Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Anti-SLAPP Appeal by BCS

2012-13 Facilities Litigation: anti-SLAPP Motion

Late last week, the District received notice that BCS has decided to appeal the anti-SLAPP ruling.  You'll recall that BCS filed the anti-SLAPP motion back in early December 2012.  (my blog post describing the motion, and all of the SLAPP-related posts).  There was a flurry of filings back and forth, and the courts ruled on this motion in January 2013, declaring that the District was not engaging in an effort to stifle debate, but that we were seeking guidance from the court on an issue of public importance.  At the time of that ruling, BCS elected not to present oral arguments, instead letting the ruling stand.

On Thursday, March 21st, the District received a formal notification of appeal from BCS.  This is all very curious because the legislature specifically prohibits appealing a ruling such as the one we have received.  In an email to BCS counsel, LASD counsel has pointed out that this appeal is unlawful, and has asked BCS to withdraw their appeal.  If BCS does not do so, the District will once again ask the court to impose sanctions against BCS.

There are those who oppose the District's cross-complaint, and I've heard a number of their concerns.  However, the courts have ruled three times now that LASD should be permitted to move forward with the action. 

I'd like to point out that LASD is not required to give this sort of notice to BCS.  We've done it out of a sincere effort to see if BCS is interested in dialing down the rhetoric.  In the bigger debate, there are significant legal issues that we see differently:
  • the depth and breath of the discretion afforded to elected officials as they balance the needs of multiple constituencies
  • the rights of the public to understand financing behind lawsuits which claim a public benefit
  • the responsibility of a public entity to take action based the concerns of citizens who come forward with complaints
Any one of these is an interesting constitutional issue, and will certainly be discussed widely in legal community.  We have enough on our plates without having to deal with this sort of impermissible use of the courts.  The legislature has said this specific type of appeal is not permitted.  It would be good for both sides to simply move forward with the trial.  If BCS is so anxious for everyone to "know the truth", as their attorney pointed out this week, then let's move forward.  Let's not waste money on the appeal of a motion that shouldn't be and can't be appealed.  LASD has taken the high road by informing BCS up front of their error.  Hopefully their legal team will acknowledge this and gracefully step away.  It would be a simple step that places the needs of students ahead of the litigation.  It would be good for all sides.

The lawyers in the crowd will want to read the email, linked here
Email to BCS Counsel

Monday, March 25, 2013

BCS update to enrollment projections

Last night I received the attached letter from Ken Moore, Board Chair for BCS.  In the letter, he provides statements about the enrollment process, essentially confirming some of their earlier enrollment projections.  In the spirit of transparency, I'm posting it here.  It doesn't address much of the content we've asked for (and BCS has previously promised) but at least they are engaging.

Also, I believe that a couple of BCS Board members will be attending the LASD Board meeting tonight, so we'll have a chance to ask them questions as well.

See you at 7pm...

Letter from BCS 2013-03-24

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Kicked out of BCS

This evening, BCS held a meeting to discuss the 2012-13 litigation. They had their attorney, Arturo Gonzalez, come and present his thoughts on the litigation. There was an invitation sent around addressed to "parents and community". A couple of people mentioned it to me, so I thought that I would attend to see what he had to say. I'm a big believer in listening. If you get your news only from one source, your view can get biased. I thought that by attending this meeting, I could hear the unvarnished version from BCS and see if there were any new facts I hadn't considered.

Unfortunately, it never got to that point. A BCS Board Member "asked" me to leave. Their Principal said that it was within her authority to have me arrested. I tried to persuade them to let me stay, and to listen. I have attended numerous meetings at BCS before, and it has never been a problem. I promised that would not disrupt the meeting, or even ask a single question. They were not to be swayed. The BCS Board member harassed and threatened me and said I had no business at the meeting.

In the long run, I wasn't there to create a problem. I just wanted to listen. At some point, though, you cut your losses. When I felt like there was no hope, I left. I was polite through the entire episode, but I was also unambiguous- I wasn't leaving voluntarily.

Inside the meeting, their attorney was telling folks to let other LASD parents stay. He is quite convinced that the facts are on his side, and that rational people will be persuaded by logic and facts and truth. Ironically, I agree with him that it is important to hear all of the facts, which is why I was there in the first place.

I can't imagine barring a community member from a meeting at an LASD school, especially not one that involves such an important issue. Last spring, I went to many LASD schools to discuss the proposed mediation settlement. There were BCS parents in the audience, but I didn't mind. If people want to hear what you have to say, why wouldn't you welcome them? If the facts are on your side, why wouldn't you want someone to hear those facts? Shouldn't those facts be out for everyone to consider?

I want to acknowledge that there were some BCS parents in the room who stood up for the LASD parents who also attended. They encouraged the open dialogue, and I applaud them for it. By that point in the discussion, I'd already been chased out, but I'm glad that some members of the community were able to stay, and I congratulate the BCS folks who were willing to rise above the chaos.

