Blogging Bayport Alameda

October 26, 2012

Who I’m voting for: School Board

Of all the things that I never imagine would spark a number of comments, I didn’t realize that funding for animals and an expanded Oakland Zoo would elicit such a response.   I wish V Smoothe’s blog was still around because she had these great posts about the Oakland Zoo and the Knowland Park expansion.   I’ll leave folks with this video from a guy who works (worked?) at the Oakland Zoo, who sums up the importance of the Zoo better than anyone else can:

His comments stuck with me the first time that V Smoothe published a post about this topic a few years ago and they are still relevant today.

But now, School Board…

School Board: This one was definitely the most difficult one for me, that’s why I saved it for last.    I’ll say that I haven’t been that pleased with the contentious relationship between the school administration and the teachers union and sometimes I wonder if we would be at this really awkward situation if Measure A had not passed.   Not that I am displeased that the School District doesn’t have to worry about as much about money as before, but there was much more of a collaborative spirit when everyone was forced to make sacrifices instead of jockeying for who gets what funding.   It just makes me sad that while there was a need for everyone to come together and work toward a common goal, everything else was pushed to the side, but now that there is funding it feels as though there is jockeying over what to do with the dollars that everyone worked collectively for the good of Alameda students.

It’s interesting that while everyone was working toward that common goal of getting the parcel taxes passed  it was clear that Trish Spencer, who voted against Measure E and worked actively against its passage and who did nothing to support Measure A, wasn’t working toward the common goal.   But now with the passage of the parcel tax and contentious relations between the teachers union and the school administration (particularly the Superintendent) Trish Spencer’s record has been “airbrushed” to the point of hazy resemblance to her stated intent at the time and she has become the political darling of folks who were hypercritical of her less than two years ago.

I’ve already outlined a number of ways that Trish Spencer is not the right fit for the School Board, but let me talk about why others are right for the School Board.   I’ll first premise this by pointing out something that was mentioned by Hospital Board member Jordan Battani at a candidate forum.   She noted that during rough times for an organization — in her case, the Hospital Board — having consistency in leadership is a good thing.   So while I can’t say that I’m 100% behind everything that the current administration and School Board have done, I do know that these next few years are critical times, financially, for the School District.   I think that a sea change on the School Board wouldn’t be a helpful thing for Alameda’s students particularly because the goal of the AEA slate — for lack of a better term  — is to “disrupt the norm” or something like that, it’s language that School Board candidate Jon Murphy insisted on using.   Shaking up the School Board may seem like a good idea on paper, but if the result is an obstructionist policy then everything will grind to a halt and nothing meaningful will be accomplished.   That’s why voting for Trish Spencer, Jon Murphy, and Kurt Peterson is a bad idea.

While Barbara Kahn has been lumped into the AEA Slate, she stated very clearly that she was not part of any slate and has indicated that unlike the other AEA Slate candidates she would not be interested in getting rid of the Superintendent having seen the problems that arise with such a drastic overhaul.   While I really respect Barbara Kahn and her commitment to school related issues in Alameda, at this time I will probably not be voting for Barbara Kahn.   With that said, if she is elected, I think that she would do a fine job and I don’t believe that she would be beholden to AEA as others might fear.

On the note of others I will not be voting for, I think that Tom Lynch is an interesting candidate, but I feel less than convinced of who he is as a candidate and therefore as a possible School Board member.   It feels a little as though Tom Lynch is playing as many sides as possible and it leaves things a little bit of a question mark as to where he, as an individual, feels on any given issue.   The one issue that I have heard him talk about with great conviction was on AB 5 (teacher evaluation legislation) and if he can begin to talk about other Alameda USD issues with similar conviction he may be able to win himself more fans.

My first vote will go to Ron Mooneyhonestly the stand he took on Lesson 9 and putting himself out there should have been enough for him to sail into re-election easily.  One aspect of leadership is to stand up for issues that may not make you popular with everyone, but is the right thing to do.   When we reflect back on the whole Lesson 9 debate and discussion, even the person who voted against Lesson 9 is attempting to re-invent the narrative as to what happened and cast herself in the role she did not play two years ago, Ron Mooney stood firmly on the side of supporting what is right for this community.  Add to this, Ron Mooney‘s keen understanding of school finances and budgets as well as his genuine and steadfast dedication to all things public schools related and under normal circumstances he would enjoy widespread support from everyone.

