Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Please join me in supporting the three LASD Board of Trustees candidates who’ve dedicated themselves to serving the whole LASD community, and who will continue to pursue a balanced resolution of our long-term facilities capacity issue:

  • Bryan Johnson
  • Vladimir Ivanovic
  • Vaishali ‘Shali’ Sirkay

Please say NO to this year’s Bullis Charter School candidate, Ying Liu.

Today, as was true in the past and will be in the future, there is simply no seat on the LASD Board of Trustees for an antagonistic BCS proxy. This is especially true now that BCS has asked LASD to hand over Egan Junior High for its exclusive use. 

BCS leadership is out of step with the views of BCS parents I know, and now they’re ginning up confrontation after five years of relatively peaceful detente. BCS leadership takes positions and actions that contradict what the LASD community has said consistently it values and is willing to support:

  • No closure of any LASD neighborhood schools
  • An end to the antagonism between the district and charter school
  • Adding new school facilities to address long-term enrollment growth
  • A durable solution to the costly annual charter facilities allocation battle

LASD voters approved a $150 million facilities bond to develop new school facilities, and BCS is poised to be the beneficiary of impending development of a new state-of-the-art campus for all 900 BCS students on one site.

When BCS was founded, it touted the value of a small school education but has since chosen to grow aggressively, resulting in annual conflicts and even litigation over facilities.

Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 3.47.30 PM

Last week, BCS announced a dramatic, entirely voluntary expansion of enrollment to more than 1,100 students in an attempt to derail the hard-won and generous accommodation of a brand new campus, because it’s not in their preferred location. What’s more, they’re willing to displace Egan Junior High to get what they want. 

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Beauchman’s agenda: Usurpation

I’ve written before about SCCBOE’s October 2013 Charter Schools Study Workshop. I don’t remember seeing a meeting agenda. The discussion focused mostly on each of the SCCBOE members’ personal view of the role of SCCOE/SCCBOE vis-a-vis charters.

It’s not news to a frequent reader that I believe charter schools have always been intended as special remedies for traditional public schools or districts that suffer from intractable shortcomings and deprive students of a quality education.

The stated legislative objectives of the CA Charter Schools Act of 1992 never included establishment of a parallel system of quasi-private voucher schools operated under the aegis of ‘public education.’ It didn’t intend for charters to attack, undermine or replace California’s traditional school districts, yet sitting members of SCCBOE clearly feel it’s their duty to impose an aggressive pro-charter political agenda on our local districts.

When I listened to this audio recording from the meeting I was surprised by some of what I heard from each member. Here’s SCCBOE President Leon Beauchman’s quote regarding new charter petitions from the Oct. 2013 Charter Schools Study Workshop:

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Meet the new Boss

Same as the old Boss

The Santa Clara County Board of Education has a new President: Leon Beauchman. Beauchman has been a member of SCCBOE for 13 years and previously served as SCCBOE President in 2002 and 2005. He was re-elected in Nov. 2012 in an uncontested race for the Area 3 seat—unfortunately, resembling a single-party election.*

Beauchman has been on SCCBOE continuously since it forged the BCS-LASD conflict in 2003. Prior to the county board’s approval of the Bullis charter, only one charter school operated in Santa Clara County. As of now, SCCBOE has approved 38 charters. Beauchman has been a driver of this aggressive pursuit of charters, an approach the county board calls “bold” and “courageous.” Others call it “reckless” and “privatization.”

beauchmanI had an opportunity in May 2013 to speak in person with now-President Leon Beauchman and then-President Grace Mah after a public meeting on charter school issues in my community. The dialogue was intimate, including just Beauchman, Mah, one or two other people and myself.

mahOur conversation naturally, eventually turned to the BCS-LASD situation, and I mentioned the LASD community’s perception that SCCBOE didn’t perform proper oversight of BCS. I said the LASD community had, over time, communicated to SCCBOE some troubling BCS policies and practices, but rarely (if ever) did the community receive any response or action.

I mentioned specifically that a citizen had inquired about a $250K personal loan made by Bullis Charter School to Principal Wanny Hersey. (It’s illegal for a public school funded with public tax dollars to make a personal loan to an administrator, yet…) In BCS’ annual Form 990 filings across multiple years, a $250K loan was reported as a “personal loan.”

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Much moore on Mann

Strange bedfellows indeed. Downright weird at times. How do these odd couplings come together in the first place? What does that dating game even look like? Beats me. One thing seems clear though: Craig Mann played hard in the small-time money, influence and county politics game. Here’s more of what I’ve learned, and it’s a little unsavory:

mannCraig Mann served on the Santa Clara County Board of Education from 2006 until his resignation in Aug. 2012. Prior to his tenure on SCCBOE, Mann was an East Side Union High School District trustee 1998-2006.

