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Unification Update - October 14, 2009

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT:

A Response to Centinela Valley Union High School District’s Misrepresentations on Wiseburn Secession

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For more information, please contact

Dr. Tom Johnstone, Superintendent
Wiseburn School District
(310) 643-3025

     The following narrative provides factual information regarding Wiseburn School District’s quest for unification and counters inaccuracies that were reported in Centinela Valley Union High School District’s Fact Sheet on Wiseburn Secession.

OVERVIEW

     Wiseburn School District is located directly south of and adjacent to Los Angeles International Airport, encompassing parts of the City of El Segundo, Unincorporated Los Angeles County (Del Aire and Wiseburn) and the City of Hawthorne (Hollyglen).  The Wiseburn School District was established in 1896 and is the oldest school district in the Centinela Valley.  With 2,403 students the student body is the most diverse in the Centinela Valley – 52% Latino, 20% Caucasian, 18% African-American, and 10% Asian, and closely reflects the demographics of the State of California.  English Learners comprise over 13% of the student population and 41% qualify for the federal governments Free/Reduced Meals Program.  Wiseburn School District is one of four Kindergarten through Grade 8 school districts that are “feeder” elementary school districts to Centinela Valley Union High School District.  The other feeder districts are Hawthorne School District, Lawndale School District and Lennox School District.

     The issue at hand with Wiseburn’s quest for unification is purely based on academic performance and giving the students and taxpayers in the Centinela Valley the greatest opportunity for success. 

     For more than 75 years (CVUHSD was formed in 1905), Centinela Valley Union High School District did a respectable job of providing a high school education for the students in the Hawthorne, Lawndale, Lennox and Wiseburn communities.  However, since 1980 – a full thirty years ago – Centinela Valley Union High School District has been in decline both fiscally and academically.  In May 2009, Centinela Valley Union High School District was the lowest performing school district in the South Bay, and worse, was the lowest performing school district in Los Angeles County (81 districts) based on California’s Academic Performance Index (API).  For comparison purposes, Centinela Valley Union High School District had a 2009 Base District API of 626.  Compton had a 2009 Base District API of 643, Lynwood came in at 675, Inglewood was 689, and Los Angeles Unified was 694.  Also, by comparison, Hawthorne School District had a 2009 Base District API of 765, Lawndale’s 2009 Base District API was 763, Lennox came in with a 2009 Base District API of 739, and Wiseburn had a 2009 Base District API of 828.

     Over the past 30 years, dissatisfaction with Centinela Valley Union High School District has continued to mount in all four of the feeder districts where the academic performance of the students has steadily increased.  In 1999, the Lennox School District in collaboration with Loyola Marymount University and Green Dot, initiated the charter school movement in the Centinela Valley as a high school alternative to Centinela Valley Union High School District.  In 2000, Animo Leadership High School was opened, chartered by the Lennox School District.  In 2001, Lawndale opened a charter high school – Environmental Charter High School.  In 2003, Lennox added a second charter high school, Lennox Math, Science and Technology Academy (LMSTA) and Hawthorne followed suit with Hawthorne Math and Science Academy (HMSA).

     In 2009, Wiseburn joined the charter school movement with the opening of the Da Vinci Charter Schools – Da Vinci Science and Da Vinci Design, under Wiseburn 21st Century Charters.  Collectively, these six charter schools offer more than 2,500 students an alternative to Centinela Valley Union High School District high schools (approximately 25% of the high school students in the Centinela Valley).  It is very significant to note that the students at all of these charter high schools are achieving at much higher levels than the students at Centinela Valley Union High School District. (Note: The Da Vinci Charters are in their first year so there are no API scores available until summer of 2010.)

