Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Win for Open Government

There was a brief debacle in Sacramento this week which was fortuately corrected due to outcry across the state of California.

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) requires local agencies to provide the public access to documents and records.  This is a critical piece of legislation that protects our right to know what our government is doing.  It is one of the single most important tools investigative journalists use to uncover what is and isn't working in local and state government.  (As a simple example, on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, the misdeeds of George Shirakawa were unearthed by comparing his campaign records and his expense reports with the County.    Those expense reports can be obtained via CPRA request).

I said that there was a debacle that was corrected.  Someone got the clever idea to attach a trailer bill to the budget that would have removed the enforcement provisions from the CPRA.  It would have effectively turnedd fixed requirements (like the requirement for the agency to respond within 10 days) into "best practices", but there would be no enforcement teeth.  I watched with great interest, then, as this provision was surfaced, and 48 hours later, there was legislation to repeal it.

I've been on both ends of CPRA requests- both sending and receiving.  It's an important tool, and my general thinking is that it shouldn't require the threat of enforcement to have agencies comply.  After all, we're spending the public's money, and managing their assets.  Explaining what we're doing seems like it would come with the job.

I'm not sure what drives people to even try something like this.  Open access to government informaiton is a basic requirement of democracy.  I'm thrilled that so many people spoke up so quickly and made it so abundantly clear that we wouldn't stand for this.

Note:  Updated 6/24/11 to correct George Shirakawa's position.  He was on the County Board of Supervisors, not the Water Board.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

In Court Today: 2013-14 offer

Today we had a court date to discuss the first of two BCS challenges to the 2013-14 facilities offer.  Today's discussion centered entirely around whether LASD was able to split BCS into two sites, or if that was a violation of the process. 

BCS essentially argued that prop 39 says we have to start by placing them on a single campus, and then restructuring the remaining LASD programs around that.  Judge Pierce also spent time clarifying whether the courts should evaluate all of the options independent of the elected Board of Trustees.  He also explored whether we have a "ministerial duty" or if the trustees have discretion in how we allocate facilities.

LASD's argument was fairly brief.  We pointed to the case law in Ridgecrest that specifically permits districts to split charter schools across campuses under certain circumstances, provided that the district makes written findings supporting that decision.  LASD did this back in January 2013, as part of our extensive evaluation of options for BCS.  LASD attorney Ray Cardozo drew the court's attention to the resolution, which specifically starts with the single site solution (Covington) but then explains how that would have a disproportionate impact on District students- particularly special needs students who are heavily impacted by changes.

Judge Pierce asked some good questions, and it felt like he'd done his homework.  he had a good command of the various sites in the district, and what has happened before this hearing.  He did ask about a possible return to mediation.  Our attorney provided a brief answer.  My thought is that we're willing to engage in a discussion, but it can't be starting with the same old position ("Close an LASD school")  I've said in the past that we would enter into discussions if BCS drops or freezes the litigation we would be willing to meet.  The biggest driver for that is some sort of tangible proof that if we agree to something with the subset, there's reason to believe it will be accepted by the broader BCS Board.  I can expand on this later, but as I said, this is a position I've expressed before.

This was the first time I've seen the new attorney for BCS.  I'm encouraged that he was focused on the facts and law of the case rather than some of the more colorful language that their prior counsel employed.  Given the number of open lawsuits, it is far too early to declare a change in approach.  However, we did manage to get this hearing scheduled within a reasonable time frame, and with a minimum of the shenanigans and delay tactics we've seen in the past.  Hopefully we'll deal with the issues head on.

Judge Pierce didn't issue a tentative ruling before the hearing, so we are all awaiting his decision.  He is repute to be someone who doesn't waste time, though, so hopefully we'll see something soon.

PS to A Friend: Thanks.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Next Great Idea (EdCon 2013)

Alyssa Gallagher, Asst. Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, pulled together a fabulous, fantastic, amazing event.  EdCon 2013 was an amazing event, and not just because it got kids to voluntarily attend school for three days after school got out for the summer.

I'll let Alyssa tell folks about the exciting outcomes, but I wanted to share one piece that really struck me.  On Saturday morning, we Skyped with Angela Maiers, an advocate for students.  She had a lot of great things to say, but this was the thing that really resonated with me:

The world doesn't care where the next great idea comes from.  It doesn't matter whether you're a 6 year old, a 16 year old, a a $6M company.  The world will evaluate the idea, and if it's great, it's going to take off.

Her timing was perfect, because we then listened to the recommendations of 70 students who'd spend several days thinking about how to improve our schools.  I'll let Alyssa explain the great ideas, and how we're going to take action on them in the 2013-14 school year.  But I have to admit, I was blown away at how valuable the feedback really was.

