Friday, September 28, 2012

BCS Trial Date

OK, It's not the Super Bowl, or the date of the next Justin Bieber concert.  Nonetheless, it's the date we've all been waiting for.  The District's attorneys tell me that we have a date in court.

On October 30, 2012, we will actually have two hearings with Judge Lucas.  First, there's the attorney's fees from the 2009-10 case.  BCS has asked the court to award $1.3M, and the District is seeking discovery so that we can see whether that figure is warranted.  Since BCS has refused to provide information we need to make that assessment, we've asked Judge Lucas to compel BCS to comply.   She will hear the District's motion on Oct 30th.

And because she loves hearing from us (or, perhaps, because she's going to have all of her vegetables in one sitting), we'll be having a second hearing on the same day.  Given that Judge Lucas ruled against BCS from the Aug 30 motion, BCS filed a new lawsuit to complain about their facilities for 2012-13.  The Judge rightly decided that she could not evaluate that offer under the sham proceeding that BCS attempted to use on August 30, but that she needed to hear a full set of facts.  BCS clearly knew that was the case also, because they filed their new lawsuit before the Judge had even finished ruling on their previous efforts.

This is a hearing I'm really looking forward to having.  I strongly believe that the 2012-13 offer is fully compliant with Prop 39, and I look forward to having a judge weigh the facts and confirming what we already know.  We also will be bringing a cross-complaint to discuss the semi-private nature of BCS's program, and asking the court to clarify what our obligations are in light of their behavior.  The community has been seeking clarity on that question for 8 years, and it's time we get an answer from the courts.

So, mark your calendar.  I'll definitely be there, and I look forward to an exciting day!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Bargain At Twice The Price

One of the things I'm cognizant of it getting good value for where we spend our precious resources.  So it might surprise folks to learn that I advocated for a 50% increase in an expenditure this past week.

Like many public schools districts, LASD contracts for mental health services through an outside agency.  In our case, the Community Health Awareness Council (or CACH) provides these services to LASD, as well as to other neighboring districts. 

What do these services look like?  CHAC professionals work with district students on a wide range of issues, ranging from depression and suicide to anti-social outbursts and bullying to divorce and family challenges.  Sometimes the family seeks help and LASD refers them to CHAC, and in other cases District personnel identify an issue and confer with the family to recommend that a discussion be opened.  I'm painting a broad picture, because the services really are tailored to the needs of the people involved.

I'm overwhelmed by the stories of people who have received these services.  By definition, the services are rendered at a critical time of need.  A child is in crisis, and CHAC is there to help. For some folks, it is a first contact point to begin to understand an issue their child is wrestling with.  Others may engage with CHAC directly to work through a problem over a period of time. The feedback we get is remarkably consistent- families are extremely grateful that the service was there when they needed it most.

Last year, LASD students received about 4500 hours of services, which works out to about 1 hour per student per year.  We make a small contribution to CHAC to help offset the costs of the services, but the amount we give is very small by comparison to what we get.  Last year, we donated  $31,476 to CHAC.  That means our kids received assistance from top-flight professionals for about $7/hour.  You read that right- $7 per hour.  And the preceding 10 years of contributions have been pretty bleak.

Surrounding districts have been contributing at a rate of about $10-$14 per hour of service received.  As a community, we benefit so much from these services, it doesn't feel right that we were so far off the scale.  Yes, times are tight.  Yes, we still ask the PTA to buy things like pencils and kleenex.  Over the past several years, the only increase in teacher compensation has been in their health care costs.  But this is a service we absolutely must have.  Our District is fortunate to have many more resources than many of those around us.  It just didn't feel right to continue to receive the services without at least stepping up the contribution to be in line with other districts.  I'm proud to say that we increased our contribution to $45,000 for this year.  The services CHAC provides are incredibly important to our kids, and I'm very grateful to the folks at CHAC.

