Sunday, November 9, 2014

Ethics, and Thanks

10 Nov 2014 8:15am Update:  I've added the links to the FPPC filing, as well as cross references to my prior blog posts.  At this time, Measure N is at 57.31%.

First, a massive THANK YOU to everyone who turned out and voted.  It looks like Measure N has passed, with 56.22% of the votes cast.  Likewise, it looks like we have elected three excellent trstuees to the LASD Board, returning Tammy Logan and installing first time trustees Sangeeth Peruri and Vladimir Ivanovic as new Board members.  To all three candidates, I offer my thanks for being willing to take on the task of representing our community.

I also offer my heartfelt thanks to all members of the LASD Board with whom I have served, including Mark Goines, Bill Cooper, and Margot Harrigan, as well as Tammy Logan, Steve Taglio, and Pablo Luther.  All seven of us have held strong opinions, and we often disagreed, but we managed to do so civilly, and the District is much better off for the service of all of these fine folks.

Back in October, I wrote a couple of blog posts that were critical of Martha McClatchie and John Swan, and the pro-BCS PAC that was deceptively named "LASD Parents for Great Schools".  I caught a lot of static from BCS parents when I posted this.  The most benign suggested that I was better off to merely voice support for those I liked, but not to criticize people or groups with whom I did not agree.  When I wrote those posts, I had to weigh the advice of my grandmother (If you can't say something nice...) with the need for people to understand what was going on.

Obviously I decided that transparency was more important than {fill in the blank}.  I mean that sincerely.  In one of the many emails I exchanged on this topic, I told a prominent BCS parent that I value transparency in governance above any bond campaign and above any individual candidate.  If people knew that "LASD Parents for Great Schools" was a front for BCS campaign money, but they were still willing to elect John or Martha, so be it.  But I didn't want them being elected because people were mislead by the name of the PAC, or by the campaign statements that hide the BCS connection of the candidate or their support of charter schools as a matter of policy.

Today I got a bit of vindication in the form of a late campaign filing.  A community member forwarded to me the FPPC docs for the California Charter School Association.  The last minute filing disclosed that the CCSA gave $22,000 to the "LASD Parents" PAC, and another $6,000 directly to John Swan's campaign.  Holy cow!  Really??  That's more money than any one of the three winning candidates spent.  And remember, this money is in addition to the funds Martha and John raised on their own.  In total, Martha, John, the BCS PAC, and the CCSA spent around $100,000 trying to buy a seat on the LASD Board of Trustees.

I don't expect that those folks who criticize me are suddenly going to recant and send me flowers.  However, this should serve as a cautionary tale to the rest of the community.  Leopards don't change their spots.

This election came perilously close to swinging the wrong way.  Early returns had John Swan on the Board instead of Vladimir, and likewise the early results for Measure N were grim.  We came really close to being deceived.  The message I hope people take away from this is that they need to stay involved so they can be informed.  We all have a responsibility to understand the issues on our own, not to just take the deceptive headlines of a shadowy campaign group that has neither a public face.  Look beyond the generic campaign-speak and understand where the candidates have been investing their time, so you have a deep understanding of how they will act when they're representing your interests.  If nothing else, don't drop off the map over the next two years- because I'm guessing we haven't seen the last time of sleazy big-money politics in our small California community.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Why I'm Voting No on Prop 2

I am a strong proponent for conservative spending plans.  Last year, when LASD saw our first budget surplus, I advocated setting aside some of that money to shore up our future pension liabilities.  When, then would I be voting No on Prop 2?

On the face of it, Prop 2 creates a rainy day fund to even out state expenditures in lean times.  Like much of what we see in politics, though, there's a catch.  Prop 2 also puts a cap in place, limiting the amount of reserves local school districts can carry.  In the case of LASD, that means we'll lose the ability to save for a rainy day ourselves.  We will depend entirely on Sacramento.  We won't be able to have a special reserve to cover our healthcare obligations to retirees, and we won't be able to save money for the next recession when it comes.

Gov. Brown's logic is that the State of California will carry the reserve, which will then remove the need for local Districts to carry one.  That would be great, if the State had a solid track record in this regard.  However, one only need look at how they've handled their Prop 98 obligation (wherein the voters required that at least 39% of state budgets go to education).  In the past several years, when times got tight, Sacramento said simply "we'll owe you that money".  Literally- we have an outstanding Prop 39 receivable from the State of California that we never expect to get paid.

I want to keep control here at the local level.  We know what is best for our community.  Let our local community formulate how we spend and save.  Keep control here.

{If this post sounds familiar, it should.  I wrote about this back in June.  At the time, we were hoping that the Legislature would correct this problem before Prop 2 made it onto the ballot.  unfortunately they did not.  As a result, I can't support the measure.}

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Letter to the Town Crier

When last week's Town Crier came out, I was disappointed that they chose to be neutral on Measure N.  This is the letter I sent in (which was admittedly too long for them to print.)  To their credit, they had Jeff Baier and me in to speak with them.  I'm hoping that they will still reconsider and endorse the measure.  It's too important to our community not to pass.

From: Doug Smith 
Date: Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 10:26 PM
Subject: Please correct your greiveous error
To: "Bruce (Town Crier)" , Paul Nyberg , Bischoff Howard


I write today to ask that you please correct the terrible mistake you've made in not endorsing Measure N.  I believe that the logic you have used to reach this conclusion is flawed and relied on incorrect information provided by people whose sole agenda is to hurt LASD.  Further, the impact to our community will be far reaching and devastating if Measure N does not pass.

