News

Editorial: With end of school year, a time for reflection

Palo Alto school board, superintendent to assess their work in public retreat next week

As Superintendent Max McGee completes his first year, the Palo Alto school district is at an important juncture. With his honeymoon over, it's now necessary for the board and McGee to sort out whether McGee is going to be allowed the freedom to lead the district or whether the school board intends to manage him as they did his predecessor, Kevin Skelly.

Next Tuesday and Wednesday, the board and McGee will assess the year, set goals for next year and attempt to reconcile some differences over their respective roles and responsibilities. McGee's enthusiasm for his job and interest in staying could very well hinge on the statements made and decisions reached in these meetings.

The opportunity to lead a well-funded school district in a city known for its innovation and commitment to education, and where the children of Stanford University professors, Silicon Valley executives and venture capitalists are educated, was impossible for Max McGee to pass up a year ago.

But it surely hasn't been the year he was expecting or hoping for.

On the very night last summer when McGee was first introduced to the community, the school board, without even seeking his input, unleashed a barrage of criticism and allegations against the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and one of the complainants by adopting a resolution that alone cost $50,000 in outside attorney fees to craft.

The resolution reflected the obsession of the school board, led by then-president Barb Mitchell, and its law firm, Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, with OCR's involvement in the district and the board's unbridled willingness to spend huge amounts of money on a futile and entirely avoidable fight with a federal agency.

As expected by the board that had just hired him, McGee dutifully acquiesced on the issue and chose not to probe the past history of the district's legal compliance problems. He understandably preferred to look forward, and tried, with limited success, to focus the board in that direction too.

But just six weeks later McGee received word of a new Office for Civil Rights case. Determined to show he would approach parent complaints differently, he quickly resolved the matter personally and without turning to his law firm. Unintentionally, McGee's quick success drew more attention to how misguided and costly the district's confrontational strategy had been over the previous two years.

Shortly after school started, McGee faced another test, this one from the teacher's union, which was resisting both the full implementation of district homework policies and the use of the district-adopted online platform Schoology for posting homework assignments. The dispute led to an ill-conceived grievance against new Gunn High School Principal Denise Herrmann, filed just days after the suicide of a Gunn student, one of four deaths that rocked the district this school year.

Then in November, McGee had to tip-toe around a mysterious and confusing proposal made by then Vice President Melissa Baten Caswell and supported by Camille Townsend that the board consider adopting an unprecedented policy that seemed carefully designed to prevent newly elected Ken Dauber from participating in any discussions on OCR matters after he took office in December. When publicly revealed, the proposal became radioactive and suddenly disappeared, much to the relief of McGee, who thought it was inappropriate to begin with.

McGee, who implored the board to avoid these kinds of distracting issues that took time and attention away from all the important work that needed to be done, kept being dealt one distraction after another and created a few of his own, including the zero-period controversy. His initial vacillation on eliminating zero period at Gunn led to an active effort by Townsend to rally community opposition to McGee, an effort that included a raft of misstatements by Townsend about the role of the Measure A parcel tax measure in McGee's decision and other aspects of the zero-period issue.

Next week's retreat will hopefully determine whether Townsend is the sole outlier or if other board members share her resistance to McGee's leadership. While we don't agree with everything McGee has done in his first year, he has brought more fresh ideas and an eagerness to solve long-festering problems and instill accountability than the previous administration ever did.

The long-standing culture in our school district is to appease the loudest and most powerful voices in the community. As McGee works to change and democratize the culture, it means advocating for what he believes is right, not for the politically expedient. We hope the board will support this approach next week and agree that its policy-making role needs to be crisp, transparent and clear -- everything that it is not currently.

Related content:

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Comments

18 people like this
Posted by Michelle de Blank
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 12, 2015 at 8:17 am

Dr . McGee - I don't know if you see these comments but I hope so. I am so glad you came to our district. You are making some really good changes and seem to really care about our kids. You have courage and seem to be a very decisive leader. Please keep working toward reform of the special education system. It needs an overhaul too.

Thanks for your hard work and I hope you stay at PAUSD even though it probably is a crazy place to be a Superintendent.


8 people like this
Posted by Eb
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2015 at 8:27 am

I do not disagree with the overall point of this editorial which -- to the extent I can figure it out -- appears to be that Max McGee is better than Kevin Skelly and Camille Townsend's poor behavior toward him might cause him to quit.

