News


Editorial: The looming election

Council and school board races this fall demand strong, fresh candidates

Unusual opportunities exist this fall for qualified and motivated newcomers to seek and win seats on the Palo Alto City Council and the Board of Education, and now is the time for them to step forward.

Four City Council seats will be open, with two of those belonging to incumbents (Pat Burt and Greg Schmid) who have served eight years each and cannot seek re-election due to term limits. The third, first-term Councilman Marc Berman, is running for state Assembly and can only run for council if he is not one of the two top vote-getters in the Assembly primary in June. That leaves Liz Kniss, who is completing her first four-year term (of a second stint on the council), as possibly the only incumbent in the race.

This year's council election is also important because in two years only three seats will be on the ballot due to the 2014 voter approval of a reduction in the council size from nine to seven. That creates the probability that there will be three incumbents (DuBois, Filseth and Wohlbach) running for the three seats in 2018 and a much more limited opportunity for new candidates.

The openings this year therefore give newcomers just the kind of opportunity that term limits were intended to create -- a chance to run without having to defeat an incumbent.

With the shift in the council majority after the November 2014 election having put slow-growth "residentialists" in control by a shaky 5-4 margin, the outcome of this year's election could maintain or solidify the current political split or swing the council back to a more development-sympathetic majority, which provides both camps strong incentives for fielding good candidates and setting the stage for important policy debates.

The school board election is made more complicated by the absence of term limits. Three of the five seats are on the November ballot, but thus far only one incumbent, Camille Townsend, has announced that she will not be running for what would have been a fourth term.

Melissa Baten Caswell, finishing up her second term and ninth year on the board, has said she hasn't yet made up her mind, while first-term trustee Heidi Emberling has told supporters she intends to run for re-election but has yet to make a public announcement.

Townsend did the public and the schools a big disservice in 2012 when she became the first school board member in at least 40 years to ignore the long-standing tradition of stepping aside after two terms. We hope Baten Caswell doesn't make the same mistake by attempting to stretch her tenure to 13 years. Merely considering seeking a third term has a chilling effect on those considering running, the opposite of what is best for the community.

Turnover on elected local public bodies is the lifeblood of democracy. It is what fuels new ideas, opens up access to underrepresented segments of the community and prevents administrators from becoming too close to the officials to whom they report.

It is a common impulse for an elected official with eight years of service to believe his or her experience and historical knowledge is essential to the body and more valuable than the perspectives of a new member coming in green. Yet in the 25 years of term-limit experience on the City Council, during which many popular and outstanding council members left after serving eight years, no one can seriously look back and argue that the city wasn't stronger for the turnover and resulting diversity of talent and viewpoints.

Former Palo Alto school board trustee Don Way tried unsuccessfully in 1997 to persuade his colleagues to put a term-limit measure on the ballot to ensure predictability of incumbent retirement and not leave it to chance that future trustees would voluntarily conform to the traditional two-term maximum. His colleagues at the time, Susie Richardson, Amado Padillo, Julie Jerome and John Tuomy, didn't see the need for it, and the proposal was quickly forgotten since no one until Townsend had failed to adhere to the voluntary practice of relinquishing their seat after two terms. It may be time to revisit the issue.

The harsh reality is that incumbency, absent malfeasance in office or major controversy, is worth at least 10 to 15 percentage points in a local election, forcing interested challengers to start behind before the campaign even begins. Without term limits, and especially in a community as rich with talent as Palo Alto, this advantage undermines the desirable rotation of our representatives and creates no predictability of opportunity.

As but one example, two years ago, when school board incumbents Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom chose not to seek third terms, an outstanding field of four candidates vied for the two open seats and engaged in important discussions on many difficult and complex policy issues.

In the Palo Alto community there are many highly engaged citizens who have talents and experience to bring to either the council or the school board. We hope Baten Caswell follows the long-standing tradition of stepping aside after two terms and that the open seats in both local races draw strong fields and give voters real choices about the direction of the city and school district.

The editorial was edited to correct an error in the number of potential City Council incumbents that could run in 2018 (3 instead of 4.)

Comments

16 people like this
Posted by Taking turns is good
a resident of El Carmelo School
on Apr 1, 2016 at 8:26 am

I agree that two terms are a good number and that we want to rotate service positions to get a variety of community perspectives. This is particularly true on the school board -- it is important to have all segments of the community, and also to have newer perspectives on what the experience of students is. Right now, for example none of the board members have current elementary students and only one has a middle schooler. Camille hasn't had students in the schools for over a decade. While it's fine to have senior citizens like Townsend on the board, it's also true that we need diversity both of experience and other kids of diversity as well. For example, we have five white board members -- that is not representative of our district at all.

