Town Square

Post a New Topic

School Board Makes it Difficult for Community to Participate

Original post made by Eileen 1 on May 3, 2013

I've given a lot of thought as to why people who feel so strongly about issues having to do with the school board and district leadership do not come to the board meetings to speak their piece. One reason that has not been mentioned in any of the threads on Town Forum is how difficult and unrewarding the board has made it to speak. The "Open Forum" period of the board meeting is "scheduled" to happen by 8:30 pm, but frequently the meetings run later and Open Forum does not happen until closer to 9:30 - 10 pm. Of course there is no way of knowing when exactly Open Forum will start so you must get to the meeting by 8 pm to make sure you don't miss it and you may need to stay until 11 pm or later to exercise your right to speak.

Once you do have the opportunity to speak you are only given 3 minutes. I have observed that Dana Tom does not strictly enforce the 3 minute limit. It appears that if he is comfortable with the speaker he will let that person exceed the 3 minute time limit without interruption, but if the speaker's remarks are critical of the board he enforces the time limit promptly.

Although it is perfectly legal for the board to ask questions or comment on what a speaker has said, they seem to have decided never to comment on anything. Thus, there is no point in asking a question during your 3 minutes, as, after you speak, they just move on to the next 3 minute speaker without even acknowledging that you have spoken. All in all the entire process is incredibly frustrating and unrewarding. Not to mention it doesn't really give the public hope that they are having any impact when they make the effort to come to the meeting and comment.

I have come to believe that this is simply another way in which the Board and Superintendent Skelly conspire to keep the public out of their way. This seems especially true when you consider that Open Forum section of the meeting usually takes less than 15 minutes.

I am proposing that the Board schedule Open Forum at 7:30 pm. No matter what the Board is doing at 7:30 pm they would break for Open Forum. That way community members would know exactly what time they need to be at the meeting in order to speak, and it is possible that parents of children currently in the district would more easily be able to attend meetings because they would be guaranteed to be finished at a reasonable hour.

Comments (18)

Posted by nice try, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 3, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Unfortunately your good idea, scheduling the Open Forum for a specific time, got lost in your frustration and needless attacks. Try to be more constructive and you might get some support for this.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2013 at 3:41 pm

The best way to get heard by the school board is to email them. Sometimes I get just a routine reply, and sometimes I get a more personal reply. But, I know they read the emails. Email each one of them individually, and Skelly. Be polite and brief.

Speaking at Open Forum isn't necessary for the board to hear you, but it does get those present as well as the press (and student press) to hear also.


Posted by Great idea, a resident of Downtown North
on May 3, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Eileen,
Thanks for this suggestion. It's a great idea. I do think that the timing of Open Forum at school board meetings is a problem. The board as a whole is extremely long-winded, so topics can go on for hours. If one happens to start at 8:00, it could easily go to 10:00 or 10:30. Parents with children just can't make that work.
The other issue is the nonresponsiveness of school board members. Unless the district is being praised, they sit stonefaced and wait for it to be over. It doesn't encourage public participation if it seems as though you are talking to a row of Sphinxes.
Don't let folks like "nice try" get you down. One of the great brushoffs in Palo Alto is, "I completely agree with you, but I don't like your tactics. So, No." On the other hand, I doubt that the school board is interested in more people coming down to share their opinion publicly, since that often doesn't go so well, so I would not get super optimistic.


Posted by Nice try, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2013 at 6:36 pm

I am Nice try of Another Palo Alto Neighborhood and I'm posting to support all who are looking for a change of leadership on our board and administration. It simply needs to happen for reasons that have pretty much been made clear by the surge of postings in the last three months.

I am also posting to differentiate my anonymous name from the "nice try" with a lowercase n. We are not the same.


Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on May 3, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Eileen 1 - Thank you for a your very accurate take, for attending board meetings, for trying to organize emailing lists, for caring.
Seems to me that your description is an exact reflection of the board interest in the public opinion, of the board refusal to be "confused by the facts". I think you are talking about some best practices, as well.
Example - you mentioned that there is no legal reason preventing from commenting, or asking questions. Basically having some dialog with the citizen who is taking the 3 min. The board practically ignores the one talking.
Seems to me that the public was actually lucky to have this mirror - for you to notice. Easier to identify. Seems to me that if the new PR officer would have been hired a year ago, for example, and would have advised to present interest in the public input, the real lack of interest in that input would have been masked.


Posted by Sorry , a resident of Community Center
on May 3, 2013 at 8:35 pm

The public makes the school board nervous. They talk about issues that the staff have told the board is off limits. They sit silently because they are scared of making Skelly mad at them. Like mom when dad had a bad day at work.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2013 at 8:44 am

Some things before the Board seem to happen quickly while others drag on (sometimes, that's just the system).
In past on several occasions I have emailed Board members and also attended a couple of meetings.
I encourage people to watch the broadcasts of the Board meetings to try to keep up.
The hiring of the new PR person, which I believe is an incorrect expenditure of taxpayer funds, seeme to happen so quickly that I didn't have opportunity for input (to object to it). The only solution is to try to follow all this stuff closely, and the dragging meetings have never been "fun" to attend...but please try to stay informed so you can give timely input to the Board.


