SCL: Crumbums aren’t the problem

Stockton City Limits has a good take on the public fixation on removing street people from downtown Stockton: “Instead of trying to take people away, our resources should go towards bringing in more people overall.”

He goes on:

“Stockton’s situation is no different than any other large or mid-sized city’s when it comes to homelessness or under-housed individuals in downtown areas. Go to any city that matters and you’ll find public squares and plazas are not devoid of transients. The difference is that while Stockton does have very nice public spaces—Weber Point, Dean DeCarli Square, the waterfront promenade—we don’t use them enough.”

Read the whole piece here.

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Our chip comes in

Writing from Italy, Elizabeth Wong sends a photo of a waterfront attraction.

“We need one of these Calamari Fish & Chips boats downtown!” Wong said.

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Mark Lewis to retire

Mark Lewis, Stockton’s controversial and charismatic city manager 2001-06, and the city official who who oversaw the arena and ballpark construction, has announced his retirement as City Manager of Chowchilla.


Mark Lewis at the Banner Island Ballpark site in 2005

According to this Reno website, “When his contact ends he will have worked in that position 5 years, and plans to return to Reno to be involved in community activities.”

Lewis appears to be retrning to Reno to satisfy the wish of his wife, Terri Hendry, who has taken a job with TV news station News 4, the KRNV NBC affiliate in Reno. Hendry was the city of Reno’s Public Information Officer when Lewis and she met.

Lewis has become a symbol of Stockton’s fiscal extravagance because of the capital cost overruns and unsustainable public employee compensation that he approved. But most Stocktonians, including me, cheered the arena project and dozed through the raises. Lewis reflected his community in that respect.

There are signs he’s leaving Chowchilla in less than peak fiscal shape, too.

But Lewis’ legacy to Stockton includes good facilites that one day should integrate into a thriving, unique waterfront. Here’s wishing Lewis a happy retirement.

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Can Asparagus live at the fairgrounds?

Good news today for Asparagus Festival fans; a local farmer/businessman is reviving the festival. However, Tony Nosceti says it’ll be at the fairgrounds, where he’s successfully promoted auto racing.

That tempers the good news for many Stocktonians and others wary of the fairgrounds’ location. ”South Stockton isn’t exactly on the Top 10 list of family friendly locations,” Dennis Wyatt wrote in the Manteca Bulletin last year.

Wyatt was talking about the county fair. Surely the same applies to the festival.

“People admit that they make sure their doors are locked driving Charter Way from Highway 99 or Airport Way up from Manteca,” Wyatt went on. “The extensive graffiti unnerves them. The general rundown condition of the surrounding neighborhood makes them weary. It is a place that many say they would never travel at night.”

That’s not just a Manteca sentiment. When the board pulled the plug on the Asparagus Festival, numerous Stocktonians said they preferred Oak Grove Regional Park to downtown Stockton. To many of these folks, a move to the fairgrounds is a step in the wrong direction. Some out-of-town visitors will balk, too, once they get a load of the surroundings.

But let’s not dwell on that for now. Noceti did not say whether the revived festival will be for-profit or nonprofit. That’s raises the first of many questions to ask Wednesday morning at his press conference.

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Former CalPERS chief admits taking bribes

Maybe you saw this while I was away on vacation: The former head of CalPERS admitted taking $200,000 in cash bribes — in paper bags and a shoe box.

Federico R. Buenrostro, who long trumpeted his innocence, pleaded guilty earlier this month to a charge of conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud.

Buenrostro admitted that in 2007 he receive two $50,000 payments in paper bags and another $100,000 in a shoe box from Alfred Villalobo, a former CalPERS board member turned “placement agent.”

Villalobo, who wanted to influence CalPERS’ investment decisions, admits helpfully advising Buenrostro on hiding the bribes from banking officials, by never depositing more than $10,000 at a time.

CalPERS — which has made Stockton’s life miserable with its fiscal irresponsibility and bullying – issued a statement: “We condemn the misconduct and ethical breaches admitted today by Mr. Buenrostro. The violation of the sacred trust of our members, employers and the public can’t be tolerated, and that trust must never be compromised.”

