Local students to restore ship as tourist attraction

Central Valley Business Journal, March 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

STOCKTON – The USS Lucid is being recalled to duty – in a manner of speaking.

The Aggressive Class minesweeper built in 1953 served this country for two decades or so, but in recent years it had fallen to disrepair.

That is, until David Rajkovich and volunteers who a few years ago formed the Stockton Historical Maritime Museum found it tied up at a Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta island. Students at the county’s Building Futures Academy near Louis Park in Stockton, AmeriCorps workers and volunteers will work to restore the ship over the next five years so that it can be moored at the Stockton Waterfront as a tourist attraction.

Students won’t only learn practical skills associated with the restoration, but also personal and historical lessons by talking with the men who served on the USS Lucid and ships very much like it.

“I have serious doubts there’s another (school) district in the nation that has its students restoring a ship,” Rajkovich said to a crowd March 15 in kicking off the restoration. “And if so, I want to hear about it.”

Rajkovich, county Office of Education and academy officials, Stockton Mayor Ann Johnson, and others spoke that day to a crowd in an academy warehouse out of the rain, the USS Lucid just outside.

San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools Mick Founts reminded the crowd of the challenges facing schools, especially in California. And that not all students thrive in a typical classroom setting.

“They’re a lot of kids who learn from getting dirty. … Sometimes getting dirty brings education to light,” said Founts.

“This is the best classroom in the world,” said Founts.

Rajkovich also spoke of the students to be involved in the restoration. He said that while they may have had problems in the past, now in the right learning environment they were polite, respectful and eager to learn.

The USS Lucid was built in New Orleans, but there were three other ships built at the Colberg Boat Works in Stockton. Rajkovich said volunteers searched around the country for information and plans for the Aggressive class minesweeper, but only found that information in Stockton. Henry Colberg, grandson of the Colberg Boat Works founder, was able to loan the museum 700 pages of blueprints and home movies showing the launchings of the three ships built in Stockton. Today, Rajkovich was able to repay Colberg with the gift of a recovered ashtray from one of those three ships, the USS Engage.

Rajkovich said it will take $1 million or more over the course of the project, but that volunteers have already recovered original parts and fixtures to be used in the restoration.

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

 

Port biodiesel maker lauded by USDA

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s state Director for Rural Development Glenda Humiston (left) listens to comments by Lisa Mortenson, chief executive officer and co-founder of Community Fuels, a biodiesel manufacturer with a facility at the Port of Stockton. Humiston and other USDA officials were on hand to mark the USDA’s Energy Month and to laud Mortenson and her company for continuing to expand the production of high quality, renewable fuel. That expansion since it was founded in 2005 means more clean fuel and more jobs to the region. The visit came as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released a report highlighting the ways USDA programs contribute to the nation’s energy independence and helps rural small businesses and farmers become more energy efficient. Return to the Central Valley Business Journal website or pick up the April edition of the Central Valley Business Journal for more on this story. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s state Director for Rural Development Glenda Humiston (left) listens to comments by Lisa Mortenson, chief executive officer and co-founder of Community Fuels, a biodiesel manufacturer with a facility at the Port of Stockton. Humiston and other USDA officials were on hand to mark the USDA’s Energy Month and to laud Mortenson and her company for continuing to expand the production of high quality, renewable fuel. That expansion since it was founded in 2005 means more clean fuel and more jobs to the region. The visit came as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released a report highlighting the ways USDA programs contribute to the nation’s energy independence and helps rural small businesses and farmers become more energy efficient. Return to the Central Valley Business Journal website or pick up the April edition of the Central Valley Business Journal for more on this story. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Web-first version: Easter basket sale raises money for people with special needs

Lady Bugs and early-bird shoppers take a look at the nearly 900 Easter baskets to be sold to benefit area school programs for people with special needs. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Lady Bugs and early-bird shoppers take a look at the nearly 900 Easter baskets to be sold to benefit area school programs for people with special needs. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Central Valley Business Journal, March 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

STOCKTON – Thelma Stewart and her gang of Lady Bugs have been at fundraising nearly 40 years and this year’s is the biggest effort so far.

“I started with 50 baskets,” Stewart said of the annual Easter basket sale to benefit schools serving San Joaquin County residents with special needs. “And then 100 baskets. … It’s close to 900 baskets this year.”

And about a third of those are already sold.

