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Editorial: Palo Alto school board in parallel universe

Original post made on May 10, 2013

The poor school board just can't catch a break. Try as they might to follow the advice of their attorney and send the message they won't be "distracted" and are "moving forward" from the controversy over bullying cases, one thing after another drags them back into turbulent waters.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, May 10, 2013, 8:49 AM

Comments (31)

Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 10, 2013 at 6:20 am

Interesting editorial. Two reactions.

"Superintendent Skelly, who personally approved the sponsorship, initially told the Weekly the district had never agreed to sponsor it, but then said he withdrew support after hearing that some people might use the meeting to encourage more complaints against the district." I'm just bemused by this level of petty dishonesty. Why not just tell the truth?

The first strategic plan was also written with McKinsey, and was also a strong document. It was honored more in the breach than in following, though. The real job of the school board is to follow through and hold staff accountable. In this case, the acid test will be whether the board actually insists that staff gather and honestly report on the metrics that the plan defines, and fills in the gaps where metrics don't yet exist. The plan is a tool, not the goal.


Posted by Answers, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2013 at 6:59 am

I appreciate the editorial and the information provided. The information coming from PAUSD is so limited, especially now that everything is on advice of counsel. I know that Kevin Skelly and the board are thankful that this editorial just sort of bemuses the fact that their leadership is in disarray, is dysfunctional, and has ended. In reality, even if they can unbury themselves, a large portion of the public will never trust, respect, or follow them again. Many will, but many of us are no longing supporting PiE and we will remember how they stood by and did nothing during these difficult years, we will remember during the fall campaign. We will also remember during next year's election. Mostly though, many of us can't look at Skelly, Charles Young, the board, and a few others in the eye anymore. Their fundamental failures--this is management 101--will define their leadership and character.


Posted by Oldtimer, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 10, 2013 at 7:48 am

Accepting a well-packaged plan from McKinsey and handing out money does not require leadership. Where leadership and good governance have been required, the school board has been completely absent. Their refusal to deal with the implications of the civil rights findings, even to be interested enough to find out what happened, is a just a remarkable dereliction of basic management.


Posted by PA parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2013 at 8:13 am

Speaking as someone who was about to file an OCR complaint and held off because
1) finally somehow after a long unnecessarily antagonistic history, district personnel have indicated a willingness to work with rather than against (though it remains to be seen),
2) we learned about other complaints recently and didn't want to add to it just now.

I think Skelly doesn't realize how connected district families are, and that they're not complaining DESPITE the district's obfuscating, not because of it.

My own focus was on facilities, and on that score, the survey was ABYSMAL, not even including the most basic priorities in the mix, and the questions asked were so limited or confusing as to be worthless. I do think the rest of the survey, though, if memory serves, was better than the previous one.


Posted by JLS dad, a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 10, 2013 at 8:33 am

I take issue with the editorial saying that Kevin Skelly making a false statement to the press is "not horrible" and just a sign of "overwork" or "disorganization" or "cutting corners."

Lying, that is stating a clear, provable, demonstrable falsehood is not a sign of any of those things. It is a sign of a lack of honesty. That is all it is a sign of.

The Weekly should have reported on this in a news story, not in an editorial. What is the evidence that Skelly personally approved the co-sponsorship? Is it an email? What is the event about? Lying by a public official to the press is itself news. Why is our only real newspaper sticking that important fact into an editorial 5 inches down and then calliing it "not horrible." The man lied. That's horrible. Coupled with the facts that:

1. According to the Weekly, Skelly didn't even disclose that the entire OCR investigation and finding against the district ever happened, and then didn't disclose that there were others, and still evidently isn't disclosing all of the OCR complaints;

2. According to the Weekly, Skelly and Laurie Reynolds his lawyer together participated on 2/26 in giving false and misleading information to he board about the OCR cases;

Now we have another false statement of fact (apparently, since there is no news story reporting on it) by the Superintendent on this topic. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 10, 2013 at 9:55 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] What kind of example does that set for our kids? But more than that it makes PAUSD sitting ducks in a lawsuit because he's already impeached six ways from Sunday as a witness based just on his statements in the press on the topic [portion removed.]

