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Education Desk

Thursday’s SCUSD Closed Session Not Unusual, says Board President

Contrary to rumors, there’s nothing unusual about an item concerning “public employee appointment/discipline/dismissal/release” on the closed session agenda for Thursday’s special Santa Clara Unified school board meeting, according to Board of Trustees President Christine Kolterman.

Exactly the same item is routinely put the SCUSD board’s agenda every March because state law requires that layoff notifications be sent out before Mar. 15 for the following school year. Plus, there was concern about the impact on SCUSD’s Adult Education staffing of Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed consolidation of adult education programs at the community college level.

The good news this year is that there won’t be any layoffs, says Kolterman. “We will have no pink slips this year thanks to our voters who passed Prop 30 and Measure A, and property tax revenue has gone up.”

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In addition, Kolterman says, “we’ve been asked to keep the CCoC/MetroEd [www.metroed.net] program to make sure these students don’t fall through the cracks.”

The bad news is that public and district staff anger about some board members’ past behavior – plus suspicions about their motives and hidden agendas – continues to rage unchecked.

Criticism has been smoldering ever since a Dec., 2012 board meeting where Board Members Ina Bendis and Chris Stampolis launched attempts to change Bracher to a K-6 school by board dictate -Stampolis’ children attend Bracher – and bypass the district’s standard procedure to add Zoo-phonics* to the district curriculum. Since that time, board meetings have been contentious and out-of-order audience behavior has become the rule rather than the exception.

The stage was set for this conflict by Bendis’ stormy six-year history on the SCUSD board – characterized by her lengthy, frequently tactless, and sometimes outright offensive and even libelous commentary at board meetings. Stampolis subsequently threw gasoline on the fire by calling the district “racist” in comment posted to a local blog.

So when some board members asked to hold the closed session to discuss other personnel changes and assignments, it apparently set off a full-scale conflagration: a rally called by the district teachers’ union (UTSC) immediately prior to Thursday’s board meeting.

“None of the board members have communicated to me their anticipated personnel changes for discussion,” says Superintendent Bobbie Plough in an email. Plough is unable to attend the meeting in person, although she will participate by phone. “It’s very rare for a board to initiate personnel changes,” she adds. “This is generally an administrative task.”

Presentation on Adult Ed Programs Also on Thursday’s Agenda

Also on Thursday night, SCUSD Adult Ed Co-Directors Kathy Martarano and Rochelle Kelly will speak about the many needs served by that program.

SCUSD’s adult education programs are important because serve some vulnerable populations, including English Language Learners (ELLs) and developmentally disabled adults, says Kolterman.

“For example, our special education program at Wilson High School is in the heart of the community,” she explains. “I’m concerned [it it’s moved] about making the program more difficult to access.”

Adult education is “a program that’s well-loved in our community,” Kolterman adds. “We want to give our community the opportunity to make their voices heard about what we want from adult ed.”

*Zoo-phonics (www.zoo-phonics.com) is a method of teaching reading using letters formed from pictures of animals – i.e. the letter ‘a’ picturing an antelope, ‘b’ a bear, ‘c’ a cat etc. This illustrative technique isn’t new. It dates back to medieval illuminated manuscripts, the oldest extant examples of which go back to 400-600 CE.

SJ Unified Files Suit Against Rocketship School Zoning Exemption

On Feb. 15, the San Jose Unified School District Board of Education filed a lawsuit challenging the Santa Clara County Board of Education’s Jan. 23 action exempting a proposed Rocketship charter school in North San Jose’s Tamien neighborhood from local zoning requirements.

“This lawsuit is not a statement against the growth of charter schools in the County,” says District Superintendent Vincent Matthews in a press release, noting that the Board granted a Rocketship charter school last year, and approved a petition to open the ACE charter middle school the same night that it approved the lawsuit.

The position of the San Jose Unified board, and other district boards in the county, is that this is a dangerous precedent that usurps the power of local school districts, with questionable legality. “We are deeply concerned about the County Board exercising a power that it does not have under the law,” says Matthews, “and the ability of school districts throughout the County to plan.”

The County Board’s resolution exempts the Rocketship Eight charter school – one of 20 Rocketship charters granted by the County Board – from complying with local zoning requirements. Claiming that it is a “school district,” the CBOE relied upon a statute that grants that power to school districts.

Environmental concerns are part of the objection. A 2010 Aecom environmental site assessment found high levels of carcinogens cadmium and thallium in the soil. San Jose’s Environmental Services department also voiced concerns in 2010 about possible herbicide residues and PCBs. The county’s answer is that students won’t be spending enough time out of doors on the site to have toxic exposure levels.

This isn’t the first time a California school district has granted land use waivers and zoning exemptions, but it’s rare. However, this is apparently a first for a county office of education. “This has never been done,” noted Stampolis at the Jan. 24 board meeting.

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