The Flywheel

This Week's Program: June 5, 2009

Frances Dinkelspiel

"Tower of Gold": a Legacy of Vision

Frances Dinkelspiel, author of the “Tower of Gold” discusses her great great grandfather, Isiais Hellman and his remarkable legacy of vision, innovation and philanthropy which includes the founding of Winehaven in Richmond, Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Learn more about "Tower of Gold".


Last week's MEETING: May 29th, 2009

Welcome, Invocation, Thought for the Day

President Mark Howe rang the bell and called the meeting to order. April Jorden led the pledge of allegiance. Mark immediately asked for a moment of silence after he advised of the stunning news about a tragic car accident over the Memorial Day weekend in which Rosie Freeman’s two grandchildren (and their mother along with the mother’s brother) were killed. Rosie Freeman, who has been a guest at our meetings a couple of times, is a Richmond Iron Triangle resident and mother of the young man that was shot and killed outside Mark Howe’s work place some years ago. The shooting victim, Rosie’s son, was the father of the two deceased grandchildren. The shooting was the catalyst for the Richmond Rotary Memorial Peace Garden.

Rotarians with Guests

  • Pam Jones introduced her two guests, Melva Baldain and Michelle Chenault.
  • Henry Kelman introduced his wife, Kathleen.


  • Pam Jones, speaking for Jim Young, who was not in attendance, passed around a notepad and encouraged everyone to think about and propose future Rotary program speakers.
  • Bruce Harter received his Blue Badge.

Who Am I?

Henry Moe did his “Who Am I?” Born in Oakland, Henry was raised in Richmond, where he lived until age 32. He graduated from Salesian High School in 1989 and then attended St. Mary’s College in Moraga, where he graduated with a degree in History and Religious Studies. Henry then moved to Vacaville, his bride’s hometown, where he is raising a family with two children.

For the last 13 years, Henry has worked at Salesian High School. Erle Brown applauded Henry for his help in making the annual Rotary Crab Feed a success at Salesian. Herb Cole also complimented Henry for his close involvement with the Rotary Interact Club at Salesian. Thanks, Henry, for joining Richmond Rotary!

Happy and Sad Dollars

  • Jovanka Beckles had happy dollars for an enjoyable getaway visit to amazing Hearst Castle.
  • Monique le Conge gave happy dollars for being back after a long absence and also for her four-year Rotary anniversary.
  • Jon Lawlis was happy about goofing off last week at Lake Tahoe.
  • Jan Brown was happy about an enjoyable and enlightening “Shopping in Richmond” tour hosted by Judy Morgan (a Rotary auction item) along with her daughter’s successful attainment of a UC Berkeley MBA degree (complete with job in hand and probably a year or so of living at home).
  • Herb Cole was happy about his 45th wedding anniversary on Saturday as well as his son’s recent visit.
  • Henry Moe provided happy dollars because Antioch High School has re-hired his previously pink-slipped wife for another year.
  • Don Hardison was happy for his granddaughter’s (Jan Brown’s daughter’s) MBA achievement.
  • Charlie Fender offered happy dollars for his wife who just celebrated her 88th birthday.
  • Mark Howe was very happy about his daughter achieving a recent 3.9 GPA at her boarding school.
  • Margaret Morkowski had happy dollars for her four-year Rotary anniversary (came in at the same time as Monique).

Raffle Results

Dan Sanders drew a white ball from the bag.

Norm’s Nonsense

Going to the dogs again.

- I just sold my purebred dog for one hundred thousand dollars. I got two fifty thousand dollar cats for him.

- L.O.L. to dog owner: "My cat just killed your German Shepherd." Dog owner: "Ha, how could your cat kill my German Shepherd?" L.O.L: "It got stuck in his throat."


West Contra Costa Unified School District

West Contra Costa County Unified School District logo

Mark Howe introduced our own Bruce Harter, Superintendent of the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD), to talk about our West County schools. Bruce always does a nice job with his camera shots that capture fresh, smiling faces of students engaged in various school activities. While the big story in WCCUSD is about financial challenges, the following are highlights from a variety of information that Bruce shared at the meeting.