The Easter baskets are sold at a luncheon at her Bristol Avenue home – 340 diners are expected Wednesday (March 21), the largest number ever. The baskets are also sold at the Bank of Stockton, the Bank of Agriculture and Commerce in Stockton and Lodi, and at Southern Exposure on Pacific Avenue on the Miracle Mile in Stockton.

Stewart said she has received phone calls from Sacramento to Modesto and into the foothills expressing interest in the baskets.

“I don’t know how they got my phone number,” quipped Stewart.

Taking a break from luncheon preparations with Easter baskets in every corner and on every surface, Stewart recalled starting the basket campaign in the early 1970s after her son Donnie was diagnosed with Down syndrome. She and her friends – the Lady Bugs – began fundraising for area schools that were ill-equipped to provide meaningful programs for those with special needs.

“We take care of all the schools in San Joaquin County, whatever they need” said Stewart.

This year a core group of friends worked a month and a half to make the baskets.

The Easter baskets are not the only Lady Bug fundraisers, said Stewart. Lady Bugs have poured beer at the San Joaquin County Fair, and held Christmas boutiques and crab feeds.

Stewart won’t say how much the Lady Bugs raise through their fundraisers, but it is enough to maintain a fund to fill at least some of the requests from teachers of special needs people throughout the county.

And enough for a prom for area special needs people. Last year the “Steppin’ Out” prom was at 5 Stars Marina – “It was quite a success” – and will be at the Stockton Golf and Country Club this year.

Stewart is a self-proclaimed “fighter” when it comes to the rights of those with special needs. She pushed to have school officials allow her son walk with his Stagg High School class at graduation, pushed for programs at San Joaquin Delta College. Donnie attended programs at Delta for 15 years before those programs fell victim to the budget knife and now he attends classes at the University of the Pacific.

“I wish more people would be interested in donating and helping these kids. … I just fight the system,” said Stewart. “I fight the system for these kids.”

Too often people fail to believe in people with special needs, said Stewart.

“These kids can learn,” said Stewart. “The parents just need to put them in the right program.”

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

Web-first version: Remembering Stockton’s maritime heritage, legacy of ‘wooden ships, iron men’

Two veterans pause near the USS Lucid moored at the San Joaquin County Building Futures Academy where students and volunteers will take on a five-year restoration project. (Business Journal photos by Keith Michaud)

Two veterans pause near the USS Lucid moored at the San Joaquin County Building Futures Academy where students and volunteers will take on a five-year restoration project. (Business Journal photos by Keith Michaud)

Central Valley Business Journal, March 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

STOCKTON – It doesn’t look like much now. It’s scuffed and worn – even with signal banners from stem to stern – and hardly seems seaworthy.

But over the next five years or so the USS Lucid will play an important role in the lives of students at the county’s Building Futures Academy near Louis Park in Stockton.

The wooden-hull Aggressive class minesweeper built in 1953 will be a classroom to students studying woodworking, electrical, plumbing, and other skills taught at the charter school adjacent the Stockton Deep Water Canal. They will get a unique look at maritime history as they research the USS Lucid and other ships like her, talking with the men and women who served in the military.

Then once the restoration project is completed the USS Lucid will be moored near Weber Point for visitors to benefit from the work of the students, volunteers, and the Stockton Historical Maritime Museum.

“I have serious doubts there’s another (school) district in the nation that has its students restoring a ship,” David Rajkovich, one of the co-founders of the Stockton Historical Maritime Museum and its executive director, said. “And if so, I want to hear about it.”

The USS Lucid is moored near the county Building Futures Academy. It will be restored over the next five years or so and then moved to the Stockton Waterfront near Weber Point. (Business Journal photos by Keith Michaud)

The USS Lucid is moored near the county Building Futures Academy. It will be restored over the next five years or so and then moved to the Stockton Waterfront near Weber Point. (Business Journal photos by Keith Michaud)

Rajkovich, county Office of Education and academy officials, Stockton Mayor Ann Johnson, and others spoke to a crowd of 200 or so in an academy warehouse out of the rain, the USS Lucid just outside. The event also marked AmeriCorps Works week.

San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools Mick Founts reminded the crowd of the challenges facing schools, especially in California. And that not all students thrive in a typical classroom setting.

“They’re a lot of kids who learn from getting dirty. … Sometimes getting dirty brings education to light,” said Founts.

Founts said the students working on the restoration project will have a lifetime of memories, not only learning skills that can provide a career, but also in researching and talking with military veterans.

“This is the best classroom in the world,” said Founts.

