News

Editorial: Baten Caswell for Santa Clara County Board of Education

Melissa Baten Caswell, who is nearing the end of 13 years on the Palo Alto school board, is seeking a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education this fall. Photo courtesy Melissa Baten Caswell.

The Santa Clara County Board of Education is one of those obscure elected bodies that rarely attract much public interest or candidates. Seven members, each representing a geographic district, oversee the county Office of Education, which runs programs and special schools, such as those serving incarcerated youth and students who have been expelled from their local schools. More importantly, it also approves and monitors the performance of charter schools in the county.

After 13 years on the Palo Alto school board, Melissa Baten Caswell is looking to extend her involvement in local education by unseating 12-year incumbent Grace Mah, also from Palo Alto. The region comprising "Area 1" extends from Palo Alto to Sunnyvale and includes Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, which was started by a group of parents 17 years ago and now educates 1,100 students, almost a quarter of all students living in the Los Altos School District.

There is a long history of conflict between Bullis and the school district, mostly relating to issues of educational equity, the siphoning of students out of the public school system and the requirements imposed on the district to provide facilities for the charter.

As has occurred in other county board of education elections throughout the state, outside charter school interests are pouring money into Mah's campaign. Obviously worried that Baten Caswell's extensive political connections and ability to raise funds threatens Mah's reelection, Mah has received more than $100,000 from two charter PACs since the last reporting period closed on Sept. 19. That brings her total to more than $180,000. Baten Caswell has raised about $140,000, including some from opponents of Bullis and charter schools.

Mah has served three four-year terms on the county board, which is as long as we think anyone should serve. But if that weren't enough, the large outside special interest money that is flowing to her campaign is disqualifying. When more than half of her campaign funds come from two pro-charter school groups, how can the public have confidence that she serves with independence when overseeing charter schools in the county?

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Baten Caswell's long history of working for a strong public education system, including at the county level through the School Boards Association, will serve north county well and ensure that Bullis and other charter schools are carefully and fairly monitored.

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Editorial: Baten Caswell for Santa Clara County Board of Education

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Oct 9, 2020, 6:58 am
Updated: Mon, Oct 12, 2020, 8:56 am

The Santa Clara County Board of Education is one of those obscure elected bodies that rarely attract much public interest or candidates. Seven members, each representing a geographic district, oversee the county Office of Education, which runs programs and special schools, such as those serving incarcerated youth and students who have been expelled from their local schools. More importantly, it also approves and monitors the performance of charter schools in the county.

After 13 years on the Palo Alto school board, Melissa Baten Caswell is looking to extend her involvement in local education by unseating 12-year incumbent Grace Mah, also from Palo Alto. The region comprising "Area 1" extends from Palo Alto to Sunnyvale and includes Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, which was started by a group of parents 17 years ago and now educates 1,100 students, almost a quarter of all students living in the Los Altos School District.

There is a long history of conflict between Bullis and the school district, mostly relating to issues of educational equity, the siphoning of students out of the public school system and the requirements imposed on the district to provide facilities for the charter.

As has occurred in other county board of education elections throughout the state, outside charter school interests are pouring money into Mah's campaign. Obviously worried that Baten Caswell's extensive political connections and ability to raise funds threatens Mah's reelection, Mah has received more than $100,000 from two charter PACs since the last reporting period closed on Sept. 19. That brings her total to more than $180,000. Baten Caswell has raised about $140,000, including some from opponents of Bullis and charter schools.

Mah has served three four-year terms on the county board, which is as long as we think anyone should serve. But if that weren't enough, the large outside special interest money that is flowing to her campaign is disqualifying. When more than half of her campaign funds come from two pro-charter school groups, how can the public have confidence that she serves with independence when overseeing charter schools in the county?

Baten Caswell's long history of working for a strong public education system, including at the county level through the School Boards Association, will serve north county well and ensure that Bullis and other charter schools are carefully and fairly monitored.

