News Digest | September 2, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 2, 2011

News Digest

Despite top test scores, Palo Alto 'failing'

Palo Alto scored among the top five school districts in California, but it also failed to achieve "adequate yearly progress," according to a state Accountability Progress Report issued Wednesday, Aug. 31.

The results underscore the failure of certain subgroups — socioeconomically disadvantaged, Latino, African American and students with disabilities — to meet growth targets under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

"Our scores for these particular subgroups are very similar or higher than last year, but the expectations have risen as well," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.

"In order to not be failing, you need to meet the standard overall, and in every group, and if you miss it for one, you're considered failing."

The state's Academic Performance Index scorecard illuminates a well-known achievement gap in Palo Alto's high-performing schools.

Palo Alto is one of 17 out of California's 1,000 school districts to be labeled by the state Department of Education as having "significant" overrepresentation of minority students in special education.

The Oakland-based Education Trust West, which works to close "opportunity and achievement gaps," said Palo Alto's results indicate problems.

"When we look at why Palo Alto did not meet AYP, we get an even clearer picture of how low-income students and students of color are faring in their district," Education Trust West spokeswoman Valerie Cuevas said.

"Their Latino, socioeconomically disadvantaged, students with disabilities did not meet the federal targets of getting just two-thirds of students to proficiency in English Language Arts and math.

"Slightly more than half of Palo Alto's Latino students were at grade level in English Language Arts and math, and just 50 percent of African-American students were proficient in math."

Caltrain changes rail operator

Over the next five months, Caltrain operations will transition from Amtrak to TransitAmerica Services Inc., following the unanimous approval Thursday (Sept. 1) by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board to contract with the St. Joseph, Mo., firm.

The approval comes after a 15-month bidding process that led to the comparison of five rail operators, Caltrain officials said in a statement Thursday.

TransitAmerica submitted the highest ranking proposal, which was scored in three major areas of criteria: the management, operations and maintenance plan; the cost proposal; and the qualifications and experience of the firm and key personnel proposed by the firm as the management team for the Caltrain service.

The first full year (FY 2013) of the five-year contract is for $59.5 million, within the projected Caltrain operating and capital budgets, according to the Caltrain statement. Subsequent contract amounts are subject to annual negotiations.

It's likely that the familiar faces of those running the trains will remain the same; federal regulations provide job protections for current employees.

The major components of Caltrain's contract include the daily staffing and operations of trains, as well as inspection and maintenance of tracks, the passenger-rail fleet, rights of way, structures, the signaling and communication network, stations and other facilities.

As part of the contract, Caltrain will require TransitAmerica to achieve certain performance standards around management, safety, on-time performance, and other critical tasks prior to receiving its full management fee, according to Thursday's statement.

Amtrak has operated Caltrain for more than 20 years.

Plan for 'blended' rail system gains steam

A proposal by three lawmakers to use Caltrain tracks for high-speed rail received a boost Friday (Aug. 26) when a panel of experts retained by the California High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) decided to lend its support to the idea.

The rail authority's "peer review group," which is chaired by Will Kempton, submitted a letter to state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, largely endorsing the plan the two legislators and U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, unveiled in April. Under the Eshoo, Simitian and Gordon proposal, the Caltrain corridor would be electrified and modified to accommodate both Caltrain and high-speed rail.

The rail authority, which is charged with building the voter-approved rail line, has so far focused on the "full build" approach, which calls for separate tracks for the new rail system.

In its letter, the group notes that the rail authority's demand forecasts remain uncertain and that the "full build" approach is "an unnecessary bet that the upper ranges of the demand forecasts are highly likely, whereas the 'blended' approach would postpone larger investments until demand has been demonstrated by the initial services on the line.'"

The shared-tracks approach, the committee said, could also help the rail authority manage the new system.

"A 'blended' approach would be much less costly at the outset than the 'full build' approach, meeting one of the fundamental objectives of efficient investment management, which is to shift investment as far out in time as is consistent with project needs," the panel wrote.

— Gennady Sheyner