Thomas Ultican: Stockton Schools after Deasy
Thomas Ultican looks at the schools of Stockton after two years under reformer John Deasy, and he also looks back the district’s history and its connections to the history of charters in California. Reposted with permission.
The infamous John Deasy resigned his post as Superintendent of Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) on June 15th, 2020. That made his tenure two weeks more than two years which further exacerbated the longtime administrative instability at SUSD. He apparently steered the district budgets toward deficit spending and left a decimated finance department in his wake while other administrative positions multiplied. Concurrent with his two years in Stockton, money and leaders from organizations bent on privatizing public education were bolstered and became more active.
Stockton is an interesting place with vibrant political activity. The 209Times a Facebook based news outlet claims over 200,000 readers. It is not a slick publication but it does seem effective. 209 is the Stockton telephone prefix. Another internet based news outlet Recordnet.com is often an adversary of the 209Times.
The city was a gold rush town established in 1849. Situated 75 miles down the San Joaquin River from the Golden Gate Bridge at the north end of the San Joaquin valley, it is the farthest inland deep water port in California. That valley has the most productive farm land in the world and a significant portion of its bounty ships from Stockton. Just 13 miles north of downtown is where John Fogerty got “Stuck in Lodi Again.”
Stockton is a city of 315,000 people and one of America’s most diverse communities. The demographic makeup is 42.1% Hispanic, 21.6% Asian, 20.8% White and 11.8 % Black. It has a 20% poverty rate and a stunning 82% of its K-12 students come from families in poverty. SUSD enrolls around 34,000 students into its 54 schools. Charter schools enroll close to 6,000 students.
With high poverty rates, Stockton has naturally underperformed on standardized testing which is significantly more correlated with family wealth than anything else. Linda Darling-Hammond pegs that correlation at 0.9 which is an almost certainty. The education writer Alfie Kohn suggested we could replace standardized testing by asking students just one question, “How much money does your mom make?” (Kohn page 77)
Breaking the Bank
In California, schools are required to submit a budget progress update each November called the First Interim Report. Because this report is formulaic, it provides a way to compare a district’s finances over time. The SUSD reports for 2018-2019, 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 reveal what appears to be a deliberate attempt to financially harm the district. In an era with declining enrollment both teaching staff and management permanent positions were increased significantly while cash flow turned steeply negative.
In teacher jargon, FTE stands for full time equivalent. Between the times John Deasy was hired until he resigned the full time staff at SUSD increased by more than 500 people. In terms of money, that represented a $9 million increase in yearly spending on salaries. During this same period, attendance declined by more than 1,300 students. That represented about a $9 million dollar loss in revenue from the state. SUSD had an $18 million dollar negative structural budget change.
SUSD board of trustees contracted with the Fiscal Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) to review their financial situation and processes. The executive summary of the January 2022 report noted,
“At the time of FCMAT’s fieldwork, there had been significant employee turnover and the elimination of some management positions in the Business Services Department. Key budget management personnel had been in their positions for only a brief time; therefore, there was a lack of historical institutional knowledge about the district’s 2021-22 budget development and 2020-21 financial closing processes.”
In other words, despite all of the hiring Deasy left the financial department in chaos. The FCMAT study claimed that SUSD was headed for serious financial difficulties when the one time spending from the federal government is gone in fiscal year 2024-25. Currently they say the district is spending one time funding on $26.3 million in salaries, benefits and services that appear essential.
DooWop Don in Charge
Don and Sue Shalvey live in Linden, California a small rural community 10 miles east of Stockton. When they actually moved there is unknown. Don is a bit of a rock star amongst neoliberal Democrats. His San Carlos Learning Center was the first charter school in California and the site of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s 1997 round table discussion on charter schools. In Lily Geismer’s book Left Behind, she describes the meeting at the round table between Don and “a thirty-something man with a goatee and Birkenstocks.” That was Reed Hastings who Geismer claims needed someone like Shalvey to give his education plans credibility. (Left Behind Page 249)
Together, Shalvey and Hastings successfully campaigned to end the charter school cap in California. At the same time Hastings was starting his new company Netflix. The two soon hooked up with John Doerr and the NewSchools Venture Fund to invent a charter network called a charter management organization (CMO). Shalvey did most of the leg work in developing University Public Schools which later changed its name to Aspire. It was America’s first CMO. (Left Behind Page 249)
From 2009 to 2020, Don served as a Deputy Director for K-12 Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he oversaw charter schools and teacher preparation. Before he was a charter school founder and before he was a school teacher, he was a disc jockey. That is why his twitter handle is @dooWopDon.
In 2020, Don assumed leadership of San Joaquin A Plus Inc. (A+)
Before he arrived, A+ was a modest organization working with a total of about $50,000 annually. On their tax forms (Tax ID: 51-0536117) A+ is listed as a public charity and it states, “The primary exempt purpose is to support and enhance the education of the community’s youth and to create responsible employable and productive citizens through tutorial and other services and the teaching of school literacy, school readiness, and parent education.”
With Don’s arrival, Helen Schwab, President of the The Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation (Tax ID 94-3374170) gifted A+ $400,000. This low profile organization suddenly became a player in Stockton politics and school policy.
