Schools

LASD Trustees may finally conduct a fair public engagement process

LASD trustees seated at the regular meeting table listening to a public commenter
LASD trustees listen to public comments about the MIG fair public engagement process
Written by lalahpolitico

Yes, a fair public engagement process about a long-term BCS-LASD agreement is possible. On May 28, 2019, LASD trustees hired MIG – a well-regarded Berkeley-based public engagement consultancy. The “10-year Agreement”  project is to be headed by consultant Joan Chaplick, who has been with MIG since 2005, serving clients who need planning policy informed by stakeholders’ opinions.  Skills and services at the firm include charrettes, infographics, electronic polling, dot voting, social media, creation of educational materials,  websites, video, all based on ‘social science and transparency.’  They aim to quantify and measure.  They aim to engage in a sequence of communication steps with all the stakeholders – the passionate ones but also the quiet ones – to arrive at a result. Paraphrasing, ‘It may not be the one you want, but there will be a result.’

Summary of Chaplick’s Initial Presentation to the Trustees

Joan Chaplick proposed initiating the project in June with a dozen one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders. She said these people are helpful in identifying types of persons who should be included in the later processes, but who otherwise might be left out. She thought 6 fact sheets might suffice as educational material. She proposed two charettes in the fall where each participant would use a “clicker” to vote and to convey their demographic info. The results of each vote would be presented, and then the ‘conversation’ would move forward. The polling would be anonymous. Joan imagined that participants would be developing novel “solutions” for consideration.

Summary of Discussion and Outcome

Trustees and public speakers all wanted to get the ‘educational materials’ — ‘facts’, top alternatives, some decision criteria and board rationale — out before the public on a web site as soon as possible. In that way, some of the public could start to digest the ‘educational materials’ over the summer.  Thus, a first public discussion charrette or a webinar could start as early as next August. The majority of the trustees hope the BCS board will vet some viable alternatives that can be presented.  The majority of the trustees agreed that explainer videos and the usual MIG procedure of starting a project by conducting some one-on-one interviews with stakeholders were not very necessary and should be put on hold. The $70,000 dollar contract was approved 5-0 with the final contract terms coming back at a June trustee meeting.

Lalahpolitico Bottomline

It will be good to try to get some pertinent unbiased facts collected neatly on a website. But even if we all agree that those facts are true and complete, and we agree on pros and cons of alternatives, a majority consensus may prove elusive. I agree with Trustee Ivanovic that because we all have different values and preferences, we may come to different ideas about what is the “best” and “fairest” compromise 10-year agreement.


TRANSCRIPT:
Edited for Length and Clarity, but fair!

Some Trustees Ask MIG Initial Questions

Trustee Shali Sirkay: It is important that the public has all the information that the Board has… There are a lot of factors the board looks at… It will require more than 4 or 6 education materials…it may require more than 2 charrettes…it’s good to hear LASD will own the info web site…I am glad the clicker polling is anonymous…so more people will feel empowered.

 

Trustee Steve Taglio:

…asks for references…[A Cannabis ordinance was the most fraught, divisive project Joan mentioned.]

Joan Chaplick, online photo

Joan Chaplick: I don’t have kids. I don’t live here. You are my client. But I can’t just deliver the community opinion you want. I can ask questions and organize the results. The answers will help you reach your decision.

Our job is to ensure participation…My job is creating that space where a civil conversation can happen. I can bring the results to you…and then we move on to the next step. That’s my role in these processes.

I can’t just deliver the community opinion you want…My job is creating that space where a civil conversation can happen. – Joan Chaplick, MIG

We want to make sure everyone has the same foundation of facts. …We want to be inclusive…We want to have all of the stakeholders…we have the most passionate…and also the reserved people who communicate and participate differently.  We want to make sure there is room for them. 

We can have different types of communication deliverables. Written, but also short videos and social media. 

 

Trustee Bryan Johnson:   We are not starting from scratch.  So why the charettes to capture new ideas?  [We’ve heard them all.]  What if get a whole bunch of one particular group that shows up? How will you even know?

Joan: We start by asking demographic questions with the polling device  Are you a resident? Are you a parent? etc.


