It may come as a shock to the Los Altos School District community to hear that it doesn’t control its public schools. We think we control our schools, we love to brag about how our activist and generous community sustains its amazing schools, but in a very real sense we’re not in control.
You might argue that we do have democratically controlled public education because LASD voters elect our district Trustees, and you’d be somewhat right. We believe our elected Trustees defend our collective interests and run our schools, but this belief is somewhat misplaced. Even our democratically elected Trustees do not have full control over LASD’s finances, facilities and curriculum.
In important ways, the Santa Clara County Board of Education exerts greater control over LASD than our locally elected Trustees through their interpretation and administration of California Charter School Law.
The seven members of the county Board of Education are elected but LASD voters have only minority influence over just the single ‘Area 1’ member since LASD represents a minority of the total Area 1 voter base. The Area 1 representative on the county Board of Education is elected by voters from Palo Alto Unified School District, Los Altos School District, Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, Mountain View-Whisman Elementary School District, a majority of the Sunnyvale Elementary School District and the Fremont High School District.
Even if 100% of LASD voters opposed an ‘Area 1’ candidate, if enough voters in the rest of Area 1 supported them, they would win election to the county Board and LASD voters would hold no sway over the outcome of the race.
Because LASD voters have no meaningful representation on the county Board of Education, in a very real sense, when the County Board of Education asserts control over LASD, it effectively disenfranchises LASD voters and suspends democratic control over our state-leading public schools.
County Board policies may be created that we cannot meaningfully influence, decisions may be taken that oppose or even override the majority will of LASD voters and burdens may be placed on LASD that undermine our top-notch public schools, but there is almost nothing our community can do about it. This has been our situation for at least ten years, and arguably since 1992, but most of us don’t understand that it’s true or how it could happen.
California Charter Law in the hands of the current Santa Clara County Board of Education represents a real and present danger for local democracy and traditional public education.
LASD is not uniquely compromised in this way. The same is true of voters, Trustees and school districts throughout Santa Clara County. Until Charter Law or the members of the Santa Clara County Board of Education change, this threat to democratically-controlled public education will persist for LASD and all other public school districts in Santa Clara County.