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NUSD Trustee Candidates Zero in on Achievement Gap, State Funding

Forum on Monday was emceed by CBS 5's Dana King and hosted by MarinKids and the League of Women Voters.

So much of what the hopes to achieve is based on financial support from Sacramento, a fact that frustrates the daylights out of many education advocates, including five people running for seats on the NUSD board of trustees.

At a Monday candidate forum hosted by the MarinKids campaign and the League of Women Voters, incumbents Debbie Butler, Cindi Clinton, Tom Cooper and Ross Millerick and challenger Jeffrey Vaillant were asked by emcee Dana King of CBS 5 TV about ways the district can operate well under budgetary restrictions and find ways to increase funding. The district has been shortchanged upwards of $20 million because of decisions made in the Capitol, several candidates said.

Vaillant, a three-year Novato resident who has experience in the corporate world, said there’s no reason why pressure shouldn’t be directed toward the state Department of Education and laws that lead to school funding.

“We have to go after the law, go after the legislators, and change the structure,” he said. “We have to address the fact that we’re a limited-revenue district. There has to be a better way to fund things.”

Vaillant, a vocal observer at NUSD board meetings the past few years, said examining the use of reserve accounts and looking deeper into charter school structures should be on the table as well.

Cooper, the current board president, said the focus ought to be on finding ongoing funds rather than one-time funds. Increasing efficiencies and reducing electricity bills — possibly by adding more solar panels on school buildings — could result in cash flow directly to the general fund and lead to better teacher salaries.

Butler and Clinton both said the district has to work harder to boost average daily attendance, work to retain kids whose parents might opt to send them to private schools and develop more effective marketing and promotional campaigns. Millerick said there are ways to seek outside contributions via grant requests and that shifting funds to lower-performing schools deserves a closer look.

Each candidate shared views about closing the achievement gap, based on an imbalance of academic results on a socioeconomic and racial scale. Fairness across the board and assessment of each student’s needs is critical to making progress in that area, the candidates said. Once again, Vaillant provided a creative answer.

“As is said in the corporate world, polices are really the scar tissue of past mistakes,” he said. “If you have too many policies, you’re forgetting that these are people we are measuring, not just data.”

Millerick said the key is to create an individual plan for every child in the district, and Butler said it’s about teaching to the child, not to the class. Cooper said furnishing resources at the school site level is important to close the gap. Clinton added that allowing fewer electives and requiring more core classes for high schoolers who are not meeting standards makes sense.

One set of answers focused on the so-called A-G requirements for high schoolers to qualify for acceptance the California State University system or the UC system. NUSD standards are lower than the A-G requirements, such as the minimum amount of units in math, science and English. When asked about preparing kids for the working world, attention turned the definition of “achievement.”

Butler said it’s important for the district to place every child on a patch for reaching A-G reports even though not every student will attend college. “We need to take another look at graduation requirements,” she said. “I would like to look and see if we can make (A-G) a default.”

Clinton said it should be a goal to have each student achieve the A-G standards but not a requirement and that the focus should be on achievement at a younger age. Cooper was open to the idea of making A-G standards a requirement but that the district’s main job is to prepare the students for college but “they can make the decision for themselves.”

Millerick said he was pleased the debate was turning back to how universities define achievement rather than how politicians define it. However, he advocated for career-track curriculum choices rather than just A-G standards. Vaillant added that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates didn’t obtain college degrees, although students and parents out to be directed toward college-level achievement.

For more information about MarinKids, click here or look for to Novato Patch’s Local Voices. Check out smartvoter.org to see the League of Women Voters’ information about the Nov. 8 election.

