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PAUSD BOE's latest faux paux a real shocker

Original post made by RWE, South of Midtown, on Mar 17, 2007

It's hard to believe the way that the PAUSD BOE carried out its most recent action, with the recent appointment of a local principal to a sensitive central administrative position, *without* first consulting the PAUSD 'management team', or opening up the position to general consideration by other qualified PAUSD administrators. This is a faux paux of major proportions that the BOE should be thorougloy chastised for, with the hope that finally it will learn a few things about the nature of human relations in large organizations.

Only Gail Price - having in the past proved herself as our BOE's wisest member - was against the appointment happening the way it did. She predicted that the current negative impact on staf moreal would occur, and it has.

Although the current appointee is a very competent and well-liked individual, and probably qualified to do the job, there were many equally talented - maybe more talented - persons in this district available for that position. Yet, the position was not "opened up" for general application. It was a back room deal approved by the board to keep the administrator in the district, as he was in danger of being recruited away from PAUSD by another district.

One can understand PAUSD not wanting to lose a key administrator, but at what cost - especially if there is equally viable talent available in the system.

What is it about the nature of *basic* human relations in organizations that the majority of the PAUSD BOE doesn't understand. There is a serious need to get a clue about this, or at the very least take some sensitivity and basic training in personnel relations.

As a result of the BOE's faux paux, the new appointee will now be compelled to spend the next 6-12 months mending administrative fences - using energy that would not otherwise have had to be spent, *only* because the BOE engaged the hiring process the way it did.

Many administrators in the system are hopping mad over the way this went down; they're incredulous that such a thing could happen just a few months after other acts of poor organizational transparency and administrative bumbling cuased a near outright revolt by PAUSD administrators.

In all this, its *very* worrying to think about the relative competence of this BOE to competently choose a new PAUSD superintendant.

This latest faux paux is one more reason why Boards of Education should probably have their structures drastically changed, or be eliminated altogether. BOE's politicize the education process, period. They are becoming increasingly irrelevant to education, and the professionals (teachers and site administrators) who spend every day working face-to-face with our kids.

I would like someone to show me what good has come from having a BOE. Do we really need this unnecessary intermediary between the professionals that teach our kids? Do we need the superintendents they hire, who themselves live primarily in the political realm?

Why don't we consider alternate administrative structures for our schools, comprised of the very professionals that teach out kids, with appropriate milestones in place to reward performance, or punish the lack of it?

Instead, we have BOE's, elected bodies who politicize every aspect of education; who are largely dependent on and captive to the superintendents that they hire (who themselves are largely political in their function). This is a highly inefficient way to operate our schools, where children's futures are at stake.

Is there an alternate way to manage our schools? If not, we're going to have to begin insisting that BOE's begin to listen to the professionals that teach our children, and further insist that they stop the back room shenanigans and political meddling that creates organizational and *educational* inefficiencies.

Many people I've spoken to in the last few days - teachers, parents, adminstrators, and some others are fed up with this behavior.

How many of our tax dollars are going to be expended (wasted) as a newly appointed admistrator (one who - in the end - is a very competent fellow, and highly respected) has to spend time repairing personnel damage that would otherwise have been devoted to getting the job done - all because our BOE (with the seeming exception of only one) still hasn't gotten the message that transparency in government is the best way to go.

This is a *very* disappointing turn of events - one that will have more parents, teachers, and adminsitrators watching carefully as the board goes about choosing a new superintendent.

Just in case the BOE hasn't gotten the message, I'll repeat it. We're looking for an administrator who will NOT destablize this district with back room political shenanigans; we're looking for an administrator that honors diversity (it goes without saying); we're looking for an administrator that knows how to effectively work WITH, LEARN FROM and more than occaasionally be willing to DEFER TO the working teachers and administrators (professionals) that teach our kids, face-to-face, every day; we're looking for an adminstrator that has *proven* innovative chops working *within* district constraints, as well as seeking *innovative* inter-district efficiencies.

This city's demographic is a demanding one. In fact, the nature of the demographoc itself, where it came from, where it's been - combined with the hard-working dedication of teachers and site adminsitratrors is what makes this district great.

The BOE and top administrative brass are *mandated* to husband that greatness, and not toy with it, or mess it up.

Thiings better start to turn around on the BOE side (I'm especially disappointed in Barb Mitchell in her support of this recent process), or there is going to be a large reaction in the upcoming BOE elections, with a real price to pay down the road for any BOE member that has further political aspirations here.

The PAUSD and City budgets may be separate, but the schools are unavoidably connected to our city's financial and scial well-being. The BOE needs to start recognizing this, and stop acting like it's in junior high school, about to begin study on life's important lessons.

We expect mature, sensitive, professionally insightful, non-manipulative, transparent, and humble wisdom coming from our BOE members; we expect them to realize that they are NOT the real experts in education, but husbanders of the potential of those who are - teachers and site administrators; we expect that they will work hard at NOT being so chummy with school superintendants, and work with the lattter in trust, but in personal and professional arm's length; we expect that they will be able to work without a kind of "needy approval" of the administrators that they are supposed to be managing.

We expect that they will figure out ways to constantly remind themselves of the above "lessons", or be remembered for lack of doing so at crucial times in each one of their professional electoral futures (if any so intend).