That’s a laugh. The public has no sacred trust in CalPERS. It trusts only that the pension giant will attempt to remain above federal bankruptcy law in order to burden cities eternally with unsustainable pensions.

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Andal: Fitzgerald got it right

The column about Stockton Unified teachers working fewer hours than Lincoln Unfied teachers do — while getting more money, yet achieving poorer student test results – was published just before I flew off on vacation. I was not able to answer the objections that followed from teachers and teachers union reps who said my analysis was in error.

Now former State Assemblyman Dean Andal, doing his own math, says I got it right. Below, Andal takes on the critics one by one. It’s worth mentioning that Andal, who is also a former Lincoln Unified school board member, and I are on distinctly different points on the political spectrum. But facts are facts.

Numbers don’t add up, Greg Williamson:

“Dean Andal was quoted stating that Lincoln teachers work for less money.”

Not surprisingly, this is not my quote.  Here is what I said:  “Lincoln teachers work more, are paid less, and get better results.”  That is an accurate statement.

“Per the 2013 San Joaquin Taxpayers report, Lincoln teachers teach 7 more minutes a day…”

According to the San Joaquin Taxpayers Assoc. report (and both district’s collective bargaining agreements), the 1-6 teachers in SUSD teach 7 minutes a day less than Lincoln.  This statement conveniently ignores the 7th and 8th grade teacher comparison in the same report – which shows that SUSD middle school teachers teach one less period a day than Lincoln teachers.  In Lincoln, all teachers (grades 1-12) teach the same instructional time.  Why do SUSD 7th & 8th grade teachers teach so much less than SUSD 1st-6th grade teachers and Lincoln 7th and 8th grade teachers?

“…but Lincoln’s salary is also $3,287 higher.”

In Michael Fitzgerald’s column he posits that Lincoln teachers are paid less than SUSD teachers.  This is and has always been true.  “Pay” includes salary and health benefits.  These are both negotiated at the same time and together account for the largest single expenditure of every school district.  SUSD teachers have chosen (against their own self-interest) to place more of their pay on health benefits and less on their salaries than all other local school districts.  Nonetheless, both salary and benefits are included in the total cost to the taxpayers for teacher instructional time.  According to the San Joaquin Taxpayers Association report and the California Department of Education Ed-Data website, SUSD teachers were paid $73,378 in total compensation in the 2013-14 school year and Lincoln teachers were paid $65,561.  Lincoln’s teachers are paid less, not more than SUSD teachers.

“This was a 2013 salary quote, which does not take into consideration the now-larger gap due to the 5.75 percent raise that the Lincoln Unified teachers recently received.”

The salary comparison used in Fitzgerald’s column was for the recently completed school year – the last available “apples to apples” comparison.  Comparing the SUSD pay for the 2013-14 school year to the recently negotiated Lincoln pay raise which begins in the 2014-15 school year – would be obviously flawed.  That comparison can be made as soon as SUSD and the STA conclude their contract talks.

“This statement also did not take into consideration issues such as:  low socioeconomic, violence, behavior, lack of parent involvement or the language barrier as compared to other districts such as Lincoln Unified.”

Fitzgerald’s column compared the average API scores for low socio-economic children on the free lunch program in each district.  This averaged the academic performance scores for only these children in each district.  These children are exactly those who face issues of poverty, violence, behavior, lack of parent involvement, and English language barriers.  Many of these children included in the Lincoln Unified API are actually residing in Stockton Unified and attend Lincoln schools on an inter-district transfer.  The column explicitly took these issues into consideration.  They are children from very similar backgrounds.

“I also found that SUSD’s proposal to the teachers was for a 1 percent raise one year with a 0.86 percent raise the following year.  That is substantially less than the 5.18 percent quoted. “

Since the SUSD/STA contract negotiation is underway, I have no idea what the current offer from the district is.  But since it is confidential, I don’t know how anyone else could “find” that information.  I hope the District and the STA can come to amicable agreement on a fair pay raise soon.

