News


Law firm threatens action over school board elections

Letter alleges district's system 'dilutes' Latino and Asian votes

Palo Alto Unified has become the latest public entity to be hit with a threat of legal action alleging its at-large election system violates the California Voting Rights Act.

An Aug. 10 letter from attorney Alexander Tomescu of Laguna Niguel law firm Wewer & Lacy alleges Palo Alto school board elections are "racially polarized," making it more difficult for Latino and Asian voters to elect candidates or to influence elections.

The school board was set discuss the letter in closed session Tuesday night. Board President Ken Dauber did not announce in open session any reportable action related to this item.

Similar letters have gone out to school districts and cities across the state, with many moving to trustee-area or district-based elections in response to threatened or actual lawsuits. At-large elections give every voter the chance to vote for every candidate across the city, whereas trustee-area or district elections split the city into smaller districts and voters choose a candidate only from within their own district.

Locally, the City of Menlo Park adopted last year a district-based voting system after receiving a similar legal threat.

This summer, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle ruled that the City of Santa Clara's at-large election system discriminates against Asian-American residents. The city appealed the ruling in August.

Tomescu's letter, which the district received three weeks ago, notes that a Latino school board candidate lost in 2014 and a candidate of Asian descent lost in 2016. Tomescu does not identify the candidates, but Gina Dalma, who was born and raised in Mexico, ran and lost in 2014. In 2016, candidate Srinivasan Subramanian, who is of Indian descent, withdrew two months before the election.

Issues of "school segregation" and protecting the rights of minority students came up in both elections, Tomescu wrote, and continue to be present in the current election.

Tomescu also cites the "racially charged" debate over the proposal to rename one of two middle schools after Fred Yamamoto, a Japanese-American graduate of Palo Alto High School who shared a surname with an unrelated Japanese admiral who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The proposal sparked friction between different racial groups in Palo Alto, with calls for the board to take a leadership role in addressing racism and discrimination in the school community.

"Online comments criticized the school board for its failure to consider the racially charged issue, with some comments specifically identifying 'how the school board is chosen' as a potential cause of the racial polarization," Tomescu wrote.

Palo Alto's student population is approximately 36.3 percent Asian and 12.7 percent Hispanic/Latino, according to 2017-18 district data.

The city of Palo Alto is 31 percent Asian and 7.1 percent Latino, according to 2016 American Community Survey data.

Tomescu urges the district to decide to voluntarily change its voting system before Sept. 24 to avoid legal action.

He notes that "in nearly all instances, district-based remedies have been imposed ... after great expense in the defense of the at-large voting method."

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Comments

41 people like this
Posted by What?
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 4, 2018 at 6:08 pm

I hope someone can explain the merit of this lawsuit. How can an at large system where everyone gets the same voting power/opportunity be discriminatory?


41 people like this
Posted by Sense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2018 at 7:53 pm

There are a lot of things wrong with this district, including things that negatively impact minorities and disabled students and anyone not rich enough to hire lawyers to protect their rights, but this is not one of them. This is a bunch of outsiders twisting things around to suit the suit. Had Dalma run again, like Dauber the second time, she would have won. Subramanian withdrawing had nothing to do with any biases and he still drew a sizable percetage of the number of votes of incumbent Caswell. Had he remained, he would no doubt have elbowef her out.

If people with free lawyers want to help, they should offer free 504 and IEP support including presence at meetings. This can run into five figures a year which makes justice impossible for anyone middle class or poor. Ultimately forcing the district to work for everyone will have the better impact. We have trouble getting qualified board candidates every year, this lawsuit will hurt us.

On the other hand, it might be a good thing to force the City of Palo Alto into district elections. Representation - and, not surprisingly, city amenities - are concentrated in the north, even though half the residents live in the south of town. It is rare to have more than one councilmember from the south side of town because it’s basically a volunteer position, and people on the south side of town are less financially set to do that. This goes for school board, too. There’s no way to fix that with district elections.


4 people like this
Posted by #BoardSoWhite
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 4, 2018 at 8:20 pm

Its a real shame it's come to this. The board has had ample time to address this problem. They've collectively stuck their heads in the sand.

It's not surprising they're now being forced to do it. What is surprising is that it's taken this long.


16 people like this
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 4, 2018 at 8:53 pm

As the Weekly article notes, this is not an action uniquely targeted against PAUSD. For example, the City of Santa Rosa was also hit with an identical or near-identical threat; it was a major topic there earlier this year. Here is an April 2018 article from the Press Democrat:
Web Link


29 people like this
Posted by Cindy Goral
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 5, 2018 at 12:26 am

This seems really off base for school board elections. Like Sense said, there are a lot of things wrong but this isn't one of them. Subramanian dropped out of the race not that long after joining and threw his support to Todd Collins. If he had stayed in, he stood a good chance of winning one of the 3 open seats.

