Thursday, January 31, 2013

BCS Preliminary Facilities Offer

(Note: This letter went to all LASD parents and those who subscribe to our email list.  It includes a letter I sent to Ken Moore regarding the facilities offer that the District will deliver this week.)

Dear Parents, Guardians, and Community Members-

Last night at a Special Board Meeting, the LASD Board of Trustees instructed staff to deliver a preliminary facilities offer to BCS for the 2013-14 school year. The Prop 39 process provides for the District to make the preliminary offer, for BCS to respond with objections by March 1, and for the District to provide a final offer by April 1. This is the same process we follow every year.

Prop 39 requires the District Trustees to balance the needs of all students. Our offer to BCS this year proposes that their K-5 students be located at Egan, and their 6-8 students would be at Blach. In practical terms BCS would have about 40% of the students on the Egan campus, and about 40% of the land. Similarly, they would have about 20% of the students at Blach, and 20% of the land. However, Blach will also be impacted further because we are required to provide specialized teaching space to Jr High students. Principal Sandra McGonagle and her staff have worked with the administration to rework the Blach schedule to ensure reasonably equivalent access to the Specialized Teaching Space for BCS students while trying to minimize the impact on our own students. We have asked Principal McGonagle to reach out to BCS Principal Wanny Hersey to have a tactical discussion to review the sharing arrangements as proposed in the offer. We will consider that feedback as part of the final offer we present on April 1.

BCS held a PR event last week where they announced their willingness to accept a split between Egan and Blach. We are pleased that they are demonstrating an understanding of the need to balance the needs of all students. They have also acknowledged our requirement that all board-level discussions of the facilities offer be held in public, so that the community can observe the process. The LASD Board remains committed to transparency of this process, as we have done throughout the year. They also requested a whole series of Board-level meetings to discuss the offer. At this time, the LASD Board is planning to hold a Special Meeting on Feb 25th, and we may consider a further meeting in March.

The District cannot afford to spend as much time as BCS requests in meetings since we already are spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with the multiple lawsuits brought by BCS. BCS continues to litigate every issue and sub-issue within the 2012-13 offer, despite having lost every action they've brought in the past year. The courts have consistently recognized that the LASD Board is properly balancing the needs of all students. There are only so many hours in the day. LASD runs one of the leanest administrations in California. We rightly focus our resources in the classroom where they belong. In order to prepare the Prop 39 offer, we already divert tremendous resources to analyze possible scenarios and weigh the impacts. Couple that with the need to perform basic functions to continue to run a district that educates 4,500 students, and there simply isn't any additional time in the week to add another series of meetings. Said another way, we are already meeting with BCS several times per week to discuss facilities issues. It is unfortunate that BCS has decided that those meetings should be managed by the attorneys and held within the framework of the judicial process. I continue to call upon BCS to put a freeze on the litigation so that the hundreds of hours we spend each week on BCS issues can be spent more constructively engaged in a more respectful, solutions based dialogue.

I look forward to your continued input at the Board meetings.

Best Wishes,


(Link to the attached letter that I sent to Ken Moore)          

Update @ 10pm.  Someone contacted me and asked me to publish Ken's letter, to which this responds.  Here is the letter and here is the presentation they used at their PR event.

LASD Saves Taxpayers $2.7M

LASD Assistant Superintendent for Business Affairs Randy Kenyon came to the Board last year to recommend refinancing the District's outstanding general obligation bonds.  You can't refinance bonds every time you think of it, so it has to be done wisely.  Once the Board approved, Randy lined up meetings with ratings agencies to discuss District financials.  He spent a full day going through our financials with them.  In the end, the ratings agencies were impressed, and we have one of the highest credit ratings of any school district in CA.

This week, we got to see the fruits of all that work.  We refinanced our bonds at a new low rate of 1.19%, saving our local community more than $2.5M of our tax dollars (that would eventually be used to pay the interest).  Amongst the other news this week, it would be a shame if this didn't get noticed.  When we talk about the work that Randy Kenyon has to do, this is all part of it.  Thanks, Randy!