Lastly, we want to thank Gail Price for having the guts and wisdom to say and do the right thinig yet again. If BOE's were mostly made up of pepople with Ms. Price' qualities, I would gladly endorse their continued existence.

Comments (26)

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Posted by Draw the Line
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 18, 2007 at 7:50 am

Completely agree.

However, this Board has made plain that it is a Board ( minus Gail Price) which reacts in fear to what might happen, which doesn't think through all the "unintended consequences", and which doesn't understand the basics of what an ethical Board does in the rest of the business and governmental world.

If our State or National Government suddenly created a "second in command" position, without any warning or public input as to what type of job would be good to create, then filled it without opening it up for application and interview...can you imagine the public outcry?

Expecting this Board to be thoughtfully proactive and plan carefully is expecting a cat to turn into a tiger. It isn't going to happen. They aren't learning.

I expect a lot of our higher level management and principals to be open to retiring or looking elsewhere for a District which is run more professionally. I imagine quite a few of them would have liked to have been given the chance to try for a job such as this.

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Posted by Grandma
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2007 at 8:23 am

The only reason Laurence has been promoted is to bump him up into a higher pay scale, then he can retire with an over generous pension; this is about money! He's not the first Principal to be promoted to Assistant Superintendent for this reason. Several years ago, after a similar promotion, an Assistant Superintendent did nothing more than organize the bus routes and assign the gardeners; after six months he was gone with his big fat pension.

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Posted by Spelling Bee Champ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2007 at 9:42 am

It's faux PAS (not paux). Just FYI.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2007 at 12:01 pm

I wholeheartedly agree. RWE asks some great questions: Do we really need a BOE? We have a county board, state department of education and a lot of political bureaucracy – all taking money from the school system. Maybe Gail Price should become the Superintendent of Schools. I have a lot of faith in her.

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Posted by Ryan
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 18, 2007 at 1:34 pm

Very few of our elected officials are able to stand up to the slightest pressure from interest groups or even individuals.

Witness the City Council meeting where the Council was attempting to cut money from the budget to replenish the infrastructure fund. One of the items discussed was to be outsourcing park maintenance. When the SEIU Union rowdies showed up in matching T-shirts, that was suddenly off the table, and the future of our streets was looking more bleak than before.

Same thing with issue after issue. Whether it's building something (anything, anywhere), telling the Fiber to the home zealots that their proposal doesn't make economic sense, or giving a final NO to Grace Mah and her antics, none of our elected bodies has any courage.

Until someone gets into office with some fortitude, the city and the school district are faced with drift and uncertainty about the future.

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Posted by Yadda Yadda
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2007 at 2:45 pm

"We expect mature, sensitive, professionally insightful, non-manipulative, transparent, and humble wisdom coming from our BOE members; we expect them to realize that they are NOT the real experts..."

RWE, you want board members to be wise and expert, and a host of other qualities that I don't see mainfested in many of the posts in this forum. You wish to eliminate the school board entirely. Sorry: Ed code 35010 (a): "Every school district shall be under the control of a board of school trustees or a board of education."

You'd also like to get rid of the superintendent and administrators at Churchill and hand the reins over to the teachers and administrators at the sites. I think that means each school would not be constrained by Churchill's demands and could become really innovative and really differentiate itself from all the others--kind of like Hoover & Ohlone differentiate themselves from the maintstream. Each site would need a few assistant principals to recruit, hire, and train new teachers, custodians, bus drivers. They'd have to plan the bus schedules and coordinate with other schools to minimize the bus routes. I guess they'd have to each find someone to repair and service the busses. I guess each school would have its own teachers union. Each school would need to hire .2 or .4 FTEs for special ed, music, art, and PE teachers (which union would they join, I wonder?). Each school would need an administrator to fill out all those forms required by the state for all the categorical funds, and someone to handle all the STAR testing/reporting. I'm sure these junior prinicipals would be more affordable than the administrators at Churchill, and that's a good thing since we'd need 17 of them--er, make that 18 if we keep Greendell going. We could get rid of Central Attendance, too, and hire more clerks at the sites to enroll students and tell them to go beg at some other site once the school was full up. They could help manage the VTP students, too--we'd need a Spanish-speaking clerk at each site. It would get pretty complicated at the sites, but I'm sure they'd enjoy all that autonomy. The site administrators would be so busy trying to hold things together that the teachers would be left alone to teach. (Oops, who forgot to pay the electricity bill?) Speaking of money, we wouldn't need people at Churchill, including the BOE, to divide it all up. The schools could just fight each other, kind of like the sectarian squabbles going on in Iraq these days. Hey! We wouldn't need PIE anymore either. I'm not sure who would be responsible for dealing with charter school applications--maybe each school could take a turn. Yep, it could get pretty darn ineresting if we got rid of Churchill.

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Posted by Badda Datta
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2007 at 2:56 pm

Yadda makes interesting points. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy she/he describes all fit within the wasteful public school paradigm. Last time I saw data, the average private school had about 34% of the administrative/teacher ratio as the typical public school. I'd settle for that kind of ratioin PA.

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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2007 at 3:36 pm


Why *not* a board of trustees? Why *not* a district without a Superintendent? Why is it you show so littel faith in residents and parents to organize in a *different* way than they do now?

A board of trustees could be comprised of a balance of district volunteers (as the BOE is now) and a rotating froup of site administrators and teachers, *without* the need for an expensive, time-consuming, politically charged campaign.