I've been taking a pounding lately from some BCS supporters who keep calling for more meetings and increased dialogue. Yet, on this occasion, when all I wanted to do was listen (and even their attorney said he was fine with me being there), I was chased away. More's the pity.

Favorable Ruling on BCS Motion

2012-13 Facilities Complaint; Cross Complaint

I love the power of social media.  This has already been posted on Facebook, but for those who may not have seen it, we received the ruling on BCS' MJOP (Motion for Judgement on the Pleadings).  This motion, heard by Judge Carol Overton on March 5th, sought to dismiss the LASD cross complaint.  This is the third such effort BCS has made.  Like the other two requests (including the anti-SLAPP motion), this was denied.

BCS argued that the District had an obligation to go to the SCCBOE to address our concerns before we filed the Cross Complaint.  The District argued that, since we weren't seeking for the court to change the behavior-- that we are only seeking clarification of whether this imapcts our facilities offers. 

The courts found for LASD- that we don't have to go to the SCCBOE first.  The ruling says, in part:
"LASD seeks guidance as to its own duties under the law with regard to its obligation to share its facilities fairly. Such a request calls on the court to interpret the law as it relates to LASD, not to determine whether Bullis has violated its charter."  That's pretty much it in a nutshell.

The District did seek sanctions, which the court did not grant.  However, the important take-away here is that the cross-complaint is moving forward.  The courts are willing to listen to the community's concerns about BCS admissions practices, and whether they serve all students equally.  Based on that, we'll understand what the impact is to the LASD facilities obligations.

Here's the full text of the ruling:
Order RE: Motion for Judgement on the Pleadings

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Shared Space at Blach

2013-14 Facilities Offer

I received a very thoughtful letter from a BCS parent about the shared space at Blach.  Since I think this is an area where others may have some questions, I thought I'd share my personal thinking with a wider audience.  Again, this doesn't take place of official Board action, but it should help folks understand what I'm driving at.

The offer is premised around BCS 6-8th grade located at Blach.  I believe this can minimize the amount of duplicate space we need to build out.  I've advocated for an approach that "generally" allows 6th graders to have access to Specialized Teaching Space (STS) at Blach, but not "always". You can think of it in three buckets:

1) I don't have any concerns about giving 6th grade access to some areas, like the drama & music space. That's the same as an MPR they would have at Loyola or Santa Rita anyway, so no problem there.

2) Somewhere in the middle, 6th graders aren't really "entitled" to access to the track, the gym, soccer field, and tennis courts. However, I lean towards providing them that access. The big driver is because that access is in lieu of other STS that we might otherwise build out. The LASD Board can make a determination as a Board that providing this access creates a reasonably equivalent experience. BCS kids have more PE facilities, but maybe they don't have a small group space. it's not exact- but it is within the discretion of the Board.

3) There are some spaces, like the science labs, that aren't appropriate for 6th graders. We use chemicals there, and Bunsen burners, and we have made a determination that it's just not smart to allow access to younger kids in that space, so we don't share that with the 6th graders.

The parent also asked about building space where we can't provide enough shared access. If we can't provide reasonable access to shared space, then we would build it out. For example, the servery- we need it at the exact same time BCS would need it, so we can't really say we'll share. (Who gets it from 11:30-1pm while the other party gets it from 9:00-11:30? Not really fair, so that doesn't work. So we build a second servery.) But really, I want to minimize the amount of duplicated space. These portables cost a small fortune, and I'd rather time share than build out more buildings where we can. But for a lot of other space, we can work out sharing arrangements, and we are doing just that.

We have a plan for sharing PE space, including on rainy days. We really aren't barbarians. I don't want to see a scene with kids standing out in the rain while other kids have PE inside a warm, dry gym. I met with the Blach principal this morning, and she and her PE staff had just wrapped up a discussion about this.  It will be included in the final proposal. We really wanted Wanny to interact with Sandra more, but that hasn't happened. C'est la vie. We will have a specific offer in the final offer, in order to comply with the court rulings (that said we have to be specific). However, if the BCS staff is willing to collaborate, we can certainly entertain "swaps" etc.

So in the long run, I think we'll have a final offer that creates a very workable solution for both parties.  It won't be the whole "pony list" that BCS asked for, but it is reasonably equivalent and certainly workable and functionally equivalent. 

I also want to tip my hat and thank the Blach Principal and her staff.  We've had a number of conversations to pull together this offer, and their attitude was consistently one of partnership and fairness.  They are, pardon the pun, a class act. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Responsible versus Influence

In tech, we talk sometimes about who is “responsible” and who has “influence”. You get to define a process or deliverable when you have primary responsibility for it. You influence it when you don’t have ownership, but have an interest in the outcome.** 

Sales execs go to great lengths to determine who will make the final decision, and who is “providing input”. Likewise, in the professional services practices I run, I ask my teams to be crystal clear about who at the client has actual signature authority over a change order or acceptance for a deliverable. Knowing up front who “influences” versus who is “responsible” helps avoid ambiguity as you near the end of a process.

