Thursday, December 9, 2010

BCS Presentation

This past Monday, BCS came to present to the LASD Board about the BCS growth plan. For too long, we've been reacting to the annual facilities request without any meaningful visibility into how they're planning to grow over time (which would have a significant impact on the long term facilities solution.) We invited them to present to us so that we could understand their near-term plans and how that will change ove the coming years.

BCS Board Chair Ken Moore reviewed their enrollment history, and showed the stats for where they're planning to go. With this most recent facilities request, they're moving toward a plan of 3 classes in each grade level. In lower grades, it is common to have smaller class sizes than in upper grades, so they plan on addressing that by admitting extra students at the fourth grade to fill the classes out. I'm not sure how many parents will move their children at the fourth grade level, having formed friendships over the K-3 school years, but we'll get a chance to see that this year for the first time.

What was really surprising to me is the overall size of their plan. When BCS was first formed, they positioned themselves as a "small school". Even last night, when I attended a BCS K-6 recruiting night, their presentation stressed that they are a "small school". Their Monday projections, though, put them over 600 students in the very near future. This is larger than any school in the Los Altos School District. I'm not sure that I'd describe that as "small". Mr. Moore acknowledged this contradiction, and recognized that their Board seems to be a bit divided on whether to remain true to their founding principle, or whether to "address the demand" that they see.

Mr. Moore also outlined scenarios that would take them well beyond the 600-student figures. Knowing that, it's even more pressing that we solve the question of where they'll locate. They did hold out one carrot- that they might be willing to cap the size of the school if we resolve the space question. I actually don't have any particular issue with the size of BCS, except that as they grow, we may need to adjust LASD attendance areas if we have to change facilities to accomodate the BCS plan.

Overall I would say that the discussion on Monday was another positive step. It is the first time that we've engaged in a dialogue like this since their inception. I hope that we can continue to work together on this issue, and how it fits into the LASD Blueprint process.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Coming Events: Monday Meeting

This Monday's Board meeting should prove interesting for a couple of reasons:

1) BCS is presenting to our Board.
By far the most difficult part of our relationship with BCS is predicting their facilities needs. When they originally filed their charter 6 years ago, they told everyone they were aiming to be a "small school" of fewer than 300 students. They are now 381 students, and their recent facilities request for 2011-12 asks for space for >450 students. The LASD Board is required t provide facilities each year, but it's difficult to do this without an understanding of what their plans look like. A few weeks ago, we approached the BCS Board and invited them to come share their longer term plans with us so that we can make better decisions about how we'll meet our Prop 39 obligations.

I'm excited about this discussion, because it's the first time we've done something like this. I hope it is another step on a journey of working well together, and I look forward to ths discussion.

2) The Blach Water District project is on the docket.
We'll be hearing from the Santa Clara Water District about their request to use the Blach athletic fields as a flood basin to provide protection in the event of a 100-year flood. Their "pitch" is that we provide access to the land, and in the process, they'll be providing substantial improvements to the fields (new synthetic turf, etc.)

Along with the Water Board, we'll also be hearing from some neighbors who are opposed to the project. I'm glad to have the chance to have both groups in one place, and have the chance to hear both sides together. Weighing a project like this involves measuring the benefit to the community and weighing the impact that has on a different group. It's not an easy discussion, but it'll certainly be interesting.

I look forward to seeing many of you on Monday! Also, feel free to drop me a line with your thoughts on either of these issues.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Endoresments for City Council, SCCSB

I don't normally voice opinions about what other government bodies are up to, but... with my ballot sitting at home, waiting to be completed, I thought it appropriate to share a couple of thoughts on how I plan to vote.

Los Altos City Council - Curtis Cole
I am pleased to endorse Curtis Cole for city council. Curtis already has significant experience, having served on our council (incl. time as Mayor), the planning commission, and other capacities in our local government. After taking a break, he's ready to come back.

I like Curtis' pragmatic approach. The biggest issue I see facing the city council is the need to redevelop downtown. While some residents may prefer the "quaint" feel, we're at real risk of losing any functioning downtown area over the next few years. If we don't encourage multi-story development, our existing 20%+ vacancy rate will continue to climb. Curtis has been active with Los Altos 2025, a visionary group that has shown a clear plan for revitalization. That revitalization means millions of dollars of new revenue for the school district- plus, it'll make our downtown a true hub of activity, with services for all residents.

Santa Clara Count School Board - George Tyson
For the County Board, I'm voting for George Tyson. George has previously been heavily involved in the Cupertino School District, and served those constituents well. Now he's stepping up to a county position.

Most of the LASD interaction with the county comes around the Bullis Charter School. I believe George brings a pragmatic approach to that situation. He doesn't overly favor one side or the other, but is very cognizant of the implications of the decisions the county makes, and the impact it has on local boards such as LASD. I look forward to working with him over the coming years.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

History is Made (BCS agreement)

Sometimes history is a big moment, like the invasion of Normandy or landing on the moon. Other times, the event itself is just a small step that begins a longer journey, like isolating penicillin or compressing the first music file into digital form.

We've had a small historical breakthrough with BCS.

On Sept 28th, the LASD Board passed a resolution that modifies the way we allocate teaching stations (classrooms) to the BCS campus. Last night, the BCS Board also passed the same resolution, creating a bi-directional agreement. No judges were involved, and it only required a small amount of consultation with outside counsel.

I've written about this agreement before. The substance is unchanged from when I described it on Aug 16th. (link to post) The agreement basically says that if LASD classroom allocation changes after the date when we allocate space to BCS, they'll accept the same change, up or down.

I have to thank my fellow board members for their thoughtful consideration of this agreement. It did not pass LASD unanimously, but I believe that everyone gave it careful consideration and voted their conscience. I'd also like to extend my thanks to the BCS Board, particularly those members who worked with us over the past 4 months in getting this agreement in place. It was not an easy task, and I often doubted that it would ever see the light of day. i'm glad it has finally been passed by both boards.

Legally we are not required to have entered this agreement. We can stand firm on the April 1 deadline and not change our allocation to BCS. Historically, though, we have improved their offer if our situation improved. This agreement means that we're committed to that path. In return, BCS agreed that if our allocation got worse, they'd agree to reduce their allocation, even though they are not obligated to do so under the law.

The "historic" part of this agreement isn't so much the content- we've made these adjustments most every year. The historic aspect is that we agreed to this together, without having to resort to the courts.

There are some who felt that we shouldn't be doing this while BCS is still appealing last year's ruling. While I understand that sentiment, I have to disagree. If we wait for the optimal time to make progress in the relationship, we'll never move it forward.