Politics have _no_ reason to be the driving force in educating our children, period. We have created a chaotic situation in Palo Alto, our State, and our nation by giving over control education to political bodies. If you disagree, I would like to hear a rationale as to why, instead of just poo-pooing my sentiment.

As for paying the bills, and other administrative tasks - all I can say is "no problemo", as 25 Churchill would still be staffed with mid-level management personnel who do 90% of the *necessary* administrative work there, anyway. If you don't agree, ask around; you might be surprised at what you learn. The senior administrative group (with the exception of a high-level fiscal manager, is mostly unnecessary to the runningn of public school districts. Even the senior position in HR is mostly unnecessary; go ask who does most of the work in personnel. It sure isn't the Assoc Sup for Human Resources. The senior positions in ths and other districts are self-justified positions that exist only from habit, and nothing else. btw, this is not to disparage the prople in those positions. The people there are good people, doing tasks that are mostly redundant. Ask around.

The Superintendant's position is mostly a political one; it's not even mandated by law. Why do we have a Superintendant, a political appointee who mostly *collaborates* with the BOE (with the latter as a body most often submitting to the Superintendant's whims [there are occasional exceptions)). Please, someone, *anyone*, give me three good irrefutable reasons why PAUSD couldn't run w/o a Superintendant. I have offered that up before, with no takers.

So, what we *could* have in Palo Alto would be a Board of Trustees comprised of half resident volunteers and half school site administrators/teachers. They would be charged with managing the diustrict. The administrator/teacher group would be appointed by their PAUSD peers; the parent group would be selected school site council elections. The administrator group would contribute part of their time to administration on the BOT, and receive a stipend during the time that they did so (this woulod add up to far less than we pay a Superintendant, currently approaching $300K per year. How many teachers does half that amount buy? Think about it.

Yes, there *would* be politics involved, but it would be school site politics, instead of the monolithic politics of a BOE whose members are usually not even teachingn professionals or administrators. BOE's are, on their face, almost absurd, in that we have a bunch of non-professionals with ideas about how to do a profession better without ever having been in that profession. What other group of professionals in America is subject to that kiind of administrative fiat? Name one. btw, the rotation scheme would be every other year, with no repeating permitted for 6 years after one has sat on the BOT.

We need innovation in our schooling, probably MOST in the way our schools are administered (other areas demand innovation as well).

We have 1000 (roughly) District Superintendants in California alone. When was the last time that any two or a group of the latter worked diligently together to create inter-distruct efficiencies sufficient to eliminate one or more Superintendant positions. My point is made.

Until we start to seriously question, and diligently work on *real* innovation - instead of tiny little changes mis-labeled as innovtive - we're going to suffer here and elsewhere with education used a a political football, with the rsultant NEGATIVE effects on our children's education, and a waste of our tax dollars.

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Posted by Jamie
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 19, 2007 at 9:55 am

BOE = Board of Trustees today. And how would you select the trustees? Probably through an election process, which brings us back full circle.

And what organization would be responsible for strategy setting, policy making, decision making, managing the financials, standard setting, negotiating with unions, auditing, and all that? The school district needs a Board.

But the board needs some discipline, perhaps the board rules and policies need to be revisited. And the board needs to be immunized somehow from political pressure - Here are some more realistic ideas than disbanding your decision making body:

There should be no ability to fund programs, studies, or improvements, or political campaigns, related to the schools, in any dollar amount, without full public disclosure of sources and amounts.

The board structure should be changed to be a larger body - so the power doesn't reside in a handful of individuals to yank the district around. The board should be increased to include voting representation from more of the PAUSD constituency:
1. Elected community members
2. Teacher elected teacher reps
3. Admin elected principals
4. PTA elected PTA reps
Also ensure that all of the geographic clusters are represented in each group.

To accomodate a larger board structure, more structure and efficiency needs to be built in to the board meetings themselves:

Reduce the number of agenda items allowed at any one board meeting so thorough work can get done. Require board meetings to be held at reasonable hours - so more of the public can actually attend and monitor: 4-8, with meeting automatically carried over to the next day if it extends past 8?

But at the crux of the issue is reigning in the unlimited power and direction of the board.

REQUIRE by law, that a community wide strategic priority setting process is done every 3 years (without ability to waive) which is required to be followed as the guidebook for the decisions to be made.

The strategic process should include a follow up operational plan at each level:
a. Each District Staff Department - what activities will they complete during the three year cycle in support of the strategic plan

b. Each School - what activities will they complete during the three year cycle in support of the strategic plan.

Board signs off on the planning process, for each staff department and each school.

Each plan should include measurable required outcomes, and there should be a 2X per year public performance review against the strategic and operational plans.

Unusual circumstances (that must be clearly articulared up front, like unforseen financial crisis due to drastic changes in funding sources or something), can constitute reason for a replan.

But if we put more rigor around planning, which becomes clear cut guidance for the board - it reduces the power of the board to go off on a tangent.

It think restructuring of the governance structure of the board is what we need.

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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2007 at 12:42 pm

Jamie: "And what organization would be responsible for strategy setting, policy making, decision making, managing the financials, standard setting, negotiating with unions, auditing, and all that? The school district needs a Board."
Jamie, some good ideas here.

