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Monday, September 29, 2014

Letter to the Tattler: John Affeldt

Emery School Board member John Affeldt responds to the September 27th story about the November Measure K parcel tax ballot initiative.  Readers may wish to read the rebuttal (below and in the comment section) after reading Mr Affeldt's letter. 

To the Tattler-
I’d like to respond to the points you raise [in your story 'Emery School District Botches Measure K Parcel Tax Rollout'] .  These are my own views on the matter.  I have not discussed this response with other board members and it is not an “official” district response.
Your assertion that "some classes at [Anna Yates] this year have more than 35 children" is wrong.  As of the Sept. 18 enrollment data, only two classes exist with over 30 students at AY; both are 4th grade classes and their enrollments are 33 and 31.
The class size reduction focus in Emery (and across the state and nation) is primarily on Kindergarten to grade 3.  Emery Unified kept Kindergarten to grade 3 class sizes at or near 20 students during the massive state budget cuts occasioned by the Great Recession—even after the State ended its Class Size Reduction funding.  We still keep K-3 class sizes at those levels.  Most other districts do not.  I regularly hear stories of K-3 classes with 27 to 30 students.  The parcel tax is why we've been able to maintain K-3 class sizes around 20 to 1. 
The 4th grade class sizes are higher than I would like, but we have to recognize that the 4th grade bump is the inevitable by-product of maintaining 20 to 1 class sizes K-3.  4th grade transitions to 2 teachers for the loop, instead of 3, for 60-odd students.  Having 3 teachers would be great, but that would mean adding a third teacher to both the 4th and 5th grade loops and reducing class sizes in those grades to 20 to 1 as well--something districts in California, including ours, cannot afford.  It's also worth noting that those 4th grade classes are split in half when they attend art and science.  Many districts don't have separate art and science teachers in the elementary grades.  Only because of our strong parcel tax have we been able to support a separate art and science teacher at Anna Yates.
The music program at the high school is quite strong, led by an excellent teacher in Mr. Salvatore.  I agree that it's unfortunate that Mr. Carroway's passing and tight budget times have led to discontinuing a regular music program at Anna Yates.  Fortunately, Superintendent Rubio plans to reinstitute music at AY if the parcel tax passes.  I understand he informed you of that commitment last week.  That's a pretty significant commitment from the district's superintendent to fail to quote or specifically mention.
You are also wrong to say the district has never quantified how the parcel tax supports our teachers.  The district has been able to hire and retain a stable of excellent teachers and, also of professionals who enable our teachers to do their job better and to want to stay here.  Together, these staff are one of the reasons I am most proud of Emery Unified. The parcel tax directly supports the salary of many of these teachers and instructional support personnel.  This has been quantified in reports to the Measure A oversight committee and, most recently, was reflected in an attachment published at the June 25th Board meeting (to the item regarding the Local Control Accountability Plan).
That document reflects that the parcel tax pays the salary of 3 English teachers at ESS; 1.2 elementary teachers at AY; the science teacher at AY and one of the science teachers at ESS; 2.2 math teachers at ESS; the music teacher at ESS; the librarian at AY, and the Wellness Coordinator and the school nurse among other personnel. Last time we looked, our district’s teacher salary was highly competitive in our labor market and our benefits package was one of the most, if not the most, generous in the area.  By supporting so many of our personnel directly, the parcel tax has obviously enabled us to retain these staff. Given that the parcel tax is 25-30% of the district’s budget, it is also true that it has been a key factor in our ability to maintain a competitive salary and benefits package to attract and retain our quality teachers.