Your conclusions in the editorial miss key facts, and appear to rely more on commentary from bond opponents instead of primary research.  
  • Measure N provides language that is equally specific as several other local bond measures, including ones run by Palo Alto and Cupertino.  The rhetoric from the No team is unsupported on this topic.  We would be glad to meet with you and review those measures if you would like.
  • The editorial implies that the Board of Trustees is less committed to the primary purpose of the bond - building a new school - simply because we've spent less time in public session discussion it.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is specifically *because* we know that is the #1 priority that we needn't dwell on it.  The need for a new school site is not in dispute, and therefore requires no debate.  How to spend remaining proceeds is still subjective, and we thus spent more time on that topic.  But in the board  is fully committed to a new school site as the #1 priority of the bond.  It is spelled out in every presentation and in the instructions we provided to the FMPC. 
  • The editorial references a list of $300m worth of projects, implying that all of those projects are at existing sites.  A careful review of the FMPC documents will show that the $300m figure actually INCLUDES building one, possibly two new schools.  Of the $300m figure, more than 40% of that came from estimated costs to build a new site or sites.  Projects at existing sites represent a "wish list" and the Board has been crystal clear that this takes a back seat to accommodating growth.  Further, several or all of the candidates currently running have pledged not to spend money at existing sites until the 10th site is resolved.
The impact to our community if we fail to pass this bond is dramatic and painful.  Absent a new site, LASD would likely need to close an existing school to redraw boundaries and allocate space to BCS at the end of the 5 year agreement.  In doing so, the District would then be placing ~5200 LASD students on the remaining 8 sites in the 2018-19 school year.  Given our site locations and student distribution, we will be running several elementary schools over 750 students.  Picture the traffic jams at West Portola, except they'd occur at every site in the district.  That doesn't even touch on the decline in program quality.  LASD favors small schools because staff know each student by name, and no one gets "lost."  We have staff and administrators with substantial experience in larger schools in other districts.  They consistently cite our smaller school size as a key factor in our success.  Should we sacrifice all of that success now?

The editorial comes to the conclusion that we must take more time to plan.  With all due respect, we've been planning this for over two years.  We spend tremendous effort evaluating the need for additional site(s).  We've been looking at possible sites and we have run smack into the reality that, without cash in hand, we are being outpaced by developers who are rapidly tying up what might be viable options.  To say that we must have the perfect plan before we pass the bond is akin to saying that a parent shouldn't save money for college until he  sees the child's SAT scores.  By the time the savings start, it is too late.

Earlier this year, the Town Crier bemoaned the lack of candidates willing to run for public office.   If the standard we set for our public projects is that they must be perfect before they earn our support, I'd suggest we all settle in for a long stream of uncontested elections.  Who will put themselves through the work to formulate a plan for downtown if we constantly say "well, it isn't perfect yet"?  We need to be more practical about how we work as a community.  The LASD Board has been exceptionally transparent and hyper-inclusive as we've gone about our work over the past 5 years.  We hold community forums, collect input, and publicly debate options before reaching decisions.  It is not practical to say that the new board must define a plan down to the last light switch before we'll endorse a bond campaign.

I've gritted my teeth as I watched the Town Crier give 50/50 coverage throughout the conflict with BCS.  I simply didn't think that it was necessary to give equal ink to both sides, without regard to the merit of the arguments.  However, in a news column I at least understand you're trying to inform the public of what is going on.  In the editorial section, though, you are community leaders, helping to shape the future of Los Altos.  I would urge you to rethink this issue, and to come back with a clear statement that, while not perfect, the bond needs to be passed.  As a community, we have the ability to oversee the funds.  The law provides for this as a requirement of the bond.  This is not a $150 blank check- they are funds held in trust, and will be spent in accordance with the wishes of the voters.  But we desperately need to pass this bond - right now.

If it would be helpful, I can be available to meet with any or all of you on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.  I would urge you to print a positive endorsement immediately, before any more absentee ballots are cast.


Douglas J Smith

Monday, October 20, 2014

Truth in Campaigning (c. 2014)

Update: 10/22/2014, 8:46pm

Since i posted this article, the filings at the county have been updated to remove the independent expenditures and reclassify funds as being spent directly with the campaigns.  It appears that the "Parents" PAC has been working too closely with the candidates, and has updated their filings to reflect that.  I certainly applaud the honesty, but it opens new questions.  The new form shows a combined total of  over $12,500 in expenditures for Martha McClatchie and John Swan.  This is starting to take on the air of someone with an agenda...  Updated docs are found here and here

Original Post follows:

A couple of years ago, I wrote a few pieces about the campaigning process, and why it was important for folks to understand who is funding political campaigns.  In the last election cycle, the BCS candidates tried to disguise their affiliation with BCS, which seemed disingenuous to me.

Fast forward two years, and we have the same problem all over again.  I've never been a great fan of PAC's.    (See my blog posts from October 2012 for clarification).  I find it even more troubling when groups try to dress themselves up as something they are not.

There is a new direct mail piece out in support of Martha McClatchie's candidacy for LASD Board of Trustees.  As a reminder, I met with Martha and found her willingness to cloak information from our community to be troubling.  (See Endorsements )  However, there's a new mailer out that tries to give the impression that Martha has significant support from LASD parents.  This has not been my experience, and it isn't helped by the facts underlying this mailer.