There is a huge disconnect right now, in that BCS seems to feel that they have the right to define the final facilities offer for the 2013-14 school year. That responsibility, by law, is assigned to the LASD Board of Trustees. We’ve offered them the opportunity to influence what we propose, but the LASD BoT will retain final responsibility for the content of the offer. We provided a preliminary offer that gave some insight into our thinking, and they had an opportunity to provide feedback through their March 1st response. That was a great opportunity to influence the Final Offer. Unfortunately, they have come back with a completely different proposal- once again trying to redefine the offer in terms of their choosing. In the process, they are squandering the opportunity to influence the outcome, because they’re so insistent on trying to define a path the District has no interest in pursuing.

The District is, therefore, proceeding with our legal responsibility and defining the Final Offer. I’ve reached out to BCS in the past few days to try to give them a chance to influence the final configuration. However, if they keep insisting on trying to define it on their own terms, we will do what we are responsible to do under the law- we will balance the impact on students, we will weigh the financial impacts, and we will define the Final Offer and move forward.

**Note:  Using this explicit terminology has fallen out of favor in the collaborative workplaces of the Silicon Valley, but the concepts still apply.  People describe it differently, but ultimately the concepts still exist.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Those in the tech industry may recognize the conference SXSW (South by Southwest).  Held in Austin, this gathering focuses on innovation across a variety of topics.  SXSW has featured many new tech services and companies, quite a few of which are household names today.

This year, a couple of LASD staff members went to SXSW.  I applaud their interest in innovation.  I love that our staff is constantly seeking out the "next great thing" to enhance our already-strong program.  The really fun part was that they came across, well, LASD.  There were a couple of different displays that were showcasing techniques that we've pioneered or been a key part of.  There's something surreal about looking out to the world and seeing that folks really are picking up on what we do, and emulating our model.  Hats off to our staff for leading the way.  We really are "revolutionizing learning for all students".

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Back in Court This Week

2012-13 Facilities Complaint and Cross Complaint

This Tuesday morning at 9am we will be back in court again.  BCS has brought a third motion in an attempt to quash a hearing on the District's Cross-Complaint.  (The first two were the BCS anti-SLAPP motion, and the BCS demurrer.  Judge Lucas ruled for LASD on both motions.)

In this motion, BCS has expanded their argument and is telling the court that LASD need to have addressed raised our concerns about their admissions practices and handling of students through the SCCBOE. I would make the observation that LASD, and the parent community, have repeatedly raised these concerns to the SCCBOE, who have taken no action.  In many cases, the responses we have received from the SCCBOE members have been downright hostile.  I would also note that we are not asking the court to take any specific action regarding the practices.  We are simply asking the court whether these practices have any impact on our facilities obligation.

Revisiting the same request (dismissal of the Cross-Complaint) is highly unusual, which LASD has raised in our response.  LASD has asked the courts to sanction BCS for bringing the same motion several times, as this is not permitted under the law.  It is another example of the "litigate at all costs" approach to dealing with LASD.

This will be our first hearing in front of a Judge Carol Overton.  Judge Lucas has rotated to a new assignment, and Judge Overton is now hearing this matter. 

LASD Teacher Named Apple Distinguished Educator

Ellen Kraska is the LASD Technology Integration Instructional Coach.  Apparently Apple thinks she's doing a fabulous job, because she has been named an Apple Distinguished Educator.

There are about 2,000 teachers who have been named ADE's over the course of the program.  That puts Ellen in some pretty rare company.  There are literally a couple million teachers in the US alone, not to mention the rest of the world.  And it's also worth noting that LASD has a second educator who was selected as an Apple Distinguished Educator.  Samantha Nguyen (Almond School 5th grade teacher) was selected in 2007.

Special thanks to the donors who funded the position - it's great to be able to have folks like Ellen on our team. 

Well done, Ellen!

Link to Apple Distinguished Educator Program Description

Updated 4 March 2013 @ 9:00 am, to correct Ellen's title to Technology Integration Instructional Coach.  LASD also is priveleged to have Kami Thordarson working with us as an Innovative Strategies Coach (also funded throguh private donations), but they are two distinct poisitions.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

BCS delivers response to preliminary offer

2013-14 Facilities Process

I have only glanced through this, but I'm sure many will read it with great interest.
One thing I did seem to notice- if I read it correctly, they're demanding that we evict stepping stones preschool at Blach?  I'll have to re-read in more detail.  (section G, top of Page 9)

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.