Remember when people used to ask, "Heard any good gossip lately?" With the rise of social media and its instant access for just about everyone to share just about anything, perhaps the more appropriate question today should be, "Is that a rumor or a fact?" The purpose of this page is to answer the latter question in regards to the rumors we hear and read in our own RVSD community and sometimes beyond. Sadly, it seems to be much easier to post or spread a rumor than a fact. Rumors can be scintilating and even entertaining sound bites, whose hyperbole can stir us emotionally. Facts on the other hand, can be complex, detailed and a bit dry. We'll do our best to respond to the rumors we hear and read in a succinct and straightforward manner, with the goal that we not only provide accurate information, but also keep you awake!
Rumor: RVSD is building a new District Ofice.
Fact: This is not accurate. The building at Red Hill was constructed in the 1960s, so it already exists and is hardly new. Allocating this facility for a District purpose enables RVSD to most efficiently use, maintain and protect the structure for possible future District expansion. At one point in time the RVSD District Office operation was housed at Hidden Valley. District use of those facilities enabled RVSD to maintain and protect them for what are now classrooms serving students at Hidden Valley Elementary School. Please see the next item below for further information.
Rumor: In allocating State Facilities Bond Funds to Red Hill, the District is not putting resources towards students.
Fact: While it is true that Red Hill does not currently house RVSD students, the calculus regarding Red Hill's future is fairly straightforward.
1. Do we keep Red Hill or let it go? and
2. If we keep it, what do we do with it to ensure deferred maintenance is addressed, the site is up to current DSA standards and the building’s “Field Act” status is not compromised?
Last year the Board answered the first question with an affirmative “yes,” because they know there may come a time (as in 2009-10) when the District again has more students than it can house. Keeping Red Hill in play gives the District choices it will not otherwise have if Red Hill were to be let go and/or the facilities are un-usable. On the other hand, keeping Red Hill in play requires resources and where do those resources come from?
For more than thirty-five years there has been ongoing talk of the Board’s responsibility to protect its $10M assets at Red Hill, but to date no one has found the resources or political will to do it.
Now, for the first time since the school closed its doors, RVSD has access to State Facilities Bond Funds that must be used on facilities and do not come from our budget, the parcel tax or a locally-funded bond. Could these funds be used for other District facilities? Of course. But answering the first question in the affirmative without putting resources behind it, is no answer at all. If not even these funds (paid for by ALL of the taxpayers in California for the upkeep of our public school commons) shouldnt be used at Red Hill, then which funds should be?
In regard to the second question, the best use of a district facility and the best way to protect its Field Act status from compromise, is for the District to use it, care for it and protect it. But RVSD is a small district and the only district operation that isn’t a school, is the District Office itself. We don’t have a teacher training center, an instructional technology center, a District-run preschool or an in-house production studio like some larger districts do. If we had those types of operations, we could park any of them at Red Hill to make use of the building. By default, if we want a district operation to occupy Red Hill, it has to be the DIstrict Office. And, since the current DIstrict Office building is not and never will be Field Act compliant, it will never house a public school student program and is therefore the perfect place to lease as a source of ongoing revenue.
in today's marketplace, the cost of building school facilities from the ground up is running approximately $1,200/square foot. A new gym and locker rooms for WHMS is estimated to cost $12+ million. A new elementary multipurpose room would today cost far more than the $6+ million spent on the Brookside MPR just two years ago. The State Facilities Bond Funds RVSD is receiving are insufficient to address these types of projects yet they can help us preserve, protect and make use of a valuable District asset that will otherwise remain dormant and eventually become unsalvageable. Giving future Boards and District leaders the option to make choices in serving future students, is responsible, proactive, prudent and wise. We can always make our current school facilities even better, but Red Hill is a District facility too and if we intend to keep it, now is the time to act.
Rumor: It is not a priority to address the deferred maintenance issues of the District-owned facilities at Red Hill.
Fact: Over time, school districts (including RVSD) experience natural enrollment cycles of alternating growth and decline. Though our current enrollment is manageable with our existing operating facilities at Brookside, Hidden Valley, Manor, Wade Thomas and White Hill, it was not long ago when our schools were impacted by high enrollment that became increasingly difficult to house with then-existing facilities. When school districts begin to experience increasing enrollment patterns, it is not unusual to find them scrambling for space due to the fact that enrollment shifts typically occur more quickly than the time it takes to add or construct additional facilities. For example, from conception to opening day it can take as long as eight to ten years to plan, secure funding for and construct a new school. Yet enrollment patterns can shift in a matter of a few years, leaving a district challenged for additional space it may not have until years in the future. By then, the enrollment cycle may have shifted in the opposite direction. It is important therefore that school districts have facilities options available as needed, in order to provide flexibility during times of fluctuating enrollment.
