Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on May 23, 2012 at 8:08 am
> Skelly said Tuesday he believes the confidential updates – which
> he has provided virtually every week in his five years as
> superintendent -- do not violate the Brown Act, a view he said
> is corroborated by the school district's legal counsel.
School legal counsel can be wrong, but the way the law works is that if the Board/Superintendent are operating within the recommendations of their legal counsel, then they are not doing anything illegal. The question then becomes—is their legal counsel correct?
This article claims that Skelly has been providing these memos to the Board for upwards of five years now.
The question as to why Skelly, and the sitting board members felt that “confidential” memos were a good idea in a public school setting, and what information was generally conveyed through these memos that the public has not been privy to over these five years, becomes a question that needs to be asked, and answered.
And then there is the “tip of the iceberg” phenomenon. If these memos exist, are there any other communications that also might exist that do cross the boundaries of legality?
For far too long, the PAUSD has not been very open. The Administrators have too often treated the public with contempt—particularly where financial matters are concerned. Certainly thrashing out this matter, in public, would be a healthy thing. It would also be a good idea to make it an issue with future School Board candidates—who generally are not very well versed in basic law, or the voluminous Ed Code.
Maybe we should expect the PAUSD to post on its web-site:
o) Counsel’s advisory memo to the Sup./Board on this matter.
o) All of the memos that have been communicated to the Board under the veil of “confidentiality”.
Posted by T Tierney, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on May 23, 2012 at 9:11 am
The school board should operate in a better way — more open, with no serial communication that skirts public view.
It is not important whether the Brown Act applies, and the arguments whether it has legal merit here are uninteresting. By making decisions away from public scrutiny, the board has been avoiding the oversight that we deserve.
Our Board should operate under a higher standard, ending private communication.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton, on May 23, 2012 at 9:25 am Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Here is the Preamble to the Brown Act:
“In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards, and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”
“The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The
people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”
The people reconfirmed that intent fifty years later at the November 2004 election by adopting Proposition 59, amending the California Constitution to include a public right of access to government information:
“The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s
business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.”
The California League of Cities offers this excellent advice:
"An explicit and comprehensive public meeting and information policy (by each body subject to the Brown Act), especially if reviewed periodically, can be an important element in maintaining or improving public relations. Such a policy exceeds the absolute requirements of the law—but if the law were enough this guide would be unnecessary. A narrow
legalistic approach will not avoid or resolve potential controversies. An agency should consider going beyond the law, and look at its unique circumstances and determine if there is a better way to prevent potential problems and promote public trust. At the very least, local agencies need to think about how their agendas are structured in order to make Brown Act compliance easier. They need to plan carefully to make sure public participation fits smoothly into the process."
The League goes on to warn of the dangers of serial meetings:
One of the most frequently asked questions about the Brown Act involves serial
meetings. Such meetings at any one time involve only a portion of a legislative
body, but eventually involve a majority.
The problem with serial meetings is the process, which deprives the public of
an opportunity for meaningful participation in legislative body decision-making.
Except for teleconferencing discussed below, the Brown Act specifically prohibits
“any use of direct communication, personal intermediaries, or technological
devices that is employed by a majority of the members of the legislative body
to develop a collective concurrence as to action to be taken on an item by the
members of the legislative body.”
The serial meeting may occur by either a “daisy-chain” or a “hub-and-spoke”
sequence. In the daisy-chain scenario Member A contacts Member B, Member B
contacts Member C, Member C contacts Member D and so on, until a quorum and collective concurrence has been established. The hub-and-spoke process involves, for example, a staff member (the hub) communicating with members of a legislative body (the spokes) one-by-one for a decision on a proposed action, or a chief executive officer briefing a majority of redevelopment agency members prior to a formal meeting and, in the process, information about the members’ respective views is revealed. Each of these scenarios violates the Brown Act."
Posted by Terry Francke, a resident of another community, on May 23, 2012 at 9:30 am
That the "confidential" memos are not per se violations of the Brown Act is beside the point. In this context "confidential" does not mean legally protected from public disclosure but instead "Don't let this get around, but..." If a superintendent wants to have a routine secret channel to his board allowing reporting and recommendations different from what the public is told, he belongs in the private corporate world. In public service this duplicity is simply intolerable, and the penalty is one imposed not by law but by public opinion. What's damaged is trust in both the superintended and the board, and there's no study session or lawyer's memo to heal that breach.
Posted by anon, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on May 23, 2012 at 2:44 pm
Publisher Bill Johnson may not like the fact that Superintendent Skelly is sending memos to the school board, but that practice doesn't violate the Brown Act. In fact, such communications were upheld as legal in Wolfe v. City of Fremont (2006). Johnson should read up on that case: Web Link
These memos appear to be one-way communications, from the superintendent to each individual school board member. Had Skelly been discussing matters with one board member, and relaying those thoughts on to other members, then you'd have a serial meeting, and that would violate the Brown Act.
Instead of throwing unfounded accusations around, Johnson could try to persuade the board to adopt a policy prohibiting such memos.
Or he could urge state lawmakers to make another run at banning such memos. He might have some success there. In 2007, such a bill (SB-964) was approved by the state Senate 28-6 and Assembly 70-2. But it was vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. Today, with a different governor, the outcome could be different.
My final point is that it is unfortunate that Johnson has made these unfounded allegations against the superintendent and school board. Johnson's claims are easily refuted, and almost laughable. His credibility and that of the Weekly's have been diminished. And that's unfortunate because, who knows, maybe next week he will discover an actual violation of the Brown Act by the board. But who will believe him after this episode?
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton, on May 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
" Had Skelly been discussing matters with one board member, and relaying those thoughts on to other members, then you'd have a serial meeting, and that would violate the Brown Act."
