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Who governs PAUSD?

Original post made by PTA Parent on Sep 1, 2009

What body of law or rules governs PAUSD?

I understand the relationship between the federal, state, and local governments, and have been involved in getting legislation passed -- I know what level is appropriate for which kind of problem and how to push for change.

But I have no idea what body of law governs PAUSD, what code or governmental body chartered them, to whom do they answer, and where do you go and what do you do if you want to see procedural improvements, for example?

Do they answer only to our state department of education? Who set up the voting rules for electing Board Members? What governmental body defined the Board and gave them power? What is PAUSD's relationship with the City of Palo Alto? Is there a procedural code that applies just to PAUSD, and if so, who generated it?

In other words, where does PAUSD fit in our government -- from above.

Thanks for the help.

Comments (39)

Posted by gunnmom, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 2, 2009 at 8:45 am

All good questions. You've got me stumped. Only know what you probably already know. The schools have to follow the education code which is lengthy and passed by the state. In order to receive certain funding, the schools have to abide by certain rules to get those federal/state grants.

Our locally elected school board members have some say in the direction of what our schools can emphasize, such as setting goals once a year. Pretty much the school board follows the direction of the Superintendent (whom they hire).

Posted by PTA Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2009 at 11:16 am

"All good questions. You've got me stumped."

No one I know has the answer to this! And yet one of the most important foundations of our community is our schools. What PAUSD does has implications beyond the lives of families with kids. We should know this!

There are laws at every level that we all have to abide by: local, county, state, federal. If you want to solve a problem at the level of one governmental agency, it's usually pretty clear where to go, the structure is clear. Where do I get information about where PAUSD fits in?

Hey Tyler, how about putting this one on the short menu, so we can get some information!! Someone must know the answer!

Posted by We are doomed by EDM, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 2, 2009 at 11:39 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by VoxPop, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 2, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Why not talk to Scott Lawrence at the district. From the district website:

Policies & Procedures

The local Board of Education is an arm of the state government established by the legislature.It is held responsible for the direction of the public schools and the acquisition and expenditure of funds related thereto. Within the limits set by the Education Code, the control of the district resides with the Board, which establishes policy and delegates administrative responsibility to the Superintendent of Schools.

Currently Policies and Procedures Manual is unavailable, should you need further information please contact Scott Laurence.

Revised September 2008

Posted by HaHa, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 2, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Scott Laurence went bye-bye. Website is as unavailable as the P & P manual.

Posted by boardwatcher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2009 at 3:32 pm

PAUSD is a political free-for all. Great people routinely get ridden out on a rail and bad people get promoted or transferred horizontally. Here's a strange thing: try to find information on how to get a 504 plan of IEP on PAUSD's website. It's easy in other districts. Here, apparently nobody needs one or if they do they'd better be ready to educate themselves with little or no help.

Melissa Baten Caswell is struggling to keep PAUSD running in a semi-logical, politically appropriate way, but that woman stands out because of the other madness that swirls around and under her. Dana Tom and Barb Mitchell came in on platforms of accountability but look at them now. Camille really went berserk and sideways (IMHO) re: MI, then went berserk again against EDM but had lost some credibility there. Her heart is in the right place though.

Skelly sent out a letter to parents telling them what a lovely place Pleasantville -- er, Palo Alto -- is to have kids inschool. No a word about the fact that a THIRTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL had just committed suicide, and that the district recognizes there are stressors and concerns and that it is -- gasp -- addressing them proactively.

Honestly, this district is just about as messed up as a district can be, on every level. Believe it or not, most other districts -- and certainly the functional ones -- do not operate on obliviousness, lack of transparency, special favors, duplicity and bullying. Really, they don't. Hard to believe when that's most of what we see, but it's true. The Board could really clean the place up, or Skelly could if he were up to the task, which he has shown he is not, but they would have to clean house and that just doesn't look like it's going to happen. What a shame. The great teachers my kids have had deserve to work in a better environment than this madness.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2009 at 4:00 pm

What concerns me is that there was no one willing to stand for election this November. I am astounded that in the past we have had several candidates, and last time a very close race, and no one was willing to stand this time.

Where were Wade Hauser and Claud Ezran this time? (I think these were the two candidates last time that didn't get in). Townsend got reelected last time by a squeak. This time we are letting 2 sitting members get back without a murmur. Good, bad, or indifferent, we should not let board members have this much of an easy time of it.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Oops, I should have checked before I clicked. Claude Ezran did stand for election, but I forget the name of the other candidate and the name I mentioned is totally incorrect. My apologies.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 2, 2009 at 7:55 pm


I think you're giving Townsend too much credit. When Ohlone started this year I couldn't, at first, figure out why the traffic had gotten so bad--then a fellow parent did the math for me--we added another MI class and then the equivalent of another class as we expanded class sizes.