The Board of Trustees (suggested earlier) would manage all the above, very nicely. Remember, the idea is _not_ to eliminate oversight, but rather to change that oversight from 5 members-at-large from the community who are in place for four years, and who most often have no real on-the-ground experience n education other than having had a child in PAUSD (and sometimes that isn't even the case).

Our city, and public education in general has too long suffered the abberations visited on educating our children. A group of people with no experience in the tasks that they are managing has no business doing so - it's that simple.

What we *don't* want is a body much larger than today's board. That would make for eventual inside political factionalism, no matter how many small constituencies the various members came from.

In any case, organizational politics won't be entirely overcome; all organizaed bodies maintain political elements. What needs to happen is (as you put it above) to change the current, momstly dysfunctional governance structure that ends up politicizing everything from infrastructure repair, ti curriculum, to employee bahavior, etc. etc. - and that becomes subject to organized outside pressures that divert PAUSD from it's main *classroom* mandate, the proper education of our children.

Further, the BOT should be mandated to have a majority represented by educational professionals, with neither teachers or administrators with so much weight (separately) that union negotiations would be compromised.

About your idea of elections by sub-district; this reinforces the idea of factionalism and political meddling. Perhaps choosing three teachers, two administrators and two parents of children within PAUSD?

As it is, strategy-making, policy-making, financial stewardship and husbandry, and standard setting could all be handled quite well by a body comprised of five-seven persons.

The only management oversight that would be compromised by the above structure would be union negotiation. Given that most of the problems that we encounter with the teacher's union has to do with salary and benefits, how about simply guaranteeing that teacher salaries and benefits keep pace with inflation? That simple guarantee would probably make most teachers quite happy, as it's teachers who have been asked year after year (when times are hard) to suffer the bulk of sacrifice necessary, even though they're the ones (along with site administrators) doing most of the educating.

One other problem that has vexed education is the power of unions to make it difficult to remove a teacher who is truly problematic. That has to change. This is something that has to be worked out with the union, and that I think might be possible to work though with peer-based review.

On the other hand, within PAUSD, and in many other districts, is that teachers - especially new teachers - have been dismissed *without any reason given from HR for the dismissal*. Yes, HR can fire you if you're new, without any substantial reason given. Some popular new teachers have been removed over the years. What's that all about?

In all, your call for operational milestones are laudable; the only thing I would change is that those milestones would be timed to coincide with the *one* term that members serve (say, 2-3 years).

PAUSD is a great district, driven by dedicated parents and a superb teaching and site administrative corp. Let the latter constituencies manage the district, with dedicated mid-line administrative staffers filling in the gaps (as they do so admirably at present).

We don't need all the politicing; nor do we need political appointees (i.e. Superintendents) coming to PAUSD as a part of their 5-year career plan to half-start initiatives that look great on the resume, or be used by the board to accomplish tasks that the board itself should be able to accomplish.

This latest 'faux pas' (thanks for the correction "Spelling Bee Chanp" :), following on the heels of another Sup/Board created mess, is one of dozens of examples that clearly illustrate why things have got to change in our (and other district) educational governance.

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Posted by Jamie
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2007 at 5:55 pm

Well, the only problem with that is that the Board manages public funds, not just educational outcomes, and the public has a right to represenation on how their tax dollars are spent. Even seniors and businesses and property owners without kids in the schools have a right to representation.

The school system is an asset that belongs to the community, they have a right to be included in the decisions. After all, they're the ones that are going to be effected in property values, and supplemental taxes, and bond payments, by the decisions that are made.

And aren't many teachers and administrators from outside the area? How can non-Palo Altans make committments for direction of something as important and critical to Palo Alto as PAUSD schools.

And how would you choose the trustees? A vote I assume. If the people of the city don't like unqualified people, then they should not elect them, they should elect qualified people. The people running should be qualified.

Perhaps the Board of Education positions can come with some qualification requirements? But even then, its obvious that a few people in the general public who have no education experience whatsoever have got more common sense in their pinkie than (for example) the Assistant Superintendent responsible for the MI feasibility study.

So assuming experienced 'educators' are qualified to make business decisions, or strategy decisions is false.

And one of the reasons to ensure that the regional clusters of the city are equally represented would be to ensure that the wealthiest folks, with the most resources didn't go around calling all the shots that favored their little corner of the world.

And the reason to draw from educational, professional, parents, adminstrators, AND the general public at large, would be to ensure that a wide perspective was fairly represented.

A board of all educators would result in equally biased results (different bias perhaps, but biased none the less.)

I think a large voting body destroys the political power of a just a few - a single lobbying effort would not be likely to reach the majority - a broader perspective would be represented and there would be safety in numbers for those board members.

Perhaps not all board members would be speaking members, but perhaps there should be a voting 'jury' on board matters instead of just a voting five. I think untouchable power in the hands of few, with dubious qualifications, is what makes this board dangerous.

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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2007 at 12:17 am


A Board of Trustees woud also be able to manage public funds. Are you in favor of keeping politics in education? If so, then yuo're essentially in favor of keeping things as they currently are.

The goal should be to find ways to make tax dollars work more efficiently in the classroom, guided by the rational self-interest of students and those who engage them every day (teachers and site administrators. The latter groups are those most effected by BOE decisions, but near the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to making those decisions.

We can have representative management of our school system *without* the current political haggling. Let's work on making that happen.