If this were to change for the November election, 3 of the current 6 candidates for school board live in Barron Park, so depending on how the districts are drawn, members of Barron Park would have to choose between them and people in other districts would have only one member to choose from. This makes no sense.

This might make more sense for city council, but not school board.


4 people like this
Posted by #BoardSoWhite
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 5, 2018 at 7:06 am

Sense's comment: "This is not a problem"
Goral's comment: "This is not a problem"
On a previous thread: Web Link
Resident's comment: "It's their problem"
Chips comment: "It's their problem"

How can these people look at the current board and the district's demographics and conclude "there is no problem"?!
Try reading this: "Racism here is like the ocean," she said. "We live in it." Web Link


49 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 5, 2018 at 7:42 am

Asian candidates ran 4 times in the last 10 years. 3 times they won. Sih Klausner was by far the top vote getter her year. She would have been reelected easily if she'd run again. Tom was unopposed for reelection. Two Asian candidates ran for city council in 2016. Both won.

This problem is a figment of an overheated imagination.


17 people like this
Posted by No Worries
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 5, 2018 at 8:29 am

>>> Asian candidates ran 4 times in the last 10 years. 3 times they won... This problem is a figment of an overheated imagination.


Unfortunate that lawyers have to get involved with a public issue...again.
It amounts to little more than additional billable hours and countless allegations. Plus you need two (or perhaps a group of them) to tango.

In time this issue (if an issue at all) will gradually work itself out as more and more affluent minorities move to Palo Alto. They already represent close to 30%+ and that's a sizable voting bloc right there.


3 people like this
Posted by #BoardSoWhite
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 5, 2018 at 8:43 am

@Resident:
We're down to the "I'm not a racist, I have an asian friend" argument?

Look at the district's demographics
Look at the board
Look at the re-naming committee
Look at the feedback from minorities

In light of all that, we get:

"This problem is a figment of an overheated imagination.

The irony is strong with this one...


@No Worries:
Student demographics:
- Black2%
- Hispanic 12%
- Asian 36%
- Caucasian 40%
- Other 10%

What a representative board we've got!


11 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2018 at 9:04 am

Posted by #BoardSoWhite, a resident of Barron Park

>> Look at the district's demographics
>> Look at the board
>> What a representative board we've got!

So, #BoardSoWhite, clearly the board might benefit from better Asian representation. How about we -draft- more Asian candidates. Lottery, draft board, press gangs? ** Fact is, good school board members are kind of difficult to find.

I'm not, BTW, opposed to voting by district. I should note, though, that in many contexts, voting by district has been seen as a method *to reduce* representation for smaller minorities.

This lawsuit is annoying, though, because it apparently is being sent without regard to the particular circumstances in each community. It is a blanket "demand", and it is, frankly, too late to "fix" for this election cycle.

** Web Link


16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2018 at 9:14 am

I don't follow all the legal shenanigans of this argument, but I think I would definitely be against quotas on the school board (and the same on City Council).

We have a hard enough job getting people willing to serve on PAUSD and by expecting the BoE to be racially diverse will take away choice. In other words, if a person from X racial group was the only person from that racial group running for election they would automatically get a place and that has nothing to do whether the voters from that group let alone the voters from any of the other groups thought this individual was a good fit for the BoE. I remember MLK's dream, that people would not be judged by the color of their skins but by the content of their character. I think we should be making decisions based on the content of character rather than skin color.


17 people like this
Posted by No Worries
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 5, 2018 at 9:21 am

>>>What a representative board we've got!

Are you suggesting another derivative of 'affirmative action'?

The choice to run is one's own & the final tally is reflective of the voter choice.

Tokenism is counterproductive.


1 person likes this
Posted by #BoardSoWhite
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 5, 2018 at 9:30 am

@Anon:
Your comment boils down to: "It's their fault." Given the current board's attitude, you'd fit right in.

Even your point that it is too late to effect this election cycle is disingenuous. This has been going on for years but since it's benefited those elected, they've ignored it so don't blame the lawyers - vote in November against the real culprits.


@Resident:
"I think we should be making decisions based on the content of character rather than skin color."
If it was't so disillusioning, I'd find it amusing when people use this argument to maintain the prerogatives of a predominantly white group.


@NoWorries:
"Do nothing" is not a plan.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2018 at 9:31 am

Post the information so I can sign up as a plaintiff.


16 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2018 at 9:44 am

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Post the information so I can sign up as a plaintiff.

Or, you could just run for school board next time.


31 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 5, 2018 at 9:48 am

When Asian candidates run, they have done well. From 2007 to 2012 the school board was 40% Asian! Surely you must have better arguments than a hash tag?


14 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 5, 2018 at 10:10 am

Any of the anonymous commenters could be affiliated with the above mentioned law firm, but we'll never know for sure.


23 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 5, 2018 at 10:35 am

"From 2007 to 2012 the school board was 40% Asian"

As is 22% of the PA city council today (will go up to 29% in Dec when the council shrinks to 7). Palo Alto's county school board rep has been Asian (Mah) for the last ~10 years. Heads of Palo Alto PTA and PIE, both Asian.

