Tuesday, 16 July 2024


LAKE COUNTY – A report released this week shows that high school dropout rates across California have dropped slightly, with local schools showing even greater improvements.

On Tuesday state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell released the annual report on dropout and graduation rates for the 2007-08 school year.

He reported that in 2007-08, 68.3 percent of public school students in California graduated, up from 67.7 percent last year. The adjusted four-year derived dropout rate for the same school year is 20.1 percent, down from 21.1 percent last year.

For the 2007-08 school year, Lake County's overall dropout rate was 16.8 percent, down from 23.07 percent in the previous year.

Local districts posted the following results, with the previous year's percentages included in parentheses: Upper Lake Union High School, 20.1 percent (27.6); Konocti Unified, 19.8 percent (21.4); Lakeport Unified, 15.6 percent (21.7); Middletown Unified, 10.4 percent (21); Kelseyville Unified, 9.6 percent (12.2).

“I am heartened that the graduation rate is up slightly, but California’s dropout rate is still unacceptably high,” said O’Connell.

O'Connell said there are long-term economic repercussions from not graduating for students, for their communities and for our statewide economy. “These data provide even more evidence of the challenge and the moral imperative of closing the achievement gap as well as increasing graduation rates among all students.”

This is the second year that the State Department of Education has calculated student graduation and dropout rates by collecting student-level enrollment and exit data.

The agency said when they have two additional years of data they will be able to produce more accurate student graduation and dropout rates at the school level.

“The data is going to become, I think, more reliable,” said Lake County Superintendent of Schools Dave Geck.

Ethnic groups still pose unique challenges at the state and local levels, despite some improvements.

O'Connell called dropout rates for African American and Hispanic students “alarmingly high.”

In Lake County, American Indians led with the highest dropout percentage, 32.7 percent, down from 35.1 percent in 2007-07.

The next highest group, African Americans, had a 24.1 percent dropout rate in 2007-08, down from 31 percent the previous year.

Other groups, with past year's numbers in parentheses, are: multiple/no response, 22.6 (24.5); Hispanic or Latino, 17.4 percent (22.4); white, 13.8 percent (14.2); Filipino, 12.5 percent (0); Asian, 0 percent (16.7); Pacific Islander, rate can't be calculated for 2007-08 (33.3).

“We have to find ways to engage those students,” Geck said.

Geck said efforts are going on across the county to better engage students and keep them in school. Those efforts include the College-Going Initiative – which this year honored 108 local students accepted at four-year colleges and universities – and career technical programs such as Clear Lake High School's health pathways track and Konocti Unified's technical education courses.

He said they're communicating with students that the difference between a high school diploma and a college diploma is about $1 million in earnings over a lifetime.

Districts have until July 3 to review the data, verify student exit codes, and correct all data, O'Connell's office reported.

The new system of tracking students uses the Statewide Student Identifiers (SSIDs) to help districts identify students who were considered a dropout at a school they left but in fact were enrolled in a different district, according to O'Connell's office. In addition, CDE can identify students reported by a school district as transferring to another California school district but cannot be found subsequently enrolled.

The SSIDs are to be part of the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, or CALPADS, a system to track students that is to be implemented at all districts in the 2009-10 school year.

Frustrations in addressing dropouts

Upper Lake Union High School Principal/Superintendent Pat Iaccino, whose district has the highest dropout rate according to the Tuesday report, said the way the state tracks dropouts has many holes.

While they're now attempting to track student to determine if they turn up in another school, Iaccino said that tracking system doesn't include community colleges, adult education, universities or other states where students could continue their education and turn out not to be dropouts. Also, students who receive certificates of completion but don't pass the exit exam are classified as dropouts, he said.

So he and his staff are attempting to track students themselves. If a student doesn't appear at school for a time, they send someone out to visit their home.

He said a lot of aspects in the system need to be improved to get a clearer idea of the true number of dropouts, which Iaccino said is a figure that's manipulated for political purposes.

“I get extremely frustrated with the state of California and the Department of Education,” said Iaccino. “What would they like us to do?”

If an 18-year-old can legally leave high school and get an associate's degree at a community college without a high school diploma, why do they need a diploma, he asked.

“We have been doing everything in our power to get these kids through school,” he said, noting that it's a constant pain to deal with ambiguous percentages.

Iaccino, who has been in education for decades, said dropout always have been a struggle, with the state constantly changing the way dropouts are monitored.

He said because his school is small, he believes he can raise the graduation rate to the area of 95 to 97 percent.

One way Iaccino would like to address his district's dropout rate is through establishing an adult education program, which also would benefit community members. However, he said the state won't allow him to do that, so students need to drive instead to Kelseyville.

Debra Jones, administrator, for the state Department of Education's Adult Education Office, said Iaccino is correct – “and it's very sad” – that there are new issues that are hampering adult education programs from getting started.

She said the adult education programs, which were established by Proposition 98, don't get average daily attendance (ADA) dollars until they've been operating for two years. However, there is now no longer an ADA system due to the way the recent state budget handles such categorical funds.

