Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Appeals Court Denies Rehearing

If folks are following the news carefully, you may have seen an article saying that the Appeals Court denied the LASD petition for rehearing.

It should be clear to all that this was an expected outcome. In order to take a case from the Appeals Court to the Supreme Court, you first have to ask the Appeals Court if they want to reconsider their ruling. We did that, and of course we got the expected outcome- they said "no, we like the decision we just made".

This ruling clears the way for the Supreme Court to hear the case, should they decide to take it on. They have until Feb 6th to make that decision. Although the Supreme Court takes a relatively small percentage of cases that petition for a hearing, we believe there is a good chance that they'll take on this case for a number of reasons. For one thing, the issue at hand is a matter of public policy, which generally makes it more interesting than a typical civil case. Also, we believe that there are significant disagreements between the recent Sixth District ruling and the rulings of other California Appeals Court rulings on charter schools. One of the primary functions of the Supreme Court is to resolve differences from the Appeals Courts.

We will keep everyone posted on the petition to the Supreme Court, and we look forward to their decision.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, LASD and BCS alike.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bloomberg article

I get a fair number of calls from the press, mostly local but sometimes with a wider audience. John Hechinger from Bloomberg spoke with a number of folks at LASD and BCS, and attended the BCS renewal hearing recently. Here's a link to the article he wrote.

( link )

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Approriate for your young reader?

This post doesn't deal with ed policy, but I thought it might be interesting to parents of school-age kids. 

In our household, both of my girls are voracious readers.  I wish I could say that it's all Shakespeare and Chaucer, but I'll admit that their girls like a wide variety of fiction.  Fortunately, my wife usually has time to pre-screen much of that material.  (Any aprent who has actually read the entire Twilight series knows what I'm talking about.)

I found out recently that a friend's wife is involved with a web site that provides book reviews aimed at parents of school-aged kids.  The site authors read books that kids are interested in reading, then provide information and reviews that help parents decide if that book is appropriate for their child. 

My wife had a chance to check out some of the reviews and felt that it did a good job of summarizing the plot and highlighting the parts of the story that might be of concern. It's not overly judgemental, but it lays out in clear terms what the issues might be, so that you can decide for yourself how you think your child might handle the material.  Maybe it will be helpful for your family.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New Board Member

In Open Session this evening, we had something of an historic moment- the four Board members elected a new Board member to replace retiring Board member Margot Harrigan.  I'm pleased to report that we selected Steve Taglio to the Board to serve out the remaining 1 year on Margot's term.

We definitely had "an embarrassment of riches"- four well qualified candidates stepped forward and were willing to serve on the Board.  We had an extensive debate, and had two different votes to elect Steve to the Board.

In the long run, there were two candidates in my mind who could have filled this role exceptionally well.  I hope to see Mark B. step forward at future dates to serve- I believe he brings great skills to the equation, and could be a big plus for us.  Meanwhile, though, I also welcome Steve to the Board, and look forward to serving with him.

BCS Litigation - continued

Tonight in closed session, the Board voted authorize our attorneys to appeal the recent BCS court case to the California Supreme Court.  This was not a simple decision, but in my mind, there were a number of factors that came together to make this the right course of action:
  • We fundamentally disagree with the Court of Appeals ruling, both on the merits and the method on which they arrived at the decision.  "On the merits" is pretty simple- we believe that the court took as "fact" many assertions by BCS that are not complete or correct.  Equally important, the process they followed to evaluate this was incorrect- it placed the interests of the BCS students ahead of LASD students, rather than balancing those interests.  Prop 39 requires a balancing of interests of both groups.
  • The Appeals Court fundamentally said that we can only use a very narrow set of criteria to evaluate how we meet the BCS request- and that set of criteria is actually narrower than what is provided under Prop 39.  The legal language of Prop 39 allows for discretion by the elected Board of Trustees.  The Court of Appeals ruling seems to strip this discretion, which seems contrary to the intent of the voters when they passed Prop 39. 
  • The discretion of elected Boards has been upheld in multiple Appellate rulings throughout California.  That discretion is essential in trying to come to the best possible solution to difficult questions like how to share a fixed set of resources like facilities.  This new ruling seems to fly against those precedents, and could have significant impact on students not only in LASD, but across California.
I recognize that appealing this decision will not be popular with some members of our community.  Certainly BCS supporters will be opposed.  Ironically I argued against them appealing this case in the first place (link).  In this case, though, I can't reconcile myself to what I believe the Appeals Court should have done, and what they ended up doing.  The impacts of this decision are too large to ignore, and I can't let the interests of a subset of students put all other students into a distant second place.

I've already been asked about the 2012-13 Prop 39 process.  We'll still need to figure that out, just like we'll need to continue to move forward with the Long Term location discussions we opened last week.  This litigation will need to run in parallel.  I hope that there is still room for constructive dialogue on these other issues- we will need to continue to communicate our interests to one another if we have any hope of working out solutions we can all support.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Finding a Home for BCS

At Monday's Board meeting, we spent a fair bit of time discussing how we'll find a permanent home for BCS. A few weeks ago, we received a report from CACF that boils down the options fairly succinctly:
  • Vacate an LASD school and give BCS the campus
  • Acquire land and build a campus either directly for BCS, or move BCS to an existing campus and that campus to the new facility
  • Share 1 or more campus site(s) with BCS
There's no big revelation in the findings, but it helped to focus this most recent discussion.  The Board spoke at length about what process we might follow, and where that might need to go.

{  I will reiterate that this is my personal blog, and I don't speak for the rest of the Board.  If you're interested in the thoughts of other Board members, you'll need to ask them directly.  }

Most of the options have some serious price tags- ranging from a few million up to $50-$70M.  No matter what we decide to expend, this is really a community decision.  If we decide to build a new campus (either for LASD or for BCS use) that would be at the high end of the cost scale, and it's going to require a substantial bond to finance it.  On the other hand, moving around existing LASD pupils will also have community impact.  If we go that route, we'll want to hear from folks about what options make the most sense and why.

We did identify some steps that need to be clearly included in the process- things like an EIR (Environmental Impact Report), community surveys, etc.  I expect we'll have a number of hearings on the topic, and spend quite a bit of time weighing options.  This process is not one we can rush- while it seems simple to say "just make a decision", we can't just push something through.  Our district enjoys a very close relationship and support from our community.  We will need to weigh the needs of all constituencies- including BCS- as we arrive at the right decision.

I look forward to engaging with you all to develop workable solutions that help all of our students.  As we finalize the schedule, I'll continue to write about it and post it here.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bargaining and Calendars

This week I attended a two-day training on better negotiating techniques for school districts and their unions . For those who jump up and say "yeah, stick it to them!", you're about to be disappointed. The focus of the training isn't "stick it to them"- it's about aligning interests.

In traditional bargaining, each side opens with a position, then you argue over whose position makes more sense. It is very confrontational and adversarial. We've had plenty of that over the past few years. Interest Based Bargaining (or IBB for short) actually doesn't get to "positions" until the very end. You spend most of your time understanding what interests each side has. By understanding each other's interests, it should create flexibility to create solutions that address those interests in a more open, collaborative way.

I'm no Pollyanna, and I'm not crazy enough to think that our interests will always aligns. We answer to different constituencies, and our driving goals are not always aligned. But I hope that by understanding the drivers behind the scenes, the process may yield better results.

During the course, one of the examples that I talked about with the group was my recent "No" vote on a calendar change. Last spring, when we negotiated with the LATA for furlough days this year, we agreed to a clause that reinstated one of those days in November if certain financial conditions were met. That furlough day is in November, and it is a teacher in-service day, where our teachers will take part in professional development activities at their sites and as a district.

Frankly, when that was discussed, no one expected mid-year cuts from Sacramento. When the 'triggers' were hit and this landed on the Board agenda, I just couldn't support it. I voted 'No' on the calendar change that restored the furlough day.

I place a very high value staff development. Our district is great at creating exciting new ways to teach. Most times, those changes are piloted with a small group, and are rolled out across the district at in-service days such as the one we were discussing. However, I couldn't support restoring this day without understanding the broader picture of what might happen with the mid-year cuts.

Given the way information circulates, I'm sure most teachers heard that I voted "no", and chalked it up to me being a jerk, or not caring about their professional development. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I'd really prefer is a more flexible arrangement between us, where we could look at the broader picture and assess this specific restoration in the broader context of our overall finances. Lacking that flexibility, though, I had to do what I thought was best.