Comments

Citizen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 9, 2020 at 11:33 am
Citizen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2020 at 11:33 am
31 people like this

Melissa Caswell has received most of her contributions from wealthy Los Altos anti-charter people before even announcing her candidacy. Meanwhile Grace Mah has received donations from over 200 people in Santa Clara County who do not have deep pockets. Melissa is in the pocket of the anti-charter people and teacher's unions, and cannot be trusted to be independent in evaluating public charters. While charter schools are a small part of the responsibilities of the county board of education, it is an important one, particularly for low income families trapped in failing traditional unionized public schools. A good detailed analysis can be found here: Home May 2019 - Los Altos Politico. It's amusing to see the Weekly, which blasted Caswell's long, poor record at PAUSD in declining to endorse her re-election in 2016, endorse her now.


SRB
Registered user
Mountain View
on Oct 9, 2020 at 1:40 pm
SRB, Mountain View
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2020 at 1:40 pm
25 people like this

Melissa is getting my vote as well.
The County of Education can provide great resources to local districts especially as we'll try to recover from the pandemic.
But we need someone who will work with the local districts not ignore or fight them.
In her 12+ years tenure, Grace Mah has never acted as a true partner to the local school districts she represents. Her only public interactions seemed to have been around charter schools and quite often in an adversarial manner.
Frankly, not a surprise that 27 out of 30 local board members in District Area 1 endorsed Melissa.


Active and Fair SCCBOE Trustee 1
Registered user
Los Altos
on Oct 9, 2020 at 3:22 pm
Active and Fair SCCBOE Trustee 1, Los Altos
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2020 at 3:22 pm
18 people like this

Melissa Baten Caswell will be a terrific Trustee 1 on the Santa Clara County Board of Education: active, engaged with districts, spark for district collaboration, and good background and inclination to be of service during these strange times of coronavirus that are stressing districts in their educational missions and finances. Unlike Mah, she will not be in her position to focus on serving the charter industry. Thank you for your independence and sanity, Palo Alto Weekly! Vote Melissa Baten Caswell for a county board rep that will truly help all students in our district and the county.


David
Registered user
Los Altos
on Oct 10, 2020 at 2:26 pm
David, Los Altos
Registered user
on Oct 10, 2020 at 2:26 pm
21 people like this

The endorsement is conspicuous on its lack of any positive attributes for Melissa Baden-Caswell and yet reaching a positive conclusion. Instead the article concentrates entirely on a misleading smear campaign regarding Grace Mah. Melissa is a rich white woman that seems like a Karen to me in her accusations against charter schools. During her time on the Palo Alto board there have been several scandals involving violations of Federal CIvil Rights laws and covering up allegation of sexual assault. Superintendent level administrators and Principals have been fired right and left. Is this the expertise allegedly needed on the County Board of Education? The County has 65 charter schools. Most of them make do on state-required funding of $11,000 per ADA. Palo Alto is a district where the funding for a student is about $23,000. It's easy to poke at these charter schools when an uninformed board member is only familiar with districts that have serious resources. But the truth is despite teacher union claims, every charter school is filled only with kids from families who have chosen the charter as their best option. It's not a case where the charter schools take resources from district. The charter schools take LESS resources than the district has. What makes parents choose the charter school is that they are BETTER schools.

How is anything Melissa Baten--Caswell can do going to change that? She doesn't know what she is talking about and neither does her campaign manager or the wealthy elite Los Altos folks backing her.


David
Registered user
Los Altos
on Oct 10, 2020 at 3:14 pm
David, Los Altos
Registered user
on Oct 10, 2020 at 3:14 pm
11 people like this

Ah, and I see that a Teacher Union PAC has just chipped in $8900 for Melissa, so the scales on the bucks are getting closer, and probably will do so still more.


Citizen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 11, 2020 at 1:05 pm
Citizen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 11, 2020 at 1:05 pm
16 people like this

Hilarious that the Weekly bashed Melissa Caswell big time for attacking OCR for investigating PAUSD for its Title IX violations (against students!), for her role and record in PAUSD's law breaking and fiscal mismanagement over her lengthy time (13 years) in office, and for running for an unprecedented 3rd term on the school board, instead of making way for new blood as the Weekly thought she should do. Guess they forgot about all that! Hahahahaha. Oh sure, she's a great candidate. Especially w all her wealthy Los Altos Hills backers and the teacher's union trying to rob low income children of the choice to escape failing traditional unionized public schools.