The RVSD school formerly operated at Red Hill was closed and declared surplus in the 1980s. Since then, the building immediately facing Shaw Drive (referred to as 'Building B'), has generally remained in its original condition throughout the decades. Unaddressed, the building's deferred maintenance issues will eventually become more costly to restore than to replace entirely. However, it is important to note that this building currently retains its original 'Field Act' status, which means that with proactive action and approval from the Division of State Architects (DSA), the building may be returned to service for non-instructional purposes. Though a complete return to service for student instruction is currently not necessary, prudent future planning, fiscal management and resource allocation in the present will enable RVSD to keep options open should future enrollment someday exceed our existing facility capacity to adequately house it.
Last year the Board authorized staff to engage the services of Axia Architects, for the purpose of developing plans and preliminary cost estimates for the restoration/modernization of Red Hill's 'Building B.' The direction given was to develop plans and preliminary cost estimates that would retain as much of the building's original structure and components as possible, while at the same time addressing all necessary matters in accordance with DSA's current regulations and requirements. Additionally, while the proposed immediate use of 'Building B' is for District administrative offices, Board room and community space (i.e. non-instructional uses), the interior of the building must be such that it could someday be made usable for instructional purposes if needed. It is important to note that the requirements for instructional facilities are more complex (and therefore more costly) than for non-instructional facilities. As a result, while the proposed plans for restoration/modernization of 'Building B' at Red Hill will ultimately deliver a functional facility, additional work and cost would be necessary to prepare the building for instructional purposes. Even so, by restoring/modernizing the building for non-instructional use, it will be significantly closer to being potentially re-purposed as needed for instructional use, than if left in its present condition.
Based on recent and unexpected one-time fiscal allocations of designated facilities funds, we have an opportunity to restore/modernize Red Hill's 'Building B' to full service as a usable asset for the District and our local community, while proactively preparing the site for future student use should additional capacity be needed.
Rumor: The public doesn't have an opportunity to weigh-in on Board decisions, such as those regarding facilities.
Fact: This is not true. Decisions made by our publicly-elected Board of Trustees occur in public meetings, which may be attended by members of the public. In addition, a Board subcommittee known as the "District Facilities Advisory Committee" or "DFAC," also holds public meetings that may be attended by members of the public. At all public meetings, public comments may be made on any agenda item. Additionally, each agenda reserves an item for public comments for items not on the agenda. Outside of Board meetings, all Board Trustees, the Superintendent and all members of Cabinet have publicly available email addresses, where members of the community can (and do) share their thoughts, opinions and ideas. The email addresses for RVSD's elected Board of Trustees and Senior Cabinet are below:
- Anne Capron, Board President: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Annelise Bauer, Board Clerk: email@example.com
- Wesley Pratt, Trustee: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mark Reagan, Trustee: email@example.com
- Ryan O'Neil, Trustee: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rick Bagley, Superintendent: email@example.com
- Marci Trahan, Assistant Superintendent: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Midge Hoffman, Chief Business Official: email@example.com
- Teri Louer, Director of Student Services: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Julia Wolcott, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment: email@example.com
All meeting agendas are posted on-line via BoardDocs, typically with detailed descriptions/rationale (see "Background" section of each Board item), explaining the specifics of each item and any recommendations being made. All Board agenda items include the names and email links for the person(s) responsible for each item. All RVSD Board meetings are audio recorded and uploaded to the District website, usually within a few days of each meeting. Written minutes of each meeting are also posted to our website once they have been approved by the Board.
In addition to the Board's public meetings and email access, written communication may also be sent to the Board at:
Board of Trustees
Ross Valley School District
110 Shaw Drive
San Anselmo, California 94960
Rumor: RVSD is building a $5.5M "Castle on the Hill" for District administrators.
Fact: RVSD is utilizing approximately $4M in unexpected, one-time facility improvement funds from the State, to preserve and protect a valuable asset for ongoing District/community use, while simultaneously maximizing flexibility and options for future RVSD students. Of the total preliminary estimated cost for this project, approximately 54% is required deferred maintenance work, 23% is needed to address code compliance, 17% is related to preparation for future school use and 6% is for work related to District office/community use. Portable buildings with a significantly more finite useful life than the fixed structure at Red Hill, now house the RVSD District Offices and will be leased-out to generate an ongoing revenue stream for the District.
Rumor: During a PG&E "Public Safety Power Shutoff" (PSPS), schools will be closed.