I'd also like to thank LASD Board member Steve Taglio for calling this out.  I've been on the LASD Board for 3 years, and we've always know that we have received great service from CHAC and that it has been a "great bargain".  There's a difference between "a bargain" and " not paying our share".  Steve gathered the data to put it into context, which I think helped the Board make this decision.  Thanks, Steve.  And thanks to Monique Kane and the team at CHAC

Monday, September 24, 2012

Court requires BCS to file new suit

We just received Judge Lucas' ruling on the Aug 30, 2012 hearing.  It was interesting that BCS has already filed their new action- it pretty much telegraphed that even they understood that their efforts to tie the 2012-13 offer to the 2009-10 case was a procedural long shot.  In any case, though, Judge Lucas did go forward and issue a ruling.  She determined that the 2012-13 offer is a distinct legal offer, and that it would need to be evaluated on the merits, and therefore afforded the standard of review that provides some level of deference to the District.  This is all good news, and consistent with what the District had argued in our motions.

Since BCS has already filed their new complaint, that process is underway.  I'll provide updates to that as they come along.

Here's the ruling for those who are interested.

Order Denying Motion to Compel

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Attorney's Fees: Delay in Discovery

A quick update on the attorney's fee demand from BCS.  As you'll recall BCS filed against the District for $1.3m in attorney's fees for their costs relates the the 2009-10 Appellate Court ruling.  (FYI, If you click on the label for "attorney fees" below, you'll see the various posts I've done on this topic.)

In any case... BCS has been resisting the District's discovery requests in this motion.  Judge Lucas asked that the sides "meet and confer", which is legalese for "go work it out."  LASD offered to reduce the discovery questions to a smaller subset, but BCS has dug their heels in and refused to provide any information.  LASD and BCS had a conference call with Judge Lucas this week, to discuss status of the discovery.  Based on that call, Judge Lucas has decided that she'll need to hear full motions on the issue, as the two sides remain far apart on the core issues.  A hearing has been set for Oct 30, 2012.  The actual hearing for fees will be pushed back from the current November schedule to a later date.

I'm disappointed that BCS filed for fees in the first place, particularly because LASD has never sought attorney's fees in any of the many cases in which we have prevailed.  However, given that BCS has chosen to do this, we will vigorously defend the District's resources.  Looks like we'll head back to court in October.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

BCS Files Suit (Again)

BCS apparently didn't want to wait for Judge Lucas to rule on the jurisdiction issue (discussed in this blog post).  They have served the District with papers for a new lawsuit.  It's curious that they didn't wait for Judge Lucas, but whatever the reason, I look forward to the opportunity to defend the District's 2012-13 offer. 

I've briefly reviewed the 25 page complaint.  As one might expect, I take issue with a number of the "facts" they allege, but of course that's why we're going to trial in the first place.

The fast summary of the brief is as follows:
  • They recount the history of the relationship, albiet with substantial embelishment
  • They add complaints about the MPR/ City Gym
  • They complain about the furnishings at Blach (without acknowledging their failure to respond to requests from LASD)
  • They then ask the judge to grant them a contiguous site, though they don't specify which site.
  • They also ask for attorney's fees in this case.

They have filed a Notice of Related Case (actually, two notices?), so that means we should end up back with Judge Lucas again.  I believe that is a good thing, as she has already invested quite a bit of time learning the nuances of what's going on.

None of this is a surprise.  Most of it is copy/ paste from prior suits and their various last-minute additions to their earlier motion.  As I said, I look forward to a complete and full airing of the facts.  I think that the Judge will determine that we've followed the law, and acted within our reasonable discretion as elected trustees.

I obviously haven't met with my fellow trustees since this suit was served, but recall that we have previously authorized council to file a counter-suit, formalizing our request for the judge to examine BCS's status as a semi-private school.  As much as I look forward to a full discussion of the 2012-13 offer, I also look forward to judicial review of the BCS status.

Here are the filings:

Verified Pet. for Writ of Mandate & Complaint

Letter to Judge Lucas
Civil Case Cover Sheet
Notice of Related Case
Notice of Related Case (109CV144569)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

STAR Test Results

Test results aren't everything, but as someone who appreciates metrics, I do like the clear reinforcement we receive when the annual STAR test results come in.

