Thursday, October 20, 2016

Don't get snowed by BCS: Vote for Bryan Johnson for LASD

I try pretty hard to stay away from school politics.  While I'm passionate about the topic, I want to respect the people who have taken up the mantle and are running the district.

Elections are another matter entirely.

I am often asked my opinion of the candidates for local elections.  As I have done in the past, I'm applying my experience on the board, my history in working with many different parties, and my own judgement about what direction we want to travel in the future.

Bryan Johnson For LASD
Bryan is well qualified to be an LASD trustee.  He has volunteered countless hours at Santa Rita where he is a parent.  He also has attended many, many school board meetings and spoken up when he felt compelled to do so.  He will hit the ground running because he has context.  He understands what we're doing in our schools today, and can provide his thoughtful input to the process.  I have no doubt about Bryan's ability to be a positive force for our children.

This coming board will have to deal with critical issues like how to share the bond proceeds fairly amongst our students.  Bryan has the experience and the temperament to do this wisely and thoughtfully.  I trust that he will weight the interests of all public school students who live in our community (and yes, that includes BCS students).

Tanya is a BCS Parent - and has no place on the LASD Board
Having negotiated the BCS peace treaty, I am not trying to cast a bunch of aspersions here.  However, I fundamentally do not believe that someone who has chosen to send their kids outside of LASD can be as effective a trustee as someone who has current, up-close experience with our schools.  If you don't know what's going on in our classrooms, how can you help set policy effectively?

I'm also troubled by Tanya's blatant attempts to distort the truth of her allegiance.  She speaks of volunteering for LASD schools for over a decade.  Let's examine that a bit.  She did volunteer when her kids attended LASD schools, but as soon as she got them into BCS, she quit working for LASD schools.  I don't fault her for that- most parents volunteer where their kids attend.  But again, it is hard to know what LASD kids need if you're spending your time elsewhere.

Tanya did work on a district committee to discuss possible school sites, but I was part of the board that appointed her to that committee.  We were crystal clear about Tanya's involvement- she was included to represent the perspective of BCS parents.  While that may be appropriate on a committee, it is not appropriate for the full board.

Also I dug into the financial records for the two candidates.  Bryan received numerous donations from a cross section of community members.  Not surprising.  (See Bryan's 460 here)  Tanya has far out-raised and out-spent Bryan.  (Tanya's 460)  Interestingly, the vast majority of her money is from anonymous donors.  Now, one might read this as innocuous.  After all, a candidate is only required to disclose the names of donors who give more than $100.  Tanya lists only 4 (two of whom are BCS founding families).  The remaining $4556 is all in donations of less than $100.  (for those who don't want to do the math, that's 46 donations of $99 and one $2 donation).  Why am I suspicious of this?  Because last election, I took a lot of flak from BCS when I called out the fact that almost all of Martha McClatchie's money came from BCS families.  It isn't hard to imagine a campaign strategy where donors are asked to give only $99 so that there isn't a big paper trail that goes back to BCS.

Why do I get so annoyed about this?  After all, I've certainly known BCS parents who are more difficult to work with than Tanya.  First, and I've said this before, I value transparency in local government.  Hiding one's allegiance seems like a sleazy thing to do, particularly in our very well educated community.  If you believe it is time for a BCS candidate on the LASD board, then have the courage of your convictions.  Run as a BCS candidate.  But don't lie about your background in an attempt to hoodwink the local voters.

I also worry about what happens if things go south.  After all, part of the job of the board is to defend the district in the event of litigation.  Picture this scenario:  If the BCS board decides they are unhappy with how the bond funds are spent, what happens if they sue LASD?  Do we really want a BCS parent in closed session with LASD attorneys, mapping out legal strategy? Although Tanya's term would expire before the peace treaty is done, does anyone think this isn't an "entry point" to have a BCS supporter on the board after the treaty has expired?

As a final thought, I like to apply the "mirror test".  If things were reversed, how would people react?  For example, I'm a retired board member with 5 years of service to public education in a high performing local district.  Yet, I would fully expect that BCS parents would be up in arms if I were to lobby to join the BCS board.  After all, my kids went to LASD schools.  I am not a deep expert in their program. Why would LASD parents be better served by having a BCS parent on our board?  We wouldn't.

I don't bear some enormous grudge against Tanya.  However, I think our kids are best served by a candidate I know will ALWAYS place the welfare of our students first in his deliberations.  I will be voting for Bryan Johnson.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Privacy alert: All parents need to act immedately

I just sent the letter below to the CSBA, urging them to intervene in a legal case in federal courts.  In a nutshell, a judge has just decreed that the California Department of Education must release the records of EVERY STUDENT in the State to the "Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association".

Here are a couple of articles that describe the legal dispute:
(San Diego Tribune Article)
(Mercury News Article)

In my considered opinion, these folks are underselling the risk of data breaches.  (See my letter, below)

Here's the notice posted on the Calif Dept of Education Website (CDE Website)
This link includes a form to fill out so that you can opt out of disclosure.  This means your student's information would NOT be disclosed to this third party- but you must file the form promptly. The data will be released on April 1, 2016.

Here's my letter to the CSBA:

Vernon, Keith-

I'm writing to add to what I can only assume is a chorus of voices urging the CSBA and local school districts to take action on Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association, et al. v. California Department of Education, USDC-Eastern District of California, Case No. 2:11-cv-03471-KJM-AC

This case is perhaps the worst judicial over-reach I've ever witnessed.  Compelling the State to turn of all student data for the entire state to a group of private individuals is nothing short of outrageous.  I used to think that FERPA, the Butler Act, and a host of other laws prohibit this sort of nonsense.  I'm sure you're much more familiar with the legal nuances, so I won't try to engineer your legal argument.  Suffice it to say this cannot be permitted to stand.

I serves on the LASD Board of Trustees, including a term as board president, and I chaired the litigation committee through much of our fight with the Bullis Charter School.  During the course of that litigation, we actually showed cause and obtained their list of students-- and that took a mountain of legal paperwork.  Even in that specific instance, where we could show the likelihood of a pattern of wrongdoing to a judge, we still granted the most onerous (Attorney eyes only) protective orders conceivable.  This case appears to grant MHCP full access without much more than a passing thought about what might happen to a database of every single student in the State of California.  

In my day job, I run a credit card processing business.  We hold over 180M credit cards, and we have considerable expertise in data protection and hacking attempts.  If you think credit cards are a tempting target, I can tell you from deep experience that identity information such as what it proposed here is a far more tempting target for hackers.  The identity information on a couple million school kids would fetch a huge price on the black market, as it would enable criminals to obtain credit for years before it is detected by the victims.  Fortune 100 corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually trying to protect consumer data-- and they fail.  (Home Depot, Target, Neiman Marcus, and many others).  What on earth makes us think that a group of "concerned parents" has the technical sophistication to protect the entire student list for the state of California?

If I were on the Board today, I would actually urge non-compliance until a stay can be issued, and until this ridiculous order can be overturned.  Meanwhile, I urge the CSBA to immediately intervene in this proceeding and do whatever it takes to ensure the confidentiality of all student records.  If there is a legitimate issue under this case, compel the CDE to deal with it by providing summary data- not by granting access to the identity of every student in the state.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.  If there's any further information I can provide, please let me know.

Douglas J Smith