The Santa Ana Unified School District’s best public schools are those that operate as “fundamental schools.” The parents of kids at these schools promise to be involved with their kids and to make sure they study and do their homework. The kids have a strict dress code and they typically perform better than kids at other SAUSD schools – most of which are not doing well and in fact have not done well for some time. Only 13 out of 56 SAUSD schools have met the state’s API minimum in the past year.
There are a few negatives with regard to fundamental schools. They don’t bus kids in or out. And they don’t offer much in the way of after school care. That is a problem since these typically are not neighborhood schools so kids cannot really be expected to walk home after school.
There is a non-profit called Think Together that operates after school programs at several SAUSD schools. The YMCA used to offer similar programs but I don’t think they are active at many if any Santa Ana schools now. My wife says they were very expensive.
My ten-year old son is a GATE student at John Muir Fundamental Elementary School, where Think Together is the only after school option. According to the Think Together director at Muir, there are some 50-75 families on their waiting list. This is a real failure by the Muir administration.
Think about it. The kids get out of school at 2:30 pm. If their parents both work who is supposed to pick them up? If your kid cannot get into the Think Together program you are in hot water.
The Think Together director at Muir decided to alleviate their overcrowding, which she blames on budget cuts, by insisting that families whose students participate in after school sports programs may not pick their kids up early for sports practices. This decision was made without consulting the parents.
A parent meeting was held after the fact, last Thursday. but it quickly became apparent that there are no other options. If you value your kids’ participation in after school sports you have to pull them out of Think Together, period.
In a city beset by child obesity that is an odd decision by Think Together. And I am not sure they understand this issue as their Muir director admitted at the meeting this week that their snacks include Oreo Cookies and Goldfish crackers – processed food that is not good for our kids.
One thing I learned at the parent meeting is that Think Together does not take into consideration the income or financial situation of the families involved in their programs. If they are indeed overcrowded they should be giving priority to single mothers and those who are under the poverty level.
I also learned that Think Together does not utilize a lottery system and of course they should be doing so if fairness is their objective.
I had to laugh when one mom at the meeting said that Think Together is not babysitting. Of course it is! It is silly to pretend otherwise. Sure they let the kids work on their homework and provide some tutoring but most parents put their kids in their program because they have no other after school options. And the Think Together workers who care for the kids are not teachers.
I don’t understand the allegation that Think Together is dealing with budget cuts when a ballot measure (Prop. 30) was passed last year that will funnel millions of dollars to our public schools and Governor Jerry Brown has also realigned state education spending to target troubled districts in poor areas, like the SAUSD. The feds also recently gave a No Child Left Behind exemption to the SAUSD.
While they are claiming to be dealing with budget cuts, Think Together is paying their CEO, Randy Barth, $337,500 a year, according to their 2012 IRS Form 990, available on Guidestar. That is quite an increase from what they paid Barth in 2009, when he made $298,000 according to the Foundation Center.
They are also paying their CFO, Mike Frobenius, $188.077, and their COO, Katherine Sue Cornell, $165,577. Other top salaries include:
- Cyndee Zandes, Chief Program Officer: $186,067
- Tia Dwyer, General Manager, Orange: $139,075
- Fernando Reyes, General Manager, Foothill: $142,193
- Lisa Somerville-Bennett, General Manager, Los Angeles: $136,206
- Adriana Kingston, General Manager, Riverside: $138,425
- Rebecca Dawson, Chief People Officer: $148,000
That is a lot of moolah for what amounts to after school babysitting! Their financial report indicates that they took in $47,895,144 and spent $47,636.706, resulting in a surplus of $258,438.
They have a Board of Directors with 24 members that includes only five members with Hispanic surnames and only one director with an Asian surname.
If Think Together cannot meet the needs of SAUSD families, while richly paying their executives, then the SAUSD administrators need to look for alternatives. Right now Think Together has a virtual monopoly in Santa Ana and I don’t think that is right either.
My wife and I ended up paying a friend who works part-time at the school to take our son to her home after school, where he can work on his homework. We will be able to pick him up early as needed for his flag football and Little League baseball practices and games.
My son is actually happy to be moving on from Think Together. He says the workers are mean and that they punish the entire class if one or two kids are misbehaving, by not letting them play outside. And he won’t miss all the goofy dancing either…