The superintendent, school principals and members of the Pleasant Hill Education Commission were among those in attendance, and members of the public were given an opportunity to speak to the board members during the public comment section. Although not every question from the public had an immediate answer, the concerns from Pleasant Hill residents about our schools were many and varied, including concerns about the safety of our aging school buildings and the lack of money to fund GATE (Gifted and Talented) programs.
Leanne Hamaji, a member of the Education Commission, spoke to the panel on the increasing amount of transfer students, including NCLB, to both Pleasant Hill Middle School and Valley View Middle School from outside the attendance area (PHMS had 191 students in the 2011-2012 school year and has 285 in the 2012-2013 school year). According to Assistant Superintendent Rose Lock, PHMS currently has 105 NCLB transfer students, up from 93 in the 2011-2012 school year. Hamaji asked why Pleasant Hill Middle Schools are carrying the weight of the transfer students while Foothill Middle School in Walnut Creek currently has none. How do we help these students succeed and better assimilate into their new school? Under the law, school districts must allow students at program improvement schools to transfer to another school. Lock explained the criteria for placing NCLB students including: projected enrollment of the school, classroom and facility capacity, location, bus routes and enrollment history.
An additional discussion involved AB1575, a law passed in January involving free education for all students. The law prohibits imposing pupil fees as a condition for participation in an educational activity, including both curricular and extracurricular activities. Musical instruments, uniforms, the 5th grade Outdoor Education program, enrichment programs, and supplies and materials must be provided by the school free of charge. However, schools are permitted to seek “volunteer” donations to fund the programs. According to Deborah Cooksey, MDUSD associate general counsel for the district, parents can continue to donate funds for activities, but schools can't exclude students who don't contribute. The key word is “donation” when asking parents to fund a program for their child and refrain from using the term “fee” as a mandatory condition of going. “What AB1575 is trying to do is avoid stigmatizing and tracking those students who have and have not paid. Parents have already been incredibly generous, and we have no reason to believe they won’t continue to be that way,” said Cooksey. Parents can “donate,” for example, to the Outdoor Education program, be issued a receipt for the donation, and receive a refund if the program cannot be fully funded. Cooksey advised the community to think about planning ahead in funding for school programs. The district will place FAQs on their website to further explain the complexities of this bill. It’s important to note that if a program cannot be 100% funded by donations, the event will be cancelled and donated money will be returned to the families. The role of the MDUSD in assisting schools and providing support for collection of donations remains to be seen. Board President Cheryl Hansen said, “We are listening to the questions that arise here tonight and will follow up with a board meeting or a different format.”
Residents can view the meeting on the Pleasant Hill City website under “Video.”
To learn more about or volunteer for the Pleasant Hill Education Initiative, visit: www.pleasant-hill.net/phei. A video of the meeting can be seen on the City of Pleasant Hill website under “Council Webcasts.”