You're correct in the assumption that many teachers and administrators from outside the area. They can't afford to live here. So what? They are the people who engage our children every day.

Many doctors and other professionals don't live here either, but we trust their judgement. Many of our city staff doesn't live here, including police. Does that make them less trustworthy than those who do? If we trust teachers and administrators with our children's well-being in the classroom, why not trust them with the optimal use of our tax dollars to impact the quality of local education? To do otherwise implies a false dichotomy.

Trustees would be appointed by teaching and administrative peers, in an election of their own. Let's say 4 of those - two teachers, two administrators. Add to that 3 community members, selected after interviews with PTA board members. Terms would be 2-3 years, with teachers/administrators receiving a stipend for their time, as their teaching would be taken down to at least half time while they serves. No repeat terms for two iintervening terms.

Also, business decisions would be aided by an on-site financial manager (a mid-line manager, not at the level of the Asoc. Sup. There's no reason to project from the current administrative leadership's (who are mostly all professional administrators (non-site)) problems with fiscal management to teachers and sit administrators, in general.

Will we hear any of this debated on the upcoming BOE elections? Probably not. BOE's - here, and statewide - are ingrained by habit. Same goes for senior level administration. These governance structures have seen no serious challenges, ever. Why? they reinforce each other, and perpetuate the myth that politics and once-removed, mostly politically motivated senior administrators are indispensible to public education. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Posted by Simon Firth
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 20, 2007 at 10:10 am

RWE -- Here’s an analogy.

Many people believe that we have an incompetent chief executive running the nation right now. So how do we ensure we get a better president, next time – someone better able to run our wars, manage public finances on our behalf and respect the constitution the president supposedly serves. By analogy your solution would be to have career government administrators pick the next president – after all they know how to administrate better than anyone. However honorable and competent administrators are at their jobs, though, I just don’t think that’s the right answer.

Similarly, however good teachers and administrators are, I don’t think they are the ones who should be ultimately in charge of the system. They should be respected and consulted and they should be able to get on with their jobs without being micromanaged. But the very broadest decisions about the direction of public education cannot be left to them alone (or to a Board of Trustees with a built-in majority of district employees, as you are advocating).

Why do we have schools? For the benefit of our children and so that our community will be blessed by better educated, higher earning, more productive members in the future. Children, by definition can’t be expected to be mature enough to advocate for themselves. Who are their best proxies? – surely, their parents. So the best people to decide who runs the schools, I’d say, are parents and members of the community. Which is what we have now.

If we have a poor school board, then, I don’t think we need to change the system. We need to change who we are electing to the board. One aim, certainly, should be to find people with some knowledge of educational issues and of how schools work – and with the listening and leadership skills necessary to carry the confidence of the professional educators and administrators in the district. A BOE containing people with those skills would also be better able to resist pressures to bend to pressures that you are identifying as ‘political.’

If we had people like that, I think, many of your concerns wouldn’t arise. One way to get to that point would be for people like yourself, who clearly think and care about education in our district, to actively recruit better candidates and support them in running for the board.

Another way would be to adopt some of Jamie’s ideas. I think a slightly larger board would be a good idea – perhaps with seven members rather than five. I don’t like having geographical representation, as I think the district is too small. I’d be happy to have a teacher-elected rep and a PTA rep on the board, though. Personally I’d get those non-voting student reps off the board at the same time – or give them a real vote. But I’d argue for have them to simply report monthly to the board, like many other officials do, and save some time in meetings.

But, again, I don’t think Jamie’s idea of requiring that the district be legally tied to a planning cycle would help much. There will always be loop holes that will let a spineless BOE drift away from what it is supposed to do if it wants -- just as a Board of Trustees as that RWE envisions can be poorly run and subject to political winds (only they are likely to be winds that blow behind closed doors—not a direction in which I’d like to see us going any further).

RWE – education IS political in the best sense in the word. It exactly concerns the future shape and quality of our POLIS -- the Greek term for city state that gave us the world 'political'. I think we MUST keep politics in education. What we want out of it are poor foresight, poor leadership, poor communication and decisions made in an atmosphere of secrecy.

If we do that I think most district employees will be pretty happy and able to do their jobs well – energized even by the leadership they see at the top.

In the end, though, it comes down to the caliber of the people on the Board – nothing more. And that comes down to us. Everyone with an interest in the district has as their duty finding the very best people to serve on the BOE and supporting them in their election campaigns.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2007 at 10:21 am


"guided by the rational self-interest of students and those who engage them every day (teachers and site administrators. The latter groups are those most effected by BOE decisions, but near the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to making those decisions"

Rational - are self interest of students always rational? Would we have (for example), more choice that we could afford, if we were guided by the self interest of students? The interests of students and the interest of the community, and the interests of teachers, and the interests of property owners are not necessarily ~all~ perfectly rationally in sync. There are tradeoffs to be made.

"the latter group (teachers and administrators)are most effected by the decisions of the BOE". False. The teachers and administrators are effected immensley through their work, but could one say parents and kids are most effected, with for example, facility/boundary decisions, choice program decisions, curriculum/quality/staffing tradeoffs, etc. (So shouldn't there be more parent represenation? And why should teachers or PTA members get to 'choose the parent representation - the PTA is political process in and of itself!