However, most of what is written here doesn't really make sense or support the argument, and many things which have occurred that would support it are oddly missing.

For example, the lede says that the big question is "whether McGee is going to be allowed the freedom to lead the district or whether the school board intends to manage him as they did his predecessor, Kevin Skelly"

But this is an off-base formulation since the problem was that the board never managed Kevin Skelly [portion removed.] It wasn't that they managed him too much it was that they managed him not at all. The one board member who tried to manage him was Barbara Klausner who got stiff-armed for her trouble and ended up questioning his integrity in public and then departing after a single term. [Portion removed.]

In other words, that first sentence out of the gate makes no sense. It says that Max is chafing under the direction of this wacky board, and Kevin was terrible in some way that is also the board's fault, although not in the direction suggested.

Unfortunately it doesn't get a lot better as it progresses in terms of sense-making.

With respect to OCR, what has Max done to resolve that during this year? He's been here a year. Has he done anything, taken any steps to improve the situation with OCR? [Portion removed.]

With respect to the Public Records Act, which this newspaper wants I presume to have fulfilled, has Max done better or worse than Skelly? Actually, he's done worse. There is no way to lay that at the board's feet. Certainly he deserves no praise for trying to "democratize" the district. He won't even give you the documents you request.

The union grievance against Denise is thrown in there, I guess to bolster the you-don't-know-the-troubles-he's-seen story of Max. But again, that is irrelevant at best to your argument and counter-evidence at worst. Max himself did not support Denise, as the documents you obtained show. [Portion removed.] The board was uninvolved.

You write that Max was against the conflict of interest policy proposed by Caswell and Townsend. That is a bit of creative history, since Max stated at the board meeting where it was discussed that it was "important." He was against it after he was for it, but he never figured out how to kill it which is why you had to expose it and make it "radioactive" before it could die off.

That event is actually very revealing of Max's management style which is to allow things to fester and then when the wound is so infected that pus is literally exploding outward, to run away and claim it was the board's fault because they didn't tell him to put the Bacitracin on the cut even though it was in his hand.

Again and again -- on the law firms, zero period, the "advanced authentic research" and more, McGee has been slow on the uptake, had a hard time making decisions, and failed to understand the political culture in which he is operating [portion removed.] He gives the impression of a man over his head and overmatched by the position, not of one who would lead confidently if only the leash was off. What leash? Mostly the board does nothing and is ceremonial. [Portion removed.]

Though I will say that the one incident that actually supports your argument is when Townsend dressed him down in public a few meetings ago and accused him and Dauber of conspiring on the parcel tax and zero period. That was crazy, and it's weird that an editorial the point of which is "Townsend is going to drive McGee out of the job" doesn't mention the one legitimate basis he has for that complaint.

The final bit of puzzling nonsense is that McGee is trying to "democratize the culture" of the district. He is currently building a Field of Dreams Advanced Authentic Research program that will ultimately cost millions and serve 15 students at capacity. It is going to create a Hunger Games style competition among students to obtain what will be a big college application distinguisher, and will heap money on a select few students at the expense of everyone else. It will lead ultimately to calls for his head when parents realize what he has done and that their students can't get in due to favoritism by teachers in selection. In a district with so very many talented STEM students, setting up a program like this isn't just fiscally irresponsible it's anti-democratic.

In addition, I have to say that though I disagree with pretty much everything Townsend says, to the extent I can figure it out, it wasn't illegitimate for her to support retaining zero period or to rally people on the issue. She's elected and can represent what she sees as the will of the people. It is beyond denial that it was a popular option. Gambling, cigarettes and heroin are also popular as is texting while driving and teenage sex. This was a public health crisis and frankly McGee failed that test too. The only person who walked away from the zero period debacle with his integrity intact was Dauber.

Democracy does not mean what you seem to think it means. It doesn't mean "allow the strong leader to lead without democratic oversight of the board and without public transparency or providing documents to the newspaper." That sure is not what I would have expected you to think it meant.

As to whether Townsend is battering McGee, I don't disagree. But this is a man with the keys to his own jail cell. If he is not up to the job, he will have to stay in there.