The other disturbing thing is that Skelly thinks that some one could somehow use the OCR event to get additional complaints against the district. [Portion removed.] Either the district has followed the law and treated people correctly or not. If not then then they have every right to file a claim. The implication of Skelly's comment is that their complaints would be ginned up or unfair sounds really bad. If the district is following the law then no worries OCR will quickly dismiss frivolous claims from consideration. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Criminalist, a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 10, 2013 at 10:25 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by standing up for the kids, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 10, 2013 at 10:35 am

" but many of us are no longing supporting PiE"
Who are these "many" you speak of? I'm not going to make the children suffer for the perceived issues you have with the district. I also don't know of anyone else who is willing to do that.


Posted by on that note..., a resident of Stanford
on May 10, 2013 at 10:46 am

PIE just sent out its newsletter. Interesting reading. The "letter to my middle school self" section includes testimony from students at JLS about bullying:

"Her fellow Panther, Darby, sounds a reassuring note: 'Bullying doesn't really happen. You just talk out problems.' He adds that the Team system (segmenting the classes into manageable groups of 100) enables him to interact with a smaller subset of kids in his grade, along with special-interest clubs that meet largely at lunchtime."

I think it is interesting that we have a PIE newsletter that appears to validate that JLS uses a "best practice" of a team system that appears to diminish bullying. The connections and Ohlone SEL curriculums are proven better. So why haven't they been distributed throughout the district? Why hasn't school board member Heidi Emberling, who requested an inventory of SEL bullying programs from site to site, even been provided with that inventory? Why are we all just groping around amid distortions and outright lies from our paid staff? This is a bizarre down the rabbit hole situation.

PIE can and should do something. PIE is in a position to exercise influence as the major private donor to PAUSD. [Portion removed.] PIE has to do more than just hand over money -- it owes its donors the accountability to ensure that the money we give it is well-spent and not squandered on lawyers, settlements, and PR to cover up for all these massive screw-ups. To highlight bullying in the PIE newsletter is to beg the question -- should people give to PIE when PIE does not seem to care what happens to the check [portion removed?] I engage in substantial philanthropy. I see prospectuses and I review to ensure that my money is well spent. PIE needs to ensure my money is well-spent -- that's part of what a good nonprofit board does. Does no one in this town understand basic governance?


Posted by standing up for the kids, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 10, 2013 at 11:21 am

Yes, let's turn PiE into a political entity. That's a great way to raise revenue.


Posted by Tech exec, a resident of Community Center
on May 10, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Management consultants don't fix personnel problems. $150k would be wasted with the current district leadership.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Let's face it. We voted in this board. We acknowledge that there is no leadership. We voted in a popularity contest. Good leaders don't usually win popularity contests - look at Steve Jobs.

Ken Dauber was not popular, he rubbed people up the wrong way. To be a good leader, you have to rub people up the wrong way.

We need some good leaders, but unfortunately people who may be able to lead us (like Dauber and Tim Gray for City council) are not likely to get popularity votes.

We get what we have voted for. [Portion removed.]


Posted by I Knew It, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 10, 2013 at 1:48 pm

I knew Heidi Emberling was a mistake, too wet behind the ears.

I knew Ken Dauber's loss was a mistake, too controversial.

BUT, the other board members, who continue to protect the inept Kevin Skelly without a good reason...I had higher hopes for them. They have lost my trust with their coverups and secretive behaviors and hidden agendas [portion removed.]

For the sake of everyone in PAUSD, and to let the healing begin, stop protecting Kevin Skelly and realize that the time has come to let him go. [Portion removed.]


Posted by standing up for the kids, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 10, 2013 at 1:50 pm

You didn't just equate Ken Dauber to Steve Jobs did you? Wow, it's not the board that's living in a parallel universe!


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Ooops, no I was not trying to equate Jobs and Dauber although rereading I can see why you think I did.

No I was using Jobs as an example of an unpopular leader, like Thatcher, Gates, etc.

Good leaders do not have to be popular.

Dauber may or may not have been a good leader, but he certainly became very unpopular.

