John Swan: Building a bridge to… the Twilight Zone

Consider, if you will, a few things we know about Los Altos School District:

  • Its elementary and middle schools have been repeatedly recognized for consistent academic excellence by both the California and US Departments of Education.
  • It’s recognized by local and foreign educators, media, and private organizations as an innovative public school district in Silicon Valley.
  • It’s the only school district in its region with a Citizen’s Advisory Committee for Finance (CACF) that provides long-term budget and planning support.
  • It’s the only district in California awarded the GFOA Certificate of Achievement of Excellence in Financial Reporting each of the past 10 years.
  • It has been awarded the Meritorious Budget Award by the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO) each year for the past 14 years.
  • Was rated the most financially efficient Basic Aid school district in California by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) at its 2010 (SF)² Spring Symposium.

Yet a certain anti-LASD contingent (that shall not be named) accuses LASD of being a stagnant, bloated government monopoly that resists innovation and isn’t equipped to prepare students for the realities of the 21 century… blah, blah, blah…  UGH!  ENOUGH!!

Doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo…

Sometimes, life here in Lake Wobegon feels more like… the Twilight Zone.


Now let’s consider another example of reality distortion.

twilight_zoneWe know that John Swan:

  • Chose to leave LASD when its campus in Los Altos Hills closed, becoming a founder of Bullis Charter School.
  • Felt he and his neighbors were being ‘milked’ for taxes by LASD so he launched a ‘community art’ protest “until a public school has been restored to Los Altos Hills.”
  • Never returned to LASD after the district’s Los Altos Hills campus re-opened.
  • Founded a Los Altos Hills group focused exclusively on the wants and needs of Los Altos Hills residents

Before Swan was a candidate for LASD Trustee he publicly called for Los Altos Hills to secede from both the Los Altos and Palo Alto Unified School Districts.

Yet on his campaign website, Swan says:

“I’m running for all the public school children in LASD and to build harmony in our community.”

His endorsers say things like:

“John Swan has demonstrated his effectiveness in fostering collaboration and building bridges” —Val Carpenter

And ‘independent’ political mailers say things like:

“Bringing Us Together: As a founder of the Los Altos Hills Public Education Committee […] John brings people with diverse opinions together to improve public education.”

[NOTE: Los Altos Hills is split between two school districts. Depending on where a student lives within the town of Los Altos Hills, s/he may start kindergarten in either a Los Altos or Palo Alto Unified school. Both are terrific public school districts.]

As a founder of the Los Altos Hills Public Education Committee, John Swan worked with a group of Los Altos Hills residents that lobbied for their separate interests, based largely on the notion that they paid so much more property and parcel taxes. They wanted control of a separate destiny, feeling they were being unfairly used by their school districts—’divided’ as they are between LASD and PAUSD. They felt they lacked autonomy they deserved because they paid more taxes.

Swan wrote to the Palo Alto Weekly in April 2006, in decidedly rebellious language:

Together we stand…


Los Altos Hills should proceed with redistricting. To use the Revolutionary War slogan: “Together we stand, divided we fall.” The neighboring school districts have used our division as a town to their advantage. As a Bullis Charter School (BCS) parent of two kids, I would love to see BCS at the Bullis site. However, if it comes at the cost of keeping our town divided, I would vote to keep them at the trailer park and fix the problem once and for all. Our town should be united. However, after 30 months of exploring all of our options, it was determined that redistricting was the only way to assure that we could unite the town and have long-term autonomy. Why certain members of our town council chose at the 11th hour to try to negotiate a quick fix, with parties that have not been honorable in the past, confounds me.

John Swan

Burke Road

Los Altos Hills

That’s not language of peace-making, bridge-building or compromise, it’s a separatist call to arms. Swan says he is confounded when members of the Los Altos Hills Town Council achieved compromise rather than seek independence.

Fine, Swan lobbies for what he wants… but “what Swan wants” may be a moving target. At one time, Swan just wanted a public school in Los Altos Hills. But when the Los Altos School District re-opened its Bullis Campus, Swan didn’t get back on the LASD bus.

With all this history in mind:

  • Is John Swan really a bridge-builder or has he shown himself to be more an advocate and divider on this particular issue?
  • How can we be sure Swan isn’t still angling for advantage for Los Altos Hills residents in his run for LASD Trustee?
  • Are Swan’s politics still animated by the “pay-to-play” mindset evinced by the LAH PEC’s drive for independence on the basis of paying more property taxes?
  • What are Swan’s political promises as an LASD candidate and how long will he honor them given the extensive, expensive campaigning by the BCS contingent?
  • Why should we believe he has professional experience as a “peace maker,” and how can we know it would be dispassionately applied in the role of public servant?

After all, as a member of the Los Altos Hills Public Education Committee, his professional bridge-building experience could have applied, but he instead chose to encourage Los Altos Hills to secede from TWO excellent public school districts. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed, recognizing that the bridge Swan was selling went nowhere.

Both the Swan and McClatchie campaigns are heavy on the “bridge-building,” “every child,” “21st century education” and “financial responsibility” themes, as if these are gaping holes in the current LASD governance team that we desperately need to close. But they’re clearly not.

The bottom line, as I see it, is both Swan and McClatchie have anti-LASD histories and agendas. They want what they want, they don’t like to be told “No” and they have a cadre of likeminded LASD antagonists surrounding them. They promise dubious reforms and accuse LASD of a wide range of deficiencies, but we know better.

LASD simply does not suffer from the deficiencies Swan & McClatchie accuse it of having, so their remedy is uncalled for. We don’t need them as Trustees.

How a candidate with Swan’s record of intense pursuit of separate and self interest can campaign as a public-minded peace-maker and bridge-builder, I don’t know. It’s almost like he’s living in another dimension, a reality unknown to the rest of us.

Doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo…



1 thought on “John Swan: Building a bridge to… the Twilight Zone

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