Don't get me wrong- I am still incredibly frustrated that BCS has chosen to litigate so often. BCS is still appealing their loss in district court last fall. I believe that LASD will be upheld when that ruling is completed. There are many other ways that this relationship is still extremely broken. Still, today I can hope that this one small agreement is the beginning of a less contentious relationship.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

LASD and the Governor

During the contract discussions last spring, some folks suggested I was out of touch with the realities for public employees. They said I lacked an understanding of that environment, particularly when I compare public and private employment. That's why I found Gov. Schwarzenegger's editorial so compelling. He makes the clear comparison between the job impact in the private sector and the public sector. He also explains how the public employee contracts in the state of California are affecting *all* of us. The liabilities are beyond frightening.

link to the article

Take a read. I think the content speaks for itself.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

LA Times and Posts Teacher Evaluations

The LA Times recently published their own ranking of all 6000 teachers in the LA Unified School District. The scores were based on a "value add" concept- basically, if Johnny came in reading at 83% of the standard, and left reading at 90% of the standard, they attribute the gain to the teacher. Likewise, if Johnny's score drops, they assume that was the teacher as well.

I like the value add approach to evaluations. It's fair- it looks at where someone started, and assess the impact of the teacher. Unions often object that a principal can load a class with below average students, thus hurting the teacher's evaluation. Value Add means that we measure the teacher's achievements given where they started- who were the kids that were in the classroom.

During the campaign last fall, I spoke out in favor of this approach, and I still believe it would be a great way to identify our best teachers. There are details to work out of course, but I believe it's worth discussing and implementing. I would advocate for using this type of data to identify our top performers, and I would actually support some sort of merit-based bonus for the very best of our staff. We have some *fabulous* teachers in our district. Even amongst the great staff that we have, there are some true standouts. I'd be in favor of recognizing those who are so talented at inspiring our kids.

Having said that, I'm not a fan of what the LA Times did. Imagine if, at your place of work, every employee evaluation was posted on the wall. Imagine further, that the evaluation didn't necessarily conform to what you'd been told you'd be evaluated on. It's pretty easy to see this wouldn't go down well. Evaluations are confidential. When we assign an engineer to a project, the client doesn't get to look over their performance reviews.

I understand the spirit of the LA Times- they're trying to create an active debate about an important topic. I hope that folks see past the tactic and focus on the content- that it's important to evaluate teachers at least in part on how well their students learn.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A small step forward with BCS?

At the Aug 16 Board Meeting, we began considering a resolution that would represent a tiny thaw in relations with BCS. I've been pushing for this resolution, though i know that some may not share my enthusiasm.

The Background
LASD offers facilities to BCS based on our class loading on April 1 each year. Then in May, the state finalizes the budget, and we adjust our class loading. Historically, if our loading got better, we improved the offer to BCS. We weren't compelled to do so, but we have done it every year. The catch was that if the budget was bad news, there's no mechanism to adjust the BCS offer downward.

What Does The Resolution Do?
The resolution is actually pretty simple. It provides that the distinct "shall" adjust the BCS facilities offer in June, and that the BCS board "shall" accept such a revision. In practice, we're obligating the LASD board to do something that we have done every year for the past 7 years. The quid pro quo is that the BCS board is compelled to accept a decrease that they would never have considered previously.

Why should we do this?
This is admittedly not a huge shift. We agree to do something we've been doing every year for 7 years They agree that if something really unusual happens, they'd accept a change. The real win here is that we are considering an agreement that hasn't been compelled by a court. This is a small step forward, but a major shift in mindset.

But aren't they still suing us?
Yes, the existing litigation with BCS is still underway. The appeal will be heard this fall. Still, I believe that if we wait for the ideal moment to take a small step closer, we'll be standing far apart for a long, long time.

Will this resolution actually pass?
This resolution didn't come out of thin air. This is the product of a series of meetings with a subset of the BCS Board. While they weren't crazy about the proposal initially, the BCS board members I have discussed this with were willing to support it. Hopefully their full board will also agree.

From the LASD Board, I am hopeful that we're willing to pass it also. I believe the "costs" of this gesture are minimal, and the upside of making even small progress are worth it.

Win or lose, I'd like to thank the members of the BCS board who worked with us on preparing this proposal. Negotiating is a two-way street. Hopefully both sides of this negotiation will feel the results are worth passing in a formal vote.

Please feel free to contact me with your thoughts on this. It's a complex issue, and this would only be a first step. New ideas are always helpful.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Welcome Back

Just a quick note to say welcome back to school. Many thanks to those who worked through the summer to make our Back to School day a big success. Teachers have beenworking hard to ensure that the classrooms are ready. Our staff has done an incredible job in cleaning up the campuses. Our administrators have been planning for the new year too.

Special thanks need to go out to everyone who is working hard to make this school year special despite teh budget cuts and challenges we've seen. Many thanks to LAEF for their increased commitment this year. Thanks, too, to our PTA's for stepping up. Our kids will all benefit from the hard work of these parent leaders. Of course they're all depending on us to do our part, so if you haven't yet made a commitment to the LAEF, or written a check to your PTA, please support them as they ensure your child has a spectacular school year.

Best wishes,

Monday, July 5, 2010

Grand Jury push for District Consolidation

The Santa Clara Count Grand Jury recently released a report urging consolidation of a number of local school districts, including LASD. (Article here, Grand Jury report here)

I have been asked about this by a few folks, particularly during the budget discussions. There's a general thinking that says "businesses consolidate to save money, why shouldn't school districts?"

I am not in favor of merging, either with Mountain View-Whisman, or with the MVLA High School District.

First, our district is already extremely efficient. Thanks in no small part to Randy Kenyon, our Assistant Superintendent for Business Affairs, we run one of the leanest operations in the State of California. We have received an award from the State for the past six years for our exceptionally low overhead. (Roughly speaking, LASD spends just under 9% of our budget on administration. The State average is substantially higher.) Businesses that merge and achieve greater efficiencies do so by cutting overhead. Since we're already lean, there's little to be gained in this regard.

The other big reason to remain independent is to retain local control. LASD has achieved exceptionally strong results academically. Our tight-knit community is very active in the education of our students. I am not convinced that we would retain the same great engagement if our district size suddenly increased to 3x our current size. We hire for different skills, and we serve different needs. By remaining separate, we are able to continue to provide the best possible education to our students-- and do it in a financially responsible manner.

There are some that would argue that we could improve continuity with our high school if we were of the same district. I'll never rule out activities which improve our program. I will point out, though, that our administration and faculty meet with their counterparts in the High School District to constantly examine what we're doing and how we can better prepare our students for the next step in their educational journey. Individual student tracking has shown that our kids are doing a great job when they reach high school, whether they attend MVLA or one of the many local private high schools. (See results sheet here)

I'm always willing to learn new information that may change my opinion, but for now, I'm convinced that remaining separate is in the best interests of our students.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Tenure Reform, part II

A follow-on to the previous article about Tenure.