The problem is that this confidential memo practice lays the groundwork for exactly that type of coordinated discussion. What is lost in the current process is TRUST and once trust is lost it is hard to regain.
Thank you Bill Johnson and the Weekly for blowing the whistle on this inappropriate behavior.
“The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s
business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.”
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on May 23, 2012 at 3:17 pm
@Peter, you are often a credible voice on local govt issues. But here you seem muddled.
If the practice is not a violation of the Brown Act, then those who said or implied that it was (Johnson, the Weekly) should withdraw their claim and apologize. Saying that an public official broke the law is a serious claim and MAKING THAT CLAIM by itself erodes the public trust. If it was done without basis, or without thought, or not in good faith, that's a shame and makes us weaker. I don't applaud it - I view it as irresponsible.
You seem to suggest in your last post that the practice of sending memos is "inappropriate," which seems to mean that you don't like it. You want public officials to "rise to the higher standard" than the law. That's fine and you are welcome to your view. Sometimes those views create new laws. Sometimes not.
But can you be clear on this - do you believe, based on what you know, that the behavior described does not violate the Brown Act? That's important for people to know, I think.
Posted by anon, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on May 23, 2012 at 3:41 pm
Peter, the memo may "lay the groundwork" for a serial meeting, but the memo itself isn't evidence of such a meeting. Such memos (from city managers or superintendents to board members) are common, and legal.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton, on May 23, 2012 at 3:42 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
"- do you believe, based on what you know, that the behavior described does not violate the Brown Act?"
No muddling here - In my opinion the behavior described DOES violate both the spirit and the letter of the Brown Act ("the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.”). I also know that the DA simply ignores the Brown Act and won't lift a finger to enforce it. The truth will only be know if those involved are forced to testify under oath - sadly that won't happen.
Please tell me why there is any justification for these confidential memos given that "the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.”
Posted by Bill Johnson, publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly, on May 23, 2012 at 4:55 pm Bill Johnson is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Anon and Me Too,
Please read our letter more carefully. Web Link We are fully aware of the court cases and have not argued that sending confidential memos is in violation of the Brown Act. While it may not be smart or good policy, it's clearly not illegal. The issue is whether the result of sending this particular memo was discussion or deliberation, through serial communication, by three or more members of the school board on a policy matter. There is plenty of reason to be concerned that is exactly what happened. But even if it didn't, is this really the way we want our public institutions to operate? Do we really want our public officials saying one thing in public and then turning around and doing something different in private?
The board and superintendent are to be commended for scheduling this study session. Hopefully, it will lead to agreement on some new "best practices" to ensure more transparency, which will in turn bring about less speculation and suspicion about what might be going on behind the scenes. We will all "win" if that can be achieved.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on May 23, 2012 at 6:08 pm
Thanks Bill. Just as with Peter, we can have a discussion about higher standards and how we "want" our public agencies to behave. In my mind that's a totally different discussion from whether they violated the law, and if they did, whether they knew it or not, and how material the violation was.
Your letter wasn't terribly persuasive to me - the memos were clearly fine, and the piecework evidence of a serial meeting was not compelling to me. The materiality of the subject matter - counseling at a high school - also did not get me very excited. You seemed to imply that since the memos had gone on for years, that there may have been years of serial meetings on all kinds of topics. Perhaps. But there wasn't any evidence of that presented.
It is good to see you commending the Board and Superintendent in your post. Your on-going support of and collaboration with groups which openly and actively attack public officials are troubling, and lead to questions of balanced reporting. I hope you carry over that balance to your editorial page.
Posted by Gunn freshman parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on May 23, 2012 at 6:50 pm
As the parent of a freshman at Gunn, this is not just an issue about open public meetings. This is about whether my son is getting the same quality of services as Paly students. (So I don't agree with Me Too that this isn't important because it is "counseling at a high school". Are you saying that because this is a school district they don't have to care about the Brown Act)?
In March the school board finally said, "Enough is enough. Gunn, go away and figure out how to get teacher advisors, or at least how to get the same level of services as at Paly." Then on April 6, Skelly sent an email to Katya Villalobos, the principal at Gunn, and other staff members, telling them why he didn't want to do what the board said (I got this email from another parent but I think it's fine to post it here).
THE GUIDANCE COUNSELOR MEETS WITH MY FRESHMAN OR SOPHOMORE
STUDENT. THEY DON'T HAVE THAT MUCH TO TALK ABOUT AND I DON'T
WANT TOO MUCH HYPE ABOUT COLLEGE TOO EARLY. I AM FINE IF, AS A
PRACTICE, OUR COUNSELORS FOCUS ON STRUGGLING KIDS. BUT THIS MEANS
MANY STUDENTS DON'T HAVE A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THEIR
COUNSELOR. AND SURVEY RESULTS ARE LOWER. This doesn't make any sense -- how are counselors supposed to focus on struggling kids? My son hasn't even met a counselor!
Then he sent a memo to the school board, telling them that he wasn't going to make changes at Gunn, that he was telling Gunn (which he already did on April 6, actually), and to please let him know if they objected and wanted to talk it over. I didn't know any of that until I read it in the paper and then saw this memo. If I had known what was happening, I would have written letters to the school board. I don't agree with what Skelly is doing, I want my son to see a counselor. But it was secret. That's the problem.
Is it a violation of the Brown Act? I don't know, I'm not a lawyer. I do know that Skelly should have told Gunn parents what he thinks about counseling and what he was doing so that we could be in on the decision. Now we're stuck.