     The 2009 API for Hawthorne Math and Science Academy was 867 – 291 API points higher than Leuzinger High School.  Similarly, Lennox Math, Science and Technology Academy had an API of 759 – 183 API points higher than Leuzinger High School and 124 API points higher than Hawthorne High School. Environmental Charter High School (Lawndale) has an API of 765 and Animo Leadership (Lennox) has an API ranking of 688.  In every case, the demographics of the student population are very similar to the demographics of Centinela Valley Union High School District.  The students at these schools are admitted by lottery.  They are not handpicked.  Only Lawndale High School in Centinela Valley Union High School District could boast an academic performance that compares favorably with the charters (Lawndale’s API is 729).  In 2009, Lawndale High School showed the second largest decrease of any high school in the South Bay dropping 21 points on the API.  Lawndale will likely be challenged in 2009-10 with the loss of their principal and long-time Assistant Principal, both of whom were moved to other positions in the Centinela Valley Union High School District after the 2008-2009 school year.

     With the State Board of Education poised to consider the question of Wiseburn unification in November 2009, Wiseburn would like to set the record straight and provide accurate information for Centinela students, families, teachers, taxpayers and community members.

CLAIM:   Secession would remove 45% of Centinela’s property tax base.

FACT:   In 2008-09, 332 Dana Middle School graduates attended Centinela Valley Union High School District schools and comprised 4.52% of the total Centinela Valley Union High School District enrollment.  The Wiseburn School District attendance area generates 45.5% of the assessed valuation (property tax base) for the construction of school facilities in Centinela Valley Union High School District.  In 2000, the taxpayers in Centinela Valley Union High School District (which includes Wiseburn), passed a school construction bond in the amount of $59,000,000.  Eight years later, the taxpayers of Centinela Valley Union High School District have, at best, received a marginal return on their investment – a new district office for Centinela Valley Union High School District administration, a multi-purpose room (cafeteria/auditorium) at Hawthorne High School and a mammoth performing arts center on the Lawndale campus that has still not opened its doors.  Meanwhile, Lennox School District, with two successful bond measures and state hardship funds, has spent approximately $100 million of local and state taxpayer money.  The result – two brand new schools, brand new classroom buildings on three other campuses, and the full modernization of four campuses, all that provide a direct benefit to students, and are an excellent return on taxpayer investment in the community.

     Similarly, in Wiseburn, taxpayers have passed three school construction bonds since 1999 totaling $82,000,000.  The result – a brand new Juan de Anza Elementary School (2003), a brand new Richard Henry Dana Middle School (2007), and a brand new Juan Cabrillo Elementary School (2009).  In addition, a fourth Wiseburn campus has been modernized and has received a new classroom building with six classrooms. All of these projects provide a direct benefit to our students and are an excellent return on taxpayer investment in the community.

     In 2004, the Wiseburn School District presented a proposal to the State Board of Education that Wiseburn would continue to pay their share of the $59,000,000 bond that was passed by Centinela Valley Union High School District taxpayers in 2000.  The State Board of Education accepted that proposal but unification was halted by a Centinela Valley Union High School District lawsuit before going to a vote of the people.  The Wiseburn community fully supports high school students throughout the Centinela Valley and is more than ready to be an active participant in a regional solution to improving Centinela Valley high schools.  Wiseburn accepts their share of bonded indebtedness for both Measure C ($59,000,000 in 2000) and Measure CV ($98,000,000 in 2008), which, if it is responsibly spent, will ensure sufficient facilities funding through property tax-funded school bonds, to provide adequate facilities for Centinela Valley Union High School District students.  Wiseburn is fully prepared to fulfill its school facilities obligation to the Centinela Valley Union High School District, an amount totaling over $71,000,000 (45% of Measure C and Measure CV combined), even though there will not be Wiseburn students attending Centinela Valley Union High School District if Wiseburn unification is successful.  Centinela Valley Union High School District’s claim that without the Wiseburn tax base the district will not be able to obtain sufficient facilities funding through property tax-funded school bonds is totally inaccurate.

CLAIM:   Secession would threaten Centinela’s solvency.

