To anyone who’s been following the proceedings of the Santa Clara Unified School Board for the past two years, the Sept. 22 meeting felt like “dÃ©jÃ vu all over again: An agenda item directing operations of a school attended by Trustee Christopher Stampolis’ children. The school’s staff and parent groups hadn’t requested the item, and were infuriated at what they call micromanagement and a measure designed for the benefit of one board member.
In Dec. 2012, Stampolis and Trustee Ina Bendis launched an effort to change Bracher Elementary school, attended by Stampolis’ children, to K-8 by board fiat. This was claimed to be a parent-requested directive based on a survey, although no survey was ever produced and no parents spoke to endorse it. In June 2013 the matter disappeared.
This time it was keeping Peterson Middle School’s library open after school hours, which would cost about $30,000 for the additional staff. The item was agendized at Bendis’ direction, separately from an overview of district afterschool programs. Peterson doesn’t have an afterschool care program – one reason is it doesn’t qualify for state funding – and Bendis has proposed several times keeping the library open to fill this gap as a matter of “equity.”
This was a “slippery slope,” said Trustee Andy Ratermann. “There are a lot of parents who would like to drop off or pick up their kids later. We have limited resources.” Diverting them, he said, had opportunity cost.
“The LCAP [Local Control Accountability Plan] needs to be the touchstone,” said Trustee Jim Canova. “We need to go back to the LCAP.” The LCAP is the district’s master plan, describing its goals and actions to meet them.
“I understand that someone wants to have some movement on one site,” said Gonzalez. “We have to look at [the whole picture of] education. We have to look at priorities…and look at those constituents who aren’t here tonight. When we start doing things piecemeal it can get us in trouble.”
Teachers and staff see this as micromanagement, and they’ve complained about in the past.
“The normal process for our schools is to have a shared leadership process, to share what the needs are for our students,” explained Peterson Principal Susan Harris. “We also have a school site council…and drive our goals and do what’s best for our students. It was a complete shock to me that there was an agenda item. This has never come up.
“We have a lot of [after school] programs – 21 programs – that we offer,” she continued. Further, “We’re already using our libraries after school – the book club, the Math Counts program, our GAINs, the Latino club has met in the library. I don’t know if those students’ needs were taken into account. I’m informing you because you don’t know how our library is used.”
Bendis said that she didn’t “think it’s appropriate for a board member to be discussing with a principal what’s coming up” on the agenda.
“I’m hearing this term equity,” said Peterson Vice Principal Andrew Mazer. “We all want fairness…the clubs are a tremendous opportunity for students for access. Over 900 students are involved in these clubs.
“If we’re talking about equity,” he continued, “we need a school bus so students who live in the mobile home park can stay after school. If we’re talking about access: I have four computers that are sitting in a corner. We need cabling we need tables. That’s a better use of money. We have a large group of kids who applied for the Math Counts club…we need an extra counselor [for that].
“Based on my experience there are not students lingering after school and if they are, we get involved. You’re asking,” he said, “about clubs vs. a safe place. I don’t know that that’s the school’s job.”
Members of the public then put their two cents in.
“It is my opinion that the motive for the [agenda] addition is the spending of public funds to accommodate Trustee Stampolis’ wish to pick up his children later,” said district resident Jim Van Pernis. “This is ‘unlawful benefit from public funds’ and a proposed used of classified funds for non-educational purposes.”
It’s alleged that Stampolis is often late picking up his child after school.
“A library is not an afterschool program,” said district parent Paul Wheaton. “The last thing I’d want to do is pay a librarian to be an after school care provider for a kids whose parents don’t want to pick them up. Board members who have students at Peterson need to recuse themselves because they will benefit for any reduced [daycare] costs.”
“I was shocked to hear that there weren’t enough activities at Peterson,” said High School board representative Tamara Pantic, noting that she had attended Peterson. There were many programs, she said, and she strongly disapproved of spending money for what amounted to babysitting.
Board members then asked how it even got on the agenda. Bendis said she introduced it at a Sept. 15 “meet and greet” between the district’s Sunnyvale liaison committee – Bendis, Board President Christine Koltermann, and Trustee Michele Ryan standing in for Canova – organized by Sunnyvale Vice Mayor Jim Davis. Superintendent Stan Rose, Ass’t. Superintendent Mark Allgire, Bond Projects Director Larry Adams, and Sunnyvale Council Member Dave Whitman attended.
“Initially there was a discussion of whether …a bus … might take students to the YAC,” Bendis said. “I asked Mr. Allgire if this is something we could do and that’s when I found out there was a shortage of school bus drivers.” She reiterated that she made the suggestion, “and everybody said ‘That’s brilliant!’ … I stand by that I came up with this idea. Mea culpay [sic].”
Finally, Trustee Albert Gonzales, had had enough, and for the first time in anyone’s memory said as much, revealing that Bendis had no monopoly on sarcasm.
“We’re basically telling staff that ‘this is something we want to see,'” he told Bendis, “and I don’t think that’s appropriate … that ‘Auntie Ina’ knows [better than staff] what the needs of the kids are … We went through an LCAP process. Are we going stick with that?”
District’s Afterschool Care Leaves Some Holes
The Peterson library discussion obscured Asst. Superintendent Tanya Fisher’s overview of SCUSD after school programs. The district receives state After School Education and Safety (ASES) grants for K-8 programs at qualifying schools – percent of reduced/free lunch students. Family Child Education Services provides sliding-scale, fee-based programs at K-5 schools, subsidized by the City of Santa Clara.
“The afterschool programs are not something we’re mandated by the state to do. These are things that we did on our own,” observed Ratermann, noting that there were three schools that didn’t qualify for, or lost, ASES grants. “Do we have an opportunity to address this? How do we go about [adding the programs at all schools].”
“We can look at that through our LCAP goals,” replied Fisher. “If that’s a priority for us, we’ll make sure some of those funds are used for that … We should ask the administrators at those schools that don’t have those programs…what they need.”
“So that’s something you’re already going to work on,” Ratermann noted. And that should have been the end of the discussion until Fisher returned with recommendations.