Like this comment
Posted by Palo Verde Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 12, 2015 at 9:30 am

@eb
"Though I will say that the one incident that actually supports your argument is when Townsend dressed him down in public a few meetings ago and accused him and Dauber of conspiring on the parcel tax and zero period. That was crazy, and it's weird that an editorial the point of which is "Townsend is going to drive McGee out of the job" doesn't mention the one legitimate basis he has for that complaint."

I agree and could it be that there just might be something to this "crazy" theory. I also find it a bit curious that with all the records requests that the Weekly has made that there has not been one regarding this accusation. Is it because if a request was made for all the communication between any board member, Dr. McGee, and any staff member of the Weekly that mentions zero period or the parcel tax, there just might be some communication that points to some sort of "arm twisting" about zero period and the parcel tax?


12 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 12, 2015 at 9:40 am

My take is a little different on this.

Regardless of who was in charge this year, it would have been a very difficult year for PAUSD. Many of us were upset at not only Skelly but also the board of education. The election and the referendum are indicators of how strong the feelings are and also how split we are even though we all agree on putting the students' needs first.

One of my biggest gripes is the financial housekeeping of PAUSD and it seems to be getting worse rather than better. As yet, I have not seen McGee doing anything to address that.

However, as a newbie to PAUSD, I can't see how McGee could possibly have been prepared for the type of year we have had. I think all of us as parents are taking a deep breath before the next year starts. My own family have had a difficult school year even outside of all the public goings on.

McGee was basically thrown in the deep end without a life vest. I doubt if he had had any idea what his job this year would be like because only half his job description could possibly be the way he spent a great deal of time. From suicides, to legal cases, any new superintendent would have had a difficult time. In the circumstances, I think he is doing a good job for his first year. As he prepares himself for the onslaught of the new academic year, he may be a little better prepared and only then will we see his true colors.

I say thank you to him for the work he has done this first year, it can't have been easy. I am even more anxious to see how he does his second year now that the blinkers are off.


23 people like this
Posted by Ebb
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2015 at 10:05 am

My main point of my post is this. Even though Townsend is behaving badly towards McGee, it's his poor management that is causing the problem. He should firmly and politely tell her to stop, which is what Terry Godfrey did at the last meeting. What a breath of fresh air that was! His failure to react and manage the situation appropriately is not a sign that should make people hopeful about his management capacity.

Sure she's a nuisance. But does she have any other votes? I can see that McGee is chafing about how she treats him but that is his job to manage -- both her behavior and his bruised feelings about it.

Caswell has managed things badly as well -- she should learn what an agenda is and how to make one. But has she been critical of McGee or pushed him around? No. Mostly she just does exactly what he wants.

Managing difficult personalities on school boards is part of the job. He needs to put the big boy pants on and go to work not cry into your coffee about it. He's got plenty he can handle better, and he needs to do it.


22 people like this
Posted by No training wheels
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 12, 2015 at 11:56 am

I agree with Ebb. No training wheels on a 300k job. Kitchens are hot.


18 people like this
Posted by Making the Grade
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2015 at 1:50 pm

The following issues are important to me and seemed abysmally handled during the Skelly years (not necessarily by order of importance):

1) Student health and safety (including mental health)

2) Solving past problems

3) Financial Housekeeping (including oversight of the facilities bond)

4) Trust (transparency, responsiveness, employees acting honestly and in good faith especially where there are problems, etc, including answering records requests where information is needed)

5) Customer service (including fostering a culture of collaboration with families, and honesty and diplomacy instead of creating unnecessary conflict or retaliating, including reining in the misbehavior of employees in special ed/student services)

6) Improving communication so that it is an actual two-way street

7) Cleaning house at the district office of underlings who do a far better job looking good and sucking up -- and unfortunately, retaliating and giving preferential treatment based on who they do or don't like -- than serving students

8) Innovating in the educational program, especially at the high school level, to make the district's vision more than a hollow slogan

9) Ending the unnecessary, expensive, counter-to-students-interests, pernicious overlegalizing


I don't know what to say. This district was such a swamp when McGee arrived, it's hard to criticize him. He has tried to set a better tone, I'll give him that, and I do think he has succeeded. If you compare the LWV speeches of Skelly and McGee, in terms of which one gives hope for the future, Skelly rated a negative number even when he was new, but McGee's speech is a 9-10.

Unfortunately, as much as a personally like him, and truly believe he has a better vision than Skelly, his leadership over the past year hasn't walked the talk, and I am beginning to lose hope. (The last thing we need in this district is people who are good at putting a pretty cover over the rot.)

