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.