About this site

I am currently a Governing Board Member of the San Carlos School District, elected November 2007 and again in November 2011. I created this site to keep in touch with folks who want to know more about what is happening in the District and what it's like to be a Trustee.


The blog is intended solely for the purpose of informing and communicating with constituents. It is not intended in any way to participate in discussions with fellow board members.

I encourage everyone to visit the District web site as well as attend School Board meetings.

I will not accept anonymous comments, and all persons who post comments must have a valid e-mail address. Note that I reserve the right to edit, reject, or delete posts based on spelling, grammar, readability, or my judgment of what is appropriate discourse.


April 2015
« Jan    

Yes on P

By now, San Carlos School District residents should have received their mail-in ballot for the May 5th election. This election has only one thing on the ballot, which is Measure P, the parcel tax measure for the school district.

This would affect our current two measures in force, Measure A (a parcel tax of $110.60 expiring in 2019) and Measure B (a parcel tax of $78 expiring this year). The absence of any new measure would mean the loss of approximately $750,000 from Measure B’s expiration. Measure P would combine Measures A and B into a single one, extend their term for 6 years (expiring 2021), and add $58 per parcel. If passed by 2/3 of the voters, the measure would both retain the existing local funding and also add approximately another $500,000 per year.

This is absolutely critical for both San Carlos Schools as well as the whole community. Please see my post that explains the background for this measure and why it’s so important. The measure requires a 2/3 super-majority to pass, so every vote counts.

This is a mail-only election — no going to the polls. So, please open that envelope, vote YES, and return your ballot today!

For additional information, see Measure P’s website (including additional information on how to support the measure) and Facebook page (please like it). Thanks again for all of your support!

Crucial New Measure on the Ballot

Last night, the school board unanimously voted to place a new parcel tax measure on the ballot, to be voted on May 5th in a scheduled all-mail election. This would affect our current two measures in force, Measure A (a parcel tax of $110.60 expiring in 2019) and Measure B (a parcel tax of $78 expiring this year). The absence of any new measure would mean the loss of approximately $750,000 from Measure B’s expiration. This new measure (to be named by the elections office) would combine Measures A and B into a single one, extend their term for 6 years (expiring 2021), and add $58 per parcel. If passed by 2/3 of the voters, the measure would both retain the existing local funding and also add approximately another $500,000 per year.

As most readers know, California public schools have been underfunded for decades, and San Carlos remains one of the lowest funded districts in the state (in one of the highest cost regions). I believe that our staff has done an incredible job in creating a wonderful educational experience for our children despite this context. And naturally, this community has stepped up over and over again to create local sources of revenue for the District — primarily from these parcel taxes as well as from contributions to the San Carlos Educational Foundation. Together these two sources represent approximately 15% of our overall budget, and it would be impossible to have the caliber of teachers and programs without this local revenue. The District has also been quite enterprising in building out its pay-for-service programs, such as pre-school, after school, and camps.

Naturally, the pending expiration of Measure B started the discussion on the need for such continued funding. And unfortunately, due to the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) adopted by the State, San Carlos receives less state funding that it would have under the old model (which was one of the lowest in the nation to begin with). So despite news from the state that funding for education is improving, the finances in San Carlos remain precarious, and we are in danger of running down reserves over the next couple of years without spending cuts or a revenue increase. And as parents in the District know quite well, cuts would be quite painful and detrimental for our students — we still have less funding per student than we had in 2007, and costs have gone up!

School finance is a very complicated and counter-intutive subject — if you’d like to learn more, I encourage to watch my video on California education finance — this was updated a little over a year ago to include the effect of LCFF. The parcel tax and education foundation are two of the few tools we have as a local community to control our own destiny. The parcel tax is a true “win-win” in that it helps students but also benefits taxpayers — real estate value increases from supporting the school system dwarf the small amount added to property tax bills.

However, like any measure, we need to get the word out! A group of community members is in the process of forming an independent campaign committee to lead the effort to support this ballot measure. Just as in prior campaigns, it will take a lot of work from a lot of folks to get this message out. If you’re interested in getting involved, please e-mail me and I will connect you with the right people. San Carlos has had a long history of supporting these measures and its schools, but it still required a strong campaign!

