Once again I am amazed by the Sacramento Bee's reporters. I sat behind Marcos Breton at the hearing on the Sacramento City USD school closers, yet evidently we heard different things. Like education reporter Loretta Kalb, he failed to get the facts straight, so his column in the Sunday Bee was riddled with inaccuracies. Since the public has no other source for information on this trail, that's a shame.
Dr. Hernandez was only disqualified as an expert witness on school finance. Therefore he could not give his evidence that SCUSD did not need to close schools because the district had unspent money that would have improved the schools' bottom lines. Hernandez also collected data on two schools, C.B. Wire and Maple, that showed when the district created its "right-sizing" capacity report, it counted spaces as class rooms that were being used for other purposes or were too small for the current student teacher ratio of 33-1 and so were vacant. This would have showed that the district's methodology for arriving at which schools to place on the list was flawed. However, The district's lawyers succeeded in preventing him from drawing the same conclusions for the other schools, since he didn't visit them all in the short timeframe he had.
Dr. Hernandez was eminently qualified to testify on the socio-economic data the data he collected on the schools considered for closure. It revealed that while all the schools on the list had significant minority students populations, only those in minority neighborhoods were closed. Even using the district's data, four schools in majority white neighborhoods had lower enrollment to capacity numbers than two of the schools in minority neighborhoods that were closed. Those four schools were left open. That conclusion has been ignored by the Bee. The real issue behind the lawsuit is not the methodology used. It's the decisions that were made.
Wanting to have it both ways, the district's lawyer's then attempted on cross examination to get Dr. Hernandez to conclude that if he had visited all the schools, he would have found that using his own methodology would have resulted in a list similar to the district's. Dr. Hernandez smartly refused to draw that conclusion. Oddly enough, the lawyers attempted to bring in the teachers union, making references to prior union support for school closures. Dr. Hernandez also denied any knowledge of statements made by Sacramento City Teachers Association officials. In any case, the SCTA Rep Council, which speaks for the teachers at the schools they represent, voted against the closures.
In his column, Breton wrote of the hardships that neighborhoods suffer and the fact that these parents have little political clout. He acknowledged that the students who attended the closed schools have the cards stacked against them economically and socially. But he states that the district had no choice but to close the schools. He actually touches on the real reason for the hasty timeline for closing these schools-the district's bond rating. The district succeeded in passing two facilities bond measures last November (with help from parents at some of the schools that ended up being closed). In order to keep the interest rates on the bonds lower, the district had to jigger its bottom line. So Breton managed to find a way to blame teachers in his column. He says it's their unfunded pension liabilities that necessitated the closures. It's not the expansion of small high schools in the face of declining enrollment. It's not charter schools that reduce district ADA (average daily attendance). It's not the consultants that Superintendent Raymond hires for millions of dollars. No , it's the teachers fault. Congratulations, Marcos you did your job.