|After more than 4 1/2 hours in closed session Tuesday night, Palo Alto school board members emerged to announce they had been "giving instructions" to their labor negotiator, human resources director Scott Bowers.
Board President Mandy Lowell began by reminding board members that disclosing information about closed sessions to unauthorized persons is illegal.
But she then said the board is eager to have discussions resume between members of a district management team or group of principals, assistant principals and program coordinators numbering close to 50 individuals.
Attorney Lou Lozano, who met with the board, said the board hopes some discussions could resume immediately, in time for the board to receive an update report by its next meeting -- Oct. 10.
There was no reference made to a letter signed by 75 parents -- presented near the beginning of the meeting shortly after 6 p.m. -- urging the board to engage in safe and open dialogue with the management group members.
The board had scheduled the special meeting under a labor-negotiation exception to the state's Brown Act open-meeting law. It had earlier canceled a 7 a.m. Sunday meeting billed as a personnel "discipline or dismissal" meeting after the Weekly questioned the purpose of the meeting.
Lowell said that "the board did give a direction" to Bowers in relation to the management team's announced intent to form an independent association to represent the school-level administrators.
But, she added, "the particular direction is confidential."
Instead, she read "a statement that embodies the philosophy of the direction" -- that "the board and management share a commitment to build a strong, productive relationship." She said the board is confident "we can move forward with a collaborative process" to address the interests of the group.
Lowell said there were no specific actions taken during the closed meeting, but that the board "talked about compensation and related issues."
A motion embodying the statement was moved by board member Dana Tom and seconded by Camille Townsend, while board members Barb Mitchell and Gail Price remained silent except to vote for the motion.
"I feel like I haven't heard anything," Bill Chapman, M.D,, one of two audience members remaining when the board emerged at 11:35 p.m., said in response to the Lowell's comments. Other members of the initial audience of about a dozen individuals drifted away as the time passed with the board still in private session.
Lowell replied to Chapman's comment that that was the nature of closed sessions -- that conversations are best kept confidential until actions are taken on them.
She said it would be up to the management team to determine whether meetings could be arranged within the next week, in time for a report to the board Oct. 10.
"First we have to identify what they want to meet and confer on, then we meet and confer," Bowers said.
Superintendent Mary Frances Callan said the meet-and-confer process has been in place about a dozen years -- and that the management team brings forward issues on which to meet and confer.
"You've heard the board say they value the integrity of that process," she said.
The Tuesday night meeting capped a tumultuous week in which a document -- presented to Callan on Sept. 6 by a "group of eight" representing the larger management team -- had been obtained by the Weekly.
The bluntly worded one-page document cited "core issues of trust, communication, consistency of practice and preferential treatment," and said the management team would explore the need for an independent association or union affiliation.
A consensus of team members later favored an association over a union affiliiation.
The Weekly obtained a copy of the Sept. 6 document Wednesday night and began seeking comment on it Thursday morning from district officials.
Callan convened a meeting of management team members for 4 p.m. Thursday. Reports indicate that nearly all team members attended, and agreed to meet again at 1 p.m. Friday. At the Friday session, about 30 members attending first asked Callan to leave the room, then engaged in a lengthy discussion, mostly about a letter drafted by Gunn High School Principal Noreen Likins expressing disagreement with the Sept. 6 document.
The group decided to set aside the letter because members didn't agree on its contents, because of a district tradition not to "air dirty laundry" in public and because of concerns over implications of signing or not signing.
The letter from parents to the board surfaced late Tuesday afternoon, and copies were distributed at the meeting. The full text of the letter is:
"To the Trustees of the Palo Alto School Board:
"As district parents and community-minded citizens, we strongly support Palo Alto's tradition of educational excellence. We especially appreciate the dedication of the many educators, at all ranks, who make our schools great.
"Recently, we have become aware of deep concerns among this district's administrators, who have raised questions about trust and communication which are clearly fundamental to our district's success.
"We are writing to you, the Board, with one request: that you speak directly with all of these professionals in a safe, confidential forum, and listen to them with the full attention they deserve so that this matter can be resolved in full. We appreciate and support your thoughtful attention to this matter."
Danny Abramovitch, Alex Aiken, Wendy Akers-Ghose, Susan Alters, Anne Avis, Amy Balsom, Dory Bleich, Jonake Bose, Martha Bowden, Ronda Breier, Steven Carothers, Pancho Chang, Dave Charleson, Mark Christopherson, Melinda Christopherson, Cindy Chun, Dan Dykwell, Claude Ezran, Dan Farley, LaVonna Floreal, David Foster, Jon Foster, Rita Giles, Sabine Girod, Carolyn Godfrey, Ellen Harris, Wynn Hausser, Scott Hayes, Kate Hill, Ann Hubbell, Steve Hubbell, Ann Idzik, Bruce Jaffe, Elizabeth Jensen, Lindsay Joye, Nancy Kelem, CeCi Kettendorf, Jenny Kiratli, Lydia Kou, Amy Ladd, Duncan MacMillan, Pam MacMillan, Lynn Morton Magill, Grace Mah, Jamie Maltz, Vera Michalchik, Natasha Moiseyev, Erwin Morton, Pauline Navarro, Cosmos Nicolaou, Evelyne Nicolaou, Joni Okamoto, Joan Phelan, Ken Poulton, Katherine Terhune Ratcliff, Miriam Rotman, Al Russell, Kathy Schroeder, Scott Schroeder, Stephanie Schubert, Ilona Sockol, John St. Clair III, Debra Sutherland, Kathy Tracy, Preeva Tramiel, Carolyn Tucher, Samir Tuma, Dianne Vernon, Mark Vernon, Lanie Wheeler, Jennifer Widom, Julie Williams, Blake Winchell , Mara Yarp, Cindy Ziebelman
— Jay Thorwaldson
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