The return address on the mailer is 1787 Tribute Road, Suite K, Sacramento, CA 95815 which is the home of this political consulting company:

The mailer traces back to a PAC registered at 26625 St. Francis Road, Los Altos Hills.  A quick search of county tax records shows this address not to be located in LASD.  It turns out this is the home of David Spector- a member of the BCS legal team.

The group's campaign filings are available in Santa Clara.  A diligent community member chased these down and I am posting them here.  One might reasonably ask why I've posted them, and the answer is simple: transparency.  It is important to know whose interests someone represents.  

In the most recent filing from this group, I'd note that there a current and former BCS Board members, BCS founding families, and other vocal supporters of BCS.  There's also a community member who is actively involved in the "No on N" campaign.  Read the list, and decide for yourself.  The filing also shows that they've spent nearly $10,000 on this mailer alone.  Mind you, when I ran for the LASD Board in 2009, I spent about $3500.  They're spending nearly 3x that on a single mailer.  I would also wonder whether the filing itself even complies with the legal requirements.  On the form, it requires "Full Name, Street Address, and Zip Code of Contributor" - yet the contributors are not listed by street address- simply by city.

All I can say is, I'm glad we live in a state with aggressive campaign finance disclosure laws.

As I said in my previous post- being a BCS parent or supporter doesn't automatically disqualify someone from the LASD Board in my mind.  Technically, one might argue that these folks live within the LASD boundaries and they might even be parents.  However, they don't appear to be largely parents of children in LASD schools.  

This pattern of strong support from the BCS community further supports my concern that Martha doesn't understand the LASD community.  We expect transparency and integrity from our public officials.  In my opinion, this mailer falls well short of the mark.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Endorsements 2014

It's election time, and like most folks in our community, I'm casting my ballot.  I don't pretend to be an expert in all things political, but I will share my thoughts on a couple of matters, given my close involvement with the schools over the past 5 years.

For LASD Board of Trustees:
Tamara Logan
Sangeeth Peruri
Vladamir Ivanovic

Tammy Logan has worked incredibly hard over the past 5 years to put the necessary ingredients in place for the success of our District.  She is a tireless voice for our students, and has been willing to challenge other board members when she felt we weren't doing the right thing.  Striking that balance is a delicate art, and Tammy has done it well.

Tammy also played a key role in the negotiations with BCS.  I was proud to have her as a partner in the final rounds over the summer.  The "peace treaty" that resulted was shaped in many ways by Tammy's thinking.

I am confident that Tammy will continue to be an asset for our students and our community, and I am excited to cast my ballot for her re-election.

Sangeeth Peruri is a relative new-comer to the LASD community.  His kids are younger, and he is not afraid to test the conventions of "how things have been done".  He has served ably in the Covington PTA, and has worked diligently on the LASD Citizens Advisory Council on Finance (CACF).   I have spent substantial time with Sangeeth over the past year as he tested our assumptions about the right path with BCS.  He has also built a substantial knowledge of our schools by engaging multiple points of view.   He is not afraid to throw himself into the work, which will help him ramp up on the board quickly.

Vladimir Ivanovic is another CACF member, and is the current CACF chair.  Over the years he has been a regular attendee at our board meetings.  He has put in the time to learn what the board is doing, why we've made the decisions we have made, and to share his own perspective when he felt it was important.  He is well versed in our financial status, which will be important as the District starts to wrestle with the expiration of the Measure E parcel tax and simultaneously increasing contributions to shore up state pensions.  His work also includes the Gardner Bullis Technology Committee, the GB Site Council, and a number of other groups.  He isn't a huge fan of public speaking, but I've always found his reasoning to be sound.  He is also a tireless advocate for open government, which remains important in our community.

I am not able to endorse Mathra McClatchey or John Swan for the LASD Board of Trustees.

Martha has been an active BCS parent for the entirety of my 5 years on the Board.  This doesn't disqualify someone outright, but it certainly raises questions about how well they know LASD.  I met with Martha to discuss specific issues, and found her knowledge of the LASD program to be lacking.  She instead proposed that her knowledge of what draws people away from LASD should be an asset.  I disagree.  I am also troubled by her direct involvement in the cloaking of expenditures by BCS.  She was the treasurer of the Bullis Foundation when BPEF was covertly signing checks to PR firms and lawyers.  When I asked her about these expenditures, she was quite clear that there is such a thing as "too much transparency".  I do not believe the community's interests are served by making off-book expenditures and hiding from the public how money is being spent.  As the old saying goes, "if you wouldn't do it in the light of day, you probably shouldn't be doing it at all."

John Swan is one of the original founding families at BCS.  Although his children have been out for a while, I see no evidence that he has remained active in K-8 education leadership.  He only recently started attending LASD Board meetings, so his learning curve would be steep.  John's editorials in the Town Crier seem to indicate that he feels LASD is broken in some significant way.  He complains about teachers in generic language more suited to big city school districts, not LASD.  His own children haven't attended an LASD elementary school since 2003, so I'm not sure on what basis he would make that assertion.  His editorials are rife with rhetoric from the charter movement about what is wrong with education, but it bears little resemblance to our award winning schools and exceptionally dedicated staff and administration.  John just doesn't seem to have a handle on what we are doing in our schools, and what makes them such a unique place for children to learn.  He lacks the context of how our schools work or how to best engage with our staff and parent community, and I believe that would be a significant barrier to being an effective board member.

Yes on Measure N  We desperately need to pass measure N, so that we can build more schools and update our existing facilities.  Although some districts go out every 5-7 years, it has been much longer than that for LASD.  We desperately need to pass this measure to keep up with our exploding enrollment.  It is essential to the successful model that has earned LASD national and international recognition as a top tier school district.

