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School Board Candidates Talk Budget, High School Start Times, and Propositions at Forum

Incumbents Patricia Low, Ron Rosenbaum and challenger Byron Barrett are running for two open seats on the Albany Unified School District's Board of Education.

From budget and funding to closing achievement gaps and propositions, the Albany Unified School District's Board of Education candidates talked over several topics recommended by the community during a forum Wednesday evening.

Around 20 people attended the school board candidate forum, held at St. Alban's Episcopal Church and moderated by former Albany Patch editor Emilie Raguso. Questions were asked from Patch readers along with attendents at the event.

KALB shot the entire forum and will post it on the city website in the coming days.

Serving the Community's Needs, Inter-District Transfers and Reviewing the Superintendent

When asked how they would represent the community's needs, Barrett, a working parent of two small children, shared his knowledge of how daycare has been an issue for his neighborhood, where both parents in most of the households work.

Low and Rosenbaum seemed to agree that the decisions made by the board are based on the learning and development of students.

"Student achievement is what we're here for," Rosenbaum said.

They added that the community is the board's employer, while the board is the superintendent's. Low said the board sets goals for the superintendent based on the strategic plan which the community weighed in on.

All three candidates stood for inter-district transfers. Barrett said despite the crowdedness among Albany schools, he supports the fact that people want to come for Albany for better education for their children.

Low felt that inter-district transfers help diversify the community and as long as its done correctly by following the rules, she is all for it.

Closing Achievement Gaps and Funding

According to Rosenbaum, Albany isn't the only school district struggling to close the achievement gap.

"This is not an Albany problem, this is a nationwide problem," he said.

The causes? He said he felt inherent racism built into society and certain barriers are what keep this gap from closing. Creating a curriculum where students challenge themselves is what is needed, according to Rosenbaum.

For Barrett, setting school meetings to accommodate working parents so they can be more involved is what he feels will help close the gap.

Low said she would look at specific interventions at all grade levels. She said test scores, and economic and social backgrounds are all indicators of who isn't learning at the levels they should.

The candidates were asked where their priorities would lie with dispersing monies if supplied by the state or local donations.

To some extent, the three agreed that keeping the wonderful teachers and staff in the district was a priority. Low and Rosenbaum added that funding visual and performing arts should be considered. Barrett suggested that by becoming a school board member, he'd try lobbying to government for more funding.

School Programs and Start Times

The candidates also discussed elementary schools and how families get first choice as to which school kids can go to.

Rosenbaum said he is open to giving the choice to parents and thinks school policy is currently set to do that. Barrett said he appreciates the choice factor because it allowed him to select Marin Elementary for his kids since it was close to home.

Low focused on the concept of neighborhood schools — which Albany has — versus the strategy to ensure equity. She said one way the district can make certain schools are more appealing to parents is by offering attractive after-school programs. This will make families pick schools based on students' needs as oppose to distance from their homes.

Candidates also discussed making the 7:50 a.m. start time at Albany High School later. Barrett said he felt school starts too late as is, and wants the start time as early as possible. Rosenbaum felt that teens are not getting enough sleep as is.

From participating in after-school activities and working at jobs to babysitting younger siblings and dealing with hours of homework each night, Rosenbaum said he is an advocate of not giving kids busy work at night to ensure they get better sleep.

Low addressed the fact that although the board cannot officially change the start time, it can look at creating policy and discussing the issue of an early start time. 

Propositions 30 and 38

The candidates touched on how Prop 30 would guarantee flat funding and would not necessarily lessen the district's dependence on donations if passed. The level of funding would still remain the same.

With Prop 38, less relief would be required the first year, but not long after. Barrett said he fully supports both props.

"We're still trying to back-fill the cuts we made in the last three years," Low said.

Despite not being as dependent on donations if given more funding, Rosenbaum felt that Albany is the type of community that would continue to participate in offering donations "because that's the kind of community Albany is."