Or could one say property owners are most effected because they are asked to pay the bills for the folly of the board. And the quality of the schools effect property values - peoples entire financial future rides in the balance of what happens in the PAUSD schools.

And who's to say who's needs and interests trump? Do student needs always trump (over teachers, parents, community, tax payers)? So for example, if a student need is optimized, if the taxpayers go ballistic, will that serve the needs of the students very well?

There are many stakeholders in the education process. They all need representation. Sorry if that is too political for you.

If educators need more say, then they need equal representation and voting rights at the board table. That's how they get more say. You don't give them ALL the say.

And the fact that they are mostly from out of town - no, I'm not saying that makes them any less smart or qualified or trustworthy to do their jobs -I'm saying that a non-palo alto contingent of decisions makers is not going to be necessarily representative of Palo Alto community priorities.

For example, did you know that the Board of Education is basically completely independent of city regulations? They don't have to get 'permission' from the city to build a three story schools in the backyard of an otherwise residential neighborhood, they don't need 'permission' to cut down trees, they don't need 'permission' to load up schools with 1000 students, or create ghastly commuter traffic, or anything. I believe the board has eminent domain authority! So how do the needs of the community get ensured if your decision makers are there to optimize the needs of the students and teachers - only. How do you ensure the balance?

Even your myopic view that educators (guided by the self interest of students) are the only ones that have a valid stake in the education process proves the point.

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Posted by KR
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2007 at 11:55 am

I would like to congratulate Scott Laurence on his recent promotion to Assistant Superintendent. Over the years, I have disagreed on many paths taken by teachers and administrators at Palo Alto High School. However, I never once questioned Scott Laurence's integrity and insight into the educational process.

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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2007 at 12:40 pm

What's interesting about the last two posts is that both posters somehow recast what I've been saying with their imaginings of the worst that could happen if we had a Board of Trustees running our schools that was made up of educational professionals and some community members. They both seem to want to keep pushing on a fear that PAUSD would be run by teaching professionals that somehow, once given influence sufficient to reflect their preofessional experience in the classroom, they (the teachers and administrators) would run amok.

Whatever comes about for PAUSD - however the next 1-2 decades play out - we'd better hope and work for change that works hard to remove the *current level* of the politicization of education, as well as the merry-go-round of Superintendent appointments that essentially interfere with what should be an optimal experience in the PAUSD classroom for our students.

Simon Firth says all we need to do is "elect the right school board members". What Simon doesn't understand is that public education has become so politicized over time that it somehow seems "natural" to have elected, representative bodies whose members have "ideas" about education that often have nothing to do with the reality of teaching in a classroom, or administering a school.

My response to Simon is that we'd better find a way to get more teachers and site administrators represented on the BOE - more than *token* representation of the professionals who teach our chldren every day. We are missing the opportunity to take advantage of the *reality* in the classroom, and the vast intellectual capital that teachers and site administrators have acccumulated over the years.

It's odd that we trust teachers and site administrators with the well-being of our children, but don't want then to have a significant say in how they structure that experience. Why not? Instead, we see proposals to include teachers and administrators inthe adminsitration educating our kids as a threat.

Nothing is more annoying than to watch a BOE and it's Superintendent make decision after decision that has PAUSD teaching and administrating staff rolling its eyes in dismay. Go ask around if you don't believe what I'm saying.

There will always be management-staff conflict; this happens in all organizations. That said, the sheer level of out-of-touchness that most of the BOE and Superintendents have had over past years here is nothing short of stunning, compared to other, non-teaching orgnizations.

Since when does any professional body of workers - especially workers charged with the responsibility of teaching (and now socializing) our young - take direction from persons who although interested and well-meaning, have most often not even spent one day doing the work of the people they're managing? It's an absurd state of affairs that creates a massive lack of morale in the classroom, and creates massive inefficiencies as teachers and site administrators have to spend their energy doing massive end runs to "deal with" whatever BOE's and politically motivated Superintendents dish out to them.

How many teachers and site administrators - system wide - were polled on the wisdom of the latest fiasco, MI? From what I've heard, not many. Yet nost teachers I spoke with said that although MI is a laudable idea, it didn't make sense from many logistic perspectives. I heard teacher after teacher say that they couldn't understand why their perspectives weren't being considered in all this.

How is it that we've cone to a system where we elect individuals - as one district did in Kansas - that actually has the power to determine whether evolution is taught in the classroom? This decision is one that was agreed on by that district's board, and its Superintendent. That's the logical extreme of the governance structure that we endorse.

How is it, as Palo Alto teachers and site administrators do the hard work of educating our children - who are our *future* - we have back room politics playing a too significant role in the morale of those educators, with concomitant effects on our children?

Perhaps a Board of Trustees, largely consisting of teachers and educators, with some community members elected at-large wouldn't work here. Perhaps that's too much for a community like Palo Alto to permit. After all, we're a highly educated group that likes to "have our say" (as I'm doing now); ;we're a group that is comprised of a significant quotient of independent thinkers who can easily convince themselves that they're right (I don't except myself from these remarks).

What I find most interesting is that our education governance structure is not challenged at all - even in the wake of all the political scrambling and inefficiency that has resulted within PAUSD over the past several years, and prior. Sure, we've had some wins, but even within those wins there have been massive inecfficiencies caused by the governance structure that nobody wants to challenge, or even modify in the slightest.

