Back To The Future

As promised, technology continued…

First a little history…

After the passage of Measure Z, the district planned to build one “21stCentury classroom” in each school. The classroom would have a smart board, special lighting, hi-tech speakers, and a bunch of other cool stuff. In 2010, I asked for, and was granted, the opportunity to address these plans. An item was placed on the board agenda and, with support from many of the district’s teachers, we were able to convince the board to upgrade every classroom’s technology. Then president of the board, David Sanchez, told us that he believed technology wasn’t important except for in the high school tech classrooms. The administration was adamantly against changing course and believed upgrading every classroom would be too costly.

In the present…

The superintendent never misses an opportunity to brag about the level of technology now being employed in our classrooms. What he isn’t so quick to point out is, the classroom upgrades are being implemented in phases. The first phase, which is almost complete, was to install promethean boards (smart boards) in each classroom.  In future phases, the plan is to upgrade the computers the teachers are using to power the smart boards.

It is my understanding, many of the machines they are using do not meet the minimum specifications requirements of the smart board manufacturer and the performance of the smart boards is suffering. It has also been brought to my attention the computers in our high school’s technology classes are near obsolete. The district tells us they will eventually upgrade the smart board computers. However, finding the funds to bring the high school technology classes' machines up to date might require laying off a teacher.

Back to the future…

In last week’s board meeting, we were introduced to a new nationwide initiative,Common Core Standards , “a state-led effort to establish a shared set of clear educational standards for English language arts and mathematics that states can voluntarily adopt.” Unlike the “No Child Left Behind” initiative, which our educators told us  from the start was a failure, the Federal government was not involved in the development of this initiative. But, similar to NCLB, CCS is also unfunded.

CCS is an initiative developed by the National Association of Governors. Our Governor has told the state’s school districts these new standards will be in place by the 2014-2015 school year and there will be no financial support from the state. Beaumont Unified’s administration has jumped all in and is hoping to be part of the state’s pilot program.

A major component of the CCS is the use of technology to assess the success or failure of our kids to meet the standards. The assessment process is planned to take place over the Internet. The technology requirement will be expensive and will have to be fully funded by our local school district with no financial support from the State of California or the Federal Government. In order to be accepted into the pilot program, our district will need to begin determining the specifications of the required technology and plan the funding. For now, all technology purchases for the district are on hold.

Prepare yourself, I am about to ask some of those questions many don't want to hear and some describe as whining and negative.

If our district is unable to find the funding to deploy computers that meet the minimum requirement of our new smart boards, and they are unable to provide our technology students at the high school with current technology, where are they going to find the funds to purchase the technology necessary to join the pilot program? Can anyone say Measure Z? Will the upgrade of the smart board computers and the high school’s technology department be put on hold until after the 2014-2015 school year?

If the board does decide to use Measure Z funds to meet the technology requirements of CCS, how come they couldn’t have used the Measure Z funds to upgrade technology before? Remember, Measure Z explicitly lists the upgrade of our technology as an objective but only mentions the improvement of physical education facilities in a single sentence. Yet our school board, led by our administration, was able to put technology upgrades on hold and spend $15 million plus on a new sports facility.

Once Again, I Offer a Solution

Traffic on the first day of school wasn't all that bad, we all know it's the busiest day of the year around our schools. I think parents were relatively patient and the Beaumont police were very visible. It should get easier from here on out. Parents can really help out by giving themselves plenty of time to get to school and take it slow.

The parking didn't frustrate me but what I am hearing again from our school board and city council does. I read one article in the Patch today with comments by school board member Mr. Orozco blaming the city for misdirecting redevelopment money and comments from councilman Mr. Castaldo suggesting the district's decision to eliminate busing a couple years back as a contributor to the problem. There was a second article with the school Superintendent's view. Dr. Kayrell seems to think the solution is the widening of Beaumont Ave, which is the city's responsibility. All this just when I thought our elected officials were going to begin working together for our kids.

I decided to go to the City Council meeting tonight to express my feelings but I encountered more frustration. It has been several years since I attended a City Council meeting and I wasn't aware of a recent change they made to the agenda schedule. The time set aside for comments by the public has been moved to the end of the meeting. You are supposed to fill out a request to address the council members at the beginning of the meeting but you have to wait until the end to speak. I am sure having to sit through an entire meeting, not knowing how late it will run, discourages many from addressing the council. I sure hope the School Board doesn't figure this out.

The first day of school is an important day for our family and my kids look forward to dinner time where we talk about all the exciting things that happened in school; I wouldn't miss it for almost anything. I promised them that I would go and speak at the beginning of the meeting and be back in time for dinner and to be able to read to them before going to bed. When I realized this wasn't possible, I pulled my request but decided to stay for the first 30 minutes just to see if anything interesting might happen, I didn't have to wait too long.

At the beginning of the meeting, the council members give their individual reports. This would be an improvement over the way the school board meetings are scheduled, there the members' individual reports are presented at the end. Mr. Castaldo told us about his ride-along and how he believed the city should do all it can to make everything safe. Then Mr. Berg started by expressing similar thoughts but then he complained about Mr. Orozco's comments about the redevelopment funds.  One of the councilmen, I believe it was Mr. Berg, told us they had discussed the hiring of a traffic engineer and the formation of a committee. But then next we heard how Mr. Orozco should do his homework and maybe work on the "committee".

Mayor De Forge did make an interesting comment that got me thinking and, in my mind, may offer an obvious solution, more on that later. First let me tell you what I had planned on saying to the City Council.

