Saturday, January 5, 2013

School Accountability Report Cards, Public Access to Meetings On the Agenda for Jan. 10 SCUSD Board Meeting

The Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) has another full agenda for its first meeting of 2013.

Interim annual reports about current bond projects are on the agenda. Both bond issues – 2004's Measure J ($315 million) and 2010's Measure H ($81 million) – are for capital improvements to school facilities and both have a clean bill of health.

The district is also opening a request for bids to provide travel services for the district for the rest of the school year for multi-day field trips, athletic competitions, band performances, educational study trips, and special events.

The board will also be asked to approve hiring an Interim Assistant Superintendent, Business Services Division, Dana Taylor, at $85.00 per hour for up to 960 hours, for the remainder of the school year. This follows the retirement of the former Asst. Superintendent, Jim Luyau, after a 2012 extraordinary audit (report and analysis)  by the County Office of Education found questionable accounting practices on the part of district employees who were handling bookkeeping for two other county education agencies. Dana Taylor has experience in Moreland School District and was recommended by the Santa Clara County Office of Education.

Discussion Items:

School Accountability Report Cards (SARCs). These are detailed analyses of each school in the district, including: physical plant, materials, per-pupil spending, teacher salaries, demographics, and student performance. One observations: teacher salary and per-pupil spending doesn't predict student performance, but – no surprise – the percent of economically disadvantaged students does.

This item could be an opportunity for en encore of the Dec. 13th out-of-the-blue proposal made by Board Member Ina Bendis to make Bracher a K-6 – or K-8 – school. Making such a proposal through a routine Board Agenda, and without prior investigation or discussion is highly unusual, and provoked a tsunami of criticism from district teachers and parents, and accusations of hidden agendas and conflicts of interest. Board Member Chris Stampolis' children attend Bracher. Bendis has donated to Stampolis' political campaigns and provided him with pro bono legal advice

Posting Past Board Agendas and Minutes on the District Website, Video-Recording Board Meetings, proposed by Board President Christine Kolterman. There has been discussion over the years about bigger online archives, video-recording (instead of just audio-recording) and TV broadcast of board meetings. In the past the board majority ruled that the additional equipment, data storage and staff costs weren't justifiable. 

The irony here is that two sitting board members who opposed these moves lost re-election campaigns arguably because of the opacity of board proceedings. In the past, the Board kept detailed minutes of discussions. Baord Member Bendis objected, claiming that the minutes were biased, and the Board now keeps an action-only summary. 

Update from the Superintendent regarding the District's Extraordinary Audit Report: The Superintendent will present the district's 3-part plan to prevent similar abuses in the future:
·      Internal Control Structure: e.g. documentation
·      Hard Controls: signing authorities, monitoring
·      Soft Controls: social, i.e. employee roles

Public Access to Board Meetings.

Expect plenty of discussion on this topic, precipitated by the last three board meetings (Dec. 13, 18, and 19) which saw overflow crowds and audience behavior more familiar in the context of a sports competition than a school board meeting. A change of venue as well as rotating meeting locations will be discussed.

Board Members Ina Bendis and Christine Koltermann are trying to frame this as a civil rights issue on the grounds that the people who didn't get seats – some of whom may not speak English and at least one of whom was apparently disabled – were denied access to public meetings. As these meetings also were the setting for harsh criticism of the actions of the board's new majority – Bendis, Koltermann, Michele Ryan, and Stampolis – Bendis and Koltermann also allege that the their critics have suppressed other points of view by taking up all the seats.

Bendis previously set the tone for this discussion of civil rights and public decorum by referring to those who had reserved seats as an "exalted class." Over her 6-year tenure on the Board, Bendis has contributed to the lack of decorum she now bemoans with other similarly sarcastic remarks belittling other board members and district employees. She has also the subject of two harassment complaints brought against SCUSD. And last year she filed a police complaint (subsequently dismissed) against former Board Member Pat Flot, claiming that Flot had physically threatened her. Flot claims this was aimed at intimidating Flot from running for the board seat that opened up when long-time board member Don Bordenave retired.

Bendis also has claimed special privileges for herself, including speaking beyond the two-minute limit and a private office, on the grounds that she has ADHD, a disability that must legally be accommodated. Despite her ADHD, in the course of her 60+ years Bendis managed to earn a Ph.D.,, M.D.,  J.D. and admission to the California Bar.

Also under discussion
  • A process for qualifying search firms for finding a new Superintendent to replace Bobbie Plough who announced her retirement following Dec. 13's chaotic, 7-hour board meeting. This makes the third time SCUSD has hired a new Superintendent in 6 years. At the Dec. 19 meeting, Bendis proposed a subcommittee appointed by Board President Koltermann to research search firms. This was voted down 6-1 by the board. 
  • New instructional materials/resources for AP Foreign Language
  • New editions of handwriting and literacy intervention – who guessed that penmanship was still taught in school? You certainly couldn't prove it by my son's writing.
  • New Construction and Engineering Program Teacher position
  • Scheduling an SCUSD Board Governance Retreat
No indication about whether there will be a report from the Stampolis and Ryan about their recent trip to China, sponsored by the Hanban Institute of the Chinese Ministry of Education. 

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