Fact: It depends. If a PSPS occurs during school hours, the current plan for RVSD is to keep schools open for the duration of that day. On subsequent days, schools will be closed for as long as the power is off. If the power is restored during our normal operating hours, it is likely we will not re-open school until the following school day. We cannot know or anticipate which school (or schools) will be impacted, so it is important that everyone make sure the contact information we have on file is current and accurate. We also cannot know or predict which communications systems will be operational during a PSPS, so it is important we have as many contact options (i.e. email, voice and text) for you as possible. Finally, we could potentially find ourselves in a situation where our schools have power, but adjacent schools and communities do not. In that situation, school closures will be determined on a case-by-case and day-by-day basis, in consultation with others including the Marin County Office of Education. Thank you in advance, for your patience, understanding and flexibility! (POSTED 9-11-19 at 12:18 PM)
Rumor: RVSD has six schools.
Fact: False. RVSD has five outstanding public schools, governed by it's elected Board of Trustees:
- Brookside Elementary School
- Hidden Valley Elementary School
- Manor Elementary School
- Wade Thomas Elementary School
- White Hill Middle School
Rumor: On April 28, 2019 the Editorial Board of the Marin Independent Journal published, "Editorial: Legislature faces important challenge in charter school reform." In this editorial, the IJ writes, "Parents and supporters of the multi-grade program (MAP) pushed for creation of a charter when it became clear the school board was going to eliminate the longtime district program." Is it true that the Ross Valley Charter was formed as a result of the district deciding to eliminate it?
Fact: No, this statement is inaccurate. On May 9, 2019, RVSD Board of Trustees President, Anne Capron, sent the following email to Mr. Robert Sterling, the Editor of the Marin IJ:
On April 28 the editorial board published an opinion piece on charter law reform. In it you state as factual background that the Ross Valley Charter formed “When it became clear the school board was going to eliminate the longtime district program”.
This is verifiably incorrect.
The first mention I heard directly of the MAP program intending/hoping to becoming a charter was at a Board meeting in March of 2014, where it was publicly announced that MAP was actively looking at becoming a charter school. But well before that, all the way back on March 15, 2011, the following was posted in the MAP Yahoo chat group by Andrea Sumits, one of the founders of RVC (full post available on request):
“I have a dream - of a small, neighborhood charter school ... at Deer Park of not more than 120 students ...”
So clearly, the charter conversation began among the MAP community, albeit in the shadows, years before the initial charter proposal was submitted on September 12, 2014; years before Dr. Bagley arrived on August 1, 2014; and fully five years before any actions were taken by the RVSD Board to allow MAP to end. Only after the second charter petition was granted by the state on January 14, 2016, after all six teachers (and most participating MAP families) announced that they would be leaving the District to become an autonomous entity, was the decision made, on January 19, 2016, not to try to re-create a multi-aged program within RVSD upon their departure.
While I understand that editorials are, by nature, expressions of opinion, I think it is important not to base those editorial opinions on hearsay, spin, or assumption, and perhaps more important not to present to the public as “fact” these unresearched talking points put out (falsely) by people actively seeking to sway public sentiment.
When issues become contentious or emotionally charged, I believe it is especially important for the press, even in writing editorial pieces, to seek out factual supporting documents in order to correctly understand situations upon which opinions will be formed and commentary made, as opposed to relying on some “version” that may have been pushed out by one or another advocacy group seeking to shape community understanding after the fact.
If you or your editorial board would ever care to see dated, direct-source materials to help you more accurately assess the order of events here in the Ross Valley, please don’t hesitate to ask.
(President, RVSD Board of Trustees)
The IJ can do better than this, by reporting and/or editorializing facts that are easily verifiable. Between March 30, 2017 and April 28, 2019, there have been ninety items printed by the IJ, covering our local charter issue - by now the Editors of the IJ should know the difference between rumors and facts.
Rumor: Is it true the charter's in-district resident enrollment is growing steadily each month?
Fact: Below are the monthly enrollment numbers provided to us by the charter, for both in and out-of-district students, since their doors opened in August 2017. NOTE: "ID" = In-District and "OOD" = Out-of-District.
Rumor: In verifying addresses of students attending the charter, Ross Valley School District is "targeting" certain student populations.
Fact: Not only is this rumor wholly inaccurate, it is offensive.
Before going further, let's begin with some context. In the waning hours before California voters approved Proposition 39, little-known, lesser understood and completely un-related language was inserted into the legislation. As a result of this lack of transparancy, few Californians realized that by passing Proposition 39 they would also be passing an obscure set of new laws, requiring local school districts to allocate facilities and other school space to charter schools, based on the number of in-district resident students enrolled in the charter school.