To the degree that we're not willing to deconstruct, unpack, and modify PAUSD's governance structure, to that degree we will putting ourselves in a position of less-than-optimal adaptation to changing times, with the resultant inefficiencies directly impacting our kids and our future.

Jamie and Simon have presented some ideas; so have I - we disagree on some things, but there does appear a kernal of agree ment that PAUSD's governance structure needs to change. My suggestions would lresult in larger change than theirs; perhaps there's a middle ground. Will we hear about any of this in the near future? I hope so.

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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2007 at 12:48 pm

I, too, wish to congratulate Mr. Lawrence. He's a top-notch administrator. That said, given what I have heard from PAUSD teachers and site administrators, he will have his first 6 months cut out for him, repairing the damage that a mostly and incredulously insensitive PAUSD BOE caused by bringing him on the way that they did. when will this, and future BOE's learn the lesson that they are not the "experts" in education, or even in the administering of same?

When will they learn that their responsibility is to husband potential, and tend the garden of educational possibility in a way that pats close attention to the entire ecology that they're a part of, instead of a top-down method of governance that visits one problem after another, all in service to misplaced priorities that evolve from not getting out and asking around?

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2007 at 1:16 pm

RWE - who said teachers and administrators shouldn't have more say. I said they shouldn't have ALL the say, just as any other group should not have ALL the say, to the exclusion of the others.

In fact, I was very active, searching high and lo for some teacher or adminstrator to speak up on several important issues in the last year. No one would. Perhaps its not a safe environment now for that to occur. It needs to be changed so this important group gets a say in how this district works.

The makeup of the BOE should be modified to include equal represention and voting muscle from each of the stakeholder groups.

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Posted by outraged
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2007 at 6:36 am

There's a bumper sticker that says, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." I feel like putting it on my car after the last BoE move.

I have no opinion on whether we should have a Board at all, but his Board has lost my confidence -- what little remained after last fall. Their latest action (with poor Gail Price holding the line on sanity as usual) infuriates me. Why? Simply put:

The Superintendent mucked up this district with cronyism, back-room deals, intimidation tactics and retaliation, as numerous posts from last fall indicated was common knowledge. Whatever her positive achievements may have been, last fall, her behavior led to a mass revolution of administrators.

The situation was so dire that the Board, under great public pressure, called for and initiated a "trust investigation." Some BoE members seem to have recast it as some sort of study on how to keep the management happy, but when initiated it was an investigation to determine, in part, the validity of the administrators' claims about the Superintendent (and others in her administration).

The Superintendent resigned, or retired, under a cloud just as the investigation was getting underway. She will leave with pension and benefits and avoid being fired even if -- as seemed likely -- the investigation uncovers appalling behavior and nastiness as it seemed likely to reveal when the whole thing blew up. Of couse, if the BoE has changed the scope of the "study" to a mamby-pamby "feel good" session, especially in light of this latest blow against the administraators, who knows why they are wasting money on it at all.

One would have thought, in such case, that the Board would allow the next superintendent to make the choice -- when he or she is installed in *less than six months* -- whether or not to promote a principal to an administrative position that has been *vacant and unfunded* for quite some time. Instead, the Board took the Super's recommendation (which is required for this appointment -- do people know that leagally the *only* position the BoE is allowed to fill proactively instead of approving/disapproving the Super's recommendation is the Super position?) at face value and precipitously installed this person in a position of great power without even involving the beleaguered management team in the decision. Whatever his relationship with various parents and community members may have been up to now, one has to consider whether his promotion -- which smacks of another back-room deal --might not catalyze the administrators to unionize after all.

If that happens, how many candidates will be interested in coming in to run this district? How many fewer than there might have been with the already public problems (think retaliatory firing of Middle school principal, the nastiness over The Letter and other highlights from this fall's threads, including the poor teacher who felt safter fighting in Afghanistan than PAUSD) that have plagued ths district under this administration? Even if Ms. Callan is leaving, she had assistants and administration members who colluded in her appalling behavior; the "power players" of her administration are sill in place, and have been given no incentive to change the behavior that got us to the brink last fall. I have to wonder why anyone of quality would even consider taking the job of Superintendent at this point.

Another question that leaps to mind is how the district, with its perpetual budgetary crises and habit of holding out its hand to parents for more and more and more money, has managed spontaneously to fund and fill this position so efficiently.

In light of this ongoing mismanagement, I look forward to opposing --publicly and aggressively -- the next, inevitable bond measure that comes up. The BoE (respectfully and gratefully excluding Gail Price) should be flat-out ashamed of its short memory and cavalier behavior. This is outrageous and, if it turns out to be a mistake as many think it will, will be nearly impossible to undo. For shame.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2007 at 8:00 pm

To Outraged: Funny, I also have started to wonder about putting one of those bumper stickers on my car.You said it perfectly. I completely agree. No more money until we know the mettle of the new Super and the new Board after the next election. I had gotten some hope after January, but the appalling decision to create a position, then secretly fill it, has me reeling with shock.

Can you imagine the reaction if the President, or the Governor, created a second-in-command position, then secretly filled it? On top of that, nobody even knows what the job description is!

Unbelievable. Our Board is supposed to shape policy. If this is the policy of this District now, we are in big trouble.

I will 100% support any unionizing the principals and managers may wish to do. I am not normally a union supporter, frankly, but I think this is one place that it is becoming necessary.