Jones said the funds now go directly to school districts, which are using the funds to offset costs in other areas. “There is no a system in place right now until 2013 because of the budget that the legislature put together,” she said. “There won't be a way for a district to start an adult school. There just isn't a mechanism in place.”

There are some other options, she said, such as specific federal dollars and the ability to start fee-based programs.

Jones said Lake County has huge need as far as the dropout rate and the number of residents who are illiterate or who have low reading comprehension levels. “It's even further away right now due to our California state budget challenges than it ever was before.”

Geck said the programs needed to keep students from dropping out are in danger due to the current budget crisis.

“The big challenge with the proposition and the rhetoric around budget cut is we don't have specific information about what it is going to do to the budget,” he said.

To see the reports, visit the state Department of Education Web site at http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

LAKE COUNTY – Lake County has been awarded federal funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) for the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program, and local groups interested in applying for the funds are being sought.

Lake County has been chosen to receive $29,583 to supplement emergency food and shelter programs in the county. These funds have been made available through the ARRA.

The selection was made by a national board that is chaired by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency and consists of representatives from American Red Cross; Catholic Charities, USA, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.; The Salvation Army; United Jewish Communities and, United Way of America.

The local board was charged to distribute funds appropriated by Congress to help expand the capacity of food and shelter programs in high-need areas around the country.

A local board will determine how the funds awarded to Lake County are to be distributed among the emergency food and shelter programs run by local service agencies in the area. The board is responsible for recommending agencies to receive these funds made available through the ARRA.

Under the terms of the grant from the national board, local agencies chosen to receive funds must: 1) be private voluntary nonprofits or units of government, 2) be eligible to receive federal funds,3) have an accounting system, 4) practice nondiscrimination, 5) have demonstrated the capability to deliver emergency food and/or shelter programs, and 6) if they are a private voluntary organization, they must have a voluntary board. Qualifying agencies are urged to apply.

Public or private voluntary agencies interested in applying for ARRA Emergency Food and Shelter Programs funds must contact the Lake County Community Action Agency for applications or call 707-995-2920 and speak with Georgina Lehne, the local board chair.

The deadline for applications to be received is May 22 by 5 p.m.

LAKE COUNTY – A list released Thursday of 789 Chrysler dealers slated to have their agreements terminated spared Lake County's local dealer and most of those located on the North Coast.

Kathy Fowler, who owns Kathy Fowler Chevrolet-Pontiac – which sells General Motors, Chrysler and Jeep vehicles – was breathing a sigh of relief thanks to not being listed.

She said she confirmed it with her Chrysler representative Thursday morning.

Fowler said her business was receiving calls throughout the day from concerned customers fearing the worst.

The 41-page list of dealers slated for contract termination included 32 California dealers.

The only North Coast Chrysler dealer listed was Harvey M. Harper Co. of Eureka. Dealerships in Chico, Oroville, Oakland and Burlingame also received notices of terminations.

On Thursday Chrysler LLC filed a motion with the US Bankruptcy Court seeking to reject some of its US dealer agreements.

It's the latest development for the company, which filed bankruptcy April 30 and is forming a new company with Fiat. Chrysler also temporarily idled most of its manufacturing operations effective May 4 for a period between 30 and 60 days.

“The unprecedented decline in the industry has had a significant impact on our sales and forced us to reduce production levels to better match the needs of the market,” Chrysler Vice Chairman and President Jim Press said in a statement issued Thursday. “With the downsizing of operations after the sale and reduction of plants and production, similar reductions must be made to the size of the dealer body.”

Press said the company regretted the “painful action.”

The 789 dealers who will have their contracts terminated represents 14 percent of Chrysler's sales volume, according to a Thursday statement from Chrysler. They will cease selling Dodge, Chrysler or Jeep vehicles on or about June 9, subject to the US bankruptcy court's approval.

The company chose which dealers to cut based on a “data-driven matrix that assessed a number of

key metrics,” which weren't detailed.

Fowler said the parameters for the selections given to dealers were “very vague.” She said much of it was based on issues liked spacing between franchises and good performance.

The restructuring of the dealer network is “a necessary part of Chrysler’s viability plan” and central to its proposed sale transaction.

Chrysler said the action also is mean to ensure that the remaining 2,392 dealers and the new company “will be stronger and more profitable going forward.”

Chrysler said it will “work to assist in the redistribution of new vehicles and parts to the remaining dealer network.”

Pressure on local car dealers has been a concern for local officials.

During a round table with Congressman Mike Thompson on April 9, County Administrative Officer Kelly Cox raised the issue, noting that he's met with local new car dealers that have been under pressure due to auto bailout, as Lake County News has reported.

Fowler and Holder Ford now are the only two new car dealers remaining in Lake County. Cox was concerned about what appears to be a push to shut down dealerships in rural areas. Thompson said at that time that he had held a conference call with auto dealers throughout the district that resulted in a letter from the California Congressional delegation to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, outlining dealers' concerns.

Thompson had warned that many dealerships would end up being closed because they were larger than the suggested number in the government's business plan.