Researchers at University of Indiana Purdue University Indianapolis noted as a key component in their model of billionaire funded attacks on public education the development of local organizations to collaborate on the agenda. In addition to A+, it appears that the Community Foundation of San Joaquin has also been converted to this roll. In 2019, The City Fund (Tax ID 82-4938743) gifted them $298,960 and Bill Gates (Tax ID 56-2618866) has also been granting them funds. In there latest tax filing (Tax ID 27-1476916), the Foundation lists Don’s wife Sue Shalvey as Chairman.
Larry Tramutola is a political organizer for hire. He represented Michael Bloomberg in his $18 million dollar support for San Francisco’s successful soda tax referendum. Last year, he launched the Stockton Education & Outreach Project. Their first report seemed designed to put public schools in as bad as light as possible. The funding for Tramutola’s project is unknown.
A Leadership Nightmare
After John Deasy stepped down as Superintendent, Recordnet.com reported,
“Biedermann was selected by the Board of Trustees to serve as interim superintendent after John Deasy stepped down April 21, 2020. In 2018, Deasy became the district’s 12th interim or full-time superintendent over the past 30 years. Deasy succeeded current Stockton City Councilman Dan Wright, who took over as interim superintendent in August 2017 for Eliseo Davalos, who lasted 13 months. Carl Tolliver served two stints from Sept. 14, 2005, to June 30, 2006, and from July 2010 to June 2012.”
Brian Biederman who is mentioned above had served as head of educational services for Stockton Unified under Deasy and appears to have been his choice as a successor. This June, when Biederman ran for Superintendent of San Joaquin County Department of Education, the required form 460 campaign reports show that Napa resident John Deasy contributed $100.
However, when it came to creating district stability, Biederman was not the answer. In January 2021, just 8 months into his tenure he resigned claiming personal health issues.
Left in a difficult situation, the district board hired former Monterey County Superintendent John Ramirez Jr. as acting Superintendent with the intention of eventually naming him Superintendent. He was already serving as a consultant to the district. Ramirez came with some baggage. In 2016 while serving as Alisal Union School District’s superintendent he admitted personal use of district credit cards which he repaid and also drew a sexual harassment complaint filed by a former district employee. However, he had strong support from within SUSD and the community.
Just over a year later, Ramirez resigned. The district announced that they accepted his resignation so he could care for the health of his elderly parents. However, the executive session agenda item that led to accepting the resignation by a 4-2 vote was listed as item 2.1 discipline/dismissal/release. A person in the know said that Ramirez was removed because he was spending more time in Don Salvey’s office than his own district office.
Going into the 2022-23 school year, the SUSD board has settled on Dr. Traci E. Miller as interim superintendent. She is a 25-year veteran of SUSD where she has served as middle school counselor, high school counselor, head counselor, Assistant Principal, Principal, and Director.
In June, there was a Grand Jury report on SUSD. It drew two different public responses. The 209Times wrote “Biased ‘Grand Jury’ Issues Another Attack on SUSD” stating.
“While Stockton Unified was dedicating its new headquarters after a 40 year inspirational music teacher Arthur Coleman Jr, operatives of the power brokers who ram Stockton into the ground that we refer to as the “Stockton Cabal”, tried to overshadow the progress with yet another “special report”. This one comes less than a year since the last ‘grand jury special report on SUSD’.
“The major point of contention? A potential $30 million deficit. Only problem is that’s exactly what was already mentioned last year. Yet, the report again failed to mention that ousted Cabal approved Superintendent John Deasy left the district in a $100 million deficit.”
Recordnet.com had a quite different response. Their article “Grand jury finds Stockton Unified trustees failed as district leaders in scathing report” states,
“A San Joaquin County civil grand jury has found the Stockton Unified School District Board of Trustees have failed as district leaders and will likely continue to do so.
“A scathing 33-page report released by the 2020-21 grand jury says Stockton Unified trustees are the direct reason for what’s been called the district’s ‘revolving door’ of superintendents.”
A close reading of the Grand Jury report is not a scathing report on the district trustees nor is it a completely biased attack with no value.
Page 12 in the report states,
“Selection of the current CBO was made contrary to Board Policy (BP) 4211.2. The CBO was hired without a search, screening process or interviews.” (Report Page 11)
CBO stands for chief business officer. When asked about this finding, school board Vice President Ray Zulueta said that he assumed when Human Resources brought them a hire recommendation that they had correctly followed the process. This looks like an example of the superintendent not getting the job done. The board hired the guy but they have no choice but to believe people are doing their job.
The grand jury was also was critical about the way change orders were being handled. They shared,
“For example, athletic facility projects at Franklin High School had an overrun of approximately $6 million. No change order was submitted to the Board for approval.” (Report Page 12)
This makes clear to the trustees how critical it is to put people in place who have both competency and integrity, but this was not an attack directed at the board.
The charge of bias does ring true when discussing the budget issues. On page 22, The Grand Jury regurgitates information from the January FCMAT report about possible deficits and unprofessional financial processes. It does not indicate that the SUSD trustees caused the report to be generated nor does it mention the huge out of budget spending during the Deasy administration. Many district leaders believe Deasy’s spending led to more than $100 million dollars missing from district total assets. That looks like something on which the Grand Jury should have focused.
After looking at the issues swirling around SUSD, I believe the district is in damaged but decent shape. As Dr. Miller takes charge, it seems like a great time for a new beginning. Her résumé indicates a professional educator with deep experience. She has administrative experience and a twenty-five year relationship with the community. The board now has the opportunity to see if she can make the trains run on time, cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. There is every reason to think she can. If she proves herself, 10 or 15 years down the road she could still be superintendent.