http://paloaltoonline.com/square/print/2012/05/15/weekly-calls-for-halt-to-confidential-school-board-memos


Town Square

Weekly calls for halt to confidential school board memos

Original post made on May 15, 2012

The Palo Alto Weekly has learned that school district Superintendent Kevin Skelly has been sending confidential weekly memos to Board of Education members, creating possible violations of California's open-meeting law.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, May 15, 2012, 1:43 PM

Comments

Posted by Steven Nelson, a resident of Mountain View
on May 15, 2012 at 2:12 pm

It's nice to see Embarcadero Media is on top of helping enforce Open meetings and Records as the standards of our communities. The MV Voice is also sometimes at the forefront of this over here. It is extremely hard for a private individual to do this (usually the issues are much smaller and more limited). So it is especially nice when systemic problems are caught by the press. Thanks for whoever was "the whistleblower".


Posted by Why-Was-The-Memo-Was-Classified-"Classified"., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2012 at 2:26 pm

What is a "confidential" memo? The military/government has a classification system that goes from something close to "confidential" up to "mega-secret" (or some such). So .. if there are "classified" memos inside the PAUSD Administration, are there "secret" and "top-secret" too?

And just how many of these memos are there? Maybe the PAUSD should collect them all and post them on its web site?

Or maybe this is just a tempest in a tea pot?

And why was the Weekly's Publisher involved in this sort of thing? Shouldn't the Editor be the one moralizing about the sins of others?


Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2012 at 4:13 pm

This is incredibly disappointing. We have gone through so much as a school, a school district, as a community, and regaining trust in our school board to do the "right thing" for our children. Now, with so much at stake our School Board and Superintendent know so much better than everyone else and rig their own votes.

The Board President should be on top on that right away and I hope to see action on her part immediately. I would like to know what Board Members Bill Johnson speaks about.

We will never serve our children properly until we can look them in the face honestly and say we served them with truth, and to the best of our ability. I am saddened the people I trusted, Dr. Skelly and the School Board cannot say that as I spent HOURS every day working with my kids just to keep their heads above water in our prestigious schools.


Posted by student, a resident of another community
on May 15, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Thank god for the weekly watching out for us!!!


Posted by Journalism, a resident of Stanford
on May 15, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Yes. Thank 'the big fella' that the Weekly is watching out.... never removing anything embarrassing from their site, or anything like that....


Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2012 at 5:35 pm

I am amazed that the school board's attorneys allowed this practice to occur...everyone involved should know better.


Posted by keep itup, a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2012 at 5:44 pm

The school board should call for the Weekly to stop their censorship and respect free speech.


Posted by school parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Thank goodness investigative reporting is not completely dead!


Posted by elementary school parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2012 at 6:00 pm

I expect immediate action from the President of the School Board, Camille Townsend, who also happens to be an attorney.


Posted by Nancy, a resident of Midtown
on May 15, 2012 at 6:19 pm

It would be good if the PA Weekly opens up all its interanal emails and memos to transparency. The Weekly happens to be a major player in Palo Alto local politics. Will Bill Johnson open his hard drive?


Posted by keep itup, a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Good one, Nancy. the weekly is the puppet of our local politicians. And yes, school patent,.thank goodness for the.Daily Post.


Posted by Wow!, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Thanks Palo Alto Weekly for bringing this out. Wow! These are the people who are educating our children. Now I know that we can do better. They need to be good models and respect the rules so students learn to respect them too.


Posted by Oscar, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Where was the Weekly when the School Board was hiding the identifies of the secret donors who helped fund the $66,000 Mandarin Immersion feasibility study?

Seems the Weekly's "investigative" journalism has a very selective set of "optics".


Posted by Question, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 15, 2012 at 8:44 pm

I'm don't know much about the Brown Act. But I'm confused about how the district and the board are supposed to reach consensus about complicated issues if they are not allowed to communicate with each other outside the public eye. It sounds like they sent memos to the board about how they were thinking about things. This sounds like a useful way to keep the board informed. They also offered to talk to board members who wanted to discuss. Again, that seems fine, so long as there are no more than two of them at the meeting, so no decisions get made, and it isn't some kind of "serial meeting." But updating your boss (the board members) on your thinking seems like a good thing - better than the alternative.

How are these things supposed to work?


Posted by keep itup, a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Quite right, Oscar. Certain people enjoy the protection and support of the weekly no matter what they do.


Posted by Thanks, WCDB, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 15, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Wow, this is the first time I have been happy with something "We Can Do Better Palo Alto" has accomplished.

[Portion removed. Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Thanks, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 16, 2012 at 6:48 am

Thanks to all at the Weekly and also WCDBPA. I just signed up to Support Local Journalism. Web Link


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2012 at 6:57 am

" I just signed up to Support Local Journalism. Web Link"

Why should we pay to support censorship of real news stories and the free exchange of ideas?


Posted by soccer mom, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 16, 2012 at 7:43 am

In response to Question. The way communication is supposed to work is that the staff, including Dr. Skelly, include a staff report in the Board package that is part of the public record of each Board meeting. Board packages are available to the Board members and to members of the public in advance of the Board meetings. There is a notification period in the Brown Act 24 hours? in which materials need to be published in advance of a meeting. The Board sets the agenda for each meeting and can request an update from staff on a specific topic. In addition, staff can provide regular updates to the Board on the status of actions taken in support of Board Strategy. It has been a while since I have been staff to an agency with Brown Act requirements if anyone else has more specific information please help me to respond to Question.


Posted by Trish Davis, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2012 at 8:19 am

Kudos to the Weekly for writing this letter to the PAUSD Board and for highlighting the importance of journalists in forcing better governance from our elected officials.


Posted by PalyParent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2012 at 8:23 am

This looks really bad. Because it likely is really bad. Is this how we want our public districts run?

And what possible benefit is there to having secret memos about preserving a broken counseling system at Gunn? I don't get it. I don't understand why Skelly or a board member would do this, for the purported goal or preserving Gunn counseling from reform. What kind of Banana Republic are they running?

Can the board members be removed because of Brown Act violations?


Posted by parents, a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2012 at 8:37 am

I'm glad for this step, but the obvious question here is whether the rest of the secret memos will be made public. There are many important topics to our community, such as how Measure A funds are spent, if they've been open with us about enrollment projections and have the plans been sufficient, etc.


Posted by Palo Alto Parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 16, 2012 at 10:06 am

Imagine trying to run your company without having any opportunity to discuss issue other than at a public meeting of limited duration. Imagine that you can't have a staff meeting with an open conversation where everyone can share their thoughts and kick around ideas without worrying that they will be in the paper. Imagine that you can't communicate with your managers about negotiations with a vendor without the vendor seeing your plans. This is what the Brown Act asks of our public agencies.

It is true that public organizations have an obligation to the public that is different from a private corporation. But for any organization to function without any private communications with senior management (which is what the school board is) is crazy. And, to have the public communications limited to a scheduled, agendized, public meeting limits what the organization can accomplish dramatically.

As usual, the State of California, in an attempt to correct a legitimate problem, went off the deep end and hobbled public agencies. Now we're going to vilify the district administration for trying to do their job in good faith.

These people have hard jobs. We should try to work this way and then see how we feel.


Posted by Local gurl, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 16, 2012 at 10:17 am

@Palo Alto Parent -- these are elected officials, not your private company. They must comply with the law. Period.


Posted by citizen, a resident of Barron Park
on May 16, 2012 at 10:37 am

The Weekly is massivly biased. Reporters try to be objective and the publisher thwarts them consistently. Free speech is threatened and reasonable people keep farther and farther away from these delicate situations in large part because of the sensationalistic, predatory journalism practiced by Bill Johnson.