For many auto dealers, they're not out of the woods yet: On Friday General Motors is expected to begin making cuts to its dealerships as well.

The California dealers slated to have their agreements terminated by Chrysler include the following.

– Atascadero: Ted Miles Jeep Inc.

– Burlingame: T&K Automotive Investments Inc.

– Carson: Carson CJ LLC

– Chico: Courtesy Motors Auto Center Inc.

– El Centro: WR Thomas Inc.

– Escondido: EJE Inc.

– Eureka: Harvey M. Harper Co.

– Folsom: People's Chrysler Jeep Inc.

– Foothill Ranch: Urban Automotive Group LLC

– Garden Grove: Union Dodge Inc.

– Glendale: Los Feliz Ford Inc.

– Grass Valley: GK Alcombrack Inc., Weaver Automotive Inc.

– Hanford: Hanford Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep Inc.

– La Quinta: Sowell Automotive Inc.

– Livermore: Livermore Auto Group Inc.

– Merced: Ron & Ann Enterprises

– Oakdale: LE Richardson Enterprises Inc.

– Oakland: Bay Bridge Dodge Chrysler Jeep

– Oroville: Oroville Motors Inc.

– Redwood City: Autocal LLC, Boardwalk Auto Center Inc.

– San Diego: John Hine Pontiac

– San Fernando: Murphy and Shelby Dodge Inc.

– San Luis Obispo: Hysen-Johnson Ford Inc.

– Seaside: Butts Pontiac-Cadillac Inc., Larry Menke Inc.

– Sonora: Mother Lode Motors

– Van Nuys: Valley Dodge Inc., Valley Dodge Inc./dba Big Valley Chrysler Jeep

– Ventura: Kirby Oldsmobile

– Yuba City – Wheeler Leasing Co. II Inc.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – The Hidden Valley Lake Community Service District (HVLCSD) has been awarded Best Tasting Water by the California Rural Water Association (CRWA).

HVLCSD received the Best Tasting Water Award at the California Rural Water Associations Annual (CRWA) Conference held on April 28-30.

CRWA represents rural water agencies throughout California providing on-site technical assistance and specialized training for rural water and wastewater systems.

Each year CRWA hosts an annual conference addressing current water and wastewater issues and recognizing agencies and people in the industry.

The best tasting water is determined by a panel of judges who taste each sample and rate its clarity, bouquet and purity.

Hidden Valley Lake Community Service District beat out several opponents in its bid for best tasting water.

CRWA, an affiliate of the National Rural Water Association, is a nonprofit organization representing the over 9,000 water and wastewater systems in California.

Red parasols, seen here at the 2008 EcoArts reception, will be available once again this year. Courtesy photo.




MIDDLETOWN – For the seventh year in a row, the EcoArts: Lake County Sculpture Walk will exhibit large scale sculptures themed “In Dialog With Nature” at the Middletown County Trailside Park, Highway 175 and Dry Creek Cutoff, Middletown.

The exhibit will open on June 7 and run through October 17.

The opening reception is Sunday, June 7, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. along the center trail.

Works included in the exhibit are a large sculpture by Anthony Johnson, member of the Pacific Rim Sculpture Group, work by internationally acclaimed weaver, Sheila O’Hara and her students as well as perennial local favorite, Alicia Lee Farnsworth.

There will be approximately 23 works this year. Along side professional artists, will be work by local students from Coyote Valley Elementary School, Minnie Cannon Elementary School and the Lake County International Charter School.

Everyone is invited to the free reception on June 7 at the center trail of the Middletown County Trailside Park.

EcoArtists will be on hand to share their experiences. Red parasols will be available to avoid the sun. The W’Nac’di drum circle will be on hand and encourage folks to join the music making. Wiloth Equine Center will provide horse rides for a nominal fee as well as interactive art projects during the event. There is plenty of parking and restrooms.

EcoArts of Lake County is a non-profit 501(c)(3) dedicated to bringing visual art opportunities and ecologic stewardship to the residents and visitors of Lake County, California.

For more information visit: www.EcoArtsofLakeCounty.org.




LAKE COUNTY – Lake County's health officer reported on Thursday that worries about the Novel H1N1 influenza – which has commonly been referred to as the swine flu – appear to be subsiding, but the county continues to plan for possible future appearances of the virus.

Dr. Karen Tait's office reported Thursday that there still remain “lingering possibilities” that the virus could be discovered in Lake County.

However, the likelihood of detecting it in the immediate future appears to be dwindling. As of May 13, the combined number of probable and confirmed cases in California was 473 – none of them in Lake County.

Tait reported that the similarity between symptoms of the Novel H1N1 virus and seasonal influenza, coupled with the fact that sophisticated laboratory tests are needed to identify the new virus, could only be done on a sampling of patients. That means that the virus could have entered the county undetected.

Even so, Tait said local health officials are breathing a collective sigh of relief as the characteristics of the virus have become better understood.