You also inexplicably assert that the district has “failed to meet” requirements concerning the Oversight Committee for Measure A.  You don’t explain the basis for this.  The district has appointed a Citizen’s Oversight Committee for Measure A.  It meets regularly; reviews parcel tax expenditure reports; approves or, if it sees fit, challenges district proposed expenditures, and issues an annual report.  To my knowledge, the district and the committee have fulfilled the legal requirements for oversight committees. I know of no reason to believe otherwise.  As evidenced by the fact that it constitutes ¼ to nearly a third of our budget, the parcel tax provides a great many critical personnel and programs to our district. I want to see those people and programs continue.  I will be supporting Measure K. I hope all other Emeryville citizens who care about our children will too.
  1. John Affeldt
  2. Vice-President Emery Unified School Board (for identification only) 


John Affeldt has a son at Emery's Anna Yates Elementary School and was appointed to the School Board in July 2012.  For over twenty years he has worked on educational equity issues at Public Advocates in San Francisco where he has twice been recognized as an Attorney of the Year in California for his education work.  Mr Affeldt will face Emeryville voters in November as he seeks election to the School Board.



The Tattler Responds:

To Mr Affeldt-
Thank you for commenting. To get straight to it:
There is at least one class as of the first day of school with 36 children at Anna Yates Elementary School (AYES) and at least one with 35 children. The source of this information is the Superintendent of the Schools, John Rubio and two teachers who shall go nameless. If there was some drop-off by attrition over time, that would be considered a good thing in this case but still 33 children cannot reasonably be construed as a small class. Your explanation about other districts and grades 4-12 at Emery matters not. The point of the story is Emery is giving the voters the impression that class sizes will be small here if we vote for this measure. If it only pertains to K-3 well, the District should make that clear to the voters. If we're funding this by taxing ourselves more, there should be no equivocating or deception involved on the part of the District. You should tell us exactly what we're getting.

You are correct in conceding that the District killed the music program at AYES. That is a violation of the provisions of the previous parcel tax Measure A it should be known. Now we're being asked to fund a music program with measure K without any admission about this double dealing by the District. It's true Mr Rubio made a personal commitment to actually follow through this time with a music program if Measure K is passed and that's going to appear in a forthcoming Tattler story. Still, the charge remains; we paid for a music program at AYES and we didn't get it.

Regarding teacher retention as Measure K requires; again, we asked the Superintendent directly, how is the Measure K money going to be spent to retain teachers? His response, "I don't know". This is from the top and again, this will be highlighted in a future Tattler story. We hope your claim that Measure A money has been spent on teacher retention is true and we will include this in the future story.

Lastly, regarding that the District has failed to meet Oversight Committee meeting requirements; we stand by our claim. The Committee is supposed to meet twice a year, Spring and Fall to oversee Measure A spending and that has not occurred. You claim this is false but we have hereby given you a reason to believe otherwise... now please check our claim with the secretary of the Superintendent. The point of mentioning that the Oversight Committee has not met regularly as it is required to do is not to point out technical violation to play "got cha". The reason it's important to know this is that a committee that is properly functioning would know that the music program had been killed and moved to remedy that improper situation.

Remember, you as a School Board, have no choice: when you ask the public to voluntarily fund something by a parcel tax, you have to spend the money the way we agreed to. Otherwise, it's a breach of the public trust.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Emery School District Botches 'Measure K' Parcel Tax Rollout

School District Plays it Fast and Loose 
With Measure K 
Provisions Not Supported

Emeryville voters recently received in the mail a large glossy card from the Emery Unified School District with falsehoods and erroneous information about Measure K, the school parcel tax initiative on the ballot for the November 4th election.  Some of the information about the provisions describing how the parcel tax will help Emeryville schools are lifted verbatim from voter information flyers mailed before the passage of 2007's Measure A, a previous parcel tax that Measure K is meant to extend for 20 years.   Some of the Measure A provisions (which are operational until Measure K passes) failed to materialize and some of the Measure K claims to again fund these bogus provisions are dubious if not outright false.  The District is forging ahead with Measure K, undaunted by the clear misstatements in the new flyer.

The flyer, signed by Schools Superintendent John Rubio claims Measure K will provide supplemental taxpayer funding to support the following:

  • "Strengthen and improve educational programs in music", the same language as Measure A even though the School District cancelled the music program at the elementary school years ago; a violation of the law.  The District is silent on the music program they killed but they are claiming if we vote to fund it a second time, presumably they'll finally take the will of the voters seriously.
  • "Keep class sizes small", also the same language as Measure A even though some classes at the elementary school this year have more than 35 children, a number that no educator would call small.
  • "Retain quality teachers", again the same language as Measure A even though the District has never quantified how they have spent money to retain teachers up till now and they still demur on this claim.
Further, the District again is claiming a State of California mandated citizen's Oversight Committee will be empaneled, meeting on a regular basis to advise the School Board about the proper expenditures of the proceeds, a mandate the School District failed to meet with regards to Measure A funds.

