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.