Chicago Public Schools have stated that they will use teacher performance as the primary mechanism by which they decide which teachers get laid off. Specifically, when pink slips are relesaed, they'll go to the roughly 200 teachers in the district who have received "unsatisfactory" ratings from their principals.

The step is described as
a) radical
b) common sense
c) long overdue
d) illegal
e) an abuse of power

Which answer you choose depends on your perspective. The Chicago Teachers Union is strongly opposed. (Insert mock surprise here.)

I strongly support the move of the Chicago Board, but probably not for the reasons you might think.

We don't have a long list of "bad teachers" in LASD. Most of our teachers are dedicated, hard working educators. Those that aren't are often coached by their colleages. Yes, there are a few that we hear about, and as a Board we know the cost of removing those folks is high (roughly $300,000).

I favor this change, though, because I think it is on the leading edge of reinventing education.

Education today is much as it has been for the past 100+ years. School Districts today are not run much differently than they were in the 1950's and earlier. The problem is that the world has changed. Business and government have changed in big, radical ways over the past several decades. We can search government records on the web, and we have embraced Just In Time manufacturing and outsourcing of any number of functions. School Districts are still the same as they were when I wnet to school and when my parents went to school. Meanwhile, the rest of the world has changed.

If we want to compete, to continue to lead the world, we're going to need to think differently. It's time to reinvent education. Maybe Chicago is taking the first big step. I wish them great success.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tenure fight in Colorado - and what it means here

Since I also tend to read a lot about education, I found this interesting discussion that is playing out nationally. This post is more a general observation about teaching, not a specific comment on our teachers per se.

There's an interesting fight going on in Colorado over tenure reform. (Link to article) Colorado is the latest state to take on the concept of tenure.

I "get" the underlying idea of tenure. In a University environment, it may be necessary to protect a researcher who is working on something that isn't politically popular. In a high school or even elementary district, though, I'm not sure I see the value in it.

People in all sorts of jobs are dismissed for a variety of reasons. Some sales people don't make their quotas. Some engineers write bad code. Some doctors have a lousy bedside manner. Waiters don't get orders right, and mechanics take too long to fix a car. And yes, sometimes folks get fired because the boss just doesn't like them.

In the real world, though, it's easy to change jobs. You're always free to seek out a better boss. Why is it that teaching should be different? Teachers work for the community through the local school district. If the local school district has a "bad principal" and that principal fires good teachers, don't we think the community will figure that out -- and fire the principal? Meanwhile, anyone who was impacted by the bad principal has gone on to work for a presumably better principal in another district. It happens all the time in the real world. Why not in teaching?

Education is about the kids, so let's look at this from their perspective. There is some risk that we have a bad principal, and that it will take a couple of years to figure that out and fire the principal. Then you'd have to rebuild the staff. Of course at that point, the district would be aware, and would be moving resources around to make the situation better. The converse, the risk of doing nothing, is that we have a bad teacher in place permanently and they impact kids year after year after year. At a larger level, I also believe it keeps teacher compensation artificially low because people won't support raises for a group that protects poor performers. That drives good teachers out, or keeps people away from the profession because they can't afford the salary cut.

In my mind, the biggest impact of tenure is that it hurts good teachers. Under tenure, bad teachers are protected. The community knows this, and it saps the will of the community to compensate teachers well, because Mrs. So-and-so is a bad teacher, and folks can't justify having her get a great raise.

In addition to Colorado, I applaud Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the Washington, DC school district. She has taken bold steps and changed the face of tenure in her distinct. It looks like Colorado is on a path to do the same. Here in California, we could learn from them both.

Here at LASD, I think we have some fabulous teachers. I'm not "gunning for someone's job". I just think we could use the flexibility in shaping our program.

[donning asbestos suit...]

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Elections: Bonds and Parcel Tax

First, congratulations to our friends at the High School district. It looks like Measure A is poised to pass, which is great. The campaign was smart, and teh underlying concepts are a no-brainer. Well done!

Looking at LASD, we have been actively discussing putting a parcel tax on the ballot. Last night we had the opportunity to direct staff to take some important steps to be ready for a November election. However, we decided not to do this. I think it was a good idea for a few reasons:

1) We're not ready. We don't have the same level of organization in place that we have typically had in previous campaigns at a point 5 months prior to the actual election.

2. November will be a noisy ballot. The Gubanatorial race and the US Senate race promise to be very intense fights, with candidates spending huge sums of money to buy media time. You'll see campagin ads at every turn. We would need to break through that nosie and have people pay attention to our issue, and be able to get them to listen enough to influence them to vote in favor of the tax. That would take an incredible amount of work.

3. We owe the public a better message. As a Board, we've committed ourselves to building a strategic plan. Having that plan in place will help shape a better message to take to the voters. It's not enough to say "vote for our tax so we don't close the libraries and lay off more teachers". It is far more compelling to present the voters with a vision, of how we want to IMPROVE, and what the incremental money would fund. During this budget cycle, we've also heard loud and claer from the community that they want our financial house in order. There are many components to that, including things like negotiating health care costs with our employees. Hopefully the extra time we're taking will give us a chance to have a compelling story to tell about how the teachers and staff are part of the long term solution.

We're still discussing when the actual ballot might occur. Most of that discussion centers around a vote in the spring of next year (March or May). If we do that, the funds would be available for the 2011-12 school year, the same as if we'd been on the Nov 2010 ballot.

I'd very much like to hear from folks on this topic. I'm particularly interested in what you think is critical for our strategic plan. That will form the backbone of the not just the parcel tax, but of how we try to guide the district for many years to come.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Deja vu - part 2

This week BCS filed their appeal brief for the lawsuit that LASD won last fall. It's one of those things- I knew it was coming, but I'm still disappointed when it arrived.

BCS has mostly rehashed the same arguments that Judge Kleinberg already ruled on last fall. I fully expect that the appellate court will uphold the lower court's ruling, which said that the LASD board has met our obligations in the facilities we have provided for BCS. It's the same verdict in the prior litigation filed by BCS.

I'll continue to post about this, but sadly, I don't expect them to change their behaviors.

Deja vu all over again (BCS)

There's an important difference between BCS and LASD. The LASD board is elected by the public. We have to answer to the public, and everyone registered to vote in our district has a say in who serves the children of our community.

Like all charter schools in the state, BCS, on the other hand, appoints their board. I'm sure the legislature, when they created this structure, was thinking it would be important for charter schools to have boards that are consistent with the school's vision. IN this case, though, I struggle with the notion.

From a purely economic perspective, charter schools are tax-payer funded. As a matter of principle, I like to see the people who spend tax payer money to be answerable to the same taxpayers. In the case of the charter school, they aren't really accountable to anyone- not even the parents whose children attend the charter school. I'm not suggesting that they've done anything financially improper- just that when taxpayer dollars are spent, taxpayers should have some say in how the money is spent.