Sylvia Barry October 27, 2011 at 12:58 AM
I can not understand why would any of the candidates not want A-G standards be a requirement for NUSD? Kids have a lot more capacities than we give them credit for. These are not such difficult goals to reach if they set their minds to and if we provide the environment for them. If we do not set high standards for our students, how do we expect them to set high standards for themselves?
Patty Maher October 27, 2011 at 03:36 AM
If the San Francisco and San Jose districts can move to A-G, how on earth can we not manage to do that? And why isn't this an issue they deal with on the board level rather than on the campaign trail?
LP October 27, 2011 at 03:59 AM
Novato schools should up the standards. One reason parents take their children out of the school district is because the standards do not prepare them for college or make them competitive to apply. The comment by Vaillant, "that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates didn’t obtain college degrees" is ridiculous. Jobs and Gates are in a very small percentage of who is going to make millions without a bachelors degree. For the greater percentage, jobs will not be there for them without a degree. More and more occupations are requiring a degree, let alone a masters in a particular field. Vaillant might as well have said they're likely hood of becoming a professional athlete.
Claire October 27, 2011 at 03:59 PM
Well said Sylvia, Patty and LP! Vaillant's comment about Jobs and Gates is completely ridiculous - that comment just cost him my vote for a seat on the Board! I would like to add that the NUSD standards not only fall short in math, science and English, but also in foreign language. The NUSD does not have a foreign language requirement to graduate, but the UC systems requires a minimum of 2 years, preferably 3 years of foreign language. I am not aware of any other school district that does not have a foreign language requirement. Instead of making a foreign language an elective, it should be part of the mandatory classes.
Edwin Drake October 27, 2011 at 04:16 PM
What funding does a brand-new "start-up" district receive from the state? Maybe we should dissolve the NUSD and reform to get better funding?
Justin Hubbs October 27, 2011 at 05:47 PM
Thanks for pushing the question Edwin (and for being willing to think outside the box)! A political reorganization may be more realistic than changing laws in Sacramento (though we should try both). Hopefully someone in power will consider it...or at least tell us we're dreamin' - Bueller...Bueller?
Jeffrey Vaillant October 27, 2011 at 05:55 PM
If you are taking my comment from this article only, then you did not attend the event nor listen to the broadcast? My point was not all students are going to college. There are many fine career paths that do not require a college degree. There are career paths that require knowledge about many facets. I verbalized at the meeting my pride in the cosmotology certification my step daughter has from the State of California that required knowledge of chemistry, safety and the use of products on humans. She obtained this certification without a college education.
Jeffrey Vaillant October 27, 2011 at 05:56 PM
Claire see my response to LP. Thank you.
Jeffrey Vaillant October 27, 2011 at 06:00 PM
And Sylvia I think the Board needs to set a higher standard for the Superintendent and administrative staff. In the last Board meeting I pointed out that several facility projects had gone over budget.....some significantly. The Board had this information in advance as we all do and sat like bumps on the log never questioning the report.
Claire October 27, 2011 at 06:25 PM
I agree that not every kid needs or wants to go to college and can still have a good career. However, citing Jobs and Gates as examples for not going to college is not a good way to tell a young person that not going to college is a path they should select, because the likelihood of a career such as Jobs' or Gates' without a degree is indeed very remote. Especially in today's world a college degree is very important for most young people. Gates and Jobs not only are exceptional minds and talents, but also of an older generation that had a lower number of kids attending college and they still succeeded. It also does not justify that the NUSD does not meet the A-G requirements. I assume you meant cosmetology in your post.
Sylvia Barry October 27, 2011 at 06:26 PM
HI Jeffrey - My comments are strictly Academics-Driven, as that's what schools are set out to do - provide the best education possible for our students! I am not addressing facilities.
Sam Roth October 27, 2011 at 06:38 PM
Since Sacramento won't fund the schools, we need to do it ourselves. Donating money to the PTA puts the money directly in the hands of the teachers and lowers your taxable income. Our schools get more and Sacramento gets less.
Jeffrey Vaillant October 27, 2011 at 09:06 PM
Claire we are in agreement. Thank you for the spelling correction.
Jeffrey Vaillant October 27, 2011 at 09:09 PM
Sam the annual NUSD budget is about $60M. The PTA and Boosters and others make monetary contributions which are great; however, the money needed to run the schools is large. At one time our property taxes were kept locally and spent locally. Now some of those property taxes end up in Sacramento and stay in Sacramento. The parcel tax Novato residents passed adds about $2-3M to the bucket.
ZorbaGT May 31, 2012 at 04:35 PM
here is petition for making Board down to 5 from 7 to save money and time http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/nusd-school-board-reduction.html

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