FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Who will be included in the new district?

The new Northgate Unified School District boundaries are the attendance areas of Northgate High School, Foothill Middle School, and the Walnut Acres, Valle Verde, and Bancroft elementary schools. If you live in the attendance area of one or more of these schools you would be included in the new district. The Eagle Peak Montessori School site is within the boundary of the new district, as a charter school, they will need to decide where their charter lies. They can choose to remain in their current location and seek a County charter. They can relocate and remain a MDUSD charter. Or, we hope, they choose to transfer their charter to NUSD, remain in their current location, and continue to offer a charter option within the new district. The Eagle Peak attendance boundary area is unique to Eagle Peak and does not affect the new district boundaries.

What is the next step?

There are several next steps. We must obtain the signatures of 25% of the registered voters in the new district attendance area or a resolution from an appropriate agency such as the MDUSD Board of Education or the Walnut Creek City Council. We must put the final touches on the report (“Report”) demonstrating the proposal meets the Nine Criteria for a district reorganization recommended by the State Board of Education (the “Nine Criteria”) and submit the report to the County Committee. The Report has been written over the past two years and is comprehensive and compelling.

What is the process?

1) Obtain signatures for a 25% petition and/or a resolution.
2) Prepare the Report demonstrating that formation of the new school district meets the Nine Criteria. Submit the Report to the County Committee.
3) After approval from the County Committee, send the Report to the State Board of Education for approval.
4) Once approved by the State Board of Education, the new district initiative becomes a local ballot measure.
5) Along with the creation of the new school district, there will also be a ballot measure to elect a governing school board. A ballot measure to pass a parcel tax for the new district is also likely.

What are the Nine Criteria?

The Nine Criteria are the criterion that any proposed school district must meet in order to obtain approval from the State Board of Education and the County Committee.
1) Adequate Size
2) Community Identity
3) Equitable division of property and facilities
4) Ability to educate students in an integrated environment and not promote discrimination or segregation.
5) Insignificant increase in costs to the State Board of Education.
6) Promote sound education performance and not disrupt the educational programs.
7) Insignificant increase in school facilities costs.
8) Reorganization is not for the purpose of increasing property values.
9) Sound fiscal management and insignificant negative fiscal effect on the existing district.

What impact will the new district have on the makeup of the student population at each school?

Within the new district boundaries, we are keeping a majority of the attendance areas as they currently exist in MDUSD. Therefore, the creation of a new school district does not significantly impact the makeup of the student population or learning environment at any school.

How are our schools funded and how would that change with NUSD?

In California, unlike in many parts of the U.S., school funding is primarily the responsibility of the state.  Schools can also receive federal funds, government and private grants, and private donations from parents and the community, but the bulk of funding is from the state.  During past state financial crises, Sacramento took increasing amounts of local property tax revenue to shore up state budgets, and that left local school districts unable to rely on a dependable local funding stream.  The result was an extremely complicated system for state funding that enabled some districts to achieve much higher amounts per student over other districts, regardless of student needs. Much of the funding was executed through categorical grants for students in certain categories, and in times of budget pressures, different categorical grants were treated differently. That meant that individual districts could find themselves with unusually severe shortfalls, if they happened to be recipients of multiple categorical grants that were cut that year.

Over the past few years, the state has transitioned to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) that sets basic per student grants that all districts across California will receive.  The grants are intended to grow by an annual inflation factor, and they differ by grade-level bands – the assumption being that instruction for students in higher grades costs more – but otherwise, they are consistent across California.  The only exceptions are for districts that had higher funding under the previous complicated funding system.  The legislation approving LCFF also specified that no district would have to experience funding cuts under LCFF, so those higher-funded districts will not see normal inflation increases in their LCFF grants until the normal state base grants reaches the level of their pre-LCFF per-student funding.

The LCFF system also provides supplementary funds for students living in poverty, English language learners, or students in foster care – all of whom typically require additional instructional and support services.  For each student in those categories, the district receives an additional 20% of the relevant per-student base grant.  For districts with higher concentrations of those less-advantaged students – 55% or more – the district receives an additional 50% of the relevant base grant for each student above the 55% threshold.  This extra funding recognizes that districts with unusually high concentrations of students with these disadvantages experience higher costs to serve those populations.