My second vote goes to Niel Tam for much of the same reasons that I am voting for Ron Mooney, particularly the whole standing on the right side of the Lesson 9 issue and making himself vulnerable to a recall attempt.   Which, while it didn’t go anywhere, can’t be a particularly pleasant feeling or situation to go through.   While Niel Tam has been criticized for not being a particularly vocal School Board member, you all know how I feel about asking endless pointless questions, I found him to be incredibly thoughtful based on his questionnaire answers and his forum performances.  This is clearly a man who understands the inner workings of daily school life and that knowledge is invaluable on the School Board.   As with Ron Mooney under normal circumstances he would enjoy widespread support from practically everyone, but that he’s not speaks more to the contentious nature of the relationships than to Niel Tam‘s abilities as a School Board member.

My final vote was a lot harder for me to get to, for a while it was a toss up between the two mentioned above that I am not voting for and Michael Robles-Wong.  I was uncomfortable with some of his stances on non School related issues, but I finally grew increasingly more comfortable with the idea of voting for Michael Robles-Wong after hearing him speak at a candidates forum.  I think that he definitely has the leadership skills to bring issues to consensus, but also a pretty definite independent streak that should make him a thoughtful School Boardmember.   His willingness to put his name behind big efforts means that he is willing to stand up for the causes he believes in.   I don’t think folks should worry about him being a rubber stamp for anyone.

So, School Board: Ron Mooney, Niel Tam, Michael Robles-Wong


  1. Kahn’s words the last few months have made it clear she IS very interested in canning Vital. I’d go so far as to say it appears to be her #1 reason for running. She hasn’t come right out & said “I will fire her” but the vibe is pretty strong, IMO.

    As for not being the union’s tool, well she did pose for the photo displayed on AEA’s web page, and she has accepted their support. She has not disavowed any of their stupid & unproductive behavior, like trying to skip the fact finding meeting (in which they got shredded). Quite the opposite, she has parroted their BS talking points trying to spin the results of that episode. Beholden may not be the right word, but she is very obviously an AEA-all-the-way candidate.

    But your yes votes are the right ones, good job. The kind words for Mooney are a pleasant surprise. He really is a first class boardmember and a first class person, and he doesn’t get much press for either. I am pleased to see such strong praise for him.

    Comment by Jack Schultz — October 26, 2012 @ 8:54 am

  2. Barbara Kahn posted this on her Face Book page this morning:

    “I decided to run for the school board because the current board was putting the wants and desires of the adults ahead of the needs of the kids in the community.

    Essentially the experience that students have stems from the teachers with whom they interact on a daily basis. The administration, the superintendent has a function but it is one that impacts students indirectly. When teachers feel und
    ervalued by an administration it affects their performance. They continue to care for their students, do their jobs, but the spark of enthusiasm is dimmed and the extra that they might invest is gone.

    I had hoped that someone closer in age to the parent community would step forward to speak for the kids, but when no one did, I felt that it was my obligation to do it for them So here I am—a grandma running for the school board.

    The board that makes the decisions now gave the superintendent a significant raise, health coverage fully paid for by the district and an opportunity to increase her salary by 15000 dollars a year by setting goals that she herself chose and meeting them. They gave her this for 4 years. Teachers were not given the same consideration. I felt that this was unacceptable.

    This board also has agreed to move out of its current office and rent space at Marina Village at a cost of over half a million dollars per year. Initially the story was that the state was requiring the move because the building did not meet the earthquake standards of the Field Act. But the Field Act applies only to k-12 students so what was the rationale? The safety of the employees? I agree that the building is not likely to withstand a huge quake on the Hayward Fault. Neither is South Shore which would probably liquefy, or many of the rest of the older buildings in Alameda. If safety was the concern they should have moved out immediately. The Hayward Fault is not waiting for them to move. When Wood School needed seismic work, students went on double session at other schools. Safety trumped convenience.

