Two declare school board candidacies

Election filing period for three seats opens July 16

Two candidates so far have declared their intentions to run this fall for what will be three available seats on the Palo Alto Board of Education.

Incumbent Melissa Baten Caswell, first elected in 2007, has indicated she will seek re-election.

Newcomer Heidi Emberling, a parenting educator and former PTA president at Juana Briones Elementary School, has announced her candidacy and is actively campaigning.

Two other incumbents, Barbara Klausner, first elected in 2007, and current board President Camille Townsend, first elected in 2003, said they have not decided whether to seek re-election.

The candidate-filing period opens July 16 and closes Aug. 10 for the Nov. 6 election.

In Palo Alto's last school board election, in 2009, incumbents Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom ran unopposed.

There's been talk of a candidate emerging this year from the vocal parent group We Can Do Better Palo Alto, but so far, none has materialized. The group has tenaciously lobbied for more than a year for measures it says will reduce academic stress, including a Palo Alto High School-style "teacher adviser" program for Gunn High School and closer attention to testing calendars.

Group member Wynn Hausser, who was narrowly defeated by incumbent Townsend when he sought election in 2007, has said he does not intend to run this year. We Can Do Better cofounder Ken Dauber, who in the past said he would consider running, answered a query this week with an email saying, "Election long ways off."

Caswell said she wants to return to the board in particular to grapple with the financial challenges and to see through the district's strategic plan, which she helped to initiate in 2008.

That year, business consultants McKinsey & Company took an exhaustive look at the district and helped develop a strategic plan, which has guided board discussions in the time since.

"We all agreed these would be very good goals, and a lot of the things we're hearing about right now, particularly from We Can Do Better Palo Alto, were in there," Caswell said.

"We made a lot of effort to put a good plan together, and I'd like to see it through. I've done five years of work, and I don't feel like it is done, not that it would ever be done."

Emberling has initiated fundraising and campaigned at house parties, emphasizing the opportunities for shared use of Cubberley Community Center as new campuses to accommodate more students and the need for better communication of "big picture" school issues.

With an eye toward an uncertain fiscal outlook and continued enrollment growth, Emberling states on her website: "In the next few years we must evaluate homework load and its relationship to student stress, the persistent achievement gap and our ongoing commitment to fulfilling A-G requirements for our high school graduates.

"We have also made a concerted effort in the past year to focus on student health through the introduction of the Developmental Assets, a framework for assessing student well-being. We need to continue this important work, ensuring that students feel connected to caring adults in school, around the neighborhood and in the larger community."


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Posted by Ask some questions
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm

PA Weekly: Ask some questions about the relationship of this Board to the Superintendent's contract. I read in the Post yesterday that Skelly is up for an extension of his contract through 2016. What do the current Board members think about that? As a citizen, I would like to know. Ask the new candidate.

WCDBPA: Now is your chance to run for the Board. You have asked some good questions and the your work with accessing public records was worth it. Skelly is good at handing out empty compliments, and he is just as vicious in releasing Michelle Dauber's email to make her look bad.

The question is whether he should be given four more years. Maybe that's a good slogan for all involved: four more years, four more years!

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Posted by Irony
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 24, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Can't let this one pass: "he is just as vicious in releasing Michelle Dauber's email to make her look bad."

Of course, the emails came out as a result of public records requests either by the Daubers themselves or the Weekly. The district simply made all the public records requests available, probably just to save time with people requesting them.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by contract
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 24, 2012 at 7:53 pm

it's on the agenda for the next board meeting: Skelly is about to receive a four year extension.

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Posted by Irony
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 24, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Let's see, how to word so as not to get censored ...