I have not been crazy about many of the decisions this board has made, but even if you loved them, I think change is good. Caswell definitely had her turn (plus one year).


15 people like this
Posted by Longtime Resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 1, 2016 at 12:42 pm

Greg Schmid did a great job on City Council, for all these years. The position of mayor should be elected by the populace, not chosen by council.


5 people like this
Posted by with you there
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 1, 2016 at 1:16 pm

@Taking turns is good,
I totally agree with you. Board members should have some skin in the game.

What is even worse are board members who have school age children but choose to send none of them to PAUSD schools. They want to dictate the conditions for our kids while being completely free to ignore the impact of those decisions on their kids.


2 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 1, 2016 at 1:27 pm

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

April 1, 2016

Dear Fellow Onliners,

On behalf of the 432 members of the community coalition Save the 2,008--six simple proposals to bring hope to Palo Alto's high-schoolers--I thoroughly endorse this editorial.

Sincerely,

Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Campaign Coordinator
savethe2008.com
savethe2008@gmail


3 people like this
Posted by TruthOrConsequences
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2016 at 3:36 pm

TruthOrConsequences is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2016 at 3:37 pm

I think it would be wrong for someone to run for school board who doesn't have a child in PAUSD. I know that we gain a lot of experience during the time our kids are there, but nowadays things change so quickly that within a couple of years of being out of a school at any level, our experience doesn't count.

However saying that, I do feel that experience of having one child graduate from either Gunn or Paly and have to do the college application process, is a valuable experience of understanding the pressures of high school life.

So saying that, I would opt for a candidate who has a high school grad and at least one other child probably in middle school and has been in PAUSD for a couple of elementary years, with at least another 4 years to be a parent in the District. In an ideal world that would sound right to me, but I understand that there is no such thing as an ideal world.


3 people like this
Posted by Correcting the Record
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2016 at 4:02 pm

The editorial incorrectly states that there may be more incumbents than seats in the 2018 Palo Alto City Council election. Former Mayors and current Councilmembers Karen Holman and Greg Scharff will both be termed out. First term Councilmembers Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth, and Cory Wolbach are eligible to run for reelection.

Editor's Note: Thanks for pointing out the error. It's been corrected.


1 person likes this
Posted by Ken Horowitz
a resident of University South
on Apr 1, 2016 at 5:09 pm

There are three trustee positions in this Fall election at the Foothill-De Anza Community College District which includes both De-Anza and Foothill Colleges. In the last two elections the incumbents were re-elected without any oppostion. As the editorial states "turnover is the lifeblood of democracy", so if you wish to bring fresh ideas to your local community colleges, please consider this opportunity to serve. The Trustees manage an annual $200M budget as well as the $490M Measure C which District voters passed in 2007.


9 people like this
Posted by No representation
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 1, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Approximately 30% of households have children under the age of 18 living with them. 100% of homeowner are required to pay property taxes that subsidize the school. So these 70% of homeowners shouldn't have representation on the board because they don't have children in school?

That's called taxation without representation.


9 people like this
Posted by What has Heidi done?
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 1, 2016 at 5:35 pm

I'd be happy to vote for Heidi Emberling, but can someone list one accomplishment that she has as a board member? Just one.


15 people like this
Posted by Scott
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 1, 2016 at 7:20 pm

Would you please identify the five 'residentialists. I only count four: Filseth, DuBois, Holman, and Schmidt. The Palo Alto Weekly essentially defeated Kuo, the other residentialist who was running. No one else ever votes on the side of current residents -- not Wohlbach, not Kniss, not Burt, not Berman, and not Scharf. Scharf said at the time of the last election that he had come to realize the error of his ways after the Maybell vote, but that lasted until he was safely re-elected. He then returned to his old ways as we expected.

The 'residentialists' do not have control over the Council -- even on a shaky basis. Was anyone listening when the howling of developers was allowed to water down a cap on office space? If there had been a majority of residentialists, that would have been a no-brainer.