So another forty students at a time when enrollment didn't meet projections. And more on the way. You'd think they could at least try balancing school sizes a bit at a time when it's possible to do so. While the mess at Ohlone's happening (as an added bonus Amarillo's closed the rest of the week for repaving.), you've got other schools down to three K classes.

I'm actually fine with a student being added per class. But it bothers me a lot that the district and the board conveniently ignore the substantial documentation on the adverse effects of overcrowded schools.

Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 2, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Enrollment numbers are not below projections. I think people will be very surprised to see the 11 th day report. Even the district took enrollment back as a reason not to open Garland and said it was financially driven because the enrollment argument no longer holds water. Classes are well above what they expected at the high schools and I've heard they're over what they predicted at the elementaries too. Not sure about middle but I would bet the same.

Posted by No candidates?, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 3, 2009 at 12:15 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 3, 2009 at 1:20 am

Hey Erin, if you want to run and push for getting Garland open, I'll vote for you. I'll put a sign up in my yard if you commit to keeping our elementaries a reasonable size.

Posted by boardwatcher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2009 at 6:32 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

OP - I don't give Camille any credit at all where MI is concerned -- she's completely myopic about it. But she did get the picture about EDM, so credit where credit is due. Parents are already sending around information about tutors andclasses to keep their kids on track. From PAUSD's perspective, I'm sure EDM will be aroaring success. Here's a cost-saving idea: Just don't teach math at all. Tell parents they are on their own. Think of the Cadillac costs it would save.

Posted by observer, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 3, 2009 at 11:11 am

Let's not forget the teacher's union, local chapter and state chapter, as governing bodies !!!

I believe we are seeing some personel changes at the district level.

Posted by boardwatcher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2009 at 10:30 pm

in the category of credit where credit is due, several days after sending out a very cheery message about the wonderful start of the wonderful year in our wonderful schools, on September 2 Skelly did send out a global email about the concern over teen suicides and recommended a cook he has been reading on the subject. So, good job for trying, Skelly. I hope it isn't all lip service but that the schools really do take a proactive approach to this problem.

Posted by No candidates?, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 4, 2009 at 12:37 am

I don't think anyone is held accountable. That's why there are so many lateral transfers (one example: Barron Park principal moving from district office due to poor reviews). So many rules were broken with the Everyday Math fiasco and no one was held accountable. Basically, it's a free-for-all and PAUSD does whatever they please.

Will someone, anyone, please run for the BORED of Education? No one wants to keep the two cardboard stand-ups in those school board positions and they will prevail due to no other candidates. Set them free.

Posted by observer, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 4, 2009 at 9:55 am

I believe the Gunn culture is adapting to reconsider its influence over the students' emotional health. The tone administrators take when speaking publicly and individually to parents and students has been more positive lately and was quite noticable at Freshman Orientation and BTSN. Accomodations were made to take some pressure off of students for finals last spring. Many Gunn teachers connect very well with students, especially kids who wish to make a connection.

Posted by Outraged, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2009 at 1:15 pm

PTA Parent,

If you found an answer, where can we find out if it's appropriate for PAUSD to "train" teachers to "identify" mental health issue among students. Screening for eyesight OK, lice, yes, reading yes, but mental health?!

"On Sept. 25, district psychologists, counselors, and behaviorists will train school-district staff on how to identify mental health issues among students. That training will continue during the year, he (Skelly) said Thursday."

Web Link

Is it just me, or is this CREEPY!

Posted by No candidates?, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 4, 2009 at 1:20 pm

PAUSD expects teachers to be psychologists too? Give them pay raises.

Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 4, 2009 at 1:38 pm

I don't think it's creepy and I don't think anyone expects them to be psychiatrists but I do think it's important for all teachers to know how to approach kids and know how to read certain signals teens give regarding their emotional well-being.

Teachers are with the kids far more than any other adult at school. The counselors have always tended to focus on college counseling although I hope that is changing now. Good teachers will know if something is really bothering a student especially if it is effecting his or her school work and a really good teacher will be able to approach that student about it in a non-threatening way.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 4, 2009 at 3:23 pm

I don't see why it's a concern that teachers receive some training on detecting mental health issues. They're not going to suddenly be given the power to make official diagnoses for pete's sake. And they do spend a lot of time with our kids.