Each of the trustees I have endorsed would be excellent stewards for the Measure N funds.  They are committed to an open process to refine specific expenditures and I believe they will make wise use of our precious capital.  They seek public input, and understand the need to stretch our dollars.  That is exactly what we want as we embark on the first major expansion of the District in many years.

I thank all of these folks for their interest and their willingness to serve.  I believe that Tammy, Sangeeth, and Vladimir will serve our community well, and I encourage you to give them your full support.

Monday, September 8, 2014

NY Times Article on Success Academy

Author's note: Although I am grateful for the recently signed peace treaty with BCS, I still have concerns about how charter law is structured.  Just as I assume BCS will continue to advocate for what they believe in, I will continue to highlight issues that I believe are important to the education community.  This article shouldn't be interpreted as a specific concern with BCS, but more a concern with the way state and federal laws are structured.

The NY Times presented a piece of Eva Moskowitz, head of the NYC charter chain Success Academy.  You can read the article here.

Diane Ratvich, a former charter advocate and now charter critic, was quoted in the article.  The quotes in the article seemed somewhat benign.  However, Diane has recently posted a follow-up of her own, indicating that the NYT author watered down her comments.  Here's a link to her article.

Whatever the truth is, I believe that the charter model can only be successful if it proves itself on a representative sample of students.  The only way for that to happen is really through conversion charters.  In a  conversion charter, an entire school is converted in place.  That school must admit all students in the area, and must meet all of their needs.  This approach would avoid the question of whether the student body is representative of the wider population.  Then we can gauge the results.  I look forward to seeing peer reviewed articles that look at this type of data.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Gov. Brown, the Meddler

Darn it!  I wish Sacramento would just keep their darn hands off local Districts.  In the latest affront to common sense, Gov. Moonbeam has passed a law that will require Districts to cap our reserves at 10% of revenues.  (article)

For those not familiar with the nuances of school funding, we are required by law to have a reserve of 3% of our annual revenue.  It's prudent to require that local districts have some amount of cushion that we can draw upon when times get lean.  But what genius thought it was a good idea to cap that reserve?  If we could squirrel away a larger reserve (say, 15% or 20%) and then guarantee that we wouldn't have to issue a single pink slip in a big recession, wouldn't that be a GOOD idea?  The article says some districts have reserves of 30%-50%.  I challenge lawmakers to show us one district with over 1000 students that has that kind of reserve.  LASD has 11% reserves, and we're considered very fortunate.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the Governor's way of buying political support.  At a state level, the CTA continues to press to minimize reserves because the most logical way a district spends reserves is on salary. By forcing districts to spend reserves, it helps the CTA membership, who in turn support Gov. Brown.  Nice trick, Jerry.

Now, I want to be clear.  I supported our recent pay raise for our teachers because it was the right thing to do.  They've worked very hard and have implemented a first class program that is achieving great results.  In negotiations, our particular teachers really do have a sense of cooperation with us.  But at a state level, the CTA and Jerry are just nuts.

PS:  The rationale behind all of this is that the State is going to carry reserves to make sure we don't need as much in our safety net.  That's great- except that the State has consistently raided the Prop 98 guaranteed funding we are supposed to receive.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Financial Responsibility

Recently a group of "community members" have been running ads in the local papers alleging that the LASD Board and administration isn't acting in a financially responsible manner.  Their ads have been riddled with factual inaccuracies (simple things that take 10 minutes on Google to confirm).  I could spend a lot of time correcting all of that, but I think it's a lot simpler to point to the professionals.

As we do every year, LASD issued some short term notes to the financial markets.  I won't bore readers with the mechanics, but it's something that schools across California do every year.  As part of the process, Standard and Poors rated us "SP1+", which is their highest rating for short term borrowing.  Their analysts cited LASD's strong financial fundamentals as a key aspect of the rating.

This isn't the first time we've received excellent marks from the rating agencies.  I wrote about it once before, but it's a common theme for LASD.  We're fortunate to have so many folks involved to make sure we do a good job of stewarding the community's resources.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Another win - no lawyers' fees!

Yesterday we received a ruling from the Superior Court that LASD does NOT have to pay BCS's legal fees from the 2009-2010 case.  I've already written a lot about the legal fees demand from BCS, and have chronicles quite a bit of this particular part of the legal drama.  (Link to all LASD Observer posts on attorney fees).

The judge spent the better part of 10 pages thoroughly dissecting every aspect of the BCS claim for fees.  It breaks down into two major findings:

1) BCS did not "win" enough of the 2009-10 case for them to claim they were entitled to fees.  The courts highlighted that on the key issues, such as their demand for the Gardner campus, the Appellate Court rebuffed the requests.

2)  Even if BCS had won enough of the case, they did not confer a "public benefit" on others.  That is, they stood to gain a great deal more than their costs in litigation, which means they really aren't eligible for legal fees.

An honest read of the ruling will show that the District's request for fees/ sanctions over and above the sanctions already issued was denied.  The courts pointed out, in effect, that this is high stakes litigation, and we're going to incur substantial costs.  I wish it didn't have to be this way, but that issue is largely under the control of a Board where I am not a member, so we'll take it as it comes.

I won't try to add a lot here, other than to thank the court for their thorough research on the issue.  Given the judicial record in this case, and the fact that BCS has (unsuccessfully) appealed many of the recent rulings, it appears that Judge Lucas was extra careful to dot every I and cross every T.  I know how she feels.  Still, it's nice to see the courts give such careful consideration to an issue and to be affirmed in the key aspects of the outcome.  I look forward to a time when the headline on this blog will indicate that LASD and BCS are both spending all of our resources in the classroom.