In spite of the fact that the population is susceptible to catching this virus, the resulting illness has been no more severe than seasonal influenza, according to Tait. In addition, it does not appear to be as easily spread person-to-person.

With the influenza season winding down, public health officials are hoping for a break from the recent concerns and uncertainties that go along with discovery of a new health threat. But Tait said that does not mean that efforts to fight this virus will stop.

Despite the relatively benign nature of the new H1N1 virus to date, health officials want to be ready for changes that could occur between now and another wave of infection, which might be expected to coincide with the usual flu season beginning in the fall, or could possibly come sooner, Tait reported.

Consideration needs to be given to the potential for the new virus to further evolve, possibly returning in a more virulent form.

“There is no easy way to predict the behavior of new influenza viruses,” said Tait. “I do not want to be an alarmist, since the virus may weaken as easily as it could worsen. But it is our job in public health to plan for all possibilities.”

The recent intense public health response to the discovery of H1N1 challenged Lake County’s Public Health Division to implement emergency plans simultaneously with state and federal health agencies, Tait said.

“We learned from this experience and had an opportunity to further develop our procedures,” she explained. “Because the Novel H1N1 virus particularly impacted school-age children, we worked closely with the Lake County Office of Education and schools throughout the county.”

Tait said the Public Health Division will be far from idle during the coming months.

Although a vaccine for the Novel H1N1 virus is not yet available, one might be expected by sometime this fall. If so, an unusually busy vaccination schedule can be anticipated.

Other efforts to curtail the spread of flu are likely to intensify again. “It is entirely possible that we will see both seasonal flu strains and the new H1N1 strain circulating at the same time, which is a good reason to be especially diligent about measures to reduce transmission of infection in the community,” she said.

Families should remember the recently emphasized lessons for infection control, namely good hand washing, and covering coughs and sneezes.

To be ready for the next flu season, it is also a good idea to have a thermometer on hand – an important item for taking care of flu patients at home.

For more information, go to ww2.cdph.ca.gov/Pages/default.aspx or www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/.

LAKE COUNTY – The men behind a property tax scam that earlier this year showed up in the mailboxes of thousands of California residents, including many in Lake County, has run into some significant legal trouble.

On Tuesday, California Attorney General Jerry Brown announced that he has filed a lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court against brothers Sean and Michael McConville and their businesses, “Property Tax Reassessment” and “Property Tax Adjustment Services.”

In the first week of February, Jim Campbell, Lake County's deputy county assessor, reported that the assessor's office had begun receiving calls from concerned residents who had received letters from the Los Angeles-based Property Tax Reassessment, as Lake County News reported.

The official-looking letters told homeowners that, for $179, their property taxes could be reduced. But they needed to respond by a certain time or else pay late fees, or they would have their file marked “non-responsive” or “ineligible for future tax reassessments.”

Lake County News attempted to call the company at the number listed on the letter; a woman answered and said it was not the company's number.

Days later, Brown's office issued a consumer alert warning of scams that offered to reduce property tax assessments if homeowners paid hundreds of dollars to a middleman.

On Tuesday, Brown accused the McConvilles of ripping off tens of thousands of homeowners throughout California who were looking to lower their property taxes.

He said the men used mailers that read like government billing statements, featured official-looking logos, and demanded hundreds of dollars in payments for reassessment and reassessment appeal services.

“These scam artists ripped off thousands of homeowners for property reassessment services readily available free of charge,” Brown said in a statement. “This lawsuit seeks to end the deception and blocks these companies from continuing to scam homeowners.”

Brown's suit, which seeks $2.5 million in civil penalties, alleges that the McConvilles and their businesses violated both the Business and Professions Code and the California Civil Code in a variety of ways.

The suit contends that the men made untrue and misleading statements with the intent to induce consumers to purchase products and services; distributed solicitations implying a government connection, approval or endorsement; distributed solicitations that appear to be billing statements; and engaged in unfair competition.

Brown said neither company adequately informed consumers that they were not a governmental entity, the solicitations were not a bill, purchase of the services was not required and services were available free of charge from county assessors.

The McConvilles also failed to complete any of the property tax assessment services homeowners were billed for in 2008, Brown said.

The companies had continued their solicitations, with new mailers recently sent out with a May 26 due date, according to Brown's report.

Lake County Assessor Doug Wacker said Tuesday his office had received a rash of calls after the mailer arrived earlier this year, and that some of those people already had Proposition 8 property tax reviews under way anyway.

Wacker emphasized that having your property tax reassessed is a free service his office provides.

“My heart goes out to those people who went ahead and just wrote a check and sent it off,” he said, noting a few local people did send money in to the companies.

He said the scam mailers started in Southern California and then moved north, reaching Lake and Napa counties.

Some county officials around the state are taking action separately.

Last week, the Ventura District Attorney's Office charged one of the brothers, Sean McConville, with 20 felony counts for criminal conduct stemming from his property tax reassessment operations, Brown reported.

In Napa County, Assessor John Tuteur and District Attorney Gary Lieberstein worked together to gather evidence to prosecute the scam, according to a statement issued May 5.