Press Release: LASD Saves Local Taxpayers More Than $2.5M

Friday, January 25, 2013

BCS Accepts Split, Asks for More at Blach

In a Luncheon/PR event held this past Wednesday, BCS has stated that they will not seek to close down Covington this year, and are embracing the idea of a Blach/Egan split.  (Patch Article, Town Crier Article) I'm certainly pleased to see that they're internalizing what we've been saying- that closing a high performing neighborhood school isn't a viable option.  Now we have to figure out what comes next.

I was unable to attend the luncheon, as my invite arrived less than 48 hours before the event and I'd already made commitments to clients in my "other job".  I will be interested to see how this proposal meshes with the delivery of education to the students we already have on these campuses.  That will require quite a bit of analysis.

I've already been asked several times what I think of the proposal.  From a practical viewpoint, I really don't know.  Preparing the Preliminary Offer under Prop 39 is a time-consuming task.  We have staff analyzing multiple options already, and they're stretched beyond the breaking point just to get that work done.  The LASD Board gave instruction to staff on Jan 14 to analyze several configurations, and come back with their thoughts on those options.  This new wrinkle from BCS arrived on January 23rd, and it's not fully fleshed out yet.  Staff simply won't have time to add one more configuration to the options list and still complete their task for the Board meeting this Monday.  Any consideration of the BCS request will have to come after the preliminary offer due on February 1st.

One other positive development has come from this- BCS is embracing the requirement that all discussions be public.  I've been saying since October of last year that the process needs to be open and transparent.  I've rejected requests for private meetings, and have emphasized the need for transparency.  I do this for very practical reasons- I want parents on both sides to understand the balancing process.  When parents at Blach understand that there is likely to be increased encroachment on their campus next year, I want them to have seen that we didn't do it lightly.  Likewise, I want BCS parents to understand that we do have other considerations to balance, that this really is a "zero sum" situation.  The district has a fixed set of buildings, land, and money.  We can't just "add more" so we have to balance the needs of all students.  By having the process open to the public, hopefully everyone will understand the trade-offs we've chosen to make.

At our last Board Meeting, I suggested that we might want one or more study sessions with BCS to discuss the preliminary offer.  I still believe that is the right course, and I expect that I'll be taking that up with my colleagues on Monday at our Board meeting.  As always, the public is welcome to attend and see how things progress.

It is worth noting that the litigation train keeps moving too.  We were back at Court this week for a Case Management Conference, and we had discovery responses to deliver in answer to demands from BCS.  We are a comparatively small school district.  It shouldn't come as a surprise that the same people who work on the Prop 39 offer are also the ones who have to respond to discovery requests and sit through depositions.  I wish they had 72 hours in each of their days, but they don't- which means that the time they spend on litigation is time not spent exploring creating solutions.  I can't stress enough the need for BCS to dial down the litigation, so that we have bandwidth to explore other options for facilities.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Other Interesting Blogs

For obvious reasons, I read a fair bit of what is written in the education community.  I would like to share two interesting posts for you all:

Given my most recent post about BCS and the Brown Act, this post by San Carlos Trustee Seth Rosenblatt might be interesting.  It starts with a good explanation of the Brown Act, and what it means in practical terms.  He then goes into some discussion about what needs to change to bring the Brown Act into the 21st century.  I stand by my original post about BCS, but this is an interesting read nonetheless.  (link to EdSource)

Closer to home (as if San Carlos were far away), one of LASD's own has started her own blog.  Beth Leach is a 6th grade teacher at Almond, and has been at the forefront of many initatives within LASD.  She is a fearless experimenter, willing to try new techniques and update old ones.  I've been fortunate to have both of my girls in her classes.  In her first blog post, she builds on an article from Stanford, relating her experience both inside the classroom and on a recent trip to visit schools in China, to do a bit of analysis on the state of public education in the US.  Given all of the rhetoric, the detailed Stanford article is worthwhile, and Beth's personal experience and analysis is a valuable read.