Public Speakers’ Comments

Lalahpolitico – all were current LASD parents except as noted.

Tim Fitzgibbon  

…Two children in Gardner Bullis.  It is important that this process is not perceived as just a procedural step to reaffirm that Egan will move.  It is important to examine other options, it is critical to examine them. It is important to share the data on why other options were rejected and Egan seemed the best option.  This data should be shared as soon as possible. The community can spend time looking at the data and thinking through options. If the public is not happy with this process, it could result in a loss of students and revenue. 


Jeff Draeger

We need an opportunity to engage on alternatives.  Prepare the educational materials by June.  Then begin the community engagement, iterating, so people feel they have some alternative ideas on the table. We need to spend more of the time on that iteration.  Get these Alternatives to Move Egan out in May June.  Get them out quickly. Speed this up a lot. Get into the debate part sooner. 

Amber MacDonald addresses the Board of Trustees LASD

Amber Mac Donald

The community deserves,  needs to look very transparently at all the alternatives that were considered.  We need to have concrete answers to the questions that were raised in those May forums. I think that’s what you plan to do.  We need to build a bridge between both the boards and both the communities {? of parents?} Sometimes I get tomatoes thrown at me.  But in a [short]  2 1/2 month time, I think this might be hard to achieve.  Is this flexible so there can be more engagement, more meetings? And I believe we must include the larger community in this. All means all. We should not do the same thing over and over again. 


Kim Von Wert

I am excited about the first goal –
1) Educate the community about the range of solutions that have been considered in the past. But I am also excited by the second goal
2) Respect the contributions and recommendations of prior community engagements.  I looked at all the [years of] reports/ ‘data’ on the LASD websites of all the task forces.

The 10th site option was not introduced until later….In the final report of the final committee, moving Egan was the lowest ranked option. Per the report: The bond language did not include this option. Building a new school for BCS was the first choice of 6 of the 9 members of that final committee. The ‘Strategy Engine’ report also showed support for locating BCS on a new site.

When I saw the ‘tentative 10-year agreement,’ I thought to myself, ‘What just happened here?’  There was a massive pivot in these closed-door negotiations.  Get these prior recommendations into the MIG educational materials. Explain what happened in the closed-door negotiations.  Stay true to the building principles. Respect the prior community engagement.  [ Some audience clapping, chided by President Jessica Speiser]

Los Altos Politico: Here’s why all those prior recommendations should be discounted.  The committees, the participants were always packed with [over-represented by]  the LASD interest group. SEE THIS. BCS parents are only 20% of the LASD parent community. 


Sharon Clay

Covington, Egan. Parent.  I think you Trustees know all of the options. You don’t need a group of newly informed people to come to you and tell you what the options are. You know them all.  I think you need to just tell us – what are a couple of alternative options other than moving Egan?  The key is education and easy accessibility to the key information that led you to this decision AND how you evaluated those options.  That info should be searchable and easily accessible.  That’s how I would love to see you and us spend June and July. We should all the an “LASD Facilities Camp.” 

Ignoring all the strife and other concerns, I’d like to know what option would be best for LASD’s success. What option would let you [trustees] best serve the needs of this community? [Lalahpolitico: Which community? Both?]  And it’s not the status quo, because we have a 10th site.  For sure it’s not what we have now. It’s something different. Things have changed over time.  We should understand where we should ideally be all. Then we can consider compromises that depart from that, regardless of whether we can get there. What is your vision for LASD.  Get us aligned with that. Then a community discussion would be productive. 


Peipei Yu

Almond Parent. I would like to sign up for the ‘Facilities Camp’. 

There are some changes to the consultant’s process I would like to see.  The focus should be on the one or two options the community can get behind and the rationales.  We should not be focused just on facility configuration. But also understand why the community likes this aspect or that aspect of a proposal.   You guys are the board, I trust you to make a decision. I hope we can leverage the early party of summer.  I agree with condensing the discovery process and focusing more on the hard work.  We need to educate on the policies that the District has to operate under. And how unfair it is to public education and neighborhood schools.  And we need to understand the District’s finances. Then the District can deliver on its mission of providing free public education to all students. I would imagine that any option that would threaten the viability of this district is off the table. We have to look at not how this impacts our children, but how it impacts all of the children.  I would recommend that the polling not be anonymous. I think anonymity breeds dysfunction.  You can publish results on demographics, names, whatever you think is appropriate. 