We are doing some exciting things in San Carlos – from the new schools being built to some of the incredible additions to the curriculum based our project-based learning, technology, and other “21st Century Learning” concepts – that we can’t afford to slow down and short change our students. This retained and additional funding will help us fill the gap created by the State and give us an ability to further invest in our students and our community. Please get involved, and certainly vote when you get your ballot!

To Increase or Not to Increase, That is the Question

At last Thursday’s School Board Meeting, the board heard a presentation by Godbe Research and TBWB Strategies, two firms that the District hired to help understand the options regarding (and the community’s view on) a potential parcel tax renewal and increase next Spring.

As background, the District currently has two parcel taxes in place, Measure A and Measure B, which collectively bring in about $2 million per year for the school district. Parcel taxes are flat amounts levied per real estate parcel (irrespective of appraised value), and the funds generated for such taxes go to the school district general fund. Parcel taxes must pass with a 2/3 supermajority of voters in favor and are generally in force for a specific term. This funding — along with the money raised by the San Carlos Education Foundation — has become absolutely critical for San Carlos, which is one of the lowest funding school districts in the state. Measure A was passed in 2011 for an eight-year term, and Measure B was passed in 2009 for a six-year term. Accordingly, Measure B — if not renewed — would expire next year. Therefore, the District hired Godbe and TBWB to look at various scenarios to place a measure on the ballot for May 5, 2015, which could either renew the existing Measure B parcel tax or potentially renew and increase the tax. They also looked at the possibility of renewing the tax while combining it with Measure A.

As many of you know, the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) cements San Carlos’ position as a low-funded district for many years. Understanding this fact as well as the very grand goals outlined in the District’s Strategic Plan, one of the agreed-upon goals for the 2014-2015 school year is to significantly increase our financial resources to have the ability to meet all of our lofty objectives. Recently, community members may have seen a notice from the District to participate in an Ad Hoc Revenue Enhancement Committee so that we can explore multiple ways to accomplish this.

Naturally at a minimum, we need to preserve the funds by renewing the Measure B tax, but increasing it can of course be a significant way to increase our ongoing revenue. Therefore, Godbe Research conducted a survey of San Carlos voters in September and October to understand their view of the school district and their thoughts about these possibilities around the parcel tax. Overall, the sentiment was very positive both in an absolute sense as well as compared to results seen by other school districts. Here are some highlights:

  • 72% of voters (and 85% of parents) had a favorable opinion on whether SCSD is providing a quality education to students, with only 8% having an unfavorable opinion (remainder were unsure, which for non-parents was higher — 27% of non-parents were not sure)
  • 52% of voters (and 67% of parents) had a favorable opinion on whether SCSD is effectively managing public funds. 20% had an unfavorable opinion, with the remainder unsure (which was also highest in the non-parent population — 35% of non-parents were not sure).
  • When initially asked about a potential measure which would renew the existing parcel tax, combine it with the other measure, and increase it by an additional $98 per year, the “yes” votes came to 66%, just below the margin to pass. (Note also that the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus almost 5%)
  • After hearing the more specific features of the renew/increase measure as well as arguments for and against it, support increased to approximately 71%
  • When asked about different potential increase rates (e.g. $98 vs. $78 vs. $58), there was little difference in the percentage of voters that would support
  • When asked about a straight renewal without an increase, the support went to almost 77%

The conclusion of the polling firm and our consultant was that there is indeed continued strong support of the school district within our community, and most folks clearly see the importance of sustained and increased funding for schools. A straight renewal of Measure B would be considered an extremely likely measure to pass. With respect to a renewal and increase, their opinion was that there was a very good chance for such a measure to pass if it was accompanied by a very strong campaign that primarily reached non-parents who clearly had much less information than parents on the successes of the school district. (As you may recall, campaigns are not paid for or run by the district — they have to be run by an independent committee which raises private funds on its own).

Therefore, it was the consensus of the board that we have further conversations with the community to see if there is this energy and appetite to lead such a strong campaign. If there is, then going with the increase option may be the shortest route to accomplish some of our goals. If we feel there won’t be strong leadership and drive within the community (most of these efforts are led by parents and include volunteers across the community, including teachers and other staff members working on their own time), then we may go the conservative route with the straight renewal. The Board will likely have to make a final decision and place a measure on the ballot by the end of January, and in the meantime can communicate with both parents and non-parents about our current predicament and best understand the community’s perspective. I encourage folks to volunteer for the Revenue Committee as well as to share your thoughts with me, fellow board members, and Dr. Baker.

