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Sunday, September 16, 2012

$5 Million Spent By School District To Inform But Ignorance Prevails

The Worst $5 Million Spent In Emeryville History

The Emery Unified School District has spent $5 million on "community engagement", an effort to communicate the District's plans and get public buy-in on how to build the Center of Community Life.  But after years of  engaging the community, the stark reality is that the population is still mostly ignorant about major aspects of the school and community center rebuild, an outcome that the District now reluctantly admits.

The problem is that the $5 million was likely never really meant to engage the community, rather the District intended to coerce the people of Emeryville with a campaign of deceptive propaganda to accept their plans for the school rebuild and to keep dissenters tamped down.  At the center of the deception campaign has been the idea of closing the existing Anna Yates Elementary School on 41st Street and "co-locating" it with the to-be-built new high school on San Pablo Avenue, a prospect that most Emeryville residents even Anna Yates parents are still ruefully unaware.

School Board President Melodi Dice:
After $5 million spent on communication,
she says, "The District needs to 

communicate better."
After $5 million spent over the years, Melodi Dice, the president of the School Board told residents attending the September 10th School Board meeting the District has not done a good job with communicating the goals of the District with regards to the Center of Community Life and that they plan on rectifying the situation.  If they are to be believed now they're going to start educating residents in earnest about closing the elementary school.  But the District doesn't even know the extent of the ignorance among the population; they've never polled the residents.

Parents Are Ignorant
Average Emeryville residents can get an idea about the level of ignorance about closing the elementary school by simply asking parents if they are aware of the District's plans.  To those who conduct such an informal poll, they find the majority of parents are not aware and those who are aware mostly are not supportive.

That large swaths of the population are ignorant of the District's plans to co-locate the schools and the majority of the people who are aware are against it, informs us that the District is not keen on actually engaging the public.  This is further reinforced by the revelation, recently reported by the Tattler that the District will have to spend $107 million to move the elementary school, a fact so far not advertised by the District.

A Modest Proposal
It would be cheap and easy for this School District to let people know they intend on closing the elementary school and moving the children over to the high school site if they were of a mind to.  Parents could be made aware simply by putting an easy to read notice in the children's home-bound "Wednesday Packet", the primary way the District communicates to parents.  The District could also engage the parents by use of the telephone notification system they also already use to communicate with parents.  Both these ideas would cost the District virtually no money and would be very effective but the District has balked at using them.
Instead the District has relied on a whole series of community meetings conducted over the last couple of years and attended by the same rotating tiny minority of Emeryville residents.  These meetings have done little to let enough people know the things we should know about the District's plans, let alone introduce the fact that the people could have a different set of ideas about how to build the Center of Community Life that involved saving the elementary school.
Maybe we could get our $5 million back
if we played the helps 

fund the schools too!

Deception about closing the elementary school is really what this School District has been engaged in.  

This School District is free to strongly advocate for the closure of the Anna Yates Elementary School in favor of co-locating it but the District is not free to deceive the public as it pursues that goal.  Unfortunately for advocates of transparency in public policy, the District has decided to push the co-location idea forward by means of deception, the $5 million spent on community engagement notwithstanding.  It's past time for the Emery Unified School District to let the people, especially the parents know it intends on closing the elementary school.  Further, in the spirit of real community engagement, they should let the people know they can change these plans if they so will it and finally the District should accommodate the people's collective will, even if it included saving Anna Yates Elementary School.  It's kind of late in the game to start with transparency, but we should start regardless even though it may be anathema to this District.


  1. No one seems to care. Maybe some parents go to the school board meetings and complain, but no parent has attended a Council meeting to complain. At the August 21st Council meeting, the Council voted unanimously to give $22 million to the ECCL, that vote includes Jac Asher, the only Council member with a child in the district.

    If people truly cared as you say they do, and this was as contentious of a subject as you report it to be, the parents would be complaining not just to the school board, but to the Council who is helping fund this building.