During May-June, 2010 Craig Mann repeatedly attacked SCCOE Superintendent Charles Weis over hiring a Chief Business Officer.

chuck_weisA search committee had been appointed and SCCBOE members were invited to participate in the process. Mann chose not to participate but later sent a series of angry emails to Superintendent Weis, Cc:-ing the rest of SCCBOE, other non-SCCOE people and even members of the press saying (quote):

  • The “No Coloreds” sign needs to come down from the COE drinking fountain.
  • “Jim Crow” employment practices must end at the Santa Clara County Office of Education and it must end now.

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County Board: “Voters are lame”

disalvoRelax. Take a seat.

In today’s episode of “You Gotta be @#$%^& Kidding Me” we hear Member Joe Di Salvo discussing consolidating the 31 Santa Clara County public school districts and expressing his desire to work on a subcommittee organized for this purpose led by Member Leon Beauchman. Here’s a short audio clip from the February 20, 2013 meeting of the Santa Clara County Board of Education. Please listen.

Whether the source is national (Broad Foundation), state (Cal Charters) or local (Reed Hastings), there’s a lot of big time pro-charter money being poured into Santa Clara county to create a crucible for “education reform.” (More hereSometimes the influence of political funding can be shocking, like when elected SCCBOE Members say that democratic local control over public education is broken and voters are powerless to do anything about it.

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Half fast analysis

cost-cutterIn the midst of The Great Recession, when the economy was foundering and tax revenues scarce, the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury analyzed the county’s 31 school districts looking for cost savings in the system.

“The 2009-2010 Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury reviewed school district administrative expenses and costs in an attempt to find efficiencies that could minimize the impact of an ailing economy on education.”

This was definitely a worthwhile project and I commend them for taking it on.

What did the Civil Grand Jury find?

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Tyranny of a tiny minority

Democracy settles differences between competing visions of public life, so after every election there are inevitably happy winners and unhappy losers.

Under our traditional “50%-plus-1” majority rule, a whopping “50%-minus-1” losing minority could feel jilted after an election, which is an awful lot of unhappiness within a community. Rarely are ballots evenly split, so the unhappy losing camp is usually far less than half the number of voters.

Here in the US, mythic birthplace and bastion of ‘majority rule,’ we sometimes intentionally allow a minority to win on election day. This was possible in LASD a couple years ago when we voted on Measure E, the school parcel tax increase. If just one third of voters had voted against Measure E it would have failed, since a two thirds supermajority is required for such tax measures. (Luckily, Measure E passed, but only just barely.)

Allowing a one-third minority to overrule majority sentiment is like political leverage; each No vote cancels out two Yes votes.

Parcel tax measures require a two-thirds majority Yes vote, and so can be particularly difficult to pass, because even semi-organized opposition can be hard to overcome even if it isn’t richly funded. But “one-third/two-thirds” is the farthest we stray from majority rule. We would never dream of allowing a 10% minority camp to win over a 90% majority. That would be tyranny of a tiny minority.

If someone’s rights are at stake, it’s an altogether different story. “Majority rule” is suspended when fundamental rights are on the line.

We recently learned this (again) through our experience with California’s Prop 8 and the ensuing legal fight over marriage rights and equality. When the courts ruled that marriage is a fundamental right of all adults, including homosexuals, then even overwhelming majority voter sentiment in favor of outlawing same-sex marriage is disallowed. Even a 99% majority opinion is insufficient to deprive someone of fundamental rights.

How does this relate to charter law? I think it’s important to consider whether we want local school districts to be governed democratically or whether anyone has rights that trump majority rule.

Q:  Does any child have a fundamental right to a seat in a ‘choice’ school if their democratically-run district doesn’t want to operate ‘choice’ schools? Is ‘choice’ a fundamental right in California public education?

A:  No.

Then on what basis is a school district’s authority usurped by a county Board of Education in re: charter petitions? If voters in a local school district prefer a consistent, high-quality educational program across all its schools, and if the schools are successful by government measures, on what grounds are local voters’ ballots nullified by an external agent of government?

This is most definitely the situation we are in today in Santa Clara County.

Through the years and for a wide variety of reasons having nothing to do with remediating poor education, tiny minority groups have created (or threatened) a charter petition to extract from the district that which it was not otherwise willing to provide:

  • Los Altos School District: “Trustees closed our neighborhood school and consolidated our student body with another at a different campus. We parents don’t agree with the Trustees’ decision, so we want to create a charter school. The charter’s location, size, curriculum and student body will all be the same as the neighborhood school that was closed.”
  • Palo Alto Unified School District: “Trustees refused to create a Mandarin language magnet program in response to parent requests. The district offers a Spanish language immersion program and we want a similar Mandarin program. Since the Trustees won’t accommodate us, we’ll start a MI charter school.”
  • Sunnyvale Elementary School District: “Trustees denied parents’ request to expand the district’s K-5 magnet program to middle school grades. We love our magnet program and don’t want our kids to be forced out and into district middle schools. If the district refuses to expand the program we will form a charter school.”

