Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Joan J Strong

I've grown accustomed to strange requests in the BCS litigation.  Recently, though, BCS served the District with Discovery on the attorney fees issue.  One of the questions struck me as highly unusual:  BCS is demanding of LASD to reveal the identity of Joan J Strong.

More accurately, they've asked us to "IDENTIFY the person [we] believe is posting on the Internet under the name "JJ Strong" or "Joan J. Strong" "

Honestly, people:  I don't know who Joan J Strong is.  My fellow trustees have confirmed that they don't know who she is either.  Nor do the superintendent or various other personnel involved in this case.  We provided this information to BCS in our Response to Interrogatories, delivered to BCS on 20 Feb 2013.  Nevertheless, BCS counsel is still harassing our lawyers, demanding further information about how we investigated this question.


First off, there's a First Amendment issue here.  JJS is entitled to say whatever he or she wants to say.  I have no control over what s/he posts, and frankly it's not my business.  Second, in their failed anti-SLAPP motion last year, they accused LASD of using litigation as a tool to chill public debate.  I can't imagine the purpose of this inquiry, other than to seek to harass the real person being the JJS persona.  And finally, is this really what we have to burn taxpayer funds asking and answering?  Is there no more important issue to discuss?

Regardless, we don't know who Joan J Strong is.  (But if s/he is reading this, s/he can consider herself/himself to have achieved a new level of notoriety.)

Respondents Responses to BCS Special Interrogatories

Monday, February 25, 2013

How I Write

A lot of people ask how I write so much.  I answer a substantial volume of email, try to post to my blog regularly, and send periodic messages to the community.  I came across this piece today, and the author's answer is remarkably similar to mine:

I just write everything like it's an email message to a friend.  I try to be factual and honest and without being emotional, I don't mince words.  I'm not as good as I could be about being succinct, but I struggle with the nuances a bit, so my writing tends to get longer than I'd like.  I squeeze in writing where I can- over lunch, on the train, at an airport, or at home late at night.  Any time and place is good as long as I can think for a few minutes.

No commentary on my writing would be complete without recognition to a few folks.  I learned a great deal about style and editing from Ms Bryson, my 11th grade English teacher.  Mr. Picking (8th grade English) exposed me to writing from a variety of authors.  And Howard Bush (6th grade) taught me that other people's expectations of me weren't as important as what I expected of myself.  (He taught my small 6th grade class in a rural community all about Latin America by lecturing to us from college text books.)

Not unremarkably, they're all public school teachers.  My thanks to all of them.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

LASD provides responses to BCS questions

2013-14 Offer Process

On Feb 13, 2013, Tamara Logan and I met with BCS Board members Joe Hurd and Peter Evans to disucss the Preliminary Offer (PO).  As I noted in my Feb 11 email to Ken Moore , there were some practical limitations to that meeting.  For example, since District staff were already committed to a different meeting to review District finances, we wouldn't be able to provide answers to some of their questions.  During the meeting, we kept running notes of the question, which all parties reiviewed and accepted.  Since then, the District has pulled together responses to the questions.

Yesterday, I sent these responses to BCS.  I've also committed that we would make these responses public, in an effort to maintain transparency in the process.  I have attached the responses here.

Responses to BCS Prop 39 Questions
Transmittal Note to BCS

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Consistent positions?

This is really more of an observation, and those who aren't interested in the legal nuances may be less interested in this part.  However, I was pondering some of the recent legal activities. 

The Appellate Courts are important in our system, because they write opinions that can be cited in future cases.  Thus, a favorable opinion at the Appellate Court can be helpful, and an unfavorable one can hurt your position.  I didn't know this before, but apparently Appellate Courts don't publish every opinion, and parties may weigh in and ask an Appellate Court to publish (or not to publish).

Back in Oct 2012, there was a case in Los Angeles that was important to LASD, because it clarified that Districts can place charter schools outside of the district's geographic boundaries.  It also was crystal clear that the District can -and should- give equal weight to the in-district students when contemplating "reasonable equivalence" and the impact of a facilities request.