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Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 23, 2007 at 10:04 pm


If you really think such structure would work, simply go ahead and create a charter school with such governance structure. The beauty of choice and charters...

And to those "horrified" that want us to imagine "secret" second-in-command" -- Scott Lawrence is not second in command, the position was not secret, and at all levels of government we have elected people at the top 1-2 places, and the rest of the high hierarchy is filled at the discretion of that top person. Consider all the governor's secretaries. Consider all the people under the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Please stop trying to scare us or whip resentment of the Board.

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Posted by outraged
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2007 at 3:12 pm

This position has been vacant and unfunded for five years. Suddenly, because a principal (one of MANY good people in the management level) might leave, the Board decides to fund and fill it with this person. Not, mind you, to open it up for consideration, not to post the position and let other *equally qualified* people apply for the job.

Hm. Maybe the Board wasn't just being bizarre and cavalier. Maybe it was thinking that the management team has said repeatedly that the Super's tenure was marked by cronyism and a failure to recognize andreqard excellence. Maybe the Board thought, hey, here's our chance to reward excellence. Mary Frances says this is a great guy, so let's reward him. There, now people are being rewarded for excellence. This solves the problem and will boost morale.

Let's assume that the board acted with this or some similar motivation, because I do think they act in good faith even if they don't seem able to act with much foresight. Even if they were trying to solve a problem by making this appointment, they created more problems than they solved. First, one would think a Board that is even now conducting a trust investigation as a result of last fall's blow-up would be a little leery of jumping in wholeheartedly and unquestioningly to accept recommendations from a superintendent whose motivations and behavior have been pretty dirty (see last fall's threads -- too long to summarize all her shenanigans here). Second, if the Board acted intending to reward people in a system where rewards have been replaced by an abysmal level of cronyism, why would the Board choose to remedy the lack of recognition of good people by basically creating a position for the one person the Superintendent recommends? (Wolf, I know the position theoretically existed, but seeing as it has been vacant and *unfunded* for 5 years you can't really compare it to having a, say, vacant principalship filled as necessary.) I am not knocking Scott Lawrence; he sounds like a nice guy who many people whave had great relations with. But I can think of any number of administrators of whom that is true in this district and I haven't seen them getting any sinecures and packages. Hm . . . How in Heaven's name can the Board not see how this might look to other members of the management team?

Also, the position pays a good $200K annually, with benefits. This district is constantly crying poor and can't do so many things because it has no money. Elementary school kids are down to one day of physical education per week. They have to enter a lottery even to have a chance at learning a musical instrument in 4th grade. And forget GATE -- the district barely even puts the money into photocopying materials for advanced kids, let alone actual creating or purchasing resources for those kids. Yet suddenly, it has $200K to spend on a position that opens for one applicant and then closes again with him in place. How many PiE donations make up $200K? How many PiE and PTA volunteer hours does it take to raise that kind of money?

Hey, Wolf, I'm not trying to scare anyone. As far as I'm concerned, the Board is doing that all by itself. If you think this is all just groovy, well, write to the Board and tell them so. As for me, well, they know what I think.

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Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 24, 2007 at 9:33 pm

One may agree or disagree with the board's action. One may think that we already have too many administrators, or too few. That is a reasonable topic for discussion. Implying, however, that the board or the Super did anything underhanded, or that they needed to consult the management team, is absurd. The board and the super can create and abolish positions at will, and they don't need anyone's permission for that. Nor do they need to consult the principals about a central office appointment. They may choose to do so, or they may chose not to.

So, again, please attack the wisdom of staffing this position if you want. But stop whipping dissent by bogus innuendos.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2007 at 5:33 pm

No innuendo by RWE, just facts.

It may be legal to do what 4 in the Board did, perhaps under the advice the Super, but it is also a fact that just a few months ago our Board received a letter signed by most principals and middle managers, and heard a report on the budget about unfunded priorities and unfunded positions, and a fact that this position was created and filled without any application period and with no job description.

No matter which way you cut it, no matter how well intentioned the people who voted for this are ( and I believe they are), the end of the story is the same.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2007 at 5:42 pm

If a business was run the way the Board appears to be running at present, there would be heads rolling!!

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Posted by outraged
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2007 at 5:42 pm

Wolf, you have a different perspective. Mine is based on personal knowledge of and experience with behavior by the Superintendent and her staff and her cronies on the management team. I am not going to go back into that group's many stunts, because (1) they were the subject on numerous posts last fall and (2) the BoE is even more aware of them than the general public, having had to address these issues over the past several years.

Sure, they can do whatever they want, if that's you point. But I have no idea why wyou are so set on saying that we should let them, without voicing protect or raising concerns. In the judicial world there is a concept known as "appearance of impropriety." The idea is that even if you aren't actually doing something wrong, you should avoid any appearance that you might be -- for example, going out to lunch with the lawyer for a case that is in front of you, who happens to be a personal friend, even though you know you iddn't discuss the case. Still, it looks bad. Elected officials should hold themselves to that sort of standard, and this Board simply doesn't. That's what Gail Price keeps saying, and they don't listen. I am criticizing the wisdom of staffing this position without any previous need stated in the record for that staffing, the perceived propriety of the process the Board engaged in when it made the appointment, and the wisdom of spending funds in that way. Time will tell.

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

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