Depression, for example, manifests quite differently in children than adults. It can show as anger and aggression or chronic stomach aches.

So, no, it doesn't strike me as creepy. Creepy would be pretending there's no problem.

Posted by Reader, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 4, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Resident, you gave me a belly laugh! Thank you! Wade Hauser is a fabulous baseball player for Paly or Gunn, not sure which. I believe it was Wynn Hausser who ran for school board last time (as well as Claude Ezran and others)--I don't know them but they all seemed to be very good candidates. These people, whether elected or not, put themselves out there and do a huge amount of work for out community. We should be thanking all of them. And if we don't agree, we should run against them, not belittle them. They are almost uniformly decent, caring folks.

Posted by boardwatcher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2009 at 6:06 pm

great for teachers to be on the lookout. The problem seems to be that they target the really, really obvious kids for intervention and the quiet, deeply troubled ones slip through the cracks again and again. There are no simple solutions ot the suicide problem, but one thing that would do more harm than good would be targeting seemigngly "at risk" kids in any way that lets their peers know they have been targeted, say, pull-outs during the day, etc. I don't completely agree with the book Skelly loves, because it seems to lean in that direction, but at least it's a start and an opportunity to open up the dialogue.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2009 at 6:34 pm


Thanks for putting out the right name, I knew I was wrong, but couldn't find the right name at that time.

I don't mean to belittle anyone who has run for BoE in the past or any standing board member. My point is that last time we had some really good candidates and it was a close race. It is a shame that we don't have any choice at all this time.

When I say that we should not let sitting members have an easy time, I mean that we should at least have some choice. I think our board members do excellent work and even though I personally do not agree with them on every issue, I am appreciative of their efforts, their time and their diligence on behalf of our children. This is the same for the individuals who have stood in the past.

However, this thread is about accountability to a higher authority. I feel that our BoE is accountable to those who have voted them in and that if they live up to their promises they deserve to be reelected. If on the other hand, some fresh faces come along and the voting public decide that they want some change, then there should be some choice. If (and I don't think this is the case) any board member is not pulling their weight or if they have made some big mistake, then there should be no opportunity for them to have a second term.

I am not sure of the hierarchy above, but surely the voters should have the ultimate say. Having no candidates takes away that voice.

Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 4, 2009 at 6:35 pm

I don't think teachers necessarily need to pull kids out during the day. A Gunn teacher I know had a student on the first day of school, who he could tell was having a rough day, merely asked how her day was going and she burst into tears. The ability that he had to first, notice that there was a problem, and second and even more important, to be able to talk to her about what was troubling her on her level and help her through that is something I think all of our teachers should be able to do. I'll be thrilled if my daughters have high school teachers who really care about the kids that much.

But like I said, this wasn't a pull-out during class, it was just after class and he was able to grab her as she was leaving.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 4, 2009 at 8:56 pm

I don't think training in detecting mental-health issues means that kids will suddenly be targeted and humiliated. The kind of teachers who do that to kids already do it. A more-sensitive teacher isn't going to. If anything, it should mean better classroom management and a greater sensitivity as to why a kid might be acting out.

Posted by a parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Our high schools are overcrowded. Our bond funds are going to fund further expansions of the high schools, even though no one has compared the costs -- and non-monetary benefits (such as more community, more access to extracurriculars, etc. -- of renovating and opening Cubberly instead. Everyone just says, it's too expensive, without any real facts or numbers. Or realizing that we are spending $20 million just on one two-story building at Gunn, which will be half expanded administration anyway, just so we can expand Gunn. It's not a very cost-effective expansion, and it will have virtually guaranteed negative effects on academics. Going from 1500 students to 2000, as we have is not the same as going from 2000 to 2500 or more, which we will. Research shows that the effect of student body size on education in high school is greater than even class sizes. Over 2100 hundred, the mainstream consensus of all the research is that learning suffers substantially.

I already hear complaints from students that they can never get appointments with counselors, they can't get the classes they want, or other complaints of a big, impersonal school.

I would rather see us focus on making as positive a school experience as we can here, rather than spending obscene amounts of money to create an environment that is guaranteed to make the stressors worse, and responding by funneling kids who have trouble with that stress into a mental illness system that they would otherwise not need.

Posted by Outraged, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2009 at 11:13 pm


Making school a positive experience seems to be too boring for the district to focus on.

Example is that they are ramping up to focus on social emotional issues, and they start with trying to cure or find depression in teens. This is not their job unless they are training teachers to be kind, respectful, sensitive, and understanding of teens (you would think that was in the job description for teachers already).