I am sure that the school district would rather fight about the Brown Act, which is really confusing, than about secrecy and not telling parents what is actually going on and why. There's illegal and there's wrong. Maybe this is wrong and not illegal, although it seems like the school board decided in secret to let Skelly change their policy. But it's still wrong.
Posted by Reality check, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on May 23, 2012 at 7:09 pm
Me too is clearly voicing the districts perspective. I bet this little slice of Adobe-Meadows looks out onto Paly. But wishing doesn't make it so. Sending a confidential memo may be legal (though dumb). Sending a confidential memo that announces a policy change and asks for board input privately - not so much. If a majority of board members don't object, we get a new action out of public view. That is apparently what happened here. The fact that we don't know exactly what happened is the problem, not a defense.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton, on May 23, 2012 at 7:47 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Perhaps as they read all of the above postings, the School Board and the Superintendent was realize that what is important is not whether they have broken the law but that they have BROKEN THE TRUST of those whom they have sworn to serve.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on May 23, 2012 at 7:57 pm
@Peter - I agree, challenging officials to behave better is not an attack. But printing a lead editorial by a small group calling for the superintendent's ouster, which the Weekly did last year, is supporting an attack. That is the context of my remark.
@Reality - I do not work for the district or do anything beyond run-of-the-mill volunteering. I have children in the schools and follow local politics, primarily through the Weekly. But I have been taken aback since I came to Palo Alto at how weak the elected leadership institutions are (city and schools), which I have come to believe is in large part due to the behavior of small private groups, who have influence way out of proportion to their numbers and contribute to a nastiness and short-sightedness in civic affairs that I have not experienced before. We get the institutions we deserve.
Posted by Reality check, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on May 23, 2012 at 8:22 pm
Me too - OK, fine by me. But if you do happen to run into the superintendent over in Adobe-Meadows, you might ask him how "small private groups" caused him to hide his opinion and his action from public view. He hasn't accepted any responsibility or given any explanation for that yet. So I have to disagree with you. We deserve better than this and the way to get it is to stop making excuses and tell the whole truth. If these public officials were our kids, that's what we would tell them.
Posted by Bill Johnson, publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly, on May 23, 2012 at 11:09 pm Bill Johnson is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Sorry Tyranny, but the Weekly has no connection with WCDB other than having expressed an editorial position on our editorial page in favor of moving to a teacher advisor counseling system at Gunn, a view shared by WCDB.
The donation you refer to wasn't to the Weekly, it was to the Weekly's Holiday Fund that supports local non-profit groups serving families and children. The donor was a Palo Alto family that has no political involvements; they just thought our committee did a great job at evaluating grant applications and putting the money to effective use in the community.
May I encourage you to discuss the merits of the issues here, rather than throw around completely unfounded conspiracy theories?
Posted by Tired of inaccurate claims of inequity, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on May 24, 2012 at 1:44 am
@ Gunn freshman parent -- Students at Gunn may be getting a different mix of services than Paly students, but you seem to claim that they are getting inferior resources overall, which is simply not true. To date, Gunn has chosen to provide less counseling in favor of smaller class sizes. The TA system at Paly trades out teaching time to allow teachers to provide counseling time. The district and parents are now engaging in a meaningful debate about whether this is indeed the optimal balance. But please don't suggest that overall Gunn is under-resourced compared to Paly. The district takes great pains to make sure that our schools are given equal resources, but how the principals choose to use those resources differs across schools.
(Perhaps once this counseling matter is settled, we can have a meaningful debate about whether that is the correct policy, or whether there should be more central guidance and consistency across our schools. If our community truly chooses to have limited central policy, maybe we don't need as many central administrators. On the other hand, maybe if we have competent central administrators they could be providing guidance and consistency across our schools and helping to implement consistent best practices at all of our schools.)
Posted by "Trust" Is Just A Five-Letter Word, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on May 24, 2012 at 7:22 am
> Perhaps as they read all of the above postings, the
> School Board and the Superintendent was realize that
> what is important is not whether they have broken the law
> but that they have BROKEN THE TRUST of those whom
> they have sworn to serve.
This is an incredibly bogus argument. In this day and age, it is beyond naďve to suggest, or believe, that the voters, or the residents, have any trust in their elected officials. Particularly in Palo Alto, where virtually every argument about the schools has been buttressed with claims that “property values are driven by the PAUSD” (or words to that effect). People don’t care about “trust” when it comes to seeing $$$ when selling their homes. During the last PAUSD election, there were two open seats.. and no one ran. There was so much “trust” (or apathy) that the two sitting members had their terms extended by a simple action of the Board. That didn’t seem to upset the Weekly at the time, oddly. It was silent, as was every other “voice” in the community.
What’s missing from this discussion, at the moment, is whether anything in these memos resulted in a votes by the Board that could be subject to nullification under the Brown Act. With five years of these communications involved, we may never know.
It’s probably a safe bet that most people in the US “trust” that their elected officials will lie, cheat, and steal, given half a chance.
Posted by it's not called the "grey act", a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on May 24, 2012 at 8:05 am
Thank you for entering this discussion and clarifying your paper's position (that the Superintendent's memo is not a Brown Act violation), concern (fear of possible Brown Act violations if serial discussions between board members happened because of it) and interest (more access to information).
#1 I agree with you that there is no per se Brown Act violation.
#2 I don't see the basis of your concern though/yet. Your memo says that you have no facts that support it. Why not put in your FOIA request first, see if there is any evidence which supports your suspicion, and, only then and if the facts are there, run the story?
# 3 Your suggestion that public entities could be (but are not required to be) more open is sound.
I imagine that, through calm and normal channels, many people in all corners of town would join you in trying to convince the school board to craft new policies that do just that. But I do not recall Weekly stories reporting frustrated attempts by many people to get the board to agree to that, say by letters to the board or 3 minute public comments at school board meetings that led nowhere.