Teacher Contract Approved, Barely

At Thursday’s board meeting, the Board voted 3-2 to approve the new contract with the San Carlos Teachers Association (SCTA). This agreement included a 2% raise in the salary schedule as well as increased contributions to health benefits. Although the agreement was approved, every single board member expressed serious frustration at how the negotiating process went this year and the lack of constructive engagement by the bargaining unit. Rather than try to summarize everyone’s comments, I invite folks to watch the video of this agenda item (the discussion is about 20 minutes long — from approximately 13:44 – 34:20 on the recording), as I think there were very thoughtful comments by all board members. There was also an article today in the San Mateo Daily Journal giving a brief summary of the item.

Below I have included a transcript of my own remarks:

This is my seventh year going through the negotiating process, and I must admit it always felt like one of the strangest parts of the job, and certainly the most anachronistic. There are plenty of folks out there who are just stunned when we learn that in the 21st century, we still have this incredibly old framework for managing how our employees work and how much they get paid. Particularly in a context where otherwise we think of our staff members as professionals, it’s odd that we revert to this old factory-worker mentality for this large subset of important issues.

There’s no doubt that teachers need to get paid more. Our teachers do amazing work in this district, and I’m certain my colleagues on the board all agree that teachers are fundamentally underpaid. I’m sure most parents would agree with that too. I wish we could do something more dramatic about that, but we all know that we have so little control over our funding, and that the state had systematically underfunded education for decades. We strive to do the best we can, and supporting SCEF and putting multiple parcel taxes on the ballot gives us a little more breathing room. Is it enough? Of course, not.

But then it would be flawed logic to conclude that this District or this Board does not care deeply about its teachers or does not understand the criticality of a great teaching staff on students. Does anyone think that these five people sitting up here volunteer thousands of hours of their time because they don’t value teachers? Does the fact that our teachers get paid toward the top end of the scale of Revenue Limit districts in this county mean we don’t care about teachers? Or is more likely that making these decisions is quite difficult and complex, and that there are a lot of competing needs that need to be weighed, all under the cloud of continued financial uncertainty? Is it possible that we understand that with limited resources we cannot fully fund everything we would like?

There are many flaws in this collective bargaining process that we are required to undertake. The first is the obvious one — the assumption that the same compensation scheme and work rules would be right for everyone. I recognize this would be a challenge to change, but perhaps one day we will be able to treat our employees as individual professionals with individual needs and customized responsibilities. The second, less obvious, flaw is the application of a private sector “zero-sum” framework. In the case where the UAW is negotiating with General Motors, for example, the union may make a reasonable assumption that any money not captured by the bargaining unit goes back to the company, and hence would eventually flow to “management” or to shareholders. We don’t have this dynamic, yet the underlying assumptions and rhetoric are often similar. If the District “saves” money by not spending it on teacher salaries, for example, it’s not as if another group gets richer because of it. Rather, by definition, that same money goes right back into services for students — maybe not in the same year, but eventually it must. There is no “profit” taken out by anyone and there is no management windfall achieved by cost savings. And since 80% of our spending goes toward personnel, when that money is eventually spent it will go back to supporting our staff — maybe in not the exact same way that everyone wants, but supporting our teachers and our students nonetheless. The last flaw is the century-old assumption that the way to advance your cause is to “put pressure” on the board, rally the troops, and rally parents to your cause. I would think that we all would have learned that in 2014 in San Carlos, this technique is actually counterproductive. I suspect this administration — and I’m sure this Board — responds more positively to constructive engagement than to pressure.

In these seven years, we’ve had some more difficult and some easier ones with respect to negotiating. As you recall, we had years when we had to cut salaries because our own funding was cut so dramatically. We are fortunately not in that situation today, but as we all know, San Carlos was not a beneficiary of the new Local Control Funding Formula. Funding will continue to be very tight for many years — that is our sad reality. This is why it is crucial we renew and/or increase our parcel tax and we do everything we can to support SCEF growing.

I understand that Dr. Baker and the SCTA leads are discussing making changes in our process as well as the potential representatives on both sides of the table. I look forward to seeing such changes, but until such time, I can’t support such agreements and will vote no on this contract.