On the above issues, he has either not dealt with them, dealt with them no better than Skelly, and in some cases such as records requests, he has actually done worse. The student services and special ed area are especially problematic, as Skelly was actually trying to act after all those dope slaps, where McGee seems unwilling to even impartially examine what happened and is just taking the word of the worst perpetrators in the district office who caused the problems in the first place for Skelly and families. The head of student services is the worst one, is getting a promotion, and McGee seems completely unaware of his (and the students' and the district culture's) peril.

People are trying to give him time, but where there are problems, (I can't believe I'm hearing myself say this) he is in some ways even worse than Skelly, and better in mostly inconsequential ways. He seems to confuse the waiting and giving him time with the problems going away, and if anything, many are building from inattention after the changeover. I have defended him so far, but there is a disconnect between that hope and what we have observed in the district as well as how abysmally our own family and child have been treated this year. We are considering starting a charter school with some other families.

If I have to be honest and give him a grade, he would get a few A's and B's here and there for less consequential things, but for the big projects, mostly he gets D's and F's or zeros. And you know how that averages out in our district -- F overall. I agree with "no training wheels."


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Posted by Curious
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 12, 2015 at 2:04 pm

@Making the Grade - curious about this one: "3) Financial Housekeeping (including oversight of the facilities bond)." What part of the bond oversight do you think is lacking? I had not heard this complaint.


18 people like this
Posted by Making the Grade
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2015 at 2:50 pm

@Curious,

The problem is mostly that no one is minding the store and everyone thinks someone is.

My personal peeve is that if you compare what we have to spend with what schools cost to build even in expensive areas, or looked at how Los Altos managed their most recent bond (and how much they spent or didn't spend), we could have through careful planning gotten mostly new school sites across the district. What we're getting instead is some outrageously expensive add-ons and new structures here and there, and some lipstick for the majority of what are arguably dilapidated structures. The state of California says the research on the age of school sites having a lot of negatives, and they aren't even sure why entirely (but the research on the association itself is very strong).

Agree or disagree, everyone thinks the role of the oversight committee is to ensure that the money is spent effectively and efficiently, but that's actually not the case. The oversight committee simply insures that the money is being spent on the schools (as opposed to junkets to Bangkok and prostitutes), not that it is being spent well, or even that it is being spent to provide as much as possible as was promised in the facilities bond language. There the oversight committee takes its cue from the district facilities people, and they will tell you honestly that they don't think they can provide what the bond promised (and if you have been following these things, they haven't really tried that hard). There is quite literally no one in an oversight role who is ensuring we get the most for what we paid. This is extremely troubling, given the large amount of money and the many needs we have.

Refer to Doug Moran's blog post, footnote #1, Problems in terminology
Web Link


16 people like this
Posted by Making the Grade
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2015 at 2:55 pm

Oh, and I would probably add to the list above, one that is developing as a problem:

10) Fairness across the district (in facilities, educational opportunities, expenditures, treatment of different children)

The Task force on closing the achievement gap was something I chalk up as a success, because at least McGee made an effort, but without dealing with some of these big issues that affect the achievement gap, like even just a general concern for trust and fairness (walking the talk), it's likely to be hampered in what it could otherwise achieve, like so many other in-a-vacuum efforts.


29 people like this
Posted by MoralCompass
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 12, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Max,

Let me help you out - here's a quick start guide on running PAUSD:

- do the opposite of what Camille recommends. This is your moral compass, and will address about half the district problems.

- take action where your staff appears inactive. That covers half of the remaining issues.

[Portion removed.]

- audit sped, 504's, and generally tretment of students with depression, ADHD and anxiety. These high risk students are being ground up by a system unaware and uncaring of their issues.

There - that takes care of 90% of your issues , and you'll get A+


15 people like this
Posted by Training wheels
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 12, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Moral Compass, yes as to all. Well said.

[Portion removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Making the Grade
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2015 at 10:12 am

@MoralCompass,

Good points. You missed one, though (or maybe it was deleted). Have you ever seen The Caine Mutiny? Someone desperately needs to root out the Fred McMurray character from 25 Churchill....