There's an Asian candidate for school board this year (Shounak Dharap), seems well qualified. Want more diversity? Help him win!


2 people like this
Posted by #BoardSoWhite
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 5, 2018 at 10:49 am

@Resident:
Go back and read my posts.

@Gunn Parent:
Do you really want to bring up Grace's interaction with PAUSD? The MI approval fiasco is really bad optics for this district.
Once again the district was forced to do what it should have done right in the first place. We have history repeating itself.


13 people like this
Posted by WeAreGettingWeirdHere
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 5, 2018 at 10:50 am

Well, lets take this 'district representation' to its (absurd) conclusion and have every residence be its own district! Each residence would elect its own representative to the School Board. Would that make things better?


12 people like this
Posted by Look at...
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 5, 2018 at 10:54 am

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Carl Jones
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Sep 5, 2018 at 10:56 am

Dear Citizen,
Aren't you being anonymous?
Isn't that what you are complaining about?
Hmmm...

"Any of the anonymous commenters could be affiliated with the above mentioned law firm, but we'll never know for sure."


18 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2018 at 11:05 am

As critical as I am of how PAUSD evolved over the last decade, I have to say that this issue is as artificial as any lawsuit that I have ever heard of. What is known about the law firm "Wewer & Lacy"?


10 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 5, 2018 at 12:15 pm

My read of Ms. Mah's "interaction" with PAUSD and the county board:

- the board, with one Asian member at the time, adopted her proposal, creating a Mandarin Immersion program at Ohlone
- 10 years later, the program is now well established and very popular
- she got appointed to the county school board soon after and has been re-elected twice by large majorities, including (I'm sure) in Palo Alto

That sounds like a success story to me.


Like this comment
Posted by @BoardSoWhite
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 5, 2018 at 12:28 pm

@Gunn Parent:
Yes, it's a success. In SPITE of the school board.

Trying to re-write history does you a disservice. Go back and research the true story.


8 people like this
Posted by Look at...
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 5, 2018 at 12:38 pm

Background of James V. Lacy's law firm. From his published biography
Web Link
Brief _excerpts_:

>JAMES V. LACY, author of the Politico.com best seller “Taxifornia“ and a frequent guest on Fox Business News Channel’s “Varney & Company,”

>In 1978, Mr. Lacy was a co-founding director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

>Mr. Lacy received his Juris Doctorate degree from Pepperdine University, with summer study at Stanford University School of Law in civil rights litigation

>served as a General Counsel in the Reagan administration. He was a delegate for Reagan in 1976 and Donald Trump in 2016 to the Republican National Convention.

>"James Lacy, is a co-founder of the United States Justice Foundation, which has pursued lawsuits challenging President Barack Obama’s citizenship."


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2018 at 12:41 pm

@Boardsowhite

Actually, content of character is more important than skin color. I like the only African American running for CC. His skin color has nothing to do with his ability to attract many local people for CC. Web Link


18 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 5, 2018 at 12:44 pm

It's a clever technique to argue that if someone fails, that's evidence of discrimination, but if they succeed, it's ALSO evidence of discrimination. Heads you win, tails I lose!

Grace Mah succeeded. The local board adopted her program, despite concerns and opposition, and now she is a fixture on the county school board. Pretty hard to turn that into evidence of discrimination.


4 people like this
Posted by #BoardSoWhite
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 5, 2018 at 1:22 pm

@Gunn Parent:
How Grace was treated by the board and members of community during the whole process debacle IS evidence of racism.

The board was eventually forced to retreat after threat of a charter school and even then, they tried to undermine the charter school efforts with comments of "Is Grace allow to use the name "Palo Alto" for the school".... This is from board members!

17 years later, you have the gall to post claiming that Grace's success shows there is no evidence of discrimination.

And you wonder why this action is needed...


11 people like this
Posted by Sense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2018 at 1:57 pm

“We're down to the "I'm not a racist, I have an asian friend" argument?”

As a biracial bicultural person (European, Asian, 2nd gen on both sides), I take issue with your race baiting.

There are many ways for people to intervene positively to solve big problems in this district, but this suit is ill-conceived for here and will exacerbate existing serious problems. We do not need to make a special dedicated district from the richest parts of town, at least for school board it will have the opposite of the intended effect. We get fairly even distribution of candidates from north and south sides (with the large income disparity), but as recent years have shown, we need the ability to have all hands on deck to vote the turkeys out (regardless of race).