10 people like this
Posted by Joey
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 1, 2016 at 8:42 pm

Totally agree. Good to send Caswell a message. Go ahead and run but no Weekly endorsement this time around. It's not like Caswell and Townsend have done a good job. [Portion removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by history lesson
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 1, 2016 at 9:25 pm

@Joey,
Not only did the Weekly not endorse Townsend in her last two elections, they positively attacked her! The result? Wins both times for Townsend!


6 people like this
Posted by history lesson
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 1, 2016 at 9:27 pm

@What has Heidi done,
Same could be said for other board members. Dauber personally pledged to make available, via the web, all communication. Something he has complete control over and still has done nothing!
So not only does Dauber not have any kids in the district, he doesn't even keep his election pledges. Exhibiting a pretty poor track record for a new board candidate.


1 person likes this
Posted by Joey
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 1, 2016 at 9:31 pm

@ history
So? She still let down the community. See the list in my post.


1 person likes this
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 2, 2016 at 5:04 am

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by learn from it
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 2, 2016 at 7:07 am

Joey, the point would be: as you got your information on the Weekly wrong, you're also wrong about Townsend who has done far more for this district than any other board member. That's probably because you got your information from the Weekly, which has been shown to be a completely biased source.


1 person likes this
Posted by Joey
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 2, 2016 at 7:27 am

[Post removed.]


Posted by Taking turns is good
a resident of El Carmelo School

on Apr 2, 2016 at 7:59 am


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Posted by hey, joey
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 2, 2016 at 8:33 am

I think the point would be that you are taking a nihilistic approach to over 12 years of service and a "fox news" approach to that experience. That IS the direct rebuttal to your argument.


Like this comment
Posted by Joey
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 2, 2016 at 11:31 am

I don't think nihilism means what you think it does, and I don't understand the Fox News reference. If anything Caswell and Townsend signed on to a Republican view of civil rights when they attacked OCR.
It's telling that you are attacking me and the Weekly ad hominem rather than defending Townsend and Caswell with substance.
I only posted because I agree with the editorial and also I don't think they deserve reelection on the merits. You seem to disagree but can't seem to produce any reason.


12 people like this
Posted by Grow up
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Apr 2, 2016 at 11:53 am

You have every right to your opinion of Camille Townsend and Melissa Baten Caswell, especially when writing an editorial. But there's a line that even editorials can't cross, and the smears and hate directed toward these two women in this article march right across that line in a childish and unprofessional way. Your argument would be much more persuasive if you stopped trying to pull a Mitch McConnell and block Caswell's election in particular without consideration (although I might add that Sen. McConnell has not resorted to personal attacks on Obama's Supreme Court nominees), let Ms. Caswell make her case for reelection, and then make your own case against her on that basis rather than through the use of childish ad hominem attacks.


1 person likes this
Posted by helping hand
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 2, 2016 at 12:09 pm

"a "fox news" approach"

I can see it now, as Clinton and Sanders debate healthcare, civil rights, abortion, ... he's there at home shouting out "Benghazi".


10 people like this
Posted by taking turns is good
a resident of El Carmelo School
on Apr 2, 2016 at 3:34 pm

I agree with Joey. I also want to add that I cannot vote for anyone who voted to put Phil Winston in the special ed classroom at Jordan after he was found responsible for sexual harassment. To me, that just crossed a line and broke faith with parents and students so seriously there is no way to repair it. Say whatever you want about Ken Dauber -- no one can say he would ever support that. That shows a lack of caring and concern about the students and families of this district that is epic. Camille Townsend and Melissa Caswell did that, as did Heidi Emberling. In my book, that is enough to disqualify all three of them from holding any public office.

They all voted for that decision and they all have to be accountable. That's not ad hominem or nihlism or whatever you called it. That is a fact, and you can have your own opinion but you can't have your own facts.


Posted by Voter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Apr 2, 2016 at 3:49 pm


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7 people like this
Posted by No
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 2, 2016 at 4:21 pm

Townsend's daughter attends Princeton; Barb Klausner graduated from Cornell and her daughter attends Stanford; Melissa Baten-Caswell's degree is from Dartmouth and she sent daughter to Castilleja; Dana Tom graduated from Stanford; Superintendent Skelly's degree is from Harvard and most of his children attended elite colleges. None of them addressed academic stress because they can handle it, being they or their children experienced it and prevailed. Those who have undergraduate degrees from elite universities aren't going to work on reducing the stress in our high schools, whose suicides have gained nationwide attention.