So, again, why start the discussion with an article in the newspaper which suggests something ILLEGAL happened? As I posted elsewhere, I assumed that it was because you did not get the best legal advice. But from your post above, that does not seem to be the case.
To be sure, that story got eyes to your site (3000 hits in just a few days?) and so probably ups your advertising revenues and bottom line.
It also attempts to put political pressure on those who will be deciding the fate of a guidance program that seems to be of great interest to at least a few in our community, something again that draws eyes to your site and which may be of personal interest to you too.
But it does not help with #3 – our community’s right to easier access to public records. That is because critical headlines based on conjecture influence decision makers under attack to close down instead of open up. These are the people we should be persuading in positive ways to enact disclosure policies that are more open than the law requires.
And there is a #4. Communities should be cognizant that accusations inevitably come with costs. Our students loose when limited financial resources are spent on lawyers hired to evaluate and counter these claims.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on May 24, 2012 at 8:09 am
@ Tired of inaccurate claims of inequity
Thank you for your post, since it states clearly and calmly one of the most persistent myths around this issue and gives me the opportunity to respond to it. To restate, you are claiming that the difference in effectiveness of counseling services between the two schools is not due to a difference in delivery models (that is, teacher advisory at Paly and a traditional guidance model at Gunn), but to a choice at Gunn to spend less on counseling and more on classroom teacher, specifically on smaller class sizes. When we look at both counseling services and class sizes, we can see that there is no overall service gap between the two high schools. (For a quick picture of the service gap that we're talking about, see the counseling survey data at Web Link, and for more detail, see Web Link).
I'll briefly outline my response before going into detail. The class size argument is incorrect because (1) class sizes don't vary substantially between Gunn and Paly, and reflect curriculum decisions rather than funding differences (2) the difference in the cost of guidance between the two high schools is quite small, and shifting those funds to guidance at Gunn would not produce an equally effective guidance system, (3) the idea that there is a strict tradeoff between classroom teaching and guidance services in the budget misunderstands how budgeting works, and (4) teacher advisory results in a more efficient expenditure of guidance funds than a traditional counseling model. Overall, then, the important difference between Paly and Gunn isn't that Paly is buying more guidance services, it's that Paly is spending its guidance dollars on a more effective and efficient guidance model.
First, class sizes at Gunn and Paly differ by approximately 1 student, or around 3%. I looked at class sizes at Gunn and Paly using data available from the California Department of Education, at Web Link. For the 2010-2011 school year (the most recent available), the average class size at Gunn was 29 and at Paly was 30. (I eliminated classes with 10 or fewer students for this calculation to capture regular classroom periods. Relaxing the size assumption produces the same 1-student difference but slightly smaller average class sizes). Restricting the analysis only to classes with more than 10 students that are A-G certified (that is, that count towards UC/CSU entrance requirements), yields the same result. It's worth noting that there are 403 such class sections at Paly, and 407 at Gunn, a difference of four sections or less than 1 teacher.
Including all A-G certified classes, including very small classes with 10 or fewer students, does result in a class size difference between Gunn and Paly of 2 students (25 students per class at Gunn, 27 at Paly). There are 60 sections at Paly of A-G certified courses with 10 or fewer students, and 68 at Gunn. However, the average class size in those small classes at Paly is 2 students and at Gunn is 4 students. That suggests that both schools are probably overinvesting in very small classes, that Gunn is investing more in these classes, and that Paly in particular could reduce its overall class size by shifting teaching resources from underutilized classes to oversubscribed ones.
In short, class sizes and teacher FTEs applied to teaching don't differ substantially between the two high schools, and the evidence suggests that the differences in class size that do exist could probably be addressed most directly by curriculum adjustments to allocate teachers to classes with more demand.
Second, the difference in the cost of guidance between the two high schools is quite small, according to PAUSD data. The consultant's report on counseling (available at Web Link). That report, which draws on detailed financial data from district staff and which was reviewed by the district before its release, finds a total guidance cost for Paly of $1,522,536, and for Gunn of $1,213,086, for a difference of $309,450 (see p. 16 of the report). However, in conversation with Gunn staff Katya Villalobos and Tom Jacoubowsky at the Board meeting where the consultant's report was discussed, I learned that the Gunn figure doesn't include at least one guidance item, the stipends for teachers participating in the Titan 101 advisory program for freshman, so the actual difference is smaller by around $30,000, producing an overall difference of approximately $280,000. Even that difference includes a new guidance counselor hired this year at Paly with PiE money, yielding a difference in district funds between the two schools of approximately $200,000. Applying that sum to the counseling model in use at Gunn would increase the number of guidance counselors from 6 to 8. There is no reason to believe that that modest a change would erase the differences between the two schools, when Paly is able to deploy more than 50 adults in guidance roles. (Superintendent Skelly's confidential April 20 memo to the Board advocated exactly this change, adding two counselors at Gunn. Ironically, if the guidance/class-size tradeoff argument were correct Skelly's suggestion would trigger all of the bad consequences for class sizes that using a traditional guidance model is supposed to avoid).