I wanted to tell them we are tired of hearing excuses, explanations, and finger pointing. We want all our elected officials to work together to find a solution. We don't care about the history and bad feelings between the two organizations. We want them to get over it and put it behind them, and us. I was going to remind them our school district passed a bond measure, Measure Z, which led many of us to believe they would address the pick-up and drop-off areas. This was specifically itemized in the measure. Many of us had no idea the majority of the funds would be used for the stadium complex. I was also going to tell them that the traffic today wasn't as bad as it could have been and that most parents were behaving themselves. I was planning to tell them I agree parents and students would benefit from a little education about the safety around our schools. All we want is a solution. 

Mayor De Forge pointed out the district used to provide free bus services to all students and there were no traffic problems. Once they began charging for the service, many parents began taking and picking their kids up from school. He said once transportation was eliminated for the secondary schools the traffic problem became much worse. He said the district receives grant money for the "big yellow buses" and he questioned the logic of paying for them to drive around with "only a couple students" on board.

This got me thinking. All the schools have been designed with safe pick-up and drop-off for those big yellow buses. The Measure Z money is authorized to address the safe pick-up and drop-off for students. Why not use the money from Measure Z to offer free busing for all our students. The city, whose council members seem to accept some responsibility for the street traffic, could also share some of the costs. I am sure the grants the school district earns for transporting the lower income students would still be available. I've heard of other school districts sharing transportation services with neighboring school districts; maybe Beaumont could partner with, or offer services to Banning Unified or Yucaipa Calimesa Unified.

I know, this is crazy outside the box thinking but I don't hear anyone else providing any real plan. I am sure if busing was free and available to the majority of our area, our traffic problems would be manageable. Where I grew up, we had free bus service and almost everyone took advantage of it. There were still those students who lived close to the schools walking but there were no lines of parents dropping off and picking up students. Just think how much gas our community would save, that means more money in our pockets. How much better would it be for our environment? How many of us would go to work in a better frame of mind when we don't have to run the gauntlet. Community members would no longer have to schedule their driving time around the schools. It may seem like a lot of money but it would be a great investment in our kids and our community.

What do you think? 

We Can Learn From Everyone's Comments

I would like to respond to some comments on The Patch to my earlier posts.

I agree many of the comments fail to address the issue of street safety around our schools. There are a number of comments with personal attacks and “hurtful” remarks but I would argue against “closing” the discussion. I think it is good the Patch has provided a platform for people to express their opinions. I choose to be civil and avoid personal attacks when I am presenting my positions because if I don’t, I know I lose credibility and my goal to increase parent involvement and improve the educational environment for our kids will be harder to achieve.

I believe it is important to air our differences and disappointment about our local elected officials. I agree with Mr. Ferrell that if we have officials who are not performing the job we elected them to do we can defeat them at the next election. The comments I’ve read have educated me about some of the concerns and opinions about local issues of which I had no knowledge. This will help me to make a more informed decision when the next election comes around. It is important for me to hear differing opinions and I am able to discount an author’s opinion based on how they present their position. I think we can learn something from everyone’s comments, even the mean and nasty ones. I think we also learn a lot about our elected officials by how they respond to their critics.

I’ve learned the school district isn’t the only institution in our community we need to follow closely. I have followed the school district for more than four years and I think I can blog from an informed position. I will continue to follow and write about what’s happening in our schools but I am not as informed about the city council. I plan to become more involved and informed with city politics. I am hoping readers will continue to comment on my posts but I hope others will establish blogs focused on city government politics. I think it is obvious there are many in our community who need the platform the Patch offers to voice their opinions. 

Now For The Rest Of The Story

In the June 7th board meeting, as expected, the board voted 3-2 to change the board policy and to reduce the time allowed for members of the public to address the board from five minutes to three minutes. The two members voting against the new policy, Mrs. Poulter and Mr. Orozco, restated their position that the change wasn’t necessary and the public’s access to the board shouldn’t be limited.  Mr. Orozco argued that Beaumont was unique, a “small tight community” and that one day the size of the district may justify the shorter time limit but right now it isn’t necessary.

Only Board President Mrs. Lara spoke in favor of limiting access. She said she had researched the subject and found that 21 of 26 school boards and local governing entities in Riverside County had adopted the three minute rule. She went on to claim the Riverside County Board of Education also uses the three minute rule and that she likes to consider the county board of education to be the “best example” for BUSD to follow. She finished by saying she believed three minutes was enough time.

Now for the rest of the story.....

I took a look at the school boards neighboring Beaumont and here is what I found: 

  • Banning has a three minute limit
  • Yucaipa has a three minute limit for items on not on the agenda and five minutes for items on the agenda
  • Redlands has a five minute limit.   

And here is the most interesting finding:

I went to the Riverside County Board of Education’s website and found Mrs. Lara was wrong and she is not following the “best example”. The County Board of Education’s board policy allows a five minute time limit, not three, as Mrs. Lara stated in support of limiting our access. Here’s the link if you want to check it out for yourself.

I ask you these questions:

Why do Mrs. Lara, Mr. Hackney, and Mrs. De Longchamp want to limit our access?

Why don’t any of them give us a good sound reason for limiting one of the most important rights members of a democratic society have, public speech?

If Mrs. Lara believes that RCBOE is the example we should be following, shouldn’t she change her position and reinstate the five minute rule?

If three minutes is enough time, will Mrs. Lara agree to limit her speaking time to three minutes per item?

Aren’t you tired of hearing our elected public officials taking away our access and telling us it’s for the best?