  • Graduation ceremonies were just held for WCCUSD’s renowned Middle College High School, which is co-located on the Contra Costa College campus. Middle College High School seniors (typically a total of about 50-60 students each year) graduated with half of them also receiving a two-year Associate Degree. One graduate actually earned two Associate degrees while another earned three.
  • District wide, Contra Costa College remains the immediate destination for most graduating 12th-graders who go on to post-secondary education. But there are WCCUSD graduates who have also been accepted to attend schools like these: Harvard, Brown, Yale, MIT, USC, Johns Hopkins, NYU, Stanford, Cornell, Columbia, Duke, and Penn.
  • Hercules-based Bio-Rad awarded 16 college scholarships this year to students in Contra Costa County and 13 of them went to WCCUSD graduates.
  • The “Ivy League Connection” program is continuing this summer, whereby 30 WCCUSD juniors will travel to Penn, Brown, Yale, Cornell, and Columbia to learn more about educational opportunities on those campuses. They then come back all fired up and the “viral” effect of that enthusiasm on other students is a priceless benefit for helping to build a college-going culture in WCCUSD schools.
  • Bruce applauded the more than 10 skilled trade unions that regularly come on campus to make presentations to high school students about job opportunities after graduation. WCCUSD still has one of the best welding programs around anywhere (at Kennedy High School), with starting wages for a high school graduate being $28/hour.
  • A measure of the WCCUSD drop-out rate has gone from 9% to 5% for most recently available data. Also, truancy is down and attendance is up in the roughly 30,000-student district (although the overall enrollment projection for coming years continues downward).
  • One good effect of the current economic crisis is that construction and renovation dollars in the Bond Program are going farther than before. Four schools are currently in the midst of major construction work: Dover, Ford, King, and DeAnza. This program, one of the largest in the state over the past several years, will have impacted 33 of WCCUSD’s 52 main campuses.
  • Getting around to financial matters, Bruce advised that three WCCUSD schools are scheduled for closure in the coming 2009-2010 school year (Serra Adult school along with Gompers and Adams, both of which will be demolished).
  • Announced layoffs for the 2009-2010 school year already include 124 teachers, 23 administrative staff, and 57 classified employees. Concession bargaining (including jobs, benefits, etc.) is underway with all four employee bargaining units in WCCUSD.
  • One slide showed that, over the 7 school years from 2003 through 2010, WCCUSD has lost 604 total full-time equivalent jobs (from about 3100 to 2500, not counting probable additional cuts required because of expected further reductions in state funding).
  • Various burdens weigh upon the WCCUSD budget, including $37.2 million in debt left over from the 1990’s (money still owed the state from the 1990 bankruptcy, etc.) as well as, according to a slide labeled “Post Retirement Health Benefit Liability”, $473 million for “Actives” and $255 million for “Retirees” (total: $728 million).
  • It’s been widely published that California ranks near the bottom in state rankings of K12 education spending per student. With a total current annual budget of $285 million (most of which is tightly constrained to specific spending categories), WCCUSD would receive about $71 million more based on Ohio’s per-student spending level and $154 million more based on New York’s.
  • With the continuing fiscal crisis in Sacramento, Bruce expects more local cuts will be needed. For every $1 billion in reduced state funding for education, WCCUSD takes a formulaic hit of about $4 million, thus requiring, in the words of one of Bruce’s slides, “more program reductions and elimination, more layoffs of employees, fewer services for students, larger class sizes, and overall less support for students and schools”. The slide concludes, “Budget reductions hurt our students.”

During Q&A, someone asked about the relative importance of parental involvement in student success. Bruce answered that new research actually indicates that effective teachers are seven times more important for student success than other factors.

Also during Q&A, there was interesting discussion (including inputs from former school superintendent, Herb Cole, and former school board member, Don Lau) about these four key historical contributors to important financial realities in California and WCCUSD:

  • teacher collective bargaining approved for California in the 1960’s by then Governor Jerry Brown (changed teacher focus, according to Herb),
  • increasingly under-funded federal mandates for “special needs” student education that began in 1974 (this is a big deal in WCCUSD),
  • passage in 1978 of California Proposition 13 (constrained growth in property tax receipts, a lot of which goes to education), and
  • generous WCCUSD employee health benefits “purchased” with an 11% pay cut at the time of the 1990 bankruptcy and never scaled back.

Although current rules seem to preclude WCCUSD going into bankruptcy again, Bruce indicated there is a risk under certain conditions of the state taking over district operations.

Bruce told me after the meeting that Federal Stimulus Funds will help backfill some cuts from this school year but won’t enable substantive offsets for next year because their use is restricted to special purposes rather than allowing WCCUSD to reduce the impact of the state cutbacks.

It’s hard to imagine a workable permanent solution to WCCUSD’s financial problems that does not include fewer schools, fewer teachers and staff, and fewer personnel benefits.

- Rotating Scribe, Tom Waller