Third, the idea that there is a strict tradeoff between classroom teaching and guidance services in the budget misunderstands how budgeting works. If Gunn chose to spend more on guidance services, we would have to believe that the lowest priority expenditure that could be cut would be classroom teaching. The fact that teachers would fill guidance roles doesn't preclude shifting funds from some other expenditure category to teaching to compensate for the time those teachers would spend on being teacher advisors. In a $160 million district budget, it's impossible to believe that the lowest priority expenditure is classroom teaching at Gunn. Pretending that the only place to cut funds is a popular program is a classic tactic -- you can have prenatal care, but you'll have to lose Meals on Wheels for grandma. Do you want to starve grandma? But we don't have to starve grandma. In fact, the Board at its meeting on Tuesday night explicitly told district staff not to consider any incremental cost because they will be able to find funds elsewhere in the budget from lower priority items to meet any funding needs arising out of a shift to teacher advisory at Gunn.
Fourth, teacher advisory results in a more efficient expenditure of guidance funds than a traditional counseling model. The use of stipends rather than release periods for freshman teacher advisors at Paly results in a lower per-FTE cost at Paly of approximately $13,000, which means that Paly provides 6.5 more FTEs of guidance services for an additional investment of approximately $280,000, as noted above (see also the consultant's report, at p. 16).
As this analysis demonstrates, the counseling service gap between Paly and Gunn is due to the use of a teacher advisory model at Paly and a traditional advisory model at Gunn, not to a funding allocation decision. That's because a teacher advisory model isn't about spending more dollars on guidance, it's about spending those dollars more wisely -- in a way that puts multiple adults in guidance roles with students, that produces many more touchpoints between the guidance system and students, and that uses a division of labor among teachers, guidance counselors, and college counselors to increase their individual effectiveness. The idea that we need to have a less effective guidance system at Gunn in order to support smaller class sizes isn't true. The funding difference between the two guidance models is small, class sizes at the high schools are not substantially different, and in any case could be more directly and profitably addressed by adjusting the curriculum to better meet student demand for courses.
Given the foregoing, it's truly unfortunate that this supposed tradeoff is so often repeated by district staff, including by Superintendent Skelly and Katya Villalobos in an email to the entire Gunn parent community on May 5.
Posted by Ralph M. Brown, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on May 24, 2012 at 9:28 am
@ it's not called the "grey" act
The preamble to the Brown Act states, “It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly” and “The People of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”
The Brown act further states that a majority of members of a legislative body may not "use a series of communications of any kind, directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate, or take action on any item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body."
While Confidential memos from the superintendent to the board may be a violation of the public trust, they are not per se a violation of the Brown Act. One way transmission of background materials for solitary review by board members is allowed by the Brown Act. However, private polling of board members on public policy decisions through email exchange or private conversations is a clear violation of the Brown Act provision against serialized meetings outside of the public’s view. If you review the letter that the Weekly sent to the School Board you will see that this is the issue that Mr. Johnson is raising with the Board.
Posted by Tired of inaccurate claims about inequality, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on May 24, 2012 at 10:58 am
@Ken. Thanks for your extensive clarification. I have no issue with this process of reviewing best practices and trying to leverage things that work well between our schools so that experiences are more consistent across the district. My only issue is when parents extrapolate and suggest that Paly is getting more resources than Gunn. Gunn gets the same resources and same per student PiE allocation as Paly. The issue is whether Gunn is choosing to use resources in the most effective way possible, not whether Gunn is getting fewer resources. I am all for applying more consistent best practices across our many schools.
My only issue with your post is the suggestion that the district needs to find money from its overall budget to fill the gap. Gunn will need to make tradoffs to fill the gap -- the tradeoff should not be taken from elementary schools through the $160M budget but from Gunn itself through its own budget. By your calculations, this could mean 1-2 more students per class at Gunn. Perhaps well worth the tradeoff, but in an era of budget reductions there are always tradeoffs.
Posted by time to end this, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on May 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm
Tired, you're missing Ken's point.
WKBPA wants this project accepted and parents at Gunn are probably going to be against increasing class size to accommodate more counselor FTE positions. Hence the emphasis on Gunn getting more money even if it is from Elementary schools. You only need to see who got the short end when they they railroaded the calendar through.
Posted by Another Gunn parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on May 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm
Ken, thanks for this analysis, and for all the time you have put into helping to understand what is going on. I wish that we had such high quality work from the district. If you weren't putting your time into this and the other analysis, we would not know nearly as much as we do.
I think that you are burying your lead. If Skelly proposed adding 2 counselors at Gunn, and the difference between Paly and Gunn guidance is around $200k in district funds, then we are not arguing about money, since we are going to be spending somewhat more on Gunn counseling. We are arguing about how to spend it.
I don't know where that $200k should come from, but I am persuaded by Ken's argument that it does not have to come from teaching. Why would we assume that since teachers would be doing some guidance, we would have to take the money for it out of the teaching budget? Why not administration, maintenance, landscaping, computer upgrades, renting out an empty building, whatever? How about having one or two fewer people working at district headquarters? We seem to be getting most of what we need for free anyways, from Ken. I think we are hearing about class sizes because that is what the district thinks parents care about, not because that is where we would actually HAVE to get the money.
So the class size argument is REALLY A SCARE TACTIC. If adding 2 counselors to what we have (Skelly) or switching to advisory are similar price, it comes down to which is better. I don't even think class sizes are about money. How about moving some teachers from small classes? Is Gunn teaching some classes just because the teachers like teaching them? Why not have them teach the classes that are crowded, since the district is already paying for them?
Honestly when I read this I just feel like there's something I am missing here about why we can't just do this? Why are we paying basically the same amount of money for something that isn't working very well? Why not say, if we're going to spend upwards of $1 million a year, it should work as well at Gunn as at Paly? This just isn't that hard.
Posted by time to end this, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on May 24, 2012 at 3:06 pm
"Why are we paying basically the same amount of money for something that isn't working very well?"