Finally, all per student funding under LCFF is adjusted for Average Daily Attendance (ADA). If a student misses a day, the per-student funding attributable to the student is cut by 1/(days in school year).  For the Northgate area, we have been told that our ADA rates are likely to be about 94% in K-8 and 92% for high school.

Below are charts showing the base grants, the supplemental grants, and the concentration grants.  Note that these are funding targets.  The state will not necessarily meet these targets every year.  But in years when there are shortfalls, state funding for students across the state will be impacted similarly, unlike in the past, when various funding programs across the education budget might be treated differently, with magnified impacts on certain districts, depending on their participation in each program.lcff

What will happen to the rest of MDUSD if you are successful?

We anticipate a positive fiscal impact on the remaining students within MDUSD. Per-student funding for MDUSD is expected to increase under California’s new Local Control Funding Formula, which was designed to address the specific needs of each district’s unique student population. Students who remain in MDUSD will continue to attend the same neighborhood schools under the administration of the MDUSD district office.
MDUSD will also have a smaller school district, leading to more control for MDUSD. We believe that MDUSD, as it currently exists as the 25th-largest school district in California, has been challenged to respond to the diverse needs of almost 32,000 students. We expect that focusing on the needs of a smaller population will be positive for all of the MDUSD remaining students.

When can this happen?

The soonest the new district can be created is 2018 for the 2018-19 school year. This timeline is 100% dependent on the will of the community to help move this forward.

What happens to our teachers?

Teachers can choose to remain in the new district or stay with MDUSD. The new district will have competitive salaries and benefits in order to ensure our schools can attract and retain good teachers.

Will the teachers in the new district be part of a union?

The teachers have the right to choose and vote on whether or not they will be part of a union. That decision is for the teachers, not Northgate CAPS..

How will you address Special Education?

We plan to use the Contra Costa County Office of Education as NUSD’s provider of special education services, with planning, coordination, and training provided by the Contra Costa SELPA. This arrangement is used by every other school district in the County, except for the three largest schools districts (MDUSD, SRVUSD, and WCCUSD), which are large enough to provide their own services and act as their own SELPA. In other words, special education services in NUSD would be delivered in a similar manner as those in districts such as Walnut Creek, Acalanes, Moraga, Lafayette, John Swett, Antioch, Brentwood, and Orinda.

Why do you want to create the Northgate Unified School District?

We want to create a new school district in order to provide our community of students the best chance for a quality education. A smaller district will mean more responsiveness to the community, a greater ability to serve the need of the students, more accountability to all stakeholders, and the opportunity to increase student achievement. A public school district just for the Northgate area means that school board members would be from this community and local voters would have 100% of the say in any funding plans requiring voter approval. The new district will be similar in size to other local school districts like Walnut Creek, Acalanes, Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda.

Will this increase my home value?

We cannot predict what impact this reorganization will have on home values, and are not pursuing a new District as a means of creating higher home values. It is expressly stated in the Nine Criteria that increasing home values cannot be a reason to pursue district reorganization. The goal of a new district is to create a more accountable and responsive learning environment for our local school educators and our students, whose success requires well-functioning schools.

Can I get involved?

Absolutely. The success of this plan will depend on our community coming together to support this endeavor. We will need volunteers for all of our community outreach.We will also seek individuals with specific skills needed for specific phases of the project. Please contact us through our website at northgatecaps.org

Is the Crossings neighborhood included? Last time this was tried The Crossings was excluded. Why should we believe we are included this time?

The proposal from Northgate CAPS to create a new community-based Northgate Unified School District (NUSD) is quite different than other proposals to improve the schools in our area.  Previous proposals involved merging Northgate schools with another district (Walnut Creek SD, whose students feed into Acalanes HSD), and that would ultimately have involved getting permissions and cooperation from the Lamorinda K-8 districts, as well as MDUSD, when none of those districts had a strong incentive to cooperate.

The new proposal is designed to minimize disruptions for the students and teachers by including in NUSD any household that resides in any of the attendance areas for the five Northgate schools (Valle Verde, Bancroft, Walnut Acres, Foothill MS or Northgate HS).  That means that residents of The Crossings and Crystyl Ranch whose children are in the Foothill/Northgate attendance boundaries as of April 24,2016, would be included.  This proposal does not require MDUSD’s permission, although it could move more quickly if we have their cooperation.

We believe that MDUSD, with about 32,000 students and over 50 campuses, is simply too big to be managed efficiently and to serve the needs of all of its students and teachers.  The district is larger than 98% of the districts in CA, and according to many indicators, performs below average compared with districts serving similar student populations.