Once again and more intensely than ever, our high school students are caught in the middle.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on May 16, 2012 at 10:43 am

In addition to PaloAltoParent's comments, the most constructive comment on this topic was Nancy's. Time to OPEN UP THE PA WEEKLY'S internal memos and emails. You'll see how they manipulate and create news instead of reporting actual events.

It's not only tiresome, it's destructive....and it's not journalism. A good example was the nonsense article on dog poop earlier this week. Other "articles" on slow news days have been total fabrication.

Part of my heart is in Palo Alto -- I retired from a wonderful career that was based there. It's a lovely place...physically. But I would never live in such a contentious place. The community feeling is gone.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2012 at 10:48 am

WEll said, citizen and neighbor.

"Kudos to the Weekly for writing this letter to the PAUSD Board and for highlighting the importance of journalists in forcing better governance from our elected officials."

The weekly journalists are selective in their "forcing" better governance from our elected officials--note how they never take council members to task for ANYTHING.


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2012 at 10:54 am

The weekly is bound by no law to open it's email and as such they should not. Nor are they bound to report the news the way you specifically would prefer it. If you do not like what they do, why are you on this site? Elected officials however are bound by laws that voters, not the government, put into place back in the '70's. This is not big government at work, this is paranoid voters at work who vote for stuff and don't understan dit. So those of you defending the school board, you are way off track. Those of you bashing the weekly, you are way off track. Brown Act violations are most certainly news. They are way more newsworthy than that post that has dozens and dozens and dozens of responses about dog pee. The weekly has every right to demand to see those memos.


Posted by Journalism, a resident of Stanford
on May 16, 2012 at 11:02 am

When the discussion comes around to censorship of an online forum, the inmates are indeed holding the keys.

What are other good local forums that are more respectful of the First Amendment?


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2012 at 11:08 am

"What are other good local forums that are more respectful of the First Amendment?"

For your comment to be true, you have to believe that the Weekly is respectful of the First Amendment. In the recent few weeks they have shown a callous disregard for that . I guess one can argue, as the editors of the weekly state, that it is their forum and they can delete what they want. That may be true, however one expects more from a newspaper.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2012 at 11:11 am

@ neighbor: The Weekly didn't write the "nonsense" article on dogs and their owners. It was a rant by the resident who felt violated. Try reading the title, author and statement of the article before making assumptions.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2012 at 11:15 am

About censorship...I've had a post or two modified by the Weekly in the past. IMHO it is their prerogative to do so. This is the Weekly's (a private enterprise) website and forum. This is not a street corner, a soapbox, etc.

The Weekly has no obligation to uphold anyone's "free speech" rights in the online forum. If you don't like their forum policies, post somewhere else - nothing is stopping you.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2012 at 11:16 am

"@ neighbor: The Weekly didn't write the "nonsense" article on dogs and their owners. It was a rant by the resident who felt violated. Try reading the title, author and statement of the article before making assumptions."

Then why not delete it. They deleted an important real news story about Mitt Romney.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2012 at 11:19 am

"The Weekly has no obligation to uphold anyone's "free speech" rights in the online forum. If you don't like their forum policies, post somewhere else - nothing is stopping you."

You are correct Crescent Park Dad and that is exactly what the editors will tell you. However, I think we should expect more from a newspaper, supposedly run by journalists, given the history of newspapers and free speech.
Of course we are also within our rights to inform merchants that we will no longer trade with them because they advertise with the Weekly and we are unhappy with their policies.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 16, 2012 at 11:19 am

Guys -- I can see that there are people who are upset about the dog pee post and the Weekly policies but can we focus for a minute on the issue at hand? What about the school board practice of holding serial meetings that violate the Brown Act and developing collective concurrences via confidential memoranda? That seems a tad more important. Just saying.


Posted by citizen, a resident of Barron Park
on May 16, 2012 at 11:29 am

Just saying though that if the weekly was not against gunn counseling, there would be NO MENTION of the brown act issue. Classic weekly.


Posted by Journalism, a resident of Stanford
on May 16, 2012 at 11:30 am

Michele - folks are 'hiding' their disgust inside this thread in the mistaken belief that PAO will leave the comments alone. svatoid is referring to someone who posted dozens of times what seemed an innocuous post. It's their playhouse, their rules.

Other forums locally?


Posted by Journalism, a resident of Stanford
on May 16, 2012 at 11:34 am

One must add, for all the griping, at least the Weekly has 4x posts compared to the Almanac. The PC police (politically correct, in their mind, posters over there) run everyone off who disagree.

Go look at the rants against anonymous posters over there. Pretty hilarious howling at the (internet) moon.


Posted by anon, a resident of Barron Park
on May 16, 2012 at 11:39 am

I thought news stories were supposed to be balanced and that reporters were to interview people on both sides of a controversy to get their views?

In this story, I see no attempt by the Weekly to get Supt. Skelly's side of the story, or the side of the individual school board members. I also don't see any attempt by the Weekly to contact experts on First Amendment law or the Brown Act for their opinion. I'm not buying that there's a violation of the Brown Act just because Publisher Bill Johnson says so. The Weekly makes a lot of mistakes.

At any rate, this is an editorial masquerading as a news story. Such an attack by the Weekly on the school board should be labeled as "Opinion" and placed on the editorial page, so that people don't confuse the publisher's opinions with actual news.


Posted by PALY PARENT, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2012 at 11:40 am

I agree with Question and others who rationally state that a district or any other municipal entity cannot be run without some form of update on what staff are accomplishing in the many projects being pursued.

The District always follows a very public and respectful process in all of its decisions. They will follow that process in this case too.

On the other hand there are quite a few members of the public who do not follow rules of common courtesy or civil discourse. The manipulation of public sentiment makes me roll my eyes and wonder what we can do about adult bullies.


Posted by Oskar, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2012 at 11:58 am

> The District always follows a very public and respectful process
> in all of its decisions.

Ahh .. anyone who has had to deal with the District, where Public Records Requests are concerned, or about basic transparency issues, will probably have a different story to tell.

Not too long ago, there was a more-or-less secret committee called the PRC (Program Review Committee). Its membership was by invitation only, and it didn't publish minutes, because this as an "advisory" committee that was involved in all sorts of decisions that sooner or later involved the spending of a lot of public money. Not sure if this committee has been disbanded, or is just meeting ever more secretly than before.

It might be interesting to audit the number of Public Records Requests that the District receives vs the number answered, and the delay in answering these requests.

If you haven't been involved, don't believe glad-handing claims like this one.


Posted by soccer mom, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm

I was curious about the Brown Act requirements. There is a very easy to read ppt. about what the law is, who needs to comply and what is the remedy for non compliance. The standard notification period for a public meeting is 72 hours. There are also requirements for public meetings to be accessible.

GET TO KNOW THE BROWN ACT
Web Link

Penalties for Brown Act violations can be both civil and criminal - depending on intent. Practically, the Board will need to review its policies and practices and receive some training. There should also be a review of decisions made as a result of Brown Act violations. These may be subject to being overturned.

In addition to public forums such as this one, an important part of all of our rights as citizens includes the ability to review and provide input to our elected representatives on matters of public policy. If public policy is being decided by staff without public review, that subverts democracy.

I understand that readers like Palo Alto parent are comparing the level of transparency required by a public agency to that of a private company and wondering how work gets done. There are many avenues for staff to provide the Board with reports and briefings. The requirement is for these to happen in a forum where citizens can also review and comment.


Posted by another parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2012 at 12:30 pm

If you all recall, the Weekly campaigned hard for calendar change (start school in early august, finals before winter break) and whether you like the change or lot, it's hard to say it was done in any kind of objective, data driven way--rather the change seemed forced through by a small group energized by the Weekly's backing. I don't have an opinion one way or another on the whole counseling thing, however, it is feeling like once again something is about to get rammed through by a small group and the Weekly. At least a real survey was done first (rather than long after the change had passed, as in the case of the calendar issue), but it's feeling like another case of a small but loud group driving the agenda. Is that really what we want?


Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on May 16, 2012 at 1:16 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Here is an example of the power of the press I alluded to in the dog urination problem storyline...

Yes, a news & communication source CAN be a weapon in the right hands...

For the many people bringing up a STRAW MAN comparison, remember that the secret communications DIRECTLY violates the LAW AND INTENT of the Brown Act BECAUSE THE DISTRICT IS A PUBLIC ENTITY!

Comparing this issue to a PRIVATE CORPORATION is a Straw Man Argument.

You would lose almost immediately if this was the tactic used in a formal debate.

These " upper level management types " have been caught DELIBERATELY breaking the law...and one is an attorney, no less.

A news flash: You can get DISBARRED over this kind of behavior!

The other " professionals " should come clean immediately; faking ignorance of the Brown Act will not help your career in education.

As the son of a retired school administrator for the large district just south of you, I have heard the inside scoop of some of the MALFEASANCE in office similar to what is going on here. Those people elected to take early retirement when certain issues were made public ( and the public only saw the whitewashed issues, not the REAL problems ).

To end my comment, I'll quote Samuel Clemens ( AKA Mark Twain ):

In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards.

If the shoe fits........




Posted by Another Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 16, 2012 at 1:19 pm

This doesn't seem hard to understand if you read the letter and look at the memo. The school board told Gunn to come back in June with a plan to make guidance at Gunn as good as at Paly, and that they better take a good hard look at Paly's system when they did. Kevin Skelly didn't want to do that, so he sent a "confidential" memo to the board telling them that instead he wants to hire two more counselors and make some other small changes. He asked them to talk to him privately about this "sensitive" subject if they disagreed. He also told the board that he was passing this direction down to Gunn staff. Based on the email that I got from him and Katya, the board didn't object and that happened -- they basically told us, "don't worry, we're not making big changes." None of this happened in a public meeting, including approving the email that we all got.
This isn't "we need to communicate privately to get the public's business done faster, more efficently, whatever". This is "we need to communicate privately because we're doing something different than we told the public, and they are going to be pissed". The idea obviously is that Gunn will come back in June with the plan that Skelly and the board cooked up secretly in April. Why didn't Skelly and the board do this in a public meeting? The answer to that seems clear -- that would beg the question, what happened to the idea that we need to make changes at Gunn to make it as good as Paly?
I am really annoyed about this. I'm particularly aggravated that only 3 school board members are up for election this year, and 2 of them have 2 years left (!) on their terms.


Posted by Oscar, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2012 at 1:34 pm

> I am really annoyed about this. I'm particularly aggravated that
> only 3 school board members are up for election this year, and
> 2 of them have 2 years left (!) on their terms.

Recall shortens the terms of any elected official to less than 180 days.


Posted by Disgusted , a resident of Community Center
on May 16, 2012 at 2:42 pm

"The requirement is for these to happen in a forum where citizens can also review and comment." Yes because thanks to zealots like WCDBPA we have such a civil thoughtful way to make these comments. Board meetings end at 1:00 AM or later because people have to "make their voices heard."

I would never, ever work for the district or run for school board because this community is impossible to satisfy. Regular private briefings make a lot more sense than trying to conduct any reasonable kind of business in this arena.

But go ahead, guys, tear down the district. Who cares? It's only our kids we're talking about. Anybody with money can go private or move, so it's only the poor and middle class that's left, and who cares about that group if we don't get the chance to say every single thing we think and feel about every aspect of any job being done at the district? And of course since we're WAY smarter than anybody in education our comments are valuable and valid! We should certainly take board time saying anything we think.

And, the Weekly reporting on this would have been fine, but sending a letter demanding action of the school board? By what authority has this newspaper taken over the district? Well, I guess when everybody else quits out of frustration those remaining can run things the way they want.


Posted by Skellytons in the Closet, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2012 at 3:09 pm

@Disgusted: Thank God we have "Zealots" such as WCDBPA who wish to do some constructive things to help our children. "It's only our kids we're talking about" is exactly what WCDBPA is talking about! Our kids deserve better from our board and superintendent. I am very surprised that none of the board questioned the legality of keeping these communications under the radar. If you review the law you will see that there have been clear violations of the Brown Act. Our kids deserve better! What gives Skelly the right to think that he can short change our Gunn students who are so clearly in need of Teacher Advisors? Why don't you attend the meeting tonight and make a case for keeping things the way they are at Gunn (since it seems to be working so well in light of all the recent concrete evidence to the contrary). Read the comments (which we would never would have been able to read had it not been for the WCDBPA "zealots" doing the work to get these released) and then see if you think it's fine for Skelly to just ignore the parents in this community who wish to have the possiblity of real change looked at. Our kids deserve equal counseling systems! Thank you Bill Johnson and PA Weekly for exposing this violation!


Posted by Lunch, a resident of Downtown North
on May 16, 2012 at 3:19 pm

I like how Skelly's confidential memo says, "I had lunch with Bill Johnson today. I always learn from my time with him." I bet you do, Kevin, I bet you do.


Posted by Soon to be Paly Grad, a resident of Downtown North
on May 16, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Skellytons in the Closet: Is this really about counseling at Gunn then? Let me tell you, the model at Paly is only better if you're already connected and college bound. My friends and I were able to pick the best TAs because we knew who they were. The kids who came from EPA or were new to the District got the TAs no one else wanted. It's a great system - for some of us. Gunn's system is much more fair. Not better or worse.


Posted by Skellytons in the Closet, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2012 at 3:36 pm

@Soon to be Paly Grad: Thanks for sending in your comment. Please come to the meeting tonight and add your 2 cents. Some might call the Gunn system equal opportunity neglect since it is stretched so thin. I am glad that you were able to a avail yourselves of "the best TAs". All students deserve the best....not just the ones not from EPA or new to the district. Can you suggest changes?


Posted by the record, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2012 at 4:05 pm

S in the C

The agreed to outcome of the March school board meeting was that Gunn would come back in June with a "plan for a plan," not with a list of changes. It was said repeatedly that this is important work that takes time.

There were no other directives given that night that were supported by a majority of the board, despite misinformation that is being spread to the contrary.

You can listen to the board discussion here: Web Link (Item: PAUSD High School Guidance Program Review)

There is no evidence that any kids at Gunn have been short changed. As was posted in another thread, kids at both high schools are equally connected on their campuses. Sure things can be better but transplanting Paly's model to Gunn will be a lot of work for no or little gain.

Which is why calm and wise minds decided to have staff take time to make sure they wouldn't just be making a change for change sake - or to quiet distractors - but that the change would actually end up with something that helps kids.

Causing chaos by spreading misinformation just to push an agenda doesn't help kids. It wastes limited time teachers and staff have to do their work and that hurts kids.


Posted by the record, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2012 at 4:48 pm

The post from the other thread:

Posted by Twins, but one costs more, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, 20 hours ago

How can anyone conclude that Paly students feel more connected at school than Gunn students do?

In the district student survey 64% and 65% of Gunn and Paly students said that they felt a part of their school community (the same).

The stats are even the same at both high schools for brand new 9th graders. After just a few months into high school:

* 72% of 9th graders at both high schools said that their high school is welcoming

* 52% at Gunn said that there already was an adult on campus who cared about them. 59% said the same at Paly.

So when it comes to student CONNECTEDNESS - which goes straight to what Project Safety Net is about and is its #1 suggestion on how to help students who feel alienated and alone – our two high schools are virtually indistinguishable.

If instead this debate is about Paly having a system that is better at college counseling, then the outcomes - the number of students who get into the college of their choice - should be skewed in Paly's favor. On this measure they seem pretty indistinguishable too.

Do the math. Same results but Paly spends $300k more than Gunn does for a guidance system that is supposed to, but doesn't, deliver premiums on connectedness and college placements.

