Putting Students First
Ken is a member of the Palo Alto Unified School District board, elected in 2014.
I hope you had a great summer break. With the first week of school behind us, the school board's first regular meeting of the year is Tuesday, August 25. This post highlights some of the key issues for that meeting, and looking forward to this year.
This Tuesday's school board meeting includes several pieces of good news about the district's homework policy. The policy homework, adopted in 2012, sets time guidelines for homework and standards for homework purpose and content. (I sat on the district committee that drafted the policy). The time guideline is roughly 10 minutes per grade per night: for example, homework for 8th graders should not exceed 80 minutes per night.
Unfortunately the policy languished after adoption, as district staff didn't follow up with implementation, and the school board didn't ensure that it was actually being put into place with appropriate supports and feedback. That began to change during the last school year. I pledged during the school board campaign to make implementing the policy a priority. Superintendent McGee wrote a memo to teachers communicating that the policy would finally be implemented. The district also contracted with Hanover Research to evaluate consistency across courses and schools, a charge that included looking at homework practice. That report will be presented at Tuesday's board meeting. It includes a wealth of data about homework, including teacher expectations of homework load by subject in the high schools (I'll focus on this Hanover data in a subsequent blog post).
I recently wrote to the California Fair Political Practices Committee (FPPC) for formal written advice on whether my past work and advocacy in relation to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) prevents me from voting on matters involving OCR as a member of the PAUSD school board. The PAUSD conflict of interest code and the Political Reform Act provide that a conflict arises when an elected official has a personal financial interest in a decision. I don’t believe I have a conflict of interest, as neither I nor anyone in my family has any financial interest in any matters involving OCR.
However, this question has been raised repeatedly, and I expect it may be raised again as issues involving OCR come before the board in the coming year. That is why I am asking the FPPC for advice in order to definitively resolve this issue. I included in my letter to the FPPC a full description of my prior consulting relationship with OCR, my advocacy in the community around related issues, and all correspondence I have had with anyone at OCR on any issues relating to Palo Alto. My letter and all attachments are available for downloading from Google Drive.
At the next school board meeting on Tuesday, June 9, the board will consider two important items: the 2015-16 budget, and evaluation of the district's law firms (the Weekly has an article on the law firm review, with background information and some comments from me). As I pointed out in my last post, one firm, Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost (FFF), has seen a very substantial increase in fees. FFF handles special education and Office for Civil Rights (OCR) related issues for the district. In 2009, FFF billed the district just under $30,000. Since 2012, PAUSD has paid FFF over $900,000, and the estimate for next year is $250,000. During the election I promised to look into these expenditures and work to reduce them.
Consistent with this pledge and to prepare for the board review, in late March I requested the last two years of FFF's correspondence with the district. I ultimately received access to those materials a few weeks ago. Based on my review of that information, as well as what is publicly known, I believe that we should look for alternatives to FFF that will more effectively:
- control legal costs
- provide effective advice that is focused on achieving concrete results for the district
- meet the needs of special education students without unnecessary conflict,
- help to promote transparency in policy formation and compliance with the Brown Act and the Public Records Act
||Supporting each student's intellectual, social and emotional development. Read more...
||Reducing school overcrowding and creating positive learning environments by reopening closed schools. Read more...
||Preparing students with 21st century skills including foreign language instruction for all elementary school students. Read more...
||Making decisions based on data and best practices, in an inclusive, collaborative and responsive process. Read more...
Ken would love to hear from you! You can email him at email@example.com or give him a call at 650-906-4340.