Like Measure A, Measure K has 'senior exemptions' meant to not unduly burden those on fixed incomes but on this count too, Measure A was found to be lacking in Emeryville.  In a low-water moment for the District, local resident Shirley Enomoto described in a Letter to the Tattler in April how she spent five years getting a reluctant Emery School District to honor the State required senior exemption as they promised.  No one from the District would comment on this but Ms Enomoto indicates [thanks to her efforts] they are now probably in compliance with the exemption at least.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Tattler City Council Candidates Questionnaire

Candidates Questionnaire Preview 

As the November 4th City Council election heats up, we've noticed several timely and consequential topics are not being taken up by those who would challenge the candidates on behalf of the residents of Emeryville.  The Tattler seeks to rectify that with five questions addressing these topics in the resident's interest and likely to be actionable by the City Council in the near future for each of the four candidates.  We're happy to report all four candidates agreed to take part in this Tattler questionnaire.  The candidates have been given one week to respond.  Check back later for their responses.

 Here's what we asked of each candidate:

1)  Will you vote for, support and/or endorse Emeryville Measures U&V? Yes or no please.  If yes why and if no why not?  
These Measures will be on the same ballot for voters consideration.  Measure U asks if Emeryville should change its governing status from our current status; a so-called  'general law city' to a 'charter city'.  That would mean the residents have control of major governing decisions by plebiscite vs Sacramento controlling the governance here as is the case now under general law.  All our municipal neighbors; Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda and Piedmont among them are charter cities and Measure U is endorsed by the entire Emeryville City Council.  Measure V would allow for a real estate transfer fee to be levied when commercial or residential real estate is sold in town. The rate proposed by Measure V is less than our neighbors charge and passage would allow "funding to maintain essential city services such as: police, fire and emergency services protection; street, sewer and storm drain maintenance; park and open space development and maintenance; bike and pedestrian safety; child care and programs for youth and seniors" according to the City of Emeryville.  The entire City Council endorses Measure V.  Measure V requires Measure U's passage by the voters to be operational. 

2)    Do you support Emeryville’s Pedestrian/Bicycle Plan as it pertains to the Horton Street Bike Boulevard?  Would you weaken the Plan or would you defend it as it is?  
The Emeryville Bike Plan was formulated over a two year period by members of the community, the Bike Committee and city planning experts at Berkeley's Alta Planning.  The Plan cost Emeryville $200,000 and was commissioned and certified by a unanimous vote of the City Council.  It represents a balanced approach to transportation needs for all stakeholders; drivers, bikers and pedestrians.  Hollis Street is given over to cars according to the Plan but Horton Street has been earmarked as a bike transportation corridor, connecting to bike boulevards in Berkeley to the north and Oakland to the south making for seamless regional north/south bike commuting.  Almost 30% of Horton Street traffic is now bike traffic and the number is growing.  The Plan calls for no more than 3000 vehicle trips per day on the Boulevard (Berkeley's bike boulevards are only allowed no more than 1500 trips).  The Plan calls for traffic calming for bike boulevards in town that exceed the 3000 safety threshold metric.  The highest level of traffic calming according to the Plan is 'level 5' that involves traffic diverters to guarantee vehicle traffic remains less than 3000 per day.   Horton Street now has more than 3000 vehicle trips and this means traffic calming must be implemented with either diverters or other less draconian means as called for in the Plan.  Some in town have called for dismantling the Horton Street Bike Boulevard altogether.

3)  In the future, how should the City guarantee independently owned and locally serving (non-formula) retail associated with residential and commercial development projects, if at all?
 Emeryville has been requiring a street level retail component at most residential development projects but many developers aren't interested in managing retail tenants and as a consequence, many storefront shop spaces remain perpetually boarded up.  Other developers simply let the market decide who rents their spaces and these have generally been 'formula' retail chain stores and fast food franchises owing to the high rent charged to pay for the new construction.  Many residents have called for locally serving, locally owned retail in Emeryville and some have even called for worker owned businesses; a change in the dynamics that have heretofore been at play in Emeryville.