Meg October 12, 2012 at 01:50 AM
I was not at this meeting, so I ask genuinely, did Ms. Lowe actually say that Albany has neighborhood schools? Superintendent Stephenson has explained we do not. Parents get preference in schools regardless of their neighborhood. While many make their decisions based on proximity, others do not.
Ira Sharenow October 12, 2012 at 03:20 AM
What were their positions on the $1,500,000 budget deficit combined with above market pay for the higher paid employees? Do they feel that the transfers, both legal and those using false addresses, are contributing to the budget deficit? How will they solve the budget deficit?
Pat Low October 12, 2012 at 02:56 PM
In reply to Meg's question, the answer summarized was the beginning of a longer answer I gave to a question about supporting strategies for making the student populations at the elementary schools more balanced (e.g. more equitable numbers of English Language Learners). This first part was giving a national context about strategies for integrating, creating more equitable student populations, in schools. To clarify, I was talking about neighborhood schools and alternate strategies historically in American public school districts. I also discussed the existence of an Equity Committee in our district that will give the board recommendations about whether and how to achieve more balanced populations in the elementary schools. I went on to explain that there are different techniques that can be used to differentiate schools, such as making one school the international language after school program etc. that may result in naturally balancing student populations and that if Albany did this, I suggested we needed to do a better job of making clear to families what is unique about each school's offerings. I suggest if you have the time that you watch the video of our forum as we gave extensive answers to questions that are only partially captured here. By the way, I am not faulting AnaLisa as she would have ended up with quite a lengthy article if she had attempted to capture the complexity and length of many of our answers. Thank you for your interest in Albany schools.
Holly White October 12, 2012 at 05:03 PM
I wonder if you could clarify if Barrett really said that he thinks school starts too late right now. Especially for the middle and high schools, that would fly against almost all the available research on teen sleep patterns (they naturally stay up late and need to sleep in). Many schools around the country are moving middle and high school start times later to reflect this understanding.
Ron Rosenbaum October 12, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Yes, Holly, he clearly did say that!
Alan Eckert October 12, 2012 at 06:57 PM
The answer Ron gave, if I understand it correctly, is that the system they have in place now (a recent change) is better for finding out those who are lying about residency. However, since the schools are not at capacity, the school would receive more funding per child if they allow kids in from outside Albany to fill those slots.
Alan Eckert October 12, 2012 at 06:58 PM
I would suggest you watch the whole thing if you have a question like this to hear exactly what they said for yourself.
Alan Eckert October 12, 2012 at 06:58 PM
^^Once it is available of course
Ira Sharenow October 13, 2012 at 03:53 AM
Thanks. I hope that they explained what they meant by “diversity” and why a district that is in the middle of one of the most diverse areas in the country and is home to University Village needs more “diversity”. Do they have web sites and specifics with data? I think diversity is more than just a measure of racial percentages, but it is interesting that the three elementary schools seem to have quite different racial compositions. http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us/App_Resx/EdDataClassic/fsTwoPanel.aspx?#!bottom=/_layouts/EdDataClassic/profile.asp?Tab=1&level=07&reportnumber=16&county=01&district=61127&school=6090146 I compared 2002 to 2012 as the influx in out of district students began after the 2002 school board elections. In 2002 at Marin, 13 African American students took the API exams. In 2012 that was down to 2 even though enrollment had increased by 40%. Cornell went from 23 down to 12. OV 30 to 18. AMS 69 to 44. AHS 50 to 45. http://albany.patch.com/articles/illegal-out-of-district-students-who-dont-fess-up-to-be-booted-from-albany-schools-in-april Is the faculty racially diverse? http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us/App_Resx/EdDataClassic/fsTwoPanel.aspx?#!bottom=/_layouts/EdDataClassic/profile.asp?Tab=2&level=07&reportnumber=16&county=01&district=61127&school=6095376 It will be interesting to see the details of how they want to handle the huge budget deficit. I thought the schools were overcrowded and the stairwells were hazardous.
Jack Osborne October 13, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Ira, I'd be interested to hear whether you are an Albany resident, and if not why you take such an interest as a pundit for the school district.
