Roundtable Rounds Up Election Races, SDUSD Graduation Rates
MARK SAUER: I am Mark Sauer, and the KPBS Roundtable starts now. Joining me today on the Roundtable are my guests, Mario Koran, Amita Sharma, and Chris Jennewein. It appears that San Diego Unified has an enormous problem and little time to fix it. California's second-largest school district released data this week showing that 40% of the class of 2016, about 3000 students, currently fall short of state academic requirements to graduate. Mario, this is an alarming conclusion. Tell us how we got to this point. It started about five years ago, right? MARIO KORAN: We saw in 2009 the school board started to make a shift. Around 2009 a lot of students were passing through high school without the courses they needed to get into UC or CSU schools. They were not prepared. The school board started steering students towards a certain number of college credits in college prep courses. Otherwise they would not graduate. That decision did not happen until 2011. The amount of work that has been done between 2011 and now is questionable. We have now a year and a half before the deadline that we have a long ways to go in a short amount of time, and a lot of students are going to have to make up these credits to get out the door. MARK SAUER: And there is a specific disparity here on which students we're talking about. MARIO KORAN: And that is ironic, because when the school board first decided to move in this direction, it was to bring students up who were falling behind. Black, Latino, and students with special needs. These requirements were aimed at the students. Now we see that those are the students have fallen furthest behind and are going to need the most intervention. MARK SAUER: Even though they have had intense programs to help these folks in the last couple years? MARIO KORAN: Even though they were supposed to have these supports in place. CHRIS JENNEWEIN: Wasn't the school district just recognized a year ago with an award for high achievement? It seems shocking that it has come to this. MARIO KORAN: That's correct. The award was given to urban districts that have made improvements in the achievement gap. We see a rise in graduation rates over the last couple of years. AMITA SHARMA: Didn't the school district just say they have the situation under control? What happened? Did they not know what the true state of affairs was? MARIO KORAN: I do not think they did. This summer when I first wrote about the story, I got a sense that it was don't worry about it, it will not be a big deal. We have the situation under control. MARK SAUER: And those are preliminary results on testing and data. This was a firm report this week. MARIO KORAN: That was the trouble at the time, they did not have the data to show it would all be under control. All of this was said and it needs to be pointed out that 40% of the students are not on track to graduate, it does not mean that they want graduate, it just shows how much work needs to be done between now and then. MARK SAUER: Let's talk about the basics that are required now for the first time in 2016 that will be required of students to graduate. MARIO KORAN: It is a series of college preparation courses called the A through G series. It's similar to what has been required for years. The additions have been in next a year of foreign language, two years of foreign language and an extra year of death. Those are the pieces that are of most concern, even though they are falling behind in other areas as well. CHRIS JENNEWEIN: Doesn't the school system have an algebra course that does not meet requirements? MARIO KORAN: Yes, it is called unified algebra. This was a problem in 2009 when they first decided to start going in this direction. It is a course that does not meet either actuation requirements or requirements for UC and CSU standards. The courses are still offered, and it is a watered down version of math that the does not count for much. The changes that needed to happen have not happened. MARK SAUER: Have there been similar reports out this fall with other school districts? Are other district having these kinds of problems? MARIO KORAN: Other district have gone in this direction, Los Angeles and Fresno specific. I don't know if either of them have published a recent report. I know that Fresno has been more successful moving in this direction. MARK SAUER: You had a graph with your voice article this week on who is likely to graduate. Tell us what that showed. MARIO KORAN: It shows white students are doing just fine, 80% are fine, I guess it is relative. 30% African-American students, maybe 40% for Latinos are not set to graduate. MARK SAUER: English learners are struggling. MARIO KORAN: That is what caught my eye. 9% of English learners in the district are not on track. I believe it is not hyperbole to say that we have a crisis situation when it comes to the English language learners in San Diego unified. I think it has manifested in this number. MARK SAUER: What are some of the reasons for this? Is it support at home, resources and schools themselves, more affluent areas? What are the reasons we might speculate about this? MARIO KORAN: We published a story today that shows the reasons this has all happened. It shows that there is a systemic problem with access students have two classes. Not all students have the same access to classes. They have two short term efforts. The first is a short-term triage to get students out the door. They really need to rebuild the system from the ground up. AMITA SHARMA: Are they prepared to do that? MARIO KORAN: That is a great question, Whether they are prepared or not they have to. They realize the urgency. The district spokesman told me that was the best part to come out of this, that everybody recognizes the