With about 4,500 students and just 5 schools, NUSD would still be larger than 75% of the school districts in CA, but it would be much easier to manage and  easier for families and taxpayers to understand. (As just one example, instead of agreeing on math curricula that work in all five district high schools or all ninemiddle schools, the math teachers at Northgate or Foothill could choose among the state-approved curriculum materials that work best for their students.)  There are numerous nearby districts, such as those in Lamorinda, that operate quite well at a similar or smaller size.

Importantly, there are almost no significant costs to this change.  In CA, schools are funded using a per-student formula that would not change for NUSD.  Basically, the same students would be attending the same schools and could expect to receive the same funding.  That funding would also cover the administrative costs of a small central district office, just as a portion of student funding now goes to cover the MDUSD costs at Dent Center.

CA has extensive regulations covering the kind of district reorganization that is being proposed.  A new district like NUSD would receive its share of MDUSD’s district property, which taxpayers funded and which would consist primarily of the five Northgate campuses.  No major “purchases” would have to occur.  Taxpayers throughout the district would have to continue servicing outstanding school bonds, just as they do now, since that money was spent on their local schools.  But any future spending initiatives in Northgate would be approved  by Northgate voters alone. So if NUSD residents wanted a bond issue or a parcel tax — or not — it would be entirely up to them.  They would no longer be just 15% of a huge school district that can, essentially, do whatever it wishes.

We believe that the current petition, which only asks the County and State to allow an election where voters can decide this issue, presents an important opportunity to improve Northgate’s schools for our residents and educators–without, in any way, diminishing the opportunities for students and teachers remaining in MDUSD.  We hope that residents of Crystyl Ranch and The Crossings will join us in circulating and signing our petition and supporting this proposal to make NUSD a reality, and to improve education to our community.

 

Has there been an impact study done to measure the impact of the increased traffic along the Ygnacio Valley corridor if all the Crossings/Crystal Ranch residents (who are included in this proposal by your admission) would have to transport their children into Walnut Creek to Bancroft, Valle Verde or Walnut Acres? Those of us who regularly commute along YVR would tell you that it’s hardly accessible now. How many additional cars along that road would the Northgate CAPS anticipate adding by routing all those students to Walnut Creek? I’m less concerned with the specific boundaries of Northgate USD as I am exactly how the funding for this would go. I wouldn’t want my remaining child at home to suffer from decreased services because NUSD’s preliminary debt. How are you proposing to purchase the land, buildings, equipment, staff, documents, and all associated legal costs?

 

Because our proposal seeks to preserve attendance boundaries to the extent possible, we anticipate minimal impacts on traffic. Quite a few students from “over the hill” already come to Northgate schools. Some of those are intradistrict transfer students who would then become regular district attendees under the NUSD plan. But other students from outside the new NUSD boundaries — i.e. those who remain in MDUSD — would become interdistrict transferees. My guess is that the future NUSD board would want those students to finish their education in Northgate and not have their attendance disrupted, but that decision would be up to MDUSD, which does not have to allow interdistrict transfers and, indeed, has a track record of opposing them. So on balance, between students who would be newly commuting into Northgate vs those who would no longer be coming, we expect minimal net traffic impacts, especially on YVR in the context of the 70,000 or so trips per day that already occur on that road.

The state’s provisions for changing district boundaries, including creation of a new district like NUSD, do not require the property purchases that you mention. The MDUSD facilities in the NUSD district were all purchased with public taxpayer funds (except for small amounts purchased with locally donated funds) and state law requires that they be used for the same students, in the new district. (Exceptions would be made for facilities that were used district wide, such as, say, a district warehouse or vehicle maintenance facility, but no such facilities are located in Northgate).

As far as operations, schools in CA (including central administrative and legal costs) are funded primarily via the state, on a per-pupil basis, using the new LCFF formulas. There is no reason for that funding stream to differ for Northgate schools, just because students would be in a new district, because the schools’ student populations are not expected to change significantly as the result of this reorganization.

With respect to district employees, our goal, again, is to minimize disruptions, so that means that we would seek to have all teachers and staff at the five Northgate school sites remain. CA law, in fact, requires that seniority and benefits remain the same in a new district during a specified transition period, giving time for new labor agreements to be negotiated between the various unions and the new NUSD board of education.  (Obviously, teachers who wanted to remain as MDUSD employees could transfer out of Northgate before the new district began operations, but we don’t envision any particular incentives for them to do so. And given MDUSD’s history of sometimes rocky labor relations, we can imagine that many employees would look forward to working with a much smaller and less bureaucratic central district office.)