    1. No one seems to know is more like it. I'm not reporting this to be contentious, I'm reporting this to be subterfuge.

    2. I agree with the first commenter. No one else seems concerned about the k-12 model. On;y 5% of Emeryville residents have kids in school. Of that, how many of them participate? Even if some parents don't like it, what are their choices? If you proposed an action plan to help parents combat the issue, you may get more response. Right now it appears you are the only one upset about it. Is there a process in the school district to put somwething on the ballot giving Emeryville voters the chance to object to their plan and even modify their ECCL proposal. Unless you develop a plan to do something concrete, you may as well recognize there is no way to save Anna Yates. Dr. Lindo made the k-12 model a focal point of her address at the meeting of the EUSD Alumni event this past Saturday night. She is dedicated to carrying it out as the main feature of the project. Let's face it, combining all of the grades in one place is going to save them money on operations, and potentially if they can receive income from both Ralph Hawley and Anna Yates school sites they could have more teachers and more programs for the kids. I think their plan is set in stone. They have a responsibility to reduce the cost of their operations. IN the absence of a plan of action, you are wasting your time. You're going to have to do more than rant if you want to stop it. The voters said yes to this project. Even if you focus on corruption associated with Measure J, it is already passed, so why cry over spilled milk. that's my opinion

    3. My intention here is not so much to "stop it" as you say but to let people know what is being done about it by their elected officials, in this case at the School District. These officials have been using a top down approach from the beginning, their flowery democratic words notwithstanding. I think the public has a right to know about policy emanating from the School District (and City Hall) since the decision makers have shown they're not interested in properly informing the public.

  2. You are correct that it is too late in the game. As is apparent from the above response, if you recently became aware of the project but want to voice concerns you are shut down with the "where were you 10 years ago? It's too late now" response. So community engagement at this stage will be "this is what we are doing. Like it or leave it." As Melodie Dice confessed the community engagement has been a disaster up to this point at a cost of $5 million. As far as I can tell the main reason is that responsibility for the community engagement was thrust upon the Community Oversight Committee. Let that roll around in your brain for a moment. The committee that is supposed to oversee the project and it's finances was pushed to be the bullhorn for the ECCL staff. Nope. No conflict of interest there. The COC, good on them, pushed back on that plan so the brunt of the community engagement was put on the Nexus Partners and the Fellows. Now the Fellows, who each receive a monetary stipend from the measure J money, were supposed to be responsible for the majority of the Community engagement activities. However the only activities there have been were the meetings put on by the Nexus Partners. Let that roll around too...a paid group of people tasked with nothing but community engagement. It would be nice if the Tattler could find out what the Fellows have done for the money. The Nexus meetings were not forums where concerns were answered. Questions were asked but were shut down with "This isn't the forum for these questions." ECCL community engagement in action. And Ms. Dice wonders why it wasn't effective? $5 million for this? I'm really losing confidence in this group to see this through successfully. They seem to be making it up as they go and you just can't do that with this kind of Project. Also The ECCL staff should be held directly accountable for the failures. But I'm sure they'll get a "Heckuva job Brownie" and a raise to go with it.

  3. Most of the problem lies with the parents, and community not giving a shit.
    How many show up to council meetings? How many show up to board meetings? How many parents take any sort of active role in the school?

    1. I would say the majority of Emeryville families involved in the schools are active. I show up to the meetings and see members of the same 5 or 9 Emeryville families that have children attending in the schools. The problem is that it is such a small percentage of the Emeryville population that we really have no voice or skin in the game. People do voice their concerns at the meetings. Brian gets up almost every meeting, albeit usually to school us on the Brown Act, but he gets up and participates. For that, they are given a blank stare, a thank you for your support (or in the case of Brian a "Your time is up") and then we all move on to the next shiny agenda item. That is pretty much what participation amounts to. Where is the engagement? You are right in that the majority of the Emeryville residents don't give a shit, let alone know what to give a shit about. That is because the majority of residents don't have families and children in the schools. That speaks to the more cogent point, I think, that Brian continually makes here; that Emeryville is not a family oriented city. I've been an Emeryville resident for 17 years now both as a single person and a parent of 3 children. I made the decision 9 years ago that this was where I was going to raise my family. I have to admit, I now wonder about the wisdom of that decision as I don't see how the Emeryville population can sustain a school district of it's own without the city doing more to attract families. I certainly don't see that happening anytime soon.