    These decisions were made with little sunshine on them. They were made at times when there would be little or no public awareness. The city council operating under a sunshine ordinance has engaged the community repeatedly when policies and choices were on the agenda. The school board has not done that. The school district has the capacity to inform the community when an important choice is to be made—they are able to make robocalls to every parent in every school, to encourage participation. Instead they rely on posting agendas on websites — legal perhaps, but good government no.

    I am running because that has to change

    Comment by Not. A. Alamedan — October 26, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

  3. I have known Barbara Kahn for almost 40 years, since my eight years on the Alameda School Board in the 70’s. She was then, and is now, very dedicated to the Alameda School system and is an advocate for the students. She has never been devious or untruthful. I have spoken with her in person within the last two weeks. Her number 1 reason for running is to work to improve the District. She does not support the AEA’s stances on the issues they are advocating.

    Comment by James Nolin — October 26, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

  4. Jack S. – Barbara Kahn stated unequivocally at the Democratic Club forum that she was not interested in trying to can Superintendent Vital. She’s told me the same in conversation and I have no reason not to believe her. I agree with Lauren’s recommendations, but wanted to add that clarification as I think Kahn’s been deliberate in making it clear that she doesn’t see getting rid of the Superintendent as an endgame.

    Comment by jkw — October 26, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

  5. W was a uniter, not a divider, and he had no interest in nation building.

    Rob Bonta couldn’t fire Ann Gallant because he had never worked with her & didn’t know her.

    We know these things because those politcians stated them unequivocally.

    Comment by Jack Schultz — October 26, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

  6. jkw … you are dishonest and a detriment to Alameda

    Comment by mom — October 27, 2012 @ 8:17 am

  7. Mom, you are a paragon of virtue. And I bet you’re a snappy dresser too!

    Comment by Oh the Irony! — October 27, 2012 @ 8:41 am

  8. What did JKW do before coming to Alameda? That’s right, he was in the “entertainment industry”. At which he did not succeed, apparently. But he did come to believe the world revolves around himself.

    Comment by vigi — October 27, 2012 @ 4:38 pm

  9. Ron Mooney and Niel Tam have supported the unwise choices being made by the district. The status quo has brought us questionable raises, contentious teacher relationships, and overspending on new offices. The argument for stability falls flat in light of these issues. Regarding Lesson 9, I believe Trish Spencer’s views are being misrepresented. She responds to the criticisms in this article:

    Comment by Shannon Whitley — October 27, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

  10. 8) do you mean like arnold swarznegger?

    Comment by mom — October 28, 2012 @ 7:49 am

  11. If you are a fiscal conservative, you would vote for Trish Spencer – against the Sup’s raise at a time when the District told the teachers there is no money, and against the move to the hyper expensive offices when the City would have given them space at the West end offices for 1/4 of the price. Tam and Mooney voted for both. Lesson Nine is a red herring…. Spencer supported Lesson Nine when it was expanded from covering “gays” to covering everyone who might be bullied. That is a sensible position. By comparison, President Obama just “changed his mind” on the issue of gay marriage, but I don’t see anyone in the liberal community harboring resentment against him for his previous views and refusing to vote for him. At least be consistent.

    Comment by Commonsense — October 28, 2012 @ 8:41 am

  12. Commonsense,

    President Obama’s evolution was towards fairness and equality for all. In contrast, when push came to shove, Trish Spencer sided with those who argued against fairness and equality. Her vote to support the anti-bullying curriculum only lasted until she realized that the curriculum she voted for would include lessons directed to LGBT students and families. She then reversed her vote on the curriculum. Here’s a very compelling summary from people who were closely involved I the issue.

    As for your contention about property offered by the City for use by the District, I challenge you to post the factual basis for your claim. The summary presented to the Board shows that the property offered by the City was MORE expensive than the alternatives (and had seismic issues to boot). While I understand concerns about the optics of the lease, so far, no one seems to have come up with a viable alternative — including Ms. Spencer. It’s very easy to criticize. It’s much harder to find solutions.

    Comment by Oh the Irony! — October 28, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

  13. Sorry, this is not a game changer, only a diatribe against Spencer despite the fact she ultimately supported an anti- bullying measure. and NO ONE (but you Mooney, Tam and the Sup) contend that the move to the new offices was fiscally responsible when there were unoccupied classrooms also available as well as the old Carnegie library.