The motion passed 3-2 so this vote will fade into the background soon. However, it was an excellent example to discuss in the negotiations training course. I think that at least some of the teachers in the room better understood my motivations. I hope that in explaining how I'd prefer we work together in the future, it will spur us towards a more flexible process where we can adapt to issues as they arise. I'm sure the coming months will present us with plenty of opportunities to negotiate, and I look forward to collaborating with our employees to find new ways to solve the difficult problems I'm sure we will face.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Appellate Court Ruling

I am deeply disappointed in this ruling, received today. Once I've had a chance to speak with counsel, I'll post more. However, I've always advocated for transparency, and I won't stop that now.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BCS Location: CACF Presentation

On Monday, CACF presented a decision process for a new location for BCS. They've evaluated ~20 options and seem to have had a very good discussion internally, some of which they shared with the Board on Monday night.

They presented a matrix that analyzes the categories of outcomes. They've intentionally left the discussion open (eg. acquire land) rather than list a specific location (e.g. buy part of the Sears site and build a new campus). This will allow us to evaluate teh pros and cons of different approaches before people start reacting to a specific site.

I want to thank the members of the committee for their work so far. The team was made up of CACF members, including one BCS Board member. I personally felt that we had a good mix of folks involved in that process. Resolving this issue is going to create some difficult decisions, but it's good to have the process underway.

I have posted the document here for anyone who would like to see it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Board Meeting: BCS Location

This communication recently went out from our Superintendent. I'm reposting here so that people know this is going on.

Message body
Dear Parents/Guardians,

The Los Altos School District's Board of Trustees will hold a study session prior to their regular meeting on Monday, October 24. At the study session the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Finance (CACF) will present the results of their study of a long term location for the Bullis Charter School. The Board will not take action on this item Monday night.

The study session will begin at 5:30pm in the Board Room at the District Office, located at 201 Covington Road, Los Altos. The study session is open to the public; however, public comment is not taken during a study session. The regular meeting will begin at 7:00pm. The agenda for the meeting can be found here (link) and on the district website at

Thank you,
Jeffrey Baier

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

BCS Appeal Hearing

This morning I attended the latest in a long string of litigation from BCS.  We met at the Sixth District Court of Appeals in San Jose to hear oral arguements in the BCS appeal of Judge Kleinberg's previous ruling for LASD.

I believe strongly in our position, and I believe that LASD has consistently applied the "reasonably equivalent" standard to our process.  Districts have pretty broad discretion in setting up our methodology for determining reasonable equivalence.  Hopefully the Appeals Court will reinforce that message and we can move forward with less litigation in the future.

In terms of timelines, the Court may return a decision quickly, or it could take several months.  We just have to wait and see where it goes.  If you want to be updated on the case as soon as it comes out, you can subscribe to this link.

Lifelong Volunteers

It is an axiom of education that kids learn by doing. We show them how to do a math problem, but they master the concept by doing problems. In science, we talk about a chemical reaction, but any eighth grader will tell you that the lab is "way more cool" than the lecture. DOING teaches far better than "telling"

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting a number of our school campuses during their walkabout events. This annual rite is a wonderful community event, and it requires a tremendous number of volunteer hours to make it happen. Parents spend countless hours acquiring prizes, coordinating meals, setting up and tearing down courses, helping students collect pledges, and doing the countless activities that are needed to make this event a success.

What struck me, though, wasn't the number of parent volunteers (although we know the event couldn't happen without them). I was thrilled to see so many of our alumni volunteering at the events. At each campus, I saw a substantial number of 7th and 8th graders who were back at their alma matter to lend a hand.

It was no surprise to also notice that many of those young volunteers are the children of some of our most stalwart parent volunteers. Their parents have spent countless hours, week after week, working in the schools to make our community a better place. Their children are learning that lesson from their parents- that good things need good people to make them happen. having witnessed the lessons year after year, I have no doubt that those kids will go on to be regular volunteers in their community.  Their parents have set an example through their actions, and those children are already well along the journey to understanding the importance of volunteering for good causes and putting those beliefs into action.  I commend each and every one of those kids- they are learning lessons that are in some ways more valuable than just the pure academics of school.  And their parents are pretty great too, for having started them on that journey.

Monday, October 10, 2011

BCS Decision

Author's note:  I didn't post this right away- I wanted to make sure I'd "cooled off" from the frustration of the meeting.  Still, I think these thoughts are worth airing.

I am saddened to report that the SCCBOE approved the BCS Application by a 5-2 vote.

To be clear, I did not advocate that their charter should not be renewed.  BCS is a high achieving school, and it would be very difficult to shut them down.  However, Like Anna Song, I believe that the BCS actions over the past 8 years have actively or passively discriminated against members of our student community.  I say that I am saddened by the renewal because the SCCBOE failed to take any meaningful measure to protect those underserved students.  This was effectively their only opportunity to do something meaningful and place hard requirements on BCS, and they chose to do nothing.

SCCBOE could have done several things to make this situation better.  I mentioned several of them in my remarks to them.  Those options included:
  • Refuse to renew the charter.  (extreme, and politically unlikely)
  • Renew, but make it a condition of the charter that they actually follow through on the hastily made promises to improve their outreach. 
  • Renew, but require BCS as a condition of the charter to have an enrollment more representative of the student community.  (measure the results, not just the action)
  • Renew, but strip the geographic preference for the Los Altos Hills area
  • Renew, but require BCS to seek County Board input before filing future lawsuits against LASD
  • Renew, but provide an avenue for LASD to supervise the admissions aspects of the BCS program.
  • Take no action for 30 days and ask BCS to return to LASD and first ask for their charter from LASD, giving LASD the opportunity to help shape the conditions more clearly
In the end, the County Board simply rubber stamped the application as it was presented.  There are no meaningful new requirements placed on BCS as a condition for their renewal.  I am not sure why the County Board feels like BCS will change their behavior all on their own.  BCS has not followed through on previous promises to the County Board (such as their promise at last year's meeting to complete a merit-based teacher compensation system.)  Without the hammer of renewal hanging over their head, there is little chance that BCS will change.  In point of fact, BCS Board Charmian Ken  Moore repeatedly told the SCCBOE that BCS was, in fact, serving these underserved student populations.  He presented "data" to back this up, but the data methodology fails to conform with the way that California public school districts measure their populations.  I guess if you don't like the rules and you can ignore them, that's what you'll do.

If I sound bitter, frustrated, and angry, it is because I am.  Referring to the recent outpouring of public comment, one County Board member asked "where have all of these complaints come from?  We haven't heard anything for many years."  He then dismissed the complaints as not important.  When staff tried to explain that people felt the County Board was deaf to the public, he was dismissive.  The County Board has proven by their actions that they are, in fact, deaf to our community.  I am deeply saddened and frustrated by their actions.

I would also make an observation about the role of the county board.,  Craig Mann said during the renewal hearing that they couldn't do anything more than "follow the law".  I'm not advocating that SCCBOE create their own laws, but it is my considered opinion that BCS hasn't been following the law, and that SCCBOE failed in it's responsibility to hold them accountable for that.  Even IF someone felt that BCS was following the law, it was still within the bounds of the law to ask BCS if they'd make some of the changes listed.  As it stands, Board Member Mann seems to accept the LEAST that the law demands- hardly a recipe for a successful democracy.  If the only standard LASD used to measure our schools was "do they comply with the minimums proscribed by the law?", we would certainly not be a top performing school district.  I had hoped for much more from the County.  I guess now all we can do is hope that they'll be more active in their oversight for the next 5 years than they have been in years past.

Thank you to all members of the community who did reach out over the course of the past several weeks.  All I can ask you to do is to keep the pressure up.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

BCS and the SCCOE

I had mentally told myself I was going to post less often about BCS, and more about District issues.  Then I received this letter.  I think it is important reading for everyone.  Anna Song, a Trustee of the Santa Clara County Office of Education, wrote this in response to a letter from Buffy Poon, parent of BCS students. I think Ms. song speaks eloquently about so many issues I've heard from community members over the past several years.

From: Anna Song

Date: Fri, Sep 23, 2011 at 10:29 AM

Subject: RE: The "So What"

To: Buffy Poon , "Joseph DiSalvo [External]" , Leon Beauchman , Michael Chang , Julia Hover-Smoot , Grace Mah , Craig Mann

Cc: Charles Weis , Carmen Aminzadeh , Anna Song , "" , "" , "" , "" , "" , "" , "" , "" , Cindy Chavez , "" , "" , "" , "" , "" , "" , "" , Jeffrey Baier

==Written communication to the board==
(This is in response to Ms. Poon’s email dated September 22, 2011. However, the BCS board members should also consider this as my formal communication to its board as a trustee on the Santa Clara County Board of Education. I am not communicating on behalf of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, and I am only writing the message as one member.)

Dear Ms. Poon and Bullis Charter School (BCS) community,

Thank you for expressing your thoughts.

When I commented on September 7, I seemed to have struck some nerves with my “So what?” comment with you and possibly with other parents in the audience as well. And I think that’s a good sign; I got your attention. But it is disappointing to learn that my comments were not taken in their entirety but some provocative words stood out more than the rest.

