Former 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:
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.
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.”
I 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.
Our 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.”
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:
Craig 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.
A 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.
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.
I’ve already written about links between ‘out of area’ campaign contributions, charter politics and SCCBOE… but here’s a little Moore:
When 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 $4,844 in cash at year-end.
In today’s episode of “You Gotta be @#$%^& 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 here) Sometimes the influence of political funding can be shocking, like when electedSCCBOE Members say that democratic local control over public education is broken and voters are powerless to do anything about it.
In 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.
According to The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, the idiom “politics makes strange bedfellows” means something akin to “political interests can bring together people who otherwise have little in common.“
This springs to mind when I see things like this campaign disclosure filing from Craig Mann’s June 2008 primary run for San Jose City Council.
It appears Mann was a pretty good fundraiser, scoring tens of thousands of dollars in donations in just a few months. His filings report lots of San Jose donations, which you’d expect, but also lots of money from places you’d probably never expect:
San Angelo, TX
Las Vegas, NV
To be fair, these could be ‘friends & family’ donors, but it’s still impressive to see this kind of geographic reach since it’s highly unlikely San Jose city politics could benefit such far flung donors. I mean, what’s the nexus between San Jose, CA and Atlanta, GA?