In all cases, district Trustees elected by voters to balance the needs, priorities and resources of the entire district must decide whether modifying their educational program to suit a tiny group is justified. If they refuse the demands of these groups, they instead face a secessionist charter petition. The group might be just 2% of voters in the district or 5% of households with school-aged children, but in all cases, CA charter law is used to force the hand of district Trustees. That’s huge leverage. That’s tyranny of a tiny minority.

If a district board denies a charter application, the applicants can appeal to the County Board of Education, and unlike the locally elected District Board, a County Board of Education is prohibited by law from considering what impact the proposed charter would have on the remainder of the district’s students.

In other words, upon a district’s denial of a charter application and its appeal to a County Board, the petition evaluation methodology is completely different. By law, County Boards need not, and cannot, balance and defend the rights and priorities of the entire district community, as an elected district Board quite obviously must.

County Boards may ONLY consider the merits of the charter application in light of the students to be enrolled in the charter, so a tiny minority can put their own interests ahead of everyone else in their district by simply appealing a charter denial to their county Board.

In this way, California’s charter law is used to deny equal protection to the majority of public school students in district schools after a charter group secedes. Charter law is being deployed by county Boards of Education to strip control of school districts from democratically elected local Trustees, overriding the majority will of district voters to serve the demands of a few.

That’s just wrong.

The Great Misdirection

What I hear in this audio clip from the Santa Clara County Board of Education’s Oct. 19, 2013 Charter Schools Study Workshop is either an embarrassing muddle or an illuminating confession.

This Charter Schools Study Workshop was convened by the county Board to allow the SCCBOE to publicly air “the big questions” about charter schools in Santa Clara County. In addition to all seven member of the Board, County Superintendent Xavier De La Torre and members of his staff were in attendance, as were a number of district and charter administrators and Trustees. The complete 3-hour audio recording can be found here.

Here’s the setup: Previously during the meeting, Board Member Anna Song asked that all members of the County Board of Education express their views about SCCOE’s role in authorizing and overseeing charter schools. In this clip we’re treated to an empassioned response from Dr. Joseph Di Salvo, former SCCBOE President:


Either Joe Di Salvo doesn’t grok his non-sequitor or he lays bare The Great Misdirection.

California charter law is ideologically grounded in unmet student need but has morphed into a political weapon that allows activist, separatist parents to extract program concessions or outright independence from their district.

When the Charter School was invented 20 years ago—by expert educators, no less—it was meant to be a special remedy to help failing students stay in school and succeed. Today charter schools are the thrust of a privatization movement that is re-introducing racial and economic segregation to public education, and the largest study ever conducted of charter outcomes found charters to be no better or worse on average than district schools.

Free market “school choice” is fracturing traditional school districts and dividing communities, thinly veiled beneath the noble cloak: We must do it for the children.

disalvoDi Salvo begins by bemoaning the moral injustice of, and urgent need for (his) leadership to cure, a 40% Latino dropout problem in Santa Clara County. BTW, here’s the real data. He points blame at district boards for not capitalizing on parent activism to improve student outcomes. If local district boards did a better job capitalizing on parent energy and activism, he believes their schools would be more successful and SCCBOE wouldn’t need to intervene.

As evidence that district boards don’t respond to parent demands, Di Salvo bizarrely shares a 7-year old story of a non-Latino parent in a high-performing school district lobbying her Trustees unsuccessfully for two years for a Mandarin Immersion magnet program. The school district in question was Palo Alto Unified, the parent was current SCCBOE President Grace Mah.

Here’s the non-sequitor between Latino dropouts and Grace Mah’s Mandarin Immersion:

  • Mah’s children attended Palo Alto schools, widely regarded as a top-flight public school district. Not exactly evidence of unmet student need.
  • Mah’s children were already enrolled in an extra-curricular Mandarin language program, which she liked. The children’s language instruction needs were being met.
  • Mah tried many times to convince PAUSD to establish a Mandarin program, but the district repeatedly refused citing insufficient demand to justify it over other priorities.
  • Mah’s program was not intended to close an achievement gap or reduce dropouts, it was just one more programmatic choice for parents in a district already full of choice.

Grace Mah’s experience in Palo Alto is totally irrelevant to the county’s Latino dropout problem, but it’s a textbook example of how CA charter law is being used today to contravene democratic rule in public school districts up and down California. Joe Di Salvo holds up this long-running, bruising PAUSD battle as an example of “getting it right.”