The debate over school naming was tone deaf because a community member who is known for being unable to understand any perspective but his own and no stranger to deepening and furthering divisions in community conflicts — let’s call him Jer — was a lead volunteer. Despite my immense dislike for the divisions this rigidly self-righteous person creates, even I wouldn’t chalk his perennial insensitivity and conflict stirring up to racism. The controversy over the name came from within the local Asian community - many who lost family during the war, as my family did, are aware of people who harbor strong ongoing negative emotions, but this is certainly NOT a universal thing among Chinese immigrants, Chinese Americans, Japanese immigrants or Japanese Americans. I don’t feel that way myself but I certainly understand it, as I can understand that having district elections would not have in any way resulted in heading it off. Conflict happens, sensitivity to and listening to parents in this district is much bigger problem that will not be solved by district elections and could be exacerbated by them. Problems arise in human interaction - developing a culture of honesty and openness is what we need, and restricting the electorate across town to fewer candidates will only make things worse.

If someone has a hole burning in their pocket with excess legal time, we really could use someone offering free legal services to go into IEP and 504 meetings with parents and to be pro bono legal advisers. This could include court time and expenses as the district uses scorched earth tactics that are likely to continue with in house council for lack of a culture change. Right now, only the rich can get special ed services in this litigious administrative culture. It’s stressful too - I will say that Asian friends more often than white ones won’t even advocate for services their children need because of how aggressively nasty and underhanded the district can and has been, although there are plenty of all backgrounds who advocate and get burned.

But that’s where we most need help. Sue them to create an ombudsman position that answers to the City, not the school district, and has power and funds to help families legally. Sue the City for district elections because City Council is the legislative body that really needs it here, and provide campaign funds and grants to less-well-heeled residents of all types to serve on Council. Change the City election code so that the City attorney can no longer write the “impartial” ballot language for citizen referenda, and residents will thus have fairer elections as SF does). Thise are all things that would help increase representation diversity. But making district elections for school board makes no sense here and I hope if these people are at all sincere, that they themselves would see the hypocrisy of coming in from outside and doing something so tone deaf.


8 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 5, 2018 at 2:00 pm

Posted by Look at..., a resident of Jordan Middle School

>> Background of James V. Lacy's law firm. From his published biography Web Link: Web Link

Right from the horse's mouth. Just, wow. Anyone who thinks they might be in agreement with the lawsuit might want to read that first.


15 people like this
Posted by A Change Is Gonna Come
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 5, 2018 at 2:05 pm

>> Look at the district's demographics or look at the real estate market. Foreign money has destroyed it, no ordinary buyer can participate. Now they are after the School Board?


Good observation Dick Tracy.

The voices seeking reform will eventually be heard & their objectives later enacted.

The majority will soon become the minority (already happening) and the winter of discontent will continue.


13 people like this
Posted by common sense first please
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 5, 2018 at 9:36 pm

We are actually a VERY SMALL city and a rather SMALL school district (despite the frequent delusions of grandeur). This is NOT needed. We already essentially have district elections because our WHOLE city/school district just isn't that big.

I could see this being an issue in a much bigger municipality.

UGH. WHY would this get pushed? Let's focus on the real problems.
YES, we need high-quality people (of any race or background) running for school board and other local offices. We don't need to codify further divisions within our smallish community.


4 people like this
Posted by wayne douglass
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2018 at 12:02 am

wayne douglass is a registered user.