Beth's Leach's blog

Friday, January 18, 2013

Thoughts On Being a Public School

Several months ago, the District field a cross complaint, asking the courts to evaluate whether BCS is truly a public school.   BCS has ridiculed the cross complaint, both in the press and in front of the courts.  At the core of the cross complaint, we've said they behave more like a private school than a public school.  This isn't meant to be a derogatory statement- our community has many private schools, and they seem to do a good job of educating students.  However, they aren't bound by the same rules that public schools are bound by- they can choose what students they accept, they are free from many of the obligations of public schools.  Let's step away from the heated discussion for a moment, and consider a simpler example: public meetings.

Because LASD is a public school district, we conduct our meetings under the Brown Act.  BCS has said that they follow the Brown Act.  Wanny Hersey has asserted this in communications with me and with the SCCBOE, including this instance, from an exchange in Dec 2011 where she also derides LASD for an unspecified Brown Act violation.  So let's look at this a bit deeper.

LASD does our best to follow not just the letter of the Brown Act, but the spirit of the law also.  I've personally been involved in discussions where we chose to delay meetings rather than utilize the "short notice" provisions under the Act.  We ensure the public has a place to wait while we meet in closed session, and when we anticipate a large crowd, we hold the meeting in an appropriate venue.  We also ensure that we receive public input before closed session, and report out any actions taken.

By contrast, I've seen several instances where BCS has either explicitly violated the Brown Act, or has skated dangerously close to doing so.  Some examples:

BCS posted a meeting notice stating that their meeting would be held Nov 6, 2012.  I found that odd, since Nov 6 was election day.  I snapped a photo of the notice as posted on the evening of Nov 4th.  When BCS apparently recognized the mistake, they simply changed the date on the agenda they emailed out on November 5th.  The minutes from that meeting - held November 5th- can be found on the BCS web site here.  The first part was likely an honest clerical error, but someone recognized the error before the meeting was held.  Rather than delay the meeting, they moved forward with a meeting that was not noticed to the public.

In May 2012, during a particularly contentious period, LASDVoices was regularly attending BCS Board Meetings.  Here is the report of one member of that group (in an email to the SCCBOE) about how the "report out from closed session" was handled.  In a nutshell, the email suggest that the "report out" was never made, or was done so in a manner that seems intentionally designed to deprive the public of knowing what happened.

Today, BCS held a meeting at the Gordon and Betty Moore foundation offices in Palo Alto, which puts them about 4 miles from BCS/Egan, and are definitely outside District Boundaries.  I don't know whether BCS is compliant with the "meet within the jurisdiction" requirement based on the fact that they are chartered with the County.  However, is it that difficult to find meeting space within the District's boundaries, so that community members can attend? 

I've also previously blogged about my experiences with BCS Board members when I recorded their board meetings, also explicitly permitted under the Brown Act.  Board member Janet Medlin took strong exception to my efforts, and also strongly criticized me for publishing the sworn deposition of a BCS Board member. 

During today's meeting, BCS Board Member Janet Medlin once again took me to task, it appears, for how I've insisted that the BCS facilities meetings this year be very public.  She posted part of an email exchange wherein she agreed with my request for public meetings, and implied to the public that she'd initiated the discussion.  I don't care about who gets credit, but I do care a lot that in that same exchange, she was arguing in favor of a "pre-meeting", a meeting over the weekend in advance of the LASD Board meeting.  I don't know how she thought that her proposal kept with my requirement that the meetings be public, but it certainly didn't come out in the full email exchange

So What?
To borrow a now famous phrase, "so what?"  These seem like small, innocuous things.  When it comes to serious matters of law, the general public might call these "technicalities" and accuse me of being overly pedantic.  That's part of the point, though.  The law *is* pedantic.  It demands that we follow it at all times.  LASD has a culture of understanding the legal requirements and following them in all aspects of how we conduct ourselves, from the largest matters of what students we educate down to the little things like how we post notice of our meetings.  If we educated 98% of our students in accordance with the law, there would still be nearly 100 children deprived of their rights to a public education.  To me, that isn't acceptable.