Movin’ On Up

Last night the board made a final decision on the location of CLC. As I reported a few weeks ago, the School Board voted on August 28th to keep CLC on the Tierra Linda campus (even though I was the dissenting vote). However, at that time, we wanted to get more information before deciding the specific location on that campus. At last night’s meeting, the Board agreed to locate CLC on the upper section of the TL campus, roughly in the area currently occupied by Edison Montessori and some district Special Education preschool classes. This was determined to be both the most prudent fiscal option as well as the one which best gave CLC its own campus within the campus. After the new CLC is built, the buildings currently occupied by CLC would be remodeled to be the new 4-5 school.

Certainly having a new, separate, parcel of land for CLC would have been ideal for all, but the failure of the land swap proposal with the City caused us to choose one of our existing pieces of property. Even before we passed the District’s Facilities Master Plan 18 months ago, we knew this was a likely scenario.

There are a few open issues left, including determining a new location for the Montessori school and the other preschool classrooms, and there is still a fair bit of work to do in designing new traffic circulation paths around the campus. The District has been working with the City of San Carlos, the City of Belmont, and the Sequoia Union High School District to together devise solutions to help ease traffic flow on Alameda and Dartmouth as well as inside the TL campus. You will likely be hearing about some of these proposed solutions in the coming months.

In any case, it’s nice to have this closure for the CLC community and for the rest of the District.

The Stealth Tax, Courtesy of the Rating Agencies

There is often much misunderstanding and controversy surrounding the issuance of facility bonds by local school districts. The recent flap over Capital Appreciation Bonds is one of them, but completely ignored is a real cost added on to taxpayers by rating agencies who either don’t understand, or choose to ignore, how they work.

As background, if a school district issues local general obligation bonds (which must be placed on the ballot by the school board and then approved by local voters), these bonds are funded by an additional tax levy on property owners; this tax pays the interest and principal costs of these bonds over their life. Typically, this is an “ad valorem” tax, meaning the tax levied to pay debt service in any given year is based on real estate values (generally annual debt service divided by assessed values in that year). Each property owner pays an equal percentage tax tacked onto their annual property tax bills. So, effectively the bond debt service is collateralized by the property tax stream from the property owners. This is in contrast to a standard municipal bond where the issuing agency (the one receiving the proceeds) is the same as the one servicing the bond debt.

Like any financial instrument, the cost (interest in the case of bonds) is determined by the market. While investors generally conduct internal credit analysis, the bond market still relies on rating agencies, such as Standard & Poor’s (S&P) and Moody’s, to assign a rating to each bond issuance. For S&P, these ratings go from AAA all the way to D, with gradations along the way (AAA, AA+, AA, AA-, A+, A, A-, BBB+, BBB, BBB-, etc.). The lower the rating, the higher the interest cost, on the theory that a lower rated bond has a higher likelihood of default and therefore must compensate investors with a higher return to accept that higher risk. For all bond issuers, public and private, getting a strong bond rating is key to keeping costs down.

When a school district issues general obligation bonds, it also goes to an agency like S&P to get a rating. As it does for other issuers, S&P rates the creditworthiness of the issuer on four key factors — the health of the local economy (which includes the tax base), the finances of the district, the management of the district, and the indebtedness of the district. The problem, however, is that three of these four criteria actually have nothing to do with the credit worthiness of the bonds. As school bond debt service is paid by property owners (unlike standard municipal bonds), the financial health of the district isn’t relevant at all. Even if our school district ceased to exist tomorrow, all of our bonds issued would still be paid off with no risk of default because the debt service isn’t coming from the district — it’s coming from property owners! The only possible scenario where these bonds could default would be if every property owner in the district declared bankruptcy, and did it simultaneously! Because even if the town were hit with a severe recession or if a substantial number of citizens moved away, the burden of debt service would just shift to the remaining taxpayers (who would then each pay a higher percentage ad valorem tax rate). In practice, the only conceivable — albeit farfetched — scenario to have a bond default would be some natural disaster where overnight our town literally ceased to exist!