To me, “So what?” was meant to be a wake-up call. It was meant to point out that there is more for BCS to do than to educate your own. You may disagree. But in my opinion, BCS has more on its plate than any other neighborhood public schools.

A quick look at the Academic Performance Index scores for the Los Altos School District shows that BCS has performed abysmally in serving socioeconomically disadvantaged students. The numbers are so poor they could justify an immediate revocation hearing to cancel BCS’s charter and permanently shut down the school this term, in my opinion. BCS serves zero socioeconomically disadvantaged students. After eight years, you have zero. Zero. Los Altos School District reports 97 out of 3351 students are socioeconomically disadvantaged – a group of approximately three percent. LASD reports 380 of 3351 are English Language Learners. And, 406 of 3351 are Students with Disabilities. Also, 243 of 3351 are Latino. BCS reports 281 students in its recent API report. The comparable BCS ratios are: 0/281 are socioeconomically disadvantaged; 5/281 are English Language Learners; 18/281 are Students with Disabilities; 7/281 are Latino.

Additionally, BCS’ Parent Education Level is even more elite than LASD as a whole because BCS now serves zero families with a PEL below that of “some college.” BCS does not reflect the population of its school district.

By any measure, these numbers demonstrate BCS’ failure to meet state law as well as a disinterest in the legislative intent of Education Code 47601(b) that a charter shall “increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low-achieving.”

Page 3, section b of the BCS’ 2010-2011 Annual Charter School Report claims “BCS strives to attract, enroll, and retain the broadest spectrum of students and families who are representative of the general population residing within the territorial jurisdiction of the Los Altos School District.” Despite the Communications Committee’s report, I do not believe the claim. For example, BCS reports zero outreach in Spanish.

Sadly, after being a strong advocate of BCS from its first days, I now conclude that BCS is in material breach of its charter agreement with the Santa Clara County Board of Education. Moreso, I conclude the BCS community does not take the contract with SCCBOE seriously. I note a sense of entitlement from BCS’ population in general, especially from your letter. And, after reading your letter, I seriously question if Bullis’ future would be better served as a private school. There is nothing dishonorable about private education.

BCS’ 2010-2011 Annual Charter School Report states “BCS does not request parents to donate to the school.” However, in the same section, BCS states “BPESF’s suggested donation for the fall annual campaign is $4500 per student.” The editorial construction in this section is misleading and borders on duplicitous as it refers to “our families,” while simultaneously suggesting that parents are not requested to donate. It appears that all parents ARE requested to contribute a suggested donation of $4500 a year. Donations may not go to “the school,” but parents certainly feel that a price of admission to BCS is the requirement to raise money. That to me, is not a public school.

Unfortunately, under state law, BCS does not have the privilege to take its existence for granted because the school is not like neighborhood public schools. The underlying agreement is that if a charter school does not perform well, it ceases to exist. And, there are many required categories besides academic achievement to assess whether BCS meets the standard of “perform well.” Therefore, BCS, no matter how well academically performing, constantly will need to justify its existence. You may say that it is not fair, but it is the reality of a charter school.

And when the founders of BCS came forward asking the county board to authorize its existence eight years ago, educating your own children and doing it well was a given, a minimum standard - a floor, not the ceiling. That is what I meant when I said “So what?” Your student achievement scores are the floor, not the ceiling.

Please don’t get me wrong. My words do not mean I do not appreciate what BCS has accomplished. It does not mean that I do not value that “Bullis is shaping our next generation of leaders and change agents, youngsters who will make a difference in the world. Bullis is creating inspired, inquisitive problem solvers with a social consciousness to give back to the world” as you stated. However, BCS doing so is given, to me because BCS promised to do so many years ago. The BCS founders promised to educate, innovate, and stand out. I believed in BCS and I voted in favor. And I have been a strong supporter from day one.

That “So what” to me, is “show me something more.” Again, you may say that is not fair. It may not be fair, but in my opinion, performing well above neighborhood public schools is what BCS signed up to do, and promised to do, but that alone is not enough to justify its existence.

As a strong supporter of BCS from its inception, I have to justify my action to many different people and entities. Few are receptive to my belief in BCS, and many are not.

You said, “I was greatly saddened by the Board's repeated implication of an "us versus them" mentality with respect to social economic status. One could take that further and interpret some of the comments to imply that our children are not worth spending more time and energy on because their parents are not struggling to put food on the table and pay rent.”

Would it be hard for you to believe that I’ve actually had numerous people (some elected officials included) challenge me directly in ever so blunt words like “How can you let those rich people who can afford to send their kids to private schools take away public funding?” And every time, my response to them was, “If you can’t justify discriminating against the poor, you cannot justify discriminating against the rich either. And by the way, the rich pay taxes too.”

I will be honest. I was not implicating an "us versus them" mentality,” as you said. I was telling you that such a mentality is real and prevalent. Thus, my “So what?” was “what are you going to do about that while continuing to thrive?” As troublesome as it may be, ignoring such a mentality will do BCS more harm than good because BCS’ academic achievement by itself will not justify BCS’ continued existence in the future – especially given new trends in state education law. BCS cannot be complacent because its students are performing well on tests. BCS cannot be complacent that it has the support of the Santa Clara County Board of Education today, this year, this cycle. Because those naysayers are not going to change their minds no matter how great BCS is! In order for BCS to continue to exist, and to thrive, BCS has to add more value to public education as a whole, than just what BCS adds in a portion of your own community.

Perhaps you are not seeing that bigger picture. Perhaps you are not thinking 5 or 10 years down the road. But I am; I believe that is part of my job. So far, BCS has enjoyed the support of the majority of the members of the County Board of Education. But there will come a day when Anna Song is no longer on that board along with other board members whom BCS leaders have come to know. And if the new board majority one day happens to be made up of people who are more critical of the charter school movement, what justification will BCS give to continue to exist when a majority vote of the County Board of Education can dissolve Bullis’ existence at any time?

As a County Board member, I am constantly challenged with questions such as, “Should charter schools exist? Do they help public education? How can you justify a two-tier system? etc. etc.” The recent question with which I have struggled is, “Twenty years from now, would you look back and say charter schools helped or hurt public education?”

I struggled with that question because I honestly cannot conclude with a simple all-purpose answer one way or the other. I like to believe that the charters are helping, challenging, and improving our public education. But if all charters are doing is educating a limited cross-section of students whose parents are highly involved while not sharing best practices with traditional neighborhood public schools, I cannot, in good conscience, say that charters help the overall public school experience. And, I cannot disagree that we are creating a two-tiered system. That is what I meant by “So what? What’s next?”

You said, “We who have more should have more responsibility to the rest of the world” and I could not agree more. I think I’ve said something along the line “to whom much is given, much is expected” during the September 7th board meeting.

You continued, “and I believe that Bullis teaches that to our children as it encourages global citizenship and empowers our children to take action.” In my opinion, I think you should teach your children by your actions. Show them what “global citizenship” looks like by your actions. That’s what I meant by “So what?” Show me, don’t tell me. And, perhaps, rather than just focusing on global citizenship, Bullis should focus on county-wide citizenship. Your school is chartered by the Santa Clara County Board of Education. Perhaps the international field trips should be supplemented by field trips and service projects in challenged communities within Santa Clara County. Or, even more so, perhaps the local focus should be an even higher priority than global travel.

You said in your third point, “If we had more funding, we parents and teachers could do a lot more...Until we get more funding from another source, it would be very difficult for the school to take on more Board mandated projects without diluting the very qualities that make Bullis what it is.”

I disagree and I think you are contradicting yourself. You said in your second point that those “who have more should have more responsibility to the rest of the world” and yet, you fall back on a lack of funding to argue you could not do more. Lack of funding is not a unique problem to BCS alone. And, seriously, BCS has more access to private funding than probably any other public school in the state of California. Almost every other public school - charter or neighborhood - has less funding than BCS. And we may not see more funding in this state in our lifetimes. So if BCS sits on a “lack of funding” excuse for its inaction, I may never see the “global citizenship” in action locally.

I was extremely saddened to read your words:

While we hope to be able to share lessons across our communities, the actions that work for one community might not work in another community because we are all struggling with different issues. I would love if we could take "the lessons" from a more economically distressed district and apply them to Bullis and vice versa, but I could see the reality that many of those lessons wouldn't translate.”
Though you seem to express how appalled you are “by the Board's repeated implication of an "us versus them" mentality,” your last words I quote above seem to reflect your own "us versus them" beliefs.