Rajkovich also spoke of the students to be involved in the restoration. He said that while they may have had problems in the past, now in the right learning environment they were polite, respectful and eager to learn.

“It’s easy to stray,” Rajkovich told them, “but you’re on the right path now.”

He said that everyone in the community and the school district wanted the students to succeed.

The USS Lucid was built in New Orleans, but there were three other ships built at the Colberg Boat Works in Stockton. Rajkovich said volunteers searched around the country for information and plans for the Aggressive class minesweeper, but only found that information in Stockton. Henry Colberg, grandson of the Colberg Boat Works founder, was able to loan the museum 700 pages of blueprints and home movies showing the launchings of the three ships built in Stockton. Today, Rajkovich was able to repay Colberg with the gift of a recovered ashtray from one of those three ships, the USS Engage.

Artifacts and photos of the USS Lucid on a table during a presentation about the restoration project. (Business Journal photos by Keith Michaud)

Artifacts and photos of the USS Lucid on a table during a presentation about the restoration project. (Business Journal photos by Keith Michaud)

Rajkovich said it will take $1 million or more over the course of the project, but that volunteers have already recovered original parts and fixtures to be used in the restoration.

“While this is not the time and place for fundraising,” Rajkovich wryly told the crowd, “if you give us the time, we’ll come to your place (for donations).”

Later everyone left the warehouse for presentations by students and a ribbon cutting sponsored by the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce. Veterans, students and others took the opportunity to take photographs with the USS Lucid in the background.

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

 

College by and for teachers

Catherine Kearney, dean at Teachers College of San Joaquin, says program helps teachers and school administrators implement education reform. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Catherine Kearney, dean at Teachers College of San Joaquin, says program helps teachers and school administrators implement education reform. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Central Valley Business Journal, March 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

It is tucked away and hard to find in a south Stockton business park, but it may be a key to lowering the drop-out rate in San Joaquin County and ultimately leading to a far more skilled workforce.

Teachers College of San Joaquin, founded in 2009 as the first college formed by a K-12 school district in California, gives area teachers and school administrators the training and resources to be better educators for the future. It gives them the technological savvy that can be passed along to students who can use those skills to graduate, go to collage, and be prepared for a career.

“We’re not your average graduate school of education,” Catherine Kearney, dean of the college located in the building – part warehouse, actually – just west of the San Joaquin County Office of Education on Transworld Drive. “We’re really a teacher’s college founded by teachers. … There is no ivory tower here.”

Kearney said that teachers for years came to the county Office of Education pleading for more training as they faced some of the highest dropout rates in the state, the lowest rate of students moving onto college, and some of the highest unemployment among youth just out of school.

“So, we knew something was not working,” said Kearney.

Kearney said the county Office of Education has been offering training for years, but the full-blown college came out of a desire to provide even better training, training to help teachers and school administrators convey to students the important link between school, college and career. It is an example, said Kearney, of the county Office of Education’s innovative way of tackling problems.

Business leaders are included in the advisory committee for the college, said Kearney.

“The business community recognized that to some degree they had been left out of the conversation. … Ultimately, they are the consumer of the (educational system’s) product. And it’s always good to talk to the consumer.”

College officials want to reach out even more to the business community to hear what skills business owners want workers to have so that teachers can pass those along to students in school and they will be ready when they graduate. A survey to area businesses went out in late February, but the college plans to send it out again to hit businesses it might not have reached in the first installment. The survey soon may be on the school’s website – http://www.teacherscollegesj.org – and a link to the survey can be found in the online version of this story.

The Teachers College is far more than a place for turning out workforce trainers, though.

“We feel it’s a movement,” Kearney said of the teaching philosophy of the college. “Yes, you get a master’s when you go through the program. But it’s about changing the world.”

Teams of teachers and administrators at some of the worst performing schools in the region can work together to come up with real solutions to the problems that are keeping back some students. Faculty – many of them teachers and school administrators – help them come up with a program to implement in their schools.

Teachers College online materials and Kearney are apt to quote an unlikely source when it comes to education, Dolly Parton: “Figure out who you are and be it on purpose.”

The quote is about letting students know what they can be, said Kearney. And it is about teaching teachers and administrators – and ultimately students – the skills needed to be able to “build bridges over rivers we don’t even know about yet.”

Kearney said the school is on a fast-track for accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

“You’re not legitimate without (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) accreditation,” she said.

“We expect to have accreditation,” said Kearney. “We believe we’ve done everything that an institution is required to do in seven years, we’ve done in two years.”