12 people like this
Posted by Transparancy
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 13, 2015 at 11:53 am

At the last Board meeting the special needs parent advisory group CAC (which is required by law to exist) asked for a liaison to the Board, but McGee and the Board said they can't help every little group. PAUSD spends countless millions on Special Education every year, no one even knows how much because it is spread across different budgets. Good luck getting a straight answer.
Can't help wondering if some of this year's problems could have been prevented if a Board member would come down to the public's level and heard what is really going on. Parents can't even get questions answered, no matter how simple. Special Education was audited by the State and found out of compliance in numerous areas, but that report was never presented or made public. After parents made multiple attempts to obtain answers for months, a board member found some of it. Where is the entire audit report?


2 people like this
Posted by CAC parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 13, 2015 at 7:22 pm

Actually, Dauber asked about a liaison for CAC, Caswell said they need rules for determining which groups get liaisons, and Dauber said he would follow up in committee and wants the liaison. McGee said he opposes it but didn't say why.


3 people like this
Posted by MI Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 13, 2015 at 8:31 pm

@CAC,

You are so right. It was nearly impossible to get anyone to listen to us as we tried to extend MI to Jordan. Having a dedicated MI liaison would have made things happen a lot faster and not have wasted so much time and our kids future in setting this up.


5 people like this
Posted by Transparency
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 14, 2015 at 2:14 am

@MI - what is MI?

@CAC - for the CAC liaison:
Max said he opposed CAC having a liaison because it's requested by so many group. Special Ed is where enormous problems have exploded in recent years. Some better communication would help. The Superintendent and Board of Education members speaking at the meeting showed they have lost touch with reality of the parent and public's opinions, and the sense that nothing has been done to improve Special Education or reduce legal messes since Max came. The horrible slide started with the election before last, when candidates slammed Special Education children for costing them too much. That's the District's culture now - blame, hide information, sue children, delay with legal tricks and games. It hasn't gone well.

Contracts - Business Officer's description of PAUSD's legal contract renewal procedures said all they do is ask the department who the contractor worked for if they want the contract to continue.

That is not good management procedure. Large contracts should be reviewed and put out for bids every 3 years. Clients (both parents and school faculty and staff) should report on performance.

The public (the ultimate client of any PAUSD contractor's work) should be notified of contract reviews and bids, and be given opportunity for input prior to approval on a Board of Ed Agenda. Smaller contracts can have a briefer review process.

All contracts need to be publicly available for public review. Contractors do not have employment protection. Transparency is needed to ensure contractors are not being used to avoid hiring credentialed, licensed, or certified staff. Contractors qualifications need to be presented for approval. Right now, contractors could have any background and little training. An internet class on teaching disabled children is not enough. Classes to restrain children taught by non licensed contractors are not enough, the District needs to teach far better behavior management principals than this:
Web Link
Web Link

Right now, there are countless individuals in PAUSD being paid as contractors, with no management chain and no way for parents to raise concerns about their performance or training. Contractors supervise other contractors and employees. This is wrong. Some do great work, but others presented long standing service problems. No record of complaints is kept,and contractors are not evaluated on their service to the students and general public and helping the District avoid conflict situations and crises.

Some contractors are experts. Others lack credentials and are working for the District because because a manager likes them, or they testify in hearings. There is no way for parents to report problems or resolve them under this contracting system. If you ask who supervises a Special Education contractor, you will never get a reply. Or parents are told Director of Special Ed supervises every contractor hired, an impossibility. Director of Special Education does not understand all the specialty fields contractors work in, and does not understand to take action when ethical issues arise.

Districts do need flexibility to hire contractors for small, short term needs and for emergencies and fluctuating needs, but these conditions and needs should be spelled out clearly. There needs to be a system that avoids the appearance of conflict and ensure accountability. Special Education staff have their own personal attorney and unlimited access, and thus unlimited expense. The Board of Education should have different attorneys advising them than District employees, since they need to practice oversight. Contractors and Legal firms should never appear to be the vassals of a Superintendent and Special Education department.


3 people like this
Posted by SI Parent
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 14, 2015 at 10:00 am

@Transparency,
MI == Mandarin Immersion.

Doesn't surprise me that MI people are asking for this. They will probably get it, they seem to get whatever they ask for.
SI is in far greater need of an SI liaison. The fiasco at Jordan when they removed SI for a few years was all down to poor communication. There was always parents and students wanting it but due to bad relationships with the school, it got abandoned. With an SI liaison, this would never have happened.


