Point made

3/17 UPDATE: This column was published in the Wed., Feb. 17 edition of the Town Crier.

Disclaimer: This is not a BCS-related blog post per se, though it is schools-related

The Los Altos Town Crier is published (and delivered by mail) weekly on Wednesday, and the new edition is usually available the prior Tuesday afternoon. The Town Crier solicits submissions of up to 500 words from local residents for its “Other Voices” column, and I submitted the sentiments below last Thursday for tomorrow’s Feb. 10, 2016 edition:

After 8 years, progress toward civic center redevelopment is endangered and progress toward relieving elementary school crowding is stalled. I attended the Jan. 28 meeting of the City-Schools Ad Hoc Public Lands Committee, which discusses how public lands can best be used. I liked much of what I heard from the committee and from members of the public who came to share their thoughts about proposals. I’m grateful that the city and school district are meeting to discuss land use, and I want to elaborate on comments I shared that night. In 2012, the relationship between the City and LASD had deteriorated, due largely to tension between personalities on both sides. I (and others) campaigned for current Council members and Trustees, with a goal of electing people who could rebuild the relationship between the city and the district. All the candidates we interviewed in 2012, including Bruins, Pepper, Satterlee, Luther and Taglio assured us that they shared our goal of rebuilding this relationship. In the years since that election, I’ve lobbied them in person and in this newspaper to fulfill this promise, but progress toward improved partnership has been painfully slow. At the Jan. 28 meeting, I realized that lack of clarity about community priorities may be the root of the problem. Our civic leaders slog through a constant stream of petitions from niche interest groups, but they have not taken the obvious step of conducting a large scale survey of community attitudes about land use and development. I believe political courage and faster progress can come from a clear mandate from the community. I may be a passionate activist supporter of the apricot orchard at the civic center and for city swimming pools at Egan and Blach, but my priorities may be out of step with the majority of our community. When the City of Los Altos purchased Hillview School from the Los Altos School District more than forty years ago, it faced a similar dilemma: should Hillview be developed for recreational or residential purposes? According to a Town Crier article from that time, niche groups were petitioning the city for soccer fields, baseball fields and tennis courts, while raising bond funding for redevelopment seemed unlikely. Maybe some things haven’t changed much since, but what was really different then is that the City hired a firm to conduct a professional survey of community attitudes about Hillview use. We’ve seen how niche interests can distort local public policy, so today’s civic leaders should arm themselves with data on which to base decisions that affect the entire community. We’re not in a completely data free zone, since two referenda have been held in the past fifteen months: the Measure N School Facilities Bond election and the Measure A Civic Center Redevelopment Bond election. 70% of our community voted for new schools while 70% of the community voted against the last civic center proposal. A proper survey of community priorities will cut through the noise and illuminate the path forward.

As it’s Tuesday afternoon, I picked up the new TC and read this Other Voices column:

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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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What’s in a name? Maybe deception.

These people calling themselves “LASD Parents for Great Schools” donated more than $21,000 in one week to support pro-BCS candidates Martha McClatchie and John Swan.

I haven’t done a deep-dive on the list, but at a glance I see there’s a lot of overlap between this donor list and current and former BCS Foundation board and BCS School board members.

Recall that Martha McClatchie is a former LASD parent whose children now attend BCS. Martha volunteered for the BCS Foundation in 2012, completing and signing its 2012 IRS Form 990 as Principal Officer and Treasurer.

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Judging (in)competence

Within ethics and value theory we find good discussions about utility, maximization of good and minimization of harm. In John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian philosophy, specifically, Mill argues that only a person who has experienced two alternate conditions is qualified to judge one preferable over the other, often called the ‘Doctrine of Competent Judges.’

To 21st century men and women (accustomed as we are to humanistic ethics a few hundred years post-Enlightenment) this reads a bit like archaic truism. Of course we would agree that only a person who has driven both a Camry and a Prius is truly ‘competent’ to judge one superior over the other. This is not to say, of course, that every ‘competent judge’ will have the same preferences or reach the same conclusions, but they importantly have direct knowledge of that which they’re judging.

And so it is with many other opinions we express and judgements we make each day. If we have direct experience with two alternate states of being, we’re at least minimally qualified to judge one over another. Notably, this doesn’t prevent people from expressing unqualified opinions or taking a position on things they have no direct experience with.

For example, LASD public schools. 

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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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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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Moore on Joe’s campaign

I’ve already written about links between ‘out of area’ campaign contributions, charter politics and SCCBOE… but here’s a little Moore:

disalvoWhen Joe Di Salvo stood for re-election to the Area 4 seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education in November 2012, he didn’t have to run against anyone. For some reason, no candidate emerged from Area 4 to challenge him, so Di Salvo basically didn’t even need to campaign.

The Area 4 seat on SCCBOE represents a majority portion of San Jose Unified, a portion of Oak Grove and corresponding portion of East Side Union High school districts.

FPPC filings show Di Salvo raised a total of $6,415 but spent a total of just $1,715. $3,000 came from his own mother. He was sitting on $4,844 in cash at year-end.

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We’re going to need a bigger boat

Bruce Barton’s Nov. 20 Los Altos Town Crier editorial asks, “Can’t we all just get along?” and correctly adds that we’re all exhausted from this decade-long BCS-LASD conflict, which has been intensely “us versus them” since the beginning. For one side to gain has meant that the other must lose, and we’ve been searching desperately for a win-win.

But the conflict seems to be getting worse, not better. www.tinyurl.com/bcs-lawsuits

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BCS-LASD lawsuits are multiplying, tense public negotiations over facilities are ongoing, peace-making gatherings were held in church, district-run citizen focus groups held, grass roots citizen activist committees formed, parent protests and photo ops staged, political campaigns launched, government leaders enlisted, full-page ads and magazine articles expertly crafted, endless citizen letters and responses have been lobbed online and off.

It seems we’ve tried almost everything to bridge this community divide.

I used to think very much like Barton, but I now suspect I was wrong. No amount of small town kumbayah seems to mitigate the ferocity with which BCS leadership opposes and confronts the LASD leadership and community at large, in person, in the press or in court.

I know I won’t win any popularity contests by saying so (and I could be wrong again) but I’m going to predict that this community conflict isn’t going away any time soon.

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My reason is simple yet daunting: This is no quaint suburban kerfuffle. Major external forces promote this community divide. BCS vs LASD is an important strategic battleground in an expansive CA charter school movement propelled by significant political and financial interests from far beyond our community.

For charter insiders and promoters, Bullis Charter School is the sharp point of the spear in the California movement, so even if we agreed locally to end things peaceably, outside interests would likely interfere to discourage such a settlement. There’s simply too much money, ego and legal precedent at stake to allow this cat fight to end. We must look up and out—beyond our city limits—and take aim at the real causes.

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Like Captain Quint, we’re going to need a bigger boat.