4)  How do you define family friendly housing for Emeryville?  How do we get it?  How much is needed?
Virtually everyone in town has said Emeryville has rushed towards flawed residential development policy, a model that has precluded housing for families with children.  Many have noted our commitment to spend more than $100 million on the Center of 'Community' Life, a new K-12 school campus, as the primary reason for the now critical need for family friendly housing.  Some people in town, including some current City Council members have defined 'family friendly housing' simply as units with three or more bedrooms.  Others have said families need more than that.

5)  Should the City encourage residents to enter into Community Benefits Agreements (CBA's) with large development projects? How?  
Community Benefits Agreements are legally binding agreements between citizens and private developers meant to deliver amenities to residents above and beyond any agreements made between the city and the developer.  These agreements are a form of direct democratic action engaging an active citizenry.   Municipalities sometimes act as interested third parties encouraging and facilitating such democratic negotiation without dictating terms or driving the negotiations.  CBA's are common in Oakland, Berkeley and other Bay Area cities but there is yet no history of them in Emeryville.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Alameda County Fire Department Rescues Emery Schools With Donations


The Alameda County Fire Department Union, Local 55 responded to Emery school teacher's pleas for requisitions for the start of the new school year with a massive school supply drive culminating with a big school site presentation on Tuesday.
Individual fire fighters stood in front of Office Max, Toys R Us and other such stores for weeks collecting donations for the drive.
The huge haul presented to the Emery schools by the Fire Department this year stood in contrast to the supplies donated from the Emery Education Fund, the organization tasked with the yearly school supply drives.  Teachers noted in recent years the hauls from the Ed Fund have been lacking prompting the Fire Fighters Union Local 55 to step in this year.
An anonymous teacher opined the Ed Fund donation drive had come up short again this year, "It's pretty pathetic"the teacher said of the meager offerings, "It's less than $100 worth."
Any thoughts of disappointment in the performance by the Emery Ed Fund however were quickly forgotten after the big red antique fire truck arrived bearing the proceeds from Local 55.

Thanks to the Alameda County Fire Department Union Local 55 and Anna Yates Elementary School teacher Tiffany Johnson for coordinating the supply drive.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

City Calls For Community/Business Input on Horton Street Bike Boulevard

The City Council is soliciting opinions from the community and businesses on whether or how to implement the Pedestrian/Bicycle Plan with regards to the Horton Street Bike Boulevard:


Monday, September 8, 2014

Letter to the Tattler: Christian Patz

Received from Emery School Board member Christian Patz:


Your opinion piece on August 30th [New High Buy-In Make Emery School Board Elections Exclusive], brought attention to the fees charged by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters to candidates for the Emery School Board of Trustees.  I am newly appointed to the Board and I'm a candidate for the position in the November general election.  Your story accurately stated, candidates for Emery School Board must pay $832 if they want to have their candidate statement published in the voter guide.   
As someone who was impacted by this fee, I agree with the concept that we need to keep money out of politics. I am not sure this plan solves the problem. While your plan would help the first three people, it does not offer relief to everybody. The biggest challenge I had in filing my paperwork was getting to the office during business hours. Once there, I had to decide if I could afford the outlay of the fee. On that day, I felt I could not. This may hurt my election chances, but it was the right decision at the time. An alternative that I could support is what they do in other races; pay the fee or present registered voter's signatures. I think the community should decide if the District should pay for the publication of a candidate’s statement. 