It is no secret that BCS and its local school board, Los Altos School District, do not see things eye to eye. BCS did not enjoy a collaborative working relationship with LASD eight years ago, and I don’t see either side moving forward anytime soon. It has been eight years…

Thus, I said and continue to say, “So what?” to all BCS members clearly knowing it is a provocative comment. In case you have not thought about it, I want you to know that as an elected official, it is much easier for me to offer compliments and niceties to a crowd than to offer criticisms and suggestions. All of you would love me if I just complimented your achievements, and voted your way. But I can’t do that. There are so many children who can benefit from your innovation, and generosity. And I feel time is running out.

I have been called names and labeled as “tough” & “harsh” by many charter school applicants. Some have told me that my support was a nice surprise given all the tough questions I’ve asked. I take that as a compliment. I am taking my job as an elected trustee seriously, and would rather ask tough questions and offer stinging criticisms so BCS (or any other schools) may improve than be concerned of my own popularity.

And, please note that only one of seven County Board members is elected by Los Altos voters. The other six areas all have a significant number of Title One schools in their boundaries and thus all County Board trustees want to see some empathy and hands-on passion for the challenges we face in our shared home of Santa Clara County. When Bullis appealed its denial by the local Los Altos School District Board, the County Board did not step into the shoes of your local Board for a do-over. Rather, we provided an alternate second consideration from a county perspective. My sincere hope is that Bullis will earn many decades of successful charter renewal as the school demonstrates a passionate contribution to public education throughout Santa Clara County.

I am saddened to find myself in conclusion, that after having been a strong supporter of BCS for eight years, I am extremely turned off by your sense of entitlement, and lack of understanding in what it means to be part of public education. I am looking forward to BCS’ presentation coming up in October. I sincerely hope that the BCS community, including you, will come up with better justification than what you sent below.

Anna E. Song
SCCBOE Trustee, Area Five


From: [] On Behalf Of Buffy Poon
Sent: Thursday, September 22, 2011 2:06 PM

To: Joseph DiSalvo [External]; Leon Beauchman; Michael Chang; Julia Hover-Smoot; Grace Mah; Craig Mann; Anna Song
Cc: Carmen Aminzadeh
Subject: The "So What"

Dear Board Members of the Santa Clara County of Education:

I am a parent of three Bullis Charter School students: a fourth-grader, a second grader, and a kindergartener.

On September 7th, I attended the Bullis Charter School charter renewal hearing, where I listened intently to the Board's comments. Afterwards, I could not stop thinking about them and felt compelled to let you know how distressed I am about several comments made by board members.
First, I was struck by Ms. Song's comment, "so what?" in regard to the many great things the school has achieved since its inception. To me, the "so what" is that Bullis is shaping our next generation of leaders and change agents, youngsters who will make a difference in the world. Bullis is creating inspired, inquisitive problem solvers with a social consciousness to give back to the world.

For example, my eldest son constantly talks about how he wants to study science and create a clean, renewable energy source to benefit the animals and humans on our planet. A few weeks ago, he was brainstorming about a potential computer application that he could sell and then give the earnings back to Bullis to build a science lab. I think if we were studying Bullis' students decades from now, we could see that many of them became impactful contributors to our world. I could see many of them, inspired by the incredible staff who work passionately on their behalf, becoming compelling, effective educators themselves, helping to solve the education gap. Many of them will enter public service, having been empowered by the environment Bullis creates to effect change. I could see many of them as scientists, having developed the passion for lifelong learning and inquiry that Bullis fosters. Some, having learned at Bullis that once can engage people with different media, will become artists able to convey powerful messages. This "so what" is no small or common achievement, and I do not want to see it curtailed.

Second, I was greatly saddened by the Board's repeated implication of an "us versus them" mentality with respect to social economic status. One could take that further and interpret some of the comments to imply that our children are not worth spending more time and energy on because their parents are not struggling to put food on the table and pay rent. I believe that if we can encourage all children, economically privileged or not, to develop to their full potential with effective public education, we will benefit society as a whole. We who have more should have more responsibility to the rest of the world, and I believe that Bullis teaches that to our children as it encourages global citizenship and empowers our children to take action.

Third, I commend Bullis' teachers and staff for taking on such an overwhelming workload and still innovating new ways to enrich our children's educational and social experience. If we had more funding, we parents and teachers could do a lot more. Unfortunately, we struggle every year just to meet the funding gap between how much it costs to educate our children versus how much state funding we get. The majority of the money from the funding gap comes directly from our parent population. Until we get more funding from another source, it would be very difficult for the school to take on more Board mandated projects without diluting the very qualities that make Bullis what it is.

The Board has a huge undertaking with its commitment to SJ2020. I can imagine the pressure that you are under to close the achievement gap in San Jose by 2020. While you focus on those 40,000 students who are not proficient in their grade level skills, I ask that you not turn your backs on students in other districts who face different challenges.

I am a child of immigrants to the United States. Our family struggled financially through the years. I moved nine times as a child because my father was mentally ill and kept getting fired from his job. They struggled to give me the best education they could, given their circumstances. However, when I told my parents that I wanted to become a teacher, they told me they would stop paying my tuition and pull me out of college. They worried that I would struggle economically like they did, and didn't want that for their child. I, on the other hand, have the luxury of not being afraid that my children’s basic needs won’t be met, and I can encourage them to reach higher. I would be proud if they became educators, artists, writers, or musicians.

It takes all of us, the "haves" and the "have nots" (I cringe to use such blunt distinctions), to help improve the world. While we hope to be able to share lessons across our communities, the actions that work for one community might not work in another community because we are all struggling with different issues. I would love if we could take "the lessons" from a more economically distressed district and apply them to Bullis and vice versa, but I could see the reality that many of those lessons wouldn't translate. However, if we can find ways to work together within and across our communities to provide relevant, inspiring education for all our children, we can develop highly effective leaders and implementers for our world.


Buffy Poon

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Working on Sacramento from Los Altos

Assemblyman Rich Gordon, who represents our district in Sacramento, has created an Educational Advisory Council, made of of Board Members, Administrators, and other leaders in education. I'm honored to be asked to participate. WE met for the first time today and discussed a number of issues facing the education community.

First on our agenda was discussing the impact of the budget, particularly the "handcuffs" it places on local school boards. This year's budget contains a number of triggers that would automatically cut revenues mid-year if certain economic indicators don't continue at the rosy pace they were hitting in May and June. Mid-year cuts aren't new, but this year's budget specifically prohibits local school boards from cutting certificated personnel (teachers) in responser to the cuts. I politely expressed my frustration with this, and told Asm. Gordon that I felt this was an unprecedented (and probably illegal) intrusion of Sacramento into the business of local school districts. Rest assured that the other districts felt equally unhappy with the law. Hopefully if the Assembly is called back into session in December, they'll address this issue.

We also discussed a number of other items folks would like to see improved:
  • Clean up Ed Code 35021. This law makes it illegal to have a volunteer do any job previously held by a district employee. We talked about the inability to have parents supplement in the libraries and in aide positions. This problem is felt across many districts. It isn't my intent to replace our valuable employees with all-volunteers. However, it's hard to explain to parents why it is better to not have a program than to have volunteers help make it more cost effective.
  • One of the other districts also mentioned the entire idea of outsourcing- the fact that we can't subcontract any of the work we have done. Simple examples like lawn mowing came up as areas where we could hire a service to do the work, rather than maintain tractors ourselves.
  • We talked about AB1034, which would require charter schools to make efforts to serve students in under-served groups (such as economically disadvantaged kids, and English Language Learners). See my previous post for more information on this topic.
  • We talked about the impact of redistricting, and the elimination of the Department of Education at the State level.

Overall, I felt the meeting was very positive, but clearly there's a lot on the legislative agenda. I don't know how quickly any of this will pass into law, but it was a great discussion. I look forward to working with the Assemblyman on his initiatives.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

BCS Charter Renewal

Attached is a letter I sent to the Santa Clara County School Board regarding the renewal of the BCS charter. In it, I've made some suggestions for how I believe BCS might better reach out to groups that they are currently underserving.

As always, this reflects my personal views, and isn't a statement about District policy. Feel free, though, to send comment to me at my district email address.


Board Members and Superintendent Weiss:

Unfortunately I am unable to attend this evening's Board meeting due to business travel, but I am sending this letter to reflect my opinions on the renewal of the BCS charter.

BCS has an impressive track record, and recently achieved very high scores on the STAR test. They are to be congratulated for that achievement, but it comes with something of an asterisk.

As you consider this application from Bullis Charter School for renewal, I would respectfully request that you consider placing some conditions on BCS as part of that renewal. Many of these are contemplated in legislation pending before the California Assembly. Rather than "sneaking by" before the legislation is passed, let's step up ahead of Sacramento, and require equality today. Don't wait to be told that we have to treat students equally- do it because it is the right thing to do.