It may be too easy to assume that this ignorance by the rating agencies is just laziness, but I would suggest this standardized approach is rather simply self-serving — the rating agencies generate business by doing this “research” on each local district when in reality no such research is necessary, because any objective analysis would conclude that all school bonds of this sort must be AAA rated almost by definition. This “rating deflation” costs taxpayers and districts real money — districts get reduced bonding capacity (given tax rate limits, a district can issue less bonds) and/or taxpayers pay more interest for no reason. For example, our district was rated AA- for its recent bond issuance, which is considered fairly strong by current methods. But even that three-step distance from a AAA rating can mean a difference of 0.35%, so for every $100 million in bonds outstanding, the taxpayers are burdened with an extra $350,000 per year (and of course, much more for districts with lower ratings).

Some bond attorneys argue that S&P has concerns about a theoretical situation where a district goes bankrupt and then looks to “sweep” money from the dedicated debt service account for general fund purposes. As this has never actually happened and is even against the law in this state, it’s a better assumption that keeping the status quo is just in the rating agencies’ self-interest. What incentive do they have to change a system so as to minimize or eliminate their “value-add”? Perhaps there are two conclusions here: (1) school bonds are probably one of the best debt instruments an investor can make given the relatively higher interest rate with no higher risk, and (2) in the absence of the rating agencies doing the right thing, maybe a state policy change can mitigate this long-standing, monopolistic power that is surreptitiously issuing an additional tax on most of our citizens.

Staying Put

At last night’s School Board meeting, the Board voted 4-1 to keep the Charter Learning Center (CLC) on the Tierra Linda campus. I was the dissenting vote. Although I think re-locating CLC to the Heather School campus would have been the more optimal solution, I’m glad that the decision is made and we can move on. As I said last night, despite the relative angst generated by this question, the truth is both of these solutions will work out fine for students, teachers, and for all of the schools involved. I had just felt that moving the school to Heather would have been a more efficient use of our land, would have given us greater future flexibility for growth, and would better disperse traffic throughout the city. My colleagues did not give as much of a weight to these arguments, and all cited the specific preference by CLC to stay on its current campus.

In the grand scheme of things, this is the last piece of the puzzle that defined how we move forward on our Facilities Master Plan. And of course, this decision faced by the School Board was the result of the City Council’s inability to bring to the voters the proposition to swap land to have a new site on Crestview for CLC — that would have been better for both the school district as well as all San Carlans for for many reasons. So, despite the fact that CLC won’t be either in the optimal location (Crestview) or in what I think was the better back-up location (Heather), the decision allows us to move forward in what is, overall, an incredible plan for the school district and its students. We will have two new 4th-5th grade schools on each of the Central and TL campuses (built for 21st century learning), and we will relieve overcrowding at all of the elementary schools.

The default assumption has been that CLC would move to the upper part of the TL campus and the new 4-5 school would be where CLC is now. But in our upcoming board meetings, we will look at specific plans which could include an alternate configuration of leaving CLC in its current location and building the 4-5 in the lower section of campus.

Now, the main challenge will be traffic mitigation measures on the Alameda/Club/Dartmouth corridor. As our enrollment grows as does the enrollment of nearby Carlmont High School, there will need to be a fair bit of work on safety and traffic mitigation measures. There is a committee of four government agencies that has been working on some recommendations, so we will likely hear about that soon. Also, the District may need to consider re-locating some of the other facilities on the TL campus, including the Montessori school as well as the bus transportation yard.

Phoenix or Icarus?

As I wrote in my end of the year wrap-up, the City of San Carlos reconsidered its original opposition to the idea of the land swap proposed by the school district and agreed to a joint meeting of both agencies. We then had a series of negotiation sessions with the hope that we could reach an agreement to both meet the school district’s need to accommodate additional enrollment without further exacerbating traffic and safety issues on the Alameda/Club/Dartmouth corridor and the city’s need to both preserve and increase available park and recreation space.

Due to a strong commitment to the cause as well as an incredible number of hours devoted by folks at both agencies, we have reached a tentative agreement! This agreement has the following terms:

  • In exchange for the City deeding the Crestview site to the school district, the District would deed the city the Upper TL site as well as the Heather Dog Park (a site few probably even realized was owned by the school district)
  • The District would agree not to build any buildings on the current fields at Heather School for a period of at least 5, but potentially up to 10, years
  • The District will work with local sports groups who have already pledged to contribute $1.5 million for the building of a field at the Upper TL site
  • Both parties would agree that if either chose to sell any of these three parcels, the economic benefit would be split 50/50 (which in reality would give a strong disincentive to sell any of the properties to a developer)