It pretty darn seems like our two high schools meet the school board's test of offering "roughly equivalent services to all students" albeit at different price points.


Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park School
on May 16, 2012 at 5:25 pm

@the record

The record in terms of guidance between the two high schools is actually quite clear, and quite different from your statement that they offer "roughly equivalent services." The spreadsheet at Web Link summarizes the data from the PAUSD counseling report and the student survey done earlier this year. Student are far more satisfied with guidance at Paly than they are at Gunn, across nearly every measure and every grade. There are hundreds of points of comparison where satisfaction among Paly students exceeds by 5 or more percentage points, while there are six such points for Gunn.

For example, 88% of Paly students say that someone in the guidance system can help them if they are struggling academically, while 57% say the same at Gunn. 91% of students at Paly say that someone can help them find a college that fits their needs, while 70% think so at Gunn. 86% of Paly studentss can find support if they are feeling generally stressed, while only 48% of Gunn students feel that way. 91% of Paly students have an adult in the guidance system they trust for advice on classes, while 72% of Gunn students do. Readers should look at the data for themselves, as there are numerous points of comparison with similar results. I don't think a fair reading can support the idea that these two systems are delivering equivalent levels of services. These gap are consistent with years of WASC and strategic plan surveys of parents and students at the high schools.

The items that you're referring to aren't about the guidance system at all, but general questions about school climate. Given the striking differences in the data about the guidance systems specifically, it would be perverse to conclude that the guidance systems are equivalent based on these items.

For more data and analysis on this issue, please see our website at Web Link. And of course you're invited to attend our parent education event this evening (Wednesday), at 7:00-8:30 at St. Mark's, 600 Colorado Avenue, Palo Alto.


Posted by Disgusted too, a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Disguted said:

"But go ahead, guys, tear down the district. Who cares? It's only our kids we're talking about. "

I could not have put it better. This district is in the process of being destroyed by a not very big group of parents who bully the board and who seem to have an ally in a very unusual place (see other comments on here, I am afraid of being deleted).

The district is being DESTROYED.

I am personally glad that my last child has only a couple of years left to go in high school, a short enough time for the district to not be totally wrecked before she graduates.

I feel sorry for all the kids who still have many years of schooling to go in Palo Alto. What a shame.


Posted by katie, a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Regarding the comment from Wow: "These are the people who are educating our children." ...They aren't the ones educating the children, the teachers are the ones who are in the classroom with your children every day. Not trying to be snarky, by any means, it's just that the bureaucrats are far removed from the kids.


Posted by wow, a resident of Barron Park
on May 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Hello
The outcome doesn't really count for much if the legal process is subverted. This is not a minor matter as violation of the Brown Act, particularly if it's determined that this was intentional and deliberate, carries some not-so-insignificant penalties. Recall may become the least of Skelly and Board members' problems.


Posted by it's not called the "grey act", a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 17, 2012 at 7:28 am

Is it illegal for a superintendent to send a memo to the school board? No. Must all superintendent memos be provided to the public automatically? No. Did our superintendent keep the memo from the Weekly when it asked for it? No.

Does a superintendent writing a memo to the school board violate the Brown Act's serial meeting rule? No.

California Law: "The Brown Act applies to the 'legislative bodies' [elected school boards]. [U]se of direct communication . . . that is EMPLOYED BY [common definition: initiated 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 is prohibited."

The Brown Act governs the actions of our elected officials, not the lawful acts of non-elected public employees. So unless a board member directed the superintendent to send a specific message to the other board members it is hard to conclude that something unlawful happened when, as here, the board was just the recipient of an update from someone it hired and supervises.

10 year old ad hoc opinions of a CA Attorney General who has long since been replaced does not make law in our state.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 17, 2012 at 8:34 am

You are missing the point. The problem isn't with sending a memo, the problem is when it leads to private discussions that ultimately result in policy being decided outside the public eye. Sending memos isn't what's illegal, but it creates a risky situation for all involved. BTW, you're reading an old version of the Brown Act. It doesn't require "concurrence," simply discussion by a majority of members through serial conversations. Thank you to he Weekly for raising this issue and hopefully putting an end to this.


Posted by Worried, a resident of University South
on May 17, 2012 at 8:39 am

I agree with disgusted...there's an awful lot of energy that seems to be going into change for change's sake; a lot of tearing down going on. Not saying this district is perfect, or that some things don't need to be fixed, but the way fires are being lit and fuel poured on them, and the way a small group seems to be yanking the agenda around, worries me.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 17, 2012 at 8:48 am

So it looks like sending memos is certainly not an issue, right? The issue is whether serial meetings take place. They clearly should not, that's part of the Act, and the district should be careful not to. Ok, good, lets move on.

I do agree that for reasons I don't fully get, a group of people have set out to make life miserable for the district staff and some of the principals. I'm sure they think they are being helpful. But frankly I think they should just run for school board, and if they win, great - there's your mandate, there's your soapbox. If they don't, please simmer down and let the people do their jobs. It is ok to raise issues, but un-elected special interest groups should not drive the district's agenda.


Posted by Pull Back The Curtain, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 17, 2012 at 9:38 am

Public school systems like PAUSD provide opportunities for the public to express their personal views about policy. They also generally don't inhibit direct communication between the public and individual employees of the district. But the folks behind WCDBPA are abusing the system, for reasons many of us don't fully understand. They are using the system to selfishly impede progress that they don't agree with. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] They are keeping the system from moving forward for the rest of us. They are acting against the interest that the community has in maintaining talented, committed people on the school board and staff who can move forward in the spirit of democratic compromise. They are sowing fear and distrust where none existed before, and manipulating surveys and statistics to make the public believe there are greater problems than truly exist. Other parents in the district need to call them on their destructive behavior. The community might be interested to know that they are abusing district employees through [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] e-mails. The district staff should publish these e-mails so the community can see the anger and hatred in them. This group needs to be reigned in based on the need for a participatory process in which the opinions of a few aren't able to sabotage the entire system.


Posted by Hmm, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 17, 2012 at 9:57 am

Those emails should be available via a public records request. Might be interesting reading. Maybe doing the district a favor by getting them out there - it would look defensive (and probably inappropriate) if they just released them.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2012 at 10:27 am

No one has been threatened and these posts are really ridiculous, especially this one: We Can Do Better has been "manipulating surveys and statistics to make the public believe there are greater problems than truly exist." Given that the district actually did manipulate and not fully release to the public the survey data on the counseling systems, and the only reason that the data is public now is due to We Can Do Better's efforts, that one is really a whopper.

The question is whether the best policies are really emerging from the process currently in place. We think we are not, and "curtain" thinks we are, probably because of her role in producing those current policies though since she is anonymous we can't know precisely what that role is.

Let's not lose sight of what this threat is about, and let's sharpen the debate on that question.

This thread is about violations of the California Open meetings law by the Board in which the superintendent is using memoranda to the board to float trial balloons that foster discussion, deliberation, and action outside of the public process. I take it that "curtain" and her friends think that private deliberation based on memoranda and serial conversations that lead to a pre-public meeting consensus, all happening out of public view, are a good thing. I take it that "curtain" thinks that having the Board pre-decide how it will vote and then follow a scripted process in public in which it ratifies pre-determined outcomes is a good thing. We don't. We think that the law is intended to protect public access and it should be scrupulously followed.




Posted by it's not called the "grey act", a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 17, 2012 at 10:39 am

Parent,

Not sure what you are referring to when you claim that the "problem is when it [the memo?] leads to private discussions that ultimately result in policy being decided outside the public eye."

That that will happen is pure conjecture. In fact, the facts should comfort you given that high school guidance mentioned in the memo was on the public agenda a few months ago and is slated to be discussed by the board again, publicly, in June.

Not only is a superintendent sending memos to board members not risky, doing so is expressly authorized by the Brown Act. Nothing grey about that.