Here is a link to the presentation, the scores by school, and the summary from the Board meeting last night:

Overall, our students performed well on the California Standards Tests this past spring.  Scores were strong in all content areas.  I expect that our Academic Performance Index (API) score will be on par with last year’s score when it is released by the State in October.  

English/Language Arts
Our results were once again very strong with ninety-three percent of students scoring at the advanced or proficient mark as evidenced in the first data slide.    There continues to be a “third grade dip”, in which scores drop between second and fourth grades.  This is a trend that also occurs countywide and statewide. While the trend continues, third grade student performed better than in previous years.

Our results in writing continue to be impressive. In Grade 4, ninety-seven percent of our students scored in the proficient/advanced range.  In Grade 7, ninety-nine percent of our students scored in the proficient/advanced range with seventy percent of our students scoring in the advanced range.   

LASD students performed well in the area of mathematics with ninety-three percent of second through seventh graders scoring at the proficient/advanced range.

History-Social Science
This STAR component is administered only to eighth graders. Our students did very well scoring at a rate of ninety-two percent proficient or advanced.  

The science portion of the STAR testing is administered to fifth and eighth graders. Our students again performed extremely well scoring at a rate of ninety-four percent proficient or advanced in grade five and ninety-seven percent in eighth grade.

While we have much to be proud of, we have more work to do.  An achievement gap does exist in our district that needs to closed.  The achievement gap exists between our general population and a few subgroups of students, English Learners and Socioeconomically Disadvantaged students.  While the achievement gap still exists, we have evidence that we are making progress in closing this gap.  This school year we will have an increased focus on providing research based interventions to close the achievement gap for all students.


I think this reflects particularly well on the professional development we've been doing.  For example, since 2006 we've been focusing on a cohesive curriculum in writing, so that students transition seamlessly from one grade into the next.  In the Jr High programs, English teachers have worked with teachers in other subject areas to clearly define how papers should be written for History, Science, and other academic subjects.  It is really paying off. With 99% of 7th graders hitting proficient or advanced, we are very pleased.

I have to give credit to Alyssa Gallagher, Asst. Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction.  She is passionate about ensuring that each and every student is getting what they need from our program.  For example, I asked about the English Language Learners, and how well they fare after having been in our schools for at least two years.  Raquel Matteroli examined a cohort of students at Santa Rita.  In 2010-11, there were 42 ELL students. Of those, 21 were in the District in 2011-12, and most of them have shown improvement in their scores.  We'll continue to break this down into more detail, but it is important to see that we are helping all of our students be successful.  hats off to our teachers, staff, and administration for such excellent results.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

First response from the courts

We haven't heard the full outcome of the hearing on August 31, 2012.  However, we did receive formal notice today confirming that Judge Lucas has excluded the last minute filings from BCS.  (These are the filings I referenced here and here.)  I'm pleased that Judge Lucas saw past the theatrics of the efforts, and is looking at substance on the important questions.  I look forward to her final determination on jurisdiction.  Should BCS choose to file a new suit, I'll look forward to defending our 2012-13 offer in court also.

Signed order excluding late filings

We will provide updates on the actual ruling as they become available.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A shift at SCCBOE?

Once again, there are two new posts together.  Don't miss the second post on the BCS view of the court process

It's amazing how a little perspective can shift things around.

Parents in our community have spent considerable explaining to the SCCBOE that our community is host to a highly successful school district, and that there is no need for a charter school in our community.  These pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Imagine my surprise, then, upon learning that SCCBOE President Joe Di Salvo apparently thinks that "need" is an important factor to consider when evaluating charter schools.  In his recent blog post, President DiSalvo discusses the recent efforts to locate a Rocketship charter school near Washington School in the San Jose Unified School District.  In reflecting on the Rocketship request, PResident Di Salvo states:
Parent choice is an important part of the equation for me as long as the choice is about school quality. Competition in America has always been a beneficial attribute of our society. However, competition that weakens an excellent traditional public school working on all cylinders, in all the right ways, is not what I think the SCCOE Board intended when it cast its 5-2 vote [to approve the Rocketship charters] last December.

