Question for MDUSD board candidates

I had a question for the candidates for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District Board, so I emailed it to them.  This is it.  I’ll update the post if and when they reply:

Mr. Lawrence, Ms. Mason, Ms. Oaks and Ms. Whitmarsh,

I have a question for you all that as far as I can tell hasn’t been addressed in any of the statements or forums.  I was hoping you could each give me your thoughts.

It’s my opinion that the primary goal of the public school system is to provide an equal starting point for all kids regardless of their parents’ socioeconomic status.  A decade or so ago when I was going to Ygnacio Valley the pursuit of that goal was starting to break down.  We could see that wealthier schools like Northgate had everything from better football equipment to nicer buildings while we and Mt. Diablo were sharing beat-up textbooks that were nearly as old as the students.

Beyond the obvious disadvantages, it was discouraging to have such a stark reminder that even within the same district we were starting behind because of what our parents could and couldn’t afford.  Now, with budget cuts, that situation is only getting worse.  Schools with poorer parents are sliding while richer parents at wealthier schools are making up some of the difference with donations.  While I certainly don’t blame those parents for trying to give their kids a better eduction the result is that a disproportionate share of the cuts’ effects fall on students who already have disadvantages.

That all said, my question is this: Do you agree with me that this is a major problem and what, if anything, would you do about this situation within the powers of a school board member?  How would you close the growing economic disparity between the district’s schools?

Thank you,

Daniel Willis

Updated 10/20/2012: We have our first reply!  This just arrived from Debra Mason:


Having been born and raised in Bay Point I know exactly how you feel. Academically we need to make sure that all schools have the same quality education regardless of their income and I don’t think this is always the case. I would visit schools all around the district to make sure all kids are being offered the same opportunities.. As far as sports and enrichment as a board member I would look for partnerships with local business and other agencies as well. I oversaw afterschool programs for many years and was able to secure many local grants and partnerships to provide support to my programs, there are local grants and agencies that are willing to step up and help but in the past MDUSD has not always been that easy to partner with this is something I would address. One example is the Food Banks Farm2Kid program that was piloted at the 5 Bay Point schools that I supervised, I partnered with them to have 800 pounds of free produce delivered to each site once a week for families to take home an enjoy, it was such a success that it is now at over 70 sites all over Contra Costa and Solano counties. I hope that answers your question and thanks for showing an interest.

Debra Mason

Updated 10/22/2012: Replies came in this morning from Brian Lawrence and Barbara Oaks.  Phone numbers redacted:

Hi Daniel,

Thank you for the question.

I agree completely that there is wide disparity in our schools and it is a major problem. I was the guest speaker at a government class at Mt. Diablo HS last week- the physical facilities are night and day compared with other schools in the District such as Northgate.

I attended a Board meeting where a young woman from MDHS, Savanah, came and spoke about how there was only one accessible bathroom at her school- the principal had closed all the other ones. She stated that students where missing class time and receiving detention because they could not run from one side of the campus to the other in between periods.

The Board took no action on this issue- it was shocking to me. Only weeks later when the media began to cover it did the Board finally act. That’s not acceptable.

Measure C funds are supposed to be used for facilities- as a Board member I will make sure that they are being used to bring all schools up to a minimum standard. Furthermore, the District currently spends too much money on outside consultants and administrators when instead those funds would be better spent at the school sites.

At the Pleasant Hill forum (which should be available online shortly), I mentioned that parents at Northgate and College Park had suggested the idea that more affluent schools could partner with less affluent schools like Mt. Diablo to help with fundraising. They could work together to raise money for the individual schools. I’d like to explore that idea.

Best regards,


Dear Mr. Willis,

A similar question was asked at the forum hosted by the Pleasant Hill Education Commission on Thursday night.  My response was and is that we need to make sure that every school has the basic instructional materials, including books in good condition, instructional resources and access to computers and the Internet, so every student has the same opportunities with reference to basic instructional materials.  Every site administrator needs to be aware of the needs of the school and be vocal and insistent upon repairs to the physical plant, safe and working equipment for lab and vocational courses, as well as safe equipment for P.E. and athletics.

We should be encouraging partnerships with the cities which MDUSD serves to develop a working relationship with city councils so that they are informed of the needs of the schools. Through that relationship, foundations can be formed, much like the Foundation for Pleasant Hill Education, where fundraisers are held and donations raised so that every school and teacher can request grants for individual needs.  Teachers need to be encouraged to access sites such as Donors Choose for donations.  Grants should be researched and applied for in cases where the need fits the school site.

As a former high school site principal, I am well aware of the needs of individual school sites and the disparity between schools.  I hope that we can work together as a district to ensure that all students have equitable access to all supplies and materials which affect and improve educational opportunities.

Barbara Oaks

Updated 10/23/2012: Ms. Whitmarsh has replied. That’s all four.

Dear Mr. Willis,

Thank you for your email. My youngest daughter is currently attending Ygnacio Valley High School and my eldest daughter is a 2012 graduate.

There is a difference between equal and equitable. Most of our lower socioeconomic schools receive additional funds for Title 1 (low socioeconomic and K-8 only in MDUSD), Title 3 (English learner), and Economic Impact Aid (EIA). These funds are specifically used to help with the challenges in education for our qualifying schools. Also our lowest performing schools which are also are lowest socioeconomic schools receive school improvement grant funds that allow them to have a lower class to teacher ratio and a longer instructional day. Quality Education Investment Act allows one elementary, one middle school, and one high school to have lower class to teacher ratios.

With that stated, the MDUSD board would need to ensure that all schools receive the basics that are required by law, such as class size, textbooks (each school school should have adequate and in good condition), quallity teachers, safe environment and buildings. The funds listed above will assist those schools who quality for them. Parents will continue to want to give to their own school.

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