Thursday, April 25, 2013

Considering Raynor Site

The Town Crier ran an article today discussing the recent District action to consider the Raynor site in Sunnyvale as a possible location for BCS.  (link to article)  Overall, the article did a pretty good job of explaining the situation.  In a nutshell, Sunnyvale has a parcel available for sale that was a school site back in the 1970's.  LASD is submitting a bid to acquire that site to use as a location for BCS.

Of course, any sentence that includes "LASD" and "BCS" is bound to generate controversy, and this one is no exception.  Before LASD even passed the resolution to do this, the lead BCS attorney threatened to get an injunction to block the action.  BCS has stated that they do not believe it would be legal for LASD to place BCS outside of the District boundaries.

I'd love to be able to say that all laws surrounding charter schools are crystal clear, and that there is no room for doubt or interpretation.  However, this area of the law is relatively new, and as such, the existing laws and regulation require some interpretation.  BCS sees the issue as very "black and white".  However, the District has a different view.  Indeed, even the SCCBOE acknowledges that there are circumstances under which a charter school can be placed outside of the District boundaries.  We received a letter from the county recently detailing their views, and we sent them back a letter in reply.  Both of these letters were mentioned in the comments section of the LATC article.  I'm attaching both the SCCBOE letter and the LASD reply here to dispel any debate about the content of those letters.  (I imagine many will still apply their own interpretation, but there's little I'm going to be able to do about that.)

LASD response to SCCBOE

Clearly there are different interpretations of the law here.
  • BCS contends that LASD cannot place them outside LASD borders
  • SCCBOE acknowledges that there are some instances in which LASD can place BCS outside LASD borders
  • LASD believes that those circumstances and other reasons make it legal for LASD to place BCS outside the LASD borders
So, when you find yourself with different opinions on a topic, what do you do?  First, you try to discuss the views.  We did try to engage BCS in a discussion about their view, but they declined to provide their legal reasoning why we shouldn't be allowed to do this.  I had an email exchange with a BCS Board Member where we gave them the opportunity to weigh in, and they declined to provide their thinking.

Failing getting their thoughts informally, the court system actually provides a mechanism to seek clarification of what the law permits.  That mechanism, called Declaratory Relief, is a simple way for LASD to seek clarification from the courts about the legal issues involved in placing BCS outside the District boundaries.  This process is normally fairly quick (~90 days) and LASD is very interested to hear from the courts on this topic.  We believe that BCS should also share that same interest, so we've asked them to agree to a speedy calendar for this motion.  We'll have to wait and see if BCS really believes in their viewpoint, or if they'd prefer to drag out the process.  Either way, this is a significant question on which we need to hear from the courts so that we can all be working from the same interpretation of the law.

Here's a copy of the request for Declaratory Relief

In closing, I'd observe that it didn't take long after the Town Crier article was posted before folks started weighing in with their views of the legality of this, and questioning the wisdom of the LASD Board in pursuing this option.  I can't speak for the rest of the Board, but I will share my own thoughts.

This controversy has dragged on for 8 years.  Over the past year, BCS has filed complaint after complaint with the court, and has exercised every conceivable legal maneuver to either delay the court's rulings or appeal decisions they've lost (multiple times).  Despite their public statements of "compromise" and collaboration, BCS has made it clear through the pace and tenor of the litigation that they won't rest until LASD has closed a site and handed the keys to BCS.  Any statements to the contrary fly in the face of a lengthy court record.

Given this backdrop, LASD needs to move as expeditiously as possible to secure a site for BCS so that we can prevent the disruption of the education of 4500 students who attend District schools.  Under these circumstances, we would be foolish - and I believe also derelict in our responsibilities - if we didn't consider every possible option for a site for BCS.  The Raynor site happens to be the first available site, so we are moving on that site.  If we had a different relationship with BCS- one based on cooperation instead of litigation- I could envision working closely together to evaluate sites and select one that is workable for the district and that is also appealing to BCS.  Under the current circumstances, though, we would be remiss if we didn't pursue every available option.  BCS can change this equation by dropping the litigation and working with LASD.  If they want to continue to pursue litigation, though, that's the clearest signal they can give that LASD has to find them a site- any site- as fast as we possibly can.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

NYT Editorial on ImprovingTeaching

Today's New York Times has a great editorial about what is needed to improve education in America. With the new common core standards, we are asking our teachers to take on the responsibility of teaching even more skills to our children- collaboration, use of technology, critical thinking, research, etc.. Yet we still train teachers the same way we always have.  The editorial makes the case for changing the way we train and certify teachers to improve our likelihood of reaching those goals.

This shouldn't be interpreted as criticism of our teaching cadre.  Just this weekend I was bragging to my sister (who holds a Masters in Education) about how devoted our teachers are to improving their skills.  Nearly 40% of our teachers participated in the iLearn Academy, which is a voluntary after school training program.  Most of them took multiple units.  LAEF provided funding for an additional day of professional development training, despite the fact that PD days are a serious inconvenience for working parents.  Our community (parents, teachers, and administration) all understand the value of  continuous training for our teachers.  Indeed, in our ongoing salary negotiations, one interest that has been raised by both administration and board members has been ensuring that we continue to emphasize training for our staff.

