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.