San Diego schools have been trying to pay more attention to gaps in achievements between kids of different races, but new math test scores reveal that the canyon between black and white is actually getting wider.

“It’s a troubling change that school officials are still trying to understand,” our Emily Alpert reports. “While 58 percent of white eighth graders scored proficient or above on the math tests, only 8 percent of black students did. White students had improved continuously over years; black students improved and then dropped this year.”

The findings could be an indication that the district isn’t teaching enough critical thinking skills to help students handle the types of questions on the national tests.

• We’ve posted the second in our series of our five-part “Schools on the Brink” series of San Diego Explained videos. This one examines how the district got to this point.

Don’t forget that we’re holding a forum tonight about the school district’s mess. And readers continue to chime in with suggestions about how to fix the schools (including the stunning “make students pay for books”) here and here.

District Attorney Settles Open Records Lawsuit

Local gadfly and citizens watchdog Mel Shapiro, a longtime thorn in the side of government officials, looks mighty grumpy in the photo illustrating a new CityBeat story. But the 84 year old has a bit of reason to crack a smile: He finally won a battle with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis over his right to see information about complaints against government officials.

Dumanis “agreed to hand over informational summaries of certain cases from between 2007 and 2011—15 in all—and to pay Shapiro $12,500 for legal expenses,” CityBeat reports. The paper summarizes one of the DA’s arguments this way: she “believes citizens would rather save money than learn about accusations of malfeasance in local government.”

“Dumanis’ decision may have cost taxpayers more in the end…,” CityBeat writes. “The DA could’ve assigned an attorney to Shapiro’s case full-time for three weeks and still have spent less than the $12,500 settlement. Avoiding a lawsuit would have also saved 74 hours of staff time for San Diego County Counsel, which represented the DA in court.” 

In other Dumanis news, CityBeat checks with a plagiarism expert to get perspective about very similarly worded press releases from her government office and her mayoral campaign. It would be a no-no for the campaign to use wording written on the public dime, CityBeat says.

Home Prices Take Another Dip

Local home prices dipped by one measurement in November, our Rich Toscano reports, falling below a new inflation-adjusted low. In a related story, I’m going on a diet to adjust my own inflation-related high.

Those Darned Well-Paid Teachers

Here’s an argument you don’t hear too often: teachers make plenty of money. It comes courtesy of  Michael Robertson, who founded MP3.com and has appeared on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans.

In a commentary titled “The Myth of the Underpaid Teacher,” he writes that “with light work obligations, pay greater than the average household income, early retirement and luxurious pension payouts, teaching is undeniably a well paid occupation. An economic analysis reveals that teachers at government run schools are overpaid by 52 percent when compared with comparably skilled workers at corporations.”

That analysis, which has been attacked by the U.S. secretary of education, comes from two right-leaning think tanks.

Meanwhile, a former teacher writes in Slate that both the report and the education secretary miss the point about why teachers leave the profession: “It’s school policies that diminish their calling and impede rather than support effective teaching and meaningful learning… pay is not the driving reason good teachers leave the classroom; it’s merely the icing on the cake. Policymakers and stakeholders need to tackle the deeper reasons why promising teachers leave the classroom year after year. Otherwise, districts will simply continue to supplant their teaching force summer after summer.”

‘Down and Dirty’ at the Opera

We were on hand as the San Diego Opera auditioned more than 40 guys for on-stage positions that don’t involve singing but do require some manly prowess: those who get the paid or volunteer jobs will serve as climbers, fighters and acrobats during performances of “Moby-Dick.”

“All of the sort of down-and-dirty work that people can’t do while they’re singing, we give to these 15 gentlemen,” an assistant director tells us.

Explaining the County’s Approach to Food Stamps

San Diego Explained, our video series, looks at changes to the county’s food stamp program, which has long had a hard time reaching all residents who are eligible for it. For background, check our 2010 special investigation of the county’s hole-ridden safety net for the poor. 

News at the Speed of Brief

• The Twitter and blogger worlds are unimpressed by the new motto of the U-T, which now blares “THE WORLD’S GREATEST COUNTRY & AMERICA’S FINEST CITY” from the top of its printed front page. (It’s in all caps, so you know it’s gotta be true.)

“New Slogan Proves San Diego Paper Is Owned by Nut,” declared Gawker.com in its headline, adding “Our deepest sympathies to the Union-Tribune’s remaining normal journalists.” Commenters debated the U-T’s new owner, San Diego media and our fair (if maybe not finest) city.

Twitter comments include “ugh,” “eesh,” “half right,” “boosterism” and “really?” Showing off my exquisite eloquence, I chimed in with “gag.” Meanwhile, one tweet wondered whether the motto contradicts one that a TV station in San Francisco used to put on the air: “The Best Place for News in The Best Place on Earth.”  

• The CEO of the Del Mar Fairgrounds made an extra $33,400 over the past three years by cashing out vacation and holiday hours, the U-T reports, even though state auditors say a policy of allowing such payouts is in violation of the rules. Other workers at the fairgrounds, which is a state agency, have gotten payouts too. 

“The state has suggested the venue have all still active employees return the money, but management to date has rejected that directive,” the U-T says.

The CEO has an intriguing rationale for taking the payouts: he questioned whether it’s possible to do his job and take vacation and take furloughed time off. So maybe the state intended to require furloughs so it could then pay people cash for the vacations they can’t actually use? Oh, that silly state! What a buncha cards.

As Long as You Both Shall Claim

Commenters are buzzing about the “misleading” Fact Check verdict we bestowed upon Nathan Fletcher, the assemblyman and mayoral candidate who claimed a wedding at a city park could require nine permits. He was trying to point out the city’s red tape, but we determined he’d created a pretty outlandish scenario to get to nine permits. (When was the last time you paid to attend a wedding? Should be the other way around.)

Jesus Torres writes that, as the claim states, a wedding could require nine permits: “What part of could do you not understand??? It could, right? This smear piece is misleading.”

David Cohen, however, sarcastically notes that a wedding “might” include such outlandish highlights as a fireworks display, the firing of live ordnance and parachute jumpers. Just think of the pesky permit costs then!

If you are aware of such a wedding, please let me know immediately. I am available to be an usher or, if you need one, a groom.

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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