Similarly, Lake County District Attorney Jon Hopkins said Tuesday he also wants to hear from county residents who sent money in response to the letter but received no services.

He urged anyone who sent off a check in response to the mailer to call the Lake County District Attorney's Office, 707-263-2251, and ask to speak to a district attorney's investigator.

Homeowners who believe they've been victimized also can contact the Attorney General's Office at www.ag.ca.gov/consumers, via telephone at 800-952-5225 or by mail at P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244.

The Attorney General's Office urges homeowners who believe their property value has declined and they are paying too much in property taxes to protect themselves by never paying money for something they did not ask for. They also should avoid a middleman and instead contact a local county tax assessor's office for a free property value reassessment.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The State Bar of California has created a panel of volunteer attorneys, called the Speakers Panel, to elevate the public's awareness of financial scams targeting the elderly. The author is one such volunteer.

The panel's objective is to help prevent financial elder abuse, a big problem, by educating seniors. One type of scam, discussed in this article, is the so-called “trust mill” living trust scam. The trust mill scam is a major nationwide problem that has cost many elderly persons dearly, not to mention disturbing their peace of mind. Let us see how the “trust mill” scam works.

Trust mills are NOT legitimate law firms. Some may have attorneys on staff, in order to say that they are not illegally practicing law; however, providing legitimate legal services is NOT the trust mill's true objective. Rather, the trust mill offers one thing (living trusts) in order to later-on try to sell something else altogether (financial services).

Like a traveling circus, the trust mill goes from town to town advertising free seminars in order to draw in the public. Trust mills entice people by advertising “living trust” packages at “low costs” – far less than what legitimate legal services cost.

The trusts provided are basically just a one-size fits all, i.e., fill-in the blanks form, and should not be confused with personalized legal services. As such they may or may not be drafted by a licensed attorney, and certainly are not what the public has in mind in regards to professional legal services.

These salesmen will often use phony titles like “certified trust advisor” to make themselves appear legitimate and knowledgeable about estate planning, when they are neither. Such so-called titles are deceitful as they are not certified by any state regulatory agency and were merely issued by the trust mill itself to their sales persons.

Once the trust mill has the elder's trust and financial information, they then try to sell annuities, life insurance, and reverse mortgages – usually in the privacy of the elder's own home. The sales tactics used are unscrupulous and predatory, to say the least. That is, the salesmen are often trained to manipulate the elderly person into believing that the elderly person's money is not safe the way it is, and that they have a solution.

The salesman's ulterior motive is a substantial sales commission, and not the estate planning fee for the trust. Ultimately, therefore, the trust mill experience is far from a “bargain,” as the trust mill experience winds up costing the elderly far in excess of the legal fees charged by a legitimate attorney.

Qualified, ethical attorneys, on the one hand, offer the public a legitimate professional service that they are both licensed and educated to provide – for that sake only. Attorneys develop a one-on-one personal relationship with their client for the purpose of creating an appropriate, individualized estate plan based on client meetings; and will review documents with their clients and answer legal questions. They are not going to use the relationship later-on to try to sell you financial products.

There is some good news. Trust mills are being sued and prosecuted at various levels.

The California Attorney General's Office sued the Family First Advanced Estate Planning, Family First Insurance Services and American Life Insurance Co. The case was settled for $7.2 million, including $5.5 million for defrauded consumers.

Lastly, if you believe that you were a victim, you can call the National Fraud Hotline (1-800-876-7060), your local district attorney's office, and (when relevant) the California Department of Insurance (www.insurance.ca.gov).

Dennis A. Fordham is an attorney licensed to practice law in California and New York. He earned his bachelor's degree at Columbia University, his juris doctorate at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and his LL.M in taxation at New York University. He concentrates his practice in the areas of estate planning and aspects of elder law. His office is at 55 First St., Lakeport, California. He can be reached by e-mail at dennis@dennisfordhamlaw, com or by phone at 707-263-3235.


Eleven-year-old Arthur Wilkie of Lucerne is heading to the California State Elementary Spelling Championship in Rohnert Park on Saturday, May 16, 2009. Courtesy photo.



LUCERNE – A local spelling whiz will be making his way to Rohnert Park this weekend to represent Lake County in the California State Elementary Spelling Championship.

Arthur Wilkie, 11, a sixth grader who attends Lucerne Elementary School, will be among 62 of the state's top spellers, representing 32 counties, who will compete in the annual competition, to be held this Saturday, May 16, in Sonoma State University's Evert B. Person Theatre.

The competition, coordinated this year by the Sonoma County Office of Education, will begin at 9 a.m. It is free and open to the public.

Six fourth-graders, 24 fifth-graders and 32 sixth-graders will participate. All of them already have won school, region and county spelling bees. Each county’s first- and second-place spellers are eligible to compete for the championship title.

Trophies and savings bonds will be awarded to the top six spellers: $1,000 for first place, $500 for second place, $250 for third place, and $100 for fourth through sixth place.