FACT:   Like all school districts in the State of California, Centinela Valley Union High School District has been challenged by the state’s deepening fiscal crisis.  The four feeder districts have depended on responsible decision-making and prudent fiscal management to weather the storm. Over three decades, Centinela Valley Union High School District has not benefitted from the same prudent fiscal management, and this is not the fault or responsibility of Wiseburn or any of the “feeder” districts.  By Centinela Valley Union High School District’s own admission, Wiseburn graduates comprise less than 5% (actually 4.52%) of the total enrollment in Centinela Valley.  Properly managed, the loss of even a significant proportion of these 332 students, is not going to threaten the solvency of the Centinela Valley Union High School District.  

     All of the “feeder” districts have survived significant drops in enrollment, and most specifically during the years between 2001 and 2008.  Using CBEDS counts between 2001 and 2008 Hawthorne declined by 549 students, Lawndale lost 300 students and Lennox lost a staggering 1,417 students.  Wiseburn had an extreme decline in enrollment between 1970 and 1985 that resulted in a loss of 1,800 students and the closure of three elementary schools.  All of these districts have made painful but strategic budget cuts during the past decade and have remained fiscally solvent, while continuing to grow and thrive academically.  During the same 8-year period between 2001 and 2008, Centinela Valley Union High School District’s enrollment actually increased by 280 students.  The loss in Average Daily Attendance (ADA) due to a successful Wiseburn unification would be significantly less than the losses created by any of the four established charter high schools – Animo, Lennox Math, Science and Technology Academy, Environmental, and Hawthorne Math and Science Academy, and would not threaten Centinela’s solvency.

CLAIM:   Secession would further divide an already segregated community.

FACT:   As stated earlier, Wiseburn is the most racially balanced, integrated school district in the South Bay and is a model for successful integration and racial balance for Los Angeles County and the entire State of California.  Wiseburn is an example of what can happen when parents are able to self-select a public education for their children in a district that is racially balanced, safe and academically high achieving – things that nearly all parents want for their children.  It is certain that CVUHSD has been a very divisive factor in the Wiseburn community for at least three decades.  Residents of the Wiseburn community, and indeed much of the entire Centinela Valley, do not want to send their children to a CVUHSD high school.  After having attended Wiseburn schools for several years, many of our families physically move out of the community to ensure that their children can attend other high schools in the South Bay.  This is due to their discontent, and in some cases, fear of having their child attend an unsafe, poor performing high school in a district that is achieving at the very bottom of Los Angeles County.  It is tragic that families who love the Wiseburn community and Wiseburn schools have to uproot themselves because their high school options have not been commensurate with their K-8 options.

     It is true that Wiseburn unification could pull from Centinela Valley Union High School District proportionately more students with higher test scores because most Wiseburn students achieve at high levels.  The English Learner population is not significantly different with Wiseburn’s English Learner percentage at 13% compared to Centinela Valley Union High School District at 24%.  With regard to the non-Hispanic white population at Hawthorne High School, Centinela Valley Union High School District asserts that 35% of the Caucasian students come from Wiseburn.  Since Hawthorne High School had only 89 non-Hispanic white students (out of an enrollment of 2,689 students, which is 3.3%), Centinela Valley Union High School District is talking about 31 students, spread across 4 grades, or less than 8 Caucasian students per grade level.

     In regards to Advanced Placement offerings in CVUHSD, it should be noted that in 2008, three charter schools – Lennox Math, Science and Technology Academy (LMSTA), Hawthorne Math and Science Academy (HMSA), and Animo Leadership (Lennox) ranked in the top 100 high schools in the nation, based on student passing rates on advanced placement exams and the International Baccalaureate exams.  Virtually all of these students live within the boundaries of the Centinela Valley Union High School District and it is highly unlikely that they would have achieved the same results if they had attended a Centinela Valley Union High School District school.

CLAIM:   Secession could impose a nearly 200% tax increase on the remaining Centinela taxpayers.