Lalahpolitico: Wait. Who is going to trust LASD with their name!?  Not too many people.


Alison Biggs

Santa Rita parent.  As of 1 pm, there were over 6000 people have signed the change. org.  That is more than “some people’ as written in the MIG proposal  It is really clear…I was reading through the comments again…”Why aren’t we being informed?”  “The Agreement is not valid.”  “This was my junior high, I loved walking to school with my friends.”  “ No neighbor should have to deal with the traffic of this school.” People are not happy with the solution of moving Egan.  I don’t want to see this process become a way of massaging and rebranding the previous deal. 

Lalahpolitico:  I checked out the change.org petition and saw no way that people who signed up on the internet could be vetted as living in LASD boundaries or could be non-duplicative — aka ballot box stuffing. Also, people sign petitions willy nilly, left and right with near zero info, just some sound bytes.  This is a low bar.


Eric Yu

Oak parent. I want to see a clear goal.  Giving Egan away is not acceptable.  People want one or two alternatives on the table. Let the people decide.  As Peipei pointed out we are facing a bigger issue. We value community, inclusivity, and equality.  We must not let the value be diminished…We can call the charter public education, but the charter takes ‘donations’ that’s not fair that’s not free.  We need to serve all the community members, all the special needs, all the low SES status, everyone, all means all.  For free.  

woman standing adressing trustees seated at a long table

Danielle James addresses the LASD Board of Trustees

Danielle James

Parent Oak, Blach, MV High. I echo the timing of education portion – do it earlier. Let’s make good use of the summer.  Waiting till fall to download a bunch education is going to compress the time left forof the study process. Also, I have concerns about electronic polling. Some of the MIG projects were for ONE community.  But we are TWO communities.  Parties have been so adverse. The process we have to design the process so it truly picks up community input and is not gamed.

Lalahpolitico:  Hear hear. I agree.  It would be a first if this engagement process were not gamed!


Sangeeth Peruri – former LASD Trustee

Covington parent.  The last 10 percent of a process is the most productive, so start with that. The important part is not the discovery of solutions, it’s the assessment of solutions.

After 15 years, the board and the staff know all the solutions. Have the board determine the 3,4,5 viable solutions. Or sets of solutions. Similar to the F Master Plan Committee, FMPC. Confine evaluation to a specific set. You can have another option if something comes out the process so that nothing is missed.

The stakeholder interviews seem odd.  The board should prep the consultant as we did with the FMPC.  The stakeholder interviews could be perceived as behind closed doors.  That feedback should be in the open like in charettes. Outreach videos seemed odd, they should be at the end.  I am very concerned about electronic polling, if it is anonymous, it can be easily doctored. 

Lalahpolitico:  But as I recall the prep by the board of the FMPC consultant was also behind closed doors!? [ A look at FMPC committee eighth meeting.]  The trustees have over prepped, constrained, and throttled the investigations of virtually all the prior citizen committees and engagements.  The answers were doctored. The one exception was the first committee which recommended the District acquire TWO new sites. However, within 2-3 months a second committee was formed and instructed by the Trustees that there was not enough money for two sites, therefore Trustees asked: “What is your recommendation now?”  Duh, “Now it is one new site!”

Tall man standing addressing seated board of trustees

Former Trustee Sangeeth Peruri addresses the board of trustees. He opposes anonymous use of polling clickers at events.  He opposes letting the consultant do preliminary research by conducting one on one interviews with a dozen or so key stakeholders. He says the Trustees should “prep” Joan Chaplick about the situation, not a bunch of stakeholders.

Anne Gaskill

I arrived here in 1954 as a young child…I went to the LASD schools.  I loved the neighborhood schools.  I came back here to raise my son. I worked 20 years for LASD [in administration?]. I see it from all different aspects.  Whether you have a student in school or not, the schools weave the community together. I no longer walk my dog by Egan because of the traffic. BCS was started because Purrissma was taken away.  BCS became a magnet school for Los Altos Hills. 