If a person curses, threatens, and is willing to scorch the earth to achieve his or her ends, they don't anyone else's help to look bad ;-)

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Posted by Not narrow-minded
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2012 at 4:59 am

To Irony:
If you're referring to WCDBPA, then your own comments are ironic, indeed.
Sometimes passion and frustration can be misconstrued. The desire to keep our School Board and Superintendent transparent in all communications and activities, is what looks bad. So many families and parents are frustrated and need to know what is really going on despite the direction the Board has decided. Covert games behind the communities back is what is "bad" and speaks ill of certain members actions.
Have you stood up to speak about what's going on and relate your opinion in front of your community at a Board meeting? Have you written letters and pored over the studies and the data and spent enough hours for that volunteering time to inform the community, what would amount to a full-time job?
"Scorching the earth" is such a devil-attribute and unfortunately terribly close-minded. This is truly an incredible over-statement and an unwillingness to be open-minded and hear what is being said to help our kids in this community.

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Posted by Not narrow-minded
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2012 at 5:01 am

*community's (back is what is....)

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Posted by Irony
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 25, 2012 at 8:09 am

Yes, I have worked with the school board, other school boards, and other government bodies and officials over the last couple decades, in Palo Alto and other jurisdictions, on issues that I care about and think are important. And been effective without being angry and been pointed without getting personal. Passion is no excuse for the kind of behavior we've seen. Lots of people, and on causes much bigger and more controversial than the ones being discussed, are effective advocates without it. I'm not sure what you think is being 'misconstrued' - the behavior is what it is.

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Posted by observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2012 at 10:54 am

the f-word emails from wcdbpa were the equivalent of the paly math letter - tipping points in their respective discussions

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Posted by School-Boards--Who-Needs-Them?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2012 at 11:19 am

Given how complex the issues facing this school district, it’s difficult to believe that anyone qualified will actually run.

Moreover, the election process is not designed to allow the electorate to gain access to the candidates. Even if someone were highly qualified, it’s difficult to believe that the voters would come to realize that in the short period of time available for candidate evaluation prior to the election.

It’s not hard to wonder if elected school boards are the best way to oversee our schools in the future.

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Posted by other than the rest
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 25, 2012 at 11:49 am

You need to offer an alternative. Otherwise... "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried" WC.
The information is available on the candidates, it just takes effort to look for it instead of taking standard endorsements and decide.

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Posted by Agree with Irony
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm

I agree with Irony that the only person to be held responsible for inappropriate if not vicious discourse is the writer, in this case Ms. Dauber. That the email became public allows us to see not only the communications between and among district and school staff but also the assault they are under from passionate attackers.

That anyone would be willing to submit themselves on a volunteer basis to such attacks is truly something to be appreciated.

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Posted by Where's the Emails
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 25, 2012 at 1:08 pm

@Agree with Irony,

Which inappropriate emails are you talking about? Do you have a link?

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Posted by observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 25, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Web Link

The incendiary comments are mainly in email number nine on this list, in which Dr. Skelly cut and pasted remarks by Ms. Dauber. I also find it ironic to blame him for words she put in emails. Again, there is a big difference between being confrontational in a proactive way, and being nasty and threatening. Also, please don't remove my comments.

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Posted by School-Boards--Who-Needs-Them?
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm

> information is available on candidates ..

Really? You're saying I can obtain the following:

Accurate statement of education
Accurate history of number of marriages/divorces
Statement of religion
Statement of Military History
Statement of Arrest History

As to “softer” issues .. I will be able to obtain—

Views on Labor Unions
Views on current School Board Members
If candidate has previously won election, a list of issues/voting history.
Views on the future enrollment/financial growth of the PAUSD
Views on use of public funds by previous school boards
Views on exact role of school board as a governing agency
Views on Prop.13
Views on status of current capital projects
Views on schools facilitating abortions for students under 18

And the list goes on ..

So .. it’s your claim that all of this information is available for all candidates? Where would I go to find this sort of information?

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Posted by John Markevitch
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 25, 2012 at 3:22 pm

If you have questions about a candidate's background and issue positions, ask them personally. I have found it easy to talk with them. During the election season they generally attend a lot of open discussion sessions hosted at both public and private locations. The sitting Board members are also readily available. Whether or not you agree with them, they are not isolated.

