News


In split decision, school board shuts down proposal to change two-meeting rule

Parents, board members defend decadeslong practice as essential to promoting transparency and public engagement

It appeared that there was majority support on the school board to change its two-meeting approval requirement to the exception rather than the norm — until the board member who proposed the shift changed his position on Tuesday night.

"I thought that this proposed language would potentially provide clarity to achieve the purpose of the rule better than it's being achieved now," board member Shounak Dharap said. "I think it's safe to say I was wrong."

Despite maintaining that the rule lacks clarity, Dharap decided against supporting the policy change he had drafted four months ago in response to what he said seemed to be "broad, unanimous" opposition from community members. He had proposed that instead of current practice — requiring that the board discuss items over two public meetings before taking a vote — that all non-routine agenda items be designated initially for action unless two board members request that an item be postponed for action.

Several parents and community members, including former school board members, have spoken out against his proposal, defending the rule as an effective, longtime practice that protects transparency and encourages public engagement.

"The proposal to do away with the two-meeting rule represents a step in the direction of less transparency, less accountability and with it a less democratic school board," parent Michelle Higgins told the board on Tuesday. "Anybody who has attended the public comment portion of a board meeting during the past year would recognize that there is already justifiable community concern for lack of transparency in district decision-making, and that includes concern that the school board has fallen down on more than one occasion in conducting reasonable oversight of key district decisions."

Dana Tom, who served on the board from 2005 to 2014, cautioned that it takes time for the community to become aware of issues, often after an item has already been discussed once.

"If the standard becomes one meeting for items, there will be many more times the public will feel blindsided and shut out," he wrote in an email to the board. "The public deserves better than that."

Board President Jennifer DiBrienza and member Melissa Baten Caswell also opposed the policy change. They cited examples of major board decisions that benefited from new information that came out between the first and subsequent meetings, including the recent renaming of two middle schools and in 2012, when a citizens committee stopped the district from issuing a particular kind of bond, saving taxpayers $850 million.

"Maybe we do things a little differently from other communities but clearly this community needs to know what their elected officials are talking about," Baten Caswell said.

DiBrienza said the board has become "more efficient than I ever thought we would become" in recent years, with more orderly, shorter meetings. The district should focus on improving communication about upcoming board items with the public rather than reducing the number of times they're discussed, she said.

Vice President Todd Collins and board member Ken Dauber were in the minority in their support of the proposed change. Dauber said he was disappointed that Dharap, who he serves on the board's policy review committee with, withdrew his support.

"I'm disappointed that he has stepped back from that because I think he was right then and I think he's wrong now," Dauber said.

Dauber has long criticized the two-meeting rule as an anomaly among public agencies and a practice that makes the board less efficient and effective. (The Palo Alto City council has a "second reading" ordinance, which is distinct from the school board’s two meeting rule. Agenda items that the council has voted on return to a future meeting on the consent calendar and can only be removed by a majority vote.)

"Doing things two times doesn't somehow make them more transparent," Dauber said. "If this practice is so critical to transparency and democracy, why are we the only ones that find it necessary to do it?"

Dharap suggested two new amendments that he said would preserve the rule but make it more clear: directing staff to draft definitions of routine and non-routine agenda items and creating an exemption that the two-meeting requirement would not apply to any agenda items that are made publicly available 14 days before a board meeting.

He requested that the board's policy review committee take these up for further study but there was not enough support among his colleagues to support doing so.

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Comments

17 people like this
Posted by Duplicitous
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2019 at 10:15 am

Hmmm Ken Dauber - don't seem to have the facts. According to the Post, the Palo Alto City Council does it.


31 people like this
Posted by Green Acres parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 11, 2019 at 10:21 am

Shounak, thank you for listening and for being open-minded.


9 people like this
Posted by Cover up culture
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 11, 2019 at 10:39 am

Shounak - maybe stop carrying water for Ken dauber and Don Austin and the teacher's union.


4 people like this
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 11, 2019 at 11:26 am

City Council requires 2 meetings for some ordinances, not everything. I didn't know that the school board apparently discusses everything twice, seems a bit much. I pay attention to City issues and just check the online agenda to find out what is coming up. Why is PAUSD special? People don't pay as much attention?


9 people like this
Posted by Another Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 11, 2019 at 11:51 am

@Paly Parent,

The school board does NOT discuss everything twice. Many items are for consent or action and were done in just one meeting. More complex items were discussed in the first meeting and voted in the second meeting but allowing public input before the decision. Board members already have the right to waive the two meeting rules for items that are straight forward and need a decision right away.

Also, I am not sure what is the base of Mr. Dauber's claim that we are the only board that has the two meeting rules. According to Mr. Dave Price of the Daily Post, PAUSD City Council, Menlo Park and other school districts ALL have the two-meeting rules in their bylaw. Whether they follow it is another issue.


4 people like this
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 11, 2019 at 11:56 am

Well the PA City Council doesn't have a two meeting rule except for specific cases with ordinances. That doesn't sound the same to me. The school board sounds confusing. How does anyone know if something is going to be voted on or not and when?


10 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2019 at 1:01 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

@Paly Parent, City council puts out their agenda two weeks ahead of their meetings. PAUSD puts it out Fri night for a Tuesday meeting. Not much time to gather useful input.


14 people like this
Posted by MD Mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 11, 2019 at 2:12 pm

MD Mom is a registered user.

Ken Dauber--doing things two times actually DOES make the issues more transparent. Not every parent can attend the council meetings, but people can read the newspaper articles about the council meetings and issues, and speak up at the next meeting. One way the meetings can be more efficient it to limit the time that the council members can speak. Some of you go on and on and on...


2 people like this
Posted by Pa
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2019 at 8:38 pm

.... And apparently it’s not possible to even consider getting agenda out earlier .


4 people like this
Posted by Wishful thinking
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 12, 2019 at 11:04 am

@Green Acres: Shounak is the one who voted to bring this forward.


4 people like this
Posted by Green Acres parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 12, 2019 at 11:24 am

@Wishful thinking

Shanouk Dharap is the one who recently proposed removing the two meeting rule, although the idea clearly came from Ken Dauber who suggested removing the two meeting rule repeatedly during the last election. I was thanking Shanouk for listening to his constituents, who almost unanimously opposed the change, and for being open-minded enough to admit that he was wrong.

Shanouk and Ken Dauber cooperated during the election, each recommending that people vote for the pair. Since Shanouk got elected, he's generally voted the same as Ken Dauber. This stands out as an exception - one I'm happy to see.


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