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.

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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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Unpacking political contrition

On the evening of Sep. 20, 2012, the Los Altos United Methodist Church held a facilitated “listening” and “healing” event in a well-meaning attempt to bring together reasonable minds on both sides of the increasingly bitter BCS-vs-LASD battle.

This worthwhile peacemaking event was promoted by, among others, BCS Foundation Board Member Gil Ahrens, as a way to “lower the level of hostility”:

“There will be an opportunity for everyone to speak and be heard on the question of: “How have you experienced the BCS-LASD conflict?” I am very hopeful that this can be a constructive element in the process of community healing. PLEASE share this others you think would have interest.” [sic]

I showed up late, as did a number of other people I’m sure we would agree are pro-LASD. When I arrived, facilitators had already begun inviting the assembled group of 50 or so people to share their personal feelings and perspectives. I didn’t speak, but I took notes of what quite a number of others said.

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