Amalgamation Proclamation

With a baseline of public sector services and benefits available to all, afforded by progressive taxation, we knit together diverse citizens of uneven means and needs to create community. The animating ethos of the public sector is empathetic collectivism. It empowers us to build a civil society despite our inequality and diversity.

Our national motto proclaims: E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one.

If you are among the fortunate, realizing extraordinary personal gains from our economic system, be sure to convey your outsized contributions to the collective with a spirit of gratitude for your prosperity, not with grudging contempt for your greater burden.

kevin_spacey_quote

To whom much is given, much is expected.

California’s local government agencies, including city and county administration, police, fire, libraries and public schools, are funded with property taxes assessed and collected by counties. And while the benefits of public agencies are evenly available to all, taxes to pay for them are unevenly imposed: only on residential and commercial property owners.

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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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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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De La Torre’s fateful recommendation

chuck_weisDe_La_TorreFormer Santa Clara County Schools Superintendent Charles Weis (left) was relieved of duty when Xavier De La Torre (right) was hired as his replacement in June 2012. Weis had his share of problems at SCCOE (and at his previous gig), some of which are chronicled here.

De La Torre came to SCCOE after a three year stint as Superintendent of Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas. At their April 3, 2013 meeting, less than a year after landing at SCCOE, De La Torre presented a ‘white paper‘ to the County Board developed in conjunction with CSCA. It’s an overview of the charter school landscape in Santa Clara County, with typical demographic stats and standardized test scores for each of the county’s charters.

What I found most interesting were the Superintendent’s recommendations:

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I don’t feel safe.

all_about_meSomething must be done.

FBI report lists Los Altos as one of Bay Area’s safest communities 

Yes, I’ve read the article, I’m sure it’s right. I moved my family to Los Altos because we love the village atmosphere, the family-friendly downtown, the great schools and low crime rate. We considered towns like Hillsborough and Woodside but eventually settled on Los Altos. As a parent, safety is a top priority. I want to raise my family in safe environment.

I understand Los Altos ranks as one of the safest cities in the Bay Area, but our neighborhood just doesn’t feel that safe to me anymore. I’ve heard about crimes in nearby neighborhoods. My neighbors and I want more so we’re doing something about it.

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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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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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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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