The clear message from Di Salvo’s bluster is, “Parents should get anything they want from their districts, whenever they want it, and if district boards don’t give in, I’m fully prepared to usurp local control by approving charter petitions.”

Don’t let something as antiquated as democracy or the needs and constraints of the community at large keep you from eating first at the education trough. If your district board doesn’t give you what you want, threaten them with a charter. Lack of a choice program is itself reason enough to justify introducing a charter school against the community’s wishes.

This abusive, intrusive, anti-democratic approach to public education adminstration is maintained by Joe Di Salvo, current member and former President of the Santa Clara County Board of Education.

mahGrace Mah is the current President of the Santa Clara County Board of Education.

Student needs vs Parent demands

Knowing when and for whom to employ the charter school remedy is tricky business. Some people believe public education is in desperate straits and see charter schools as a panacea for all ills, so they favor aggressive expansion of charter schools irrespective of demonstrable student need. But they are wrong on all counts.

The language of CA Charter Law and the history of charter schools nationally are perfectly clear that charter schools were and are intended for students struggling in a standard public school program, which historically has been economically disadvantaged or otherwise under-achieving categories of students.

That said, I believe the decision whether to create a magnet or charter school within a district should ultimately rest with the elected district Trustees responsible for balancing the educational needs, priorities and resources of their community.

From time to time, a group of public school parents will coalesce around an idea or desire they have for their children, and they want it to become part of their district’s educational program. Sometimes these ideas are adopted by the district, sometimes not.

veruca_saltIt’s terrific that parents petition their district for changes to the academic program, but professional educators and administrators should be trusted to decide whether to change the program based on what students need and not necessarily what parents demand.

After a recent meeting with a public school district (District X) Superintendent who has been presented with a charter school petition that is fundamentally about creating a “parent participation” program, I sent him this stream of consciousness note after reflecting on his challenge, putting myself in his shoes:

The mission and statutory duty of the [District X] is to provide high quality K-8 education to all students residing within district boundaries who choose to attend a district school. We employ expert staff, deliver a comprehensive, enriched curriculum to all students and strive for continual improvement. As a public agency, we are prohibited from showing preference and bias in the provision of educational services, except as special remedy. Whenever necessary, appropriate and possible, given our various constraints, we supplement our program with exceptional services for students in need, bearing in mind our duty to defend equity among all district students.

Upon review and before approving any charter school application, we must ask and answer the following questions, with a strict focus on the needs of [District X] students:

  • Is the proposed charter school program educationally necessary?
  • What is the specific educational problem the charter school seeks to solve?
  • Is the charter itself dependent on the identification and successful remediation of an educational problem?
  • For which students does the educational problem exist and how have we identified/qualified the students?
  • Does the educational problem to be solved manifest within the [District X] student population generally or does the problem exist in only certain demographic segments?
  • Has the charter school identified a new educational problem we previously were unaware of?
  • By what method/metrics/means have we defined/identified/measured this educational problem?
  • Does the educational literature support a claim of this specific educational problem?
  • What is the charter school’s proposed solution to this educational problem?
  • Does the educational literature support the theory that such proposed remedy will be an effective solution for this specific educational problem?
  • Are there other remedies known or suspected to be effective in remediating this educational problem?
  • Would the charter school’s program create for [District X] an opportunity to learn more about the alleged educational problem and potential remedies?
  • How can we ensure that students enrolled in the charter are, in fact, impacted by this educational problem and how will we measure remedial progress?
  • Will it ever be possible for a student enrolled in the program to progress to the point where they no longer manifest the educational problem, and therefore become disqualified from participation?
  • Are the program outcomes measures captured and analyzed in a statistically valid way?
  • Are the findings arising from the charter school experiment extensible to other [District X] schools/programs so that [District X] students in general can realize a benefit from the charter?

In short, I think it’s very important to focus (your board) entirely on student needs rather than parental desires:

  • Is there a problem for students and how do we know that?
  • Is it something we didn’t know about before, or have we seen this show before in other districts?
  • If we already know about it, how do we normally solve it?

If the solution is, in effect, to partition an equity-based program into higher- and lower-performing castes, this is illegal and discriminatory in public education.

Parent participation is not a student problem, it’s a parent desire, and not for all parents. The fact is that, just like financial wherewithal, volunteer time is unevenly distributed among [District X] families. By allowing families of greater financial means, higher volunteer availability and more focus on education in general to secede from the “commons” you actually undermine many important values in the classroom.

An integrated classroom, with both higher- and lower-achieving students, provides important benefits for all students.

PS – CA courts have recently ruled that requiring parents to volunteer in the classroom as a condition of their child’s enrollment in a magnet or charter program is illegal.

Of the people, by the people, for the people?

lincoln-gettysburg-address-speech-analysisIt 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.

Santa Clara County Board of Education