The fact that school districts are required to allocate facilities and other school space even when another entity (i.e. the State Board of Education) authorizes a charter school, is an issue for another discussion. The bottom line is, whenever a charter school files a Proposition 39 request for facilities and so long as it has at least eighty (80) in-district resident students enrolled, the school district is required to allocate "reasonably equivalent space" to what those same students would be entitled if they enrolled in the local school district. An interesting nuance is that students may enroll in a charter school no matter where they live. in other words, a student's physical address is irrelevant for purposes of enrolling in and attending a charter school. Residence is important only for purposes of determining the charter's space allocation under Proposition 39.
You may be wondering, "If a charter school can enroll students from anywhere but is allocated space only for students who reside within the boundaries of the local school district, how is space provided to students who live outside of the district?"
The answer is that Proposition 39 does not directly provide for the allocation of district space to out-of-district students who attend a charter school. What Proposition 39 does do, however, is create a situation in which charter schools want to enroll as many in-district residents as possible in order to maximize the facilities and space allocation for all of their enrolled students. This means there is a dis-incentive for charters to spend a great deal of time and effort verifying the accuracy of their students' in-district addresses. By contrast, school districts have an incentive to verify a charter's in-district student actually reside within the district, because they must allocate space based on that particular number of students.
If this all sounds confusing and complicated, it can be. There are two essential points to remember:
- Proposition 39 creates inherently competing interests between charter schools and school districts, which frequently (read the stories in the news) causes conflict, and
- While a student's ongoing enrollment in a school district may be compromised if he/she turns out to not live within the district's boundaries, that same student's adddress is irrelevant for purposes of attending a charter school.
Please take a moment to read the second point again. What this means is that if you want to enroll your child in a charter school, there is no need for you to have an in-district resident address. And, once your child is enrolled, you can move anywhere you want and your child can remain enrolled. The only reason an in-district address matters in the context of a charter school, is because that chater school depends on in-district resident enrollment to gain access to more district facilities under Proposition 39.
Back to the original rumor.
Charter schools are required to provide their local school districts with a list of enrolled students who live within the district's boundaries. Ross Valley Charter (RVC) provides us with such a list on a monthly basis AND whenever they file their request for facilities under Proposition 39 (annually on November 1st). As stewards of our community's schools, we are responsible to be certain that the facilites we ultimately allocate to the charter, are accurately and appropriately allocated in compliance with the law. We therefore check all in-district resident addresses the charter provides to us, against publicly available address verification data. When the address verification data matches , we consider the student a valid in-district resident at that point in time. When the data does not match, we investigate further - up to and possibly including an on-site home visit. We do not know, nor are we concerned with, a student's ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, home language, citizenship status, race, etc. We are provided a simple list of names and addresses and we investigate only those in-district resident addresses that do not match publicly available data. Remember, even if the district determines that a student with an in-district resident address does not actually reside within the boundaries of the Ross Valley School District, there is absolutely no impact to that student's enrollment status in the charter school.
The rumor above falsely accuses the District of "targeting" certain student groups, a tactic which may be interpreted as designed with intent to stir controversy, outrage and perhaps most egregiously, to frighten the very students the spreaders of these rumors claim they seek to protect. The implication that some negative consequence will be brought upon a charter student who is found to live outside the district, is not only inaccurate and hurtful, it's just plain wrong on so many levels.
Now that you know the facts, you can help put these offensive rumors to rest.
Rumor: The ongoing community debate regarding the Ross Valley School District and its Prop 39 tenant, Ross Valley Charter, is discouraging families from moving to the area.
Fact: According to a January 31, 2019 article in the Marin Independent Journal by reporter Keri Brenner, 2018 home sales in Fairfax and San Anselmo are up 4% and 31% respectively, over home sales in 2017. The same article also reports that 2018 median home prices in Fairfax and San Anselmo were up by 7% and 11% respectively, over 2017. It should also be noted that these increases in home sales and median home prices occurred during a year in which tax laws changed significantly, interest rates rose, the stock market suffered losses and forecasts of an "economic slowdown" (i.e. recession) are looming.
UPDATE (9-11-19): This past summer, Ross Valley Charter moved from White Hill Middle School to occupy facilities St. Rita's Church in Fairfax, former site of the now-closed Cascade Canyon School. The White Hill campus and all four of our elementary schools (Brookside, Hidden Valley, Manor and Wade Thomas) are once again occupied by RVSD programs only.
Rumor: The instructional program, pedagogy and methodology in public school districts is traditional, rigid and ineffective at addressing the unique needs and interests of the whole child.
