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Education Summit earns mixed reviews Allison K. Sampite | Sun, Sep 11 2011 12:00 PM

Sweetwater Union High School Interim Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand addressed a crowd of more than 350 students, parents and community leaders last week with the intent to bring the district's glory days back.

Brand said the purpose of the summit was five-fold and included making a case for public education, doing the right thing no matter who is looking and getting feedback from the community to make adjustments as necessary.

The audience used clickers to participate in live polls for discussion to provide instant feedback, with all questions, comments and results posted to the district's website.

The first issue the audience voted on was the high cost of legal services, specifically, the compensation for the district's attorney, Bonny Garcia.

"Legal counsel is nice but it's not essential," Brand said.

Brand recommended not having a general counsel for the district or at board meetings and created a list of approved legal firms to use on an as-needed basis.

Garcia will now be compensated through a retainer fee and billable hours.

The legal changes will save the district approximately $500,000, which Brand said could be used for student services or reduce the district's deficit.

Prop. O, a $664 million construction project to upgrade schools in the district, was another major concern for residents.

Retired Southwest High School teacher Rebeca Lee and current parent of a 10th grader said the lack of progress with Prop. O is disappointing.

"Construction (at Southwest High) was suppose to be finished one year ago - it creates a health hazard ... and it's an eyesore to the community."

Less than half voted that the district is doing a good job in managing its money regarding Prop. O.

Another issue of concern to the district and parents became school fees when the American Civil Liberties Union sued California school districts for charging student fees, saying students should be entitled to free and proper public education.

The district met with all Associated Student Body deans and administrators the week before and mailed letters to parents offering refunds.

Less than 65 percent voted that they were satisfied with the district's solution.

With discussion of charter schools as unique education opportunities for seventh graders, the district recommended to expand the outreach to incoming sixth graders.

Ninety-three percent of the audience said that parents have the right to access information about the education opportunities that are available for students.

South Bay Forum President Jose Preciado said the summit was a great opportunity to start a dialogue.

"But on the matter of seventh graders, we don't serve ourselves well as a district if we can't compete with the elementary school to offer seventh and eighth grade," he said. "If there's competition, there will be opportunity to improve."

Another issue is whether or not the district should increase the A-G requirement for students to gain admission to the University of California and California State University systems. The audience vote was nearly split, with 56 percent saying yes.

Preciado said the district failed to address the issue of the A-G requirement.

"We got an F," he said. "The education summit failed because when we started talking about academics we did not have a complete, thorough discussion that could have resulted in a more positive or informed decision."

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