About Me

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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Charter School Flunks Twice in One Year

A San Bernardino County charter school failed for the second time this year to win approval to open a campus in North County. Carlsbad school district trustees voted unanimously last week to reject the Oxford Preparatory Academy’s charter proposal. In January the Oceanside school board took the same action on OPA’s bid for a school there.

Charter school supporters often claim school district opposition is driven more by union and administrative protectionism than what’s best for students. On December 6 the newly politicized version of the North County Times, for example, reported the charter school proposal had been turned down mostly because it contained overly-optimistic enrollment and budget projections and a lack of interest shown by local teachers.

But closer look at the facts shows how rejecting the school’s proposal was clearly in the best interests of Carlsbad students. It was not a matter of school district protectionism. In fact, a review of OPA’s curriculum and the students it already serves at its Chino and Capistrano campuses reveals how the school fails to live up to the legislative intent of California’s 1992 Charter School Act. Carlsbad and Oceanside school officials were right to give it a failing grade.

I’m no expert in school budgeting, but there’s little doubt OPA’s projection of an enrollment of 864 students on opening day next fall was wildly optimistic. Responses to a parent survey found just 53 of 685 surveyed saying “Yes” to their intent to enroll their child in the charter school.

But even more important than pie in the sky enrollment projections was the district’s finding that the school’s proposal meets only half of the 16 elements required of charter schools by California’s Education Code.

Here are some of the major deficiencies:
  1. School policies will “promote a disparate impact on the parents of minority students, low income students, students with disabilities, and English learners.”
  2. The students attracted to the school will not reflect the racial and ethnic balance of the Carlsbad School District. In the Capistrano school district, for example, 62 percent of students are white. But OPA’s Capistrano campus enrollment is 72 percent white. In Carlsbad it’s 58 percent.
  3. Enrollment data from existing campuses do not reflect the student population of the chartering districts. The Chino Unified School District’s enrollment includes 14 percent who are English Learners. It’s just 4 percent on the Chino OPA campus. It’s 9 percent in Carlsbad.
  4. The school does not plan to participate in the National School Lunch Program or to provide for daily breakfasts or lunches.
  5. The school’s plan is for a 170 day school year compared to Carlsbad’s a 177 day school year.
  6. The OPA Governing Board is in Chino, 80 miles away. It meets only quarterly and does not require a single board member to be a Carlsbad resident.
The legislative intent of California’s Charter School Act of 1992 calls for charter schools to “Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.”

I am a supporter of charter schools that meet this intent. An excellent example is Vista’s North County Trade Tech High, which enrolls students who’ve had problems succeeding in a traditional public school because of unusually high absenteeism. In June the school graduated its first class of 20 students. Thirteen will enroll in local colleges, five have been hired as apprentices in local building and trade companies, and two have joined the military. It’s a school that changes lives.

I’m also a supporter of private education, proud of the excellent instruction I received from Dominican Sisters in grade school and Benedictine monks at a small liberal arts college.

But Oxford Preparatory Academy appears to be a place for the white and well-to-do to give their children a college prep private school education at taxpayer expense.

Good for the Carlsbad and Oceanside school officials for recognizing that.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Confessions of a Newspaper Junkie

My name is Richard and I'm a recovering newspaper junkie. After trying the more fat, less filling version of U-T San Diego's North County Times Lite, I canceled our subscription last month.

They didn't make it easy for me, continuing to deliver the ad-bloated pages of self promotion posing as a newspaper at our front door for two more weeks in hopes I'd fall off the wagon.

I now get my regional news fix from sources free of U-T San Diego's political agenda: San Diego NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, Voice of San Diego and San Diego Reader; and neighborhood news from The Coast News, Carlsbadistan.com and Carlsbad Patch.

I've kept my withdrawal symptoms under control by succumbing to the sensual pleasure of what the New York Times calls "the tuck," "the delivery," and "the crinkle," with a subscription to the Sunday edition.

You'd think I'd finally be free of U-T San Diego. But you'd be wrong. Two Sunday mornings ago we found two packages wrapped in plastic at our front door: the Sunday Times and a "U-T SD Extra," a free copy of the Health section of U-T San Diego, wrapped around a packet of ads thicker than the old North County Times Sunday Edition.

Disgusted by the litter, I checked the Carlsbad City Municipal Code and discovered Section 040 of Chapter 8.32 PEDDLERS, SOLICITORS, VENDORS AND CANVASSERS: Entering private property for the purpose of sale without permission.

"No person shall go onto private property within the city for the purpose of selling, offering for sale or soliciting orders for the sale of any merchandise, product, service or thing whatsoever when the occupant of such property has given notice or warned such persons to keep away. A sign posted by the occupant of the property, with the words "no solicitors" or "no peddlers" or other similar words, at or near the front door or primary entrance to a residential structure on private property, shall constitute sufficient notice or warning pursuant to this section."

The promotional garbage left on our front porch contained a solicitation for subscribing to the daily edition. We don't have a "no solicitors" sign posted near our front door, but our condominium association has one at its entrance. So I sent an email to the U-T advertising director, Kimi Macias, citing the city code and informing her we don't want any more complimentary issues. I got no reply. The following Sunday another SD Extra lay on the sidewalk before our front door.

I'll try a "no peddlers" sign next Sunday, but I'm not hopeful it will work. There's a smell of desperation emerging from the U-T's corporate offices about their circulation numbers, after they dropped sharply last year. We've heard nothing but happy talk from the co-owners that the purchase of the North County Times and a new "multiplatform strategy" will turn that around.

At an Oceanside Rotary Club meeting last month, as reported in the club's November 16 Shorelines Newsletter, CEO John Lynch claimed the U-T is 10th in the country in circulation and that "their combined multimedia opportunities had the capacity to reach 96 percent of the households of the San Diego region each month."

He didn't bother with any evidence to prove his claims. In the interests of "keeping them honest," I checked the latest September 30 national rankings of newspapers by the Alliance for Audited Media. The Union Tribune does not make it into the top 25 of dailies in circulation, ranking 23rd in Sunday circulations. Over the last year the Sunday edition lost 17,000 readers.

As for the Union Tribune's "capacity to reach" 96 percent of households in the region, let's do the math. According to SANDAG there are 1.1 million occupied households in our region. The newspaper's average daily circulation is 300,000, on Sundays, 352,000. Lynch's undefined claim of "capacity to reach" could be made by just about every media outlet, assuming 96 percent of households have radios or TVs.

As long as we're making unsupported claims, here's my own conclusion from an out my car window conversation with a North County Times street corner hawker who told me, "Everybody hates the new NCT!" He'd sold only 5 newspapers in three hours at the intersection.

As consolation for our continuing receipt of free copies of Sunday U-T SD Extra's, our toy poodle Olivia is gonna love her new pooper scooper.