This from the Brown Act (updated):

"A majority of the members of a legislative body [the school board] shall not, OUTSIDE A MEETING authorized by this chapter, 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.

[This] shall NOT be construed as PREVENTING AN EMPLOYEE or official of a local agency, FROM ENGAGING IN separate conversations or COMMUNICATIONS outside of a meeting authorized by this chapter WITH MEMBERS of a legislative body IN ORDER TO answer questions or PROVIDE INFORMATION REGARDING A MATTER that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the local agency, if that person does not communicate to members of the legislative body the comments or position of any other member or members of the legislative body."




Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2012 at 10:55 am

@"grey"

The question raised by your email is what constitutes "information" and "answering questions." First, it is important to know that the Brown Act itself is to be broadly construed as a remedial statute intended to protect the public interest, while exceptions, such as the one you cite, are narrowly construed against the entity asserting them.

In terms of the facts here, I think it is clear that Kevin's memo does more than convey mere "information." Information might be, for example, the number of counselors at each school, or the amount of funding enjoyed by each program. Rather, the memorandum conveys policy recommendations and action that he is taking, i.e., communicating with staff at Gunn about hiring additional counselors rather than implementing advisory at this time. In addition, and perhaps even more problematically, he reminds Board members about the involvement of an advocacy organization on the issue and invites Board members to come in and talk further with him privately on this "sensitive issue." Thus, we can see that he is inviting the very "discuss, deliberate," and approval of action that is expressly prohibited by the Act.

Moreover, attached to his memorandum was two tables that were sent to him by Board Member Barbara Mitchell three days previously which she suggested would provide the other board members with "context" for the discussions around counseling. Kevin then acted as a hub for the distribution to other board members of material that came from one member. Again, this constituted discussion outside of the public context.

The cure for this is to make all such memoranda public, as Mr. Johnson's letter requests. Kevin can send what he likes to the Board so long as the public is given access to the same materials at the same time.

This is not merely my view. I have consulted with numerous attorneys on the subject of the Brown Act and they are unanimous in their agreement with the Weekly's view of the matter.

Michele Landis Dauber
Professor of Law
Stanford University


Posted by Another Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 17, 2012 at 10:59 am

Hi "grey act"

I have read and reread the memo and the Weekly letter. Several weeks after the school board met publicly, Skelly sent the board a memo telling them that he and other district staff have decided that Gunn should keep its current system and make some changes (including hiring 2 more guidance counselors, which the school board explicitly told him not to do in public). He told the board he was passing that direction to Gunn staff, and invited board members to discuss with him private this "sensitive" issue. Maybe they did actually discuss it with him. I hope that we will find out. Even if they didn't take him up on his invitation for a private chat about a policy change, they didn't do what they should have done. They should put it back on the agenda for the next school board meeting, so that the we could hear this conversation.
Obviously the board did all of the things prohibited by the Brown Act, in private: they discussed, deliberated, and acted. "Acting" means letting Skelly go ahead with communicating to staff at Gunn about a policy different than the one the school board decided on in public. It's nice that we will hear back about this in June. It's not nice that what we hear will be the result of private discussions that we didn't get to be involved in.
The Brown Act lets staff provide information or answer questions. Information is stuff like "the budget for pencils is $2,000" or "here is the latest STAR test results." It's not, "hey school board, I am going to change some policy and tell staff about it. Let me know if you would like to talk that over (privately)." If the school board lets Skelly send them memos like that (and I bet this isn't the only one), they are absolutely violating the Brown Act. More to the point, they are letting public business go on in private.
The idea that the people who exposed this behavior are somehow at fault is ridiculous. We should have good people working at the district and on the school board. Those good people should not violate the Brown Act.


Posted by anon, a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2012 at 11:05 am

I see in the Daily Post this morning that a legal expert from Calaware, Terry Francke, said he doesn't think the district violated the Brown Act with the "confidential weekly" memos. And the article says the district is willingly releasing the memos.


Posted by Just wondering, a resident of College Terrace
on May 17, 2012 at 11:15 am

Where is adobe-meadows neighborhood? Anywhere near 25 Churchill?


Posted by it's not called the grey act, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Ms. Dauber and Another Gunn parent,

The "discuss" "deliberate" and "take action" bar again relate to what board members do among themselves. They have nothing to do with employee memos or invites to tea or otherwise.

So are you proposing to turn an entire school district upside down based on a guess as to how a judge would interpret the word "information"?

Legislators know how to draft legislation and choose their words carefully. Take a gander at Merriam-Webster. "Information" is not as narrowly defined as you claim; "facts/data" is the 4th most popular definition, intelligence and knowledge obtained from investigation and study - which is exactly what the superintendent is reporting - are the first. Giving recommendations to the board is what district staff is hired to do.


I think I've been tracking this discussion pretty well but you have absolutely lost me with your claim that the board discussed this outside of the public's ear. IT IS ON THE BOARD AGENDA FOR JUNE. There have been no credible claims of discussions between board members on this topic that have happened outside of board meetings and no board decisions have been made on this topic yet either.


So don't worry. The system is working the way it should.

Just so you know: I am as interested in public access to information as you are. I just don't see the problem.


Posted by pro investigative local journalism, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm

@ Me Too
"..unelected special interest groups should not drive the district's agenda..."
haha, you mean like the MI (Mandarin Immersion) people, who got whatever they wanted, and what's best for the overall district be d**ned?
It was disgusting.


Posted by Another Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 17, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Hi grey act,
I'm not a lawyer, and I'm pretty sure you're not one either. Here's an excerpt of the Weekly's letter to the school board, which I think lays it out pretty well: "The memorandum had all the qualities of a trial balloon, signaling to you the Superintendent's views and plan and testing your reactions. If you chose to communicate with him on the issue, he could determine your views directly, and if he didn't hear from you, he could interpret your silence as approval of the direction he outlined. We believe that after receiving this memorandum it is likely that more than two of you did have further private communication with Superintendent Skelly on this issue and that through these communications a serial meeting in violation of the Brown Act occurred."
That is where I disagree with you when you describe the memo as, "intelligence and knowledge obtained from investigation and study - which is exactly what the superintendent is reporting." In fact, he was actually "reporting" a recommendation for a policy change (which is what you say in your next sentence, actually). And he was saying that he was actually going to act on it. And then he was inviting private discussion of it (probably because it was "sensitive"). All of that should have happened in public. That is why we have an open meetings law, so that we don't find out about discussion and decisions after the fact through public records requests.
I am curious about where you stand on what actually happened. Are you comfortable with all of this happening behind closed doors?
Me, I'll keep worrying, because the system is not working the way it should.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on May 17, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

You can quibble about how the others choose to interpret the Brown Act but the Brown Act's fundamental message is loud and clear. Here is the Preamble:


""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."1
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."

Note "the writings of public officials".


Posted by it's not called the grey act, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 17, 2012 at 6:04 pm

AGP,

I am quite familiar with the Brown Act because of the work I do so I speak with some authority on it.

The easiest way to understand the Brown Act is to remember that it is about what our elected school board members do and is not about what district employees do. So the focus of this article on and the comments about the superintendent puzzles me.

Unless you have a legal case on point or a statutory definition that tells you exactly what "information" means in Gov Code Section 54952.2(b)(2) (Brown Act), your interpretation is just a guess at what a judge would say if this were litigated.

So if you can't know (I speak globally here when I say "you" meaning everyone who is throwing out accusations that they do know), why do you say you are certain that you do?

What it seems may have happened here is that the Weekly relied on advisors who gave it misinformation and rushed their work.

If you take your time and read the Brown Act like a lawyer would - carefully and understanding how statutory construction works - you'll easily see what I mean.

