SF weather link

There’s a new link over there on the left to a nice (if I say so myself) SF Bay Area weather page.

The National Weather Service has a lot of useful information, but my favorite, the Area Forecast Discussion, can be pretty hard to read until you get accustomed to its all-caps (and sometimes rather abbreviated) format. I’ve combined the AFD with the SF Zone Forecast, and reformatted them into a single more readable page (especially on a small screen). At the bottom of the page you’ll find links to some other relevant NWS pages.

You’ll see some words and phrases in blue; mouse over them, and you’ll see a brief gloss.

Feedback is welcome, especially if you see formatting and capitalization errors. Paste the error into your email, since the page may have changed by the time I see it.

If you’re not in the SF Bay Area, well, sorry. Unfortunately, much of the formatting is highly localized, especially place names.

And if you don’t like the weather, go out and make some of your own.

Update: I’ve generalized the software to provide weather pages for the entire US. Just enter a zip code. See the announcement post or visit the Lobitos Weather Project.

Thinking bigger about schools

Bob Herbert in the NY Times:

Our Schools Must Do Better

The latest federal test results showed some improvement in public school math and reading scores, but there is no reason to celebrate these minuscule gains. We need so much more. A four-year college degree is now all but mandatory for building and sustaining a middle-class standard of living in the U.S.

Over the next 20 or 30 years, when today’s children are raising children of their own in an ever more technologically advanced and globalized society, the educational requirements will only grow more rigorous and unforgiving.

A one- or two-point gain in fourth grade test scores here or there is not meaningful in the face of that overarching 21st-century challenge.

What’s needed is a wholesale transformation of the public school system….

“We’re not good at thinking about magnitudes,” said Thomas Kane, a professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “We’ve got a bunch of little things that we think are moving in the right direction, but we haven’t stepped back and thought, ‘O.K., how big an improvement are we really talking about?’ ” Professor Kane and I were discussing what he believes are the two areas that have the greatest potential for radically improving the way children are taught in the U.S. Both are being neglected by the education establishment.

The first is teacher quality, a topic that gets talked about incessantly. It has been known for decades that some teachers have huge positive effects on student achievement, and that others do poorly. The positive effect of the highest performing teachers on underachieving students is startling.

What is counterintuitive, but well documented, is that paper qualifications, such as teacher certification, have very little to do with whatever it is that makes good teachers effective.

“Regrettably,” said Professor Kane, who has studied this issue extensively, “we’ve never taken that research fact seriously in our teacher policy. We’ve done just the opposite.”

The second area to be mined for potentially transformative effects is the wide and varied field of alternative school models. We should be rigorously studying those schools that appear to be having the biggest positive effects on student achievement. Are the effects real? If so, what accounts for them?

Adjusting for demographics, our local school district (Cabrillo Unified, on the California coast south of San Francisco) ranks just about average among California schools. California ranks close to last nationwide, so that’s no cause for celebration. And the US overall ranks well down the list of developed countries.

The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), to cite one example, is a charter school network that has consistently gotten extraordinary academic results from low-income students. It has worked in cities big and small, and in rural areas. Like other successful models, it has adopted a longer school day and places great demands on its teachers and students.

I know nothing about KIPP, but taking Herbert at face value, we shouldn’t be distracted by the “charter school” label. We know by now that charters do just about as well, or as badly, as our regular public schools. We should be verifying that models like this really work, and try to apply those models to more schools.

Said Professor Kane: “These alternative models that involve the longer school day and a much more dramatic intervention for kids are promising. If that’s what it takes, then we need to know that, and sooner rather than later.”

What’s the Problem With Less Crowding?

Dean Baker, What’s the Problem With Less Crowding?:

It would be reasonable to think that a densely populated island with exorbitant land and housing prices would be happy to alleviate its crowding problem. That’s not the thinking at the Washington Post.

The Post had an article this morning noting the surprising fact that the number of obstetricians in Japan is declining along with its dropping birth rate. The article notes that Japan’s population is currently shrinking, and that if current trends continue, its population will fall from over 127 million to just 100 million by 2050. The Post then describes this drop in population as a “problem.”

Well, fewer people, rising capital labor to ratios (and therefore higher wages), less crowding, and less pollution is not a problem in any economics I know. Maybe the Post will explain its reasoning in some future article, but for now, this front page story simply doesn’t make sense.

