. They got it right! Join them. Look beyond this rhetoric of so called inefficiencies. Don’t hide behind them.

Do no harm to a canyon community that is the last living reminder of the previous 100 years that has all but vanished from the Orange County of today.

(Tim Thompson and his son Cole march to OUSD headquarters on March 5, 2009)

My son Cole, standing here in his fireman’s outfit, is wanting to remind the four trustees who voted for Silverado’s closure that the volunteer firefighters of Modjeska and Silverado who placed themselves in harm’s way and risked their lives in October 2007 to save the school.

You four trustees who voted for Silverado’s closure, dwell deeply on this:

Did these community volunteer fireman take on such a risk for the sake of preventing the school buildings from being lost? Or rather did they risk life and limb to save what they knew deep in their hearts was one of the most valued assets of the entire canyon community? Silverado - this small school with six rooms and a little library, that their own children have attended for over a 100 years and is truly a cornerstone of their rural community.

Follow your fellow three Trustees. Revisit this decision. Reconsider it. Get it right!

Thank you."


Friday, March 27, 2009

How the LAUSD Does It

Celeste Fremon, who teaches in the Literary Journalism program at UC Irvine and blogs at Witness LA, has written a post about how the Los Angeles Unified School District is cutting $718 million out of its budget. Ouch.

Now I know that the LAUSD is a big beast of a school district but Fremon's post and the LA Times article she cites have lessons for our own OUSD situation.

For example, the LAUSD has pinkslipped some 4700 teachers but as the Times and Fremon point out, an internal audit reveals some interesting expenditures. Case in point, some $17 million spent on unqualified, unecessary consultants.

To check it out, click here.

And then, somebody, let's start looking at OUSD expenditures.

As Fremon writes, "Perhaps this is the sort of thing that some nice, smart group of investigative journalism students ought to be looking at a little more closely. Hint, hint."


(Stay tuned for an update on last night's meeting. Thanks to all who turned out. Needless to say, the struggle continues. Keep those cards and letters and emails coming, folks.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The March 26th Meeting

This morning while we were having breakfast and preparing for the day ahead, my family was listening to the radio. Our typical morning soundtrack is National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. As one story ended and another began, my son spoke up. “Why,” he asked, “aren’t they talking about how they’re going to close Silverado?”

“Good question,” his father answered and then began to explain the sad facts of information and power, the challenge of making our story matter, - or at least as much as you can explain to a six-year-old. “And that’s why we’re going to the meeting tomorrow night,” he said to him.

Indeed, tomorrow, on Thursday March 26th, the OUSD board of trustees will meet for the first time since their decision to shutter Silverado Elementary school. We will be there. Join us.

The meeting is an opportunity to do two things. First, we will remind the Board that we are still here, that we have a viable proposal for an environmental sciences charter school, and that all we need is one year to organize, propose, fund.

Second, we will update them on the fluid, ever-changing fiscal realities and correct the bad math that seems to have informed their decision. We will reframe the cost effectiveness argument to our advantage. We will offer the example of Principal Evans as one more change in the budget reality.

We plan to ask them to reconsider the closure, and to do that before May 18. We would like them to please revisit this decision, which is devastating to our community and sets a bad precedent in terms of budget decisions.

We will submit cards to speak, and expect to be allowed our 3 minutes per person, 20 minutes total for topic after either item 11 or item 15. Note that the Board will not respond to us because we are not an agendized item. These are the two public comment opportunities.

Those planning to speak should write out comments and stick to time limit, be polite if firm.

Please note that previous plans to gather in the morning and late afternoon have been canceled. Please join us for the meeting which begins at 7 PM. We'll be holding signs just before the meeting begins to greet the arrivals. You can attend the meeting to show support even if you do not choose to speak. The district headquarters is located at 1401 N. Handy Street

If you can’t attend the meeting, and you haven’t sent letters yet, please write them now. Mention the points cited above. And don’t worry – there will be more to do in the future.
Like my son, the children who attend Silverado Elementary are aware of our efforts and aware of the threat that faces their school. As we act in their defense, they are learning an important lesson. You fight for what matters. You do what you can with what you have. You work together to protect each other.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Silverado's Principal is Willing to Sacrifice

In this challenging time of economic downturn and public outcry over the financial scandals, especially the AIG bailout and "bonuses," we are proud to have a role model at Silverado Elementary School, someone willing to make personal sacrifices in order to ensure that the education and safety of our children are not compromised.

In an unprecedented gesture from a civil servant, longtime Silverado Elementary School principal Ms. Pat Evans has volunteered to essentially forgo part of her compensation for administrating the school, (a portion of her salary as Evans is a split appointment employee) for the 2009-2010 school year in order to preserve the century-old school.

In addition to making her own sacrifice as a gesture of support for the school, Principal Evans has helpfully pointed out that a certain percentage of the school's secretarial and custodial services can be paid out of the Kindergarten Readiness Program.

Instead of ignoring her offer, the OUSD board should recognize for what it is: a selfless act that puts children first.

The board has in Ms. Evans an employee who more than fulfills her job description.

In Pat Evans, they have the beginnings of a solution to the crisis facing the district.

While not every administrator is in the position to make the kind of sacrifice Pat Evans is willing to make, the district leadership should be looking at what can be chopped from the top in order to serve the students.

The OUSD budget approved at the last board meeting totaled $244,597,788.00.

We believe that the budget can be and should be reconfigured to address Silverado Elementary's estimated negative impact of $151,000.

The proposal of Principal Pat Evans should be part of that plan.