Christian Patz, Ed.D.
Appointed Incumbent and Candidate for Emery School Board


           
Christian R. Patz (Ed.D.) is on the Emery Unified School District Board of Trustees, appointed to the position last June to fill in for outgoing Board member Josh Simon. Mr Patz is currently a Special Education Administrator at the Mt Diablo Unified School District and he is running for election to the Emery School Board in November.  His campaign website is HERE.
Christian lives in Emeryville with his wife and young child.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Emeryville's November Election Draws Sacramento Lobbying Group

Out-Of-Town Real Estate Interests Set Up Political Committee for Emeryville Election

Statewide Realtor Association Money Dump 
Special Moneyed Interests Work to Nix Local Control

Emeryville residents, get ready to get "IMPACed".
That being a big money dump from the California Association of Realtors political action committee to fight against a November election over local control of the town.
IMPAC, Issues Mobilization Political Action Committee, is the political action arm of the Sacramento based statewide Realtors Association, the State's top real estate lobbying group.
The issue at hand are two Emeryville ballot initiatives, both brought by unanimous consent of our City Council for a vote by the citizens November 4th; one being Measure U the Charter City Initiative, a local control initiative and the other Measure V, an initiative to establish a real estate transfer fee, the same fee charged by neighboring cities Alameda, Oakland and Berkeley.

The committee set up to fight both initiatives is calling itself "Citizens to Preserve Emeryville" and lists its Treasurer and Vice Treasurer as hailing from Sacramento and Oakland respectively.  The bank for  Citizens to Preserve Emeryville is in Roseville California.

Emeryville Chamber
of Commerce Vice Chair
Jason Crouch

His backing of the Realtors
subverted the will
of the Chamber. 
A check of the filing documents shows IMPAC has kicked off the spending on the Emeryville ballot initiatives with an initial drop of $20,000.  An extra $5,000 in "interboard solicitations" was also approved to fight Emeryville, IMPAC records showed.  With nearly unlimited resources available at the 160,000 member California Association of Realtors, more money could follow as the anti-Emeryville local control campaign progresses.

Chamber of Commerce's Interests Hijacked
The drama of the California Association of Realtors pushing their weight around Emeryville is further heightened by the unseemly spectacle of the Vice Chair of the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce, Vallejo resident Jason Crouch, hijacking the Chamber's wishes by joining the fight against U&V.  The Board of the Chamber of Commerce has voted to join with the City of Emeryville and endorse both Measures but Mr Crouch signed his name and he included his Vice Chair position on the Chamber Board to the ballot measure arguments against U&V.  
The ballot measure arguments for and against will be in the official Voters Guide printed by Alameda County appearing in voter's mailboxes later this month.

The Sacramento real estate group's chief argument against the charter city initiative (a municipal governance model referred to as 'local rule' or 'home rule') is that it will allow Emeryville citizens themselves to decide many functions of governance that Sacramento now dictates with Emeryville as a 'general law' city.  The actual vote in November will only give Emeryville residents local rule to the extent that they decide whether to initiate a real estate transfer fee.  As it stands now Emeryville misses out on the funds from these transfers that our neighboring cities collect.

The City Council has noted with the demise of the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency, an entity that formerly entailed 90% of the town, fully half of the city budget has been lost.  Infrastructure, parks, maintenance--the things City Hall builds for residents to retain the quality of life will be increasingly out of reach.  Further it should be noted that Sacramento gets to change the rules on general law cities moving forward.  That's what happened when the Redevelopment Agency was eliminated.  Without the local control that the charter city designation brings, Emeryville won't have a right to collect the same fees as the neighbors, putting our budget at risk.

Some are speculating the California Association of Realtors sees Emeryville's local control vote in November as potentially a landmark case, spurring other general law cities in California to became charter cities.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

New High Buy-In Make Emery School Board Elections Exclusive

$832 Stops Democracy in Emeryville
But a Fix is On the Way

Opinion/News Analysis
The Alameda County Registrar of Voters this year has quietly raised the fee to print a 'candidate's statement' in the official Voter's Guide to $832, making the cost for non-incumbents to run a credible campaign for Emery School Board now beyond the reach for all but the independently wealthy.  The punishing new bar set by the County openly discourages all and outright stops many would-be participants from seeking the non paying, no benefits and high workload job of a school board member at Emery.

