Employment is up in Sonoma County; Roads and Reading Skills Remain Challenges

Sonoma Mayor Ken Brown and County Supervisor Susan Gorin present the good and the bad at a Sonoma Chamber breakfast.

The city of Sonoma is "in the black," transient occupancy tax is up, and the County of Sonoma's employment levels are rising—those were among the messages at the State of the City and State of the County speeches on Thursday, delivered by Sonoma Mayor Ken Brown and County Supervisor Susan Gorin. Each presented an overview of the area's accomplishments and challenges at a Sonoma Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Sonoma Golf Club.

"Transient Occupancy Tax is up 19 percent (over 2011)," Brown said. "You hear every language on the Plaza. Property taxes are recovering. The City of Sonoma is in the black. Find me another city that is and I'll buy you lunch."

Brown commented that in spite of fiscal problems throughout the state, Sonoma has suffered "no reduction in services and no closures."

He described the city as "socially progressive but fiscally conservative," and said "That's just fine with me."

However, there are challenges.

"2013 is going to be a year of change because of the loss of redevelopment funds. That will affect graffiti cleanup and affordable housing," he said. "We're seeking every grant we can for street improvements. Completing the sidewalks in the Springs is a priority. Not having sidewalks there is really a sin. There are two schools there."

Brown said developing a public swimming pool is a priority.

"We've completed a feasibility study. That project is alive and well."

Meanwhile, County Supervisor Susan Gorin said the County is looking at ways to connect students with the workforce.

"The Board of Supervisors committed financial support to programs that will expand the availability to Sonoma Valley students of targeted education paths including:

o   Green building and design

o   Natural resource management

o   Energy generation

o   Biotechnology

o   Web design

o   Robotics

o   Agricultural science; and

o   Manufacturing technology

"These investments will allow Sonoma Valley students to lead the way as our economy becomes increasingly technologically motivated," Gorin said.

"The Board is investing in post high school education by supporting the Scholarship Sonoma County program housed at the Community Foundation to broaden the educational opportunities for our students."

But Gorin said too many Sonoma County children are not mastering important reading skills

"Fifty-one percent of the county's third grade students were reading below standard proficiency levels in 2012. There is a deepening achievement gap, especially among children of color, economically disadvantaged and children who are learning English as a second language. Seventy-seven percent of the third grade students who were also English Language Learners in 2012 were below proficient on reading tests.

"In Sonoma Valley’s public schools, the situation is even more critical," Gorin said. "Of the 345 Sonoma Valley third graders tested in 2012, 69 percent were reading below standard proficiency levels. Eighty-two percent of English Language Learners scored below basic proficiency."

Gorin said the Schools of Hope Early Literacy Initiative, led by United Way of the Wine Country in partnership with Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, Sonoma Valley Unified School District, Sonoma Valley Hospital, and the Community Foundation, seeks to raise third-grade reading proficiency to 90 percent in Sonoma County by 2020.  

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