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Will charter school politics – and money – influence the local Santa Clara County school board race?

Original post made on Oct 17, 2020

With Election Day less than three weeks away, outside money is pouring into the Santa Clara County Board of Education Area 1 race, with charter school proponents making large contributions to incumbent Grace Mah.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, October 17, 2020, 3:26 PM

Comments (31)

Posted by Citizen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 17, 2020 at 6:10 pm

Citizen is a registered user.

It's not at all surprising that the teachers' unions, which back Melissa Caswell, and which have contributed $30,000 so far to her campaign, along with wealthy Los Altos and Los Altos Hills anti Bullis charter activists, and labor union allies, have started a campaign finance arms race in this race. The teachers' unions, along with these well heeled anti Bullis charter activists, and their labor allies, are clearly trying to stamp out not only Bullis Charter, but all non union public charter schools in Santa Clara County and in California, as they compete with traditional unionized public schools, and compete for public school tax dollars with the unions. Public charter schools provide options for low income students to escape failing traditional unionized public schools, like those in the city of San Jose. Thank goodness Grace Mah supports giving these low income students options --- when warranted. These students need the best education they can get. And traditional unionized public schools need to raise their game and compete fairly, by giving students a solid education, rather than trying to smash childrens' futures via their political power.

Posted by Why?
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 17, 2020 at 8:01 pm

Why? is a registered user.

Grace Mah is deceptive and unethical, and at worst possibly violating the law, in featuring Congressman Ro Khanna on a campaign flyer in a way that strongly implies his endorsement, when in fact, he has endorsed Melissa Baten-Caswell. Too much money is being spent on this race.

Posted by Jerilynne
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 17, 2020 at 11:08 pm

Jerilynne is a registered user.

Grace Mah is so richly funded by the charter industry rather than local constituents. Why would they spend so much unless they were getting a healthy return on their money? Mah was never into “all students” in Palo Alto, she crusaded for a very specific subgroup

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2020 at 1:33 am

Parent is a registered user.

Caswell was such a disaster and only squeaked in the last time on the school board because there were so many open seats and so few people running for them. I think she barely got more votes than the combination of a guy who withdrew from the race early and a perennial candidate who admitted he wasn't serious, despite Caswell having been an incumbent.

I hope being are not being led around by the nose on the charter issue. If districts had been more supportive of public school distance charters, they could have easily transitioned to online instruction with the pandemic and back again without all the drama. That said, this position really has very little influence on the issue in our state.

I went to Caswell directly over some serious issues with the district and found her response insensitive, glib, dismissive, a snob in how she assesses people's worth. She had a chance to do something for a kid whose dyslexia wasn't caught until after 12th grade because she didn't. And that's the least of it.

I'm voting for Mah, who this paper has endorsed in the past.

Posted by Know better
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 18, 2020 at 7:56 am

Know better is a registered user.

Once we know better we must do better. After this week we know Mah is in deep hock with charter forces and she campaigns dishonestly. We can do better. I had already voted for Mah, because three terms in one role is plenty, let her move on and up, or out.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 18, 2020 at 10:59 am

Citizen is a registered user.

Actually what we know is Melissa is in deep hock with the teacher's union, Los Altos anti Bullis charter activists, and labor unions giving quid pro quo contributions. We also know that teacher's unions are on a big push to rid themselves of their competition, public charter schools, for our tax dollars. They want to keep their monopoly, fund more union dues, and use that to purchase political power, by running candidates in races like these. Support Mah to support allowing low income kids to escape failing traditional unionized public schools, like those in San Jose, in Santa Clara County. The teacher's union just wants to keep teacher's collecting their paychecks whether or not students get educated, without accountability. Support competition. Support low income kids getting an education. Support Grace Mah.

Posted by Palo Alto Res
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2020 at 11:21 am

Palo Alto Res is a registered user.

I haven't seen any significant great work come out of Melissa Baten Caswell while she was on Palo Alto School District Board. Why is this article quoting a Los Alto resident instead of PAUSD parents who know the work (or the lack of real work) of Melissa Baten Caswell.

PAUSD parents are more familiar with PAUSD Board and you'll be hard pressed to find the majority of PAUSD parents supporting Melissa Baten Caswell.

Posted by Palo Alto Res
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2020 at 11:37 am

Palo Alto Res is a registered user.