As to getting the facts straight, re-read the superintendent's May email to Gunn parents linked to in the article:

"While local media coverage has led to a concern among some community members that a specific guidance model will be forced upon the Gunn community to the detriment of the level of expertise around college advising, as well as the funding available for course offerings and class size, please be assured that this is not the case."

Lots of people are claiming that that letter states that a decision has already been made. That is not what it says.

What it says is that no new guidance model will (i) take away (be "to the detriment of") from the current level of college advising Gunn offers (undoubtedly a huge worry for families with juniors just months away from applying to colleges), or (ii) siphon off funding from elsewhere so that the courses students have already signed up for will be cancelled or class sizes increased (a valid concern of the entire Gunn community no doubt).

Maybe a new model will be forced on Gunn, maybe not. Nowhere in the Weekly's excerpt does it say that that decision has been made.

Mr. Carpenter,

The "writings of public officials" have been opened to public scrutiny; the article indicates that the district shared those with the Weekly.

Open to public inspection does not mean that the district has an obligation to produce anything automatically despite the Weekly's hope for that.

In our state the California Public Records Act places the onus on the public to ask for the information it wants to see.

Back to work.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on May 17, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Open to public inspection does not mean that the district has an obligation to produce anything automatically"

There are those who obey the letter of the law and then there are those who rise to the higher standard of the spirit of the laws. The former are usually lawyers or advised by lawyers and the latter are a vanishing breed call LEADERS.

"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."


Posted by parents, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Thank you, Peter. Replace "people" with "parents/children" and you'll get a huge argument from the school board, though.


Posted by Disgusted, a resident of Community Center
on May 17, 2012 at 7:51 pm

We can do better, Palo Alto, than We Can Do Better Palo Alto. Ultimately, Mr. and Ms. Dauber have decided to invest their funds (half page ad in the Weekly, etc.) on holding this district hostage to their own personal views. This is particularly interesting because only one of their kids is at a district school; the rest are at a private school. They have never appeared on any PiE donor lists that I can find (which granted is only a few years, but still). They claim to be part of the Barron Park PTA Exec Board but the PTA says they never attend meetings. They're not about helping Palo Alto or supporting the district through change; they're about shoving their own agenda down the throats of administrators of a school they don't even deign to send their own kids to.

It's crazy, kind of like the Weekly dictating policy to the school board or some dude from Atherton weighing in repeatedly on a Palo Alto debate.

Aside from the Weekly's reporting, none of it should be relevant to what Palo Alto, its citizens, or its schools decide to do. The school board had already identified counseling as an issue and was working toward improving it at both schools. Written memos are consistently used to update school board members in districts throughout the state, and there is no consensus among attorneys other than Ms. Dauber's close personal friends that the district has broken any laws.

Can we just focus back on trying to support our kids, our teachers, and the staff at our schools to be the best they can be instead of trying to effect change by tearing everything down in sight? Our schools could use this energy in the classrooms and with volunteering, not creating this separate agenda and demonizing those working diligently to make changes.


Posted by Ralph M. Brown, a resident of Community Center
on May 17, 2012 at 8:30 pm

The Ralph M. Brown Act:
Web Link

P. 12 Serial Meetings
"Problems arise when systematic communications begin to occur which involve members of the board acquiring substantive information for an upcoming meeting or engaging in debate, discussion, lobbying or any other aspect of the deliberative process either among themselves or with staff. For example, executive officers may wish to brief their members on policy decisions and background events concerning proposed agenda items. This office believes that a court could determine that such communications violate the Act, because such discussions are part of the deliberative process. If these communications are permitted to occur in private, a large part of the process by which members reach their decisions may have occurred outside the public eye. Under these circumstances, the public would be able only to witness a shorthand version of the deliberative process, and its ability to monitor and contribute to the decision-making process would be curtailed. Therefore, we recommend that when the executive director is faced with this situation, he or she prepare a memorandum outlining the issues for all of the members of the board as well as the public. In this way, the serial meeting violation may be avoided and everyone will have the benefit of reacting to the same information."


Posted by P Hilton, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 17, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Disgusted, please give us more! This is like an episode of The Mean Girls of Palo Alto! I love hearing the gossip from the PiE office. And the PTA thing, that is delicious. Just hold on while I get some popcorn.


Posted by it's not called the "grey act", a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 17, 2012 at 8:55 pm

RMB,

What you quote is not the law. It's just someone's opinion of what the law should be. See my first post above.

May I suggest that whomever is intent on trying to prove that the district and/or board did something wrong hire a good attorney to do the legal research who will give them a legal opinion that they can share with the public (in the spirit of openness, which is what started this whole thread).

Of course, it will cost you at least $4,000 in legal fees to get it but then at least you'll know. Of course, all the lawyer may be able to tell you is that you can't be sure unless you take it to court. That will cost another $30-$50,000 for you and probably $30-$50,000 for the school district too.

And what will you have after all that money is spent? A point that is proven perhaps, except that it may or may not be the point you want to make. That and $60-$100,000 spent on lawyers and court fees that could have been spent on improving guidance at both of our high schools.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 17, 2012 at 9:11 pm

"Someone's opinion"? This is the opinion of the lawyers in the state Attorney General's office in the official Brown Act handbook for the State of Calif.


Posted by it's not called the "grey act", a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 17, 2012 at 10:11 pm

I'm going to sign off of this discussion but before I do here are a few points to consider:

- RMB's post is not the legislative language.

- The post is a caution (a court "could" find not that it "would" find).

- A law is formed by statute or a judge's written opinion on a case argued before him/her. Lawyers' arguments and opinions are NOT laws.

- The section of the Brown Act that that post relates to was replaced in 2008 so addresses a law that is no longer in effect.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2012 at 10:35 pm

It seems unlikely to me that "grey" is a lawyer though he seems to want to generate that impression (albeit anonymously).

The opinions of the AG are entitled to a fairly high degree of deference. "Although an official interpretation of a statute by the Attorney General is not controlling, it is entitled to great respect." Thorning v. Hollister School Dist, 11 Cal.App.4th 1598, 1604 (1992). While not binding, such opinions are entitled to great weight. "In the absence of controlling authority, these opinions are persuasive 'since the legislature is presumed to be cognizant of that construction of the statute.'(Napa Valley Educators' Assn. v. Napa Valley Unified School Dist.194 Cal.App.3rd 243, 251 (1987).

In this case, the question is a bit complicated by the fact that the Brown Act was amended in 2009 in order to broaden the prohibition on serial communications. Without going into all the details, the law was generally broadened to apply to a wider variety of conduct and serial communications. However, it included a narrow exception for "informational" communications from agency staff. Staff can only "answer questions or provide information." Government Code Section 54952.2.

Although no court has yet interpreted this exception, the explanation accompanying the Senate Bill provides that it extends only to allow staff to engage in an "informational exchange with any or all members of the legislative body, so long as there is no concerted plan for the staff member to act as intermediary for a majority of the body to engage in collective deliberation on an item on which the legislative body will be taking action." Web Link

In this case, as I noted above, the communications in which the Board and Kevin routinely engage appear to exceed the scope of this exception. As the Weekly's letter notes, Kevin's memorandum on counseling, for example, invites Board members to "discuss the sensitive issue with you further." Presumably the issue is "sensitive" due to the public scrutiny of the matter, and the private discussions seem intended to avoid that scrutiny. Kevin's invitation to Trustees could well be interpreted as soliciting a Brown Act violation.

This is not the only such example in the correspondence between Kevin and the Board members but I think that it illustrates the considerable questions that are raised under the Brown Act. These instances appear to me to go well beyond merely sharing information to inviting private discussion and deliberations from which the public is excluded.

"Grey" is correct that without testing it in court we can't know 100% for certain whether or not these solicitations for Board members to come discuss Kevin's "sensitive" policy proposals with him privately would exceed the scope of the "information" permitted, or would constitute "deliberation" or "discussion." However, we can know that given the broad construction courts are to give remedial statutes that protect the public interest, and the narrow construction given exceptions to those statutes that it is likely that this is problematic conduct.