Mark Weiss
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 11, 2020 at 4:24 pm
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 11, 2020 at 4:24 pm
Like this comment

For those undecided between the two qualified candidates I want to add that when I met Melissa Baten she was a freshman football cheerleader at Dartmouth College which I don’t think the other candidate can say


Shemp
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 12, 2020 at 9:59 am
Shemp, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 12, 2020 at 9:59 am
11 people like this

Caswell doesn't need to be perfect, she only needs to be a better candidate than Mah, which she clearly is. For all the people singing Mah's praises here, how do you explain that 27 out of 30 current public school trustees within Area 1 that Mah represents have stated they prefer Caswell over Mah? If Mah was doing such a great job, she might earn better than a 10% approval rating. Mah's financial support comes overwhelmingly from pro-charter forces. They want to protect their investment, that's obvious.


Clara Drivers
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 12, 2020 at 10:36 am
Clara Drivers, Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 12, 2020 at 10:36 am
6 people like this

@Shemp - of course the local school boards are going to be anti-charter, so it is not surprising that the board trustees are backing Caswell. They lose funding for their own schools for every student that goes to a charter school. I'm not pro or anti charter, but it's clear that this contest has come down to anti-charter families, teachers and school districts backing Caswell and Grace Mah getting support from pro-charter groups. I know Grace Mah personally, and I believe she is the best candidate to continue her good work on the county board of education.


To Shemp
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2020 at 12:18 pm
To Shemp, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 12, 2020 at 12:18 pm
8 people like this

Incumbents usually win. Administrators ' jobs are impacted by this Board. They know where their bread is buttered. They know Mah. Caswell is new. If you think these factors don't influence them, you need to spend more time with this group.

Mah has done almost nothing except promote charter schools in her entire "education advocacy" career. She has had three terms to make herself useful, and she has served her own charter school interests almost exclusively. I almost fell over laughing when I came home to find her flyer on my doorstep last night. What, really, has she done to lift up underserved children? It took a pandemic (right before an election when , for the first time, she has real opposition) to get her moving on that? I know I sound cynical, but she deserves it.

She had her chance. She squandered an opportunity to do real good in the world. It's time for someone new.

Caswell is not perfect (like most humans), but she is much better than Mah.


LAHscot
Registered user
Los Altos Hills
on Oct 12, 2020 at 1:46 pm
LAHscot, Los Altos Hills
Registered user
on Oct 12, 2020 at 1:46 pm
3 people like this

Melissa gave no support for Los Altos Hills in 12 years, including a sweetheart give-away to Pinewood School in extending and pad-locking their lease of the Freemont Hills site. So much for supporting public education. Therefore, no support here for Melissa . Mah is OK compared to voting for one of the professional politician class.


David
Registered user
Los Altos
on Oct 12, 2020 at 2:50 pm
David, Los Altos
Registered user
on Oct 12, 2020 at 2:50 pm
5 people like this

It's really the bloated administrator bureaucracies at the few school districts in the north county (Area 1) who support Melissa. The trustees end up being controlled by the staff in the districts. These districts are very well funded being what was once called Basic Aid districts, not called locally funded. They don't like it because charter schools all make do with less public funding than these 5 school districts. It's job security for the superintendents to have more students, and also a chance at a bigger raise. This is just logical. When you put all the eggs in the one basket, the guy who runs the basket effectively gets a cut on the basket and so he's happier with more eggs.

What's bad is that there are many more school districts in the county than just these 5, and almost ALL the other ones are less well funded and have much poorer outcomes than the fab 5. Their campaign is really working against the interest of the kids who need charter schools to make a difference in their education. Rich entitled folks in the north county are doing bad with their money.

The teacher union PAC"s are getting into this now, as they waited to the end so it would not be seen. Now we have another $30k for Melissa from the teachers unions
so the campaaing funding is about even between the two.


Howard Jarvis
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 14, 2020 at 9:08 am
Howard Jarvis, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 14, 2020 at 9:08 am
5 people like this

I like this David character more all the time. It’s rare to find someone so angry and cynical about high performing CA public sector institutions like north county K-12 schools. Really takes me back. I was angry because I was always a crass loud mouth outsider struggling for attention and relevance. I wonder what motivates David to gripe like me.