When you see such deeply biased articles written like these supporting one candidate while simultaneously doing their best efforts hurting another, you almost have to follow the trail. Who is ultimately controlling the strings and holding the real power?

I have yet to see nary a bad article about Todd Collins written by the Palo Alto Online. Surly Todd Collins is not perfect and surely he has made some huge mistakes while as Board Trustee.

Regular readers already know which candidates Palo Alto Online deeply supports with ardent fervor. This article goes in that category once again. Be less biased and more objective and you'll get more paying subscribers.

Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Oct 18, 2020 at 11:39 am

chris is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Union, buster
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 18, 2020 at 12:39 pm

Union, buster is a registered user.

If only we could finally break the backs of the greedy teachers unions, we could pay teachers what they’re really worth. Oh wait...

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 18, 2020 at 10:42 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

Melissa Baten-Caswell helps a broader array of students than Grace Mah, by far.
No to narrow interests!!
This is public education!!
Please vote for Melissa.

Posted by Gunn Papa
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Oct 18, 2020 at 11:18 pm

Gunn Papa is a registered user.

This Baten Caswell v. Mah race is like Biden v. Trump. Neither candidate represent anywhere near the best of who is out there to represent us. In fact, based on the last 13 years, they should both be out of office.

Baten Caswell is directly responsible for some of the worst leadership that PAUSD has ever known. But she does have money and connections so that somehow qualifies her to represent our children’s interests. I wish she would go away or really just really compete for a state position, which she would lose. And she gets a bunch of money from various teacher unions, which are not evil organizations, but they really don’t exist for kids.

Mah strong-armed Mandarin Immersion in PAUSD and then onto the board (again, money and connections), but hasn’t done anything for the majority of kids in 13 years (so similar to Baten Caswell). And she gets a bunch of money from charter schools, which are also not evil organizations, but they really don’t exist for all kids, mostly for white and Asian kids. Some Latino and African American kids do benefit, but many charters do a very good job cleverly designing their admission policies in ways that limit minorities and special education kids.

But for some reason, the Palo Alto Weekly has decided to endorse Baten Caswell despite her clear failings in PAUSD. One of the sharp posters also noted that the PAW (mainly Bill Johnson, right?) also endorsed Todd Collins despite major blunders, multiple lawsuits, and no accomplishments except he is adept at cutting the mike on Zoom when people are trying to speak.

So vote if you have not already, but toss out PAW recommendations. They seem to be off this year, and that might have something to do with financial pressures that affect all print organizations. Maybe they cannot take the risk of offending their subscribers. I invite Bill Johnson to respond to help us understand, rather than deleting comments that call into question his biases. We all have them, Bill, they are nothing to be ashamed of, but it would be community-oriented to el us yours.

@Gunn Papa,
If you're asking if we determine our endorsement decisions based on who has purchased the most advertising, the answer is pretty obviously no. If you truly believe this, then you'd be questioning the editorial endorsements published by every news organization. Very little advertising is done prior to when we make our endorsement decisions anyway. And your other apparent assertion (which is an entirely different theory) is that we endorse to avoid offending our subscribers. If we didn't want to offend anyone we wouldn't make endorsements. Finally, endorsements are inherently biased. They are our best judgments (opinions) on who will best serve the community. Of course they are biased, which is why we explain our reasons. If you don't like our reasons, then don't vote for the candidates we've recommended. Everyone is welcome to do what they want with our opinions.

Bill Johnson

Posted by Union, buster
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 19, 2020 at 9:14 am

Union, buster is a registered user.

Teachers unions exist for teachers who exist for kids. It’s that simple.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 19, 2020 at 10:47 am

Citizen is a registered user.

Teacher's unions exist to serve their members' interests. Kids aren't members of the teacher's union.

The teacher's unions are trying to 'hire' their boss, by pushing and funding Melissa Caswell, who will then help them limit and stamp out their non union competition, public charter schools, limiting options for low income students to escape failing, traditional, unionized public schools, like those in San Jose. That's what all this is about. Vote Mah.

Posted by Two Bad Choices
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2020 at 11:59 am

Two Bad Choices is a registered user.

