Safer Schools, Smaller Schools and Smarter Budgeting

unity_day.jpgUnity Day is Wednesday, October 21. Remember to wear orange in honor of this celebration of unity and inclusion in our schools!

The next month on the school board includes several discussions with long-term implications for students in PAUSD. These include planning for potential new elementary, middle, and high schools; ensuring that our students are protected against sex and gender-based discrimination, including the "grooming" issue raised by the Kevin Sharp matter; and a discussion of how to improve budgeting in the context of an estimated $6 million estimated surplus of property tax revenues this year.

Next Office Hours are November 2

I won't be holding my regular Monday office hours on October 19 and October 26 (the date of a special board meeting on secondary school enrollment) but will resume on November 2. You can always see my schedule of upcoming events at Where's Ken?

Preventing Sex Discrimination in our Schools

The Weekly's coverage of allegations involving the "grooming" of a high school student by a teacher at Paly, Kevin Sharp, raised issues about the district's response to allegations of Title IX violations involving students. First, I would like to extend my sincere apologies to the student who was the focus of the grooming allegation and to her family. This was clearly a situation that no family should have to experience. Second, I commend the actions of the former student who came forward repeatedly to alert the district to Sharp’s alleged wrongdoing. He did an important community service. Finally, I could not be more impressed with the conduct of Paly Principal Kim Diorio, who was a model of moral clarity and professionalism in a difficult situation.

Two years ago I suggested in the context of the Verde "rape culture" articles that the district could benefit from technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, and this case suggests that there is still a substantial amount of work to do. The initial allegations by the student’s parents were brought to the district’s attention in September 2014. The district should have opened a Title IX investigation immediately. The report that was ultimately prepared by the district's law firm, Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, nine months later in June 2015 omitted consideration of relevant evidence, evidently misapplied the legal standard and ultimately concluded that no Title IX remedies were needed. The district then issued a discipline letter to Sharp that contradicted the results of the Title IX investigation report and found that Sharp "exploited [his] position of power as a teacher to establish the basis for a sexual/romantic relationship with a former student."  I'll continue to work towards a more robust, reliable process for dealing with sexual harassment in our schools.

To that end, at my request an item will appear on the board agenda at the October 27 meeting to discuss authorizing the Superintendent to contact OCR and ask whether PAUSD is eligible to enter into a Resolution Agreement to resolve the two outstanding sexual harassment investigations. Under OCR procedures, any district may request a negotiated Resolution at any time prior to the completion of OCR’s investigation, and can resolve matters without a negative letter of finding. Resolution Agreements in sexual harassment cases typically provide for new policies, training, and procedures that better protect students from both educator and peer harassment. The district would clearly benefit from such measures. There are encouraging recent developments in this direction, including staff working directly with OCR to ensure that the district’s recordingkeeping of sexual harassment complaints is legally compliant.

In addition, I have brought two proposals to the Board Policy Review Committee (BPRC) that will be discussed at the next meeting on October 30. The first requires training for the district's Title IX coordinator, and the second triggers an investigation of possible pre-graduation "grooming" when a teacher begins a sexual relationship with a former student shortly after graduation. Both of these proposals will strengthen the district's protection of students and teachers. I am looking forward to working through these with the superintendent and my fellow BPRC member and committee chair Heidi Emberling, who has been a strong supporter on the committee of policies that protect students.

Smaller Schools for Improved Connectedness and Learning

The Enrollment Management Advisory Committee has been meeting this summer and fall to develop recommendations to the school board for handling enrollment pressures in our schools. The elementary subcommittee presented preliminary recommendations at a recent board meeting, along with an in-depth analysis based on extensive research. I disagreed with the primary proposal (moving over a hundred students from Nixon to Juana Briones, which would have unacceptable traffic impacts on safe routes to school in the Barron Park neighborhood). But I was encouraged by a minority report that would reopen Garland as a K-8 school for Spanish and Mandarin immersion, and potentially Greendell as a neighborhood school to relieve the pressure in the south east. A key priority for the district should be ensuring that every student can attend a right-sized neighborhood school, and I'm pleased that we are on the way towards that goal.

The secondary school subcommittee will bring preliminary recommendations to a special board meeting on Monday, October 26. I expect those recommendations will include a fourth middle school at Cubberley, and possibly a new smaller high school there. Our middle schools are now well over capacity, and a new middle school is clearly needed.

Budget Planning

The school board will hold a study session on Tuesday, November 3 to discuss budget priorities for the 2016-17 fiscal year, as well as how to respond to an estimated property tax revenue surplus of approximately $6 million this year. This is part of a change in how the board approaches budgeting that I advocated for last spring, along with my fellow trustee Terry Godfrey. In the past, the school board has had too little input into budget priorities. This session and others to follow will provide an opportunity for the board to give staff direction in preparing concrete proposals. In fact, one of the items to be discussed is improving high school counseling at Gunn and Paly, including finally closing the gap between the schools by bringing Gunn students the benefits of teacher advisory.

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Contact: [email protected] or 650-906-4340

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