Gunn currently has smaller English class sizes compared to Paly. That is where your school has chosen to spend the money. If more counselors are more important to the parents at the school than the class sizes, you can "just do this" and increase the class sizes to those at Paly. This is totally a Gunn issue but WKBPA has made it a district issue.
Just don't expect to get it from other sources such as your wish for it to come from "one or two fewer people working at district headquarters".
Posted by Another Gunn parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on May 24, 2012 at 4:10 pm
Time to end this (kind of an aggressive name?)
You seem very attached to some ideas, but I don't understand why.
You think there is some iron connection between class size and guidance budget. But a budget contains many items. You could also say that Gunn has chosen to spend its budget on more secretaries, or landscaping, or whatever. I wonder why you think it is necessarily class size. It's like if I decide I want to go to one more movie each month, and you say, "OK, but you have to give up HBO" because it's also about movies. Why can't I decide that I want to give up two extra pedicures instead because I like HBO more than pedicures? Money is fungible. Anyways, Skelly wants to spend more money on counselors at Gunn too, see my earlier post on this board. This isn't about money, it is about where to spend it. I am sure that he isn't planning to increase class sizes, since he sent Gunn parents a letter promising not to.
You say this is a Gunn issue only. But we send our kids to a unified school district. I don't pay taxes to "Gunn High School" district that is separate from the "District Headquarters" district. If we decide we want to shift money within the district, we can do that.
Also, That is why we have one school board. I voted for the school board, not for the Gunn administration. If Gunn decides it doesn't want to have a better counseling system, I need to be able to go to the school board to fix it. Half of the kids in our district will eventually go to Gunn.
You seem to think that WKBPA is really bad. I am sensing a lot of anger from you, like in your name. But what I see is that they do a lot of work to provide the community with data and with analysis. They have a point of view, but you can decide whether you believe it or not. On the other hand, a lot of what you are saying is not based in any data, and some it like the things I am talking about here seem like they are just wrong at first glance. I am more likely to listen to the people that are talking about facts and being clear than people who seem to be more motivated by anger than what is good for kids. Why are you so angry?
Posted by time to end this, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on May 24, 2012 at 5:26 pm
The class size issue is clearly stated in various reports. eg: Web Link
"Because it must compensate the teacher advisers, who volunteer for the job, Paly spends several hundred thousand dollars more on its counseling program than Gunn, which directs similar resources toward smaller English classes."
This is clearly a Gunn issue, which Gunn can solve alone and should solve with the help of the parents at Gunn.
"If we decide we want to shift money within the district, we can do that."
You're seriously suggesting that we should increase per-student spending at Gunn only? You don't think that there should be commensurate increase across all schools in Palo Alto? What's so special about Gunn? Even the choice schools are required to be cost-neutral.
The board has clearly stated on numerous occasions that it wants to allow schools some level of independence. Gunn has decided to use their budget in a way that WKBPA doesn't like so they raise it to the board. WKBPA can't engage with the Gunn principal as they have no forum if they don't have kids there and definitely no leverage.
Posted by Clarity please, a member of the Terman Middle School community, on May 24, 2012 at 5:59 pm
@Time to end this
I am confused. You live in Crescent Park, in the Paly district. Kids in your neighborhood get teacher advisors at Paly. But you tell a parent group that actually has many Gunn parents that they shouldn't advocate to the school board for different policies?
The school board actually decided in March that it won't tolerate a gap in counseling at Paly and Gunn, and told Gunn to come back with a plan to fix it. They also told Gunn to take a hard look at implementing teacher advisory. "Gunn" doesn't get to decide to do something different, since the school board runs the district. If you want to criticize somebody, you should criticize the school board -- or do you think that they shouldn't set policy at Gunn either?
Parents, taxpayers, and the school board run the schools. If we all decide that we want to spend less money on district administrators and more money on teachers -- which makes a lot of sense to me, based on what I hear -- we can do that.
Read the posts above. The class size issue is a red herring. The story you quote says "Because it must compensate the teacher advisers, who volunteer for the job, Paly spends several hundred thousand dollars more on its counseling program than Gunn, which directs similar resources toward smaller English classes." There is no evidence that spending more money on counseling means spending less money on English classes. That's like saying that because I spend $5 on ice cream and my friend spends $5 on candy, if she wants ice cream she has to stop spending money on candy. Yes, that's true, if she only has $5. Otherwise she can take it from somewhere else.
This whole money issue is silly anyways, since everybody apparently wants to spend more money on counseling at Gunn. The question is , how do we want to spend it?
Posted by Jordan mom, a member of the Jordan Middle School community, on May 24, 2012 at 7:02 pm
I think counseling at Gunn is important but we have lost the thread of what is going on here. Also I don't know what is going on there.
I want to respond to " it's not called the "grey act"". Especially this: "That is because critical headlines based on conjecture influence decision makers under attack to close down instead of open up. These are the people we should be persuading in positive ways to enact disclosure policies that are more open than the law requires."
This is ridiculous. We don't need to figure out how to "persuade" the people who work for the public that they shouldn't be doing public business in secret. Talk about blaming the victim. We pay very high salaries, I think Skelly's is more than $250,000, that should be persuasion enough. School board members run for office. It would be nice if they were more open than the law requires, but let's start with not doing business in secret.
"Communities should be cognizant that accusations inevitably come with costs. Our students loose when limited financial resources are spent on lawyers hired to evaluate and counter these claims." Again with blaming the vicim. Actually, it's trying to do business in secret that causes people to wonder what is going on. As I understand it, somebody leaked this memo to the Weekly, and then the Weekly took it to a lawyer. The memo asks school board members to talk to the supt. privately, off the record. Did they? We don't know, because the whole thing was secret. And now you want the press to prove that the law was broken with FOIA?