There are at least three more major hurdles to clear before this deal becomes reality:

  • The City Council must hold a “protest hearing” on June 30th where it must decide whether or not to put a measure to the voters in November to change the current classification of the Crestview parcel as a park — at this hearing, at least 4 out of the 5 council members must vote yes to proceed
  • A majority of San Carlos voters must then vote in favor of this measure in the November election
  • The School District must determine that the Crestview site is indeed capable of housing the new school, including any environmental site, engineering and constructability assessments and any state approvals necessary — the District will have to invest a modest amount of money to get such assessments

In addition, one of the homeowners associations on Crestview Drive has threatened to sue the City and/or School District to prevent such a transaction. Although all evidence points to the fact that they would not likely to be successful, they could certainly delay the process and/or cause greater expense for one or both agencies. I implore local residents to work with the District to develop the best possible mitigation solutions while embracing the school rather than fighting a battle which will only cause all to lose.

I, like many others, was very skeptical on the likelihood of reaching a deal after the initial city council meeting in May, but a combination of the incredible public support and a bona fide effort by all parties has gotten us to where we are today, so I thank all involved for the tremendous work! I hope that the city council allows the voters to decide the matter and that the voters approve a historic partnership which will serve all San Carlans for decades to come!

2013-2014 Year End Wrap-Up

As the school year has just finished, I like to send out my annual wrap-up of the state of the San Carlos School District. It has been an interesting year, characterized by incredible progress on many fronts as well as a number of frustrating periods.

This year felt like everything hit us at once — some changes coming externally while others originating internally. And although this is hectic and difficult at times, I believe it’s fundamentally a sign of great progress, and we are all better off in the long run when we make many changes at once.

The major external changes came from the state in the form of the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), the Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAP), and the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Although the first two got a lot of hype this year, it is actually the third which is the most fundamental. LCFF is certainly a good step in that it provides more resources for school districts with greater needs, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the “Revenue Limit” system of California finance (it just changes how that Revenue Limit is calculated) nor does it add more money into the system. In fact, SCSD is a district which is on the short-end of the new funding calculation, so our financial position will remain tenuous for a number of years. For the first time, we had to submit LCAPs which describe the school district’s overall vision for students, annual goals and specific actions the district will take to achieve the vision and goals. Although there are very specific LCAP requirements around goals, parent engagement, and other aspects, most of this was work we were doing anyway and certainly is only a subset of our District’s Strategic Plan. The District is developing its own “dashboard” of measurements to better understand our progress and areas for improvement, and I believe we will have a first draft of that next year. See my blog post which outlines the interplay among all of these changes and new requirements.

Common Core, however, is a real substantive change which will impact all of our students for years to come. Next year our school district (along with every other in the state) will be fully implementing the new Common Core State Standards in language arts and mathematics. These new standards are designed to be fewer, deeper, and to better promote critical thinking and conceptual understanding. The San Mateo County School Boards Association published a very good white paper reviewing the history of CCSS development and the benefits it will bring to public education, and this video is a good overview of what Common Core means. Although a lot of Common Core will seem unfamiliar to all of us, I believe it is an incredibly positive change and nearly all educators believe it will promote better outcomes for kids. SCSD has devoted (and will continue to devote) significant resources to professional development for teachers on Common Core, but certainly there will be bumps in the road in implementation. As many in the district know, we have had much research and study by our educators and many public discussions specifically around Common Core math — the new course definitions and new pathways through middle and high school. This is an area that has caused much anxiety among the parent population, but I believe we have developed a very strong plan to serve students at all ability levels.

We continue to make significant progress on the District’s Strategic Plan, and if anything we are ahead of plan as so many teachers have begun to implement elements in their classrooms. The board saw presentations on the amazing work being done at all schools — San Carlos’ plan has become a model for the county, and our teachers and administrators have been invited to speak at multiple events across the county to teach others in what we are doing! (Here’s one example). There is still lots of hard work to do, but we are in a very exciting time in our school district as we really re-think almost every aspect of teaching and learning to make it more relevant for the 21st century. The District continues to examine how we can expand elective offerings for all students, which may include some experimentation with the “master schedules” at the middle schools. I predict we will see some more concrete proposals in the coming year.

