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July 27, 2010 > Fremont Unified School District Board meeting highlights

Fremont Unified School District Board meeting highlights

Submitted By Miriam G. Mazliach
Photos By Miriam G. Mazliach

The following is a selected summary from the Fremont Unified School District Board meeting held on July 21.

School District Administration:
Dr. Deborah Sims has been hired as the new Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services for the 2010-2011 school year. Sims' career in education spans over 35 years. She has served as a classroom teacher in San Francisco and Oakland Schools, as a principal, assistant superintendent of Instructional Services, and Chief of K-8 Instructional Support and School Operations also in San Francisco, and as superintendent in Antioch School District. Her strengths include strategic planning, instructional leadership, financial management and increasing student achievement and closing the achievement gap.

Superintendent's Report:
Dr. James Morris, Fremont Superintendent of Schools, responded to the newly passed state law, "The Open Enrollment Act," which allows parents to apply to transfer their children to higher-performing schools in other districts, as a result of California's recent compilation of the 1,000 lowest performing public schools.

According to Superintendent Morris, the four Fremont elementary schools: Blacow, Cabrillo, Durham and Grimmer, should not have been included on the list. He unfurled a long and winding roll of paper, which was color-coded to reflect the state's schools and the categories represented. "The number 1,000 is actually reached before getting to our four schools, but because of exclusions or exemptions of other schools, ours were counted. The way this law was written, a lot of schools are ahead of the names of our four schools on the list," added Morris.

Charter schools on the list were specifically excluded and other low performing schools were exempted if 10 percent of their district schools were already on the list.

After the Board meeting, Superintendent Morris was asked to discuss the district's plan for assisting the four elementary schools and he released the following statement:

In complying with the law, we will provide the legally required informational letter to the parents at all four schools informing them of their right to transfer. We will also hold community meetings with parents of all four schools so they are aware of the accurate standing of their school and share with parents that there are several aspects of the law and how it will be implemented that are still very unclear. For example, the State has yet to determine the term of a transfer granted under this law. If a school is on the list for 2010-2011 and then not on the list for 2011-2012, we do not know if the student will be required to transfer back to his/her home school the following year. This could potentially be disruptive to a student's education.

It is unfortunate because this law is well intentioned but poorly crafted and really mischaracterizes schools like Grimmer and Cabrillo that are truly high performing schools. These are prime examples of schools that the State has honored as recently as this past spring, calling them California Distinguished Schools, and Title I High Achieving Schools. The State has set 800 as the Academic Performance Index "gold-standard" and asked schools to strive to achieve a score of 800. These schools have achieved that standard. Either the State's standard means something or it doesn't. It sends a mixed message to say they are both "Distinguished" and "on the list of 1,000." It simply doesn't make sense. We will comply with the law but we have very smart parents in Fremont and once they understand the criteria that were used to select the schools on the list, I suspect we will not have many who want to transfer from these schools.

FUDTA, FSMA & FUSD agreements:
The Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) and the Fremont Unified Teachers Association (FUDTA) reached a "Tentative Agreement" for the 2010-2011 school year, after months of negotiations. Out of FUDTA's 1,800 members, approximately 92 percent or 925 members voted overwhelmingly for the contract.

A bit of bright news is that that elementary prep or specialty teachers which were predominately eliminated last year, will be returning for 50 percent of their time. The union and district had to make some concessions in that teachers will have to take six furlough days, resulting in students losing three days of instruction. Additionally, most elementary class sizes are being geared for 28 to one.

The Fremont School Management Association (FSMA) also agreed to a similar 3.21 percent work-year reduction.

The FUDTA and FSMA reductions are expected to snip off another $9.2 million from the district's deficit.

Parents Matt Stewart, Gail Edwards-Bryan and Lisa Ogrey took turns at the podium, speaking out against the class size increase with Ogrey stating, "I feel that the negotiations didn't take the kids and their education into consideration. You're supposed to represent our wishes and were elected by us."

Trustee Ivy Wu responded, "We have to do the best with the situation we are in. It's important that we move ahead."

The School Board voted and with 6 ayes, passed the agreements.

Save Fremont Students (SFS) Donation:
A group of enthusiastic community parents and students, headed by Virginia Hom and Subra Nathan, presented a check for $500,000 to the Board. This amazing grassroots effort, over a period of only a few short weeks, raised over $501,367.66 with more donations still anticipated from events such as a planned fundraising gala on August 7 in Niles.

The group is also committed to help raise even more funds for the district by volunteering with the Parcel Tax committee, "Save Fremont Schools."

"What an honor and a privilege to have students and parents work so successfully. I am very, very proud of you and all your efforts," said Trustee Larry Sweeney.

Parcel Tax:
For the past six months the consulting firm of TBWB Strategies, hired by FUSD, to look into the possibility of passing a Parcel Tax to benefit the schools, has been working with Godbe Research to develop a survey and assess the feasibility of a successful funding measure to be placed on the November ballot. In order for a measure to pass it would need a two-thirds majority by the local voters.

The information presented to the Board suggested that the amount per parcel should be set at $53. All surveys suggested that most voters would find this amount to be the most acceptable.

With 53,871 parcels in Fremont, according to Assistant Superintendent Bill Stephens, there would be the potential of raising $12.8 million over five years. Those over the age of 65 would have the option to opt out.

However, former Fremont Mayor, Gus Morrison, who will be turning age 75, was there to hand over his check, feeling strongly about the need to maintain strong schools in Fremont. "Building a city, a community, the first think people always ask is, 'How are the schools?'" said Morrison. "This is your ability to have some discretionary funds that we can use locally. Compared to a concert, $53 is not that much money. It's about the cost of a month of coffees," he said.

Former City Council Member, Steve Cho, echoed Morrison's sentiments, "The welfare of a community rests solely on the educational system we provide."

However, Niles parent Lisa Ogrey decried the use of funds spent for consultants and again expressed her wish to use the remainder towards class size reduction.

Board President, Lara York, expressed her confidence in the voters of Fremont to pass the measure. "I see it as a return on our investment, with the passage of a Parcel Tax. We have to work hard over the next three months in that effort."

The Board voted and with 6 ayes, passed the recommendation to proceed and place a Parcel Tax on the November ballot.

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