urgency. MARK SAUER: The bell has rung here. MARIO KORAN: I know they are starting at a fast pace now. MARK SAUER: This came up at a debate. Kevin Iser and Amy Redding this week, he is the incumbent. Is this going to affect his chances? MARIO KORAN: It is tough to say. I would say he has far outpaced his challenger as far as spending and fundraising. He is everywhere. He has got that edge, because he is an incumbent. It is tough to say. MARK SAUER: And this late in the campaign. At some point, the accountability will have to be there. The board, superintendent and principals, what have they done so far? I think there is a new czar that has been put in place to attack this issue head on. MARIO KORAN: Her name is Cheryl Hedwin. She is an incredibly sharp lady. She did some great things in Linda Vista. I think the best thing that the superintendent has done is to put her in charge of this effort. I think she's the best person to lead it now. MARK SAUER: They have a short time here. I guess they could punt it for a year and say we were not ready. We will give you a conditional extension. At some point, this has to come to a head. I'm sure we will look to more good reporting on that. That was a terrific story. Witnesses in court swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. It is shocking when candidates seeking to become superior court judges stretch the truth in campaigns. Case in point, attorney Ken Gosselin. Amita, you reported this week that he claims some credentials he does not have. AMITA SHARMA: That's right, he said he was a Harvard trained lawyer. Actually he got his law degree from LaVerne University. He said that he was a constitutional lawyer, but his area of specialty is real estate. He said that as a volunteer judge, it judge pro tem, he presided over thousands of civil and criminal cases, but volunteer judges are strictly limited to traffic and small claims cases. He has called complaints to his credentials as misunderstandings. MARK SAUER: That's what he had to say about this? AMITA SHARMA: That's what he said. MARK SAUER: That he come to the telephone? Did we get to talk to him about this? AMITA SHARMA: In past emails he has said these are just misunderstandings. There are also issues with his campaign signs. In the spring leading up to the June primary, he had campaign signs that portrayed him as an incumbent judge, with the word for in tiny block letters. You could not see them if you were just driving past. It made it seem like he was incumbent judge. His lawyers said we tried to just get the most necessary words in those signs, but he has not granted a formal interview. MARK SAUER: He will not sit in front of a camera at this point? AMITA SHARMA: Not at this point. CHRIS JENNEWEIN: His opponent has been supported by a lot of the official power structure, the sheriff and district Attorney. I think he also sued his opponent in this. AMITA SHARMA: He sued his opponent to force him to change his ballot statement in which he had listed some of these items. His education, his area of specialty in law, and he was forced to change the ballot statements. MARK SAUER: So the judge agreed that was misleading? AMITA SHARMA: The judge agreed. MARK SAUER: You interviewed a retired state Court of Appeals justice. AMITA SHARMA: Justice Howard Weiner. He is 83 years old. He heard a little bit about Ken Gosselin's campaign signs. When we discussed the other lack of straightforwardness, he said it was an abuse of the judicial electoral system. He said it's not only an abuse, it's also a violation of the judicial canon of ethics. Not just sitting judges are held accountable, but candidates are as well. The problem is, investigations of those violations do not happen until after an election takes place. The voting public never really gets to find out whether a candidate has not been straight about his qualifications. MARK SAUER: That raises a larger issue. Should voters really be passing judgment and electing superior court judges? These are powerful cases, and us as individuals, this may be the one person was the most power. They can put us in jail. AMITA SHARMA: That is just it. They can decide a person's freedom. They can decide who a child spends time with an custody cases. They can decide whether to impose millions of dollars in fines against government or multinational corporations. And so, the people in favor of judicial election say the power over individual lives is too immense to go unchecked. In order to hold these people accountable for bad decisions, incompetence, or laziness, judicial elections are the only avenue. While the system may be imperfect, it is the best system out there. You do not want to leave the selection process of two an elite group of people. MARK SAUER: You get into the voting booth and see a list of unfamiliar names, these are candidates we have not seen in debate or in ads. We don't know who those folks are. AMITA SHARMA: The media does not cover these elections very well. MARK SAUER: Your point is, you think of our now judge Gary Kreep. Remind us who he is and how that stealth campaign ran by a few years ago. AMITA SHARMA: That campaign happened and there was not a lot of attention paid to him and his qualifications during the campaign. MARK SAUER: This fellow was a birther. AMITA SHARMA: Once he was elected, it caught us all by surprise. MARK SAUER: And the media had an egg on our face. CHRIS JENNEWEIN: A lot of egg on our face. AMITA SHARMA: And that is the risk with this. All of the people I interviewed for this story, to retired judges and a justice from the Court of Appeal, and Superior Court Judge Anthony justice. And I interviewed a professor. They all said whenever these judicial elections, they are inundated with phone calls from friends and acquaintances saying who should I vote for? I