Ira Sharenow October 13, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Jack, thanks for asking. I am the person who proposed to the previous superintendent that AUSD build a replacement pool. I also served on the Measure E committee. I was then disappointed that as a result of less than visible meetings, the board changed the pool and classroom facility to something not contemplated at the time of the Measure E vote. I also believe that Albany is part of an interdependent region. AUSD is not a self-contained ecosystem. Huge numbers of students who live in EC and Kensington go to AUSD schools, either by the transfer process or by using false addresses. This has helped to devastate the West Contra Costa district. Since most of the EC HS students do not live in EC, I (and others) believe that EC and Kensington should split away from WCCUSD and either form a new district or join the existing AUSD. I think the latter makes sense because so many EC and Kens students already go to school in AUSD. Housing costs and patterns are significantly impacted by school district decisions, with neighboring towns hurt by AUSD’s aggressive recruiting policy. Also because AUSD uses a peculiar definition of “parcel” Albany renters are unfairly taxed. Since some non-Albany residents rent apartments simply to pretend to live in Albany, that also impacts housing costs for renters. If AUSD's deficit spending continues, many will be impacted by a potential bankruptcy.
Jack Osborne October 14, 2012 at 03:58 AM
@Ira - thanks for your candor. Since you're clearly a numbers guy, perhaps you can provide some numbers around some of the statements you made, to quantify the issues: "Huge numbers of students who live in EC and Kensington go to AUSD schools, either by the transfer process or by using false addresses. " - what are those numbers, and what is your source? "most of the EC HS students do not live in EC" - what are the numbers, and your sources? If the kids are not from EC, where are they from and are they from within WCCUSD or elsewhere? Thanks!
Ira Sharenow October 14, 2012 at 05:10 AM
Jack, yes I am a numbers guy. Even when I was six years old I would borrow Section 5 of the Sunday NY Times from my father and start computing batting averages and earned run averages. In terms of legitimate transfers both WCCUSD and AUSD produced data. The link is on the AUSD web site. http://ausdk12.org/apps/news/show_news.jsp?REC_ID=210824&id=2 In addition, I have received correspondence from the WCCUSD’s superintendent’s office. As of July 2011, 269 WCCUSD students transferred to AUSD. I know that 87 ECHS students transferred somewhere. I also have data on all of the WCCUSD schools. Someone who is very reliable and very involved as an AUSD volunteer said that when they did mailings, they could use bulk mail to El Cerrito. I sometimes read El Cerrito Patch. People whom I judged to be reliable have stated that more than half of the ECHS students are not from EC or Kensington. After looking at the dismal ECHS API scores and the demographics for ECHS, that estimate seems reasonable. The students who are not from EC or Kens are mostly from other parts of WCCUSD.
Ira Sharenow October 14, 2012 at 05:11 AM
AUSD used to be more open with respect to enrollment data. From about 2002 to 2009 in district enrollment increased by 700 even though there were few houses or apartments built. In 2001-02, there were 2,308 resident students. In 2009-10, there were 3,009 resident students. This is data that was copied from the AUSD site. I copied it a few years ago. If you search Albany Patch, I previously made a large number of postings on this issue and provided more details, which I will not repeat here. In 2001-02, there were 311 official transfers. In 2007-8, there were 688 official transfers. Then there was a change in district leadership and the number of official transfers dropped to 581, a drop of 107 students. During that same period, resident students increased from 2,734 to 3,009, an increase of 275. Was there much new construction? It appears as though the market responded to a change in policy. Please note that the district counts UV students separately. From speaking to parents and students and a teacher, it is clear there has been a problem. A few years ago, Marla told me that she felt there were hundreds of students attending AUSD who did not live in Albany and were not official transfers.
Ira Sharenow October 14, 2012 at 05:12 AM
So I feel I am making reasonable estimates. I have repeatedly requested details from the school district but they always refuse to provide it. In my view, the data could be created in just a few minutes by doing SQL queries using SQL Server (free) or by using R (free) or SAS or Microsoft Access or Excel pivot tables. I offered to do the computations and to help AUSD with its data problems but Marla declined my offer.
Emilie Raguso October 15, 2012 at 05:15 AM
I believe the video will be posted here when it's ready: http://www.albanyca.org/index.aspx?page=928 (Looking forward to seeing everyone Wednesday for the council candidate's forum.)

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