More concerning to me, though, is that there's little turnover within the BCS board. There are three members of the BCS board whose terms expire this year. I was disappointed to learn that the BCS Board is planning to reappoint those same members to another 4-year term.

When I first took office, I met with several members of the BCS Board. Each one of them delivered the same message. they said that they each were hopeful that the new blood on the LASD board might be a way to improve relations between our two Boards. I'm saddened, then, that they've chosen to re-appoint the same people to their own board. Apparently the BCS Board felt that LASD was the only party that needed to change.

I'm not directly criticizing the three BCS Board members in question. I've worked with two of them and met with the third. We certainly don't see eye to eye on a number of issues. But still, if "fresh blood" is good for LASD, why isn't it good for BCS?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Prop 13 - Commercial properties pay less

There have been several interesting articles lately that explain an unintended consequnce of Prop 13. The goal of that law was to protect homeowners from increasing property taxes. Interestingly, the biggest beneficiary has been business.

In 1978, when we passed Prop 13, the thinking was that as properties changed hands, they'd get reassessed. The missing links in the chain are this:

1) Commercial property changes hands a lot less often than residential property. Typically homes change hands every 7-10 years. When was the last time a McDonald's moved down the street?

2) Given the high stakes involved, businesses use a number of clever maneuvers to make it look like the property hasn't chnaged hands. For example, if I want to sell you some commercial property and not have it reassessed, I just create a holding company. Then, I just sell you the entire hodling company. You bought the company, not the property. Believe it or not, that doesn't trigger a reassessment. (CVS did exactly this when they bought Long's Drugs).

Anyway, the net effect is that residential property now pays roughly 62% of property taxes compared to the 41% we used to pay 30 years ago. The burden of supporting schools (which benefit businesses, by providing them with educated employees) has shifted increasingly to homeowners.

The proposed solution is a "split roll"- commercial properties could be reassessed periodically, but residences could not.

Lest you think this is unfair, remember that businesses are actively requesting reassessments in record numbers. The city of San Francisco has lost several tens of millions because BofA and a few other large buidling owners have applied for reassessment to LOWER their tax liability during the economic downturn.

Business Week Article
SF Examiner
NY Times

Monday, May 31, 2010

Charter Schools and Districts (Merc News Article)

Since many folks may be away this weekend, I'm providing a link to an article from the Mercury News. It talks about the inherent issue in the State law that created charter schools- that it does, in some ways, pit charter schools against districts. If someone were to want to spend a lot of time on the legislative side, it might be a worthwhile endeavor to try to fix this problem.

As a note: the article is pretty even-handed. It acknowledges the differences between charters and traditional school districts. It's also interesting to see the issues that some other districts have with their charter schools. Some of the issues are similar, and some are directly tied to the fact that some charter schools are chartered by the county instead of the local districts. All very interesting...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pay for Performance

There's an interesting article on that details a new proposed "Pay for Performance" program. The actual details of the program are here.

I've long been interested in being able to reward teachers who truly inspire students, and make big contributions to our student population and our district's professional community. We have some teachers in our midst who have been spectacular. I personally know of a Math teacher who moves children from being afraid of math to looking forward to it each day, and competing in "Math Olympiads". We have teacher who stretches their fourth graders and introduces them to Shakespeare. We have teachers who, despite all the other schedule demands, find time to mentor new colleagues and create another generation of outstanding educators.

The proposed federal program provides up to $437m to fund "merit pay". It lays out that Teachers should continue to be paid a "professional base salary". That is, we're not trying to cut salaries to fund the program. I think this seems reasonable to most everyone involved in this discussion. All up, I'm excited that we're having this discussion.

On the other hand, I am troubled by the NEA's constant emphasis on seniority, and a highly antagonistic view of administrators. It seems disingenuous to say "trust us- teachers will always work hard, no matter what", but then to also say "but we can't trust our administrators to also behave as professionals."

Every time pay for performance is brought up, I hear someone tell me about a terrible principal who couldn't be trusted to evaluate accurately. Perhaps, by implementing something like this, it would highlight who the good administrators are, as well as who the good teachers are.

I'm interested in feedback on this topic. Instead of just telling me why it won't work, please make concrete suggestions for how we could make it possible. Ask yourself, "if someone were willing to pay me significantly more when I overachieve, how would I want them to know that I'd actually overachieved?"

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mercury News Coverage of Loyola

(a guest posting from Stacy Pena, Board member of LAEF)

I wanted to share with you these excerpts from a San Jose Mercury News article:

Parents Give Loyola Real Neighborhood School Feeling

There is something refreshing about finding out that in this frantic commuter-oriented world where everyone is in too much of a hurry to do everything, there still are places like Loyola School. Located in the heart of one of the older residential areas of Los Altos, little Loyola School, built in 1948, is one of those safe and secure neighborhood schools. There is a community feeling which revolves around the school that is hard to define…It’s the kind of school where the kids wear their blue T-shirts with white lettering reading “Loyola School” to class.

The principal is equipped with a very with-it PTA, which generally tries to fill in where diminishing Los Altos School District funds have left holes in the school programs….the PTA principal said “Primarily, what we have at Loyola is a very forward-thinking principal, a very positive person willing to make changes. We had been in a situation where we didn’t have the options for some of the fundraising things we now can do. Now we do.”

There is a philosophy at Loyola that what the school district cannot afford, parents may very well be able to provide.

“It’s fun to be involved at a school where people put out their own effort,” said the PTA president.

Surprised you didn’t see this article in the Merc? That’s because it ran on October 13, 1976 (2 years before Prop 13 took effect!). My mom just gave me the clipping, which she had saved all these years because she was a proud Loyola parent. I was in 5th grade at the time; Dick Liewer (father of Junior Olympics) was the new principal.

Yes, things have changed in 34 years, but not as much as we sometimes think. Instead of despairing over what the district cannot afford, let’s celebrate what we have, and do what we parents have always done, and that’s to “put out our own effort.” Viva LASD!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Board Vote, Teacher Contract (Results)

Tonight the Board voted 3-2 to approve the teacher contract that we first considered in open session back on April 7th.

There are things to like in this contract, including an improved evaluation system for our teachers. I'm disappointed, though, that the contract still does not address the most pressing issue facing our district- the increasing cost of compensation, including health benefits.

Later this week we have our first meeting of the compensation committee, which is tasked with looking at the long term compensation of the teachers. Hopefully that committee will have something exciting to share with us as their work progresses. Also, teachers will be voting tomorrow on a package of 3 furlough days that are essential to making the budget for 2010-11 work. I'm anxious to see the outcome of that vote.