don't know who these guys are. Who should I vote for? They will not know what the reversal rate of a judges. They will not know any of this. MARK SAUER: Judicial temperament, what they may be, if they hold extreme positions. Of course, around the country and here, you have seen judges do crazy things from the bench, wielding guns, and various stuff. CHRIS JENNEWEIN: Whenever we have a situation as with Gary Kreep, I think we learn. As voters, we say we have to do a better job and we in the media learn to do a better job. It is a wake-up call and a reminder. AMITA SHARMA: It's a wake-up call, and a reminder, but let's be realistic. How much does the average voter pay attention to basic elections for city council, mayor or governor? We do not do our homework. Look at the low voter turnout in June. It is abysmal. MARK SAUER: You think about money, lawyers or heads of a certain powerful firm giving a chunk of money to a candidate to get the word out. And then, you're suddenly appearing in front of a judge. AMITA SHARMA: The anti-election side says look, you run a real risk by putting judges in the position of having to raise money. Who will give to them? Lawyers. Lawyers who have cases in front of them. Were multinational corporations. How can you expect a judge to be impartial in those cases? They will either be beholden to them, gracious to them, or will try to not have the appearance that they are doing that. So they will bend over backward, and the guy is stuck with an adverse decision even if the facts don't weigh that way. MARK SAUER: Either way it's not fair. AMITA SHARMA: It's undermining the impartiality of the court system. Some think you should have a panel of experts that have their credentials vetted and appoint them. Then put them up for a term election, yes or no vote. If an incumbent gets more no votes, have them run against an opponent. MARK SAUER: Do you think that would work? There is politics in that as well. MARIO KORAN: My first question would be if that setup is happening effectively elsewhere. AMITA SHARMA: It happens for appeals court justices and the Supreme Court. It works. MARK SAUER: We will certainly see. When we get into the voting booth on Tuesday we will see if we are up on the judges. I am on this one, because I read Amita's story. AMITA SHARMA: Voters have a fallback if the media has not covered these races. They can go to the San Diego County Bar Association website. They great candidates in contested elections. In this election, they have given Ken Gosselin an unqualified rating. MARK SAUER: So you can go and find that out. We will broaden this out from this. Election day is upon us, and many folks have voted by mail. There is a lot at stake nationally, but races in California and San Diego have no bearing on that. The Democrat vetoproof majority is at stake. Chris, let's start briefly with last night's debate and the big hot race that has drawn all of the money. The 52nd Congressional District, Carl DeMaio versus Scott Peters. CHRIS JENNEWEIN: Last night's debate was more of the same. We have heard the positions again and again. What you have here is a centrist Democrat running against an incumbent who should have the advantage in a race like this. But running against someone who is extremely well-known in San Diego, Carl DeMaio was a big candidate. He said he had a big role in solving the pension crisis. It probably is the most notable congressional campaign right now in California. MARK SAUER: Maybe in the nation. CHRIS JENNEWEIN: It's attracting the most money, and a lot of opposition research. MARK SAUER: We have a clip from last night's debate. [ AUDIO FILE PLAYING ] CARL DeMAIO: We have learned that you put $100,000 of your one money into this campaign over the past two years. But you still owe $69,334 in BMW payments that you took on the city council, while the city was in financial crisis. I would expect that you would return that money to the city as well. SCOTT PETERS: I think this is a waste of time. I gave back $140,000 in pay. That is a greater number than $68,000, if you notice that. The pension he complains about, every penny has gone back to the city. Are we still going to talk about this? Are we going to talk about jobs and the economy? That might be important to some people. [ END AUDIO ] MARK SAUER: We will take the bait from the incumbent. Are there any issues being heard? Or is it all mud? CHRIS JENNEWEIN: The issues are drowned out in the mud. There is so much spending with the political action committees. Those are all attack ads. In the case of Scott Peters it is spending, and in the case of Carl DeMaio it is if he's allied with the tea party. I think voters have to look at the real issues that have come up here, the endorsement by the Chamber of Commerce, which rarely endorses a Democrat. That is the largest business group in the United States. And Carl DeMaio's case case, you really have an independent who has had innovative ideas about government finances. MARK SAUER: Over $5.5 million in outside money, extraordinary for one seat, for a body of 435 members. Republicans are going to maintain control of the house, there is no question about that. Why so much emphasis? Is it the lack of competitive races? CHRIS JENNEWEIN: It's a lack of competitive races. And because of gerrymandering around the country. Once you are incumbent it is hard to get dislodged. This is the one race that is an issue throughout California. Almost all of the other congressional incumbent are expected to win. You can look at it and say this is a race of 435. A more significant races the city council district 6 race. MARK SAUER: Let's talk about that, because that has real consequences here. CHRIS JENNEWEIN: That has real consequences, because if Chris Kate when the race against Carol Kim, that