We have some very nice people leading our City and PAUSD. Being nice is enough to get voted, but being nice doesn't mean that they can lead.


Posted by Voter, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 10, 2013 at 2:55 pm

I voted for Dauber because I thought (and think) he was clearly the best qualified. I don't think he was "very unpopular". He received over 16,000 votes, a few percent (around 1000?) less than Emberling, and that was after a negative email and whispering campaign.
I think it was a missed opportunity. If he was on the board he would be making sure that the public knows what is going on and the district is fixing the problem, rather than ignoring and covering it up.
That's not because he is Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Mahatma Gandhi, though. He is just a software engineer who seems willing to tell the truth.


Posted by Voter 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 10, 2013 at 3:54 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 10, 2013 at 4:29 pm

This article seems to be more praising of the PAUSD Board of Education than the article's tag line seems to suggest. Most of the comments on Weekly blogs seem to show a lot more dissatisfaction with the Board than this editorial reflects.

> There are simply too many times when the school
> board is left needing to fix or re-do the work of
> the staff, and the reasons for that need to be
> understood and fixed.
Is this really true? What examples can the Weekly provide to back up this statement?
> A great strategic plan will not succeed if
> the staff is not capable of doing the work,
> and by now it is obvious that is in question.

There is a huge difference between planning and execution. Given the current academic strengths demonstrated by the District—what exactly is the editorial staff saying—other than they want Kevin Skelly fired?

It's clear that there are all sorts of problems in the PAUSD and the City of Palo Alto government entities. Given that the State Ed.Code (and increasingly the Office of Civil Rights, it would seem) defines virtually every thing that the School Board can do, and the City Charter restricts what the City Council can do—aren't we looking at problems imposed on us by those who have created these restraints (the State Legislature and previous City Councils and Palo Alto voters)?

I would also like to suggest that the Brown Act imposes a number of restraints that were originally thought to be "good for open government", but now, in the age of the Internet and digital communications—puts the brakes on a number of interactions between government policy makers that might be worth rethinking. Between the PAUSD and the CPA, there is over $300M in combined expenses, and increasingly hundreds of millions of dollars of capital expenditures that need "oversight". Sitting in a group meeting once a week for a few hours hardly seems like enough time for adequate "oversight". There needs to be more interaction between the "Trustees" than is currently allowed under Brown.

The decision to hire a Communications Officer was a bad idea, in my opinion. I would much rather have seen that money spent on an Auditor, or contracts for outside Audits, that would help provide more information about the state of the District, as well as meaningful performance Audits of the Measure A funds.

I do agree with the Weekly that we are not seeing the leadership out of Superintendent Skelly that we are paying for.


Posted by 3 kids, a resident of Barron Park
on May 10, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I agree with Wayne about the Comm Officer. If communication is not already a major part of the requirements to be hired as a Super, Asst Super, etc., then what?? There went another 6 figure salary -- buying their way out of a PR problem instead of just doing their jobs better.

I don't envy the Board's work. Similar to teachers, the Board serves a vast majority of silent and satisfied families, along with a loud cadre of over-entitled, under-involved grousers. Don't take blogs or Palo Alto Online as a true indication of public sentiment.

PS: i've seen the McKinsey plan. Patently obvious is what I would call their snazzy work up. We needed to pay consultants to come up with this?? I worked in consulting. They are mostly paid to help organizations say they are "doing something about it." What a shame. More money poorly spent?


Posted by Paying Attention, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 10, 2013 at 4:31 pm

The staff are very capable of doing their jobs. Unfortunately, often the teachers are shielded from the often over critical parents by the principals and the union. [Portion removed.] The result is that when there is a genuine problem, such as bullying, bad teaching, etc., the staff closes ranks and stonewalls the parents. I have been in this position several times as my students go through Palo Alto schools. During this time, I have had to contact the district, perhaps four times about different issues. Almost every time, I got a non response. All the while, I've seen a number of parents who are constantly harassing the staff over every single thing that occurs with their student [portion removed.] Again, this is not the fault on any one or two administrators or teachers. The district is under siege and acts accordingly.