We can make this work.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Fire This Time

A year and half ago our community was on fire. The Santiago firestorm was the first in a series that transfixed the nation. For weeks it seemed all Southern California was ablaze, from the Mexican border to the Central Coast. Eight days into the evacuation, our family was escorted back home by a sheriff. Miles of blackened devastation silenced all in the vehicle. Once-majestic oaks smoldered. But soon we came around a familiar bend on our rural canyon road and saw it: the long, squat school building, ringed by ashen fields, stood untouched. A silver ore mining cart, a relic of canyon history, stood proudly at the entrance. The raging fire jumped the road but our firefighters had defended the school. Not a miracle, no. Hard work and sacrifice by those who understood what a school means to a small community, as ours.

"Look," I pointed out to our son from the backseat of the sheriff's van, "There's your school. It survived."

Silverado Elementary School had been defended by our canyon’s volunteer fire forces who risked their lives to preserve the place that gives our community so much. Some of them are proud alumni of the little canyon school. Some of them sent their children to the school.

We’ll be asking those same firefighters to join us this Thursday as we ask the OUSD board to reconsider their mistake and re-open Silverado Elementary School.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reach Out: Write Letters to State and National Representatives

Help us reach out by writing letters to those to represent us on the state and national levels.

Assemblyman Jeff Miller
Room 3147, State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

To email Assemblyman Miller, click here.

State Senator Mimi Walters
Room 3082 , State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 94248-0001

To email Sen. Walters, click here.

Congressman Gary Miller
2349 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington D.C 20515

To email Congressman Miller, click here, then scroll down.

Sample Letter (cut and paste, or adapt and personalize as desired):

Esteemed _______________________,

As you may know, the Orange Unified School Board of Trustees voted to close Silverado Elementary at their last meeting on March 12, 2009, despite protests from children and families along with numerous letters, emails and verbal testimonies asking the board for one year to create the charter school.

Please join OC Supervisor Bill Campbell, Cal State Fullerton's Tucker Sanctuary, the O.C. Dept. of Education's "Inside the Outdoors" as well as many others in support of our school, especially the plan to transform Silverado Elementary School into a charter school with an environmental science and technology focus. We know that the plan for a charter school will not only sustain our community but will provide a long term solution to the crisis the district faces today as well as ready our children to face the challenges of tomorrow.

We hope to persuade OUSD trustees to reconsider the mistake to close the school at the upcoming April meetings. They will decide if we will be on the list of cuts on May 15, 2009. We also hope that OUSD will be known throughout the state as the district which was able to put children above all and the one that was able ride out this tough year without having to close a single school.

We hope you clearly see the same potential for our school as we do and understand the vital role a local school plays in a community, especially one like ours. A year and a half ago, when our community was threatened by wildfire, we appreciated the support we received from elected officials like you. We now face a similar threat. The school that survived that fire may not survive this one. We need your leadership on this critical issue.

Please communicate your support to the trustees of the OUSD and Superintendent Dreier.


(your name here)

Do post your own letters in the comments section for others to read and make sure to get the word out to friends, neighbors and family.

There will be a meeting in Room 4 at Silverado Elementary School on Monday March 23, beginning just after 8 AM. Please join us if you can. We'll be making plans for that thursday's OUSD's board meeting - and beyond.

Thanks for all you do!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Write Letters to Supervisor Campbell!

Supervisor Bill Campbell has lent his support to develop Silverado into a charter school with an environmental science focus. He has pledged to raise $100,000 toward that effort.

Please contact his office and let him know that we need his leadership now more than ever.

In your letters, thank him for his support and ask him to stand with us on March 26th as we ask the OUSD board to reconsider their mistake and re-open Silverado Elementary School.


U.S. Post: Office of Supervisor Bill Campbell
Orange County Board of Supervisors
10 Civic Center Plaza
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Letters can be simple and direct. Please feel free to cut and paste or otherwise adapt this sample letter:

Dear Supervisor Campbell,

Thank you for your continued support of canyon issues, especially your commitment to help transform Silverado Elementary into a charter school with an environmental focus. Clearly you see the same potential for our school as we do and understand the vital role a local school plays in a community, especially one like ours.

As you know, the OUSD Board of Trustees voted to close Silverado at their March 12, 2009 last meeting.

We hope to persuade them to reconsider their mistake at the upcoming meetings. We hope that OUSD will be known throughout the state as the district which was able to put children above all and the one that was able ride out this tough year without having to close a single school.

We know and you know that our plan for a charter school will not only sustain our community but will provide a long term solution to the crisis the district faces.

Please communicate your support to the trustees of the OUSD and Superintendent Dreier.


Remember to write your letters to OUSD board members (see sidebar on the right). Get your neighbors, friends and family members to do the same.

Monday, March 16, 2009

All Hands on Deck: Thursday March 26

The OUSD board of trustees will meet again on Thursday March 26 and we'll be there to greet employees in the morning and meeting attendees in the evening with our message:



OUSD headquarters is at 1401 N. Handy Orange.

BEFORE the meeting, write letters to the Superintendent and the Board of Trustees. See the sidebar to the right for more information and guidance. See the comments section to read letters others have sent -and do post your own!

Remember to bookmark this site and visit daily. Send a link and pass the word to neighbors, friends and family.

Don't forget to vote in the poll on the sidebar!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

OUSD March 12 Board Meeting

From the Orange County Register:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Silverado Elementary to shut its doors
Orange Unified trustees OK plan to boost class sizes, kill middle school sports and reduce high school counselors.

ORANGE Orange Unified trustees voted 4-3 today to close Silverado Elementary as part of an effort to trim $33.1 million from the district budget...

...About 150 parents, teachers and others attended the meeting to hear about the proposals. Several of the Silverado parents attended to plead with board members.

...Silverado parents and residents had been working for weeks to save their small school. The group tried to persuade district officials to convert the campus into a magnet or charter focused on environmental sciences and technology. Community members said they've been raising money through grants so the school could remain open for at least one more year.

To read in its entirety, click here.