Might a similar argument not apply to the San Mateo County coastside? Or to the Bay Area in general? The population of San Mateo County has declined in recent years; why is that not a good thing?

Where’s local?

I’ve added a new category, “local”, for posts of local geographic interest.

Where’s local? I live on Lobitos Creek overlooking the Pacific ocean, on the San Francisco peninsula, along Highway One, a few miles south of Half Moon Bay. My first “local” posts concerned the Cabrillo Unified School District, which extends roughly from where I live north to include Half Moon Bay and the unincorporated towns of El Granada, Moss Beach and Montara, collectively the San Mateo midcoast.

So, we’ll see just how far local extends, but so far it’s the San Mateo County coastside.

CUSD Measure S Parcel Tax: Argument Against

In the previous post, we reviewed the ballot argument for Measure S, and its rebuttal. Here we look at the argument for the measure, and its rebuttal. See this post for an overview of CUSD’s latest parcel tax request.

Arguments Against Measure S
Cabrillo Unified School District wants another $875 from local homeowners with this proposed tax. Worse yet, they plan to spend the money on operating expenses. Will they ask for more when this tax expires? What do you think?

The argument is referring to the total run of the proposed parcel tax: $175/year for five years is $875.

The school district pleads poverty, but what do its financial reports show?

Data from www.ed-data.k12.ca.us:
1993-4 2003-4 Increase (%)
Revenue (in $millions) 14.1 23.5 66
Number of Students (ADA) 3430 3600 5
Books,Supplies/Student ($) 184 215 17
Employee Salaries, Benefits
(in $millions)
11.7 20.4 74

Inflation over that time was just 27%. And in 1994, we still had school buses!

These numbers are correct, though the urban CPI increase in the SF Bay Area is a more appropriate figure for inflation, and is 34% rather than 27%. The share of revenue going to employee expenses has risen over time, and is due at least in part to higher benefit costs–especially for health care.

Ten years ago, voters gave the school district a $35 million bond for an “urgently needed” middle school. We’re still waiting for it.

Much of the 1996 Measure K bond money has been spent on facilities improvements at all the CUSD sites, including the middle school, and the middle school rebuild is finally under way. It’s true that a new middle school was an explicit goal of Measure K, and that it appears that it will ultimately have taken 15 years from the passage of the bond to complete the middle school.

On the hand, the urgency of the new middle school was substantially reduced as enrollment unexpectedly shrank, and the barriers to spending the parcel tax proceeds are much lower than those to building a new school.

Throwing more money at this district will make things worse, not better.

Local taxpayers already fund students generously ($4427 here versus $2115 statewide, in local taxes per student, 2003-4). And if the district ever gets around to spending its $35 million bond money, we’ll pay for that, too.

Much of the bond has in fact been spent on facilities improvements, and we’re paying for the entire bond regardless. Because much of our school funding comes from the state general fund, local taxes per student is not a particularly useful statistic.

Tell them: Enough is enough.


/s/ Donald F. Pettengill, March 17, 2006, Treasurer, Coastside Citizens for Good Government

Rebuttal to Arguments Against

Like anything else, if we want great schools, we have to invest in them.

Our opponent is right + operating a school district costs more today than in 1993. Years of cutbacks in state funding in the face of rising costs continue to challenge our local schools financially.

Actually, district revenue per student has more than kept pace with increasing costs (ie inflation). Funding may not be adequate, but it has kept pace with costs.

Proponents of Measure S argue separately that health benefit costs have risen faster than overall inflation, and additionally that district revenue has fallen compared to anticipated revenue, if not compared to actual historical revenue.

Funding formulas based on geographics mean that Coastside schools receive less funding than the statewide average and 30-50% less than wealthier districts over the hill. Consequently, our schools struggle to retain experienced teachers and support excellent academics. Coastside schools nonetheless are moving in the right direction.

CUSD receives about 92% of the average per-student funding across California unified school districts. The proposed tax will lift it to about 97% of average.

This figure may be misleading, though, because Bay Area living costs are considerably higher that the state average, and living costs (in the form of employee salaries and benefits) account for over 80% of the district’s operating budget. Additionally, when cost of living is taken into consideration, California ranks near the bottom of school funding nationwide, so the California average is not in itself a very ambitious target.

Groundbreaking for the new Cunha Middle School has begun.