“I found this information with ease and am surprised that Fitzgerald was not able to do the same.”

The information in Fitzgerald’s column is clearly correct and easy to determine.

API not everything – Monique Noel.

“Seven SUSD elementary schools receive a School Improvement Grant (SIG).  This grant pays teachers to work more hours, providing extra instructional time to students during the week as well as Saturdays.  So according to Fitzgerald’s logic, these schools should be performing on par with Lincoln Unified schools, right?  Wrong.  The average API score at a SIG school is 650.  The average API score at a Lincoln Unified school is 761.”

Even though the 7 SIG grant schools were not mentioned in Fitzgerald’s column – the comparison made in this letter is clearly flawed.  The proper test for success (and I hope they do well), is whether the student test scores at those seven schools increase.  No information is provided in the letter to make a determination.  Comparing the 7 challenged SIG grant schools with all Lincoln Unified schools (including Brookside Elementary) would clearly be unfair to the teachers and students at the SIG grant schools.

“It would be great if teachers could improve student test scores simply by providing additional instructional time.  Unfortunately, the data suggest that isn’t true.”

Fitzgerald’s column does not suggest that improving student test scores is solely a function of providing additional instructional time.  But teacher instructional time is the most valuable (and expensive) asset that the district has to improve student academic performance.  As noted above, the letter writer provides no relevant “data” to suggest that instructional time is not meaningful to student progress.  What is truly discouraging is that the letter writer doesn’t believe that more instructional time matters to the students.

“Shame on Mike Fitzgerald.  Perhaps he should work on getting all the facts before publishing his next opinion, instead of trying to make SUSD teachers look lazy.”

No one enjoys criticizing Mike Fitzgerald more than me (Note: This is true–MF) or pointing out factual inaccuracies that are occasionally present in newspaper articles.  Unfortunately, neither of these two letter writers identified a single inaccuracy.  I also don’t believe that the purpose of his column was to “make SUSD teachers look lazy.”  I believe most teachers are giving their full effort under difficult circumstances to educate children.  The most valuable tax expenditure (and currently the largest) is teacher instructional time.  It has a tremendous effect on the kids.  I think the point of the column is that Stockton Unified kids deserve as much of it as Lincoln Unified kids receive.

Columnist duped by SUSD misinformation machine – Edward Auerbach:

“When doing a side-by-side comparison of Franklin High School to Lincoln High School (Franklin’s schedule is actually a slightly shorter day than the block schedule high schools in SUSD), Franklin teachers actually teach more minutes.”

The side by side comparison in the Fitzgerald column compares the required minimum instructional minutes required by the collective bargaining agreements for the two districts.  This is a binding legal standard and sets the floor for the guaranteed instructional time that the teachers will deliver for the salaries and benefits they are paid.  Many hard working teachers put in far more hours than the minimum.  Minimum instructional time does not include passing periods or speak to the length of the work day – simply the amount of time the teachers spend teaching students.  All Lincoln teachers, including high school, must have 25.6 hours of “scheduled class time” weekly (Lincoln Teachers Collective Bargaining Agreement, Section G.)  Stockton Unified High School teachers are required to have 1400 minutes (23.3 hours) of “instructional time” weekly (Stockton Unified Teachers Collective Bargaining Agreement, Section 6.1.1).  25.6 hours is more than 23.3 hours. 

Mr.  Auerbach’s column focuses exclusively on high school teachers.  But the starkest difference noted in Fitzgerald’s column was the comparison of Stockton Unified middle school teachers to their counterparts in Lincoln.  The Stockton Unified middle school teachers teach an entire period a day less than Lincoln teachers.  They even teach 50 minutes a day less than Stockton Unified elementary school teachers.  Why didn’t Mr. Auerbach discuss this loss of instructional time – the largest noted in Fitzgerald’s column?

Even if the analysis was limited to middle school teachers only, my comment in Fitzgerald’s column was accurate:  “Lincoln pays less, works more and gets better results.”

“They’re (Lincoln teachers) every bit as excellent as SUSD teachers, regardless.”