Once again, I'd like to thank Ray Cardozo at Reed Smith for his expert work in this case.  Ray has been extremely diligent going through a very difficult discovery process to uncover the facts that underpinned the district's successful defense in this matter.  Ray, Adam and Paul at Reed Smith, as well as John, Dino, and the rest of the team at BWS Law- thanks a million.  (OK, thanks $1.5M!)

And of course here is the ruling

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Truth in the Courts

In my other post today, I discuss the efforts of a community member to get a copy of Ken Moore's declaration in part of the recent court battles.  BCS thwarted that effort by seeking and obtaining a protective order to prohibit LASD from providing a copy of that deposition to the community member who sought it.  This post examines an important "story within the story" around that process.

In the recent battle over Ken Moore's deposition, BCS filed a request for a protective order to prevent LASD from delivering a copy of what we consider to be a public record* over to a member of the public who had requested that record.

In their argument to obtain the protective order, BCS started by suggesting that Ken Moore was concerned for his safety.  In his sworn declaration to the courts, he tells the court that he is afraid of kidnapping.  "One of the most significant ways I deal with the potentials threats has been to maintain as low visibility as I reasonably can. In that regard, I do not use Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or the the like.  I do not allow my place of employment, nor the boards that I am associated with, to post any photographic or other images of me".   Yet at the time of the hearing, he was personally featured in a promotional video on the front of the BCS web site.  He's identified by name, so there can be no doubt who he is.  (You can view that video here if you'd like  Ken Moore appears around the 6:20 mark.)  He also has appeared in various other publications like the Silicon Valley Business Journal.  So this clearly wasn't true.  Yet it appears in Moore's sworn declaration to the courts.

I've done declarations, and I can understand if someone made a mistake.  This seems unlikely, though, given the examples listed above and others that I won't include here.  Ken's declaration goes on, though.

"In support of the above goal of maintaining low visibility, I have asked the local newspapers to feel free to quote me, but not to use my likeness.  In light of safety concerns and the simple fact that I am a parent volunteer, the local papers have honored my request".  This statement seems to suggest a pretty sophisticated discussion with the local media.  I'm not an expert on the press, but from what I do know, they tend to consider editorial control to be sacrosanct.

Given my surprise at this statement, I did what a good reporter would do- I investigated.  I contacted the Los Altos Town Crier, The Mountain View Voice, The Daily Post, and the San Jose Mercury News.  Each and every one of these papers denied ever having had such an arrangement in place, or even having knowledge of any such request.  In various ways most of them said the that the suggestion they would make such an agreement was preposterous.

I also asked Mr. Moore himself.  He acknowledged that he had no such agreement with the Town Crier, but refused to elaborate on any discussions with other media outlets.

I submit that these statements are not minor and they are not mistakes.  This was absolutely improper.  In the next paragraph of his declaration, Mr Moore says "I was raised in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills and have lived there for nearly 60 years.  I greatly value the ability to walk the streets, shops, and restaurants and not be recognized or harassed by charter school detractors."  So apparently we've moved from kidnapping to plain old privacy.  But it gets better...

In an ex parte hearing with Judge Lucas, the BCS lawyers confessed that they wanted to prevent copying of the deposition "[b]ecause we believe there could be misuse, embarrassment, [and] harassment [of] our parent volunteers"   Really?  That's what we're worried about?  That someone is going to poke fun of the BCS Board?

According to this declaration, Mr. Moore keeps his image off the internet and he has an agreement with the local press not to run his picture either.  In reality, his attorney confessed to the judge that the real issue was a desire to suppress someone else's free speech, but she didn't correct anything in Moore's sworn statement.

Why do I care about this?  These are just minor details, aren't they?

Folks, this situation is difficult.  We are wrestling with issues of huge importance- literally, matters of Constitutional law, and issues that will shape the future of public education in our state for possibly decades to come.  If participants to these discussions feel that it's ok to invent "facts" to place before the court, we will *never* have any peace.  The community member who sought the video of the deposition lost his request.  I believe that the court was swayed by the declaration Mr. Moore provided.  That BCS was able to submit a false declaration to protect themselves from parody- that isn't how justice is supposed to work. As long as this is how we pursue this issue in the courts, without an honest airing of the facts, I fear that this issue will never be resolved.

*California law has a presumption that public records should be disclosed, unless there are extenuating circumstances.  I will concede that the statue around disclosure of depositions does include an exception for "embarrassment".  To my understanding that is meant to protect ordinary citizens if they need to file a suit involving medical malpractice, or a victim of a sexual assault.  I don't believe it was meant to protect people who are spending taxpayer funds to sue a public school district.  In this case, we're weighing "embarrassment" with the ability of citizens to understand how their government is functioning.

The Streisand Effect at BCS

In 2003 Barbra Streisand sued a photographer to block publication of photos of her home, citing privacy concerns.  In ruling against her the courts found that she did not have an absolute right of privacy, and that the public had a right to see the images. The irony was that in filing the lawsuit, she brought far more attention to the picture than would ever have been generated had she simply kept silent.   (Wikipedia page)

Why do I bring this up?  Strangely, BCS seems unaware of the Streisand Effect.  They have recently spent considerable legal effort to prevent the public from viewing the depositions of BCS Board Chair Ken Moore and former BCS Foundation Chair David Spector.