A slight exaggeration. While a groundbreaking ceremony has been held, actual construction is not likely to begin for another year or so. However, architectural work is well under way, and it looks like the school will actually be built, albeit much later than originally planned.

Student performance is strong and demonstrates sustained improvement over the past six years in the Academic Performance Index (API), a statewide system for measuring scholastic achievement.

To ensure the academic excellence our students need to succeed in a competitive, demanding, and rapidly changing world, we need Measure S.

Measure S supports high-priority academic needs by focusing on excellent teachers, smaller class sizes, and basic and advanced academic programs, including additional classes in science, math, technology and literacy.

Independent annual audits will provide strict accountability. Measure S funds are controlled locally and cannot be taken by the state.

The bottom line + Measure S will help students meet and exceed high academic standards. That’s a goal we all can agree on.

Please Vote Yes on Measure S.

/s/ Lenny Mendonca March 24, 2006, Chair, Bay Area Economic Forum
/s/ Ellen Wright March 24, 2006, Former Chair, California Commission on Academic Standards
/s/ Jerry Trenter March 24, 2006, Science Teacher at Cunha Middle School
/s/ Charise McHugh March 24, 2006, President & CEO, Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau
/s/ Kevin Lansing March 27, 2006, Senior Economist

CUSD Measure S Parcel Tax: Argument For

(See the previous post for an overview of Measure S, CUSD’s latest parcel tax request.)

In this post, we look at the ballot argument for Measure S, along with its rebuttal. My intention is to refrain from taking sides, but to clarify ambiguous or potentially misleading language in the Measure S ballot arguments. Feel free to comment here or by email; I’ll update these posts as needed.

Arguments For Measure S
Measure S is needed for two priorities: great teachers and great academics.

Measure S will fund additional teachers and important academic classes and programs in order to improve student achievement in the classroom:

Measure S will:

  • Help recruit and retain qualified, experienced teachers;

This description differs somewhat from that of the actual measure, more clearly suggesting that tax proceeds will be used for teacher salary increases, as opposed to in-service training. The ballot language, not the ballot argument, is controlling, though.

  • Strengthen students’ academic foundation by adding additional classes in science, math, technology and literacy;
  • Guarantee small class sizes from kindergarten until third grade so young students get individualized instruction;

K-3 class size reduction (CSR) is already funded, and is unlikely to lose its funding. This provision raises the question of what the existing $540,000 in K-3 CSR funding would be used for if the tax proceeds were used instead to fund CSR.

Measure S proponents have suggested privately that $120,000 in School Improvement Plan (SIP) funding now being diverted to CSR would be returned to the site councils to be spent on more traditional SIP purposes (classroom aides, librarians, technology coordinators, etc). This is reasonable, but should have been specified in the measure.

  • Reduce class sizes in middle and high schools to improve student achievement;
  • Help teachers continue to improve by funding staff training programs;
  • Provide funding for books

All Measure S funds will be used locally to improve schools in the Coastside and Kings Mountain communities. No funds can be taken by the state. Independent annual audits will provide strict accountability over the use of these public funds.

Our local schools strive to provide excellent teachers in every classroom.

We have dedicated and creative teachers, but our schools struggle to compete with neighboring districts “over the hill,” which can hire more teachers, support more programs and offer higher salaries. Years of state funding cuts, rising costs and mandates have eroded our district’s ability to fund the academic programs our students need to succeed in a competitive world.

Costs have risen, of course, but “years of state funding cuts” is somewhat misleading. CUSD’s per-student revenue, adjusted for inflation, has increased more than 20% in the last 10 years, though last five years have been essentially flat, increasing only 1%. In that period, services such as busing have been cut, so that the revenue available to be spent in the classroom has increased even faster.

State funding may well be inadequate, but it has been rising, not falling.

Proponents of Measure S argue separately that health benefit costs have risen faster than overall inflation, and additionally that district revenue has fallen compared to anticipated revenue, if not compared to actual historical revenue.

By focusing more resources on additional teachers, basic and advanced academic programs, and smaller class sizes, Measure S will make it easier for students to learn and teachers to teach, thereby improving students’ success in meeting and exceeding academic standards.

Measure S also offers senior citizen exemptions. The measure automatically expires in five years and can’t be extended without voter approval.