That is why the AG of the State recommends against having private communications like these. The content is fine, so long as the public has access at the same time. When the public does not have access, then the risk of private "discussion, deliberation, and action" is unacceptable and it seems to be to be contrary to the spirit, and probably the letter, of the law.

It is not clear to me why our elected officials would want to be in the neighborhood of violating the Brown Act when the alternative is simply to cease receiving private memoranda and make all their deliberations public. The right thing to do is to agree to the reasonable reforms being requested by the Weekly, not to dig in and insist that nothing is wrong with current practices.

I'm not sure that it even matters whether this is "illegal" in some technical sense. It has had the effect of creating a private process and subverting the public process. That from my perspective is what matters. You can say that means, as Peter Carpenter does, that it violates the spirit and legislative intent of the Brown Act. It may violate the actual letter of the law. But whatever the case there, it violates good governance.

Finally, the order of senses within definitions in Merriam Webster is not by "popularity" as you asserted but is by historical usage with older definitions appearing ahead of newer usages. Thus, the order of senses within the definition of "information" is not relevant to this question. However, it is quite beside the point since an invitation to meet privately on a "sensitive" matter is not, under any definition, information. See: Web Link


Posted by Guy Laffin, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 17, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Oh my god this is so ridiculous.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 18, 2012 at 12:58 am

Did the Weekly issue this kind of letter and create this kind of defamatory "story" without consulting experts and lawyers? Did they rely on Mrs. Dauber as an expert (which I am sure she would admit she is not)? If they did consult experts or Brown Act lawyers, why didn't the story or the letter cite or quote them?

Weekly, can you shed some light?


Posted by former Gunn parent, a resident of Barron Park
on May 18, 2012 at 1:07 am

Who would want to be a school board member in this district? PAUSD is fortunate to have such devoted public servants. When is the last time *you* thanked a school board member? Do you know how many hours a week they spend on school district business? Granted Gunn needs to make some improvements, but this "discussion" has become ridiculous.


Posted by quiet observer, a resident of Green Acres
on May 18, 2012 at 2:20 am

former Gunn parent,
This forum tends to not have the most kind-hearted tone, I don't know why. I've sometimes tried posting very innocuous questions just to get information, and there seem to be regulars who need a chance to get out their aggression somehow. Just ignore them.

The concerns about transparency are legitimate, though, it's why the Brown Act exists, and I'm glad there are devoted, civic-minded parents in this district as well as a local paper willing to wrestle so intelligently with this important issue.

I also think leadership is more challenging than ever in our ubiquitous-critic culture, and is probably a reason a recent speaker on the topic of purpose says far fewer kids see themselves in future leadership roles. (That's a need I hope our educational system will respond to.) If more people experienced the challenges of leadership in the course of ordinary life, I think our discourse might be more positive.

BTW, I hope I am not losing my quiet observer status by saying this, but I thanked a school board member just yesterday. I am grateful for their service. I still concur with the need for transparency.


Posted by Maya, a resident of Downtown North
on May 18, 2012 at 6:22 am

Time for a change.


Posted by it's not called the "grey act", a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 18, 2012 at 8:15 am

Ms. Dauber,

Please be open to the possibility that you are wrong here.

It seems from re-reading the article, the memo, and the content in your posts that you were advising the Weekly on this matter and perhaps even are the one who wrote the 4 page memo it sent to the board.

As a law professor you can share with readers:

- That nothing in the law is clear until it is litigated (thanks for acknowledging that above),

- That lawyers are trained to argue any side of an issue well, and

- That, as a representative of the advocacy group We Can Do Better which the Weekly reports uncovered this memo and which has been pressing for guidance changes at Gunn, you are not impartial and so have a conflict of interest if advising the Weekly.

If it was you who advised them, perhaps the Weekly knew that the advice they'd get from you was colored by your bias and didn't care.

More likely, since the Weekly's credibility is at stake here, it believed that you had its best interests in mind before it broke what could turn out to be a very wrong and embarrassing story given the Weekly's long history of journalistic integrity.

As I tried to point out yesterday, the Weekly's memo to the board has many errors:

- The 2003 California State Attorney General's Brown Act handbook's statement that is cited as authority in the memo is a caution not a law, it relates to a law that was replaced with something else, and it was the opinion of an elected official who also was replaced, by California voters long ago.

- There is nothing wrong per se with superintendents talking to board members or writing content-filled memos to them outside of public sessions. If the public wants to see those documents, the California Records Act lays out in great detail how to request them. To reiterate and putting conspiracy theories aside, memos that are not automatically shared with the public are not intended "to exclude the public." Here a request to see the memo was made. The document was shared.

Certainly you wish information would automatically flow to you each time the superintendent communicated with the board. This is not a huge point of contention since the remedy is easy if you do what the Weekly did, which is follow the law and just ask for it.

- The memo builds its case on a series of completely and admittedly unfounded assumptions.

- Based on one sentence in an email sent to the Gunn community, the memo concludes that the district made a "decision not to adopt ("force") a specific guidance model." As I mentioned in an earlier post, if someone had taken the time to read the full sentence it would have been clear that no decision had been made.

Professor Dauber, I see that you are not licensed to practice law in California so may not be aware of the CA Rules of Professional Conduct. Lawyers in California are ethically obligated not to bring legal claims "without probable cause and for the purpose of harassing" others. (Rule 3-200).

A lawyer bringing a claim of Brown Act violations against the board just based on the facts and arguments presented in the memo would have to carefully determine on which side of this rule that claim would fall.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 18, 2012 at 8:45 am

@grey

I did not advise the Weekly in any way about this. I handed off the memo to them as reported in the story. I merely posted, under my own name, my view of the matter in response to your anonymous post.

You are completely incorrect and you are impugning the integrity of the paper's publisher as well as his competence. Nothing new for this anonymous forum but still a nasty bit of work.

There is no basis whatsoever for your mention of the rules of professional conduct here. This is a debate about whether the Superintendent's memos to the board exceed the scope of the exception for "information and answering questions" under 54952.2 or not. There is a clear case that it does that goes well beyond frivolous. I think it goes beyond information and you haven't said but I assume you think it doesn't.

Post under your own name using your own identity so that people can evaluate the value of your opinion.




Posted by Jon, a resident of Barron Park
on May 18, 2012 at 10:17 am

I have suggested to my son, a Gunn graduate and now a lawyer, that he not move to PA because his young daughters would likely get an education contorted by spoiled, driven parents. He wondered why I thought that would be news to him.


Posted by it's not called the "grey act", a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 18, 2012 at 10:47 am

Forgot to add for AGP and Ms Dauber:

The 1st historic (Merriam-Webster) AND the most common (American Heritage) definition of the word "information" are virtually identical: "intelligence and knowledge obtained from investigation and study" not "facts/data" ("stuff like 'the budget for pencils is $2,000' or 'here is the latest STAR test results.'").


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 18, 2012 at 11:02 am

@grey

Post under your own name using your own identity so that people can evaluate the value of your opinion.


Posted by Why so strident?, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 18, 2012 at 11:41 am

INCGA -

You are essentially arguing that a guilty party might well "get off" on a technicality.

And you seem to deduce from this that continuing the current behavior is perfectly fine and should not change. And that those pushing for change are causing harm by that push.

Is that your intention?

I can only interpret this as a Machiavellian view, typically held by those interested in holding or gaining power (for power's sake).

But our overall goal is to improve our secondary education, not to allocate power.


Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 18, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Michele, why are you so adamant towards people posting their identities? Part of the beauty of the internet is that you do not have to identify yourself. Besides, who wants their name, findable on Google, on a forum where there is a heated war going on? I, for one, do not. Additionally, I prefer not to use my last name because I don't want my family to be found if they disagree with my views.
Names will do nothing. Perhaps it would be better if you asked for his/her occupation? He/she mentioned that he/she had come in contact with the Brown act through work, though did say that he/she is not a lawyer. Resume or job would probably be a more informative way of judging his opinions and knowledge than name.
Also, I do think that the amount of publicity this is getting is somewhat odd. And the articles aren't particularly great. The commenters in the forum (Grey, yourself) have said more about the Brown act than the article does. It cites no part of the article and displays no scrutiny of whether they did or did not violate the act. And then, there's the article about a disputed 50-75, "about 70," or your own estimate of ~100 people gathering. It titled itself something along the lines of 'Gunn parents surprised by counseling differences' and quote one person saying they were surprised. It said nothing of those who were not, and had no survey or numbers on how many people were surprised. The very least they could have done was have 2-3 quotes of different people explaining what the learned/why they were surprised or show both sides of the story. And really, a meeting where people are 'surprised' about something? The republican party of California was surprised to learn it was in debt after the chairman tried to hide it. Any news? Nope. Perhaps this is justifiable because it's state news not Palo Alto news. Fine. How about some environmental group being surprised at PA's (un)expected success/failures energy-wise? Why not cover a PIE board meeting, a charitable foundation meeting, really any meeting at all? I'm sure there are some groupings that top 60-100 people. Shareholder meetings in PA probably do (and there are plenty of companies here). I see no coverage of those....
Just saying.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 18, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Dear "c" -- "grey" made a bunch of inaccurate factual accusations and then suggested that I was somehow making an unethical assertion. I think that being able to say stuff like that behind the veil of anonymity is a mistake. I stand behind what I say and use my real identity to say it and I think others should as well, particularly when slinging (inaccurate) mud. Otherwise this is just a slanderfest.

In terms of your concern "I don't want my family to be found if they disagree with my views" that sounds pretty ominous. Who will "find" your family? What will be done to them when they are "found"? Um.

Finally, well, I can't speak for the Weekly's coverage of every story. This is an award-winning local paper but it is a local paper. I think the quality is pretty high -- better than the Post or Daily News but running a newspaper is expensive and journalism is harder and harder to support. The entire video of the event is online so you can watch for yourself. I actually think Chris fairly captured the tone of the event -- there were a number of parents, including 1 not on the video because memory ran out -- who stood up and said "wow, this data is totally surprising! What is going on?! Why isn't the district dealing with this data?! What the hell, I didn't even know the schools had different systems?! One Paly student said she was surprised but having seen the data felt kind of sorry for the Gunn folks. Two parents said things on the order of "now that I have seen this data, why can't we get this fixed pronto?" So I think the headline is completely fair.

We counted for ourselves the attendance and captured it at 85. But I said around 70 because I didn't want to be accused by anonymous posters like you of exaggerating.

Michele


Posted by Palo Alto dad, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 18, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Three of the board members (Caswell, Klausner, and Townsend) are up for re-election. We will get the chance to decide who should be on the board, after all plays out and the rest of the confidential memos come out. Tom and Mitchell each have two year left, because they extended their terms by a year for the city council calendar. They both ran unopposed in the last election, if I remember right. They should have to reapply for their seats if they want. The voters should have the chance to decide whether they continue, once we know all of the facts, which I am sure are going to take time to come out. This is not the end of this bad story. Tom and Mitchell should step down and let the voters decide if to give them another try.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2012 at 8:03 pm

PA Dad, you make some good points. I agree that although we have some dedicated individuals on the board, they are indeed looking stale and in danger of becoming, dare we say it, complacent.

However, it is easy to say that there should be new blood and new members, but since the last election had no candidates other than the incumbents, we must first look to see if we do have anyone willing to stand for election before deciding that the present members need to be replaced.

Now is the time for any individual interested in standing to start making waves into the scene. I look forward to supporting these individuals and even though I may not agree with all their comments, I certainly will support their interest. They need to have thick skins to stand, but I hope we can all agree that we need to have some candidates this time and not to have another non-election.


Posted by Gunn 2013 community, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 18, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Please Weekly and We Can Do Better and Challenge Success, leave us alone. 90% of you are not current members of our community. You don't know what we want or need. You duped the district into shortening our summer and fall semester and now we rising seniors are facing a difficult college application process. You are willing to put words into students mouths to serve your agenda. We do not need you to champion any cause for us. You have done enough harm already and cost enough money and time. You increased the stress level at the school among parents and students and pushed it through the roof for staff, all in the name of stress reduction. Now your interference has the potenial to harm the rising seniors again if the counseling system is changed just as we are most in need of our counselors. PLEASE JUST LEAVE US ALONE!


Posted by B Boxer, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on May 18, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Gunn 2013. I'm not really Senator Boxer, and I don't know where Esther Clark Park is. But I've never heard a kid refer to teachers as "staff" or to himself as a "rising senior" or ever mention Challenge Success so I doubt that you are who you say you are either. I have heard people who sound a lot like you yelling at the school board about the calendar, though.


Posted by Gunn 2013 community, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 19, 2012 at 9:33 am

So parents are not part of the community? I'll remember that next time I'm asked to give support. Do people actually "yell" at the school board?


Posted by B Boxer, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on May 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I'm sorry, I thought when you wrote "we rising seniors" you meant "we rising seniors". My mistake, won't happen again. Anyways, I appreciate your point that it's wrong to "put words into students mouths to serve your agenda." please let us know when you will be delivering your next ethics lecture.


Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 21, 2012 at 11:22 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by No on WCDBPA, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 21, 2012 at 6:44 pm

We Can Do Better Palo Alto but without the WCDBPA. The WCDBPA didn't bode well in this news article. They certainly come off sounding like they are working more against Kevin Skelly than working for our kids.

Seems to me that Superintendent Kevin Skelly wants to improve the guidance program at Gunn, the Board of Education wants to improve the guidance program at Gunn, the Gunn principal wants to improve the guidance program at Gunn. Then why should Gunn parents listen to a group whose goals seem to be to slam Kevin Skelly as often as possible and to force a PALY model on us. Perhaps PAUSD staff, teachers, principals, Gunn students can come up with a better plan. Maybe even more affordable.

WCDBPA seems to be another large focal group that pushes their way through the Palo Alto Weekly to be heard. And what gives the Palo Alto Weekly the right to demand things from the school district anyway. If the WCDBPA doesn't get their way, are they going to push for a charter school?




Posted by i agree with the below, a resident of Barron Park
on May 21, 2012 at 9:50 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff due to reposting of previous post.]


Posted by Amy, a resident of another community
on May 31, 2012 at 9:43 am

This writer clearly does not understand the Brown Act. Superintendents can have two-way conversations with any or all of the board members at any time - they just cannot poll board members, nor can they share details of their conversations with other board members. As long as they follow those provisions, there is no issue, since the Brown Act really only applies to the board members.

FYI, nearly every board in California gets weekly updates from their superintendents via email, including mine.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on May 31, 2012 at 10:04 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Amy doesn't understand that what is in question are CONFIDENTIAL memos - which have no place in a public institution. What are they trying to hide?

Amy also doesn't seem to appreciate that these confidential memos lay the groundwork for serial conversations among the Board members - which would violate the Brown Act.

The current procedure creates mistrust - a fatal problem for a public entity.


Posted by Rajiv Bhateja, a resident of Hoover School
on Jun 1, 2012 at 9:13 am

Thank you, Ken and Michele Dauber, for your courageous stand, and your efforts in holding the School Board and the Superintendent (especially the Superintendent) accountable. I believe this (albeit difficult and sometimes painful) process will eventually benefit vast numbers of students at Gunn and hopefully Paly too.

Your work and sacrifices on their behalf is greatly appreciated.

Finally, the Brown Act should be respected. There is no room for such "executive privilege" at the school board level.