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Power To Your Voice

Santa Clara Education Desk: August 28, 2013

An answer to the Santa Clara Unified’s marathon board meetings may have been found inadvertently last week when the lights in the Wilcox High School theater, where the meeting was held, turned off automatically at midnight. Since no one apparently knew how to turn them back on, this forced a hasty conclusion at 12:20 a.m.

The meeting began with a closed session then ran two and a half hours. In addition to routine personnel matters and student suspensions and expulsions, the closed-door meeting also included consultations with attorneys about two lawsuits, one a civil rights complaint against the district (Case #9-13-1193) and the second, Santa Clara County’s “clawback” lawsuit against the City Of Santa Clara, in which SCUSD is an active party.

The suit demands that about $350 million worth of City of Santa Clara assets and revenues be distributed among county taxing entities under the terms of the 2011 law dissolving California’s redevelopment agencies. The Northside library is the most recent casualty of this dispute. (Case# 80001396, Sacramento Superior Court)

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Board President Christine Koltermann has spoken strongly in favor of the county’s actions at meetings of the dissolution oversight board. And in a March 2012 email Trustee Ina Bendis described the City of Santa Clara as “a party adverse to SCUSD’s interests.”

Do You Know the Way To San Diego?

Despite the delay in starting the public meeting, the board spent more than half an hour discussing the California School Boards Association (CSBA) conference that will be held in San Diego next November. The board’s past practice has been to send its CSBA representative – currently Trustee Albert Gonzalez – who then gives a report to the entire board.

Bendis, however, has been lobbying since July for the district to pay the expenses for any board members who want to attend. Bendis herself doesn’t want to go, but Trustee Christopher Stampolis does. In addition, Trustee Andy Ratermann plans to go, but to pay his own way.

Bendis said that the question was one of “equity.” As she put it, “Trustee Gonzalez gets to go and nobody else gets to go.” Further, she dismissed Ratermann’s suggestion that Trustees could pay their own way with their monthly board stipend.

“I don’t believe a Trustee’s ability to get professional development should depend on his affluence.” This provoked an outbreak of sniggering in the audience, upon which Bendis asked Koltermann to clear the room. Koltermann chose not to act on this suggestion.

“I think it’s wonderful if affluent board members can afford it, ” she continued. “[But] it’s a matter of equity for me…To be equitable, we shouldn’t pay for Mr. Gonzalez’ expenses. I will not vote for one Trustee to be given something special the others aren’t.”

The upshot of this was a motion to pay the conference fee ($455) for any board member that wanted to attend. This passed 5-2 with Bendis and Trustee Jim Canova dissenting.

“I don’t see it as an issue of: we should all have…a trip to San Diego,” said Canova. “Because of the uncertainties in our budget …I can’t justify sending more than one board member to San Diego. And I know that Albert will give us an excellent report and he always represents us so well.”

While Bendis was lobbying for everyone on the board to have the opportunity for a trip to San Diego in November, Superintendent Stanley Rose pointed out that the more important question was professional development for district teachers and administrators who, in the next two years, must transition 15,000 students to the new Common Core curriculum. For much of the last decade, the district’s budget pressures have put a moratorium on employee travel and squeezed training to a bare minimum.

With finances improving, Rose said, “I think this is a time to take some portion of the money…to get better in our craft. This is something that’s necessary for staff, and I think it’s necessary for board and superintendent too.

“The changing landscape of education is significant enough. As governance this is something that board members should be very concerned about,” he continued. To rank one ahead of the other, with “the message is that the other [employees’] is denied,” sends a divisive message. “I want to see us building professional development this coming year. Let’s backward map from where we want our kids to be and do what we need to do to get there.”

Common Core Transition Off-Track?

Other business on the public agenda included a review of the district’s painfully out-of-date financial systems and what is beginning to look like a confused start to the district’s transition to Common Core.

“Because of the archaic systems you’re using, it’s like digging a swimming pool with a teaspoon,” said the representative of California School Services, the organization that did the study. The CSC’s recommendation was that the district immediately begin using the county’s intranet-based systems instead of internal spreadsheets. “That’s where the control problems begin. All the systems you need are available at the county office.”

Find the report at www.santaclarausd.org/documents.cfm?id=1232.22566 and select “Addendum – Bd Agenda 8-22-13 item E.3 revised report.”

It was 25 minutes to 11 before the board began discussing the snowballing confusion about 6th grade math, with no clear resolution.

The question appears to be whether all six graders are offered the same math programs as those at Petersen Middle School. Peterson calls its program “Peterson Plus.” However, it is, according to district administrators, the same curriculum.

“All of the 6th graders are allowed the opportunity to perform [at their highest level,” said Assistant Superintendent Tanya Fisher. "The district had planned to go toward Common Core math this school year. However, [among] many of our teachers and many of our parents there was confusion about what the process was.

“A decision was made based on input from some of our stakeholders…to slow down,” she continued. “We decided that it would be in the best interests of the students and the teachers. All students are exposed to Math 6 with bridge materials [t[to Common Core]Students at all middle schools will be offered the opportunity commensurate with their skills and readiness level to take advanced course work,” she said, adding, “We can’t change things that were prior to our arrival.”

Fisher is referring to the Common Core transition plans developed by former Superintendent Bobbie Plough and former Assistant Superintendent Mark Kay Going. Plough and Going resigned in June. The new slate of district administrators arrived in August.

The board also heard complaints from the public about the delay in publicizing the audit of Cabrillo PTSA carnival money, and the sudden hiring and equally sudden firing of a one-eighth-time school psychologist. We’ll be following up with more on these next week.

Correction: We said incorrectly that the board would consider a policy to impose uniforms. We should have said that the board reviewed an existing policy concerning uniforms, that permits schools to have them but doesn’t require them.

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