6 people like this
Posted by Gunn and Terman Mom
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 14, 2015 at 7:36 pm

Dr. McGee cares personally for every student and parent! He listens carefully and takes action. I too am hoping for him to take a good look at special Ed like he did for minority gap achievement. I am impressed by his leadership and have no doubt that if I walk into his office, he will listen and take action.


10 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jun 14, 2015 at 7:45 pm

I think Max is aware of special Ed leadership or should I say lack of leadership. He is not able to fix things overnight. Max knows what is going on and that is why he has director reporting to him directly. Please give him time...he has done a great job this year!


13 people like this
Posted by Representing
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 14, 2015 at 9:08 pm

Since the Director of Special Education is reporting to the Superintendent, that person's actions represent the Superintendant. Parents spoke at the meeting of adversarial, rude, and threatening behavior by his Special Education attorney. That behavior represents the Superintendent.
Since the Superintendent reports to the Board of Education, the attorney's behavior also represents each individual Board of Education Member. It occurred at their direction, and they paid for it.
The wonderful service the Board believes their attorney gives the Board and Administrators who pays them may not be the same wonderful behavior toward the unfortunate families of disabled children during the time of greatest sorrow and fear in their lives. It's doubtful the Board read all the e-mails and letters involved and know how much effort parents made to get the District to resolve problems and keep children safe, and how the District would not respond at all. If it did respond, it was with threats. If this process is the advice of their wonderful attorney, it is shameful advice.
District Administrators control what is in files and notes from meetings, they only present papers to the Superintendent, Board and judges that make them look good. When confronted with complete facts just before a hearing, and knowing District behavior will become public information once the case goes to hearing, the District suddenly settles the case. It's brinkmanship at public expense. The speakers were correct, it is bullying by the District toward parents.
And where did it get them? To the same spot they would have ended up without the litigation. There is no sense in aggressively pursuing due process against families who speak no English, can't attend the proceedings, don't understand the proceedings, or whose children are so ill, so greatly disabled that they are failing and violent to the point the District will have to change it's strategy toward the child anyway.
What is it the District hoping to achieve by it's tactic of of aggressively attacking the weakest and most vulnerable families in our District? Can we stop this?


6 people like this
Posted by Making the Grade
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2015 at 12:36 pm

"..and have no doubt that if I walk into his office, he will listen and take action."

I didn't, either, but sadly, that hope has not been my experience. Faced with the concern that he has an underling who systematically lies to the detriment of children -- and parents willingness to offer proof by multiple families -- McGee has not chosen to make an effort to hear the families, but has instead chosen to put that person between himself and any communication by the families.


3 people like this
Posted by Rocks
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 15, 2015 at 3:15 pm

McGee is outstanding. His direct approach to addressing problems head on with solutions he believes in (even when unpopular) shows leadership. He has never cuckolded the board like Skelly did (more than once!). He has demonstrated caring for the single most important constituency in PAUSD: the students.

He is phenomenal and a breath of fresh air [portion removed.]

And he did it despite having to deal with certain Board members (Camille, Melissa) [portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 15, 2015 at 3:38 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by asdf
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 15, 2015 at 7:33 pm

"But just six weeks later McGee received word of a new Office for Civil Rights case. Determined to show he would approach parent complaints differently, he quickly resolved the matter personally and without turning to his law firm. Unintentionally, McGee's quick success drew more attention to how misguided and costly the district's confrontational strategy had been over the previous two years. "

It always amuses me when the Weekly praises Max for this. All Max did was allow the child to take a test for the 3rd time to get into an advanced Math class. The family went to the OCR to complain and Max rolled over. I often wonder where Max would draw the line - at the 5th, 6th, 7th attempt at the test?

It's not like he had to deal with a real OCR case.


6 people like this
Posted by Transparency
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 15, 2015 at 9:12 pm

Link to the California Department of Education (CDE) letter to PAUSD with results of compliance audit of PAUSD Special Education:

Web Link

Thank you to Mr. Dauber for finally being able to get a copy of it.

The letter states two reports are enclosed:
1. Report on District level findings and corrective actions
2. Report on Student level findings and corrective actions

Can the public get copies of those?

The CDE letter says District must report it's corrective actions for noncompliance. The CDE letter was received by the District 9 months ago. Is there a record of it's corrective actions?