All spellers will receive a participation ribbon, souvenirs, and certificate signed by Gov. Arnold


At 9 a.m. Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Carl Wong will welcome participants and guests to the event, then show a video greeting from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell.

Patricia Ehrmann, a teacher at Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park, is the spell master. Serving as spelling judges are Guerneville School teacher Leslie Howell (lead judge); Mark Rasmussen, Napa area captain of the California Highway Patrol; and Sonoma County Office of Education assistant superintendent Don Russell.

The California School Employee Association is sponsoring this year’s spelling championship, which will have a country theme. Country radio station Froggy 92.9 andBuzzard’s Gulch, both of Santa Rosa, are partnering with SCOE to present the event. Radio personalities Rob and Joss will introduce the spellers as they take a virtual tour of the old west town at Buzzard’s Gulch.

The full list of participating spellers, their counties and schools is below.


Emily Deluna – age 12, sixth grade, Alliance Academy, Oakland

Karl Keck – age 11, fifth grade, Anthony Chabot Elementary School, Oakland


Samantha Riviere – age 9, fifth grade, Sutter Creek Elementary School, Sutter Creek

Matthew Spinetta – age 11, sixth grade, Plymouth Elementary School, Plymouth


Zane Harper – age 10, fourth grade, C.O.R.E. Butte Charter, Chico

Jade Holder – age 11, sixth grade, Hooker Oak Elementary School, Chico


Hannah Cutter – age 10, fourth grade, Arbuckle Elementary School, Arbuckle

Sarah Marsh – age 10, fifth grade, Arbuckle Elementary School, Arbuckle

Contra Costa

Ava Gruener – age 10, fifth grade, Murwood Elementary School, Walnut Creek

Zoe Tacderas – age 11, sixth grade, Holy Rosary School, Antioch

Del Norte

Glenn Duncan – age 11, sixth grade, Pine Grove Elementary School, Crescent City


Kathryn Moore – age 12, sixth grade, Quail Lake Environmental Charter School, Clovis

Gobind Puniani – age 10, fifth grade, Valley Oak Elementary School, Fresno


Noah Parham – age 11, sixth grade, Willows Intermediate School, Willows

Danielle Zuppan – age 10, fifth grade, Capay Elementary School, Orland


Katie Fisher – age 11, sixth grade, Scotia School, Scotia

Kayleen Kemp – age 12, sixth grade, Toddy Thomas Elementary School, Fortuna


Katie Doonan – age 11, fifth grade, Pine Street School, Bishop


Quinn Camara – age 12, sixth grade, Pioneer Middle School, Hanford

Simran Dulai – age 11, fifth grade, Mark Twain Elementary School, Corcoran


Arthur Wilkie – age 11, sixth grade, Lucerne Elementary School, Lucerne


Zachary Mah – age 12, sixth grade, Richmond Elementary School, Susanville

Los Angeles

Carina Kan – age 11, sixth grade, Palos Verdes Intermediate School, Palos Verdes Estates

Catherine Velardez – age 12, sixth grade, Will Rogers Middle School, Lawndale


Elijah Armstrong – age 11, fifth grade, Manor Elementary School, Fairfax

Jessica Brown – age 11, sixth grade, San Jose Middle School, Novato


Xiao Jin Jackson – age 11, fifth grade, Mendocino K-8 School, Mendocino

Brawley Parker – age 10, fourth grade, Oak Manor Elementary School, Ukiah


T.J. Bangle – age 10, fifth grade, Charleston Elementary School, Los Banos

Marsha Noeline – age 11, sixth grade, Westside Elementary School, Los Banos


Martin Thompson – age 11, fifth grade, Lee Vining Elementary School, Lee Vining

Glenna Wardlaw – age 11, fifth grade, Mammoth Elementary School, Mammoth Lakes


Jessica Burgess – age 11, fifth grade, Clear Creek Elementary School, Grass Valley

Emma Lauterbach – age 10, fifth grade, Pleasant Valley Elementary School, Penn Valley


Savitri Asokan – age 10, fifth grade, Excelsior School, Roseville

Alexander Chew – age 11, sixth grade, Ridgeview School, Granite Bay


Jessica Khalili – age 11, sixth grade, Susan B. Anthony Elementary School, Corona

Christian Kontaxis – age 9, fourth grade, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, Palm Desert

San Benito

Andrew Pearson – age 9, fourth grade, Accelerated Achievement Academy at Calaveras, Hollister

San Joaquin

Mashal Chhotani – age 11, sixth grade, George Kelly Elementary School, Tracy

Leandra Evans – age 11, sixth grade, Claudia Landeen School, Stockton

Santa Barbara

Ameet Braganza – age 12, sixth grade, Monte Vista Elementary School, Santa Barbara