Fitzgerald’s column did not imply that Stockton Unified teachers were any less able than Lincoln teachers – just that they teach more.  I am sure there are many “excellent” teachers in both districts.  But a blanket statement that all teachers in Lincoln and Stockton Unified are excellent, “regardless” of any evidence to support such an outlandish idea deserves great skepticism.  Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men good-looking, and all the children are above average.

“SUSD high schools teach more minutes than are required by the state Education Code.”

The state Education Code is stocked full of union-sponsored labor provisions that favor organized labor unions like the STA.  This particular provision of the Education Code is so low, that every district within 100 miles of Stockton exceeds it.  If the point of Fitzgerald’s article was that Stockton Unified teachers teach less than others, this statement in Mr. Auerbach’s article does not rebut it.  Perhaps a more nuanced way of putting it would be:  “less than others, but more than the Education Code.”

“Several teachers have had to take second jobs to make ends meet.  Trying to “keep it real” on their end – teachers immediately leave school to be on time to their additional jobs.”

A Stockton Unified teaching position is a full time job.  Teachers are paid between $40 to $80,000 a year, have full health benefits, and a defined benefit pension – a full time salary and benefits package.

“But what wasn’t said is that SUSD’s scores have improved over the past several years.”

All local districts have improved their API scores over the past several years as pressure has been placed upon them to narrow the “achievement gap.”  This includes Lincoln and Stockton Unified.  The Fitzgerald column focused attention on the children from each district that participate in the free and reduced lunch program – all kids from low income families.  The performance gap between the two districts’ low income children (71 points on the API index) was significant and my statement accurate:  “Lincoln pays less, works more and gets better results.”

“But does he know that there are a far higher percentage of Title 1 students in SUSD and Lincoln Unified and how much that impacts classroom learning?”

Arguably, it is more difficult to teach a class with a wide gap in learning abilities within the same classroom and providing the differentiation in instruction necessary to help every child.  The same level of instructional time is required to achieve good results in either case.

How about English learners?

During the 2012-13 school year, Lincoln Unified’s English learners (EL) scored 761 on the API.  Stockton Unified’s students scored 662 – 94 points less.  This achievement gap between Lincoln and Stockton Unified was greater than the comparison with low socio-economic students in the Fitzgerald column.

How about parent involvement?  I’ll bet there are a few thousand parents in SUSD that only dream of being able to read to their kids before they are working a second or third job, or don’t because they feel their own reading skills are inadequate.

Parental involvement is surely the major culprit in explaining the lower academic performance of children living in poverty.  Being read to as a toddler or getting help with homework in school has a well-documented effect on student performance.  The comparison in the Fitzgerald article was between low income students in both districts.  Both districts face the same challenges of overcoming the lack of parental involvement among low socio-economic students, but the Lincoln students fare better on the API.  Surely instructional time is important in this achievement.

“In 2011, the school board voted to tell reduce the amount of credits that are needed for a student to graduate from 230 to 210.  This equates to two fewer classes students needed for a student to graduate, which in turn means fewer teachers are needed in the high schools.”

I agree the decision to save money by reducing graduation requirements was against the best interests of the students.  To pay to restore the positions would require substantial cost to the District’s general fund and less money would be available for salary increases now for district employees.  Nonetheless, it would be in students’ best interest to restore the high school graduation requirement to 230 credits.

“That same year, the district also decided to reduce teachers’ work time (and salaries) by 18 hours.  I guess they felt professional training wasn’t so important, either.”

I doubt that anyone, especially the Stockton Unified School board and superintendent, think that professional training is not important.  But they were faced with an unbalanced budget and were trying to avoid furloughs. They are currently seeking to restore professional training time in the unresolved teacher contract bargaining.

“As it was presented in the article, Dr. Lowder believes that hiring teachers takes away from the repairs of our schools.  As taxpayers may remember, multiple bond measures were passed to help fund the repair of our schools.  None of those dollars went to teacher’s salaries.”

