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