Be wary of the next BoE candidates with undergraduate degrees from elite universities - don't just blindly vote based upon admiration of their degrees. Elite degrees don't necessarily correlate with effective administrators.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2016 at 5:06 pm

Whereas I understand the comment about seniors and others who don't have kids in PAUSD wanting to be represented on how their tax dollars are being spent as well as whether to increase these taxes, I will say that your representation at the ballot box is a representation.

However, and it is a reserved "however", the kids who are in PAUSD are the biggest stakeholders and need their representatives making the decisions that affect them most. True that a certain part of the value of a home is as a result of the school district, and any possible tax increases will have to be borne by all households, it is only a small part of what the BoE takes into account when making decisions that affect the kids in PAUSD. Parents are the ones who hear first hand from the kids what goes on in the classrooms and playgrounds. Parents are the ones who have to deal with the stresses, the upsets, the complaints from kids about poor teachers, or the unfairness of the system. In my opinion parents are the best ones to have the necessary experience to be good BoE members. I want a BoE that focuses on the kids' needs and the kids' education, rather than the purse strings. I do want a BoE that realizes that most Palo Alto taxpayers are not bottomless money sources so I don't want them voting for freebies for themselves on fact find trips across the country or sending an elite group of students on enrichment Spring Break weeks to foreign parts.

I hope we can find a few willing to serve who understand the needs of the kids and willing to have fiscal restraint when it comes to spending our tax money.


19 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 2, 2016 at 5:11 pm

Dauber went to Yale, but he has been the most focused on student stress of anyone on the board (probably in Palo Alto) for years. The theory that elite education means you don't care about student stress doesn't hold water. We just need new board members.


15 people like this
Posted by Voter2
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Apr 2, 2016 at 5:24 pm

@taking turns is good
- agree, and what has haunted me about placing a teacher suspected of inappropriate sexual language to students in a Special Needs classroom was that the then-Director of Special Education agreed to it. She did not fight for the safety of the most vulnerable children, but accepted the employee into her department. Families were later told it was because that classroom had an aide who could monitor Winston's behavior. Aides are there to help the disabled children, not there to monitor inappropriate teacher behavior and sexual remarks. Aides are powerless and face serious repressions if they report problems by teachers or the Administration. They can lose their jobs, and they can be moved instantly from a school where they have relationships with children and families, the next day put in a classroom helping in a subject where they have no knowledge.

What worries me still is the Board of Education promoted the people who did this, with praise for their 100% effectiveness. [Portion removed.]

Court cases, even when initially "won" by the District, revealed so many dirty tricks silly claims (Assistant Superintendent saying she was an expert on autism and her program had 100% effective results, other District autism "experts" testifying to support their own mother). But that wasn't enough, the Board went on to bring more lawsuits against families. Eventually, the truth came out and the District had to drop and settle the lawsuits it started. What did this solve? How did this make us better? Total waste of money.

The Board has some really nice folks on it, but this Board is too gullible, too anti-family and too anti-disabled. The Board can make mistakes, but not this many and not of this magnitude. I can't vote for Board Members who created the
Us-Against-Them dynamic in the school District that didn't exist before.


17 people like this
Posted by Taking turns is good
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 2, 2016 at 5:48 pm

@voter2

I agree and think that the Sped department has been horrible mismanaged under Emberling, Caswell, and Townsend. However, hasn't everything been horribly mismanaged? Hasn't mismanagement really been the order of the day? To me the nadir was putting Winston in a sped classroom. That took the cake because it put a known sex harasser into contact with our most vulnerable population. You can't top that for complete lack of concern for students.

[Portion removed.]

We need fresh eyes and fresh ideas.


14 people like this
Posted by No
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 2, 2016 at 7:22 pm

@Parent: I'm aware of Dauber, which is why I didn't state his name. And I appreciate his boldness and sincere care for our students. The point is, in this city of people who admire elite college degrees, people are likely to blindly think that the candidates with the elite college degrees will be superior on the BoE. They need to think again before blindly voting.


17 people like this
Posted by Do the right thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2016 at 11:14 pm

Anyone who cares about kids and isn't afraid to put kids first and do the right thing is a good candidate.

Someone who has kids in school but doesn't want to make waves on the board or show any spine to really go out on a limb to fux things is likely basking in favoritism and would never know what problems others are having. Someone who has put several kids through different schools all over our town and is willing to stand up even when things are hard, probably has good reason to put any current child safely outside the district reach, and is more likely than anyone to be entrusted with parent concerns.