We support Measure S for our children, our community and our future. On the Coastside, we deserve great schools. Please vote Yes on Measure S!

/s/ Victor S. Tigerman, March 15, 2006, Senior Coastsider
/s/ Cameron K. Palmer, March 16, 2006, Half Moon Bay Business owner
/s/ John H. Muller, March 16, 2006, Farmer
/s/ April A. Vargas, March 15, 2006, Environmental Activist
/s/ Jayne Battey, March 17, 2006, Parent Volunteer, Half Moon Bay High School & Cunha Intermediate School

Rebuttal to Arguments For
“Years of state funding cuts”? Look at state funding trends:

State K-12 Budget (General fund, billions)
1999-0 2001-2 2002-3 2003-4 2004-5 2005-6 2006-7
$27.5 $30.6 $30.7 $29.3 $34.0 $36.5 $39.8

These figures are misleading. It would be more fair to present inflation-adjusted per-student funding. As we’ve noted above, inflation-adjusted revenue per student has risen about 20% over the last 10 years, and 1% over the last five. It is neither falling, as claimed by the proponents of Measure S, nor rising as fast as its opponents suggest.

A parcel tax now, as state funding ramps up, is unnecessary. In 1994, California spent “only” $15.6 billion for K-14. These long-term increases are huge, but throwing money at our schools’ problems hasn’t worked; reform is what’s needed. And that’s the exact opposite of Measure S:

“Recruit and retain qualified, experienced teachers” – business as usual. How about, instead, paying teachers for performance, rather than longevity? Paying teachers in short supply (math, science) more? Paying AP teachers more than elementary school teachers?

“Reduce class sizes in middle and high schools” – popular with teachers and their unions, but studies show class size is far less important than teacher quality + which will be lowered to find the extra teachers needed! Other countries choose larger classes + and better teachers. American 12th graders were dead last in Physics and tied for last place in Math, in the 1998 TIMSS.

It is correct that there is little if any hard evidence that K-3 class size reduction, now nearly universal in California, has had a measurable effect on student performance. On the other hand, it’s clear that CUSD class sizes in the upper grades are often very large, with middle school teachers often seeing 160 or more students per day.

These are complex questions that are not likely to be resolved in the ballot arguments over a parcel tax measure.

“Provide funding for books” – As usual, at the bottom of the heap. Cabrillo Unified School District has seen huge increases in funding, but we’ve seen little for it + as with the middle school bond debacle, or the ending of student busing. Until voters insist upon fiscal responsibility and meaningful reforms, district schools won’t improve for our children.

Send a clear message: Vote NO on Measure S!

/s/ Donald F. Pettengill, March 27, 2006, Treasurer, Coastside Citizens for Good Government

Regardless of revenue trends, which neither the proponents nor opponents of Measure S represent as accurately as they might, the critical question is whether current funding levels are adequate, and the extent to which the proposed 5% increase will significantly improve the quality of education in the district. The two sides obviously disagree, but neither presents much in the way of supporting evidence.

District revenue (inflation-adjusted, per student) has risen 20% in the last ten years, and CUSD receives about 92% of the statewide average funding for unified school districts. School funding in California is low compared to other states, especially when taking our cost of living into account, and the cost of living in the Bay Area is higher than the California average.

How serious this funding problem is, and whether Measure S is the appropriate means to address it, must be answered by the voters on June 6.

Next: the argument against Measure S, and its rebuttal.

CUSD Measure S Parcel Tax

The Cabrillo Unified School District is asking for a $175 parcel tax on the upcoming June ballot. Measure S is the district’s fifth attempt at a parcel tax in recent memory; the preceding four all failed, more or less narrowly, to achieve the 2/3 vote required in California since Prop 13 for such taxes.

In this post, I’ll look at the provisions of Measure S itself. In subsequent posts, I’ll take a close look at the ballot arguments for and against the measure.

First, the ballot question.

To further student academic achievement by retaining and recruiting highly qualified teachers, supporting their ability to focus on individual student needs through lower class sizes and providing academic resources at all grade levels, shall the Cabrillo Unified School District levy an annual tax for 5 years of $175 on improved parcels, $30 a year on unimproved parcels, with senior citizen exemptions and annual audits?