There are certainly changes involved in the creation of NUSD, but they are not as significant as some people imagine. And of course, any uncertainty must be compared with the ongoing uncertainty of having our schools under MDUSD administration, which has so often proven to be unpredictable and unresponsive to the needs of our students and teachers. In fact, we see the main advantages of NUSD accruing over the longer term, as we build a local school district that is more responsive to the needs and desires of the Northgate community.

 

Will there be any additional special/education taxes when the new district is formed?

Any new taxes would have to be approved by voters, as is currently the case while we are part of MDUSD. Any new school bonds (MDUSD already has bonds outstanding) would require a 55% majority.  A parcel tax, which MDUSD has never had, would require a two-thirds majority.  As things stand currently for us, as MDUSD residents, we could face new school taxes in any election.  The outcome would be decided by voters across MDUSD, and the funds would be spent however the district decided to spend them. The difference under NUSD is that such votes around funding our local Northgate schools would only take place within the boundaries of NUSD, and all of the funds would be spent only on Northgate schools, under the supervision of our own board of education.

 

How and when will the lines for the elementary schools be drawn?  For example, I have friends who live in the Crossings, they are currently districted to Highlands, would these families continue to go to Highlands Elementary or would they be redistricted to Valle Verde, Bancroft or Walnut Acres Elementary Schools?  Would these schools have the capacity to handle the additional students?

The intent of our proposal is to minimize disruption or changes to attendance boundaries. To be part of NUSD, students must live in the attendance area of at least one of the Northgate schools.  If a family lives in the Crossings and is in the Northgate High School attendance area, then their children would attend Foothill MS and one of the Northgate elementary schools–it is difficult to say which one at this point.  The Northgate CAPS petition only addresses the boundary change for the new district as a whole.  The board of the new NUSD that will be elected by the NUSD residents would have to decide on the elementary school boundaries for households that are not yet mapped to any of the three elementary school attendance areas.  As far as capacity, it is challenging to make predictions about student populations 3-4 years out (which is the earliest that NUSD could begin operating).  Northgate schools also receive a number of intra-district transfer students from other parts of MDUSD that would not be part of NUSD.  We would like to think that current intra-district transfer students could continue in their current school, but once NUSD is a separate district, MDUSD could refuse to allow those students, who would have become inter-district transfers, to continue attending schools that are outside their home district.  Overall, we have reviewed the current capacity and believe the capacity is there.  (Again, note that MDUSD can already change feeder patterns, at any time, as they tried to do recently with Northgate HS.)

 

Is Mt. Diablo Unified ready to relinquish their highest performing school?  How will Mt. Diablo Unified benefit from this move?

 We have met with MDUSD, but they have not yet publicly indicated whether they will oppose our effort or not.  If they do not oppose us, the creation of NUSD could happen more easily and quickly.  In the end, though, it will not be their decision to “relinquish” our schools or not.  If our petition is successful, the County Office of Education will hold hearings for public input, and MDUSD will be able to present their perspectives as part of that process, along with the rest of the public.  If the Office of Education recommends that the State Dept. of Education consider our proposal, then there will be another series of hearings in Sacramento in which MDUSD may also participate.  If the state approves, the issue would then go to the voters for approval.

Clearly, our initiative is primarily about improving our schools in Northgate, but we have considerable information on our website about the benefits for the rest of MDUSD.  Primarily, we believe that all students in MDUSD would benefit from a smaller district that is more focused on the needs in each community that it serves.  We believe that the district is simply too big, and there is considerable data to suggest that many students throughout MDUSD are not being adequately served by the district.  There are also possible revenue benefits for MDUSD under the per-student funding calculations that the state uses, which  could benefit students who remain in MDUSD, but those calculations can be complex.  It is clear, though, that MDUSD per-student funding will not be diminished, in any way, by our proposal for NUSD.