would end the current Democratic vetoproof majority on the Council. That is one of the reasons the minimum wage ordinance was vetoed by the Mayor, and overridden by the Council. In the primary, Kate won by 47%. Three points shy of an outright victory. The betting is that he is going to win. He himself tells me he expects to win by a small margin. Yesterday he had a press conference and the entire local Republican power structure came out to support him. Jerry Sanders, Kevin Faulconer, and the three Republicans on the city council. MARK SAUER: We will see how that breaks down and the implications there. A state race I want to bring up is for an important point. The state superintendent of education, and the incumbent Democrat Tom Torlakson, and the Challenger is also a Democrat, Marshall Tuck. How important is this job, and how close is it? CHRIS JENNEWEIN: It's an important job in setting the goals for the state. More importantly over the state appeal decision in Los Angeles, the Superior Court decision that took issue with teacher tenure in Los Angeles, saying that students were being short changed by rules that essentially gave teachers with two years experience tenure for life in the Los Angeles system. Torlakson is going to appeal that. Tuck said he won't. You have a battle between two roles of the Democratic party. The teachers on one side backing Torlakson, the governor not saying who he is backing, and a lot of wealthy Democratic Party backers behind Tuck, including the former Los Angeles mayor. MARK SAUER: So more reform minded Tuck, perhaps from charter schools. CHRIS JENNEWEIN: He came out of the charter school area, and San Diego has had notable successes with charter schools. That's the reform wing of the education part of the Democratic party. MARK SAUER: One proposition has not got a lot of traction so far is prop 47. Quickly, what is at stake there? CHRIS JENNEWEIN: It's very interesting. If you look at San Diego you have the former police chief William Lansdown, a visible proponent. And then you have Chief Shelley Zimmerman being very much against it. We just published an op-ed in the Times of San Diego. MARK SAUER: This is to take some nonviolent crimes and make them misdemeanors, and try to get money into education for mental health. CHRIS JENNEWEIN: It would fundamentally reduce overcrowding in prisons by taking a lot of low threshold property crime and drug possession and make them misdemeanors and get them out of prison. Anything under $950. Opponents say for $950 you can be buying a gun or doing multiple property crimes. MARK SAUER: We will have to leave it there, and it will be interesting as always. That wraps up another week of stories at the KPBS Roundtable. Thank you for joining us today.
40 Percent Of SDUSD Students Not On Track To Graduate In 2016
The San Diego Unified School District has released data revealing that 40 percent, or 3,000 students, in the class of 2016 are falling short of meeting the state’s new, stricter high school graduation requirements.
Forty percent is an average over the district’s 23 traditional senior high schools and their 30,000 students, according to Mario Koran's story.
In some troubled schools, like Lincoln High, the percentage falling short is as high as 70 percent. Further, just 9 percent of English learners and 24 percent of special-needs students are on track to graduate in the district.
In 2009, an outside research organization found that black and Latino students had less access to college prep classes than their peers and weren’t doing as well in those classes available to them.
The school board then mandated that students must pass a series of college prep classes, known as A-G, by 2016 or they wouldn’t graduate.
Today, all students may have more college-prep classes available, but minority and English learners are still far behind.
So what now? The two biggest problem areas for these students are the additional year of math and the requirement of two years of the same foreign language. Will the district be able to help students achieve the level of learning that the state says they must by 2016?
Voters Judging Judges
Voters have a hard enough time figuring our which candidate will be a good judge, but some cases make it even harder.
For instance, San Diego Superior Court judicial candidate Ken Gosselin has been criticized for fictionalizing his resume. He says he is Harvard-trained (he attended the University of La Verne) and that he has presided over thousands of civil and criminal cases as a volunteer attorney (also not true).
Further, his campaign signs read as if he is the incumbent judge (he’s not).
This case and others, such as the 2012 winning candidacy of Gary Kreep, a “birther” who believes President Obama was born in a foreign country and has been accused of systematically overcharging clients, have stoked an on-going discussion about whether judges should be elected at all.
Appointing judges will make them unaccountable to voters, but at least they will be vetted. Making them run for office opens them to the same issues plaguing all elections: false or misleading claims; negative advertising; campaign contributions from outside interest groups.
Dull? Who said midterm elections are dull?
First, there’s the “craziest congressional campaign of the year” (the 52nd, per ABC News). This race is also among the most expensive in the nation. We also have a San Diego City Council race where the Democratic supermajority is at stake. Then there is our governor who hasn’t spent any money on his campaign, but who looks to win in a landslide.
There are also two Democrats vying to run the state’s schools; and are propositions for a $7 billion water bond, the right to build an Indian casino on non-Indian land and a plan to turn some non-violent felonies into misdemeanors.