    Comment by Commonsense — October 28, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

  14. I guess you don’t have the facts to back up your claims, Commonsense. Again, if you look at the link I posted, you will see that there is not enough empty classroom space to accommodate the personnel who need space. And the Carneigie Library still needs work to make it usable. Among other things, it is not accessible to the disabled. That’s a pretty important feature for school services.

    So it looks like you have no clue what you’re talking about.

    Comment by Oh the Irony! — October 28, 2012 @ 6:46 pm

  15. #13 — Of the four votes taken on the anti-bullying curricula, Ms. Spencer voted “no” three times. Her second vote, true, was a “yes” but she immediately reversed it with a “no” vote (when it was made clear that the program still included lessons about anti-gay bullying specifically). Four months later, she voted “no” again, when the list of literature was presented. So her “ultimate” vote was “no.” In fact, her last two votes were “no.”

    This isn’t a diatribe. It’s a matter of public record.

    Comment by Susan Davis — October 28, 2012 @ 6:53 pm

  16. 13. as poorly as the raise sits with many of us and the irony about the shiny new offices, with kids still having no bathroom on entire floors of schools and climate systems in schools being nearly non existent, it’s still no excuse to support Spenser. Lesson 9 aside, her m.o. on the BOE seems pathologically obstructionist. You might call it a Joan of Arc complex or something. The office move is consternating since conditions at school sites are so bad, but there is no excuse to keep office employees at risk and unfortunately the costs of using school and City property are convoluted at best. My understanding is that sq foot needs would have required Island High property at significant renovation cost, just to start. Your statement about who supported the office move is also wrong. Mike McMahon was on board.

    BTW- I think it accurate to say that the matter of the raise for Vital ( and cabinet) was, as much as anything, based on not wanting to call her bluff about walking if she didn’t get it. I don’t think a majority of yes vote was based on a belief she shouldn’t have shown better leadership and at least postponed a salary increase as an act of solidarity with teachers, but having her leave would have been incredibly disruptive, as would running her out of town now. I haven’t polled the BOE members on the exact reasons for their individual votes and I don’t know that anybody has. Hind sight is 20/20.

    Comment by M.I. — October 29, 2012 @ 8:56 am

  17. 15: Susan Davis is correct–the facts of Trish Spencer’s votes–and the groups with which she has repeatedly allied herself–speak for themselves.

    I agree with Lauren’s recommendations for the Board of Education. Ron Mooney and Niel Tam steadfastly supported expanding AUSD’s efforts to reduce bullying in our schools. (I saw the need for Lesson 9 –which helps ALL students — firsthand as a volunteer at Franklin Elementary for three years. ALL students benefit from the anti-bullying curricula.)

    Mike Robles-Wong, with whom I have collaborated on a couple of non-AUSD efforts, always brings an intelligent, independent, and logical perspective to whatever topic is at hand. Taking the stance he and his g=family did in taking on the State of California indicates the courage and determination of this former police officer.

    Trustee Spencer–with whom I have repeatedly engaged at some length on several issues–is clearly committed to her values but I cannot fathom why she voted repeatedly to oppose the proposed anti-bullying curriculum and also aligned herself with conservative political groups that promoted bigotry under the guise of “family values.” (As a lifelong Christian and an active member of my church for five decades, I cannot reconcile the Bible I know with the stances and comments made by groups such as S.E.R.V.E. and the Pacific Justice Institute, both of which opposed the Lesson 9 curriculum on “religious” grounds.)

    Trustee Spencer has been ineffective ands inconsistent on the Board of Education, too: I have seen her seemingly switch sides with a mind-boggling rapidity in mid-deliberation or appear to argue both sides of an issue simultaneously.

    Alameda needs more well-reasoned solutions–not inconsistency or partisanship–in this emotional and overheated atmosphere.

    Please vote for Mooney, Tam, and Robles-Wong next Tuesday. They will bring the most reasoned and intelligent analysis available to solving the AUSD’s many complex problems.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — October 29, 2012 @ 9:28 am

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