Teachers College works with teachers before enrolling them in the program and strives to have a flexible course schedule – usually from about 4 p.m. to no later than 7 or 8 p.m. – so that teachers and administrators can take courses after work, but still make it home to spend time with families. The course costs $385 per unit, but that includes an iPad, electronic or check-out textbooks, and a digital research service. Payment plans are available and some school districts allow for payroll deductions to pay for the training.

Some grants are available. Intrepid Philanthropy Foundation, a private family foundation that seeks to improve education in the United States, provided a $155,000 grant in December to provide fellowships so that teams of teachers and administrators can participate in the program, develop an educational program, test and implement the program, adjusting it along the way to fine-tune the program. That grant came after an initial $55,000 grant in 2010 to launch the Intrepid Fellowship Program at the Teachers College.

“We are proud the Intrepid Philanthropy Foundation is expanding their support of Teachers College of San Joaquin, validating our work to train educators to implement K-12 school reform specifically targeting career and college readiness,” Kearney said in a statement at the time of the December announcement. “The impact of (Teachers College) graduates and current students is already manifesting in schools across Northern California. With this support, even more educators will be equipped with the tools necessary to implement real reforms in our schools.”

“That team idea is a powerful thing,” Kearney added recently. “(Teachers and administrators) really see themselves as a catalyst for change.”

The first class graduated in May and already those graduates want to return to continue the learning and exchange of ideas. The college’s inaugural class included 64 students, said Kearney, when the college expected no more than 15 to 30 area educators would be interested. The current enrollment is up to 236 students and the college has turned out 68 master’s degrees and 74 teaching credentials. Not large at all by the standards of area educational institutions such as University of the Pacific, California State University, Stanislaus, or even the area’s community colleges, but impressive nonetheless for a 2-year-old college.

“What they’re telling us is they feel invigorated,” Kearney said of teachers and administrators who have been through the program and who experienced what she called an “educational renaissance.” “It’s that spark they felt when they first started teaching.”

Businesses wishing to participate in the Teachers College of San Joaquin survey can do so by following this link: http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07e5mirqb2gyw5kkja/start .

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

StanTogether pushing hiring surge by mid-summer

Central Valley Business Journal, March 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

MODESTO – Economic development officials in Stanislaus County are nudging local businesses into doing something they already want to do – hire just one more person.

Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance’s StanTogether campaign has a lofty goal: 1,000 new jobs in Stanislaus County between now and July 31. Each new job means a new paycheck that can go to paying for local services and products, and generating sales taxes and other fees. That fuels a need for even more hiring.

“It’s a snowball effect,” said Craig Lewis, president of Prudential California Reality of the Central Valley and a member of the Alliance board. He said that for every dollar invested in the local economy another $3.50 is generated, growing that snowball even larger.

Consumer confidence is a big part, said Lewis, because once consumers see that people are being hired there will be more spending rather than saving, which will spur on the economy even more.

“Consumer confidence is huge,” said Lewis. “It shows business owners to have a little bit of faith in the future.”

StanTogether is the focused effort to create synergy throughout the Stanislaus County business community, said Lewis, and more.

“The other thing that I liked about it is that it said ‘We’re going to be bold. We’re going to set high goals,’” said Lewis. And communities rally around such optimistic efforts, he said.

Alliance officials have reason to be confident that they will meet the mark and then some. In just the first few weeks of the campaign 47 businesses are participating, 52 people have been hired, and 144 openings are waiting to billed, said Alisha Cruz, Alliance marketing intern working on the project.

“What we’re hoping to get across is that there are some businesses that need just a little push to make that hire,” said Cruz.

Teri Adams-Jones, the Alliance’s communications marketing manager, said businesses receive a variety of incentives for participating in the program and its location may be the basis for one such incentive.

“The businesses address may qualify them for possible hiring tax credits,” said Adams-Jones, referring to the Stanislaus County enterprise zone. “The hiring tax credit is a total value over a five-year period of $37,440 per qualified employee.”

Cruz said participating businesses also get other incentives – business logos go on the StanTogether website with a link to the business’s website, advertising on the website, recognition on Kat County radio and a community page, a decal to display in their business to show that they are participating in a program to meet the 1,000 jobs goal, and some companies that hire a veteran may be eligible for on-the-job training expenses reimbursement.

There’s even a YouTube presentation to explain the importance of 1,000 jobs and 1,000 paychecks.