I'm voting NO on Grace Mah based on her years of serving special interest groups instead of all students, her threatening the PA school district in order to open a personally self-serving Mandarin Immersion Program many years back (which again serves a small number of students including her own), and her accepting massive funding from clear special interest parties. Totally unethical and manipulative.

With that said, if I could also vote NO on Melissa, who has voted to keep PA secondary schools closed unnecessarily since September and represents the unconscionable Teachers Unions (with their absurd unfounded histrionics while the rest of us are back to work and students are contemplating/succeeding in committing suicide), I would also do so. No good choices. I despise the power of the Teachers Unions and am only voting for Melissa because she represents the lesser of two evils at the moment. Please, someone else who is qualifed and wants to get the public secondary schools open run for this office so it's not just private school/charter students going to school with waivers!

Posted by YES for Melissa Baten Caswell
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2020 at 12:29 pm

YES for Melissa Baten Caswell is a registered user.

I had decided to vote for Caswell before I saw this article. My decision was based on Mah's thin record and Caswell's broader platform for public schools. Mah has done little of substance during her time in this office except to promote charters--which I view as parasites on the public school system. They suck public funds out of the system and receive inadequate public oversight. Studies show that, with only a few exceptions, they generally don't deliver the promised better education.

It's definitely time for change. I thank all of the local papers for shining a light on this latest episode of Mah's less-than-transparent dealings with the public. She is getting a flood of money from charters because she has been giving them her undivided attention for years, ignoring the needs of the public schools that charters feed on. That should not be the purpose of this board. Further, this latest political ad is simply dishonest and reveals a lot about her character.

I am voting for Melissa because she is interested in lifting up all of our children and strengthening all of our public schools. Mah serves her funders, facilitating the siphoning of public funds for the benefit of a select few who are accepted into charter schools. Mah had her chance. She failed to deliver and lost my vote. Melissa Baten Caswell is the better choice.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2020 at 1:31 pm

Parent is a registered user.

The fact that Caswell is the one who turned this seat into a funding arms race should be reason enough to NOT vote for her. It's consistent with her time on the school board, though, she seems very much to be doing this first for her own reasons, including that she seems to prioritize the power and influence and who she gets to rub elbows with, and she has shown very little inclination towards seeing her role as actual public service.

@Gunn Papa,
I totally disagree with your characterization of Mah v. Caswell being Trump v. Biden. We don't have ranked choice voting in this country, it's winner take all. For that reason, we end up with a two-party situation, because anyone with similar views has to form a coalition or they split their power/shoot themselves in the foot. That's not the fault of the candidates, it's the fault of the electorate who don't show up at the polls to fix that and get ranked choice voting and ending of the ridiculous electoral college. No candidate is every going to be perfect, they are human beings, and no candidate is every going to be anyone's personal perfect candidate for hundreds of millions of people. This does not make them bad candidates.

I think it's a totally false equivalency to compare Trump and Biden that way, because Trump has served himself and has damaged our country in ways that many of his own national security picks are warning over. The criticisms about Biden are mostly based on falsehoods and false beliefs, such as that we would get soviet-styled "socialism" when Biden was the one who worked hard to get us out of the last economic crisis caused by the last inept Republican administration, and evidence that Democratic administrations are better for economically for the country is so overwhelming. Whereas Trump is so corrupt and inept it's hard to even know where to begin. There is absolutely no comparison to this NONPARTISAN position. In this case, Mah is the more competent candidate, doing the work more from a public service standpoint rather than what connections she can get out of it personally as Caswell seems to. Like you, I wish Caswell would go away and do something like real public service for a charity or nonprofit that gives her the power and connections she wants but does some actual good or at least where her ineptitude and self-interest would be less harmful.

I didn't like the way Mandarin Immersion happened, but if you understand the way our district administration works, they try to make it look like they're working with parents in order to wear them down. The MI people did that in good faith for 5 years. I don't know if you've ever worked on organizing anything like that as a parent, but the district's approach is breathtakingly disrespectful of people's time and efforts. The district never said, NO, we're never going to do this or we don't want to but this is how we'll work out differences, they told the group for 5 years to jump through one hoop after the other, hoping to wear them out. Mah had the courage to be a lightning rod for everyone else to move it forward. I used to be a critic of what happened, too, but after getting to know our district administrative culture more, completely changed my mind.

