The Palo Alto Weekly asked the five school-board candidates to answer 10 questions about current and future issues facing the school district. Todd Collins' answers are below.
1. Do you support opening a new elementary, middle and/or high school?
No, I don't support new standalone schools. Enrollment is declining and our budget is in deficit, so building new schools now doesn't make sense. For high schools, we can create "schools within a school" or even a satellite facility at 25 Churchill Ave. to nurture innovative programs and smaller learning communities.
2. What changes do you propose for the district's approach to administrative compensation?
The "me too" policy for most if not all administrators does not make sense and should be replaced with an approach based on cost-of-living increases, with adjustments based on individual performance.
3. What is your vision for the future of Cubberley Community Center?
Given our enrollment trends, we won't need a school at Cubberley for up to 20 years. So the city can create something that benefits everyone, such as a modern multi-generational community center. Beyond 20 years we don't know, and we need to keep some option for school expansion there.
4. Should public hearings be held on the terms of union contracts during the negotiation process?
The union contracts are by far our biggest, and the current process does not sunlight the terms until the both sides have already agreed. We need a way to inform the community and give the board feedback to avoid mistakes like those made with the current contracts.
5. How can the district better monitor and ensure implementation of its homework policy?
We should not have policies we don't enforce -- it mis-sets the expectations of students, teachers and the community. For the homework policy, Schoology will eventually provide a way to monitor; until then, a simpler spreadsheet-based tracking and sample audit approach would help get us started.
6. What is the best way to expand access and capacity of the district's choice programs?
For elementary schools, we should create choice opportunities in the north and west sides of town, to limit traffic impact and provide wider access. For secondary schools, we should look to expand popular current programs, both at their current campuses and potentially at others.
7. What are your top three ideas for improving the district's fiscal health?
First, we need to fix our deficit by cutting administrative expenses, eliminating some recently added positions and streamlining outdated systems. Longer term, we need to attract teachers without breaking the bank -- a great idea is to create teacher housing on underused school district property, as other communities have done.
8. What should the district do to identify and deal with (including firing, if necessary) under-performing teachers?
The best approach to improving anyone's performance is to manage and develop them. Teacher assessment can be improved, with more involvement of principals. The new high school student surveys can be a very helpful tool for identifying areas of weakness and assessing whether things are improving.
9. If a member of the public emails a board member about a district matter, should it be made public (as long as it doesn't violate student privacy)? And if it is sent to a board member's private email account?
The Public Records Act is clear: what can be public, should be public, so long as privacy rights are protected. For more private communication, we can talk in person or pick up the phone. If the public's business is done from a private email account, that is also public information.
10. Should the district rename Terman and Jordan middle schools?
There is a legitimate concern about names of public and private buildings nationwide. The board has set up a committee to examine this, a diverse group that, among other things, is surveying the community on naming options. I'm looking to forward to hearing what they find.