A member of the public filed a CPRA request asking the District to provide a copy of Moore's and Spector's depositions.  We get CPRA requests all the time- it is part of being a public entity.  The laws in California properly favor disclosure of public records so that the public understands how the government is doing their business.  It's not surprising that someone would want to see these videos.  After all, BCS, (a purportedly public school) is suing LASD, a public school district, for more than $2M in legal fees.  The basis of the BCS claim is certainly a matter of public interest.  Going straight to the source material- the depositions- is actually pretty smart, since it would give the viewer a direct view into the rationale of those who filed the lawsuit in the first place.

BCS started by suggesting that Ken Moore was concerned for his safety.  This was provably false, though.  (See my other post today).  Eventually, the truth comes out, though.  In an ex parte hearing with Judge Lucas, the BCS lawyers confessed that they wanted to prevent copying of the deposition "[b]ecause we believe there could be misuse, embarrassment, [and] harassment [of] our parent volunteers"   Really?  That's what we're worried about?  That someone is going to poke fun of the BCS Board? 

I try to give deference to the courts.  They are charged with a difficult job- sorting out this kind of dispute.  In this particular instance, though- I don't understand this ruling, try though I might.  Parody (the basis of BCS's request for the protective order) is protected First Amendment speech.  The First Amendment was specifically created to protect objectionable speech. After all, speech that is not objectionable speech rarely needs to be protected.  If it were up to me, I'd place the First Amendment and transparency of government above the possible embarrassment of a couple of community members who are suing the public schools.  That isn't my call to make, so I will respect the court order so I won't be posting the video here.  (For the record, I don't have a copy of it).  But I would encourage the public to get to know who these folks are.    

I hate to say this, but to my mind, this comes with the territory.  I've been on the LASD Board for 4 1/2 years.  In that time, people have said made plenty of false accusations and posted ridiculous and sometimes hateful things on Facebook, the Town Crier comments section, and elsewhere.  I don't like it, but it's part of the gig.  As citizens, we have a constitutional right to complain about our government.  When you step forward and take a leadership position to help govern a public school district, particularly as president or chairman of the Board signing  letters to the community and declarations to the court, well, some folks won't like what is being said.  But I didn't run to the courts and seek to hide from the public - all while spending the taxpayers' money.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hitting Home - Murrysville, PA

I have watched with great sadness over the past several years as violence in schools has become a national epidemic.  As a District Trustee, there's only one thing that matters to me more than making sure each child gets a great education- that is making sure they get home safely each night.

After Columbine, a friend of mine who was moving to Colorado intentionally chose to buy a house in Littleton.  "The chances of this happening twice in the same area are essentially zero," he told me.  Sadly, last year it did strike again at Arapahoe High School and his own children were in the high school.  We were all so grateful to know that his children were unharmed, but the same can't be said of every child who went to school that morning.

Still, that was in Colorado.  Sandy Hook, in Newton, CT,  was also "somewhere else", and it seemed to me that this "epidemic" was a serious problem, but it was affecting others.

Until yesterday.

I graduated from Franklin Regional High School on June 6, 1985.  I remember the date because I had the support of close friends through what were the toughest times my 17-year-old mind could imagine.  But I never faced anything like what my fellow Panthers faced yesterday when one of their classmates went on a spree and stabbed more than 20 people.  From this day forward, those kids will never have a "normal" high school experience.  There will be "before" and "after".  It will alter their lives permanently.

My kids are already asking about what happened.  I wish I had answers, but I don't.  How do you make kids feel safe in their hometown when something like this happens in my hometown?  But somehow I'm going to have to find the words...

The Los Altos School District already has drills and safety measures in place to deal with a crisis like this, but we have to do more.  Knowing how to manage a lock-down is nowhere near as important as making sure we don't need one in the first place.  We provide funding for CHAC, which is a great resource if a child is struggling.  Project Cornerstone talks about sticking up for other students, but it also emphasizes helping your fellow students.  We all need to make sure that any child who struggles gets the help they need.

As parents, we do not have the luxury of thinking this will only occur "somewhere else".  Murrysville, PA, Newton, CT, and Littleton, CO do not fit the stereotypes of places we associate with violence.  They aren't gang-ridden, overrun by drug dealers.  I can tell you- these are places just like Los Altos, Mountain View, and our wider community.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

More Views from the Outside : SCCSBA

This article was authored by Michael Gipe, President of the Santa Clara County School Board Association (SCCSBA). It appeared in the April 2013 SCCBA newsletter.


“The Los Altos School District will be a leader in revolutionizing learning for all students.” 

 That’s a fairly radical vision statement for a school district. Fomenting revolution? And it’s not just a catchphrase to post on their website. They really mean it, and have put their money where their vision statement is. For at least four years, Los Altos has been using non-traditional teaching strategies in many of their classrooms. Los Altos was the first public school district to partner with Khan Academy in a pilot program for junior high mathematics. With this experiment, they learned a lot about what works and what does not.

 Since then, they have enthusiastically incorporated technology and novel strategies into a blended instructional model for many classes. This focus on improving teaching and learning has solid support from the superintendent and board. They built a dedicated facility, called the iLearn Center, staffed with three full-time experienced teachers, which is used to pilot new methods and train teachers in their application in the regular classroom.

Public schools tend to be pretty conservative places. Today’s classrooms don’t look a lot different from those of a hundred years ago, even though dry erase marker odors have replaced chalk dust as the main environmental hazard. After all, why replace something that works, albeit imperfectly, with something new, unknown, and untried, especially when the consequences of a major failure will affect students for their entire lives.