Posted by FrankF, a resident of Ventura
on May 10, 2013 at 4:32 pm

> The unusual letter < about ongoing disability-based bullying at the school
> approved by Superintendent Kevin Skelly, prompted the
>Office for Civil Rights to send a letter to the district expressing concerns about the privacy rights of complainants and warn it about
>intimidation and retaliation.

This shows the really difficult spot the District finds itself in. On the one hand they want to say 'stop teasing Jonny; he cannot help his awkward behavior because he has Autism..." But they are forbidden from mentioning Jonny and Autism.

Some of these disabilities cause behavior in the victim that is provocative towards the "bully" - not to ever excuse bullying but we have an environment where those keeping charge cannot acknowledge anything is different about someone who is clearly different.

We, the general public will probably never know the full story - so it is very difficult to accurately judge the PAUSD and it's response. I do wish the Weekly staff would get an opinion from someone in education (not connected to PAUSD) who could offer a better explanation from their point of view.


Posted by Paying Attention, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 10, 2013 at 4:33 pm

FrankF, Well said! I could not agree more. Real problem. Complex situation. Needs a real solution from well meaning adults who are not blaming others.


Posted by going, going, gone, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2013 at 4:34 pm

I no longer give to PiE. - this year is it - and I always gave in the highest category - that was before all this OCR crap. Next year I'm redirecting my donations to Second Harvest. I firmly believe that no matter how much money I poor into PiE, PAUSD will just continue to deteriorate as long as Skelly, Young and the current Board remain. I can't bring myself to attend another donor event where Skelly pretends everything is great.

At least I know the money I give to Second Harvest will go to feeding families - the kids might be getting a crappy education at PAUSD - but at least they won't be hungry.

When/if PAUSD ever gets it's priorities in line, I will give again.

I applaud US News and World Report for no longer supporting PAUSD and it's quest to educate only the top. I generally think those listings are silly - but at least they have some sense of moral code - something absent in PAUSD


Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2013 at 4:34 pm

@Paying Attention:

> "The district is under siege and acts accordingly."

Organizations that are dysfunctional (or downright stupid) are likely to find themselves under siege. Competent organizations do not.


Posted by Mr. Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 10, 2013 at 4:36 pm

I hope every parent reads Paying Attention's message and understands that parents have 100x more impact, positive and negative, than a Superintendent.


Posted by Lawyer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 10, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Much of the job of a Superintendent is ensuring that the district's operations comply with federal and state law and regulations, and managing community relations. The academic side of the district is in the hands of principals and teachers. This editorial is really saying that Skelly is mishandling the major part of his job.
Personnel problems at the top are tough for boards. They take a lot of time and effort to address, followed by a time-consuming search for a replacement. I think that is part of why this board is stalling.


Posted by Former teacher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2013 at 7:44 pm

The school board looks like they believed in late January that the first OCR complaint would blow over just as the Brown Act allegation blew over one year ago. After all, the "defeat" of the Daubers and WCDBPA in the November election proved this. But as March 15 passed, the board missed an symbolic deadline to begin to formally remove Kevin Skelly and Charles Young and demonstrate to the public high standards, integrity, and competency, all characteristics they will never have again.

Keeping my money from PiE does not hurt schools or students in any way, but continuing to support the status quo sends a message that everything is acceptable. It's not acceptable. Substandard leadership cannot be acceptable to any of you who are still attempting to blame parents, people with vendettas, or anything or anyone else other than Kevin Skelly, Charles Young, Holly Wade, the board, and any other employee who must realize that managing our schools is a real responsibility. PiE has made it's way into official principal meetings, individual meetings with each principal, special access to the superintendent, meetings with board members, etc. PiE carries itself the weight of suitcases of cash that principals can use in a variety of ways. This money is not supposed to be considered in the official PAUSD budget or the school one, but know that is exactly how it is used every year in planning. PiE lets Skelly kniw how much is estimated to be coming and that way he can make adjustments to the real budget. This is tip of the iceberg stuff, but please don't insult by saying that PiE is not political. I would guess that I am one of the many who will not give again, but PiE will meet their goal because wealthy donors can make up the difference.

