Supporting the Stanford Sexual Assault Survivor

Like many I am deeply concerned about the light sentence -- 6 months in county jail, and 3 years probation -- recently handed down by Judge Aaron Persky in the Stanford sexual assault case. The victim in that case is a graduate of our school district. Millions of people all over the world have been moved by her clear statement of the impact of Brock Turner's crime on her and the moral clarity of her case that sexual assault deserves serious consequences.

Judge Persky had to bend over backwards in order to find a basis for a sentence for Mr. Turner that was below the statutory minimum. I believe that was a serious mistake in judgment that does not reflect the seriousness of sexual assault, and that leaves young women in our community less safe.

I support the effort to recall Judge Persky from office and to replace him with judge who will treat all sexual assault seriously, no matter who commits this crime or where it takes place. I urge you to support that effort by signing up for updates and donating at the recall campaign website. My wife Michele Dauber, a professor at Stanford Law School, is the chair of the recall campaign. 

Board Retreat Monday, June 13

The school board will hold its annual June retreat tomorrow, Monday, June 13, at the Sheraton Hotel in Palo Alto, beginning at 8:30 am. We will be discussing a report on special education services, student wellness, class sizes in our middle and high schools, and district priorities for the 2016-17 school year. I hope that you can join us. I'll provide an update about the discussion in my next blog post.

New Special Education Law Firm

I'm very pleased that on June 7 the board approved a contract with Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo that effectively ends the district's relationship with the law firm Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost (FFF). FFF played a negative role in the district's conflictual relationship with OCR before I joined the board, and in my view contributed significantly to an unnecessarily adversarial stance towards special education families, as I've written before. In addition, I'm hopeful that switching to a new firm will result in lower legal fees for the district.

2016-17 Budget

The school board is set to adopt a budget for 2016-17 at the board meeting on Tuesday, June 21. At the June 7 board meeting I expressed my concern that the budget does not fix the current problem of excessively large class sizes in our high schools, and that it risks greatly increasing class sizes as high school enrollments grow over the next several years.

There are many classes in our high schools that are substantially larger than the 28.5 students set by our district standard (with a lower standard for some 9th and 10th grade classes). Based on district data, 425 academic classes in our high schools had 30 or more students last year. The problem exists across the curriculum. Half of all math courses in our high schools were larger than the standard last year, including every Algebra II/Trig course. Half of all science courses were too large, including 7 out 11 AP Biology classes and 8 out of 10 Physics H classes. 60% of Paly English courses are over the standard, including many courses with over 30 students. Every US Government class at Paly had more than 28.5 students.

Unfortunately, the proposed budget does not address this problem. Community members who have analyzed this data estimate that it would take 15-18 additional teachers to reduce high school class sizes to meet the standard. By contrast, next year's budget includes 3 teachers to reduce class sizes.

A separate, equally serious issue is that enrollment at Paly and Gunn will increase by 630 students by 2020, as the large "bubble" cohorts currently in middle school enter high school. Obviously, high school class sizes will rise substantially if we don't increase the number of high school teachers to meet that demand. Staff is proposing hiring 20 more teachers over this period. However, that depends on property tax revenues consistently increasing over the next 4 to 5 years. That is possible but unlikely, based on historical experience.

The board had an opportunity to hire enough teachers to fully address both of these challenges -- but chose instead to devote nearly all of surplus from last year's property tax revenue increase to staff compensation increases. Now, the question is how to increase teacher hiring going forward. The best way to do that is to shift spending from non-educational purposes into teaching. I have asked Superintendent McGee to return with a proposal to cut spending in the district office. I have also tried (unsuccessfully to this point) to resist increases to staffing in Human Resources and other central office functions, and to moderate raises for senior-level district staff members. I'll continue to work to ensure that taxpayer money is spent on education and to try to hold down spending in areas that don't directly benefit students.

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

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