So I post this article not to condemn or criticize our district, but simply to say that ther is always more to do.  We can do more locally, and at a national level, we have MUCH more to do.  In order to restore America to our former position as the preeminent hub of R&D, we need to improve teaching on a national level.  These comments from the NYT should be a wake up call to policy makers across the nation that we need to change what we do to improve the results.

NYT Editorial:Teachers: Will We Ever Learn?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

LASD Delivers Final Offer

Note: This blog post is late- we delivered the final offer on April 1, 2013 as required by law. At that time, I delivered a letter to the community. This post includes that letter, as well as links to the various documents for the 2013-14 facilities process.

On April 1, 2013, LASD delivered the Final Offer of Facilities to BCS.  They have responded with their Notice of Intent to Occupy, along with their customary statement that says they deem the offer insufficient and they reserve the right to sue us.

This offer is an exceptionally strong offer, and it is actually more than what is required by law.  I can only hope that BCS will decide it isn't worth suing over this, and we can return our focus to the children we educate.

I state this in my letter, but I also want to point it out here:  the District staff has worked incredibly hard to prepare this offer.  There are countless hours devoted to measuring, counting, and calculating, as well as then working through all the logistical and programmatic impacts of this type of arrangement.  The District's Chief Business Officer, Randy Kenyon, has taken point on this, and done a fantastic job.  I also want to specifically call out Sandra McGonagle for her hard work.  As the principal at Blach, she and her staff have gone through a great deal to revise their program to accommodate BCS and welcome them into a new way of sharing facilities.  We are fortunate to have such superb folks advancing the work of the District.  To accomplish this while maintaining such an excellent program, and to continue to achieve State-level recognition for our efficient administration, well, it says a lot about our team.

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.

(letter to community sent on April 3, 2013)

Parents, Guardians, and Community Members

I'm pleased to say that the District has successfully completed and delivered the final facilities offer to BCS for the 2013-14 school year. This year's process incorporated an unprecedented level of community input, spanning more than a dozen public meetings over a 5 month period. In developing the Final Offer, the District has offered BCS generous access to shared space on the Blach campus, as well as maintaining their footprint on the Egan campus. The shared space, in particular, represents a significant change in the offers we have made to BCS. In addition to providing their 6-8 students with access to specialized teaching space, it also creates an opportunity for us to work together and share, thereby increasing trust between the groups.

The District also strives to be transparent in our operations, so I would like to acknowledge a mistake we made recently. Under the open meeting laws in California, we agendize all topics to be discussed in closed session, so that the community can stay apprised of those discussions. At Monday's Board meeting, we met with consultants to discuss real estate during closed session, as permitted under the Brown Act. However, in the press of preparing the Final Offer, we neglected to use the correct language to agendize this item. Due to this oversight, the Board is required to meet again and discuss this item anew, which will provide the public the opportunity to weigh in before the Board adjourns to closed session. We will do this by holding a special board meeting on April 15th at 6pm.

The process of delivering the Final Offer is a challenging one, and on behalf of the board I would like to extend our thanks to the district employees who have worked so hard to evaluate options, develop alternatives, and make adjustments to our program in order to make this all work. They have been professional throughout the process. We can all be grateful that we have such a fantastic team working on behalf of our students.

Have a wonderful spring break, and we will see you on your return.

Warm regards,

Doug Smith
President, LASD Board of Trustees

LASD Responds to BCS Appeal of anti-SLAPP Ruling

In early March, BCS asked the Superior Court to dismiss the district's cross complaint using the anti-SLAPP statue.  Judge Overton rightly ruled that the cross-complaint should not be dismissed, on the grounds that it raises issues of public interest, and therefore is not subject to the anti-SLAPP statue.  (Judge Overton's ruling can be found here).

Right before spring break, we received notice that BCS filed an appeal of Judge Overton's ruling.  We notified them that this is not permissible under the law (See my blog post to discuss this here, including our letter to BCS).  Sadly, BCS has decided not to withdraw their appeal.  The District has therefore been forced to file a response to this illegal appeal by BCS.

In my previous blog post, I mentioned that this was an opportunity for BCS to demonstrate that they really are interested in dialogue, and that they aren't going to file needless litigation.  Indeed, the law specifically bars the action they've just filed.  Many times as an LASD Trustee, I've had BCS parents urge me to "follow the law" when allocating facilities.  I would ask those same folks to please reach out to the BCS board and also urge them to "follow the law".  The statues are unambiguous on this point.  Judge Overton ruled for LASD, and that ruling is not appealable.  Yet here we are, wasting time and money on something that is completely within the control of the BCS Board.

The District's response can be found here:
LASD Motion to Dismiss Appeal of Anti-SLAPP Suit 2013-04-11

(I don't have the exhibits yet, but will add them when I receive them)

Updated 23 April 2013 to add the exhibits.
Exhibits A thru D part I
Exhibits D part II - thru Exhibit I
Exhibit J thru AA