BCS apparently asked the Cal Supreme Court to depublish, which they declined to do.  LASD filed an amicus brief asking that the opinion remain published.  The court decided to publish the opinion, and of course LASD included it in subsequent filings with the courts in our own case.

Last year when the Cal Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of Bullis IV (the 2009-10 facilities case), BCS kept telling people that the Supreme Court ruled in their favor.  I wonder how they'd describe this event?  Does the decision to publish the ruling mean that the Supreme Court has now also ruled in LASD's favor on this key issue?

Like I said, more in the details, but an interesting thought...

BCS Defies the Courts (Again)

2009-10 Attorney's Fees

Regular readers will recall that, along with the 2012-13 litigation, we still have another sword hanging over our heads- the BCS motion for attorney's fees in the 2009-10 case.  A quick refresher of that activity:

February 2012:  BCS began threatening that they wanted to collect attorney fees.

July 2012:  BCS files actual demand for $1.3M in fees.

Aug 2012:  LASD files discovery to understand the fee demands. BCS refuses to answer the discovery.

Sept 2012:  During the "meet and confer process", the Judge decides she'll need to hear full arguments on discovery.

Oct 2012:  Oral arguments are heard on the discovery motion.  BCS counsel is defiant during the hearing, despite several cautions from the Judge. 

Nov 2012:  The Judge rules for LASD on the discovery, and grants sanctions of $51,000 for BCS' incomprehensible stonewalling of the discovery process.

Dec 2012:  BCS appeals the sanctions, and the discovery (as closely as they can).  The appeals court returns a ruling in < 48 hours, denying both requests.  BCS attorney calls the sanctions "monopoly money", and insists the District "will never see a dime"

Jan 2013:  District follows up on discovery.  BCS asserts that they have "no documents responsive to the request.

Now at this point, one might wonder why BCS put up so much of a fight.  If they had no documents, it would seem strange to spend a lot of energy fighting the issue. 

Feb 2013:  The reality, though, is that there are documents- but BCS has apparently decided to defy the courts and not produce them.  The District is following up with BCS, and is making clear that we will once again seek sanctions, including "issue sanctions".  (Basically, in addition to reimbursing LASD for the money we've spent forcing them to comply with a court order, the Judge could simply rule in our favor on something, essentially as a penalty for their abuse of the discovery process.)

As always, I've included the complete correspondence.
Letter to BCS counsel
3rd Set of Interrogatories
3rd Set of Request for Production

We've also prepared the documentation to request the actual sanctions.  According to the court rules, we prepare these, but wait to file them later.  Yes, we're following the process, because we intend to follow through and request these sanctions.

Notice of Motion for Monetary Sanctions
POS Motion for Monetary Sanctions

For those who wonder why we can't spend as much time in negotiations, this kind of nonsense is a great example.  Complying with Discovery is one of the most basic things you do in litigation.  Yet BCS has chosen to litigate this issue several times over, fighting LASD every step of the way.  There simply is no justification for it (as evidenced by the sanctions imposed by Judge Lucas, and upheld by the Appellate Court).  When we have to do this sort of work every day, there just isn't much time for anything else.

To see related blog posts, click the "Attorney's Fees" label below.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Checking out...

It's winter break, and that means you are either travelling, or likely someone is at home with the kids.  Since I have a cold I can't seem to kick, I decided I'd work from home this week.  We made it until 10:30am before I heard that all-too-familiar cry:  "I'm bored." 

We did something really cool, though.  I just said "check out a book."  LASD has recently created an electronic lending library.  The kids can check out books on a e-Reader.  No need to be in school- heck, no need for school to even be open.  She just logged in, browsed the titles, and picked up the next book in a series she's been reading.  Simple, easy, and very much in keeping with our vision of preparing our kids for the real world.  The Dewey Decimal System may still exist, but when you have a e-Reader, I'm not sure you care.

Books from the school library, from the comfort of home.  How cool is that?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Breakthrough in teacher evaluations

The Mercury News reported this morning that San Jose Unified is working on a contract that revolutionizes the way teachers are evaluated.  It creates a "teacher quality panel", and puts some real teeth in the teacher evaluation process.  The new evals include things like peer and student feedback, as well as standardized test scores as a component.  The agreement also provides for increased compensation at the top end of the scale, as well as various other "carrots" for successful evaluations.