Lalahpolitico:  Anne’s is one common opinion and set of ‘facts’ believed among long-timers and natives.


Anne Waterman standing at speaker podium

Anne Waterman, BCS Trustee, speaking as a BCS parent and LASD community member.

Herb Marshall

Two kids at Santa Rita.  I hope I’m wrong, but this seems to be an attempt to bring the community up to speed rather than a real engagement process.  The engagement seems to come at the tail end.  We should have a top option approach. The pros and cons and transparency into all the issues. There is a lot of confusion. Honest unbiased information dissemination is needed.  Just 12 stakeholders shaping it seems misguided. Any slow start at the front end will be felt as frustration and mistrust at the tail end.  I don’t want to be sold on the agreement.  I want to be told about the top options and the pros and cons. Let the community truly voice their opinion on what the solution should be. 

Anne Waterman

Current BCS parent. This is my third term on BCS board.  I have worked professionally for over 10 years in education. I’ve networked with Districts, charter schools, and non-profit schools.  I’m optimistic that we can reduce the tensions in our community with a solution that will actually bring peace over time. I appreciate the inclusions of opinions from the entire community. I’ve engaged with all kinds of parents…they want their perspectives considered.  The Bullis Community is open to options. We want to be part of the conversation. Particularly to address misconceptions on both sides. When we just go into an echo chamber, we just miss the other side….I hope Bullis parents can engage in the process. 


Board Discussion:

Trustee Vladimir Ivanovic – 

The discussion comes down to values. When you get the [MIG] data dump, there won’t be info there you haven’t already heard.  How you interpret the ‘data’ will be according to values.

Let me give you an example. Consider articles like “Best places to live in the US”.  If you assign a certain characteristic more weight, you will come up with a different ranking.  That’s what this is all about. 

Importance/ ranking of Traffic, the District’s ability to deliver curriculum, one’s values on inclusion, etc.  That determines the outcome.

So shortening the education portion and lengthening the discussion portion is a good idea. 

Trustee Shali Sirkay –

I agree with Vladamir, let’s revise the timeline,  shorten the education part.

Trustee Steve Taglio –

I agree, but let’s not start engagement until school starts. I’d like to see us share some of the info that came out of the closed sessions we had will the charter.  If we can get them to agree, let’s share it. That would help the community understand what led to where we are.  Can we take the cone of silence off? It would be great.

Trustee Bryan Johnson – 

Joan, can you speak to the interviews of a dozen stakeholders?

Joan –

People say we want to reach the entire community.  This is where we would connect with some Bullis parents, look for some long-time residents, some new residents, is their a neighborhood association? We could look geographically, as to who has expressed interest, who is active.  So we can detect if we are hearing from a lot of people from these categories, but we haven’t reached these categories. The stakeholder interviews let us get a sampling of opinion on the front end. I understand there is concern about the time that they take. They help us make sure that you have definitely included someone.  It’s advice. We can modify those interviews.

Trustee Bryan Johnson – 

So its is it about content generating ideas, or feedback on the structure of the process? Maybe it’s feedback on information design, how they want to see it, that kind of stuff

Joan –

One public speaker we heard just now said it’s not about idea generation, it’s about assessment.  That seems to be a common theme.  How were the options assessed? What were the criteria? We can articulate what those criteria were. And the issue of “What is the value you place on that?”  That could be one of the questions. How should we create the criteria…spelling it out. 

And the issue of “What is the value you place on that?”  That could be one of the questions. – Joan Chadwick, MIG

Trustee Bryan Johnson –

We can pass along the correspondence we’ve received. [Audience Laughter]

Joan –

In school district projects we have this issue of August.  We are going along, getting ready, and then comes August. That month is really dicey for participation. If people will be available…or will there be absence.  