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Posted by other than the rest
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 25, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Yes, go to their website and eamil them. Though I don't know what relevance several of the pieces of information you're after have on their candidacy for a school board position but if you feel you need it to make a decision, just ask.
Given the recent furor about openness, it would be ideal if the candidates posted all emails received and responses given.

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Posted by Tina Peak
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 25, 2012 at 4:50 pm

It sure would be nice if people signed their names. If you can't say something without using a pseudonym then maybe it isn't nice or you shouldn't be saying it. What do you have to hide?

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Posted by School-Boards--Who-Needs-Them
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2012 at 4:53 pm

> Yes, go to their website and eamil them.
> ask them personally.

Do you know the difference between politics and policy? I can tell you from experience that there are no obligations of any person running for elected office to answer any questions put to them by anyone. Candidates have an obligation to answer a few questions on the paperwork that they file with the appropriate office (County for PAUSD, City Clerk for City of Palo Alto elections). Beyond these few questions (name, address, etc.)--that is the end of their legal obligation to answer questions.

Anyone who believes otherwise is free to believe so, but I doubt you will find anything in the election code to bolster your beliefs.

The point of the original posting is to point out the lack of law requiring a complete review of the candidate's history/views about the issues of the election. There is no law requiring them to answer such questions, or to be honest in those answers.

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Posted by Term Limits?
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 26, 2012 at 7:59 am

I am wondering, don't we have term limits for Board members?

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 26, 2012 at 9:02 am

The BOE in Palo Alto works VERY hard, I'd venture that they spend more time than other school boards around the country. On top of just the time they spend, they get to listen to people complain no matter what they do. A little gratitude for just being on the board would be nice.

Term limits - since in the last election, the two candidate ran unopposed and so far for this election, we have 2 candidates for 3 slots, not sure term limits would be helpful.

School-boards-who-needs-them - when you interview for a job, are you required to give info on your marital status, whether you are Pro-Choice, your religious beliefs? As for most of the other questions, I'm sure there will be opportunities to "meet the candidates" before the election, you can ask them directly.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Since this is the only thread about school board elections, I would like to ask the Weekly not to consider any candidates vote on prop 8 as relevent. The issues are going to be about school bonds, calendar, homework, etc.

Thank you to those already announced and look forward to seeing others soon. We need a proper election where the issues are debated and discussed, not irrelevancies.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 29, 2012 at 4:15 pm

@Term Limits? - there are no formal term limits, but 'tradition' holds that no-one serves more than two terms. I'm not sure I agree with that tradition, but I'm not aware of anyone who has tried to break it. As the other poster said, the bigger problem is that there are too few candidates who want to take on what must be one of the toughest volunteer jobs in Palo Alto.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 20, 2012 at 10:00 am

Having been doing some research on the candidates for school board and the upcoming forum next week, I have been trying to find out more about the two non incumbents. Ken Dauber has made himself quite well known around PAUSD and I am trying to find out more about Heidi Emberling. I do not think that all the candidates will have enough time at any of the meetings to give their views on all the hot topics that have been relevant to PAUSD over the past couple of years.

In typical candidate forums when it is reasonable to expect equal time given to all candidates, it seems proper to look for information on the candidate I know least about. I have seen she gives good advice on other subjects, but know very little on her views on such things as the early start/finals before break pilot calendar, Cubberley/San Antonio site, everyday math, FLES, high school guidance, achievement gap, overcrowding at schools and how to deal with the ever increasing enrollment.

In an election where four candidates are running for 3 vacancies, not all of them will be winners.

I would very much like to know the views of all candidates on these topics. Some of the candidates have expressed their views and I would like the Weekly to be fair and give the views on the candidates, particularly if they have not been stated before in any type of public arena.

Please note that I have not said anything detrimental or offensive to any candidate, not called anyone any names, not used any past or irrelevant comments about expertise in non PAUSD issues.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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