The agreement is a huge deal because teachers unions general have a reputation as obstructing progress in this area.  I'm excited to see a local school district taking bold steps to re-examine how they work together. 

I've made it no secret that I'd like to revamp the way we evaluate teachers.  Mostly, when I look at this framework, I see a possibility of developing greater trust between administration and staff.  The entire profession is helped when we can effectively coach and correct those who under perform, and it is also helped when we recognize those who are really making a difference.

At Monday's Board meeting, we had a free-ranging discussion about teacher compensation.  Frankly, it has been a long time since we gave any sort of across-the-board raise to teachers and staff.  I think that our staff was excited to hear us discuss the possibility, and I think that those in attendance understood that we want to ensure we have a win:win goal in mind.  We've given some ideas to those working in the negotiation, and we're still collecting competitive data.  For myself, I'd like to see us stretch the salary schedule out a bit, and create some sort of flexible pay scenario.  It could take a lot of forms, but I'm really excited that we're talking about something other than a simple "win/ loss" negotiation. 

Meeting set to discuss Prop 39 Requirements

I received a confirmation today from Ken Moore indicating that BCS will participate in the Prop 39 meeting later this week.  I look forward toa  constructive dialogue.  As is our custom, the public is invited to attend the meeting, which will be held at 7pm at the Covington Multi.

Monday, February 11, 2013

LASD offers to meet

This letter has just been sent to Ken Moore, Chairman of the BCS Board.


This evening at our Board meeting, the District discussed the need for improved dialogue regarding the Prop 39 offer. As you are probably aware, we had previously considered holding a special Board meeting on February 25th to collect BCS input on the current prop 39 offer.

On behalf of LASD, I'd like to invite BCS to participate in a Prop 39 meeting on Wednesday, Feb 13th. Although this is exceptionally short notice, we believe this discussion would be beneficial to both sides. LASD is concerned that a meeting that late in the month would not provide adequate time to collect the questions you might have, prepare meaningful responses, and then to have that feedback incorporated in the BCS response due on March 1st. By accelerating the discussion, it gives a greater opportunity to provide information which might be important in your Prop 39 response on March 1st.

In keeping with the LASD requirements for openness and transparency, the meeting will be open to the public. In an effort to make the meeting as productive as possible,we are requesting that you send a team of no more than 2 people. LASD will do the same. Other Board members are welcome to observe from the audience, but our goal is to have a constructive dialogue, and we believe that is best achieved with small teams form both sides.

I want to make sure we set expectations correctly. Randy Kenyon will be attending a CACF meeting, and we are not likely to be able to answer a large number of questions. However, we'll collect the questions, discuss what you need, and we will commit to as quick a response as we can. All of our responses will be posted to the District web site, so that the public can follow along with the dialogue.

We are nailing down specifics of location, but I expect the meeting will be held at 7pm on Wednesday evening. Please let me know as quickly as possible of the BCS team will be able to attend. I've already discussed this with Joe Hurd, and I'm hoping that the BCS team will come in a spirit of collaboration and constructive dialogue.

Best wishes,


Thursday, February 7, 2013

BCS Presentation on Prop 39 offer

I run a professional services practice in my day job, so I end up negotiating a lot of agreements with clients.  Typically there's a Professional Services Agreement, and a series of Statements of Work that fit under the agreement.  As in any business, we want to have a long term relationship with our clients.

Occasionally when we start the negotiating process, it becomes clear that the parties have very different expectations.  At that point, we have a lot of ground to cover.  If I start lobbing back contract redlines with statements like "you guys are crazy, you don't know what you're talking about", what are the chances that I'm going to come to an agreement with the client?  Even if I do, what are the chances that the next negotiation is going to go well?