My thanks to all those who reached out to me over the past several weeks. This has not been an easy process. Some of you disagreed with what I said, and I heard from many people publicly and privately that you were supportive of what we were trying to do. But in any case, I'm grateful for the engagement and the input. Keep those messages coming.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Why I Blog

There have been some questions about why I blog, with some folks suggesting that my blogging makes me untrustworthy. They don't articulate exactly what the concern is, but I feel I should at least explain to the public why I do this. You can then assess for yourselves whether this blog is a good thing or not.

I ran on a platform of improved communications with the public. Indeed, my first contact with the School Board was over an issue where I felt the district's actions lacked fairness and transparency. Having told the voters that I would seek to improve communication, what better place to start than right here, with me?

First, I share what I'm thinking. In this case, I've shared the principle reasons why I was prepared to vote no on a contract. I knew at the time that my actions might not be crystal clear to everyone. My actions might be misinterpreted by our teachers, and parents and community members might also want to know why I was voting the way I did. Not everyone can make it to our Board meetings every week (though I have a feeling our next meeting may be busier than usual). By posting a blog, I felt I could increase the number of community members who could hear about my thinking on a topic of interest.

The second reason I blog is actually to listen. Communication is a two-way street. In the several days since the original post went up, more than 70 comments have been posted to the blog. I've also received in excess of 50 emails on the topic. Listening to the public is extremely important, particularly when facing a tough decision. I care about what the teachers have to say, about how parents feel this will affect their children, and about what the community at large thinks about how we're managing the tax dollars they have entrusted to us. Thoughtful feedback allows me to understand those feelings. Even negative feedback has value. It may indicate that we need to adjust our thinking. I some cases, writers cite incorrect or incomplete data to support their arguments. In those cases, it tells me where we need to improve our communications. (I plan to write some follow-up posts to address some of these topics in the coming days and weeks.)

I'm not a ground breaker in the use of technology to communicate with voters. I receive a mass email from Anna Eshoo (our US Representative), every few weeks. It's an environmentally responsible alternative to sending out mass mailings, as was the custom in the past. I also know of a number of other blogs, both locally and across the country. Some of the blogs might surprise you:

The White House (Note that on the right, you'll find a list of 10+ other blogs, with topics ranging from High Tech to Trade to the economy)
US Senator Barbara Boxer
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Our State Senator, Joe Simitian

Even local school boards like ours, and Alameda (Mike McMahon)

One final note about my disclaimer. I am only one member of a five member board. My disclaimer reminds readers that this is my opinion, but that it may not reflect the opinions of the Board as a whole. That seems to be a reasonable caveat. I don't speak for my colleagues- only a vote of the board conveys official board action. That seems like a worthwhile reminder.

Blogging has become the media through which elected officials can reach their constituents. I really do feel that more communication is better. I hope that the presence of my blog inspires people to participate, to be active in their local government, and that people feel like they've been given a way to express their opinion. Since my post went up last week, more than 700 people have read my thoughts and many of them have shared ideas about how we might address all or part of this crisis. That's a huge win in my book.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

We Are Not Alone

Usually I like to let a posting soak a while before I post again. I posted my last article a little after midnight, and not many people are reading blogs at 4am on a Saturday. I read an article in this morning's paper, though, that I felt compelled to share.

The city of San Jose is facing a $116M budget deficit. They've asked the firefighters to take a 10% pay cut as part of a broader program to close that gap. The debate they're having sounds similar to ours.

Read the article here

This debate is happening over and over again in cities and towns all over America. We had a city here in the Bay Area actually go bankrupt. Public agencies are all dealing with massive shortfalls in revenue. The problem isn't unique to LASD.

Some folks have suggested that I don't understand the differences between private sector employment and public sector. The firefighters have very compelling arguments why they feel the city is making bad choices, and that their entire contract should stand as is. The City, though, has a $116M hole that they just can't fix. Sounds familiar...

(By the way, please make sure you see the article below on why I changed my vote)

ID for comments

By the way, I've turned on a feature that asks you to sign in to post a comment. We do this at Board meetings too- we ask that people identify themselves, so that we know who is making the comments. It just helps us have context.

You can post under your Google ID, AIM, OpenID, or a number of other technologies.

For those who want a response to your message, I'm responding to every email I receive. So far I've been able to keep pace and answer each message within ~24 hours. I welcome the comments and suggestions.

Why the change in vote?

Wow- what a response. I'm grateful for those who took the time to provide thoughtful comments and ask important questions about my most recent post. Our budget situation is complex. If we engage in serious dialogue, and are willing to consider new ideas, we can hopefully find a way to both address the ongoing (annual) deficits and also ensure that we have a district that continues to both attract and retain excellent teachers, and helps our teachers know that they are valued in many ways.

Several people posted questions or emailed me asking how I voted in closed session and how that related to my open session vote. I'm happy to share my thinking on both votes.

In closed session, I voted for the contract, but I expressed serious reservations. The information we had then was pretty similar to what we have now, but I've also grown accustomed to watching our forecasts swing pretty substantially over time. The closed session vote was 4-1 in favor of the contract.

Fast forward 6 weeks. In that time, the news has gotten no better, and it's becoming increasingly clear that when the State of CA revises our budget forecast in May, it won't be a positive change. Also, in the interim I've attended Budget Review Committee meetings, closed study sessions, and spent considerable time talking to CACF members, administration, and community leaders. My thinking had shifted from "can we afford this next year?" to "can we afford this year over year?" I also heard from a number of parents and community members that they wanted to see some concrete movement to change the district finances so that we don't keep repeating this cycle. One parent described it as "panic fatigue". That is, every year we cut, so we raise the alarm, do what we can, and still have to cut.

Where we go from here isn't yet clear. We have a closed study session on April 19 to discuss this issue, and an open session on April 26th. I'll see what I learn at those meetings. I also continue to hear from parents and community members on my email, on the blog, and in person. Keep those ideas coming.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Teacher Contract Vote

Last night the Board took a very unusual step - we did not approve the new contract with our teachers union. The mechanics of what happened are pretty simple, and they are described in this post below. The reasons we took this step are much more complex.

As I've said previously, this blog reflects my own personal opinions, not the opinion of the Board as a whole, or that of any other board member. If you want to know how another board member feels, or why they voted the way they did, you'll need to ask them directly.

The Mechanics
Last night, when faced with a vote to approve the teacher's new contract, I indicated in my remarks that I intended to vote no. Two other board members indicated that they would also be voting no, which meant that the proposal would not be passing the board. The administration has expressed concern, and actually recommended that we pass the contract. However, it was clear that there was not sufficient support on the board to do that. Rather than actually vote the contract down, we voted to defer action, and reconsider additional information at our next public meeting on April 26th.

Why Did I Do What I Did?
We have a serious structural problem in our school district. Next year we are short ~$2.5m, and that deficit rapidly grows to $4m over the next several years. We simply can't sustain the costs and program that we have with the revenues we bring in.

