Education Matters: Oversight committees, salaries, and school start times

One of the factors that school districts and their consultants use to encourage voter support for General Obligation bonds is to emphasize that school districts must create an Independent Citizens Oversight Committee. ICOC members are entrusted to watch how bond money is spent. This is intended to assure the public that their money is being carefully guarded.

But often ICOC members, who are appointed by school board members, are friends of trustees, have worked closely with district staff, are early supporters of the bond measure before it was passed, or are aligned with consultants who benefit from the passage of the bond.

According to an Oct. 1 exposé in the Orange County Register titled “Who’s watching over the billions of dollars in voter-approved school bond money?,” the system is flawed.Commented Nick Marinovich, former executive director of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees, in the OC Register story: “Very often, you get friends of friends, or rubber stamps, or people who don’t understand what’s going on, and the staff will take advantage by not adequately training them.” Or worse yet, Marinovich said school districts can take action against ICOC members who raise too many questions or want to probe too deeply into how the money is allocated. Michael Turnipseed, current president of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees [http://www.calboc.net/], said in the story that it’s not unusual for troublesome bond oversight committee members to be removed.

For local districts that have passed GO bonds (basically, that’s all of them except Del Mar which has one on the ballot this year), residents should look closely at who is being appointed to these ICOCs.

This is not to imply that there are conflicts of interest or ethical issues in local school districts’ ICOC membership. But often favoritism prevails when school board members choose applicants to appointed positions as a reward for allegiance or that raise their profile in the community.

If voters support school bonds because they believe their tax money is being watched over carefully through the formation of an ICOC, they might ask questions about who the watchers are – and may need to find a better reason to support a school bond.

Average salaries

A recent article in EdSource reported on a study that found that the average salary for teachers in California is over $72,000, which the article says is the third highest in the nation, behind Massachusetts and New York.

“Told that the average pay in their state was $72,842, only 41 percent of California respondents would raise teacher salaries,” according to the story. “Most Americans believe that teachers earn far less than they do, the study said. Asked to estimate average teacher salaries in their state, the average guess of respondents nationwide was $40,181 — 31 percent less than the actual national figure of $58,297.”

California’s average is $14,000 above the national average, and local salaries can often exceed the state average.

Start times … again

I have been writing about local school issues for about 20 years, with school start times a frequent topic. Nothing has been more depressing than the rejection by school districts to adopt later school start times for teens.

Senate Bill 328, which called for start times at middle and high schools to be no earlier than 8:30 a.m. by 2021 except in special cases, passed both the state Senate and Assembly and went to the governor’s desk for review last month.

Hope was in the air at last. Regretfully, Gov. Brown rejected it.

Brown was clearly influenced by strong opposition to the bill from the California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Association.

Later school start times are proven to be beneficial for children, with scientifically documented studies for more than two decades supporting the need to heed the biological changes that occur during teenage years.

During adolescence, shifting circadian rhythms make it difficult to go to sleep earlier.

The adage used often by opponents of this movement – “early to bed, early to rise” – is infuriatingly ignorant of the science behind the reality of delayed sleep onset in teens who studies have shown are chronically sleep-deprived.

The Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other respected organizations have all agreed that teens have a biological shift in their sleep patterns that make going to sleep early more challenging.

Later school start times can increase positive social interactions, improve academic performance, decrease obesity and depression, raise graduation rates and attendance, lower drug use and auto accidents, and positively impact overall student health and well-being.

This is one of those mind-numbingly frustrating issues that defies all logic.

The San Diego Unified School District recently decided to move all its high school start times no earlier than 8:30 a.m. by 2020.

“To me this is more like vaccinations – it’s a public health issue,” said SDUSD trustee John Lee Evans in a Sept. 10 article on this issue in the U-T.

Because SD Unified is the largest school district in the county by far, the ramifications of this welcome change will have a far-reaching impact on how other county school districts operate.

We look to the San Diego Unified School District now to lead the way locally.

Opinion columnist and Sr. Education Writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com

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