I deeply regret ever voting for Melissa, Heidi, or Camille. I hope there will be candidates of Dauber's caliber so we can finally have the board we need for our kids.


7 people like this
Posted by Truth will out
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 3, 2016 at 8:33 am

When board candidates don't even send their kids to Palo Alto schools, you know their not doing it for the kids. They have another reason for running that has nothing to do with making sure the district is the best for the kids in it. That is not "putting the kids first". These sort of candidates running with ulterior motives are immediately suspect. Just look at pledges they made when trying to get elected, which they completely ignore once elected. They are definitely not there for the kids.


3 people like this
Posted by Joey
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 3, 2016 at 8:51 am

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by bacon
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 3, 2016 at 9:22 am

@DTRT,
You are saying that candidates that don't have kids in the school district are better candidates?

Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out the other way and is more likely for candidates without kids to do whatever they want without a thought for the kids since it doesn't impact their kids. Take the zero period fiasco as an example. Great to ban it in PAUSD when Woodside Priory has a start time at 7:25 every single day.

We don't need more passive aggressive candidates with no skin in the game. There's the old adage about the chicken and the pig and bacon and eggs. One of them is committed.


5 people like this
Posted by Joey
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 3, 2016 at 9:37 am

[Portion removed.]

The board had the option to reverse McGee's zero period decision. All supported the zero period change except Townsend. That's because it promoted student sleep and health. I don't see the relevance to the decisions I pointed to.


13 people like this
Posted by shuffle off to Buffalo
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 3, 2016 at 9:43 am

Priory starts at 8:40 every day except Wednesday when it starts at 9:30. Obviously this is an attempted burn on Ken Dauber whose youngest child attends Priory after attending Barron Park. Dauber had several other children attend all through our schools including Gunn. This is a sad effort at a burn that isn't even correct.

Melissa sent one of her kids to Casti, so why not make an issue of that?

I am thankful that zero period was ended as are all Gunn parents except a few who have very very specific reasons that they have a child with an elite athletic situation. As a Gunn parent on PTSA I can tell you that every parent I know is thrilled with the change.

Except for Townsend, who is just out of touch with the voters and the parents, no other board member wanted to keep zero period. Had they wanted to overrule Ken Dauber and Max McGee and Denise Hermann, then they could have. They did not even make a motion to change it and retain zero period at Gunn. No one, not Melissa Caswell or Heidi Emberling or Terry Godfrey said that they wanted to keep zero period. Zero period had ONE defender, Camille Townsend [portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by fact checker
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 3, 2016 at 10:10 am

Woodside Priory Schedule: Web Link
Monday: 7:25
Tuesday: 7:25
Wednesday: 8:25
Thursday: 7:25
Friday: 7:25

So, you're both wrong: 7:25 is only for 4 days of the week but it certainly doesn't start at 9:00.
However, this is about sleep deprivation. School should not be starting before 9:00. Children should not be out of bed earlier for whatever reason.


8 people like this
Posted by I'm with Joey
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 3, 2016 at 10:18 am

7:25 at Priory is only for choir practice, unless you sent the wrong link. But who cares? I am interested in hearing from defenders of the current board if there are any. Priory probably has its own board.


1 person likes this
Posted by sleep is sleep
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 3, 2016 at 10:23 am

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Still wrong
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 3, 2016 at 10:25 am

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Town Square Moderator
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2016 at 10:36 am

Town Square Moderator is a registered user.

Please limit comments to those that respond to the topic of the editorial. This is not the appropriate place to discuss the performance of the incumbents or the schools their children attend or attended.


1 person likes this
Posted by the irony is strong with this one
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 3, 2016 at 10:45 am

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Bacon is bad for you
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2016 at 10:20 pm

Bacon is bad for you is a registered user.

Actually, school board members who have had children in PAUSD and outside it are probably best qualified to understand what changes the district needs to make. Otherwise it's like trying to become a better cook by eating only your own food -- kinda limiting.

As far as making decisions that don't affect your own kids, I can't imagine that someone sits through hours and hours of school board meetings, dealing with hit-men and -women masquerading as members of the public just for the joy of messing with other kids' education. These are community members who are to be especially lauded for their sacrifice -- they are dedicating themselves to public education even though they have no direct benefit. They're also likely to be more objective for that reason.

So don't eat bacon (see earlier comment) -- it's not good for your health!
Go Vegan!


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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