The full text of the measure continues:

Pursuant section 50075.1(a) of the Government Code, the proceeds of the special tax shall be spent to provide and maintain academic achievement priorities through the following:

1. A highly qualified and well-trained teaching staff;
2. Small classes in kindergarten through third grade;
3. Lower class sizes at the middle school and the high school;
4. An increased range of academic programs at the high school level;
5. Academic programs including, but not limited to, honors classes, science, math and technology courses, literacy programs, extracurricular programs, materials and supplies, and staff development time to promote coordination of teaching efforts.

Basis of Tax

The special tax shall be levied on all parcels of taxable real property in the District, as defined below, for 5 years starting with the 2006-2007 property tax year, at a rate of $175 on improved parcels and $30 on unimproved parcels.

“Parcel of Taxable Real Property” shall be defined as any unit of real property in the District that receives a separate tax bill for ad valorem property taxes from the County Tax Collector’s Office. All property that is otherwise exempt from or upon which are levied no ad valorem property taxes in any year shall also not be subject to the special tax in such year.

An exemption shall be granted on any parcel owned by one or more persons aged 65 years or older as of July 1 of any applicable tax year who occupies said parcel as a principal residence, upon annual application for exemption.

Any such parcels which are contiguous, used solely for owneroccupied single family residential purposes and held under identical ownership, shall, upon approval of an annual application of the owners of such parcel, be treated as a single parcel for purposes of this special tax.

If a parcel of taxable real property has an assessment for improvement(s) on the property, such parcel shall be considered an improved parcel for purposes of this special tax. If a parcel of taxable real property has no assessment for improvement(s), or an assessment only for personal property (such as a manufactured or mobile home), such property shall be considered an unimproved parcel for purposes of this special tax.

With respect to all general property tax matters within its jurisdiction, the County Tax Assessor shall make all final determinations of tax exemption or relief for any reason, and that decision shall be final and binding. With respect to matters specific to the levy of the special tax, including the Senior Citizen Exemption and the classification of property for purposes of calculating the tax, the decisions of a District administrative review panel shall be final and binding.

Pursuant to California Constitution article XIIIB and applicable laws, the appropriations limit for the District will be adjusted periodically by the aggregate sum collected by levy of this special tax.

Accountability Measures

The proceeds of the special tax shall be applied only to the specific purposes identified above. The proceeds of the special tax shall be deposited into a fund, which shall be kept separate and apart from other funds of the District. No later than January 1 of each year while the tax is in effect, the District shall prepare and file with the Board of Education a report/audit detailing the amount of funds collected and expended, and the status of any project authorized to be funded by this measure.


The Board of Education hereby declares, and the voters by approving this measure concur, that every section and part of this measure has independent value, and the Board of Education and the voters would have adopted each provision hereof regardless of every other provision hereof.

Upon approval of this measure by the voters, should any part of the measure or taxing formula be found by a court of competent jurisdiction to be invalid for any reason, all remaining parts of the measure or taxing formula hereof shall remain in full force and effect to the fullest extent allowed by law.

The general provisions are unremarkable. $175 strikes a middle ground in the range of taxes the district has unsuccessfully requested in the past. The $30 tax on unimproved parcels is new, and tries to strike a compromise between taxing these parcels at the full $175 rate and not taxing them at all. It would raise about 10% of the total proceeds of the tax.

If passed, Measure S is expected by the district generate about $1.3 million for five years, a 5% revenue increase over the district’s current budget of approximately $25 million.

The senior and contiguous parcel provisions are routine. Taxpayers will need to apply annually for the exemptions.

With two exceptions, the proposed uses for the tax proceeds are self-explanatory. The first exception is use #1, “A highly qualified and well-trained teaching staff”. This might mean additional training for the existing staff, or higher salaries for the existing staff (in order to attract and retain such teachers), or some combination of both.

Use #2, “Small classes in kindergarten through third grade”, is more difficult to understand. The district already implements K-3 class size reduction (CSR), funded by a combination of categorical CSR funds from the state, with the district making up the balance with about $540,000 from its general fund and other categorical programs. This funding is already in the budget, and (unlike prior years) is in no real danger of going unfunded. If the $540,000 is funded from the parcel tax, it effectively frees up $540,000 in mostly unrestricted funds to be spent on items not listed as parcel tax uses. This should be clarified by the district.

My analysis of the ballot argument for Measure S, and its rebuttal, is here.

My analysis of the ballot argument against Measure S, and its rebuttal, is here.