School board candidate profile: Ken Dauber


Age: 52

Education: Bachelor's and master's in sociology from Yale University; doctorate in sociology from University of Arizona

Current occupation: Software engineer, Google

Family: Wife Michele; sons Jeffrey, 27, and Elliot, 13; daughters Amanda, deceased, and Annie and Celia, both 23

Favorite book: The "Travis McGee" series by John MacDonald

Campaign website:

Ken Dauber has said he's being specific in his campaign commitments for a reason -- so that if elected, he'll have the weight of the voters behind his main goals for the district.

These goals -- manifested in work he's done over the last few years as a parent advocate -- focus on special education, the district's relationship with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, student health and well-being, the need to open a 13th elementary school and foreign-language instruction.

"I'm being specific because I want a mandate, and when I come to the board, I'm going to be able to point to the outcome as a support for that," Dauber said in an interview with the Weekly.

Dauber, a Google software engineer and parent of five children, ran in the last school board election in 2012. Dauber lost with 10,266 votes, or 22.07 percent, 916 votes behind Heidi Emberling. Then and now, he has pointed to his commitment as a board watchdog -- attending almost every meeting in the last few years, using the California Public Records Act to file multiple requests for information from the district and presenting concrete data to the board on various issues as evidence of the kind of board member he would be if elected.

He first started this work in 2009, following the rash of student suicides that sparked the creation of Project Safety Net (PSN). Dauber participates in the youth mental health coalition's Community Engagement Committee. He is critical of the progress the district has made in the past few years in addressing student stress.

"I'm not satisfied with the progress, in part because I don't think we should ever be satisfied with the progress and in part because I think we have let go of opportunities that we should have taken up and that were in front of us," he said.

He pointed to the district's failure to assess the effectiveness of the homework policy it adopted in 2012, which outlines specific amounts of time certain grade levels should be spending on homework, as an example. He served on a committee to develop the policy and has since urged the board to authorize an evaluation.

He said he is similarly disappointed by the fact the district is not seeking evaluation of the district's two high schools' counseling programs in order to determine which model better serves students. In 2011, Dauber co-founded the community group We Can Do Better Palo Alto and called for Gunn High School to replace its traditional counseling model with the "advisory" system used at Palo Alto High School. He told the Weekly that he doesn't think the two schools need to have "exactly identical services," but they do need to deliver equal quality services and comparable outcomes.

The counseling systems serve as one example of the district's struggle between school autonomy and district authority.

Dauber, who in the last board race called for greater top-down direction in order to more quickly spread best practices throughout the district, has said now that the conversation should focus on resources.

"If we have 12 different anti-bullying programs and they're all equally effective, that's good, but that shouldn't end the conversation," he said. "There's also a conversation about whether we should be investing our district's time and energy in developing 12 different anti-bullying programs because those are dollars and attention and staff time that could be devoted to something else."

Dauber has also been a vocal critic both before and during the campaign of the board's handling of its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigations, setting himself apart as the first candidate who firmly said he would repeal the resolution criticizing the federal agency's investigative practices that the board passed in June.

"We cannot get on the right path on bullying when at the same time we're engaging in an act of denial on the bullying that's actually happening," Dauber said at the Sept. 16 debate.

He has also condemned the amount of money the district has spent on legal fees, especially relating to litigation with special-education families. The district spent more than $200,000 in the first seven months of 2014 in legal fees related to its cases and conflicts with the Office for Civil Rights, including just under $50,000 for attorneys to research, develop and follow up on the June resolution.

Dauber said at the Sept. 16 debate that his top budget priority is to eliminate district expenses that "don't have anything to do with serving student needs," including legal fees.

Dauber consulted for the U.S. Department of Education for three years, from 2009 to 2012. He has said Russlyn Ali, former assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education and longtime friend of his wife, asked him to help with data analysis around the achievement gap and related issues.

Between 2009 and 2011, Dauber received a total of $26,246 in compensation for his work with the department with the most (about $14,000) in 2009, he said. He received $5,872 in 2011, the last year he was compensated for his work. His consulting agreement with the federal agency was terminated in 2012 when Ali left office.

Dauber said he has not been involved with any of the Office for Civil Rights' Palo Alto-related work and had no knowledge of the Palo Alto complaints until they were reported in local media. Dauber said if elected, he will have no contact or consulting with the federal agency and will properly disclose all relevant information.

Dauber's wife, Michele, a Stanford University law professor, has also often lobbied the board on various issues. The two co-wrote an opinion piece that ran in the Weekly in 2011, condemning then Superintendent Kevin Skelly for his ineffective response to issues around student stress and well-being. Dauber said if he is elected, his wife will no longer play an advocacy role on district matters.

With a background in data analysis, Dauber has often spoken to the board about the importance of using good data in program evaluation and policymaking.

"When I saw the need in the district around issues of A-G (requirements, which prepare students for the U.C. system), around issues of stress, around the issue of civil rights, I answered the call," Dauber said at a debate hosted by parents of special-education students and students of color on Sept. 20. "I think that's really what we need to see the (data) -- not as facts, but (facts that) spur us to be better because we can do better."

To view a video of the Weekly's interview with Ken Dauber, visit our YouTube channel.

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Like this comment
Posted by peppered
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2014 at 10:51 pm

peppered is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 16, 2014 at 10:32 pm

No Elena actually Ken Dauber in 2012 garnered nearly 15,000 votes, lost to Heidi by 2 percent but was within 6 percent of the leading vote getter my Dartmouth classmate Melissa Baten Caswell.

I did not vote for Ken but have endorsed him this time around.

I admire his tenacity.

Good luck, Ken and thanks for your hard work on behalf of our future.

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