 

I have read through the webpage and can’t find an answer to what the start-up costs are to this proposal. There would need to be a superintendent, facilities for a district office, central office employees such as a CBO, administrators to assume curriculum and HR duties and all mandates and reporting with the state, classified personnel and possibly the purchase of vehicles for special ed transportation to name a few. These would be duplicate positions to those already in MDUSD. While State funds would be coming to the newly formed district, these start-up costs could be significant. Has anyone run the numbers to see what that cost might be? The way the new state funding is run, there would be less money coming to the new district since I assume there would be many fewer students falling into the category of low socio, ELD and other non-duplicated count funds that come to MDUSD now. I am not opposed to the proposal being presented, however I just want to make sure someone is doing the math so we are not having to pass large bond measures in addition to parcel taxes to run the new district. Having worked in small districts in the past, 8-9,000 students is more optimal for a district size. Are we sure our area won’t be a declining enrollment as the homes age? Large districts can function very well. Just look at our neighbor, San Ramon Unified. We moved to our neighborhood 25 years ago because of the schools. Wish we could figure out a way for MDUSD to become a leader again. Any info on the costs of the new district is appreciated.

 

Lots of good questions, but before I go to them, let’s remember that there are risks and unknowns regardless of the choice we make. Since my family moved here in 1993, in part because of the schools, we have been amazed and saddened by the deterioration we have seen in the district. No one could have predicted the dysfunction and mismanagement that has occurred and is well documented elsewhere.

The district has recovered a bit in the past couple of years, they have not actually reversed many of the downward trends, and any real “turnaround” has yet to occur. But even recent modest progress could all change. Good board members (like Northgate’s Brian Lawrence) can decide not to run for a second term (as happened), and our new superintendent, now that she has that title under her belt, could decide next spring to move on to another, less troubled district, where the pay and benefits are better. So there are NO guarantees. However, I would argue that a smaller, more community-based school district that is sharply managed by Northgate citizens, can be more accountable and handle ANY challenge more ably than the huge Mt Diablo district, where we constitute only about 15% of the residents. Also, we believe that NUSD can develop a reputation as a desirable place to work, which has helped many surrounding districts attract and retain talent in ways that MDUSD, with its reputation, has not.

I agree that San Ramon Valley SD (about the size of MDUSD) operates relatively successfully, certainly more than MDUSD. SRVSD has the luxury of focusing on a far more homogenous student population, from homes that have greater affluence and education levels than those generally found in MDUSD, which has many more challenges with English language learners, students in poverty and other disadvantaged populations. Our point is that MDUSD is too big to meet many of the challenges that already confront it, and you can see by its sub-performance among those various populations (including even Northgate students) that they are not meeting state medians, or their own goals, for the students they serve.

A district with 8-9,000 students may be a more optimal size (debatable), but that is not the choice before us. At approximately 4,500 students, NUSD would be larger than 75% of the school districts in CA (and considerably larger than WCSD, Lafayette, Orinda or Moraga). I happened to like those odds. Are we sure we won’t EVER have declining enrollment? How could we be sure of that? What I see now, in my own neighborhood, are young families moving in because we still have — astonishingly — some of the more affordable homes in the Bay Area.

Finally, although we have more data on operating expenses, we are still working on estimating start-up costs. It is more difficult to “run the numbers” for something like this — separating from a larger district — that has not happened in almost 20 years. It appears, looking at state documents and media coverage of district reorganizations, that there are funds available for transition costs, apart from the funds that can be borrowed temporarily by any public school district, which NUSD would be. Whether the voters in NUSD choose to have new bonds or parcel taxes, we can’t say. It would be entirely up to our neighbors in Northgate, instead of being decided by a huge MDUSD vote. Bond proceeds are not supposed to be used to “operate” the district, in any case. Parcel taxes do generally go for that purpose. It is difficult to imagine, though, how either of those two forms of financing could help with transition costs, which would be incurred before those sources of financing could be proposed and then approved by Northgate voters.

Finally, when you say you “wish we could find a way for Mt Diablo could become a leader again”, I can only recall my mother’s saying, “If wishes were fishes, everyone could eat.” We have waited for over 20 years for “reforms”, “new funding”, “reorganizations”, “new administrators”, and “innovations” to turn this district around. Unfortunately, our children only experience second grade once. They only have one chance at middle school athletics or music. They just get one year of Biology or American History. It’s not fair to them, or to their families, for a school district to say, “Please wait another decade or two for us to get our act together.”

I know this is a long response, but this is a big topic, and although we’ve been working on this initiative for almost two years, we recognize that many people are just now learning about the idea. Please reach out to us, or post on our blog, with any questions, comments or concerns.