This high fee is doing a major disservice to the idea of democracy in public education, having the effect of entrenching power by exacerbating and increasing the incumbents advantage while pushing down newcomers who offer a change.  In a School District like Emery where for years, an anti-teacher, anti-parent culture has taken over the School Board, this new high bar for entry to challengers has already proved to be nullifying to democracy: We know of at least one new candidate considering a School Board run this November who was scared off by the high fee.
New ideas at Emery School
District can't see the light
of day without a bunch of 

these behind 'em.

The $832 fee reflects the printing cost of including a candidate's statement along with the candidate's name in the Voter's Guide, or so Alameda County tells us.  They're doing an end run around accusations of anti-democratic high fee exclusivity by continuing to allow a candidate to have his/her name appear in the Guide and on the ballot for a nominal fee.  It's the candidate's statement, the critical chance to inform voters what the candidates stand for, that costs $832.  Rather than go to war against the prodigious plenipotentiary power of the County Registrar of Voters, we see a fix for this intolerable problem here in Emeryville.

The Emery Fix: District Picks Up The Tab
Emery Unified School District is going to have to start paying the County for non incumbent Emery School Board candidate's statements. Incumbents are helped as everybody knows by the fact they're incumbents and voters know that fact because it appears in the Voter's Guide (for no extra money) and on the election ballot.  Non-incumbents will need financial aid from Emery.  
Since it's unreasonable and too expensive for the School District to pick up the tab of every non-incumbent candidate, we propose the aid be doled out on a first come first served or a lottery basis, enough to fill out a full slate of challengers on the ballot.
  Allowing the millions of dollars this school district spends on questionable 'community engagment' given in the form of lucrative contracts to chummy corporate consultants for all sorts of less democratic citizen empowerment than this, we trust they will not cry poverty with this idea.
"After spending millions on 
'community engagement' forwarding 
the Center of 'Community' Life, 
they're going to have to spend 
a little on democracy."

We find it hard to overstate the importance of lowering this fee and allowing new voices on the School Board.  As we stated, this new fee has already curtailed democracy here at Emery.  This year it has stopped the people's right  to have a choice in the direction of their School District: as a result of too few candidates running, the best case scenario for those wishing change will be a 2-3 School Board minority (the 3 representing the existing established power).  We can only elect two challengers this year and that's not enough to bring about new direction.  This November, we can only hope to bring incremental change, change at the margins for our School District.  The $832 fee has limited our choice.

School Board members here at Emery tend to not fill out their terms.  They resign early, giving the power elite on the Board a chance to appoint their favored new replacement (even if sometimes an independent, less-than-compliant pick gets in by accident).  This is no good.  The citizens need to be able to effectively weigh in here. Every election cycle, the people of Emeryville should always have the capacity to vote for a change in their government be it at the School District or at City Hall.  At Emery Unified School District this November, there's going to be no chance for change, regardless of what the people want.  This is unacceptable.  $832 shouldn't stop democracy.  It's time for the School District to pony up, even if the idea of change is threatening to them.  We're going to have to spend a little from now on to ensure democracy doesn't go missing.  Ironically, they may learn to love it; real democracy will give legitimacy to this District and that's something that's also been missing.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

School District Demurs on Mesfun Explanation

Thursday comes and goes:
Still No Answer on School Principal

The Emery Unified School District announced today they will not offer citizens and parents an explanation as to the status of newly hired Anna Yates Elementary School Principal Russum Mesfun as had been promised earlier in the week.  Principal Mesfun continues to be absent at the school and the Superintendent of Emery Schools, John Rubio, himself responsible for hiring Mr Mesfun, will serve as both Superintendent of the District and Principal of Anna Yates indefinitely.
On the first day of the new school year, Monday, Mr Rubio announced the District would offer something by way of an explanation for the missing principal on Thursday but today Mr Rubio begged off, telling the Tattler "I have to check with legal" and that "I'm not done with internal processes [that would enable an answer]."   Superintendent Rubio now refuses to give a timeline for citizens and parents as to explaining what's happened with Mr Mesfun.

Superintendent Rubio hired the controversial Mr Mesfun and has offered that he himself would be responsible for any negative eventuality as a result.

Look to the Tattler to stay on this story as we will make sure the people get an answer to this.