Quinn Hensley – age 11, sixth grade, Washington Elementary School, Santa Barbara

Santa Cruz

Andrew Miller – age 11, fifth grade, Ocean Grove Charter School, Placerville

Emily Quinn – age 12, sixth grade, Rio Del Mar Elementary School, Aptos


Hennessy McKenna – age 12, sixth grade, Pacheco Elementary School, Redding

Joe Williams – age 10, fifth grade, Millville Elementary School, Millville


Ashley Cain – age 11, sixth grade, McCloud Elementary School, McCloud

Miranda Velarde – age 11, sixth grade, Jackson Street Elementary School, Yreka


Roopkiran Minhas – age 11, sixth grade, Vacaville Christian School, Vacaville

Keo Jude Sarno – age 11, sixth grade, Rolling Hills Elementary School, Fairfield


Gage Osborne – age 11, fifth grade, Sonoma Charter School, Sonoma

Nadia Tomaszewski – age 11, sixth grade, Live Oak Charter School, Petaluma


Mahima Krishnamoorthi – age 10, fifth grade, Lakewood Elementary School, Modesto

Bowoo Lee – age 9, fourth grade, Fremont Open Plan School, Modesto


Lilyana DeArte – age 10, fifth grade, Lincoln Elementary School, Yuba City


Emalee Kourani – age 11, sixth grade, Lassen View School, Los Molinos

Jillian Strom – age 11, sixth grade, Berrendos Middle School, Red Bluff


Benjamin Harper – age 11, fifth grade, Weaverville Elementary School, Weaverville

Yori Mai-Isa Hook – age 11, sixth grade, Weaverville Elementary School, Weaverville


Darius Rucker-McCarron – age 10, fifth grade, Mary Covillaud Elementary School, Marysville

Zhang Vang – age 10, fifth grade, Linda Elementary School, Marysville


CLEARLAKE OAKS – The Clearlake Oaks/Glenhaven Business Association is sponsoring the 26th annual Catfish Derby, from noon Friday, May 15, through noon on Sunday, May 17.

Known by many as “the largest catfish derby west of the Mississippi,” the event features an Adult Derby and a Kids Derby for those under 16 years old. Barbecues will be held on Saturday and Sunday. The grand prize winner of the Adult Derby will receive a new boat, motor, and trailer plus cash prizes and the winner of the Kids Derby will receive a four-wheeled ATV.

Derby headquarters will be located at the Clearlake Oaks Fire Station, 12655 East Highway 20, and will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Derby headquarters also will be open for pre-registration from noon to 11 p.m. on Thursday, May 15. No registrations will be accepted after 11 p.m. on Friday.

Registration for the Adult Derby is $45 ($40 for those who pre-register on Thursday). Registration for the Kids Derby is $10.

Barbecues will be held both Saturday and Sunday, with a Saturday breakfast planned. Costs for the meals are separate. Sunday will feature live music.

New this year is the inaugural Catfish Derby Cook-Off. The entry fee for the cook-off is $20, with prizes awarded for first, second and third place.

Proceeds from the event benefit community projects. For applications, call (888) CL-DERBY, (707) 998-1006; for information, (707) 998-3795, www.clearlakeoaks.org.


EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article contains graphic information that some readers may find disturbing.

LAKEPORT – A Hidden Valley Lake man who pleaded guilty last month to fatally stabbing an 11-year-old girl and also stabbing and injuring her sister has been sentenced to 29 years to life in state prison.

Judge Arthur Mann sentenced James Roland Pagan, 32, to a minimum of 25 years to life with a one-year enhancement for using a butcher knife in the fatal stabbing of Tessa Walker on March 21, 2008, as she and her sister walked near their Hidden Valley Lake home.

In addition, Pagan received the middle term of three years for stabbing 14-year-old Kristen Walker.

The Walker family, who shortly after the murder had issued a statement forgiving Pagan for the stabbings, did not appear in court to give victim impact statements.

Last month, Pagan accepted a plea deal with the District Attorney's Office in which he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and a special allegation of using a deadly weapon and assault with a deadly weapon. In exchange, other charges – including attempted murder, mayhem and inflicting injury on a child – were dismissed, as Lake County News has reported.

Mann said at the beginning of the half-hour court session that he had read the 16-page report from the county Probation Department and was inclined to follow its recommendations, which included denying probation and imposing a state prison sentence. He then asked Pagan's defense attorney, Ken Roush, if he had any comments.

As Pagan's tearful family members looked on, Roush explained his choices in the case, including letting Pagan accept the plea deal, and his concerns about Pagan's mental state as it related to the murder and assault.

“I think something that should be considered is the court has the report from mental health professionals that indicates that James does have a history of mental health issues,” said Roush. “Did they rise to the level of insanity per the legal definition? No, but he does have a history of mental health issues.”

Roush stated that Pagan has no prior criminal record and would be willing to comply with the terms of probation if offered. He emphasized that Pagan was remorseful, despite statements to the contrary in police reports and interviews.

Along with being remorseful, Pagan wanted to take responsibility for his actions, and had been willing to do so from early on in the case “regardless of what the consequences would be,” Roush said.

But before Roush would allow a plea, he said he needed to investigate the case. Many questions are still unanswered, especially as to why and how the incident could have happened.

There was no prior relationship, no heat of passion circumstances, revenge or attempted crimes, all of which are part of a traditional fact patter, said Roush.