If a parent had a magic treatment that would cure all illness and learning disabilities for all students for free, and it was supported by an avalanche of scientific evidence, the district would still fight it and malign it if it came from a parent group, and be perennially unable and unwilling to evaluate the facts/support for it. That's how they are. The fact that Mah was willing to just take all the criticism in order to cut to the heart of things and get something practical done speaks well for her.

Public charter schools like Ocean Grove (San Lorenzo Valley Unified -- public distance charter)
serves way more low-income and diverse student population than PAUSD, despite having considerably less in funding per student. I personally know more than one family from PAUSD who went with Ocean Grove because of how badly their children with learning disabilities were treated by PAUSD.

Institutional knowledge from such educational resources that more easily incorporate flexibility, innovation, and individualization to meet the special needs of different students could have made it possible for PAUSD to transfer seamlessly to distance learning when the pandemic hit and to transition back. Programs like that make it possible to retain great teachers who get burned out on the traditional model and need more flexibility in their own schedules. Just having that program in another school district that students here could enroll in has saved PAUSD from innumerable large lawsuits, because people had the choice to put their energy into meeting their children's needs when our district illegally denied their children special needs evaluations and services, retaliated, or worse.

The antagonistic attitude of teachers towards public charters stems mostly from knowing little about them or coming from the same perspective that causes these children the pain, rigidity, and educational failure that causes the children to need such programs in the first palce. The debate about charters in this state seems almost to have no factual connection to what's going on, and it's pretty obvious that Caswell will only make that worse. She's very unlikely to work to understand the situation or listen to people she doesn't deem worthy, which makes her an even poorer choice for an educational office that serves diverse needs.

Mah is the best choice for this office. People should not vote for Caswell just because of how she turned the position into a money arms race.

Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 19, 2020 at 2:25 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

The public school system in California is a failure. Look at our national standing. What was once near the top for decades, is now at 38th or worse depending on what study you look at. It's time to really support school choice, including charters and the voucher system. It's been shown time and again that private and parochial schools out perform public schools on nearly every level. The common denominator ..... no teacher unions.

Posted by Teacher Unions want money for their pensions
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 19, 2020 at 2:32 pm

Teacher Unions want money for their pensions is a registered user.

All these taxes teacher unions push for are to fund their ever growing pensions- most of the money will never reach our students. I'm fed up with horrible teachers that don't get fired because they have tenure. I'm fed up with teachers fearing students will give them covid if they go back to the classroom (look at the facts! teachers are getting covid from their outside activities- weddings, funerals, parties or from fellow teachers in the lounges and common areas not face masked students). I think it's time to break up the unions if needed they can be recreated where people can really see what they represent.

Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 19, 2020 at 2:58 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

@ Parent ... you cannot prove one word of what you said about Trump. And as far as Biden is concerned, clearly you are a biased supporter. I could offer considerable material that would weaken your argument about "falsehoods" surrounding Biden, but my post would be removed.

That being said, I agree with you on Mah and teachers rejecting parent input. I would add teacher unions to the "rejecting parent input" statement.

Posted by cmarg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 19, 2020 at 3:51 pm

cmarg is a registered user.

No on Mah. I am for Charter schools that serve those less fortunate. Bullis is a free private school for the wealthy in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. They will take the token number of those less fortunate but please do not be fooled, Bullis is for the wealthy and their practices are not scrutinized. They do a financial ask of their parents and that is still less expensive than these parents sending their children to a private school. PLEASE DO NOT vote for Mah. Let's see about getting Charter schools in places where they are needed and what they had been created for in the past.

Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 19, 2020 at 5:11 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

@ cmarg ... please explain to me how Bullis is a free private school for the wealthy in Los Altos.

Posted by Sad Pareto
a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2020 at 7:37 pm

Sad Pareto is a registered user.

Oh Grace, your campaign sadly instantiates the Pareto Principle: 80% of your campaign funding comes from sources outside the community you purport to serve. And those sources are all deep pocketed charter school interests. Why do you think that might be? Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 19, 2020 at 9:18 pm

parent is a registered user.

Mah only represents her own community. But since they are becoming the majority, then I guess she should win.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2020 at 11:36 pm

Parent is a registered user.

@What Will they do,
An elementary student could prove everything I said about Trump. It is you who are objectively, grossly biased. What you mean is that I can't prove it to his true believers no matter how many sober facts are at their disposal.