However, the traditional model doesn't work well for all students, especially those who are more than one sigma away from average: special needs, gifted and talented, ethnic or racial minorities, disadvantaged by home or economic challenges.

 Los Altos is trying to improve on that picture even though they realize that not every idea they try will be successful. However, by rapidly cycling through the continuous improvement model -- Plan, Try, Assess, Revise, Redo – they've found that they can make real advancements.

 It seems to me that the Los Altos School District has 20/20 vision.

 ~Michael Gipe

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Play Space At Blach

At a recent LASD board meeting, quite a number of BCS parents expressed concern that BCS children at Blach had no place to play other than on the blacktop between the classrooms.  I believe this surprised most of the LASD board, since we provided for that in the 2013-14 facilities offer.  We actually had a lengthy debate when we constructed the facilities offer to provide both a way to share space (BCS and LASD kids playing together) and also a fall-back position in case the sharing didn't work out.

In point of fact, those parents have incorrect information.  LASD Superintendent Jeff Baier sent a letter today to BCS Principal Wanny Hersey to reiterate the sharing arrangements.  In his letter, he provides a copy of the sharing schedule that has been in place since November, and mentions that the BCS Asst. Principal Schwartzbaum have adjusted the schedule from time to time to meet the needs of the parties.  I provide a copy of the letter here in the hopes that BCS parents will see it and understand that the space has been provided properly.  Whether BCS chooses to use that space or not is entirely up to them, but the District has provided the space.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Passion Taking Root

Digging into a Passion

Last summer at EdCon 2013, one of the more interesting ideas floated by students was the concept of students creating their own electives.  Roughly based on Google's "20% time", it would allow students to create a course of study built around their own areas of passion.  The administrators in attendance were genuinely excited about this idea, and Sandra McGonagle at Blach wasted no time in putting this in place.  (Think about the timing for a moment- EdCon was held after the end of classes for the 2012-13 school year, yet in the fall of 2013, Sandra and her staff managed to get this up and running.  That in itself is impressive!)

So what has come from this?  Well, let's take a look at one student, Michael B. is an 8th grader at Blach who happens to be interested in botany.  Michael has been using his independent elective to explore this passion in greater depth.  Recently, he sent out a note via the weekly Blach newsletter to collect materials and build a living wall (a wall covered with plants.)  He wants to install it at Blach. Here's Michael's mock-up that he used in the approval process: 

Recently Michael and his parents visited the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco.  Apparently Michael has some admirers there as well.  Michael engaged in a discussion with some botanists there, and shared his website (Michael's Blog) with them.  They were so impressed that Michael will be interning in the Highland Tropics Gallery this summer, working directly for the botanist in charge of the gallery.  

It might be easy to think that Michael is just a "plant guy"- but he's not.  I'm told that he is involved in numerous school activities including the math team and yearbook.  As a parent of two teens, I already have tremendous respect for an 8th grader who puts together the effort and organization needed to complete this project.  For Michael to complete this project, while still remaining deeply involved in his other school activities (math team, yearbook co-editor, etc.)- well, that's an impressive young man.  

I'm thrilled that we've played some part in facilitating his deeper dive into a subject that holds his interest.  I'm thrilled when I see things like this in our schools.  This is what education is supposed to be about - inspiring students to go beyond the classroom, and learn even more.   If you ask Sandra about this, she'll undoubtedly be modest in her reply, but this is exactly what make LASD such an exciting place- our staff, our parents, and our students all work together to help each child explore their passion.  Well done, everyone!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Advocating for the Overthrow of Local Government

Our situation with our local charter school is fairly unique, so I try not to get too wrapped up in the politics of "The Charter Movement".  However, there are some things that i just can't accept- one of which is advocating that local communities should have no control over how their tax dollars should be spent.  The following is a direct quote from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings' keynote at the California Charter School Association's annual conference:

"Now if we go to the general public and we say, “Here’s an argument why you should get rid of school boards” of course no one’s going to go for that. School boards have been an iconic part of America for 200 years.  So what we have to do is to work with school districts to grow steadily, and the work ahead is really hard because we’re at 8% of students in California, whereas in New Orleans they’re at 90%, so we have a lot of catchup to do"

For just a moment I'll look past the obvious failure of so many schools in Louisiana.  Using them as a model is ridiculous.  But the idea that someone is literally advocating that local communities are not to be trusted to educate their own children?  Who in the hell do these people think they are?  How is it that Hastings thinks he is better qualified to run the Los Altos School District than the people of our own community?

Here's the short highlight from Mr. Hastings' address:

And here's the full address:

I am the first to acknowledge that not every community has a district as successful as LASD.  However, the fundamental principle that the citizens of this country are best suited to make judgments about how we shall be governed- that exists long before the CCSA or Mr. Hastings ever came along.

Folks, if your goal is to subvert the ability of local citizens to govern their own lives, there are places for that kind of behavior.  Many countries thrive under that system of government.  Just not here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Kind words from a visitor

We received this nice note from someone who recently visited Santa Rita.  I thought it was worth sharing their perspective on our schools.  Well done, Santa Rita!