By state law, bond measures can only be spent on capital improvements and equipment, not salaries.  I assume what Dr. Lowder was referring to was the annual maintenance expense required to keep these improvements from premature aging (new roofs, painting, cleaning, plumbing, etc.).  Maintenance and landscaping of our schools comes from the same general fund that teacher’s salaries and benefits are funded.  Balance must be kept between repair and personnel costs or the district would slip into insolvency.  This fiduciary responsibility is one of the primary priorities of a Superintendent.  In any case, the bond spending has no bearing on teacher hiring, salaries, or instructional time.

Comments in Fitzgerald column – Ellen Olds:

“We work a 6.5 hour day, but that is just the on-the-clock stuff,” said Ellen Old, president of the Stockton Teacher’s Association.  “We do other stuff all the time.  We’re on committees, we coach soccer and we grade papers.”

Isn’t this comment in direct conflict with the STA’s Bargaining Team Chairman Edward Auerbach’s statement that “Several teachers have had to take second jobs to make ends meet?  Trying to “keep it real” on their end – teachers immediately leave school to be on time to their additional jobs?”  No doubt the truth is that some teachers work a lot more than the minimum and others work the minimum.

“Stockton Unified teachers get one hour of “prep time” a day in which to prepare for classes.”

Both Stockton Unified and Lincoln Unified high school teachers have a “prep period.”  That is not counted as instructional time in either district.

So there you go. Stockton Unified is a classic model of the failure of Stockton institutions. The school district has been dominated by the unions, to the detriment of its broader public mission. Sound familiar? 



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Take it from Cleveland

Though I have my doubts, I hope the hard-line preservationists are right that Stockton’s vacant downtown hotels can have a new life.

The St. Leo Hotel on North California Street is of the long-vacant hotels the city is marketing to developers.

To inspire a little faith, here’s a recent article from the New York Times on Cleveland’s restoration of historic buildings.

Like Stockton, Cleveland peaked in the early 20th century, then went into slow decline. Many of its grand buildings ended up vacant. 

“Today, however, at least 35 buildings in the center of the city alone from the first half of the 20th century are being rehabilitated,” the Times reports.

The story includes a slide show of repurposed buildings. Rather inspiring. 

–Reader tip: Kathleen A. Mcgaw.


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The gravy train

“UC regents last week approved borrowing another $700 million internally to help close a pension funding gap … ”


Why’s there such a big gap, when college costs an arm and a leg? ”Five years ago University of California employers and employees were paying nothing into the pension system,” Calpensions reports. “In a remarkable contribution “holiday” that began in 1990, payments into the system dropped to zero and stayed there for two decades.”

“Remarkable,” indeed. Don’t puzzle when your college student can’t get needed classes. Or when tuition goes up.

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Delta bond money: who gets it?

The Sacramento Bee raises a good point: Who will control all that state bond money — perhaps $6 billion — to restore the Delta?

Water exporters prefer the state Department of Water Resources. To do that would be to put the fox — or the fox’s servants — in charge of the henhouse. If the DWR weren’t such an enabler for Delta over-drafting, the estuary would not be dying.

State Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) favors the Delta Conservancy. That outfit has good representation from Delta elected officials. Which is probably what the exporters don’t like about it.  

The bond money is for Delta restoration. It should be put in the hands of people devoted to stewarding the Delta.

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The Cubist solution

Sacramento is soon to get its first restaurant made entirely of “High-Cube” shipping containers. 

Federalist Public House & Beer Garden opens August 1 at 2009 N St.

“Arranged on an alley-loaded lot, the containers have come together to create a 2, 200-square foot  restaurant in the rear yard of a 107-year-old Federalist Style Victorian,” a press release says. The seven modified containers were supplied by CubeDepot, “a company that provides end-to-end solutions for sourcing, buying, renting, and modifying shipping containers.”

The press realease goes on to say, “CubeDepot removed the walls in three of the containers to create a common eating area, with the other four units built out to house a full bar, full kitchen with wood burning pizza oven, a bathroom, and storage units.”

There’s a “container park” in Las Vegas. Last year Stockton City Limits suggested a container park would work well on Stockton’s waterfront.

Here’s an architects’s rendering of the Sacto eatery.

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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