Trustee Bryan Johnson – We could do August

Superintendent Jeff Baier –

I urge caution.  We have criticized the City of Los Altos for holding parent input sessions during August. – LASD Superintenden Baier

Superintendent Jeff Baier seated in between the Clerk and Trustee Steve Taglio

Superintendent Jeff Baier – middle – cautioned against scheduling public engagement events in August. But majority sentiment of trustees leaned to having a first event in August. Trustee Steve Taglio to the right.

Trustee Bryan Johnson –

Do you have best practices or templates, where we could dump some of the information from our website?  We could clean it up over the summer.  That would help a lot of people who are chomping at the bit. We could dig through some of the old documents. 

Joan –

If someone can help with data mining. If there are emails. If we have a list of everything that has been considered.  And a brief description. That would be a start.  We might not be able to answer every question [in the emails?],  we could populate the list.

Trustee Bryan Johnson –

It is important to remember lots of these older considerations by committees were done under very different circumstances. What with BCS’s growth,  and new negotiations with City of Mountain view,  a solution has been a moving target.

To the extent we do put up previous documents on the project website, it is important to describe them appropriately. [as not updated to fit current circumstances] – Trustee Bryan Johnson

Superintendent Jeff Baier –

Many of the people sitting here tonight are very informed.  But if we look at the emails we’ve received, and you listen to public input at board meetings, they will give you a clear understanding there is a lack of knowledge, just from a lack of knowledge, among the people who have provided input.  And that’s just the people who have been engaged to this point. We are talking about doing outreach beyond that.  So some of the regulations and key points, we take as assumed knowledge. It’s not knowledge that should be assumed. 

So some of the regulations and key points, we take as assumed knowledge. But it’s not knowledge that should be assumed. – Superintendent Baier

Joan –

Let me tell you about our project to craft a Cannabis retail ordinance.  “What is your level of agreement about the setback distance from a cannabis shop?”  100, 500, 1000 feet?  They used the clicker to respond.  You get a pie chart that comes up in front of participants.  We tried to get a level of agreement of 70%. That would be neutral to agree, plus strongly agree.  We did that for 36 elements that needed to be specified in the ordinance. There were 84 people participating. 

We got 70% agreement on about 30% of the elements.  There was a middle bunch of elements, where the people wanted more info. There were a few items on which the disparity of opinion was too far apart. That meant we had a lot more work to do.

Bryan Johnson on the left and Vladamir Ivanovich

Trustee Ivanovic described the BCS-LASD relationship as Israelis vs. Palestinians. He said he did NOT agree that the BCS board should participate. He described peoples’ remarks as “stepping on land mines.” He did ultimately vote for the MIG contract. Ivanovic seated on the right. Trustee Bryan Johnson on the left.

Trustee Vladimir Ivanovic –

The validity of the electronic polling is completely dependent on the attendees. Recently there were Sacramento hearing on a charter school bill.  There are 6 million kids in CA in public schools.  About 10% are in charter schools. The Charter association sent supporter 10 to 30 x  to  1. If you polled there….

These meetings can be easily biased. If a group decides to rally.

Joan, [with our project] you have stepped on a land mine. This is a miniature, Israeli-Palestinian conflict. – Trustee Ivanovic

Trustee Bryan Johnson –

The objective here is to reach a long term agreement with BCS. 

So we need to figure out the BCS board’s roll in all this, what the board’s constraints are.  When we are talking about alternative solutions, to echo Steve’s point, can we get a little more information from BCS about alternatives look like from their perspective.  If the constraint is we need to site 100 kids on one 16 acre campus, then the alternatives are limited to 3 and we can lay them out really quickly. 

If the LASD parents have other alternatives, but those are non-starters for the BCS board, we need to factor that in.

Should we send a letter to BCS officially asking for that input? We need to do that sooner than later.  As part of this education process, we can lay out the official positions on BCS parameters.

Trustee Jessica Speiser – It could be a stakeholder interview?

Joan – They are a very important stakeholder in this process

Trustee Vladimir Ivanovic –  You just stepped on a landmine. Because there are some of us who think that is NOT the case. [that BCS should be included, that BCS constraints should be considered]

Trustee Jessica Speiser – This very likely will end up in a negotiated agreement between two parties, and they [BCS] are the other party. 

Trustee Bryan Johnson – Joan, Are you regretting submitting the proposal yet?  [ Laughter?]