I work in private industry during the day.  I'm used to calling meetings on a split second notice, and reacting quickly to the situation.  As a public official, though, I have to be more measured.  I have a responsibility to the public, and part of that means ensuring the public can participate in the process.  I highlight this because I'm not convinced that all members of the BCS Board fully understand what it means to be a public entity.  Some BCS Board members (and especially their attorney) have scoffed at the District's allegations.  I'm not saying that all of these incidents were born out of ill intent.  However, I do think that some members of the BCS Board haven't fully internalized what it means to be a public entity, and to accept taxpayer funds.  It's easy to overlook the details, but it's not fair to say that the details don't matter.  The details do matter, because every child is entitled to a great public education- even the ones that don't attend a charter school.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Project Based Learning

Those who follow our discussions about curriculum and instruction may have heard the phrase "Project Based Learning".  When we were kids, this mean building a diorama in a shoebox, or making a paper machee pinata.  Today it is much more involved, and much more sophisticated.

Wny is this important?  Because the workforce of my parents' generation was more "solo".  Each person worked on their piece of the puzzle, and it was moved on to someone else.  Our generation works differently.  We work on projects and in groups for our entire careers.  We know that the "superstar" is the person who can bring together diverse views and personalities, and work effectively as a group to do more than the individual could do on their own.

Here's a good article laying out the key concepts.  It explains nicely all of the same things that our staff has seen with Project Based Learning, and why this has been a key part of our curriculum for many years.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Next steps: BCS Offer Process

Last night the Board met in a regular meeting to discuss the BCS preliminary offer for 2013-14.  LASD Asst Supt. Randy Kenyon worked with a wide range of people within the district to evaluate 4 potential configurations for BCS.  That analysis can be found here: (link to presentation)

After Mr. Kenyon's presentation, we heard from the principals at Covington, Blach, and Egan.  Each of them expressed that they're willing to do whatever is necessary to accommodate BCS, but also expressed concern for their students and the impact that the BCS program continues to have on our own students.

We invited the BCS Board to participate, but they've chosen to wait until we have a preliminary offer to discuss in more detail.  We also invited the BCS PTA, and they did come and provide input.  We heard from the PTA presidents from Egan, Blach, and Covington, as well as ~50 community members. 

There appears to be wide support for a 10th site, but also an acknowledgement that it would be difficult to get a 10th site live by the end of this school year.  In the end, the Trustees decided that we don't believe there will be a 10th site in time for the start of school this fall, so that's not a viable option for this year.  However, we reaffirmed our desire to find a 10th site.

We also had considerable discussion about Covington.  That site has a thriving school community, and it simply isn't rational to close a high performing neighborhood school to accommodate BCS if there are other options available to us.  Additionally, it would cost in the neighborhood of $1m to relocate portables to redistribute those pupils to other parts of the district, so it's not exactly an economical option.  Perhaps most important, it would have a huge negative impact on the special needs students that come from all over the district to attend classes at Covington.  Those pupils are among our most vulnerable.  Asking them to change schools and to uproot their program and impact all of the progress they've made does not make sense.

We considered whether we would need to spread BCS across three sites instead of just two sites.  While this option does "share the pain", it creates additional issues for BCS and for LASD students.  So far we haven't been very successful in "getting along" at our shared facilities.  There have been a number of concerns and issues that keep cropping up.  Trying to make that work at a third site isn't attractive. It is worth noting that this was the least supported option during the community input throughout our process, including both last night and during the facilitated discussions in December.

That left the Board with the Egan/Blach split.  We have asked Staff to consider three possible scenarios: 

Egan: K-3, Blach 4-8
Egan K-4, Blach 5-8
Egan K-5, Blach 6-8

We are quite concerned about the total number of students BCS is projecting, and we're looking to balance the impact across the two campuses.  Part of that depends on the numbers of students, and part of the facilities they require.  We'll have to see what staff brings back to the Board at the end of the month.

Based on the discussion, I expect that we'll invite BCS to participate in some sort of study session in February.  Historically meetings between our respective Prop 39 teams have been relatively low key, and they were not publicly noticed meetings.  This year, I believe we will hold a formal study session, and the meeting will be open to the public to attend.  I feel very strongly that we need to be completely transparent with our process.  If we do hold this meeting as a study session, we will not accept public input during that portion of the meeting.  However, rest assured that we will continue to seek public input throughout the facilities process.