The basic issue was the mental state of Pagan, who has a history of schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, and has been on medications for a good portion of his life, said Roush.

Roush believed that Pagan's mental health issues supported a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity,

However, when three court-appointed experts found Pagan sane, Roush said he then was able to consider allowing Pagan to plead guilty to the charges in the plea agreement with the District Attorney's Office.

Roush said the probation report contains statements by Pagan, who apologizes to the Walker family.

Murder, assault a tragedy for two families

In his comments to the court, Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff noted, “This is a tragic situation for both families involved.”

However, Hinchcliff was unsparing in his comments about the severity of the case, which he emphasized not just for the purposes of sentencing but also so that the facts of the case will be on record for a future parole hearing.

“This murder was one of the most sadistic, gruesome and callous murders ever committed in Lake County,” said Hinchcliff, who could only think of one other murder involving a child that was as bad.

Hinchcliff said Pagan butchered Tessa Walker – who was walking with her sister through the neighborhood near their home – suggesting the motive was to get attention, which also was suggested by the psychiatrists who evaluated him.

The afternoon of the murder, Pagan, who lived with his parents a few blocks away from the Walker family, picked up a butcher knife from the kitchen counter, said Hinchcliff. When his father asked him how he was doing, Pagan replied, “What the f*** do you care?” and left the house with the knife.

He encountered the girls, stabbing Kristen once in the back before attacking Tessa, who he stabbed a total of 35 times – in the neck, heart and liver, with defensive wounds also on her arms.

“Thirty-five times in that little tiny body,” said Hinchcliff, who said the child must have been going through absolute terror.

Kristen Walker ran home for help, and her parents and siblings returned to find Tessa lying in a pool of blood, said Hinchcliff.

After stabbing the girls, Pagan dropped the knife, walked home, had a cigarette, took a shower and called his girlfriend, said Hinchcliff, noting that the crime left behind many victims.

He said he felt sorry for Pagan's parents. “I'm sure they have been living a nightmare too,” said Hinchcliff, adding that they have been cooperative from the onset of the investigation.

Hinchliff recounted watching Det. Mike Curran of the Lake County Sheriff's Office interview Kristen Walker, who has a form of Down syndrome. The girl remembered her little sister as her best friend, and explained how much she wanted her sister back.

Pagan was on top of her sister, hacking the girl, and Kristen tried to push him off but couldn't. “Being a father myself, I was literally in tears a few times listening to this and watching this,” Hinchcliff said, who explained that the case has been an emotional one for law enforcement, Roush and everyone involved.

Pagan told a psychiatrist evaluating him that he wouldn't have attacked a large man if he had been walking by. Hinchcliff said Pagan chose easy victims, and there is overwhelming evidence to show that the attack was willful, premediatated and deliberated.

Whatever mental health issues Pagan has, he graduated from Middletown High School and received a psychology degree from a university, said Hinchcliff.

He said it's unfortunate that the case didn't meet the requirements for the death penalty, because Hinchcliff said he would have sought it.

“Mr. Pagan needs to be locked away forever where he can never hurt anybody else,” he said, noting the viciousness and brutality of the crimes, and no amount of time served can make amends.

While it's unusual Pagan doesn't have a criminal history, “what's very unusual of this case is the extreme viciousness, brutality and callousness of this attack,” said Hinchcliff.

Mann found that Pagan wasn't eligible for probation due to the severity of the crimes against the vulnerable 11- and 14-year-olds, but he said the attack didn't show planning.

However, Mann said he believed Pagan – who sat hunched next to Roush in a red and white Lake County Jail jumpsuit – posed a high risk of danger to society.

Hinchcliff asked for the upper term of four years for the assault with a deadly weapon charge, and requestd that the terms for both that charge and the set 25 years to life for murder be served consecutively.

Roush, again citing Pagan's lack of a previous criminal record, said he thought the middle term of three years was more appropriate, but he asked that the two sentences run concurrently.

Mann said the murder charge had the fixed term of 25 years to life, but on the matter of the assault charge, he weighed the issues of the crimes great violence and the display of a high degree of cruelty and viciousness against Pagan's lack of a previous criminal record and his willingness to plead guilty. The result was the middle term of three years, with concurrent sentences.

As he passed judgment, Mann also ruled that Pagan pay a restitution fee of more than $35,000, but waived other restitution fees, saying he didn't see a way to pay all of them. Pagan also will receive credit for 417 days in jail, but is ineligible for conduct credits. If he's ever released, he will be on lifetime parole.

Following sentencing Pagan was immediately removed from the courtroom by two bailiffs. With his hands handcuffed to his waist, he raised one hand to waive at his four family members as he left the room.

Pagan will be in his 60s before he'll be eligible for parole, needing to serve 29 years before he can be considered for release, according to Hinchcliff.

But Hinchcliff said that's an unlikely scenario, since the plea agreement was crafted specifically to keep Pagan in prison for the rest of his life.

“I can guarantee you that he'll never get paroled,” Hinchcliff said later Monday afternoon. “It's just never going to happen.”

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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