But for the sake of others, it's always good to read the letter from General Mattis who served in this administration
Web Link
and numerous of the most senior GOP national security advisors "lay[ing] out a 10-point indictment, accusing Mr. Trump of undermining the rule of law, aligning himself with dictators and engaging “in corrupt behavior that renders him unfit to serve.”"
And that is just the atom on the tip of the 20,000-lies-in-the-last-3.5-years iceberg.
My voting habits are none of your business, but I always vote holistically for democracy, freedom, competence, and the best functioning of our society. It is why I am supporting Biden for President and Mah for county board of education.

If you read this whole article, you would see that this position traditionally had very little campaign funding necessary at all, and it was Caswell who started the funding campaign race. That alone should be reason to not vote for her.

Posted by Sad Parent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Oct 20, 2020 at 12:09 am

Sad Parent is a registered user.

@Parent you clearly have not tracked the outlays from CCSA to defend their seats on our county board of education in the past. Take a look at the other contested seats in the past, the charter industry shows up with big big dollars. Look at what they’re spending on the other 2020 contests

Posted by SRB
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 20, 2020 at 8:16 am

SRB is a registered user.

To answer the article's headline, Yes, it's certainly the intent. That's also not new, Charter Schools lobbies have poured money in Santa Clara County Board of Education races for the past decade or so. It certainly has paid off for their industry.

Reading the comments it's quite the spin to see the out of town Charter School lobby Goliath painted as a David in the District 1 contest.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2020 at 4:36 pm

Parent is a registered user.

In contrast to your assertion, the above article points out that for the past decade this race has been very small money, absolutely no pouring in of this kind of campaign cash. Caswell is the one who turned it into a big money race, again, because she's hardly in this out of selfless public interest.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 21, 2020 at 3:34 pm

Citizen is a registered user.

Funny how the teacher's union attempts to propagandize. Charter schools are public schools. Most are non union. The teacher's union opposes them because it wants to retain its monopoly hold on our public tax dollars. Do they deserve that? No, nobody does, but their claim is even worse given the extremely poor public school academic performance of students in california in unionized public schools. And now, the teacher's union wants to eliminate non union public charters outperforming failing unionized schools in San Jose. So much for the kids. All about the union. And money for the union.

Posted by Citizen Insane
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 21, 2020 at 11:35 pm

Citizen Insane is a registered user.

[Portion removed.] Student achievement negatively correlated with unionized teaching staff? Show us the data! Charter schools are public schools only to the extent they take public tax funding. Otherwise, they proudly and loudly trumpet their separation and independence from the public education ‘establishment’ — meaning they really just want public money without public accountability

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2020 at 6:43 pm

Parent is a registered user.


I can tell you from personal experience that the public charter schools available to students in our area do indeed benefit students through independence and innovation in education that the students who find those charters need. Every single one of many children I know at Ocean Grove, for example, is either gifted and not served by our local district, or has serious learning disabilities not served by our local district, or has unusual personal needs not served by our district, or all of the above. Many left nightmare scenarios that investigations by the federal Office of Civil Rights did not go far enough to address or didn't address at all, and the culture of our school district has not changed enough. Children grow up fast, and they have a right to an education.

The kids in these public charters are actually LESS well-funded that kids in school are. The programs are also accountable in many of the same ways that other schools are, but they also understand independent education (as you apparently do not). The fact that they exist to foster independence is a benefit, not a problem, unless someone feels threatened in their incompetence by it. When the pandemic hit, the state stopped allowing students to transfer into such charters, lest they immediately get a far better education from organizations with experience with online learning, I guess. (Most wouldn't benefit from an influx of students who aren't serious about independent education anyway, and are limited in growth by the available education specialists, but it's tragic the way schools haven't learned what they might have from those programs to serve students during the pandemic.)

It sure seems like people who are most vociferously against these public charter school programs know the least about them, and are speaking from what they imagine to be so. As if we don't suffer enough in this country from that kind of habit already.

Grace Mah has done a good job, and she's run and won without this kind of money in this exact position. Baten Caswell is the one who began the money arms race, having done a really questionable job in PAUSD.

Mah has been endorsed by the Los Altos Town Crier and the SJ Mercury News.

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