Tanya is BCS, Bryan is LASD

OMG, look at the time—we gotta dig into these elections—and not a minute too soon, because it may be only mid-October, but it’s already election day for most voters. (Huh?)

After being active in the last couple of election cycles, I’ve been largely on the sidelines this year. In past LASD races, I closely tracked the candidacy of BCS-backed Amanda Aaronson (2012) and Martha McClatchie (2014), so I’m somewhat familiar with how BCS packages candidates for Board of Trustees races, and they’ve stepped up their game.

You can read some of my old election coverage here, here, here and here.

I’ve checked out the candidates running for the open two-year seat on the LASD Board of Trustees. I have a definite point of view, and I’ve been asked to weigh in on the race (“You’ve been awfully quiet lately, are you OK?!”), so here it is:

Between Bryan Johnson and Tanya Raschke, I support Johnson, hands down. We should all support the whole-community-minded candidate who is a dedicated “doer” with the right motivations and relationships, and enough time to invest in this big job.

And it is a big job.

Herewith, I aim to persuade you to vote for Bryan Johnson and then share what you learn with your friends and neighbors in your community. BTW, roughly three-quarters of voters in the Los Altos School District are registered “permanent vote-by-mail,” and ballots are starting to arrive in mailboxes, so most of your friends and neighbors can vote now — yes, it’s already election day!

Time’s a-wastin’ — let’s get crackin’!

This year, “fresh perspective” is being trotted out (again) as key to a better future… yada, yada… but let’s get real: “fresh perspective” often just means “outsider.” But I think we’ve seen the “outsider” proposition play out nationally in a very unfortunate way, and skirting the truth is a repeated broadside against both presidential candidates, so setting a high bar for truthfulness and transparency locally is a good idea.

Proper motivation and values matter. Depth and breadth of experience matters. Knowledge about the district matters. Relationships matter. Being forthright matters. On these grounds, Bryan Johnson deserves your support. Click here to help right now.

Bryan Johnson and Tanya Raschke both have solid academic and professional backgrounds, they’re clearly both bright and accomplished, intellectually capable of doing the job, so let’s take their CV’s off the table and look at their differences:

  • Johnson is a low key “doer.” He’s a member of the LASD community with children still in district schools. His record of volunteer service is deeper and more varied, not just for schools-related projects, but also for the community at large, beyond his personal interest.
  • Raschke is a vocal advocate and a good “communicator” for the BCS community. She has been a charter school affiliate since 2008 when she left LASD. Her children attended district schools before 2008, but after leaving LASD, they attended BCS through middle school. Raschke has a lighter, less varied record of volunteerism.

Since 2008, Bryan Johnson’s volunteerism has included school-related initiatives and roles like PTA President, chair of Earthquake Preparedness, Book Fair, and Read-a-thon committees, Project Cornerstone, Science Olympiad, Living Classroom, Junior Olympics and Measure N (facilities bond), but he also led or volunteered for two grass roots community redevelopment groups: NLACN and the Community Center Alliance. Clearly, Johnson has time—and the service mindset—to be a “doer” for our community.

Since 2008, Raschke has been a highly vocal advocate for BCS on social media, but has a comparatively thin record of community volunteerism otherwise. After she departed LASD to join BCS, Raschke served as Communications director for the BCS Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) and held a 6-month seat on the LASD Facilities Master Plan Committee (FMPC).

Like Amanda Aaronson and Martha McClatchie before her, and notwithstanding claims of objectivity, Tanya Raschke is a BCS candidate. In light of past conflicts, I find it somewhat bizarre that the Los Altos Town Crier keeps endorsing BCS-backed candidates. (The TC endorsed both Aaronson and McClatchie.) I believe it’s ill-advised to complicate LASD board decision making by empaneling a strong charter advocate when the district’s obligations to BCS are defined by state law and BCS is currently accommodated by a long-term facilities sharing agreement. It’s not like LASD doesn’t hear from BCS advocates already, they are regular speakers at district board meetings.

Raschke has almost no recent experience supporting the district, except as a representative for a niche group on a multi-lateral committee focused on facilities. She has been a high profile pro-charter voice on social media, and is gently shrouding her BCS allegiance with carefully crafted language on her campaign website, in newspaper interviews and in public forums. As a parent communications director for BCS, I guess this is to be expected.

LASD provides BCS with facilities, which has been a major source of conflict and much litigation in the past. Thankfully, today we’re in a quiet period while the 5-year facilities sharing agreement is in effect. Nobody wants to return to litigation and recrimination, but moving forward will be tricky too. I personally think it would be much better for the community if BCS was chartered by LASD, and I know others who feel that way.

Public school facilities are a big community concern today, and this seems to be Raschke’s single issue. But there are many things other than facilities the LASD Board of Trustees has to deal with, and since 2008, Tanya’s BCS affiliation means she just hasn’t had exposure to these issues.

  • As a “school choice” program, BCS is separate and different from LASD:
    • Chartered (sponsored) by the Santa Clara County Office of Education
    • Accountable only to charter parents, not voters and taxpayers in our community
    • Separate governing School Board with appointed (unelected) members
    • Different student body demographics, not representative of all LASD students
    • Different revenue model, more reliant on parent funding (not “tuition”)
    • Different cost structure, with far fewer “expensive to educate” students
    • Different government reporting and transparency environment
    • Non-union staff with higher turnover and no collective bargaining

If Raschke really intended to facilitate improved LASD-BCS relations, she could be appointed to the BCS board without an election and reach out from there. It seems obvious that BCS candidates have been running for LASD Board to influence district facility/resource allocations to benefit BCS.