Where are the school board members on this? Have any of them even commented? Why don't they tell us what happened? They know whether they met with the supt. There seems to be some basic honesty missing here.
If you think that the California Records Act and Brown Act don't go far enough, appeal to our legislators. If they agree, your proposal will get a full vetting by all of our state's policy makers in public session. They will agree or disagree but all public entities will be held to the same standard.
It is also completely appropriate to suggest to the school board and district that they do more than the law allows. As I posted, I would not start off with alarming headlines but rather use quiet (meaning calm) diplomacy.
Be prepared that others will counter that our district should do only what the law requires if that frees up time that can be used to educate our students, balance the district's budget, evaluate what more can be done to support students emotionally, etc. Which is more important? That will be for our elected officials to decide.
As for where the school board members are on "secret memos", in the article that started this thread the Weekly writes that the board will be having a public meeting about public access with paid lawyers there to advise (how much will that cost our students?) on May 31.
That is the perfect forum for you to make suggestions. To my original post, you'll probably have more success (and supporters) if you make your suggestion politely.
Posted by it's not called the "grey act", a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on May 25, 2012 at 8:13 am
One more point on your point: "The memo asks school board members to talk to the supt. privately, off the record. Did they? We don't know, because the whole thing was secret. And now you want the press to prove that the law was broken with FOIA?"
The Brown Act does not bar individual school board members from having private talks with the Superintendent.
It bars the Superintendent from sharing what he learns from one member with the others off line.
You may be fearful that that is what he has done but there is no indication that that is what happened.
If my recollection is correct, all we know he shared were some ideas and ideas and information that he had gathered while doing the investigation that the school board asked of him.
I suspect he invited the board members to talk to him to see if there was other information that he could gather before that meeting so that they could be fully informed for that discussion which is a perfectly reasonable and innocent explanation of what he could have meant by the invitation.
So there are two (maybe more) possible explanations. Hence the need to gather information via a FOIA request to see if your theory is correct.
We tend not to condemn people in the US based soley on fear, without proof. Many think that a similar standard should apply to the news and the public in blogs/threads.
It is puzzling to me that some in our community are not happy that the superintendent took the board's direction seriously and acted quickly on it.
Posted by Tyranny of the Loud, a member of the Gunn High School community, on May 25, 2012 at 10:37 am
Dear Bill Johnson ~ Thank you for clarifying your connection with the WCDB group. I take issue with your comment to avoid conspiracy theories. While the question may have come across as suggesting that, the real issue is transparency, which has all to do with this overall topic. There has been a very notable disproportionate emphasis on WCDB positions to the point where some of us (not just me), do wonder the basis for this, when at time reporting by the Weekly almost appears to be either advocacy for WCDB positions or over-reliance on WCDB.
Posted by Jordan mom, a member of the Jordan Middle School community, on May 25, 2012 at 2:08 pm
You wrote back, "There is no "business in secret". If you want to read what the school district is doing, just ask". And then you put in a link to public records act requests that people have had to file to find out what the school district is doing in secret. I think that proves my point. Are you saying that if someone had asked the supt., what's going on with counseling at Gunn, he would have said, Oh, thank you for asking. AS A PARENT, I DON'T REALLY CARE IF THE GUIDANCE COUNSELOR MEETS WITH MY FRESHMAN OR SOPHOMORE STUDENT. THEY DON'T HAVE THAT MUCH TO TALK ABOUT AND I DON'T WANT TOO MUCH HYPE ABOUT COLLEGE TOO EARLY (from the post above)? So I sent a confidential memo to the school board telling them that I don't want to do what they said, and I'm not going to? Maybe, but because it took someone filing a public records request to find this out, I doubt it. This just seems obvious to me. Everybody should be in the same discussion, not one for insiders (staff and school board) and one for everybody else (parents, teachers, students).
For your next post, the memo to the school board doesn't say, here's some information I gathered. It says, I don't want to change at Gunn, and I'm going to tell Gunn that. So even though your story sounds nice, it doesn't fit even what we know about what happened.
Posted by Just sayin', a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on May 25, 2012 at 2:49 pm
TOL: There is another, more innocent, more logical explanation for the Weekly's frequent coverage involving WCDBPA you might consider. They exist, they are organized, they show up, they are vocal, they "do their homework", they question, they have a point, and they press for accountability and action. Might that be "it"?
Posted by Harrassing, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on May 25, 2012 at 6:01 pm
It seems clear that WCDBPA, and the Daubers personally, have set out on a mission to harry and harass the school board and staff until they drive them out. They fill the meetings with public comment (Ken Dauber commented on at least 5 items at the last meeting, in addition to his wife and other cohorts); they bury the district with public record requests; they create the need for exhaustive additional analysis to support or disprove their claims; and they constantly criticize the staff and its efforts (Michelle Dauber takes the prize in that category, I am sad to say). I actually believe they are well intended - but their methods are extremely unproductive and destructive.
If we drive the board members out, and the senior staff away - sure, there will be replacements. But what quality of people will want to serve in Palo Alto? If they drive out Skelly, why would the next one think she or he will fare any better? Why would reasonable people want to serve on a school board where a small group has worked tirelessly to direct the agenda, force their conclusions, and lengthen the meetings even beyond their usual crazy hours (this week's went to almost 2am, I believe)? And what atmosphere will prevail in a town where the Jacobins stand ready to drive out those who displease them?
It mystifies me why Mr. Johnson and the Weekly support this group. Sure, giving them "ink" sells papers, and yes, they do the work. But printing an editorial calling for the Superintendent to be fired? And accusing the Board of Brown Act organized violations, on, in my opinion, reed-thin evidence? The damage to our civic institutions, once done, is hard to undo. I image Mr. Johnson knows this - I just don't understand why he takes this seemingly irresponsible course.