The real issue is the two unexamined and intertwined premises: (1) the problem is the lack of racial diversity in governmental bodies, and (2) the solution is a district-based voting system, which would result in a more diverse population of elected officials.The fallacy of this argument is not hard to point out. The electorate has many reasons not to vote for a candidate; the candidate may be unpopular for many reasons other than racial or ethnic background. And there is no reason why an official may not vote for a proposal favored by a particular ethnic group, even if the official belongs to another one. It happens in every election. It's how Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. Moreover, as the Weekly article points out, "Locally, the City of Menlo Park adopted last year a district-based voting system after receiving a similar legal threat." And the elections did not change the makeup of the governing bodies one whit.
But, alas, we have some real idiots on the bench, who agree with the idiots filing suit, viz., "This summer, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle ruled that the City of Santa Clara's at-large election system discriminates against Asian-American residents. The city appealed the ruling in August." Good for the city; we can only hope that reason and logic will prevail. (Where is Aaron Persky, I ask you, now that we need him? Oh, yeah, now I remember.)
Or, maybe not, and we'll be back where we started. In a British film comedy from the Fifties called "Brothers in Law," a solicitor warns his client not to "go to law" (i., e., trial) because anything could happen, no matter how strong your case is. At least, a plea bargain or an actual settlement is predictable; the fantasy that a trial actually produces justice is, you should pardon the expression, a legal fiction. And, remember that it's the THREAT of a lawsuit that's at issue here, not an ACTUAL one. But it works. As the Weekly story states, "letters have gone out to school districts and cities across the state, with many moving to trustee-area or district-based elections in response to threatened or actual lawsuits." From the governmental body's point of view, it's called "damned if you do, damned if you don't." The British have an expression for THAT, too: Hobson's choice.
@Sense (and Sensibility? of Humor? of Values? of Proportion? What, exactly?) gets off to a good start in the opening post, but rapidly goes off the rails when distracted by Dalma, Dauber, Subramanian, and Caswell (sounds like a law firm, already, doesn't it? I can't keep all these names straight without a scorecard, myself) only to end up with: "Had he remained, he would no doubt have elbowef her out." If you say so, @Sense (the "no doubt" in that sentence is a nice touch, though), but I wish I knew what the hell you were talking about. And then it gets worse, as @Sense deep ends into "free 504 and IEP support." Trust me, @Sense, too much detail--you're going off-topic. @Sense gets back on-topic with "we have trouble getting qualified board candidates every year, this lawsuit will hurt us." Right on, @Sense, there's the nub, but the English teacher in me balks at the comma splice. Then @Sense goes off the rails again with "on the other hand." There's ALWAYS another hand. Quit while you're ahead, @Sense. Let's give @Sense a great big hand and move on.
I had hopes for @Cindy Goral because she likes @Sense's post, too: "Like Sense said, there are a lot of things wrong but this isn't one of them." Alas, (I know, I say that a lot, but more in sorrow than in anger) she follows @Sense off the rails: "Subramanian dropped out of the race not that long after joining and threw his support to Todd Collins. If he had stayed in, he stood a good chance of winning one of the 3 open seats." I'm sorry I don't remember this Subramanian character, but he clearly (there's the equivalent of @Sense's "no doubt") was NOT in it for the long haul. If wishes were horses, as the saying goes, beggars would ride. (See the Wikipedia article for more than you want to know about that proverb.) That was then; this is now. I repeat, let's move on.
When the institution is as confused and easily distracted as PAUSD, what difference does it make whether it's Subramanian or Todd Collins? Even if one is better than the other, it's only one vote. The chaos and confusion is the point. PAUSD has lost any semblance of a mission; it can only be tugged in one direction or another, reacting spasmodically to any pressure group, whether it be the legal firm of Whatever inspired by some cockamamie cause, the parents with some equally cockamamie agenda, a stereotype of a sexual/ethnic group (Asians, Hispanics, Blacks, LGBT, you name it--PAUSD has invented a particularly clumsy and dehumanizing bureaucratic euphemism: "traditionally underserved population", everyone, in short, except the actual customers, the students, who have to live in the chaos and confusion to the point of jumping in front of trains. And who can blame them?
PAUSD students are the REAL"traditionally underserved population," but how would the Board of Education know? There is a student representative on the Board, whose role is strictly advisory, which means not even a single, solitary vote. Ken Dauber went through the motions of praising the "eloquence" of the current representative, but he knows it is purely symbolic, no power attached. As someone who went to college in the 60s, I know tokenism when I see it, and I can smell it, too. I have taught English and American Literature & Film and freshman composition at the college level in Florida, Vermont, and California, and the good news is that the kids can grow up, escape from the clutches of a confused, deprived (and in Florida, overtly racist) school system to blossom as human beings. They are a resilient population. They can survive anything, given half a chance.


12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2018 at 8:00 am

The only types of places where this would make a difference would be in an area which has its own "China Town", or "Little Italy", or similar. We may have a divide north/south due to the style of the homes or the value of the homes north and south of Oregon, but apart from that there is little difference between the two sides. The demographics of Gunn may be a little different from the demographics of Paly, but the school that has the most striking demographic make-up is Hoover, which is an elected lottery based school population.

I can't see that we have a problem here. Not only do we have all types of ethnicities, mixed race families, and even between the caucasian families there are large national differences, we also have self-selected the areas in which they live. Go around any neighborhood and you will find people with all types of ethnic backgrounds as well as from all types of backgrounds from the USA. How can someone from say Australia be aligned with someone from say Poland even if they may have the same color skin.

Palo Alto is rich in backgrounds from all over the world. Fortunately this is a strength and affirmative action (for want of a better description) is not necessary.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2018 at 11:42 am

I think the reasoning for district elections is flawed, but, Palo Alto and PAUSD should just get on board with this. Better to conform than contribute to James V. Lacy's retirement. Here is a link to the Sunnyvale situation:

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Sense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2018 at 12:03 pm

@Wayne Douglass

The premise of this suit is that there is something wrong with this district related to race and that the fix is district elections. The article mentions specifics of past elections related to race. It is therefore NOT “off the rails” to discuss past elections and particulars of those elections. You clearly seem to have less familiarity with past elections than do I, Cindy Goral or other posters, and you could have simply asked for clarification or read past history in the newspaper archive to get up to speed.

Discussing what actually IS wrong with this district is on topic, and discussing what changes we ACTUALLY need to solve some of those big changes in relationship to this action is also on topic, as well as how this legal action would negatively affect those beneficial changes.