Since BCS is legally and operationally separate from LASD, and they’re splitting a finite amount of facilities, sharing has been a challenge. LASD is obligated to offer BCS reasonably equivalent facilities, and is in the throes of trying to spend $150 million on new and improved facilities to address its enrollment growth challenges. BCS has expressed no interest in rejoining the district to help resolve the inherent conflict of separation, and some BCS affiliates have been publicly campaigning for all $150 million to be spent on new facilities for the charter school alone.

BCS recently sought and received a 5-year renewal of its county charter a year earlier than required. This means that for the next five years, BCS will answer only to the SCCBOE, and remain unaccountable to LASD voters and taxpayers. Accordingly, LASD will remain on guard for the possibility of facilities (and other) conflicts with BCS. BCS facilities arrangements have been repeatedly litigated over the years and may be again in the future, and private (non-public) meetings of the LASD Board of Trustees to discuss legal matters, such as expected or active litigation are routine. If the BCS board ever decides to bring suit against LASD over facilities again, Raschke’s BCS relationship could be a real complication if she were a member of the LASD Board.

Now a few words (or more) about campaign messaging.

The language candidates use in their campaign matters a lot, and in some cases needs to be parsed. Because campaigns aim to persuade, sometimes the truth can be, shall we say, camouflaged. For example, the word “district” and the acronym “LASD” are used by campaigns, and understood by voters, to mean specific things, and sometimes multiple things. These terms may be used differently by candidates in subtle ways. In the context of our public schools, we’ve had a clear dichotomy between “charter” and “district” since Bullis Charter School was founded.

In conversation, in the media, in the courtroom and in political races, “LASD” has meant “district,” in contrast to “BCS,” which has meant “charter.” When a candidate writes or speaks about being a “district parent” or an “LASD parent” most people, most voters will understand that to mean that their kids currently (or formerly) attended one of LASD’s elementary or middle schools, not the charter school. A “BCS parent” is someone whose kids attend BCS. Simple.

However, because BCS students almost all live within LASD boundaries, a “BCS parent” may refer to themselves as a “district parent” or an “LASD parent” because of where they live, not which school their child(ren) attend. We saw this in the McClatchie campaign two years ago. It can be confusing, and in a political campaign, this kind of confusion can be intentional. I’ve even seen comments online that protest emphatically, “But BCS is an LASD school!” This is exactly the kind of opportunistic confusion we need to watch out for.

This is relevant because, like many other BCS parents, Tanya Raschke started out as an “LASD parent” but then left LASD and enrolled her children at BCS after the neighborhood boundary realignment of 2007. Raschke worked on that boundary realignment project as a representative of the Crossings community in Mountain View. I can only assume she was unhappy with the new neighborhood boundaries because she left LASD and enrolled her kids at BCS when Covington became her new “neighborhood” school, along with the other Crossings families.

Raschke was a “district parent,” who became a “BCS parent” in 2008, and now that her kids are in high school, she is neither. Her most recent and longest affiliation was to BCS. My main point here is that words used and claims made in these political campaigns sometimes need to be parsed and scrutinized.

Here’s a couple of examples of how campaign language can be tricky:

  • Raschke says things like “I bring the fresh perspective of a parent who has been part of several Los Altos public school communities and a track record of working with the LASD board for over a decade” and “I first became involved at the District level as a community organizer during the school attendance boundary adjustments in 2007.” In a recent LA Town Crier interview, Raschke is quoted, “I bring […] a track record of working with the LASD board for over a decade,” and she repeated this claim during the LASD Candidates’ Forum on Oct. 6. It may be fair to say Raschke supported LASD a decade ago, but given that she abandoned LASD to join BCS in 2008, she hasn’t been a district parent for the past eight years, I don’t see how she can claim ten years of support or collaboration with LASD, especially recalling the bitter and constant conflicts between LASD and BCS during the years 2008–2014. If Raschke was a BCS parent “working with the LASD board” from 2008–2014, she must have kept her efforts very quiet. I think this is a significant exaggeration of her district bona fides to create a misleading impression about her strong ties to BCS.
  • The Mountain View Voice reported last week, “She began to take a district-wide approach to volunteering when she served as a community organizer during the school boundary adjustments in 2007, and more recently when she served on the Facilities Master Plan Committee last year.” Yes, for the six months Sep 2014-Mar 2015 Raschke served on the FMPC as a representative of the Greater San Antonio Community Association (GSACA), largely comprised of Mountain View residents in the Crossings and Old Mill developments. Raschke’s participation in these district projects was as an advocate representative of her neighborhood, the Crossings. There’s nothing at all wrong with being a representative for your neighborhood, but it was not to take a “district-wide approach,” but to advocate for herself and her neighbors. Curiously, after reviewing the Greater San Antonio Community Association’s website, it appears that group was mothballed more than a year before Raschke served on the FMPC, so it’s not really clear who Raschke was representing. Maybe the group still exists on paper, but they didn’t put out any newsletters or publicize any meetings after August 2013. I don’t know how this group wound up being included as a stakeholder for the FMPC committee, since it appears to have been defunct before Rashke represented it on the FMPC.
  • [UPDATE] According to publicly available meeting notes from the Bullis Charter School board of directors, Tanya Raschke sat on the FMPC as a representative of BCS. The FMPC roster of members lists Raschke as representing GSACA.

In any event, my point about Raschke’s involvement with LASD committees is that she has been, and I would argue continues to be, an advocate for a niche community, and not a broadly inclusive candidate with experience working on behalf of the interests of others.

When you peel the onion on the Raschke campaign, what you find is another BCS candidate trying to get a seat at the governing table of the district she chose to leave many years ago.

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