It's worth reminding folks that the study session will likely go through a litany of "wants" from BCS.  They'll raise concerns about various aspects of the offer.  For example, I heard from a reporter today who'd spoken with BCS about the current facilities offer (2012-13).  BCS apparently complained to her that the restrooms at Blach are too far away from their classrooms.  While we will carefully consider each issue BCS raises, it still is up to the discretion of the Board as to how to craft the final offer.  We will weigh the totality of the offer, not just look at each individual part.  The restrooms might not be exactly where they want, but they may have more classroom space than their peers at LASD.  They might not have first pick of when they get access to the science lab, but we might allow them to include their 6th graders in the PE space.  The standard used to evalute the offer is "reasonably equivalent", not "exactly as requested".  The LASD Board will be balancing the impact of the BCS request against the needs of the LASD students who attend our own schools.  BCS students represent about 10% of all students within our boundaries (not 20% as stated last night).  The needs of all 5000 students need to be balanced as we consider how we will meet our facilities obligations.

I would encourage the public to remain engaged in this discussion as we move forward.  At the Board meetings, we tend to see a large number of parents from a specific site.  One week it's Egan, the next week it's BCS, and then it's Covington or Santa Rita.  Maybe we've hit the right balance when we have an equal number of parents from all 10 schools showing up at the Board meetings?  Seems unlikely, but one can hope.  Until then, though, I appreciate those who came out, those who spoke, and particularly those who added to the discussion with positive suggestions. 

One final point:  Last night I talked about the need for BCS to step back from the litigation.  I believe it will be hard for the community to support a 10th site until we are able to work together.  The District Board is elected by the people of our community to oversee the schools and facilities.  If BCS would like to have more input to the process, and perhaps seek a solution other than those that are on the table right now, I'm open to that dialogue.  However, given the pace of the litigation, it seems impossible to contemplate slowing down on any viable option for a BCS location.  If that means we end up "solving" this with a site that BCS isn't thrilled with, it will be a direct result of their Board using the courts to drive home the urgency of solving the issue.  I'm willing to consider other options, but the message they are sending today is "close a school, and do it now", and that's not something I'm willing to do.  I look forward to working with BCS, including their new board member Joe Hurd, to address the needs of all students in our community.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Pay for Performance in Academia

Purdue's new president, Mitch Daniels, has taken a bold step in academia.  When he starts his job as President of Purdue later this month, his compensation will be tied to his performance.  Specifically, he has agreed to key metrics on graduation rates, student affordability, and faculty hiring and achievement.  his "variable comp" will be specifically tied to these results. 

My point in sharing this isn't that we need to suddenly change our entire compensation system.  It's simply that there are folks out there doing innovative things with compensation in academia.  I applaud Mr Daniels in this bold step. 

And yes, I'm a Boilermaker...

Monday, January 7, 2013

No Court Tomorrow

2012-13 Complaint: Cross-Complaint and Anti-SLAPP

If you were planning on coming to the court hearing tomorrow, you can make other plans. 

Judge Lucas handed down a tentative ruling today at about 2pm.  (We're item 5 on the list, starting on page 11.)  The ruling is generally favorable for the District- she declined to dismiss the cross-complaint, and ruled against BCS in the issue of the demurrer.

We received a phone message late this afternoon indicating that BCS will not appear to contest the tentative ruling.  Thus, no day in court tomorrow.  As we get a date for the actual trial related to the cross-complaint, I'll be sure to post it here.

I'm certainly glad that this appears to have gone our way.  My only disappointment is that we had to spend the money on things like this in the first place.

This ruling is tentative, and Judge Lucas may update it if she so chooses. I'll be sure to post the final ruling here when it is released.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2013-14 Process: BCS Response to Counter-Projections

2013-14 Facilities Process

We continue down the path on the 2013-14 facilities offer process as laid out by Prop 39.  Readers may recall that BCS submitted their facilities request on November 1st, 2012, projecting substantial growth in their student body.  LASD added a special board meeting on November 5th, and invited BCS to come present information about their projections.  BCS Board Member Peter Evans, along with BCS parent Fred Gallagher (husband of BCS Board Member Anne Marie Gallagher) came to that meeting and shared their thoughts with the community and the LASD Board.  During that meeting, the LASD Board asked for additional information from BCS.  BCS isn't under a legal obligation to provide any additional information, but it is in their best interests to do so. 