FACT:   Centinela Valley Union High School District’s assertion that secession could impose a nearly 200% tax increase on the remaining Centinela Valley taxpayers is patently false and might even be characterized as a scare tacticAs stated earlier in this document, in 2004 the Wiseburn School District presented a proposal to the State Board of Education in Sacramento that Wiseburn would continue to pay their share of the $59,000,000 school construction bond that was passed by Centinela Valley Union High School District taxpayers in 2000.  Again, the State Board of Education accepted that proposal but Wiseburn unification was halted by a Centinela Valley Union High School District lawsuit before going to a vote of the people.  The Wiseburn community has no intention of shirking its responsibility and leaving the remaining (non-Wiseburn) taxpayers to pay nearly double what they currently pay in property taxes to retire Centinela Valley Union High School District’s existing bond debt, including the $98,000,000 in bonds that Centinela Valley voters recently approved in November 2008.  The Wiseburn community will continue to pay $29 per $100,000 assessed valuation, just like every other homeowner/taxpayer in the Centinela Valley, until 2058.  Wiseburn will fully support a  ballot measure that is put before the Wiseburn community that includes the provision to continue to pay on all bonded indebtedness, an amount totaling over $71,000,000, even though there will not be Wiseburn students attending Centinela Valley Union High School District, unless by permit, if Wiseburn unification is successful.  Again, Wiseburn taxpayers will not turn their backs on the students of the Centinela Valley.  Wiseburn will be an active participant in a regional solution to improving high school options for all Centinela Valley students. (Note:  Using the 200% tax increase figure is a gross exaggeration since Wiseburn comprises only 45.5% of the assessed valuation in CVUHSD.  If Wiseburn did not continue to pay off the two bond measures, the tax rate for the remaining tax payers in Centinela Valley would increase by 84%, not 200%.  Do the math!) 

CLAIM:   Secession could force the closure of Centinela Valley Union High School District’s Lawndale High School.

FACT:   The Wiseburn community applauds the accomplishments of Lawndale High School.  It is truly an honor for Lawndale to be recognized as a California Distinguished School as well as being recognized as one of 12 schools in Los Angeles County to be selected for the National Center for Urban School Transformation Award.  It is truly unfortunate that Centinela Valley Union High School District administration has chosen to replace the leadership at Lawndale at such a critical and pivotal time.

     However, to assert that the loss of 332 students from the Wiseburn territory, when coupled with the potential loss of hundreds of other Centinela Valley students seeking permits to transfer to a Wiseburn high school, could force Centinela Valley Union High School District to close Lawndale High School, is grossly overstated. 

      In 2008, there were exactly 49 Wiseburn (Dana Middle School) graduates attending Lawndale High School.  This represents 3.6% of the student population at Lawndale.

     At the Da Vinci Charter Schools (Da Vinci Science and Da Vinci Design), there are 157 Dana Middle School graduates.  Wiseburn residents are guaranteed a seat at the Da Vinci Charters but the remainder of the students are selected through a lottery.  Currently there are students from 83 different middle schools/high schools attending Da Vinci Charter Schools, from throughout Los Angeles County.  If a high school is safe, academically challenging and high performing, students and families will want to attend.  This is the key to Wiseburn’s success and Centinela Valley Union High School District’s eventual success or failure.  If Centinela Valley Union High School District needs to close Lawndale High School at some point in the future, it will have nothing to do with Wiseburn unification.  It will be due to the inability of Centinela Valley Union High School District to provide schools that are safe, academically challenging and high performing.

     In closing, the Wiseburn School District would like to reiterate our commitment to improving the education of high school students in the Centinela Valley.  The Wiseburn School District is willing to be an active participant in the school improvement effort, or to even lead this effort.  The children of the Centinela Valley are deserving and capable of reaching the highest levels of post high school education.  It is up to all of us to ensure that all of these students are given this opportunity.



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The Mission of the Wiseburn Unified School District is to provide a safe, orderly environment focused on the academic, social, and physical needs of the whole child while emphasizing community participation. To meet the challenges of the technological and complex world of the 21st Century, Wiseburn students will acquire the skills necessary to become capable lifelong learners and productive citizens.

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