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Schools: Leaked Memo, Mel's Fish Smack of Tabloids; Teachers' Contract Fails Test

Nov. 12, 1999

Dear Editor,

I have been a bit concerned with two recent postings in The Lookout. Until today, I have been telling every one right and left that this is the only daily news we have and encouraging them to log on, basically because I trusted your journalistic ethics. You posted both sides very well during the heated Solar Web debate and maintained proper journalistic objectivity. Unusual on line and I
was very pleased.

Then last week you posted what was very clearly information excerpted from a confidential memo written by the Superintendent of our schools as a communication to the board members. We all know how you got it, but just because you had it you did not have to post it.

For the first time I mistrusted your judgment. Not a happy place to be.

Then today there was the story about "Mel's Fish". I don't know who wrote this, but you did not do what a good editor does and check facts.

First, neither Lincoln or John Adams is in the Pico Neighborhood! Lincoln is north of Wilshire, as you know, but the way the story was written it looks like it was in the Pico area. JAMS is in Sunset Park, which I think you also know, although it serves many of the children from the Pico Neighborhood.

Second, this is the era of "site based management" for schools. Each site knows their budget and builds their priority list and brings it to the board. While I fully understand the need to air condition the music rooms at Lincoln and JAMS and the needs of Eddie and his computer room, they were not able to convince their site management team, made up of parents, teachers, administrators and other site employees, that this should be a high priority when balanced against other competing site priorities. These requests were not on the lists submitted to the board by the site based Governance teams.

They were not presented for consideration. Were not discussed. (they were ultimately brought up by individuals directly to the Prop X oversight committee and to the board hoping to have them added to the priority list).

Third, were the areas that were presented for consideration. These were discussed in depth at two public meetings. I know, I was there. Were you or the writer of the article?

First of these is what you called "Mel's Fish". That is a headline more reflective of the "Enquirer" or "New Times" than a responsible journalist. Did you talk to anyone on the Prop X committee? They and their construction consultants made several visits to the site with engineers and decided this was the most cost effective way to deal with the issue at the Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School. Marine Science is the focus of this school and many factors, including the placement of the classroom in the building, made it impossible or very expensive to use natural cooling from the ocean breezes.... It just didn't work. Much thought went into this decision and it was a top priority of the site governance team.

Second is the second floor classrooms at Franklin. This has been a hope of the Franklin community for the 20+ years I have been involved in what happens in our schools. It was a request under ES but the other needs took priority such as bring the school up to code for the Americans With Disabilities Act. So they waited. This was a priority of their site governance team. Again other methods of mitigation were tried and were not successful.

The third is the new classroom building to be built at Samo. This is an addition to be built onto the Library and Language building which is closest of all the buildings to Pico Blvd. The main building was built many years ago as a sealed building -- the windows don't open, many rooms don't have windows, but typical of the time. Under ES the building was air conditioned. The current system has the capacity to also cool and heat the addition. This will be a very low cost project as only the duct system will be involved. All of the air
conditioning equipment is already in place. Even when the basic building was built it was obvious that open windows that close to Pico would be disruptive to classroom learning, just too much street noise.

There are many problems facing schools in urban built areas of California today. We are still 41st of 50 as to the per pupil funding and even lower as to the percent of personal income across the state is spent on our children and their education. Santa Monica is a wonderful city. It supports our schools both public and private. These were well-researched and fully debated decisions made by our board with well-documented background that you could have checked at any time.

I studied History and Principals of Journalism with Dean Frank Luther Mott at the University of Missouri back in the late 50's and had the privilege to get to know the man, work in his office and attend an affair for Chet Huntley and David Brinkley as his guest. These are still issues I care deeply about and I think you have crossed the line as an editor here. I like you and I strongly support what you are doing with giving Santa Monica a daily news update. I am just
asking you to do what any good editor does and check your sources, check your facts.

I don't work for the district, I don't work for the city, I am retired and only work for what I think is in the best interest of the children and young people in our city.

Joanne Leavitt
Santa Monica

Nov. 10, 1999

Dear Editor

At its meeting on October 21, 1999, the SMMUSD Board of Education
voted to ratify a contract Agreement between the School District and the Santa Monica Malibu Classified Teachers Association (SMMCTA). I abstained from that vote and these are my reasons.

In February, the Classroom Teachers' Association entered contract negotiations demanding an unconditional 6 percent salary increase for its membership. This demand was over three times the 1.8 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) predicted to come from the State to fund the 1999-2000 school year. I believe this Contract Agreement fails to represent the interests of students, classroom teachers and the public.

First, this agreement jeopardizes student interests. The Board must increase enrollment and cut educational programs to pay for the unfunded cost of the agreement. While class sizes are capped at 20 in the early primary grades, students in other grades may have to accept larger classes.

Less time for individual attention from teachers may result in more students in danger of retention. Middle and high school music classes continue to have 80 to 90 students each, while improvements for Fine Arts, technology and physical education have ben eliminated. Furthermore, this Agreement increases District Child Care operating costs by over 9 percent. Raising parent fees to cover these increased costs could be disastrous for District preschool and after school programs.

Second, this Agreement fails to protect classroom teachers' interests. None of the nearly $2 million cost of this salary and benefit package will be spent to correct existing salary inequities for beginning and mid-career teachers. In fact, this type of across-the-board salary increase perpetuates inequity.

Our teachers deserve a fair wage. Our best teachers will always give more to our children than we can ever repay in salaries. Unfortunately, budget cuts will compromise teacher training, thus making mplementation of new academic standards, curriculum and assessments much more difficult.

And finally, this Agreement fails to protect the public interest. The Board has a responsibility to manage public dollars in a way that insures measurable success for students. Without clearly defined priorities, the Board is vulnerable to deficit spending. I believe the current budget crises could have been avoided if school district and union leaders had been willing to work collaboratively to protect the mutual interests of students and teachers.

That collaboration did not happen. Parents, students and the voting public must hold their Board of Education accountable for developing sound educational programs with adequate, long term funding. In my three years as an elected member of this Board of Education, I have seen little progress in this regard.

Dorothy Chapman, Member
Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District

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