Related to our Strategic Plan is our unique and incredible partnership with the San Carlos Children’s Theater, which continued to strengthen and expand this year. New drama elective classes were brought to Tierra Linda in addition to those already offered at Central, and of course the productions continue to go strong. SCCT brought back to the Board an amazing report of their progress and the positive outcomes for the children — undoubtedly this partnership is helping fulfill our vision of ensuring our children are well-prepared for success in the 21st century and are versed in creative problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, adaptability, and leadership. We look to further growth in the number of, and breadth of, offerings for all students in the coming years.

Our building projects continue on plan (and on budget), with work already beginning on the Central Middle School site to prep for the new 6-8 middle school. The bigger unknown is the plans with respect to the Tierra Linda site, as it conditioned upon a final decision regarding the location of Charter Learning Center (CLC). As you’ve undoubtedly seen in the news lately, the District proposed a land swap with the City of San Carlos, where the District offered to give the upper part of the TL campus in exchange for an approximately equal size parcel on Crestview Drive. The benefits of such a deal are many, including accommodating increasing enrollment, reducing traffic congestion at the TL campus, increasing available park/recreation space in the city, and maximizing the use of existing resources of both the City and SCSD and saving taxpayer dollars. Public reaction was swift, with a clear majority of San Carlans for such a deal but with significant resistance from some local residents. The City initially balked at the proposal, but then came back with a willingness to have some joint sessions to negotiate a potential deal. The last session was this past Tuesday, but there may be some additional meetings. As of this writing, I cannot predict the outcome, but I am hopeful that the two agencies don’t miss this unique opportunity to best serve our community. It will take 4 out of the 5 council members at a meeting on June 30th to vote to move the idea forward toward a required November referendum, where it them would have to be approved by a majority of San Carlos voters. In another example of the “City of Good Living” becoming the “City of Made Up Problems,” some local residents have even hired an attorney to threaten to stop any deal struck between the two agencies. Regardless of one’s opinion on the idea of a land swap, outsiders must view it as odd that such negative energy is directed at the notion of being located next to an excellent school. All of that said, the District remains undeterred and is hopeful we will come to an agreement with the City.

The other big news was that last November there was a school board election. Carol Elliott and Kathleen Farley were elected for a full term (following their appointments two years earlier) and Nicole Bergeron was also elected as a new board member. We now have a very strong team on the board — all with slightly different perspectives and strengths, but with a common philosophy and action-oriented dedication to advancing the district forward and serving all students. I commend all of my colleagues and enjoy working with them.

Unfortunately this year also brought one of the most frustrating periods of my school board tenure, not because of anything we did but because a few individuals who went to great lengths to mischaracterize a creative move by the board so as to score political points and undermine the District. This shameful behavior was precipitated by the loan we gave to our Superintendent, a move which frankly should have been lauded for solidifying the District’s relationship with him and retaining undoubtedly the best Superintendent in the county (while actually making money for the district). As most of you know, I never shy away from a disagreement, am always willing to talk or meet with anyone, and I really enjoy the dialogs we have (both electronically and in-person). My only requirement is that we engage constructively, and unfortunately that wasn’t the case with this fringe element’s reaction to the loan. Any decision-making process can be improved (and perhaps better communication about the purpose and benefit of the loan may have helped), but in substitution for a critical and constructive dialog, the negative energy, nasty invective and deliberate distortions of a few made a mockery of the political process. While we’ve all become inured, unfortunately, to this kind of silliness on the national stage, I maintain that (almost all of the time) School Board service is a shining example of the ideals of political representation. Yet it’s worth remembering that such caustic behavior can strike anywhere, at any time, when a community lets down its guard (and although on a much more limited scale, the same behavior was exhibited more recently). Fortunately the effects were short-lived, but I do worry that incidents like this discourage good people from running for the school board.

Other important updates this year include the launch of a new and much improved District web site, which includes dynamic blogs from our staff in the areas of Innovative Learning, Learning Spaces, and Community Engagement. I encourage everyone to check out the web site regularly as it is now a much more valuable and timely resource. The District also agreed to a smart Naming Policy for the new schools that we will be building; we will be kicking off this fall the process to get community input on school names. Lastly, the District continues to be focused on issues of traffic and safety, particularly at a few of our campuses. There has been work with the City of San Carlos on Safe Route to Schools projects, including some work on better signage, crosswalks, and other street improvements. Most notable, the District has been actively engaged in the “Four Corners Working Group” which is a collaborative among our District, the Sequoia Union High School District, and the Cities of San Carlos and Belmont, to improve traffic flow and safety in the Alameda/Club/Dartmouth corridor. There has been a traffic study conducted and a number of potential mitigating measures identified, including potentially a new entrance into TL and other traffic flow changes. Based on the full analysis of a consultant hired, the working group is expected this Fall to propose changes to its respective governing bodies. In addition to traffic flow and related changes, my hope is that the group will propose (and support funding) a transportation solution which I have always thought is long overdue.

