Found: Educational Justice Blog

This is a blog worth checking:

http://edjustice.blogspot.com/

It’s called “Educational Justice.” I like it even though I’m not really much of a progressive. It’s mostly the work of Eric Mar, a San Francisco School Board Commissioner, which in itself is really cool. There’s a lot of stuff here with a local (SF Bay Area) focus. One thing of particular note is Eric’s dissection of some of the reports recently released as part of the well publicized Getting Down to Facts project from the Stanford Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice. Just look at the entries tagged under adequacy.

What’s Wrong with the WCCUSD Citizens Bond Oversight Committee

WCCUSD has a Citizens Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC) as a statutorially required part of the District’s bond construction program. Generally, people who like an extremely expansive bond program think the CBOC is doing great; those who prefer a less expansive program think it is doing — not so great. For an “oversight” committee, this is a definite red flag that something might be wrong with the CBOC.

What kind of factors might be making the CBOC less effective? I’ll touch on a few below, but keep in mind that the ultimate accountability for the bond construction program is on the School Board, which has the power to make the decisions about bond expenditures.

The Scope of the CBOC

There has been a lot of quibbling about what the scope of the CBOC is. Any reasonable person who looks at the Ed. Code provisions governing CBOC and applies a little bit of common sense, can see that the scope of CBOC is essentially limitless concerning the expenditures of bond monies. This doesn’t mean that decisions have to be vetted first through CBOC before a decision can move through the pipeline that leads to a School Board decision, but, if the CBOC does want to look at a decision at any point in the pipeline without this being a requirement for a decision moving through the pipeline, it’s the CBOC’s decision to make. For CBOC to be effective, the broad scope of the CBOC interest in the bond program has to be accepted.

The Stance of the CBOC

The committee is defined as an “oversight” committee in its title. This implies a certain critical distance between the the committee and the bond program. This is not what has been happening. Instead, the CBOC has evolved into something of a booster club for bond expenditures in the District. There might be some place for such a group, but it should be separate from CBOC. For CBOC to be effective, this critical distance needs to be asserted.

Packing of the Committee

The Ed. Code describes a committee with a minimum of 7 members consisting of certain types of members. The WCCUSD CBOC includes more than 20 members consisting of a large variety of members. This tends to make the committee more unwieldy from the the sheet weight and maintenance effort from such a large group. It also dilutes the effect of the statutorially required types of members. A member who “shall be active in a bona fide taxpayers’ organization” is much less effective as a representative of that perspective as 1 of 20 or so other members versus being 1 of 7 members. For CBOC to be effective as an oversight committee, the membership should be slimmed down to 7 to 9 members.

Laws Related to CBOC

Election Reform in WCCUSD

The last WCCUSD (West Contra Costa Unified School District) election was a dramatic demonstration of the power of a huge focused amount of money on a school board election. This money came from a collection of construction interests (union and business) into the hands of two candidates who shared the same organization around the same consultant…and who won. (OK, one of them won by 66 votes, but that’s still winning.) As a side-effect of this, 3 people from a small area in the El Cerrito Hills who tend to work together have a majority on the school board.

What Can Be Done about This

I guess you could just accept this as being democracy in action, but I think most people who don’t have a vested interest in the current ruling majority on the Board would regard the kind of imbalance produced by this situation to be democracy in form only. If you think this situation calls for reform, there are some immediate potential solutions that present themselves:

  1. Term Limits
  2. Campaign Contribution Limits

Unfortunately term limits doesn’t get to the root of the problem. It just changes the cast. Contribution limits, on the other hand, would require State action within the confines of what the courts would permit. You could try locally to pass some kind of non-binding resolution to get candidates to agree to spend no more than $X, but then what should be $X be and it’s still non-binding.

The Better Solution: Ward Elections

One immediate way to get at the big money influence on School Board elections is to reduce the scope of the campaign for each candidate. By breaking up the district into electoral wards, the cost to mount a credible campaign is significantly reduced and the effectiveness of the marketing bought by large amounts of money is lessened because of the more neighborhood nature of campaigns in such smaller wards.

As a side-effect, this would satisfy some of the feelings that many have had that the District is too big and should be broken up. Ward elections would essentially create mini-districts within the District without having to overcome the almost impossible hurdle of formally breaking up a District.

Getting to Ward Elections

The manual for school district organization can be found at:

http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/lr/do/

The chapter of interest is chapter 10. In our county, the County Committee on School District Organization is the same as the County Board of Education. There are three possible bases of representation:

  • Elected-At-Large Trustees
  • Elected-by-Ward (District) Trustees Who Must Reside in the Ward
  • Elected-by-Ward (District) Trustees Who Can Reside Anywhere in the District

There are two basic approaches to changing from at-large representation to one of the other forms:

  • County Committee Puts It on the Ballot
    1. County committee receives request or initiates action to create or abolish trustee areas. [Ed. Code (EC) 5019]
    2. County committee calls and conducts at least one public hearing in the district on the matter. (EC 5019)
    3. At the conclusion of the hearing, the county committee approves or disapproves the proposal. The approval of the proposal constitutes an order of election. (EC 5020)
    4. Proposal is placed on the ballot not later than the next succeeding election for members of the governing board. [EC 5020(a)]
    5. If a majority of those voting approve the establishment or abolishment of trustee areas, any affected board member serves out his or her term, and succeeding board members are elected according to the selected method. (EC 5021)
  • 10% Petition Puts It on the Ballot
    1. Petition is filed containing at least 10 percent of the signatures of the district’s registered voters proposing to create or abolish trustee areas. [EC 5020(c)]
    2. Prior to placing the issue on the ballot, the county committee may call and conduct one or more public hearings on the matter. [EC 5020(c)]
    3. Proposal is placed on the ballot at the next succeeding regularly scheduled election, the next succeeding statewide primary or general election, or the next succeeding regularly scheduled election at which the electors of the district are otherwise entitled to vote, provided that there is sufficient time to place the issue on the ballot. [EC 5020(c)]
    4. If a majority of those voting approve the establishment/abolishment of trustee areas, any affected board member serves out his/her term and succeeding board members are elected according to the selected method. (EC 5021)

Why This Blog

This blog is really an outgrowth of the “wccusdtalk” Yahoo discussion list, which I set up and moderated initially. As I have participated in this list, I have noticed a tendency for people to do various things that I would consider blogging (long essay-like posts, thinking out loud, etc.), instead of the more direct conversational style that fits the model of the mailing list better.

My suggestion that bloggers use a blog didn’t meet much of a reception, but it did get me to thinking that this would be great to do myself. With a blog I can miss a whole conversation that has passed by on wccusdtalk and still put in my two cents in as blog entry. Or, summarize a done thread. Or, post an article because it seems more appropriate here than as a mailing list posting. I can also constantly edit my postings. And, postings are also more findable on the Internet. It goes on…

I haven’t given up on wccusdtalk, though. I look at blogging as a complement to posting.