Dear Mr. Land,

    My husband, daughter, son-in-law, and I visited your school on February 5th. Thank you for your time, thoroughness, and tour.  We were quite impressed with all aspects of the school.  My husband was Director of Elementary Schools, supervising 33 elementary principals in Lexington, Kentucky and is currently an educational consultant with Safe and Civil Schools.  Although I taught middle grades math, I was a NSF math coach for our state working with teachers and schools at all levels.  I mention this only to let you know that we have been in hundreds of schools and we know what a welcoming, quality school feels like.  We appreciated your warm welcome and contagious enthusiasm for Santa Rita School.  The Office Staff greeted us as welcome guests, rather than distractions.  The teachers we observed and with whom we spoke briefly were knowledgeable,  friendly, and took obvious pride in their jobs and their kids.  And the most important part of a school; the kids!  When we gathered in the courtyard with you, one of the upper classes was in transition.  As they left their classroom door and spotted guests in their midst, they gave each other signals to be quiet as they moved past us.  Yes, they were well-behaved, but even better, they were so happy! We witnessed that across the tour; children engaged and smiling.  The kindergarten boy, who explained the 100 day necklace to us, could barely contain his enthusiasm as he said, "And we get to eat it when we get home!!!"  Santa Rita has a beautiful campus and it was so good to see the outdoors used as part of the educational space.  Your school has many innovative programs and offerings with involvement potential for parents as well as school staff and students.

   During the tour, my daughter asked you about entrance skills for incoming kindergartners. Your response, for the family to encourage reading and the joy of learning rather than being overly concerned with checking off skills from a checklist, was exactly what we needed to hear.  You assured us that you will work with students as individuals, teaching each at his/her level.  Shortly after our visit, I came across the the article with the attached link. I thought you would enjoy reading it. 

   I'm sorry that I didn't get names, but I want to thank the first grade teacher who took time from her busy planning period to explain the first grade literacy program.  Please thank the kindergarten teachers for letting us interrupt their day. I want to end with one of the most impressive interactions we experienced.  My husband returned to Santa Rita on February 7 (without an appointment or prior phone call) to pick up an enrollment packet, and the staff member at the front desk greeted him by saying, "You're Henry's grandfather!"  Quite amazing! We wish we knew her name to reciprocate!

    Again, please thank the entire staff at Santa Rita School for allowing us to tour the school and experience and enjoy the unique environment.


Bob and Kathy (Henry's grandparents)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Being Civil Online

I don't often quote others on my blog, but this post from David Pogue is one worth sharing.  A good point for us all to keep in mind as we email and post online.

Here's the intro...

When’s the last time a total stranger walked up to you at a party and just started berating you?
“You should be ashamed of yourself. You should be fired for being such a spineless shill. Maybe they’ll replace you with someone who has a clue.”
I’m guessing that no stranger has ever spoken to you like that. Nobody except the tragically unstable would open a conversation with you, in person, with that kind of intensity.
But online, this happens all the time. 
I'd strongly encourage everyone to read the full blog post, here and to think about this as we interact online.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Wisdom from Blach: Pick Yourself

I get the weekly newsletters from each of our schools,  I often admire Sandra McGonagle's take on things.  She either has wonderful original stories, or occasionally finds someone else's inspirational writing to share with the families.  It's a great reflection on where she is as an educator and a leader.  Here's a winner from this week:

Dear Blach Families,
Even at this age we have students suffering from “Bat Boy Syndrome”. Seth Godin’s latest blog post on the topic really had me thinking. It’s worthwhile enough to quote the entire short post.
Here's a common fantasy: Your team wins the pennant. It goes on to the World Series. It wins! And you're there for it, all along, the bat boy, helping out the sluggers, doing your job, proximity to greatness.
The line to get a job at Disney and Google and Pixar is long indeed. Countless people eager to get picked to join a winning team. Not as the person who is going to have to step up and cause success, no, the opportunity sought is to be on the team, to bask without being asked for heroics (which of course, carry risk).
The industrial culture, the resume-building mindset—it's no wonder so many have bat boy syndrome. The alternative, the alternative of picking yourself, is frightening because we've been hoodwinked and brainwashed into believing that it's not up to us. But it is.”
Here at Blach we have long lines to get into Leadership, Student Cabinet, sports teams...the list goes on. However, it appears that having the title is enough for many. They don’t want to take the risk, do the work, or put themselves on the line. Only a very few understand that THEY ARE THE GREATNESS.
The big question is how to we get more to see that BEING THE GREATNESS is so much better than being the bat boy and that we all have the potential to be GREAT if we believe?
Here's to “picking yourself”.
Well said, Sandra.  And I love how you're putting that into action at Blach.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

3D learning

There's a great article in the Town Crier about LASD's partnership with zSpace, a company that makes 3D workstations.  (Read the article)

What's interesting about this is it is a great example of sustained innovation.  LASD has been engaged with zSpace for several years.  We've looked at what they had and provided them feedback about how we'd like to use it.  As recently as this past spring, I reviewed the workstations and software, and there were still gaps in what we needed to make it useful.  I'm thrilled with what zSpace has done in just 8 months.  They've been able to enhance their product in ways that make it much more useful for education by adding content that aligns with our curriculum.   

This partnership is great for both parties.  It benefits zSpace because they get clear feedback from a school district that is well known for innovation.  In my discussions with zSpace executives, they observed that our staff is very helpful in asking for what we need to take advantage of the technology.  On our side, we continue to bring leading-edge technologies to our students.  The kids are deeply engaged in learning, and it is a useful applied learning- tied to curriculum, but engaging students.  When kids are this excited about the content, they'll continue to explore on their own.  It's exactly what we want them to do.

Hats off to Alyssa Gallagher and the rest of the LASD team for uncovering and cultivating another great way to engage our students!