I would like to request that, as a condition of their charter, BCS be required to implement a plan to achieve parity with the local district in the recruiting and educating English Language Learners, Economically Disadvantaged Students, and Special Needs Students.

English Language Learners
BCS should be required to actively recruit from the full spectrum of language learners that are present in our community. Approximately 8% of LASD students speak a language other than English at home. LASD not only provides recruiting materials in multiple languages, but we also provide translations throughout the year for both written documents and parent-faculty discussions. By doing so, we ensure our ELL families are fully included in the education of their students, and that those students have the best possible opportunity to thrive in our district.

In the several BCS recruitment nights I've attended, I have observed no materials in languages other than English. I have seen no signs or other indications that interpreters are available for the first meeting, let alone throughout the year. This passive discrimination is unlawful in public schools, BCS (and all charter schools) should be required to comply with the law and ensure they are serving all students in our area.

Economically Disadvantaged Students
Charter schools are meant to serve all public schools, yet BCS has created a program which caters to wealthy families. Their recruiting night features discussions of expensive overseas trips and a hard sell from their fundraising group. I believe these actions are designed to ensure that only families of substantial financial means apply to their program

At the BCS recruiting nights, I have personally listened to the presentation from the Bullis Boosters Club. The BBC explains that they need at least $5000 per student in additional contributions from parents to offer their program. They make statements like "I wouldn't feel right enrolling my child if I wasn't able to contribute at that level."

One need only examine the BCS student data to realize that their free/reduced lunch population is distinctly absent compared with that of the Los Altos School District. To create a financial barrier to entry is akin to charging tuition, something expressly forbidden in the Charter School Act.

(To see this financial pressure more clearly, simply conult the BCS Foundation website

We understand that for some of our families, a tax deductible donation of $5,000 per student is simply not feasible. We ask that families openly discuss their situation with a Foundation member as early as possible and donate as much as they are able towards covering the funding gap, recognizing that other school families will need to make up the difference. A broad participation is what makes our funding model sustainable!

They present the $5000 donation as closing some funding gap compared to LASD. However, LASD spends approximately $8500 per student compared to the BCS spend of $13,400. The math speaks for itself.

Special Needs Students
Finally, BCS should be required to create and operate a meaningful program for special needs students. Any public school district can explain the cost of special needs students. LASD serves students who may require upwards of $150,000 per year to educate. Parents in our community are very bright and well informed. They research schools carefully, and many have chosen our district because of the program we provide. The few students they do serve are, to my understanding, very mildly impacted by their disabilities. Parents of students with severe disabilities are discouraged from applying. By not having a meaningful program for special needs students, BCS effectively shirks their responsibility to the community, leaving LASD to bear the financial cost of this type of program.

BCS may assert that their program does serve the needs of these various student groups, but the statistics would show otherwise. Compared to the LASD, they have virtually no students with severe disabilities. Their ELL population is nearly non-existent. Their STAR test data further reveals that they have no students who are economically disadvantaged. If charter schools are about serving the needs of all students, then let's require that charter schools do exactly that- serve the needs of the school population.

Let's not wait for a law to require us to treat students equally.



Douglas J. Smith
Board of Trustees, Los Altos School District

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

ACTION REQUIRED: Legislation to tilt the tables

There's a bill in front of the Assembly right now, and it's about as blatent a piece of lobbying as I've ever seen.

On the surface, SB 931 seems innocuous. The first two paragraphs are as follows:

SECTION 1. Section 3506 of the Government Code is amended
to read:
3506. (a) Public agencies and employee organizations shall
not interfere with, intimidate, restrain, coerce or discriminate
against public employees because of their exercise of their rights
under Section 3502.
(b) Public agencies shall not use public funds to pay outside
consultants or legal advisors for the purpose of counseling the
public employer about ways to minimize or deter the exercise of
rights guaranteed under this chapter.

Supports of the bill would claim that they're just trying to keep employers like LASD from interfering with the employee rights to organize and negotiate. However, as it is written, the law has two major flaws:
1) It prohibits the use of public funds for things that are already illegal (such as interfering with the right to unionize)
2) it is written so broadly that is could be construed to deter districts from doing basic things like discussing our negotiating position.

(See the full text of the bill here)

During our negotiations with the LATA, we are well represented by a Board member and several members of our administrative team. Our teachers union also brings in a representative of the California Teacher's Association. The CTA has zero interest in our community, except that they don't want Los Altos teachers negotiating a position that other districts might adopt. My anger here is not hypothetical. In our most recent negotiations with our bargaining units, we had reached a conceptual agreement on some key labor & wage concessions. Once the CTA arrived on the scene, those agreements went out the window. This is a case of an outside group with no stake in the discussion disrupting what we as a community value and have worked hard to build.

Under this new law, it would be possible for unions to file suit against districts for any perceived action that they thought discouraged a host of activities that are already legally protected.

I would ask constiuents to contact the legislative offices of State Senator Joe Simitian and Assemblyman Rich Gordon to vote down this ridiculous piece of legislation.

Email Joe Simitian's Office
Office of Senator Joe Simitian
Palo Alto District Office
160 Town & Country Village
Palo Alto, CA 94301
Phone: (650) 688-6384

Email Rich Gordon's office
Office of Assemblyman Rich Gordon
Twenty-First District
5050 El Camino Real, Suite 117
Los Altos, CA 94022
Tel: 650-691-2121

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rocketship Charter - SCCOE comments

Tonight I attended a meeting for the Santa Calra County Board of Education. Our biggest contact with the County Board should stem from the services they provide (like payroll, etc.). However, they are also the authorizing agency for the Bulis Charter School.

I went tonight to provide comments on an application by Rocketship Charter Schools for an expansion of their charter to add 20 new charters, run directly by the county. Since BCS is chartered directly from the county, I felt the need to weigh in on the impact of direct county involvement.

The following is a draft of my remarks. Due to time, I had to edit them slightly when speaking, but the general thrust of the comments was the same.

My name is Doug Smith. I am a Trustee in the Los Altos School District. My comments today reflect my opinion as a trustee, but I haven’t had a chance to survey the other members of my Board, so my comments don’t represent an official board policy.

First, I want to commend Rocketship. They have an incredibly important objective – to serve the needs of students who are currently not being helped by their local neighborhood schools. As educators, we have to meet the needs of our students, and I applaud Rocketship for dedicating themselves to this goal.

Unfortunately, I also have some experience with the charter school process that gives me concerns about the manner in which Rocketship is proceeding.
As you are well aware, Los Altos is also home to Bullis Charter School, which is chartered directly through the county. There are some unique issues with schools chartered directly through the county that I feel must be considered and weighed against the application from Rocketship. As our Board’s representative in discussions with the charter school, I have first hand knowledge of the challenges that are created when charter schools are not accountable to the community in which they reside.

The proposed 20 new charter schools lack any meaningful connection to the community they serve. Bypassing the local school board says effectively “we don’t care about you, or the people you represent.” Rocketship’s petition demonstrates a frightening disregard for the local community. Their petition complains that requiring Rocketship to petition each local district would take time away from working to achieve their vision. I’m sorry that the feel that “consent of the governed” is such an inconvenience, but it is still one of the core principles of how a government should function. It speaks poorly of how they relate to the community that they think it’s OK to completely bypass this step of the process.

At a broader level, the County School Board simply isn’t set up to provide the type of close working partnership that would best benefit the schools and the students involved. At the local level, we discuss the academic operations of our schools at every board meeting we hold. We have principals in to present, hear from students, and challenge our administration on how things might be improved. The county board has a broader mandate, and it is literally impossible for you to track the detailed activities of individual schools. An annual review is not sufficient to ensure that the program is running at it’s best.

Charter schools exist not just to serve the students who walk through their doors, but to help improve schools that serve all students. In our own district, if we have teachers running a pilot program, they are in regular contact with their peers to feed back the results of their efforts. I am certain that Rocketship would meet this goal within their own schools, but it still leaves the rest of the students behind.

We discuss critical issues in real time, and adjust the mandate of the programs to ensure that the outcome of the pilot is beneficial to all of our students. A charter school that is disconnected from it’s local community does not have this connection and, in our experience, does not fulfill this mandate.

I would urge the County Board to direct Rocektship to go back to the local boards and work with those local boards to obtain charters. I am willing to appear with them and speak in favor of local charters, but they need to make sure they’re fulfilling the desires of the populations they seek to serve, and that they are providing a meaningful way to work with those local districts for the benefit of all the students, not just those that come to their schools.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Look overseas for better education

There was an interesting study done recently that looks at how to improve education in the US. They looked at all manner of reform over the past few decades and found that we simply aren't hitting the mark. Even charter schools, when controlled for student background, are faring no better than traditional US schools. (We have seen the same here, but that's for another day.). Not surprisingly, the conclusion was that other countries have better models and we could do well to follow their lead.