Posted by In the meantime, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on May 25, 2012 at 7:38 pm
Harrassing: In the meantime, what do we do about our teens? How do we reconcile your disdain for the Daubers and WCDBPA and the fact that, had it not been for them, thousands of student voices would never have been heard? Should we have student comments on guidance "thrown out" because we don't like the tactics of WCDBPA? Should we take the idea of Teacher Advisory off the table simply because "we aren't PALY" or "we don't want to be told what to do"?
I feel the discomfort, too, when they push and argue. It IS painful to watch - mainly because the District could have prevented SO much of it - just by doing a better job, by being more open and proactive, by abandoning "spin" and acknowledging the deep significance of their students' comments, by caring enough to include them.
Had there been no records request, would we ever have heard our teens' thoughtful comments on guidance at their school? Yeah, it was unpleasant to have to request records, but darn it, why were they left out in the first place?
It does not feel good. But as much as folks are asking the Daubers to step back, we could and should be asking the District to step up and lead.
I am genuinely hoping for a good showing of leadership, planning and substance at the Board meeting on June 12th.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton, on May 25, 2012 at 8:55 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
"an editorial calling for the Superintendent to be fired"
Wrong, that is NOT what the editorial called for.
"The damage to our civic institutions, once done, is hard to undo."
How true! And the damage comes not from reporting the facts but from the facts themselves. What is the district trying to hide? This is the public's business and there is no place for secret communications.
"It mystifies me why Mr. Johnson and the Weekly support this group"
Neither the Weekly nor most of the posters "support this group" but rather what we support is “The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s
business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.”
Posted by Harrassing, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on May 25, 2012 at 9:22 pm
Peter, I am disappointed since usually I find your comments thoughtful.
In the Feb 25, '11 editorial by Mr. and Mrs. Dauber was titled "Palo Alto school district needs new leadership" and ended with "the school board should do the job that we elected it to do and hire leadership that will address the root causes of the crisis." I'm not sure how you parse that aside from calling for Skelly to be fired. Come on now, call it what it is.
And handing out guest editorial space is most definitely "support."
Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on May 25, 2012 at 9:28 pm
You sound a lot like Micaela Presti's comments to the school board, maybe she is your friend since she was there to count how many times Mr. Dauber talked at the meeting and you definitely are saying the same thing. Even though she is a Jordan parent who has never had a high schooler in PAUSD let alone at Gunn, and she is moving to Marin, she feels empowered argue that Gunn parents like the Daubers and others in their group should not have the right and ability to do analysis and try to get TA at Gunn. She's got chutzpah, give her that. What I don't like is that she implies that she is speaking for PTAC and even PSN. Does anyone know if PTAC and PSN have a position on TA at Gunn? If not, I don't think PTAC officials should be taking positions on things like this. It just makes me suspicious of PTAC like they have an axe to grind.
Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on May 25, 2012 at 9:29 pm
You sound a lot like Micaela Presti's comments to the school board, maybe she is your friend since she was there to count how many times Mr. Dauber talked at the meeting and you definitely are saying the same thing. Even though she is a Jordan parent who has never had a high schooler in PAUSD let alone at Gunn, and she is moving to Marin, she feels empowered argue that Gunn parents like the Daubers and others in their group should not have the right and ability to do analysis and try to get TA at Gunn. She's got chutzpah, give her that. What I don't like is that she implies that she is speaking for PTAC and even PSN. Does anyone know if PTAC and PSN have a position on TA at Gunn? If not, I don't think PTAC officials should be taking positions on things like this.
Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on May 25, 2012 at 10:09 pm
Harassing -- you seem like you don't care very much about the law. You complain that the district has to do public records requests as if they are somehow victims instead of just public officials who are subject to the law (never mind that parents wouldn't have to do public record requests if the district did its job right as others pointed out).You defend the superintendent and the board even though several Brown Act experts such as Mr. Franke and Mr. Carpenter are posting to our town newspaper to support the idea the fishy business is going on.Why are you defending fishy business?Why do you think that its bad if the district complies with the law?Maybe you work at the district and don't like to be accountable to the public? Maybe you are married to someone who works at the district? Maybe you are a PTAC official who sees herself as a district official? Whatever may be, it is just ridiculous to be posting about how following the law is "hararssment". You ask how we will get public officials to serve if they have to follow the law. That is a dumb question. The question is how will we get public officials who will follow the law.In November we can find out.
Posted by Harrassing, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on May 26, 2012 at 1:28 am
Peter, the Feb 25th piece (which is the one I was referring to of course) was a signed op-ed piece, run completely at the discretion of the editor. Printing the op-ed piece by a random citizen, especially calling for a senior official to be fired, is very much a sign of support by the paper. I can't recall seeing one in the Weekly before or since - can you?
I wish you wouldn't be so rude in your posts, it detracts from the discussion in my opinion.
Gunn Parent, I'm not familiar with the lady you mention, I'm sorry.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton, on May 26, 2012 at 6:23 am Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Op-Ed articles are NOT the Editorial position of the publication in which they appear but the OPINION of the individual(s) who write the Op-Ed.
"An op-ed, abbreviated from opposite the editorial page (though often mistaken for opinion-editorial), is a newspaper article that expresses the opinions of a named writer who is usually unaffiliated with the newspaper's editorial board. These are different from editorials, which are usually unsigned and written by editorial board members." Wikipedia
Holding posters accountable for errors in their postings on this Forum is not being rude but the standard of the Forum - "Please be respectful and truthful in your postings". If you don't wish to be held accountable for your errors then don't make baseless postings.