This past week, BCS had a Board meeting and they discussed the Prop 39 offer. I've attached the slides presented by one of their Board members, Janet Medlin.  I'm disappointed in the tone of this document.  Frankly, it reads like pre-litigation notes much more than any sort of constructive dialogue.  If someone is genuine in their desire to negotiate, and in a desire to foster better relations, they would moderate what they say.  This document reflects no such moderation.
I have attached the document exactly as I received it from BCS.  The red font, etc. are entirely theirs.

link to BCS presentation

This stands is stark contrast to the pleas from other BCS Board members for constructive discussions.  However, the LASD Board has to deal with both ends of this spectrum.  To those who argue in favor of increased engagement, a gentle reminder that the LASD Board has to deal with this type of discourse also.  Unless this faction of the BCS board can be reigned in, I have little hope for any sort of constructive engagement outside of the courtroom.

In case it needs to be clarified- changing the text of the presentation isn't enough.  What we say is just as important, and it is critical that the entire dialogue be more civil.  There is a recording of the meeting that I'll try to get to post here also.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Case Management Filings

Today both sides filed Case Management paperwork.  I don't pretend to know all of the nuances, but in the spirit of transparency, I've posted the docs for both sides.

The key issue is that the case may transition to Judge Overton from Judge Lucas.  Judge Lucas is rotating to new responsibilities within the same court, and so the case may be shifted to Judge Overton.  However, Judge Overton also may decide that the case is complex and nuanced, and that Judge Lucas has the best handle on it.  So we'll wait and see what happens.

BCS Case Management Filing

LASD Case Management Filing

Sunday, February 3, 2013

NY Times Speaks Against Charter Schools

In their editorial this morning, the NY Times raises some interesting concerns about charter schools.  To be clear, they're mostly targeting charter schools that are performing worse than the district they serve.  There's a good bit of that going on.  They also question those charter authorizers who fail to exercise oversight once the charter is granted.  This is a refrain I've heard in our community quite a bit- people wondering what the criteria is that establishes whether a charter school "adds to" the value of public education or not.

I'm specifically NOT calling on SCCBOE to shut down BCS, and I actually have never done so.  The only thing I'd ask is that we get something in exchange for the bargain.  Charter schools operate with taxpayer funds, and they do so without many of the restrictions that constrain traditional public schools.  In exchange for that funding and the reduced oversight, someone should be asking hard, measurable questions.  To any charter school, at the top, the middle, or the bottom, I'd like to see specific things that they call out as being different in their program, and how the specifically tie that to an improved student outcome.  If you're meeting that hurdle, I'm all for it.  But if the chartering agency allows a charter to operate without returning something to the equation, then that charter is really just operating outside the spectrum of public education for the sole benefit of those select students.   I'd love for someone to take a concerted approach (peer review?) to look at specific charter schools and examine what they're contributing back into the equation.

That level of review would actually benefit everyone.  Children in the school would benefit because they'd know what is helping fuel their success.  Children in other schools would also benefit because there would be clear data that shows a better way to operate a school.

That's one of those things I might do if I were part of the authorizing entity, and if I weren't tied up with lawyers. 

Read the editorial here

Friday, February 1, 2013

BCS Preliminary Facilities Offer Delivered

2013-14 Facilities Process

After a great deal of work and voluminous public input, we've presented the 2013-14 Preliminary Facilities Offer for Bullis Charter School.

This is part of the annual Prop 39 cycle, although this year we have made a conscious effort to ensure the process is as public as possible.  Including the meeting we added this past Wednesday, we took public input at 7 different meetings, including facilitated sessions and broad public commentary.  I am grateful to everyone who came out to share their thoughts with us.

Broadly speaking, BCS is split across 2 campuses: Egan and Blach.  At Egan, they have about 40% of the students on that site, and they have about 40% of the land also.  At Blach, they have 20% of the students and 20% of the land, but they also have further impact to Blach in the form of shared access to the specialized teaching space.

Given what this is, there's no way to please everyone.  Some will think we've offered too much, and others will say we haven't accommodated enough.  That's the job of the trustees- to weigh the input, and balance the needs of all students.  I believe we've done a good job of meeting that goal.

I look forward to receiving feedback from BCS, and to considering that feedback in the preparation of the final offer. 

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 Jan 1 letter from BCS.  It won't show it in preview mode, but it is possible to download the document locally and read it.