For Melissa
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2020 at 5:37 pm
For Melissa, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 17, 2020 at 5:37 pm
7 people like this

Mah just lied about an endorsement! She wrote on a flyer that Congressnan Ro Khanna had endorsed her! He had not! He put out a press release correcting that he had in fact endorsed Caswell! Who does that? Do you really want that kind of person on a County Board? I do not. More than 80% of Mah’s funding comes from out of town, from special interest groups: Charter Associations. Charter schools do not have teachers for Special Education. They do not admit students with special needs. Mah’s main interest has been charter schools and herself. Aside from charter school- which is their own self interest Mah has few endorsements. Melissa Baten Caswell has many endorsements from all different groups, residents and community leadership. Sometimes the incumbent is the wrong person. Mah had 13 years to make improvements. Nah! She did not do it. On this Board Melissa Baten Caswell would make an excellent difference! We need change!


David
Registered user
Los Altos
on Oct 20, 2020 at 3:12 pm
David, Los Altos
Registered user
on Oct 20, 2020 at 3:12 pm
7 people like this

On the North County wealthy school districts, mostly my point is that they are WELL OFF and the education system in most of the county is not funded the same. I'm concerned that when Melissa gripes about districts needing more money, she's talking about her supporters. What needs to happen is an increase in the LCFF amounts, which would specifically NOT benefit the wealthy North County districts. For them to dump on charter schools is inappropriate given their privileged positions. In LASD, the charter school serves 25% of the kids with 15% of the public money. They have no call to financially dump on that charter school either, as it saves them a bundle.

Melissa quoted Ro Khanna on her mailer. She did not represent it as an endorsement. He gave her the quote. One can say something nice without endorsing. It's not a fine point really.

Today there is an excellent editorial in the Mercury News endorsing Grace Mah.


Parent
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2020 at 2:54 am
Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 21, 2020 at 2:54 am
9 people like this

@David,
Thanks for pointing out the Mercury News endorsing Grace Mah
Web Link

Mah is harder working than Caswell and in it for the right reasons.

The last time Caswell was re-elected, she only squeaked by because hardly anyone else was running. Jennifer DiBrienza got more than 50% more votes than Caswell, despite Caswell having an incumbent advantage, Caswell was that unpopular on her home turf.

Most people posting here have absolutely no understanding of what's going on around charters. I know people who had to transfer their kids to other districts or to distance charters in other districts from PAUSD because PAUSD was so horrible to their families and children with special needs. Caswell did not help people who needed her help in PAUSD and held office through numerous scandals in which she was, frankly, on the wrong side.

Caswell seems to want to be in these offices because it makes her feel like a big deal. She doesn't have the temperament to understand what a "public servant" is. As the Mercury News says of Grace Mah, Mah is a hard worker, and she is definitely the opposite of a snob.

Vote for Grace Mah. (


Parent
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2020 at 3:32 pm
Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 22, 2020 at 3:32 pm
7 people like this

@For Melissa,

Stop with the dirty politics. I just got the flyer in the mail, and all I see is a public quote from Khanna.

Khanna apparently said/wrote: "I appreciate the work Grace has done as part of my diverse education advisory committee in asking for more education funding for our county, in building a coalition for more Head Start funding and pre-K funding, and in supporting my work on seeking more student initiated learning models."

If a leader I had worked with said something that positive about me and my work, especially about a position people clearly know very little about, I would share it, too. You are the one who is lying and misleading in order to unduly smear a candidate who is known to be, even criticized for being, a straight shooter.

This is a nonpartisan position -- and frankly, the Democratic Party endorsements of local positions are perennially tone deaf and disconnected from local concerns, almost useless when it comes time to weigh different endorsements and opinions.

Grace Mah has the better experience and before Caswell turned this into a money arms race this year, just went about doing hard work for the residents of our county. (I am in no way affiliated with the campaign, just a local parent who cares about competent governance.)

Vote for Grace Mah.


Corrector Bot
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 23, 2020 at 12:47 pm
Corrector Bot, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 23, 2020 at 12:47 pm
5 people like this

Correction: California Charter Schools Association turns these county board elections into fundraising arms races. In multiple CA counties, the CCSA has dropped more than $400K on just 2 or 3 pet candidates. Grace Mah has received the lion’s share in Santa Clara County in this election cycle. CCSA money is the foundation of a pro-charter candidate’s campaign war chest.


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