My kids started school in Singapore, and I have worked a fair bit in Japan and Ontario, Canada, two of the other places cited in the study. While the results of this study tend to focus more on the national level changes than local changes, it starts from the same place I've been talking about for a while. Los Altos has some great schools measured against the State of California, but we need to do better. Our kids will compete globally. We need to prepare them to do just that.

It seems strange to be talking about building a better school in the middle of the budget cutting season, but we need to stay focused on that goal. I'm pleased to see that the Khan Academy continues to get great press coverage. It is one way we are trying to "Think different" (with apologies to Mr Jobs' English teacher)

Read the Mercury News article here

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Schools parents dream about

There was a really nice article about Sal Khan and the Khan Acadamey in this week's Businessweek. The best quote, in my mind, was this one:

Covington is one of three schools in the Los Altos district using the Khan Academy in some fifth and seventh grade classes. It's also the kind of school every parent dreams of.

The reporter talked about the physical campus, and descriped how 27 students sat down to 27 laptops to work on the Academy programs. Still, I couldn't help but think that this description was really much more about the environment. Our kids show up ready to learn, and our community values education and local schools. That is what parents dream about for their kids.

The Khan Academy project has several articles this week:
Full article in Blooomber Businessweek

Fast Company

Mind Shift - KQED

Enjoy the reading!

Thanks to the teachers and administration, for being willing to experiment with this new approach to learning, and of course- thanks to Sal, for bringing this to or kids.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Teacher Compensation

I have heard from many community members regarding the comments of the LATA recently published in the Town Crier. In an interview with the paper, the head of the union proposed some specific terms that the teachers "could afford".

I have been chastised in the past by the LATA leadership for what they perceived as "bargaining away from the table". In negotiations with public employees, there are restrictions about what can be said outside of the negotiation sessions. During the parcel tax campaign, it would have been beneficial to have talked publicly about some of the concepts we were discussing with our employees. Due to the confidential nature of those discussions, though, we did not. It is simply too difficult when the negotiation process is conducted in public.

I want to say simply that we are not done with this process. As a Trustee, I have spoken repeatedly about the need to bring employee benefits in line with what we see in private industry. We passed the parcel tax with the underlying message that all groups would do their part. Parents contribute through LAEF and PTA donations. The community supports the schools through two parcel taxes in addition to our property taxes. We expect that our employees will help make the district successful through meaningful changes to compensation that help reduce the structural imbalance we have.

I want to reassure community members that this dialogue is not over yet. We are not yet where we need to be.

Final Thoughts on the Parcel Tax and BCS

With the parcel tax now complete, there are a few closing thoughts I'd like to put out there. I don't pretend that this will change the past- please consider them "suggestions for the future". These questions directly address some of challenges we faced, and complaints we heard during the parcel tax campaign.

Why didn't we share?
BCS is fond of saying that LASD could share the tax revenue if we chose to do so. Yet when we asked them to find us a single example of a charter school that is NOT sponsored by their district that still shares parcel tax money, they found none.

LASD is legally responsible for the taxes we collect. Without direct control over the expenditure of those funds, we can't share the money. It would be like saying "LASD students walk along city sidewalks to get to school. Let's spend LASD money on repaving the sidewalks". That would be an improper transfer of funds from the school district to the city. The charter school, as a separate legal entity, is in the same position as the city.

Would weaken community support
Part of the process of asking for a parcel tax is assessing the need for the money. The opposition campaign made the question of "need" a central theme by suggesting repeatedly that teachers are overpaid, and that we'd wasted taxpayer funds. How, then, would we reasonably approach taxpayers and ask for additional parcel tax funds to share those funds with a program that spends $13,400 per student? The taxpayers would have rejected that request as outrageous. There isn't an elementary school district in our community that spends that kind of money. Asking the taxpayer to foot that bill wasn't rational.

The Charter School can still request a tax
BCS still has legal avenues through which they can request a parcel tax. LASD is not their sponsoring entity, so we're not in a position to sponsor a tax on their behalf. However, there's nothing that stops BCS from going to their sponsor, the Santa Clara County School Board, and asking the SCCSB to put a measure on the ballot asking for parcel tax money for BCS.

The No Campaign skirted or violated the law
Regardless of the outward positioning, it was clear to everyone that BCS was driving the opposition. Their failure to file the appropriate paperwork with the FPPC (that regulates Calif. elections) was, in my mind, a specific attempt to hide who was funding the no campaign.

I also believe that BCS violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the law that is intended to stop government entities from lobbying for or against ballot measures. As I told one BCS board member, our community will long remember that their superintendent published a letter on BCS letterhead that was a thinly veiled effort to stir up no votes. I actually believe they've hurt themselves. At some future point, LASD will need to consider a bond measure to reconfigure campuses and provide a future home for BCS. When that bond is put forth, people are going to remember that BCS declared open war on the students of LASD. In fighting Measure E, they have damaged relations more than they can possibly imagine.

Focusing on the Future
Having said all of this, I am still very pleased that we were able to pass the parcel tax and help the students we serve. As I have met with community members and friends over the pat week, the resounding theme is "thank goodness!" Measure E won't eliminate the need for layoffs, and our district continues to work to bring expenditures in line with revenues in a structural way. Measure E affords us some short-term assistance in making those transitions in an orderly manner.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the many volunteers who made this happen. In an election this close, every singe volunteer makes a difference-- and in this case, they made a difference not just in the outcome of an election, but in the lives of the 4,500 kids we serve as a district, and in the quality of life in our community as well.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thanks! (Measure E passed)

Wow! Tonight I attended the Measure E campaign event. I joined with many, many volunteers who had devoted countless hours to the Measure E campaign. As we were going around the event thanking folks, the results came in. With 13,331 votes counted, we had 8,977 yes votes. That's 67.34%, just 89 votes over the 66 2/3% threshold we need for victory. There are still a few ballots to be counted (those that were cast ater 3pm today), but that shouldn't sway the outcome. Those with experience in the matter tell me that we have a victory.

Obviously this was an incredibly tight vote. It would be an understatement to say that every vote counted, and that's a great case for why we all need to speak up and vote for the things that matter. The other thing that occurs to me, though, is that every one of the volunteers from this campaign should also realize that their efforts mattered. Every person who made phone calls, posted lawn signs, walked precincts, or even just chatted with a neighbor over the proverbial cup of coffee- it all made an impact. Thank you, to everyone who put in such intense effort- and thank you to the voters of LASD, for expressing your support for our schools and our students. We will continue to show that your support is well placed.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Comments from 3/21 Board Meeting re: BCS Final Offer

Below are the text of the comments I made during discussion of the BCS final offer. I prefaced this with an acknowledgement that many of the speakers seemed to have adopted a more 'community minded' tone than what I received in email during the weeks prior to the meeting. I'm grateful for the improvement in tone.


Once again we have reached that point in the year where the LASD Board approves a final facilities offer for BCS under Prop 39. What appears to the public as a simple vote is actually the culmination of a year-long process involving countless staff hours, meetings and negotiations. I’d like to first thank Randy Kenyon and the district staff for pulling this together, as well as Katia Kamangar, Peter Evans, and Andrea Eyring of the BCS board for their participation in this process.

I’ve received several emails from the public over the past several weeks asserting that the LASD offer indicates that LASD has shortchanged BCS students in one manner or another. I assure you, the public, nothing could be further from the truth. LASD has consistently complied with and exceeded the requirements set forth by Prop 39. We have allocated space in a manner that is reasonably equivalent to other district schools. "Reasonably equivalent" is the key phrase from the regulations. It doesn’t guarantee exact equivalence- for exact equivalence is literally impossible to achieve.

Two areas come to the front more than most others, so I want to explain briefly, for the benefit of the public, what the true facts are.

Speakers tonight have suggested that LASD has provided an insufficient number of classrooms for the BCS student population. They cite a "growth of 70+ students" over last year, and focus on the addition of a single classroom in the new offer. The implication is that the district proposes to put 70 students in a single classroom, which of course is not true. What is not called out is that the student-to-classroom loading ratio is a significant factor in the process. This year LASD classrooms for 4th to 6th grade averaged 26.88 students per classroom, even though the District used a more favorable ratio in allocating classrooms to BCS. This fall the District expects to load at a higher level, and that increase in the District’s ratio has an impact on the allocation of facilities to BCS

Furthermore, although not required by law, we reached an agreement with BCS last fall that allows for a change the classroom loading for BCS if the District’s own classroom loading changes before June 30. That means if the parcel tax passes, or the Governor’s proposals make it out of Sacramento and are passed by the voters, BCS could stand to benefit from a reduction in the District’s student-to-classroom ratio. Of course that’s a two-edged sword. If BCS parents continue to lobby against the parcel tax, BCS could stand to suffer from an increase in the District’s student-to-classroom ratio.