Personally, I continue to stay involved in many county-wide organizations, including the San Mateo County School Boards Association and the Peninsula Partnership Leadership Council (the Big Lift), and I still write periodically for EdSource on statewide issues. Speaking of statewide issues, perhaps one of the biggest other pieces of news was the recent Vergara v. California decision, where the Superior Court overturned five California Education Code statutes around firing protections, tenure, and seniority for teachers. This has the potential to be huge — see my blog post with my analysis and take on the opportunity.

I do want to acknowledge all of our staff for the incredible work this year — so much of it (particularly in areas of strategic plan implementation and facilities work) is behind the scenes, but I can tell you that the volume of work done this year has been truly Herculean. Kudos to the whole team for their passion and dedication!

I have only one and half years left on my second term, so 2014-2015 will be my last full school year on the board. I will not be running for a third term, as I think it is healthy to encourage and groom a strong bench of candidates to serve. I’d be happy to speak with anyone who wants to consider running for school board — notwithstanding even this year’s frustrations, it’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I look forward to another exciting year and active and constructive engagement by all! Thanks again, and have a great summer!

Constructive Behavior

School Board service is a funny thing. On the one hand, most recognize that my colleagues and I volunteer thousands of hours for no purpose other than to do the best thing for students. We have no other agenda — we have no political donors or parties to serve and no political career to protect. For me, it still a shining example of a representative democracy. And of course, we have a staff (from the Superintendent on down) who work for this public entity clearly not for the dazzling pay but for their devotion to children and their education. The work done by our leadership in this District is nothing short of groundbreaking.

But every once in a while (and fortunately not very often), people forget this dynamic and somehow imprint their view of politicians in general onto us, and in doing so engage in shockingly negative and downright mean behavior. Such was the case in the board’s discussion last night around the District’s approach to after-school programs. Unfortunately, the frenzy was kicked off by our current vendor, San Carlos/Belmont After School Program (SCBASP), who has been providing after-school programs for decades at some of our school sites. It has always been known by the District that students and families have been generally happy with SCBASP’s program, but the District has been reviewing all partnerships in the context of strengthening programs for kids, best aligning such programs with our overall Strategic Plan (where the goal is very clearly to better integrate all programs throughout the day), and examining financial alternatives given our continued poor funding from the state. Seeing an agenda item for yesterday’s board meeting, SCBASP sent out an alarmist e-mail full of half-truths to the families they serve, who in turn flooded us with e-mails and attended last night’s board meeting. I understand that parents were working with incomplete information, but it demonstrated something about social psychology that so many were willing to jump to conclusions without getting all of the information. I’m glad that many attended last night’s meeting so folks could hear what is really going on (which is the fact that under no circumstances would the after-school program go away — it was question of whether the District should consider “in-sourcing” it). And although some e-mails we received we only asking for more information, the far majority just parroted what they had heard and many went further as to sling insults at the Board at the District.

It saddened me to see members of our community act in this way, and it didn’t stop with the e-mails. Last night’s meeting demonstrated some of the rudest behavior I have seen at our meetings. Last night I tried to remind folks that if their goal is to influence policy, then insulting the policy makers is generally not a winning approach. Board members were constantly interrupted by some members of the audience and ignored the Board President’s plea for civility. It was an ironic lesson for our students in how not to behave.

I don’t know what the outcome will be for this particular decision, but I do know a few things. I am confident that our staff and Board will have an honest and thoughtful discussion and analysis around the issue, taking into account all dimensions of it and always keeping the quality of programs for our children as the prime consideration. I encourage SCBASP to join our ensemble of partners who have worked so hard to find collaborative solutions with the District and not work at odds with it, and I encourage parents to gain this perspective. Please remember that it is constructive engagement which influences.