Board and Administrators, next time an audit and results are so important to the public, please present the results to the taxpayers in a timely fashion.


2 people like this
Posted by Making the Grade
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2015 at 10:40 pm

@Transparency,
It has been my observation that at least for the last several years all written interactions with district and school personnel are sanitized by them for perceived problems even if it means they make things up. I really find it incredible that there would still be findings.

I also don't know anyone who was given a survey. Interesting.


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Posted by Curious
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 15, 2015 at 10:53 pm

@Making the Grade - that's interesting on the oversight committee. The work was all awarded by competitive bids to the lowest bidder, mostly during a construction recession, so not sure how the work could have been done much less expensively. Do you think the designs were too extravagent? Or the project priorities were wrong? The high schools sites set their own priorities, and the middle schools all got their projects done.


4 people like this
Posted by Making the Grade
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2015 at 11:19 pm

@Curious,

The planning itself, the bidding, all happened with no oversight. Just because you get a low bid doesn't make oversight unnecessary. People got out their wish lists and the pushiest and most connected got them filled. Absolutely no attempt was made to follow guidelines for reducing unnecessary increases in school construction costs. There was no oversight to ensure we got the most to fulfill the spirit of the bond for the money. It's not a matter of priorities, it's a matter of effectiveness and oversight. That fact is, the oversight committee we have does not perform that function by their own admission.

Let's see... Gunn gets a new gym/athletic center for $10 or $12 million, then Paly plans to put up their new athletic center for a $24million donation, and somehow the district decides to chip in another $16 million, for a $40 million athletic center. When so many of our classrooms and buildings are essentially dilapidated structures with an expensive coat of paint and a little new hardscape, and we have no real oversight of the construction, this remains a legitimate financial housekeeping concern.

Speaking of curious, just what is your vested interest?


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Posted by Curious
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 16, 2015 at 10:46 am

"The planning itself, the bidding, all happened with no oversight"

When you say the planning, do you mean the choice of projects? Or the actual building designs themselves? The projects were, for the most part, chosen through the Master Plan and site budget allocation plan, back in the mid-2000's, with refinements by committees at the sites, and each project approved by the Board. That seems pretty transparent, though obviously reasonable people could have different priorities. The building designs are definitely above average, but I think the view has been that the community prizes its schools and wants the new buildings to be nice, given their long lives. Agree, this part is largely left to staff and contractors with little outside oversight.

The bidding procedures have been subject to annual outside audit (reporting to the oversight committee) to make sure they comply with regulations and have been followed.

"Absolutely no attempt was made to follow guidelines for reducing unnecessary increases in school construction costs."

Are you referring to some specific guidelines that should be followed? Or do the costs just seem high to you? If there are procedures that you think should have been followed, I'm curious what they are.

Re the Paly gym - the Paly facilities steering committee (Web Link), I believe, decided to prioritize the new gyms in light of the donation. Other projects were cancelled to make room in the budget for it. I agree it is expensive, but I don't think I have a better view on what is needed than the site steering committee. At $16M cost to the district, I think the view is that it is a bargain.

Generally I agree with you that the oversight committee is focused by regulation on compliance, not efficiency in building. But state ed regs govern much of the procedures on how the construction work is awarded, and compliance is audited annually. Project priorities, ultimately, are decided by the Board (with input from site committees) - ultimately, those are political resource allocation issues.


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Posted by Making the Grade
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 16, 2015 at 2:38 pm

@Curious,
You still have no stated your vested interest, it would be helpful to know.

It's not just that the oversight committee is choosing one focus or another, they will tell you bluntly that it is not their role to ensure the money is spent efficiently or to ensure that we the public get as much as what was promised in the bond as possible. They only make sure that if a building was promised somewhere, a building goes there (rather than junkets to Bangkok, etc).

Reiterating the process only makes it seem like you are trying to justify the lack of oversight. We have an oversight committee that the public thought was engaged in oversight, not realizing the district doesn't define oversight the same (see the blog post by Doug Moran).