The other area I hear about is field and asphalt space. Several letter writers this week have mistakenly asserted that LASD is "shortchanging" BCS because BCS is "entitled" to 115,000 square feet of turf. They reach this number based on the average amount of space per student across all of our comparison schools. Proposition 39 does not require that the District allocate field and asphalt space on an absolutely equivalent basis to all schools. The per-student amount of Kindergarten space, Blacktop and Turf space allocated to BCS is well within the range of the amount allocated to other District schools. In point of fact, several schools have less space per student in these categories. Loyola actually has less space per student in ALL THREE categories. We hope that the parents at Loyola won’t decide to sue LASD because their space isn’t exactly equivalent to the BCS space. In his ruling last fall, Judge Kleinberg upheld the District’s allocation of Kindergarten space, Blacktop and Turf space allocated to BCS. The Proposition 39 regulations recognize that school sites don’t come in "one-size-fits-all" allotments and that some variance in allocation is to be expected.

Letter writers this week have directly or indirectly asserted that the Gardner Bullis campus is underutilized, and some boldly suggest we should move them off their campus and provide that space to BCS. Not once do those letters even acknowledge that the parents of today’s 300 Gardner students would be just as outraged as the founders of BCS were just a few years ago. They give no thought to the impact on that school community, or the students who attend it. I am frustrated when I receive letters that seek to advance the goals of one group of students at the expense of another group, while those same letters also urge me to treat all public school students fairly. The irony of this language may be lost on the author, but it is not lost on me.

This year, as we have consistently done in the past, the District is providing more than we are legally required to do. This isn’t about hitting the legal "minimums", squeaking by with the least amount that we can. We have consistently striven to be fair to the BCS program, and will continue to do so in years to come. Hopefully we can soon work on a bond measure together that would help us put to bed the question of facilities for an extended period of time, but that isn’t for today.

I don’t pretend to believe that my comments here will move those who view the situation as BCS vs. the District. As the trustee on our Prop 39 committee, I can safely say that I spend more time than any other Board member on BCS matters. I attend BCS recruiting events, and I have made repeated efforts to reach out to the BCS parent community. We may not ever be the best of friends. I only hope that my comments provide some context for the general public, so that they know we as a Board are meeting our legal responsibilities. We can’t invent more land, and we have limited resources to share across all public school students. We will continue to do what we have always done- uphold the law, and do our very best to share our limited resources across all of the students we serve, regardless of what school they attend. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to reach out, and I thank the general public –and the BCS parents – for their input.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Seniority-Based Layoffs

And once again, a reminder: This is my personal blog. It does not reflect the views of the Board as a whole. It's a place for me to share what's on my mind, and to spark discussion with stakeholders. Don't confuse this with official Board action.

One question that has come up several times for me recently as I talk with community members is the sequence in which we issue layoff notices. In particular, people have expressed concern with the fact that teachers receive notice in the reverse order in which they were hired (Last in, First Out). Once again, this is a matter of State law. California Civil Code requires that we use last in, first out unless we reach a different agreement through collective bargaining with our employees. If we do not reach a different agreement, last in, first out is the process we must use.

Some folks might grab onto that phrase "unless we reach a different arrangement through collective bargaining." While this possibility exists, it is a bargainable item, and one that is not easy to overcome. Recently some school districts across the country have made headway on this, but it is something that requires a long negotiating process.

The San Jose Mercury News published an article on March 1, entitled "San Jose City Council votes to study idea of including job performance as layoff factor" The City manager explained to the council that, while it's worth studying, it won't be possible to do anything for the round of layoffs the city is currently facing. It's a long process, and government entities (like school boards and city councils) can't make radical shifts on our own.

There are a couple of key ideas I'd like to put out there to consider:

1) Just because we can't do this immediately doesn't mean we shouldn't consider it. I'd love to know that this is the last time we'll ever issue a pink slip, but it probably isn't. It would be nice if, at a future layoff, we could include performance evaluations as one part of the process.

2) Making this change would up the stakes of employee evaluations. We have recently redesigned our evaluation process, and in doing so I believe we have made it more professional and fairer to both the employee and the district. This was not a simple thing, but it was positive outcome of the last contract.

3) Teachers frequently express concern about including evaluations or other criteria in the process. Most often, I hear things like "what if I have a really bad principal?", or "what if I have a bad year?" It is important to remember that I'm suggesting that evaluations be ONE factor in the process, not the ENTIRE basis for the discussion. To the comment about a "bad principal", I wonder, "why would you want to stay working for a bad principal?" Most, if not everyone, in the private sector has worked for a bad boss. The response for most of us is to seek out a position with a better employer. Seeking refuge from dismissal would only prolong contact with someone the employee has already said they don't want to work with.

My point in posting this isn't to "stir the pot". I've expressed my thoughts on this to our negotiating team, but there are a lot of things that we need to address. This may or may not make the cut this time around. I also post this because I think it's important to both our teachers and to the community to know that it's on everyone's radar. As I said, this is not a simple change, but it's something worth considering.

As always, thoughtful comments (or personal emails) are welcome.

Layoff Notices (again)

This Monday, the Board will once again have to vote to issue layoff notices to many of our teachers. This is an unpleasant process, to say the least. I didn't join the school board to lay off teachers. Unfortunately, we can't ignore reality- we have to balance our books.

One strange thing about layoffs for us is that we have to plan for the worst case scenario. We are obligated by state law to notify teachers by March 15 if they may not be brought back for the following school year. In reality, our budget doesn't get finalized for many more months, so we often recall some or all of those teachers who are notified. This has to be unnerving for the teachers, but the Board of Trustees is bound by the law of the State, so we'll do what we have to do. In a better world, we'd be able to wait longer and have a better view of our actual income for 2011-12 before we had to do this.

This year will be particularly grim, because of the variables in the process. Gov. Brown has proposed some tax extensions for the State. Likewise, LASD has placed a parcel tax on a May 3 mail-in ballot. If either of those two tax measures fail, we need to reduce our spending. We don't get to wait until those measures are voted up or down- we have to issue layoff notices by March 15. So, we'll do what is responsible- we'll send out enough pink slips that we are still financially solvent in the worst-case scenario. Once we have the outcome of those elections in hand, hopefully we will be able to reinstate some or many of those teachers.

As an aside, I have heard that certain lawmakers are trying to block putting the Governor's proposal onto the ballot in June. As a voter, I find that idea insulting. The people of California are entitled to vote on a matter as important as this. Grandstanding on ideological grounds puts individual beliefs ahead of the will of the people. I believe we deserve the chance to vote on this important issue.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Offer to talk with BCS

Sometimes outreach is done behind the scenes,a dn quiet diplomacy is useful. However, it's also important for the public to know that efforts are being made.

Back in January, BCS approached LASD and asked that a portion of the proposed LASD parcel tax be given to BCS. We had a meeting with represnetatives of their board and discussed our concerns. I'll blog about those specific concerns at a later date. Unfortunately, the meetings took place just two weeks before we had to submit the final resolution to the Registrar of Voters. There wasn't enough time to address the various legal and practical problems to directly transfer a share of this parcel tax to BCS. It was a disappointing response to BCS.

It's important to know, though, that the parcel tax does benefit BCS. Amongst other things, the parcel tax affects our classroom loading. If the tax fails, our classroom loading will go up- and under the terms of Prop 39, so will the BCS loading. Under the agreement we signed in September, that change will apply as early as the 2011-12 school year.

Anyway, I wanted to make public an offer I've made repeatedly to BCS. I am willing and ready to come speak to BCS parents about the parcel tax, and how it will benefit their students. I've asked the BCS Board of Trustees for an introduction to the head of the BBC (Bullis Booster Club, their parent organization) to arrange this discussion. In addition to these emails, I've repeatedly spoken with members of the BCS Board and made this offer.

I won't speculate on why nothing has happened. However, I'm saddened to think that we are struggling with an issue so important to the education of all public school children in the LASD.

From: Doug Smith
Date: Wed, Feb 16, 2011 at 10:03 AM
Subject: Re: BCS & LASD Parcel Tax discussions
To: Ken Moore
Cc: Margot Harrigan, Peter Evans, Katia Kamangar


A little over a month ago, I first sent this offer to discuss the parcel tax with the BCS Board of Trustees and the BCS Parent community. I believe it is critical that we engage in dialogue about this issue. I have already heard of parents from BCS (including Ron Haley and others) contemplating a "no" campaign on the parcel tax. Clearly that's not a position I agree with, and I believe it is inspired by a number of misunderstandings and incorrect facts. Even if their facts were all correct (which they are not), a dialogue is a much more constructive way to move forward.