A year ago, when friends and neighbors of mine sent emails, letters, and posted here about Kevin Skelly, the apologists, defenders, and anti-Daubers were able to squash critics and anyone who dared questioned anything about his lack of leadership or the board. I have heard the silence since late January. I am thirsty for leadership of any kind that puts our kids first. The teachers' union got their raise and I saw Teri Baldwin speak May 7 at the board meeting. She has a platform and says nothing, except that her union has ratified the pay increase. Thanks Teri. But wait, silence from the principals, too. Skelly hired most of them so what could they possibly say? Would they even know what to say?

The state of the district is really in one of its worst crises in the past 20 years. It makes the Principals v. Callan squabble look quaint. This is definitive, paralyzingly failure that begins at the top with the board, Skelly, Young, and others and permeates throughout the system. No employee is talking about helping our children progress. One board member who is getting mentioned as one is not as incompetent as the others is Melissa Caswell, but the best I have seen is her demand for a checklist for principals to combat bullying.

Melissa, Dana, Camille, Barbara, Heidi, you have not shown that you know what you are doing. That is why the editorial is saying that there is a parallel universe.


Posted by anne, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Dear going,going,gone,
I appreciate why you feel that way, and I don't want to discourage you from donating to Second Harvest, which is a great organization. I just wanted to ask if you would please reconsider and make a school donation that is earmarked for environmental health and indoor air quality only.

We have a new head of facilities who is energetic and taking a fresh look, and having some earmarked money could really help make improvements that will have tangible benefits to student health. As a top donor, putting that kind of priority on student health would send a positive message, too, because it's just about student wellbeing, without making you feel like you're contributing to something you don't feel good about.

Please think about it.


Posted by Crescent Park Mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 11, 2013 at 7:41 am

@JLS dad--here is the email from the district in which Kevin Skelly personally approved sponsoring the event with OCR lawyers, which he later backed out on. No one knows why this happened but it left community organizations in the lurch. For one thing, organizations were counting on having Infinite Campus to tell the community about the event and have had to scramble to get the word out particularly to our EPA families. It also makes the district look like it is covering up for something which it may or may not be. What Skelly told the Weekly may or may not be true -- his credibility is shredded so who knows? Probably it's not, it was just the first thing that popped into his head after he got caught [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] People like that make notoriously bad witnesses, so in this week's closed board meeting to discuss the four anticipated lawsuits stemming from the OCR complaints (!) perhaps the lawyer can explain to the board what having a [portion removed] on the stand will feel like and why it is an argument for prompt settlement.

If Skelly is worried that there might be more potential complaints out there, the solution isn't to try to stop parents from finding out their rights. It's to reach out proactively to those families having trouble and try to assist them. Carol Zepecki used to do just that -- try to solve problems. Maybe her departure is the reason we have quintupled our legal expenses since Kevin Skelly and Holly Wade arrived on the scene.

From: Holly Wade
Subject: Re: OCR presentation
Date: April 16, 2013 5:18:44 PM PDT
To: [redacted]
Cc: [redacted]

Dear [redacted],
Thank you for the follow up, I was able to speak to Dr. Skelly this morning and he welcomes this opportunity to partner with you on this information event for our community. Please let me know if we can assist you in identifying and securing a location for the talk, date, and any other assistance that you may need.
Best,
hw
Holly Wade, Ph.D.
Director, Special Education Services
Palo Alto Unified School District
25 Churchill Avenue
Palo Alto, California 94306
650.833.4257


Posted by how low can you go, a resident of Barron Park
on May 11, 2013 at 9:19 am

"Keeping my money from PiE does not hurt schools or students in any way, "
Yeah, that's right, why do the Kinders need classroom aides, spectra arts and other enrichment programs? Let's make sure PiE can't fund them until PiE is turned into a political tool serving us. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online]


Posted by Current parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 11, 2013 at 9:52 am

Former teacher makes the obvious point. If the school board decides to spend $150k i "mad money" on a PR person, that is basically coming out of PiE dollars. Would they feel free to spend that money without a $4 million cushion?
When I see that, I feel like the $1,000 I gave last year is paying for 1/150th of a PR flack, not for enrichment for my kids and my neighbors' kids. I would rather find something that directly benefits them.


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