The planning process itself had a troubling lack of legitimate public input. The ability of the public to have any input was mostly for show. The public could show up at the planning meetings where the proposals were already a fait accompli. If they asked a question or made a comment, it was limited to a minute or two, the district people could say something completely specious to negate or ignore it, and the member of the public was not allowed to respond. Any comments were then reinterpreted by district personnel (rather than taken from the cards people had to submit if they wanted to comment) for the notes. All in all, it wasn't even a very satisfactory show of public input. Effectively, there was none. Again, in terms of the planning process, no oversight, and effectively no public input.

Why was there no public debate over the future of Cubberly relative to the bond? Certainly the language of the bond allowed it. Kevin Skelly came in and decided he didn't want to bother because he didn't want to deal with redrawing lines, when he had no familiarity with choice programs in this district. Then it became set in stone. Again, no oversight.

If you look at what the public was promised, what we have to spend, and what we got, I don't anyone except a district insider with rose colored glasses could say we couldn't have done better, and it's no mystery, since there was no oversight or direct accountability to the public in providing the most for our money.

Rather than belaboring this, since you seem to be a district insider, perhaps you will start a new thread about this issue and have at it? I am not really interested in pursuing this conversation since there is zero possibility it will result in better financial housekeeping, anymore than any other input given directly to the district helps, and it's a diversion from the main conversation.

I would direct people back to the numbered list of the issues I believe are important to our district. The lack of any real oversight in regards to the facilities bond (except in the extremely limited sense as described above) is only one small aspect of the financial housekeeping the district should be addressing but isn't.


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Posted by Making the Grade
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 16, 2015 at 3:54 pm

@Representing,

"Can we stop this?"

It has been mentioned any number of times on these threads that yes, the public could have a much greater input if our board adopted regulations for it. You may wish to familiarize yourself with the bylaws of the PTA or of other school districts where families have a lot of control and input (Santa Cruz?) - see if there is any template for giving families more input or control. There is no way for concerned families to leverage meetings or change the way, for example, a city or state has referenda and initiatives, or other abilities to trigger meetings, audits, etc.

If the public did have that ability, the school district would be a lot more accountable locally, which is the whole reason for the district to exist as a governmental body anyway. But only the school board can make such rules for itself and adopt them.

Please consider proposing something, even informal, and giving public comment at the retreat tomorrow at the Westin. Someone posted the agenda somewhere in another story (or contact board member Ken Dauber - the district will tell you the public can't comment and they are wrong).

If the district isn't willing to deal with things like improving communication with the public (two-way street), then the public should be able to make it so for the sake of our children. The employees of the district are making the big bucks to serve our children. There is ample evidence things run amok with little accountability. It's time that was changed. The board won't do it, but if parents keep asking, it can become a campaign issue in 2016, and maybe a reality within the next 2 years.


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Posted by Curious
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 16, 2015 at 4:57 pm

@Making the Grade - Thanks for sharing your views. I am just a parent in the district who has been involved in site committees, no "vested interest." I have attended many meetings and not run into anyone (aside from you) who thought the bond funds were not spent effectively or "on what the public was promised." The project list did not change much from 2008 through present, with the exception that elementary upgrades were put on hold after Ohlone, Fairmeadow, and Duveneck to reserve funds for a potential new school. That decision was made by the Board.

The oversight you seem to be looking for - are we getting what we were promised - really comes from the elected board. They approve the bond budget, as well as each project and its design, in public meetings. Aside from the board, the third-party financial and compliance audits, and the citizen's oversight committee, I'm not sure what other "oversight" you have in mind.


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Posted by Making the Grade
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2015 at 5:42 pm

@Curious,

[Post removed.]

Please read Doug Moran's blog (link given in my post above) about confusion over definitions. The citizens oversight committee for the bond does not provide oversight in how effectively the money is spent versus what we were promised.

In terms of what the public thinks of relative to oversight: whether we are getting as much for our money as we are promised, whether the projects fulfill the bond as well as possible, there is no oversight agency or committee engaged in that. The board approves things downstream, they do not engage in global oversight of planning and execution of the bond. No one does.

(Audits do not do what most people think they do either. They are not reviews of bond efficiency.)

If you look at the data the state of California compiles about the cost of school construction, even in expensive areas, had we been very careful in our planning and expenditures, we could have largely replaced our schools with new sites. Instead we got a few really, really expensive new add-ons while most of our classrooms remain in still dilapidated structures with a little bit of lipstick that no one could confuse with new. (The bond promised comparable to new in renovations. I doubt many parents would confuse the renovated classrooms with new.


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