Should the parcel tax fail under pressure perceived to be driven by BCS, I believe it would substantially damage relations between our two entities. It would also have an immediate impact on the quality of the program at both BCS and LASD, and would certainly unravel some of the recent progress we have made together.

I understand that the BCS Board will likelynot endorse the parcel tax, but I would still appreciate a chance to talk with the BCS parent community about it. In the long run, this tax affects every member of our community, whether they have kids at LASD, BCS, private schools, or no children at all. As an elected representative, I'm interested in hearing the community's feedback. I would appreciate an introduction from you to the parents that head up the BBC, so that I can extend to them this offer to come and speak, and to hear their voices.

Douglas J Smith
Board of Trustees, Los Altos School District

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Doug Smith
Date: Fri, Jan 14, 2011 at 10:13 AM
Subject: BCS & LASD Parcel Tax discussions
To: Ken Moore
Cc: Margot Harrigan, Peter Evans, Katia Kamangar


I'm sure that in your recent discussions Peter and Katia have relayed our offer to come speak with BCS, but I wanted to reiterate our genuine desire to do so.

The Parcel Tax that LASD is considering putting on the ballot is a critical measure for all public schools students in the area. As Margot and I expressed, in the short period of time we have to make this decision, there was simply too much to overcome to add a significant variable such as explicit language about BCS to the
equation. However, a successful parcel tax campaign for LASD directly benefits BCS through classroom loading and other factors. Likewise, a failed campaign would have serious impacts to both organizations.

I know that it's disappointing that we couldn't get to the type of arrangement BCS
was hoping for, but we really do feel that this essential measure benfits all students, including those at BCS. I would welcome the opportunity to come and speak at a BBC meeting, to chat with your board, and anyone else you felt appropriate. In the end, folks will make their own decisions- we're just offering to provide our perspective as part of the dialogue, and to listen to what your folks have to say.

Could I ask you to put me in touch with the leaders of the BBC, so that I can extend this offer directly? Likewise, if you'd like to discuss this at a BCS Board meeting, or informally over coffee, I'd be happy to do so.

Best wishes,
Douglas J. Smith
Board of Trustees, Los Altos School District

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bill Gates Loves Khan Academy

(Updated 3/3 to include link to video of LASD students)

Recently I wrote about a pilot program we're doing with the Khan Academy. The goal of the program is to leverage technology to better deliver math instruction to students in a way that engages and excites them, and is tailored to exactly their particular level of understanding.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been directing tremendous resources to the question of teaching effectively. They recently came and made a video in some of our classrooms, and talked about the Khan Academy. Bill is clearly a fan of Sal's. Have a look at the video...

And here are our students...

Why LASD didn't combine districts with the high school

There was a letter to the editor in today's Town Crier that asks a question I've heard several times. Folks wonder if it would be economically more efficient to combine LASD (and possible MVWSD) with the MVLA High School District.

We received a request from the Santa Clara County Grand Jury not long ago, asking the same question. Their own rough calculations were that it would save significant amounts of money, so we should do it.

There were many reasons not to combine with MVLA and MVWSD. Some of them are related to the unique nature of our educational program, and whether we'd be able to maintain that under a combined district. Those who aren't as close to our schools, though, might be skeptical of those answers.

For those folks, I have a simpler answer: It would cost us a fortune.

Under State law, when two school districts combine, the higher of the salary schedules becomes the schedule for all employees. For those unfamilar with teacher salaries, it's very common that high school teachers are paid more than elementary and middle school teachers. A quick calculation told us that we'd lose several million dollars every year by moving to this higher salary schedule.

Couple that fact, with the fact that we spend a scant 1.5% on central administration, and it just doesn't make any sense to combine with MVLA. We're pleased to send them our students, but the system serves us all better if we remain separate entities.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Los Altos Hills City Council Resolution Endorsing Parcel Tax

The following is the text of the resolution passed by the Los Altos Hills City Council last night:

WHEREAS the Los Altos School District will seek approval of parcel tax Measure E on the May 3rd, 2011 special election mail-in ballot in the amount of $193 ;

WHEREAS these additional funds are needed to protect excellence in our local public schools by preserving core academic programs, retaining qualified teachers, and providing funding for books and classroom materials ;

WHEREAS the Los Altos Hills City Council supports these educational goals, especially as they pertain to maintaining the highest quality neighborhood public schools;

Whereas LASD should submit balanced budget proposals for the upcoming school year (with and without parcel tax revenue), seek additional cost-cutting measures including concessions from employees unions, including sharing with BCS in future Parcel Tax measures, and provide a long term location for BCS, per the goals of the Educational Blueprint.

The Los Altos Hills City Council hereby endorses passage of parcel tax Measure E.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Los Altos Hills City Council votes to support LASD parcel tax

[Again, it bears reminding that this blog is my personal blog and does not reflect the positions of the entire LASD Board of Trustees. over coming posts, I'll be discussing why I believe it's important to pass the parcel tax.]

I'm pleased to say that the Los Altos Hills City Council voted tonight to endorse the parcel tax LASD has placed on the May 3 ballot.

The discussion was a difficult one. LAH, more than other parts of the community, is split by the BCS issues. Several BCS parents and supporters spoke in opposition to the measure. Most of the discussion was centered on the fact that there is no direct cash transfer to BCS.

I believe that the tax in fact does benefit BCS. Under Prop 39, changes to our classroom loading also affect BCS. The simple fact is that if the tax doesn't pass, it will have a significant impact on our class sizes, which would change the the BCS facilities. offer. As goes the district, so goes BCS.

The Hills Council included language in their resolution that expressed the divides in their community. The council has a difficult job, and I respect their desire to represent the opinions of the broadest portion of their community. I believe that the things they expressed are for the most part consistent with the goals and actions of LASD. I had the opportunity to speak with several of the council members afterwards- including some who voted for the resolution, and some who opposed it. I'm glad to have opened this dialogue, and hope to continue it moving forward. In the meantime, I'm grateful for their endorsement, and look forward to the parcel tax campaign.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Honest Mistake (BCS Soccer fields)

To our friends at BCS:

The process of pulling together the annual facilities offer is a long one, and involves plenty of paperwork. Every Feb 1, LASD provides a "Preliminary Offer" to BCS to cover the facilities we will provide for the coming school year. Most years, that offer can run 30+ pages, with additional schedules and attachements balooning that even further.

Last year we made available a section of turf known as "the patch". (It's the soccer field on the western edge of the BCS campus.) This year, in our preliminary offer, we made a mistake that said the patch was not part of the offer. I understand that this caused quite a bit of upset in the BCS community. I received some phone calls, as did members of the LASD adminstration. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why people were upset- we were providing the patch in 2011-12, just as we did in 2010-11. Randy Kenyon and I met with members of the BCS Board today to review the preliminary offer, and we were equally confused when they said that the offer didn't include the patch.

It turns out that in preparing our preliminary offer, we used an old draft document from a prior school year, where BCS didn't have use of the patch during the day. The mistake flowed through to the document we shared on Feb 1st. Let me be clear: It has always been the intent of LASD to include full use of the patch in our preliminary offer. I apologize for the unrest it caused in the BCS community.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions on this matter.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

More Hard Decisions: Board Election Dates

I am grateful to the community's trust in me as an elected official. It's a strange concept- I rarely think of myself in terms of being an "elected official", except perhaps when I get an official piece of correspondence.

The possible parcel tax election has made me keenly aware of the costs of running an election. For us to place a measure on the ballot can cost anywhere from ~$50K on up to $600K. The relative cost depends on how many other organizations are running an election that would coincide with ours, and therefore share in the printing and other costs.

Over the past several years, more and more agencies have moved their elections to even-numbered years, leaving fewer and fewer folks like LASD in the odd years. We recently were notified that the last agency with whom we share an election is also considering moving to the even years. That would leave LASD bearing the entire cost of running our own elections for our Board of Trustees.

At our upcoming board meetings, we'll consider a measure to move the election cycle for the Board to align with the rest of the community elections. This move would save the district $700,000 over the next 5 election cycles.

On one hand, I don't like the idea of elected officials changing the terms of their own service. It feels like the fox in the hen house. The reality for me, though, is that serving on the school board is a community service. There's no "power trip" in doing this. Saving $700K means preserving another teach for the better part of a decade.

There is a possible middle ground (vote to make the change, but make the change effective with the next election cycle. ) That would cost LASD roughly $300K to cover the existing board. That’s three full-time teachers. It’s an option, but it clearly has a price tag also.

When the City Council made this change, it rankled some people in our community. That's why I'm making the effort to post this commentary now, before we take any action. I'm interested in community input on this issue. If you feel strongly about whether the board should stick to the odd years and spend the extra money, please let me know. Likewise, if you think that we should move to the even years, I’d like to hear it.