He is referring to a school with an API score of 798, that is making excellent progress in closing the achievement gap.  I believe the same thing could be said of our 9 district schools, which boast API scores in the 960+ range, and also are also showing how to excel in serving the needs of all students.

So here's the next step folks:  Write to President Di Salvo.  Let him know that you agree that we need to consider the possible negative impacts of a charter school before blindly moving forward with their approval.

But wait! I'd like to suggest a different tack than in the past.  Beating him up with "I told you so" is not likely to achieve anything beneficial.  Rather, consider that President Di Salvo may be seeing that it's not as clear-cut as he once thought.  There is an opportunity to influence him, but if we mock him, it won't be helpful.  Maybe President Di Salvo, upon review of additional facts, is coming to an adjusted conclusion.  We actually WANT that in our public officials.  Reach out to him, but please keep the tone civil.

Welcome to the dialogue, Joe.

 PS:  Interesting to note that SJ Inside tweeted this after the post was published:
#Charterschools all the rage, but Joe DiSalvo voices concern after hearing of a successful public school being bullied.

Update 5 Sept 2012 @ 9:30am:  Here's an interesting editorial from a Stanford MD who lives in the affected neighborhood.  It ran in this morning's SJ Mercury News.  I didn't find a link on their site, but I've scanned it from my morning paper.

Following the Rules

On Aug 31st, the District asked Judge Lucas to instruct BCS that the current 2012-13 facilities could not be judged under the 2009-10 lawsuit.  BCS board chair Ken Moore sent a letter to BCS parents shortly after the ruling, providing BCS parents with his view of the process.

In his letter, Mr. Moore accuses LASD of needless delays, saying "Rather than seeking a quick resolution on this question, the District argued that procedurally BCS should instead file a new lawsuit (which will cost both sides more and likely take longer to reach a conclusion)".

I find this characterization to be distinctly out of touch with reality.  LASD was clear in our February 2012 court filings that if they chose to litigate this new offer, they would need to file a new lawsuit.  As we progressed through the facilities process, we stressed to them in both formal and informal communications that this offer is separate and distinct from the 2009-10 offer, and they should not try to cram a 2012-13 suit into the 2009-10 ruling.  Still, they persisted.

This wasn't an accident on their part- it was a specific, calculated move.  In trying to tie the current offer to the 2009-10 offer, they were trying to taint the judge's view of the 12-13 offer.  This isn't a mere question of perception.  If they judge reviews 2012-13 under the old case, the District will be prevented from presenting much of the evidence that would show this new offer to be compliant, and the courts would be less deferential to the role of the LASD Trustees as elected officials.  BCS knew this, which is why they pushed the judge to retain jurisdiction back in March 2012.

I remain hopeful that Judge Lucas will determine that the case requires a full and fair hearing.  The circumstances of 2012-13 remain significantly different from the facts surrounding 2009-10.  There are more students (both at BCS and in LASD), and we have allocated significantly more space to BCS than ever before (11 acres in the 2012-13 offer).  How BCS ever hopes to cram this through as a copy of the 2009-10 offer is beyond me.

LASD has gone to great lengths to ensure that this offer is fully compliant with the prop 39 requirements.  The primary fault cited by the Court of Appeals was that the District failed to consider all space when we calculated the 2009-10 offer.  In the 2012-13 offer, we have, indeed, considered all space.  The new offer is far more comprehensive (200+ pages!) and we have worked exceptionally hard to ensure it not only considers all space, but allocates that space fairly amongst all in-district students.  While BCS might prefer some version of quick-draw justice, the facts of the case have changed.  Justice is best served when all of the facts are considered.  No one is more interested than the LASD Board of Trustees in a swift review of all the relevant facts, because we are confident that such a review will find that we are fully compliant with the law.  What we won't do, though, is blindly defer to BCS' view of the appropriate standard of judicial review.