{Note.  This post was drafted in June 2013, but through an error wasn't posted on time.  I've back dated the post so that it appears correctly in the feed.}

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Raynor Site

Tonight I attended the Sunnyvale City Council meeting where they discussed and acted on the sale of the Raynor site.  Readers may recall that LASD put in a bid on this site as a possible home for the Bullis Charter School.  Unfortunately, the council has provided direction to Sunnyvale city staff to begin negotiations with the Stratford School.

Readers may also recall that the District has an open request for Declaratory Relief.  We've asked the courts to determine that we are legally permitted to locate BCS outside of the District boundaries.  We felt that BCS would eventually sue LASD over this question, so it makes sense to ask the courts for clarity.  I am disappointed to say that BCS did show up and speak in opposition to the District's bid.  According to her own statement, this was done at the direction of the BCS Board.  I will leave it to individuals to interpret her statements.  I've attached the recording here.

It would be reasonable to inquire whether this means the Declaratory Relief is no longer required.  We've actually asked the Court the broader question- whether it is permissible to locate BCS anywhere outside the District boundaries.  The Raynor site was certainly one example, but it is obviously not the only location outside of our boundaries.  Thus, it makes sense to have the courts clarify this issue now.  Hence, I don't anticipate any changes to the request.

I'm obviously disappointed that we didn't get the nod tonight, but I certainly wish the Stratford School and Sunnyvale well in their negotiations.  Meanwhile, we'll press on considering other options.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Win at the Court of Appeals

Last fall, the lead attorney for BCS mocked the Superior Court judges, saying that they just don't have the time to study complex issues and that they generally don't understand cases like the ones we are involved in.  Given the BCS willingness to run to the appellate courts, it seems that they've viewed the 2009-10 case as the sign that teh appellate courts are "in the BCS camp".

Back in December 2012, the Appellate court took just days to rule against BCS on one of their appeals. (link)

More recently, (this past week), the District was pleased to have the Appellate Courts dismiss the BCS appeal in the Anti-SLAPP case.  Recall that BCS brought an anti-SLAPP motion against LASD in an attempt to kill the District's cross-complaint.  By filing the anti-SLAPP, and by appealing when they lost at the trial court, BCS was holding at bay any legal discovery activities that might otherwise proceed.  Now that BCS has lost their appeal, LASD will be able to move forward with discovery.

The Cross Complaint is an important action because it asks the courts to examine BCS admissions practices and their treatment of certain student groups, and asks the court to then determine whether those actions should impact LASD facilities allocation to BCS.  Now that the roadblocks are cleared, we'll begin the important excavation work that is necessary to pull together the information we need to put before the court. 

I have no illusions that the Cross-Complaint is moving swiftly to trial.  BCS has, in the recent past, defied Discovery, and has been sanctioned by the courts for their behavior.  (They've appealed those sanctions too, so we'll have to wait and see what happens there.)  However, clearing these roadblocks is important- we need to move forward and get clarity from the court on the questions we've raised.

Regardless of what BCS attorneys seem to think of the trial courts, the Appellate Courts seem to think they've been "getting it right", because they have affirmed their decisions.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

LASD Brief - 2013-14 Suit

2013-14 Facilities Lawsuit

Yes, I understand the frustration- we're not even done with 2012-13, and we're already talking about the 2013-14 lawsuit.  Not much I can do about that...

LASD has filed our reply brief in the 2013-14 facilities dispute.  After LASD delivered our Final Offer for 2013-14, BCS accepted the offer and promptly turned around and filed a suit to challenge the offer.  They highlighted two lines of attack-
1) They've challenged the District's ability to split the BCS program across Egan and Blach
2) They've also challenged the CEQA process under which we have allocated space to their program

After some legal wrangling, we've agreed that the case will be heard on a somewhat expedited calendar.  The District remains very confident of the offer we've delivered, and the sooner the courts rule on this the better.  Part of the process to expedite is that BCS will argue their key area of concern (the split across two sites) now, and will hold back the CEQA argument for later.

As BCS has been compelled by the courts to provide documents in the litigation, they've asserted that much of it is "confidential" and cannot be shared with the public.  I'm not clear on the legal reasoning of positioning one's self as a public school but maintaining that much of your documentation is private.  However, rather than add yet another that legal battle to the docket, we've submitted the documents under seal.  If a member of the public comes forward to challenge the confidentiality of those documents, the court will rule on whether the docs should be released or not.

This hearing will take place on June 20 in Superior Court.  The public is always welcome to attend these hearings.

LASD Opposition to BCS Motion for Judgement
Cardozo Declaration (part 1 of 3)
Cardozo Declaration (part 2 of 3)
Sorry, Part 3 is under seal for the moment