“We want businesses to know they’re not alone,” said Adams-Jones. “We know that there are some businesses that have been wanting to hire someone, but just haven’t been willing to.”

Ian Norris of Norris Construction heard about the program on the news and thought it would be the best way to connect with qualified, skilled workers.

“I’m an employer and I know there are lots of people out there looking for work,” said Norris. “The problem is finding the right person.”

Norris has not hired anyone yet, but is optimistic that he will. Business has been picking up recently and, with seven bids on his desk right now, he wanted to hire crews to take on the projects rather than refuse a project simply because he did not have full crews.

“There’s work coming in every day,” Norris said. “I felt this coming on for quite a while. … I’m in this for the long haul and I’m very optimistic.”

Another thing that appealed to Norris about the Alliance’s program is the focus on finding work for return military veterans.

“That would be awesome,” said Norris, who added that being able to hire a veteran would be “very gratifying.”

There’s more information about the program on the StanTogether website – http://stantogether.com/. Interested Stanislaus County businesses can contact the campaign by calling the Alliance at 209-567-4985.

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

 

Web-only version: City manager to ask council to stop paying bonds, OK mediation

Central Valley Business Journal, February 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

STOCKTON – Officials will ask the City Council on Tuesday to approve various fiscal adjustments, suspend payments on $2 million in bonds, and OK financial mediation to prevent the city from plunging closer to bankruptcy.

“It’s about restructuring,” Stockton City Manager Bob Deis told reporters in outlining the city’s “dire fiscal situation” and the proposed plan to avoid Stockton City Sealinsolvency. “It’s not about bankruptcy. … Despite what’s been reported, we are not asking the council to file Chapter 9.”

Deis and his staff are proposing the move to cover the anticipated $15 million deficit through June and to give city staff a chance to meet with creditors, retirees, current employees , and other interested parties in state-mandated mediation. Assembly Bill 506 requires that cities now seek mediation to mitigate their financial problems before declaring bankruptcy. Bankruptcy attorney Marc Levinson, whose law firm worked on the city of Vallejo bankruptcy, was on hand to explain the mediation.

“The mediation then proceeds over the next 60 days unless agreement is reached sooner,” according to material Levinson made available. “It may be extended an additional 30 days if requested by the (city) or a majority of interested parties.”

As it is, Deis forecast the city would face a $20 million to $38 million deficit for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

“The ‘best case’ assumes we continue to declare an emergency and continue to impose labor concessions,” read a portion of Deis’ report to the City Council in the agenda packet. “The $38 million assumes we lose in court with unions concerning the effects of prior fiscal emergency declarations and we must ‘turnoff’ past concessions.”

Several factors resulted in the financial problems facing Stockton, said Deis, including past bookkeeping errors and fiscal mismanagement.

“It is apparent that past financial practices of former city staff and possibly contractors, that were not disclosed to the (City Council), have contributed to the city’s current financial situation,” wrote Deis in the report to the City Council. “Given the grave consequences now being faced by the city, the city manager and city attorney wish to investigate these practices for possible recourse.”

Deis did not anticipate a criminal investigation, he told reporters, but instead a probe that could result in civil remedies.

A greatly expanded city retiree health insurance commitment in the 1990s appears to be legal, Deis said Friday, but unsound and had characteristics of a Ponzi scheme.

“We are now at the back end of the ‘scheme’ and are having to pay for it,” Deis wrote. “Next year, we expect to pay more for retiree health insurance than for our current employees. This coupled with enhanced retirement benefits, accelerated the problem.”

The city also issued a huge amount of debit betting on “hyper growth” in the past decade would continue, and now the general fund is backfilling some of that debit. Generous labor contracts over the years were unsustainable, said Deis, and mediation will include labor groups. The recession in the Central Valley and the state’s “raiding of our funds” also has worsened the fiscal picture.

“No one of these factors is the cause of our current problem,” Deis wrote. “However, the interplay of all these factors has created a situation where we can’t ‘grow our way’ out of the problem and no amount of forward looking financial planning will properly fix it.”

Deis said Friday that even further public safety cuts were “not acceptable,” compensation reduction for current employees would hurt the city in the long run by preventing the city from attracting the best people for city jobs, and higher taxes, especially with the region’s high unemployment, would not have community support.

“We see no viable alternative to restructuring our finances,” said Deis. “We see a healthy future for Stockton.”

Deis was also clear to say that the current City Council was not to blame for the current situation and that city staff that had been responsible were “long gone.”

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.