Our district has a perennial, pathological problem with secrecy, CYA, and inability to collaborate with parents, resulting in the civil rights, emotional health, and educational progress of many students being unsupported and even violated. Most parents of special needs children in the district — special needs being where we are having many of the worst problems with bad administration and damaging expensive legal advice, and where the district has been demonstrated to violate the law — knows what an IEP and 504 are. This is where we could use legal help, if there are law firms out there itching to get into this district to do legal battle, as this seems to be. Again, very, very relevant, but you are only going to understand this if your child has been in school and has been educationally and emotionally damaged by the inability to get the district to follow laws that protect vulnerable students. Where have you been the last ten years that you don’t know any of this but feel empowered to dismiss the knowledgeable?

The above issues are serious problems that must be solved and having a good board is part of that solution. This legal action directly affects that. District elections in a district in which such serious work is before us, and in part because of this need for candidates with courage and gravitas, means finding qualified candidates of any stripe is so difficult that in the last election, there simply weren’t enough qualified candidates to fill the available spots. There were two more candidates than available spots, one who entered the race every year acknowledged he wasn’t a serious candidate and the other was Subramanian who withdrew, i.e., clearly there were not enough qualified candidates in the last election. Again, you might have asked for clarification from any of the posters who clearly ARE involved in the local school district. The specifics are highly relevant to countering this absolutely tone-deaf suit that can only get traction with anyone who DOESN’T know the specifics.

Again, if you were at all paying attention in the last few years, you would know that in the last election for school board, we didn’t have enough qualified candidates. It is a common circumstance for it to take more than one cycle for voters to warm to a candidate, as happened with Kou (council), Dauber, and others. Again, given that the letter from this law firm mentioned the Dalma candidacy (not by name, but it’s clear), it’s absolutely relevant to bring up the Dalma candidacy. If she had run again, particularly in the last election, she would likely have beat Caswell for that last spot, because given her resume, Caswell’s showing was SO pathetic, she hardly soundly beat Subramanian who wasn’t even running. Many of us asked Dalma to run again but she did not for (she said) personal reasons, it had nothing to do with the substance of this suit.

Usually incumbents have an advantage, but the only reason Caswell — who is associated with many of the negative behaviors and policies from the district office that resulted in lack of transparency, antagonistic relationships between the district administration and families, and many recent scandals that have been in the news and more importantly, have hurt children and violated their civil rights — the only reason Caswell won was because she was for all serious intents and purposes unopposed for that extra open seat. I say this because as an incumbent and past President of the board, she received so few votes, and not that many more than Subramanian who had dropped out and didn’t even campaign.

I suspect, though I don’t know, that Subramanian dropped out to ensure that at least Collin and Dauber got on the board and that the votes of responsible people who really understand what is going on in the district were not diluted too far. There was never any hint of racism in that race result. This is relevant because the letter by the litigants brings these things up.

I hope that helps clarify things, because given all you wrote, you seem to want to think about the issue, and the children of this town need as many of us thinking about solving the problems we do face as possible. Instead of putting so much energy into complaining that you don’t get it, how about putting that energy instead into understanding? You’re clearly intelligent, just try it.

You wrote a very long post to complain about the input of people who know a lot to address the legal action by people coming from the outside who CLEARLY do not understand our district and who stand to do a lot of damage. If you don’t want to understand, at least please don’t pile on those who do.


5 people like this
Posted by Sense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2018 at 12:21 pm

@Resident,
"We may have a divide north/south due to the style of the homes or the value of the homes north and south of Oregon, but apart from that there is little difference between the two sides. "

You hit the nail on the head. The real discrimination in this district has nothing to do with race but instead with available funds to hire lawyers to attend special needs meetings, deal with the deliberately stress-inducing tactics the district office people use against parents (marching orders from district legal no doubt, since many of those tactics are boilerplate in other areas of law involving vulnerable populations), etc. The big difference in this town is socioeconomic between south and north of Oregon.

In that, the school board is better at producing a balance of candidates than the City. I have long thought the City should have district elections, but mainly to just produce enough people from South of Oregon, who normally can't afford to serve. Further divisions would be unhelpful at best.

I think this suit will probably not prevail once the companies that have taken over downtown get wind of it. If district elections for school board are necessary on these grounds, then the City is not far behind, and if that's the case, it may be harder for these companies to stack city council as they have recently. I do think it would be healthier for Palo Alto to have at least the same number of candidates from north and south and maybe on at large. Council is being so reduced -- which again is a power play, unfortunately, that the public seems not to have caught on to -- that maybe such a balance between north and south should happen.

It shouldn't be by sacrificing the school district governance, though. The school district should fight this.

I'm curious how other districts could just adopt this change anyway. Palo Alto is a charter city (Menlo Park is not). Any change like this in Palo Alto would probably require a change to the school district section of the City Charter. By state law, this requires an election, which will cost the district a lot of money and might not produce the result the plaintiff wishes. The facts are not on their side here.


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Posted by Zhang
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 6, 2018 at 3:28 pm

"Look at the district's demographics or look at the real estate market. Foreign money has destroyed it, no ordinary buyer can participate. Now they are after the School Board?"