Reducing class and campus size, reducing busy type homework, not sure it's going to happen. Instead we'll likely have college like experiences, big, impersonal, sink or swim. Except, unlike college, parents fill in all the gaps through HS, and when these kids get to college, without mom and dad, they might burn out. I think parents in Palo Alto carry this district in a big way, but am not sure how the kids fare.

Who governs PAUSD? It seems it's mostly the teachers unions. And when we are unlucky with our administrators or board of education - politics never favors the parents, what do we know.

Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 6, 2009 at 7:14 am

Here we go again with the outrage and disgust with how things are going in our district yet not one single person was brave enough to put their name on the ballot for the next election. The school board is the place to be if you really want to see change.

Posted by Outraged, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2009 at 11:09 am


Here we go again with the same response to outrage - run for school board!

The school board is only about politics.

Politics is an ugly business.

Nobody is running for BOE because it's that bad right now. You really think there is a shortage of qualified people?

And even if parents would have a decent BOE candidate - you still ultimately vote in a politician who will be swayed to do what Barbara Klausner, Dana Tom and Barb Mitchell (secret sauce o the district are the teachers) did with Everyday Math. They overlooked a BAD process to give the teachers what they wanted.

Well meaning outraged people are not good candidates for school board. Expect big schools, big classrooms, and parents having to deal with this would actually be too busy to run for BOE.

Posted by No candidates?, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 6, 2009 at 11:54 am

If two people run for BoE who care about students instead of succumbing to politics, then they could replace Tom and Mitchell (cardboard stand-ups) and we would have a majority on the BoE who have opinions instead of being swayed by teachers.

Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 6, 2009 at 1:39 pm

A good school board member isn't swayed by teachers or administrators. It's not about politics either, it's about the kids and a good school board member never loses sight of that even when things get political. A good school board member can make real change happen and have the best interest of our kids and our teachers, and oftentimes even our administration met all at the same time.

Yes, people are busy but that's no excuse to not run if you want to make a difference.

Posted by An Answer, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 6, 2009 at 2:06 pm

To answer an earlier question regarding 504 & IEPs, I emailed the vice principal and they forwarded me to my daughter's 8th grade counselor. We met last spring to discuss my concerns. The counselor was nice and readily available. She set up testing and my daughter now has a 504 plan for high school. It was very easy.

I guess my point is if you want to know the answer to something school-related, ask someone at the school site.

Posted by An Answer, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 6, 2009 at 2:10 pm

To continue my post above, I have also found that the school sites are very helpful. One thing as a parent I struggle with is that they have to balance the needs of all of their students and sometimes I really want them to focus just on my daughter, but I understand why they do what they do, even if i do not agree with the result for my daughter.

I wanted a different teacher in 8th grade for my daughter but they refused to make the move because of school policy and class size. My daughter was upset but she ended up having a great year without making the change. Probably a lesson in there somewhere.

Posted by observer, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Dear An Answer,

504's are easier to get than IEP's and generally as kids get older the schools get better about them. Try getting one at some of the local elementary schools. Administrator behavior at that level is sometimes downright shameful.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 8, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Observer -

Administrative behavior varies hugely from school to school. While at Addison, I found them cooperative and helpful, with my child getting an IEP easily (or I should say, they were very willing to listen, then test and an IEP was warranted.)

The comment about teachers being kind, etc. being an obvious part of the job description - while I found elementary and middle school teachers to be generally kind and respectful, the high school teachers are definitely not. At least half the teachers my kids had at Paly really didn't care if the kids learned, were not particularly pleasant and many didn't even bother to learn the kids names.

Posted by Glad I Don't Have Kids Anymore, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 8, 2009 at 4:29 pm

You are responsible for the school district.

As with most facets of government in this country - from DC to classroom - control actually goes to the 50+% who say "screw it" because they believe they have no say, thus ceding it to a minority.

In a typical election of any kind, a trace majority of about 30-40% of registered voters, representing only about 60% of adults, vote for the winner.

Do the math........ 13% can rule this country, do control becase we don't care, and listen with a smile while we whine.

Posted by observer, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2009 at 10:55 am

Palo Alto Mom, Your comments and mine combined speak to the need for a resolution to the discussion topic - accountability and consistency across this unified school district.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 9, 2009 at 3:25 pm

I agree with some on the sub-thread about teachers "identifying" potentially depressed students, that is questionable and could be a tool of retribution (teachers getting a student "in trouble" if they just don't like him/her). I think this goes way beyond the teachers' job descriptions. Just teach your subject in a professional way and run your classroom professionally - that's all I want as a parent.

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