Labor costs make up 86% of our expenses. Less than 9% of our budget goes to administration, and the balance goes to materials and operating expenses. That's actually very good- we want to be spending as much as possible on the program where it matters the most- in our classrooms, with our students. The down side of this is that when you're out of money, adjusting labor costs is the only way to balance our budget.

The contract was positioned to the board as being a "cost savings". I did not feel that was an accurate portrayal. The contract saved $41,000 in reduced stipend payouts, but that savings was put right back into the salary schedule. Further, the contract includes automatic raises known as "Step and Column". Those automatic raises increase our costs by $600K to $800K each year. In a year where we sent pink slips to 17 superb teachers (who happen to be the newest teachers in our district), this is hard for me to swallow. We have also not made any meaningful progress in capping employee health care costs. The district bears 95% of all the costs of benefits, as we have done for many years. This increasing costs is a huge issue.

Many members of our community have felt the crunch of this downturn. Many people have taken pay cuts of 5%, 10%, or more. Many people are also faced with increased co-payments and deductibles, or are in some other way paying a greater share of their health care costs. In this environment, where we are asking parents to fund the an ever-growing portion of their children's "public" education, it just didn't make sense to me to approve a contract where the employees were not involved in that sacrifice.

To be clear, our teachers are a fantastic- some of the very best in the profession. I've said it many times- I'd like to pay them all like the rock stars that they are. The reality, though, is that we don't have the money to do that. We have exhausted nearly every possible avenue to save money, scrimp here, save there, and come up with enough to keep the core program- but we're not there. No one wants to cut compensation. It's difficult for everyone, whether it happens in a 20 person start up, a 250,000+ employee company like HP, or to the several hundred employees in our school district. It is unpleasant, but it's the reality of where we are. I simply could not, in good conscience, vote in favor if a contract where we weren't going to address our largest single cost.

I need to acknowledge the work that has already been done. The teachers took a vote this week that permits their bargaining unit to discuss furlough days as a way to help close some of the budget gap. The proposals that have been discussed so far amount to approximately $400K +/-. However, that's a one-year fix, and we have a structural issue that grows to 10x that size. I just don't think we're done with this conversation yet.

I remain open to dialogue on this topic. We will have a further discussion at the next Board meeting, and I invite comments from the public and our employees. I want to hear what you have to say. And I'd love to figure out how we make this work fairly for all parties involved. Please drop me a line at dsmith {at}, or post comments here on my blog.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Prop 39:
aka Why can't we all just get along?

I am compelled to provide a reminder here that this blog is only my personal opinion. In this post, I comment on some actions the current board and past boards have taken. This is my personal interpretation, and should not be taken as official district policy.

Last night at the Board meeting, a couple of parents from BCS stopped by to comment on the Prop 39 facilities offer that we're working on. First off, I'm glad they came. More dialogue is better, so thanks for making the effort.

What was interesting was a discussion we had after the meeting. They asked me a question I've heard in various forms: Why can't the Charter School use the soccer field when Egan isn't using it?

The answer to this question is illuminating. The District offers BCS facilities to use based on their student population. In essence, more BCS students means we must offer them more space - and that can include more shared use of things like an athletic field. In creating our proposal for shared use of the athletic field, we take into account how many students there are at BCS and then create an offer that gives them use of that field on a shared use basis. So far, so good.

Then we come to the other part of the question: why do these kids have to stand at a fence and look at an empty field and not be able to use it? That answer is also pretty simple, but it's not as "popular". Rational people might look at the field and say "we should be able to just share it." In reality, we haven't been able to do that. In the past when there wasn't enough clarity, there were disagreements between the two parties.

The crux of it is that the district is COMPELLED to be very specific in our offer. Last fall, BCS filed another suit against the District, listing many different complaints about the facility offer for 2008-09. Of those many complaints, the ONLY thing Judge Klienberg upheld was that the district wasn't specific enough in our language about shared use of the fields. So we are compelled to be more specific. BCS chose to litigate that point, and they won. So the District is now very specific in our offer about when BCS can have access to shared facilities.

Do I like it? No. Given the history between the two parties, though, it is what we are compelled to do. It would be great if we could come to a more flexible arrangement, but at the moment that isn't possible. I am told that other charter schools - ones with a less contentious relationship with their district- share facilities much more easily. I hope that some day we can get there. But until we can "get along" without having an army of lawyers carrying tape measures and stop watches, the District is legally compelled to be painfully specific about when BCS can access the soccer field. It's a real shame.

I want to say that the discussion with these parents was fruitful, at least from my perspective. We'll never see eye to eye on every single aspect of the relationship. But on my end, I was pleased that we could have a civil discussion about what we all believe in- providing a good environment where our kids can learn. Maybe there's still hope...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Painful Cuts

This Friday, layopff notices will go out to teachers across the district. This is tragic- there is simply no other word for it. I have reviewed the list, and personally know several of the teachers on it. They are exceptionally capable and talented teachers. In discussions with administration, I'm told that in fact ALL of the teachers on this list are outstanding. It is a painful thing we have to do, but sadly we have no other choice. We simply don't have enough money to pay all of our expenses next year.

To be clear about one thing- we are still considering options. The board is working towards a plan that solves for more than the direct shortfall this year. We want to think about the budget for 2011-2012 and beyond as well as next year (2010-11).

I don't know how we will vote in the end. The "cut list" was intended to be larger than we actually need to give us some options in case the financial picture gets worse than it already is. Still, even if we saved half of the teachers on the list, or half of the programs we're considering cutting... we'd still be losing valuable programs and talented staff.

I spoke at this past board meeting about the need to address the revenue side of this problem. We simply need more funding to offer the rich program our students deserve and our community wants them to have. To do so will require new revenue via a parcel tax increase or some other means. I hope that the community will support what we need. Our kids deserve it.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Superintendent Search
(Why do a Closed Search?)

I first got involved in school district politics when I felt my voice wasn't being heard during a principal hiring. It seems ironic, then that one of the earliest things I'd do is participate in a "closed" search for a new superintendent.

What is a closed search? A closed search is on in which the candidates meet only with the Board of Trustees and the advisers we have hired (Leadership Associates). The candidates do not meet with any members of staff, nor anyone from the PTA's, LAEF, or any other stakeholder.

Before the Board hired Leadership Associates, I reached out to several neighboring districts where Leadership Associates had run their search, and had used a closed process. For example, I spoke to both community members and trustees in Los Gatos. They have a district similar to ours (similar size, similar demographics, an active educational foundation and PTA community, etc.) Community members met with Leadership Associates and provided input early in the process. They felt that the resulting hire was an excellent fit for their district. Likewise, the Board member I spoke with has been pleased with the Superintendent they have hired. Thier search was a closed process.