If you have money, you can buy house. No math required.

School Board should represent and reflect all of Palo Alto. Needs of newer residents must be addressed as well.

The voting bloc is sleeping tiger.



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Posted by #BoardSoWhite
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 6, 2018 at 6:39 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Trumpism + Racism here in PA
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 6, 2018 at 6:55 pm

#BoardSoWhite - [Portion removed.] Ethnicity of the board members has literally nothing to do with the CA Voting Rights Act (have you read it?) or with the issue at hand. You just ignore the fact that this same body had 2 Asian members out of 5 in 2012 [portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Trumpism + Racism here in PA
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 6, 2018 at 10:03 pm

Moderator, by deleting a post that calls out others for their Trumpism and racism, you are enabling Trumpism and racism. That's a real shame for a newspaper that at least in past was an important moral voice in the community.

#BoardSoWhite is the local version of Trumpism and racism. You let them post here and promote their views. We have to stand up to that.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2018 at 12:16 am

Posted by Trumpism + Racism here in PA, a resident of Barron Park

>> ... the local version of Trumpism and racism.

Looking at the map here: Web Link most precincts in Palo Alto have very few Trump voters. There doesn't appear to be a big enough concentration of "the base" anywhere here to gerrymander a guaranteed "base" district.


12 people like this
Posted by A Possible Solution
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 7, 2018 at 8:54 am

1 White member + 1 Black member + 1 Hispanic member + 1 Asian member + 1 LGBT member = a balanced PAUSB.

Can we achieve this kind of balance through a public election? Probably not.

Perhaps a submission of RFQs (Request for Qualifications) and a selection committee made up of teachers/parents/students should make this role appointee-based.

Keep the politics out and encourage diversity through active participation.



12 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Mom
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 7, 2018 at 1:24 pm

Thanks for digging @Look at ... You inspired me to look at the bio of the attorney whose name is attached to this lawsuit.
Alexander Tomescu has connections to the Federalist Society (from which our current President has drawn up his SC nominee list) and worked for Republican Chris Cox during the Reagan administration according to the firm’s own website. So hardly the usual advocates for Voting Rights!
Something odd is going on here.
Is this law suit really about advancing voting rights? Is there any local connection or is this lawsuit truly coming from outside the district. It is very clear from the wording in the lawsuit that it is cookie cutter, no real understanding of the situation in PAUSD.
Note no reference to our Voluntary Transfer Program - those are the parents with the least voice, no opportunity to vote in our school board elections, and among the most disadvantaged in our district as seen by the data on achievement. So if you were going to push for fairer representation that would surely be the logical place to start.
I hope the Palo Alto Weekly digs deeper into the motivation behind the lawsuit.



6 people like this
Posted by Analize This
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 7, 2018 at 3:23 pm

> I hope someone can explain the merit of this lawsuit. How can an at large system where everyone gets the same voting power/opportunity be discriminatory?

(1) Because some people elect (no pun intended) not to vote or take an actual interest in the PAUSD until the final tally of votes? They have only themselves to blame. Boo hoo.

(2) Lawyers can find infinite reasons for litigation. It's in their genes.

(3) A certain majority wants to remain in power & will do anything to maintain it.


2 people like this
Posted by #BoardSoWhite
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 7, 2018 at 6:18 pm

> I hope someone can explain the merit of this lawsuit. How can an at large system where everyone gets the same voting power/opportunity be discriminatory?

There would be no merit if the board was representative of the community. The suit may not be the solution but the merit in bringing it has at least started the conversation. The current board has shown no interest in trying to increase the board's diversity so it's about time they were forced to address it.

The idea that there isn't a problem is laughable. At best the district has a history of unconscious discrimination.
PAUSD Mom's comment addresses part of it with the achievement gap. It goes far worse with students of color overrepresentation in special ed (Web Link)

Even knowing that, this board still went ahead and approved a renaming committee with "diversity" the same level as the board's. Completely in violation of its own rules: "The membership of citizen advisory committees should reflect the diversity of the community and represent a diversity of viewpoints.” (Web Link)

At this point, it stops looking like unconscious bias and starts to look institutional.

If you still believe there isn't a problem, you need to re-read the feedback to the board (Web Link)

The first step in finding a solution to a problem is recognizing that you have a problem!


2 people like this
Posted by Tahir
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 8, 2018 at 2:34 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 8, 2018 at 6:22 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by wayne douglass
a resident of another community
on Sep 8, 2018 at 8:23 pm

wayne douglass is a registered user.