Joan – 

You want to make sure that your materials are received [and not rejected by the public.] If you are describing something about the charter school’s position or opinion on a certain educational material, it would be helpful to have their point of view. And it helps to have things presented as neutrally and fact-based as possible. So that it doesn’t feel it is for one-side or the other. 

… “these are the facts…” You can have the District describe it as such and such… and then have the Charter describe it as this and this…those POVs must be included in the process. I’ve heard the phrase…”all means all.” People who disagree with you are included in the all. – Joan Chadwick, MIG

We want to make sure we are creating circumstances and have a conversation. And when options are assessed, make sure that a reasonable person would agree with the pros and cons based on either the criteria or the values that have been articulated by the group. 

[The trustees began to round up the requested changes to the contract: More education up front, the extension of the engagement process to probably 3 charrettes, pushing out info in other venues with a tool that can also receive input. Joan explained that as an educational talk is given, say to Rotary, questions/comments from the people are collected.]

Trustee Shali Sirkay –

How can you be sure the person and their opinion are not duplicated?

Joan –

We don’t. Some people are very active. Some processes we do see people again and again, You recognize them, they are on the sign-in sheet. They are a champion for their POV. They believe that is their civic duty to go out and show their opinion. They are a very small number. [Laughter]

We are always trying to broaden who is included.  People are clear…that it is a format that is going to create discussion.  There is personal accountability.  We find what most of the people agree with. 

Superintendent JeffBaier –

Let me reiterate some contract changes. Stakeholder interviews – we have questions about wanting that.  Shorten the education part in the beginning. Lengthen the charettes part

Trustee Vladamir Ivanovic –

 About the August problem. During August we could share info on the website and get some participation.  I don’t see value in outreach videos at $6K

Left to Right, Trustees Jessica Speiser (President), Bryan Johnson, Vladimir Ivanovic

Left to Right, Trustees Jessica Speiser (President), Bryan Johnson, Vladimir Ivanovic

Trustee Shali Sirkay –

Or we could put that $6K to getting all the info — all the info the board works with — up on the website very, very quickly. So people over the summer can take a look.

Joan –

Regarding August, it is possible to do a webinar.  They have polls. “Participation light.”  The people who are most engaged would see info rolling out.  That is a low-cost tool we could use in August.  Some people will miss the webinar, but we can say the in-person stuff is coming up. 

Trustee Bryan Johnson –  

A lot of people don’t pay attention until the first event goes by.  So I think something in August will be a good start.  I don’t agree with Vlad that video is no good.  If you could circulate an example.  I think LAEF did a video that was effective. 

Trustee Jessica Speiser –

Our parents have different ways of getting information, including video.  I prefer written words, but other people are visual or auditory.

Joan –

We could move the stakeholder interviews and video into a contingency category.  It could remain unspent or fund another event.  Baier identified some amendments…we can get going on the education materials.


Crafting the Wording of a  Motion

The wording of a motion is tossed around…

Staff Jeff Baier and Randy Kenyon suggest some wording, some clauses.

Trustee Bryan Johnson makes the actual motion

Approve the relationship with MIG, not to exceed $70,000 with the details to be worked out as discussed. With money for the videos and interviews moved to contingency. The board will see updated details of the contract at one of our June meetings. 

Passes 5-0 with Vlad chiming in Aye last.


Lalahpolitico Bottomline

It will be good to try to get some pertinent unbiased facts collected neatly on a website. But even if we all agree that those facts are true and complete, and we agree on the pros and cons of alternatives including the “Move Egan’ alternative, a majority consensus may prove elusive.

Even a fair public engagement process may not get us to as much consensus as we hope.

I agree with Trustee Ivanovic that because we all have different values and preferences, we may come to different rankings of what is the “best” and “fairest” compromise 10-year agreement.

I hope this upcoming process actually will be fair for once and not gamed the way the others have been over the last 7 years. I do hope a compromise long-term agreement that gets broad understanding and support can emerge from the effort.

Resources:

You can watch the May 28 meeting item on granicus.com

 

 

About the author

lalahpolitico

Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past several years.