In talking to Leadership Associates, they told us that a closed search would yield a much better candidate pool, including many candidates who might not otherwise consider putting their name in the ring. Candidates simply don't want to have to explain to their existing Board and community why they are considering moving to another district. Having validated the results of this process with Los Gatos, with former members of the Palo Alto School Board, and others, I've become more comfortable with this approach.

I still urge community members to make their voices heard. While the formal input sessions have already been conducted, I'd invite any feedback you might like to share. Please feel free to drop me a line with any thoughts on what you'd like to see in a new Superintendent.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Budget Crisis (aka Here we go again)

By now everyone who reads the paper knows the State of CA will be cutting funding for schools again. Even under the proposed "no cuts to education" plan, education will take a ~$2B hit. So what does that mean to us?

The Board is busy working with staff and stakeholders to determine the best plan to move forward. We are wrestling with both a short-term budget crunch as well as a long term structural issue.

But didn't we slash programs last year? Isn't that enough? Yes, we made significant cuts last year. At that time, we had a budget plan that should have kept us solvent for the next 6 years. Unfortunately the economy has worsened and tax revenues are down across the State. This ends up hitting the district.

But I thought we were Basic Aid, and cuts wouldn't affect us? Yes, the district is Basic Aid, which means we get to keep most of our property tax revenue. Unfortunately there are two things that work against us.

(1) Some of our expenses will continue to climb. Health benefit costs for our employees continue to increase every year, and to a lesser extent other expenses do also.

(2) The district will take a "Fair Share" hit to our revenue, along with Revenue Limit districts. Essentially this could be viewed as a political gesture, whereby it is wiser to participate in the sacrifice that affects all of the districts across the state so that we protect the concept of basic aid as a whole. Otherwise, given the small number of basic aid districts statewide, Basic Aid status would become a political target for elimination completely.

So what are you going to do? We are considering as many options as possible. In the near term, we are legally required to notify staff of possible layoffs. The deadline for this notification is in early March. If the budget gets better, we can rescind some or all of those notices.

What is the real impact to program? We haven't determined that yet. We are faced with some difficult choices. Staff has indicated a willingness to consider some furlough days, and we are grateful for that participation. That could help close some of the gap. We are also looking at a sweep of some funds from the "site level" back to the district. It is possible that some class sizes will increase next year also. Some scenarios have this being very modest, and some would be much more drastic. All three of these measures may not be enough. There aren't any easy answers.

Are we considering closing a school? I've heard from several people asking about this. As of this writing, there hasn't been any discussion about closing a school. I cannot guarantee that this would never happen. I can only speak for myself in saying that I would not look to that idea as a way to solve the short-term problem. There is a structural issue out there as well - our deficits get bigger in future years- but I would want to look at a complete picture, including increased parcel tax, a possible bond measure, private grants, and all other options. I would look at any structural changes such as changes to the number of sites we operate as a more strategic question, not a tactical "how-do-we-close-the-gap-this-year" measure. Again, as of this writing, I do not know of any plan to close a school site.

The situation is definitely serious. Our budget has been slashed for so many years, it's beyond crazy. Most every program that we consider part of a rich education - music, art, PE, libraries, etc - is funded by outside donations. It is a difficult time for schools everywhere. Los Altos is fortunate to have the support of so many community members, but the news is not going to be good this year.

I would encourage people to come to the Board meetings and make your voices heard. Please bring constructive suggestions. I've often heard people come and say "please don't cut this". We really need folks to help by suggesting where we *can* save money, or where additional revenues can be found.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A New Superintendent

Some of you may be aware that Tim Justus, our current Superintendent, will be retiring after this year. Filling this vacany is actually one of the most important things we'll do as a Board. While the Board sets District policy, it is the Superintendent who executes against that vision. In a public company, it's the CEO who leads the team. Our Superintendent is much the same.

The District has retained Leadership Associates, a search firm that specializes in superintendent searches. We have worked with Leadership Associaates in other capacities, and their team also comes highly recommented by Palo Alto and Los Gatos.

This is the time to start thinking about what you want in a new superintendent. I'd welcome comments and feedback on what you consider important. Ideas and thoughts can either be posted here as comments, or sent via email to

Monday, February 1, 2010

What makes a good charter school?

There's an interesting article in the LA Times today about what makes a good charter school. The author points out that the data doesn't bear out the idea that charter schools are a panacea for what ails education.

The thrust of what the author says is that there's a disconnect between the rush in public policy toward charters and the success rate in the field.

Let me be clear: I don't think this applies to BCS. They have a very successful program that is serving students just as well as if those kids had attended LASD schools. My point in bringing this up is that the legislature is skewed in favor of charter schools as all being good, and the data doesn't necessarily bear that out.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

BCS Appeal of Lawsuit

Yesterday after the Charter School Summit, I was chatting with a neighbor about the BCS appeal of the Nov ruling from Judge Kleinberg. You'll recall that the Judge ruled in favor of the district on all but one count. In a 28 page ruling, the Judge took pains to point out that "to the extent that some of the [BCS] supporters cannot reconcile themselves to the policy decisions made by elected bodies such as a school district board their energies might be better directed at the ballot box than the courthouse."

Despite this unambiguous direction, the Charter School has chosen to appeal the ruling. I find this disappointing. It will force the District to spend yet more money to defend what the courts have already ruled on -- that the district has complied with our legal obligation to provide "reasonably equivalent facilities" to BCS.

I have mentioned that I've reached out to BCS Board members. I have been polite but firm with my own personal thoughts on this matter. That is, since the courts have already ruled (4 times!) that the district is in compliance with Prop 39, litigating this further is a waste of taxpayer money. To the extent that they'd like to get something better than facilities that the courts have already ruled are "reasonably equivalent", litigating with us isn't the way to reach that goal.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Charter School Summit

Today I attended the Charter School Summit at the County office of education. This summit was created by the county's Charter School Task Force to "Increase collaboration among school districts, the County Office of Education, and charter schools" I'd like to share a few thoughts on this summit because I think it's an important dialogue.

Many forces in education at the County, State, and national levels strongly support charter schools. Legislation is passed with an explicit goal of increasing charter schools. Personally, I support the idea of charter schools for a couple of reasons.

Competition is good in business because it forces innovation. You have to be different from the competition to stand out and attract new customers. This forces companies to try new things. Strong ideas should flourish, and less effective ways should fall by the wayside. There is no reason to believe this doesn’t apply to education. One need only look at a small liberal arts college and a large public university to realize that in education, as in life, one size doesn’t fit all.
Data Integrity (hopefully)
One unique aspect of charter schools is that it creates competition while controlling some of the variables. For example, LASD does not try to compare our test scores to Los Angeles Unified. Our student populations are so different, the comparisons are meaningless. If a charter school within a district does something that is truly different, we have a better chance to compare the student s from the charter back to the traditional school and see if there’s a meaningful difference in the results.
If schools have truly unique offerings, we can actually compare those ideas and find the best way to reach kids. One of the common complaints from career educators is that their hands are tied by the regulations. You must teach “x” minutes of math, “y” minutes of reading, and here are the text books you can use. If charter schools truly seize their mandate, they’ll try doing things that are very different from their local schools. Then if they produce a better result, the local school will know that they can learn from it.