Posted by IB Brockovich, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on May 4, 2013 at 9:13 am

@Sorry

This is a very accurate description of a sick co-dependent family and I would suggest that at the next board retreat they all read Melanie Beatty's classic book "Co-Dependent No More" before attending. I know that they will see themselves described very well in that great book.


Posted by Good luck next time, a resident of Community Center
on May 4, 2013 at 10:06 am

@IB, unfortunately Sorry's description is completely inaccurate. Like a lot of things, people jump to the wrong conclusions based on invalid data.


Posted by Man I hope so, a resident of Community Center
on May 4, 2013 at 10:15 am

@Good luck, I think you pressed "Submit" before you finished writing what you think is inaccurate and what data is invalid?
I don't know if the dysfunctional family idea is really valid, but it does fit the data I have seen. Board members ask Skelly permission before they do stuff, and if he objects they scurry back to their seats (metaphorically of course). Watch Dana Tom sometime.
Speaking of seats, why does Skelly sit at the board table? He's not on the board. Jim Keene doesn't sit with the City Council.


Posted by Good luck next time, a resident of Community Center
on May 4, 2013 at 5:28 pm

I think sorry should rad "the dark side of light chases". The passage on projection will help her understand her behavior.


Posted by Cant take it, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 4, 2013 at 9:37 pm

It is true, a couple of the board members speak at such length, it's hard to take. I often watch the meetings on TV but the long speeches and the posturing, and the exaggerated graciousness, are unbearable so I turn it off.


Posted by How high?, a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Another sign of fear of the public is that Tom and Skelly decided to bury the first public discussion of the OCR compliance in a "study session" on Tuesday morning at 10 am. Even that they tried to hide with an innocuous sounding label like safe schools plan. They obviously don't want to risk public comment. I'm stunned that Melissa is going along with this kind of thing.


Posted by palo alto parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 5, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I have to echo Resident's comment. If you have something to say to the school board or Dr. Skelly, email them. I have sent them individual emails on several occasions, I have always received a thoughtful reply.


Posted by Eileen 1, a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2013 at 6:46 pm

I sent them an email in February/March. No reply from any of them. I spoke before a closed meeting (also in March) and they told me they could not always reply to email. My letter was polite and to the point - it surprised me that not one of the five board members even bothered to write to acknowledge that they had received my email.


Posted by Ann Marie, a resident of Escondido School
on May 5, 2013 at 6:55 pm

My experience: Caswell usually writes back. Tom, never.


Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on May 5, 2013 at 7:10 pm

@Eileen 1 - you wrote above: "Once you do have the opportunity to speak you are only given 3 minutes. I have observed that Dana Tom does not strictly enforce the 3 minute limit. It appears that if he is comfortable with the speaker he will let that person exceed the 3 minute time limit without interruption, but if the speaker's remarks are critical of the board he enforces the time limit promptly.".
My guess would be that emailing response may go along these lines. Possibly - responding in general. You have described beautifully the interest of the board in the public input. Have you watched the board accepting the PIE big check donation? They all seemed very engaged.
That may be related also to the other concurrent thread about the legal fees. Quite possibly the lawyer choice represents those who pay the legal bills. There are many law firms out there. Fact that this lawyer is not new to PAUSD. Possibly, those deciding on continuing contract, were satisfied with prior legal results that did not make it to the Weekly.
Possibly the lawyer reflect PAUSD personnel who decided to have longer contracts, and vice versa.


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2013 at 8:31 am

Eileen,
You have described exactly why I don't go to school board meetings any more, why bother.

The crux of the issue is that we need to tweak the way school boards are empowered in order to make them better. It's a good thing for schools and communities to have local control through school boards rather than being dictated to from the state. But it doesn't much help if the school boards are insular from above AND below -- the control isn't exactly as intended, in the hands of parents, if school boards don't have checks and balances from the community far short of an election every many years.

I think it should be possible, just as it is in the PTA, for parents to revise the rules by which the board operates, if enough parents are in favor. I think it should be possible for parents to outright challenge the board on a given policy and decision, if enough parents are in favor. It shouldn't be easy, but it should be possible. Our system works best when there are checks and balances, and for a governmental body that is supposed to exist for local control (i.e., parental control, not handful-of-insular-bureaucrat control, which is what the latter become when they don't have the former) we don't have enough checks and balances.

Please join me in asking our state legislators to bring for legislation to correct this situation and vest the power intended in local families.


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Touring the Southern California “Ivies:” Pomona and Cal Tech
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 5 comments | 3,071 views

Couples: Parallel Play or Interactive Play?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,350 views

Just say no
By Jessica T | 6 comments | 1,273 views

SJSU Center for Steinbeck Studies to Honor Author Khaled Hosseini on Weds Sept 10
By Nick Taylor | 0 comments | 778 views

Candidate Kickoff Events: Public, not just for supporters
By Douglas Moran | 3 comments | 226 views