Fact: As both a parent and educator, my first response upon hearing this rumor would be to ask, "What makes you think that?" In other words, what specific evidence supports this assertion? In the world of education we love buzz words and tend to use them a lot. We are very fond of words and phrases such as "innovative," "creative," "student-centered," "choice," "project-based," "whole child" and "21st century teaching and learning." But what do all these buzz words and phrases really mean in describing programs, schools, districts or education in general? In his landmark 2008 book, "Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement," Professor John Hattie reported that when it comes to analyzing the many possible influences on student achievement, "everything seems to work." Fancy buzz words aside, the question is to what degree does a particular instructional program, pedagogy and methodology maximize the magnitude of student achievement and progress? Are we seeing at least one year of growth for each year our students spend in school and if so, what is the evidence beyond anecdotal claims? To get a better sense of whether the rumor above is fact or fiction, particularly in regard to RVSD's schools, my best advice is to come see for yourself. Take a tour of one or more of our schools. Talk to our principals, teachers, students and parents. Ask what we teach and how we teach it. Find out more about our District's offerings in the core subjects as well as in art, music, poetry, STEAM, world languages, drama, physical activities and more. Chat with leaders in our YES Foundation. And, if you want to learn a bit more about my vision relative to visible learning, check out my blog post titled, "Focus on the Process Rather Than the Result."
Rumor: The Ross Valley School District’s financial position has diminished since 2014.
Fact: While it is true that RVSD has experienced a decline in enrollment since the 2013-14 school year and increased expenditures in many areas, including State-mandated contributions toward employee retirement plans and special education, utilities and more, the District’s ending fund balance has increased from $4,162,938 in 2013-14 to $5,136,457 in 2017-18. It is important to note that school districts throughout California are bracing for a recessionary cycle that UCLA's Anderson School predicts has a 1 in 6 chance of occurring this year (2019) and a 1 in 3 chance of occuring in 2020. After the last recession in 2008, the State of California routinely "deficited" K-12 education by, for example, funding education at less than 80 cents on the dollar. Districts and charter schools with insufficient reserves were hurt by the sudden shortfall in the State's commitment, in many cases forced to utilize short-term forms of borrowing to make payroll and meet other expenses. It is therefore important, particularly given the cyclical nature of the economy and inevitable downturn that eventually will come, that we continue to maintain a strong ending fund balance and healthy reserves. Our Board of Trustees and all of us in RVSD, are committed to this effort and encourage anyone with questions about the budget to reach out to us. Education finance is complex and nuanced. It is truly one area where a sound bite (such as the rumor above) can easily be spread and in some cases be believed. It is therefore critically important that such mis-statements be checked and vetted carefully.
UPDATE (9-11-19): According to our 2018-19 unaudited actuals, which were approved by the RVSD Board of Trustees on September 10, 2019, the ending fund balance for 2018-19 was $4,344,219. Like the vast majority of school districts in California, RVSD is experiencing a period of deficit spending due to the fact that approximately 69 cents of every new dollar in State revenues is now mandated to be allocated toward PERS and STRS. RVSD is also experiencing a period of declining enrollment, which is part of the cyclical nature of our typical enrollment pattern. In spite of the above factors, all of which negatively impact a school district's budget, our 2018-19 ending fund balance is still above what it was in 2013-14.
Rumor: White Hill Middle School is projected to lose 40+ students next year (2019-20).
Fact: No. Based on current information and projections, White Hill’s enrollment for 2019-20 is expected to remain flat and may even grow slightly, to approximately 750 students.
UPDATE (9-11-19): As of DAY !0 (September 4, 2019), White Hill's enrollment was 767 students.
Rumor: The Statewide cost of providing students with special education supports and services, is increasing.
Fact: This is true. The chart above illustrates the annual Statewide increase or decrease in student enrollment compared to the annual Statewide increase or decrease in student enrollment in special education. For 2017-18, public school enrollent actually declined a bit on a Statewide basis, while enrollment in special education programs increased. As the "gap" between new K-12 enrollment and new special education enrollment widens, so too does the cost of providing these services. This is particularly significant whenever overall K-12 enrollment declines, because declining enrollment means less revenue (except in Districts funded under the "Basic Aid" model). Neither the State nor the Federal Government have ever fully funded the mandate to provide these specialized services, which means a significant portion of the costs associated with special education are paid from each school district's general fund. This is referred to as the "local general fund contribution." At present, it is estimated the Federal and State combined contribution toward the cost of special education is about 38%. The local general fund contribution makes-up the rest. For more information on the funding of special education, EdSource published an article on March 8, 2018, titled, "Special Education Funding is a Morass; Straightening it Out May Not Be Cheap or Easy."