One might ask why BCS would provide this additional information.  After all, the Prop 39 process spells out exactly what they have to provide to LASD.  The answer actually is revealed in the enxt step of the process.  After BCS provides their estimate, LASD provided our counter-projections to the BCS has provided.  Projections are, by their nature, estimates.  Different groups of people, using different information, may arrive at different estimates.  In requesting additional information from BCS, we were attempting to understand more thoroughly why BCS felt their estimates are correct.  BCS declined to provide that information, so LASD provided counter-projections without the benefit of any of that data.  (We went into detail about this in our Dec 1, 2012 letter to BCS).

BCS has now provided their response to the LASD counter-projection.  I plan to spend time reading this in detail this week.  A quick read of the first few pages tells me that we haven't gotten to where we want to be yet.  The District is seeking additional information- effectively asking "why should we believe this".  IN their letter, BCS takes LASD to task for asking for additional information.  It is certainly their right not to provide additional data, but if they do, they have to understand that we will make decisions based on our analysis of the data- which may not always coincide with their analysis.  The courts have already ruled that this is proper.  (Judge Lucas asked the BCS lawyer something to the effect of "if they can't act on their counter-projections, what is the point of them being able to provide those counter-projections?")

So, we'll take a look at their reply and continue down the path.  The LASD Board will meet on January 14 to disucss a narrowed range of options for the BCS location for next year.  In December, I sent a letter to Ken Moore, inviting them to come present again at this meeting if they would like to do so.  I haven't heard from BCS indicating a desire to participate, but that is up to them.  Nevertheless, I look forward to hearing back from staff about how those options might play out, and what the impact of those options would be on LASD students.  I remain committed to providing reasonably equivalent facilities to BCS, as we have always done.  I will balance that, though, with the possible impact to our own students.
Nov 1
BCS submits request for facilities, incl. enrollment forecast and preferred location.
Dec 1
LASD provides counter-projection to enrollment
Jan 1
BCS responds to counter-projection
Feb 1
LASD provides preliminary facilities offer (draft)

Mar 1
BCS responds to draft offer

April 1
LASD provides final facilities offer

July 1
LASD adjusts classroom space based on final district budget for upcoming school year
(Note:  This is a negotiated step, not part of the Prop 39 process)

Note:  I'm note sure why, but Google Docs has trouble dealing with the latest response letter from BCS.  It won't show it in preview mode, but it is possible to download the document locally and read it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

BCS Response to Cross Complaint

As someone wise recently told me, "the Grinch never sleeps."  Over the holidays, we received plenty of legal  paperwork from BCS.  I'll try to hash it all here. 

In their response, BCS not surprisingly says that the allegations raised by the District aren't true, and that even if they are true, BCS says it shouldn't impact their facilities allocation.

I won't get into chapter-and-verse of our legal argument, but the BCS demurer shows a frightening lack of understanding of what a public school is all about.  If public schools are free to discriminate against students they don't wish to educate, the entire system will fail.  Public schools don't exist to educate an aristocracy- they exist to educate the entire citizenry.  Jefferson would be spinning in his grave at the positions BCS takes here.

BCS reply in support of demurrer to FACC

The District recently responded to the BCS anti-SLAPP suit (as posted here).  BCS gets one more bite at the apple before we go to court next week.  Here is their response:

BCS Reply in support of  BCS anti-SLAPP

As an added bonus, BCS has also objected to the amicus submission made by Huttlinger.  This seems to go with the theme of quashing debate and shutting out voices that speak in opposition.  Ironic, given their attempts to misuse the anti-SLAPP statues.

BCS Objection to Huttlinger

I'll try to update this post with the various supporting documents, but they came via email in a widely scattered group. 

The next important date is January 8th, 2013.  We will be in front of Judge Lucas again, discussing the BCS anti-SLAPP motion and various other matters.  More to come, I'm sure...