Charter schools, like real businesses, don’t always live up to their mandate. There are good charters and bad ones. One speaker from the US Dept. of Education today highlighted a charter school in another part of the country that was nearly all white in a largely minority neighborhood. There are also charter schools that have done wonderful things in finding new ways to engage kids from underserved communities where they would otherwise be lost in “the system”.

Overal the summit was good, but it's also fair to point out the shortfalls. It was organized by the county's Charter School Task Force with the goal of helping to "increase cooperation", but there seemed to be little in the way of serious debate about the points of disagreement. Cooperation is a two-way street. I don’t teach my kids to get along by telling them that the youngest one is always right and the older one needs to defer to her. Meaningful debate in this context means not loading up the panels with charter proponents. While lip service was paid to holding charters accountable, the reality is that there are two sets of rules- one for charters and one for districts. Who is favored by those two sets depends on whom you ask. Overall I came away with a sense of having been invited to a political rally as much as an educational summit, which is unfortunate.

Still it was worthwhile, if for nothing else than a chance to chat with several members of the board from BCS as well as some of their teachers. I’ve been trying to “reach across the aisle” over the past several months. I attended three BCS recruiting events to better understand their program. I’ve initiated private meetings with members of their board to discuss issues away from the charged political atmosphere. I have toured their campus during the school day to better understand what they do. I will continue to reach out and hopefully build some bridges. Time will tell as to whether that is an effort well spent.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Emotional Reasons for FDK

What is a "Cohort group"? The first time I heard this term used at a school board meeting, I had to think about what was being described. In common terms, we're talking about a group of children who move through the school year together- typically a "grade level" at a school.

Recently we've been engaged in a discussion about offering full-day kindergarten at one or more campuses within LASD. At our recent Board Meeting, I spoke about the importance of having a reasonably sized group of students in a grade level and the impact that has on a school. This year, the district experienced a drop in kindergarten enrollment across the entire system, with Gardner Bullis and Covington being the most dramatically impacted. Both schools had comparable numbers of "no-shows" (students who enrolled, but didn't show up for the first day of school). At Covington, we can absorb that change a bit better because of the comparatively large size of the school, but at Gardner it has more of an impact.

A small class group creates some difficult social challenges for the kids. For example, there are roughly 20 boys and 7 girls in the entire sixth grade at GB. With only 7 girls, when there is a conflict between two of the girls, it tends to impact the entire group. Everyone hangs out together, so the conflict ends up affecting all of the girls. With only 20 boys, the question of "who is toughest?" takes on very real meaning, in ways we don't want in our schools. In a larger school, there are more kids, so if two kids aren't getting along, they can find different groups to play with and the impact is minimized.

We knew when we opened GB that the upper-most grades would be single sections, but the expectation is that over time, we'd have at least two sections of each grade. Last year's kindergarten enrollment was fine, but for a variety of reasons, this year's group is smaller than desired. Allowed to continue, this could have negative consequences for the group (more conflict, difficulty in class, etc.)

In looking for a solution, the obvious answer is to address the reason for the attrition in the kindergarten program. From parent surveys, we have found that the single largest factor was the desire to have their children in a full-day program. Thus, the "missing kids" from this year are off at private schools that offer FDK programs.

I'm very pleased to say that we have several proposals for how to address this so that it should not require any additional funding. The two kindergarten teachers, Ms. Lile and Ms. Goines, have both offered to teach full-day kindergarten sections without a classroom aide. This is a tremendous gesture on their part, and they are to be commended for their flexibility and willingness to be such a big part of the solution. However, it probably won't come to that. We've found other funding sources that are specific to this program & location that could cover the costs completely. (If I get requests for details, I'm happy to write it up here. Otherwise, I try to keep these posts from getting to long and boring.)

While I'm thanking people for their support, special thanks to the parents who attended the meeting. You'd be surprised how much that influences the process. Knowing that people care about an issue is a big inspiration for us as a Board. Your voices have been heard!

The net/net of this is that it looks very good for offering a full-day kindergarten option, at least at Gardner Bullis initially. If we decide to do this, we'll be committed to the program on an ongoing basis, and will also examine our ability to roll this out to other campuses after this year. Stay tuned for more details.

PS: Kindergarten info night are being held across the district on January 28th. I am hoping to attend the GB and perhaps the Almond sessions. If you're there, say hello!

BCS Update

Most folks aren't aware of the interactions that happen between the district and BCS. Just to give some visibility to that process:

By Nov 1, BCS provides a request for facilities

By Dec 1, the district may object to the attendence projections in the request if we desire

By Feb 1, the District must provide a "preliminary offer", which is a first draft of what they might receive. This draft is subject to change.

By March 1, BCS needs to respond to the offer with any concerns, requests, etc.

By April 1, We must provide a "Final Offer of Facilities."

You can think of the facilities offer as a very detailed contract. It calls out the physical location (such as the Egan camp site), and it specifies boundaries (eg: the edge of the soccer field). It also includes all of the other things we provide, such as the classroom buildings, bathrooms, office and "non-instructional space", playground equipment, desks, chairs, etc. It is literally an itemized accounting of what we'll deliver, down to an excruciating level of detail.

As you can tell from the calendar, the District is in the process of defining our preliminary facilities offer. There's a lot of work that goes into this, and we can't just "cut and paste" last year's offer. We look at a number of factors including the type and size of the program they are offering, their long range plans, and what is "reasonably equivalent" for the in-district students.

Histoically there has been too much litigation over this, and I'm hoping to change that going forward. Prop 39 specifics some minimum behaviors, but there's nothing to say we can't do better as a community. For example, we could enter into a multi-year facilities agreement, so that this isn't an annual process. Likewise, we could engage in meetings to discuss the requests, which might facilitate the requests better than sending paperwork back and forth. Time will tell if we're willing to engage in these types of constructive steps to improve this process.

I have spent a fair bit of time with BCS recently. I've attended 3 of their recruiting events to get a better sense of their program. I recently took a tour of the facilities with Wanny Hersey, their principal, and Katia Karamangar, one of their Board members. They were kind enough to take me around and show me not only the physical facilities, but explain how they use it. It was a very constructive discussion. Hopefully we can engage in a meaningful discussion with the BCS board about their facilities request and develop a proposal that is fair to all concerned parties.