@WeAreGettingWeirdHere offers the following "absurd" conclusion to this debate, viz., "Each residence would elect its own representative to the School Board." Well absurdity is in the eye of the beholder. I'm from the state of Vermont, where the New England town meeting operates very much as @WeAreGettingWeirdHere describes it. There are NO representatives; each household represents itself. Usually the head of the household (whoever that is) meets at the the town meeting hall and speaks. EVERY issue (from the budget to keep the roads free from snow to the decision to maintain or improve the roads and fill potholes) is up for open discussion, EVERY household has a say (unless they don't have anything to say) and everybody knows it. Votes are public and on the record; there are no secret ballots (talk about transparency and accountability). Majority rules. Decisions are made and everyone knows what they are. Rules for eligibility are equally simple: you are a member of the community and you've paid your taxes to remain in good standing.
Would that make things better? asks @WeAreGettingWeirdHere. Sounds pretty good to me, but I'm just a simple country boy.


6 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2018 at 11:24 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

Like the cooktop servers at Costco, the Liberal Progressive strategy of Tribalism always eats its own offerings. Good thing the PAUSD is hiring a $250K+/year attorney as a permanent fixture. Between Title IX fiascoes, renaming schools and identity group politics that person will be the busiest in the entire district.

A couple of flaws in the logic worth mentioning:
1. If people must only be represented by others with their own skin pigment then that must be true of any authority figure including teachers, doctors, lawyers, judges, police officers, coaches, psychologists, dog catchers, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. The word for that is called segregation.

If one can't trust a school district board member of a different race to vote on their behalf, how can they trust a surgeon of a different race to do open heart surgery?

2. The conundrum of intersectionality or the combined percentages of all your identity attributes quickly reduces your proportion to less than 1% of the population. For example, if Asians represent 36% of the district, then Asian woman are about half of that number. Further, LGTBQ+ are a fraction of that smaller number. Than add gender and religion and on and on and on. Guess what, we are all unique and more than the sum of our grievance groups.

3. Competence matters more than melanin. Where else would it be rational to choose a sub-optimal choice? A higher priced item on Amazon. An un-trained mechanic. The least attractive date.

Electing someone for any other reason creates the wrong incentive structure and dooms society to incompetence. But I guess that pretty much sums up government.

4. The endless contradictions of the racial categories based on a mix of geographies, ethnicities, cultures and races make no sense and have already been highlighted.

I will just also point out the obvious. The Caucasian race is comprised of over 2.3 Billion native peoples from Europe, Western Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, North Africa. It is made up of 100s of countries, languages, ethnicities and cultures. You may be surprised to know it includes the Spanish, Arabs, North Africans and western Indians.

Anybody who has taken a DNA test knows that many people who look one race on the outside are actually made up of many on the inside. The determination is made when it is politically expedient. That is why Obama who is mixed White and Black is called Black. Naomi Osaka who just beat Serena Williams at the U.S. Open is a mix of Asian and Black and she is called Asian.

Ultimately, voting on someone based on their skin color is no different than picking them by the designer brand of their sweater.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2018 at 4:31 pm

Posted by Sanctimonious City, a resident of Barron Park

>> Like the cooktop servers at Costco, the Liberal Progressive strategy of Tribalism always eats its own offerings.

The law firm is a small one; the two Partners are "right wing" for lack of a better term, (certainly not "conservative" in the traditional sense).

Web Link

>> A couple of flaws in the logic worth mentioning:

Whose logic?

While the rationale for the law doesn't fit Palo Alto very well, apparently there is nothing stopping the law firm from picking up a minimum $30K anyway, according to the other link someone posted above. Or, a lot more, depending on what happens. So, we might as well decide if we can live with district elections for PAUSD and City of Palo Alto, and, just get ahead of this.

>> Anybody who has taken a DNA test knows that many people who look one race on the outside are actually made up of many on the inside. The determination is made when it is politically expedient. That is why Obama who is mixed White and Black is called Black. Naomi Osaka who just beat Serena Williams at the U.S. Open is a mix of Asian and Black and she is called Asian.

I'm not sure what point you are trying to make. When has it not been expedient to be "white" in the U.S. -- whatever "white" is? But, with respect to tennis, Serena is down (or up, if you look at how far back she has come from her illnesses) to #26 ranking, Venus is down to #28. The big difference with their competitors isn't "race"-- whatever that is. But, you can't help noticing that they are 10 years older than the average of people who are now beating them, and nobody else in the top 50 is older than age 32. It hurts to get "old". Is it "ageist" for me to cheer for the Williams sisters over their younger competitors? ;-)

None of that matters in this case, though. The state law now favors district representation rather than at-large representation. We in PAUSD and the City of PA are probably going to move to districts one way or the other. So, to me, the real question is how best to draw the districts to get the most representative districts possible. The problem is that some constituencies, such as students with disabilities, may be even less likely to be represented in the district system.


6 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 10, 2018 at 7:37 pm

Great. Next, we can get sued every five years for having district lines that aren't drawn correct enough for whatever social disaffection movement is currently de rigeur.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 17, 2018 at 4:05 pm

What's the harm of having district elections, ranked choices or allowing all of ones votes to go to a single candidate. It seems only to further democracy, regardless of the reasoning.


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