News

School board critiqued in scathing district audit

Report: MV Whisman meetings are a "circus," board doesn't focus on systemic problems

Mountain View Whisman School District officials plan to take a long, hard look at their own performance, following the release of a $275,000 district audit that detailed a myriad of problems plaguing the district.

The initial findings, released in November, found a series of systemic problems that are holding back students throughout the district, particularly English-language learners and students with disabilities. The initial findings neglected to mention the performance of the elected school board.

The full report, now available on the district's website, reveals that the dysfunctional school board is also to blame for poor student achievement in the district, with a misguided focus that puts student learning on the back-burner. The board is set to discuss the report at its Jan. 7 meeting.

The report had nothing but good things to say about Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph, who proposed the audit by Cambridge Education, a company he's worked with previously. The report commends him for his frequent meetings with school community members, as well as bringing "positive energy to the district office and school communities."

This contrasts significantly with the audit's critique of the board, which found that trustees have acted as a barrier -- rather than a facilitator -- to raising the quality of academic programs in the district.

The report found that the district was plagued by "strained" relationships between individual board members and district staff, and that board meetings would often break down into contentious debates that rarely yield anything of value.

Parents, community members and district employees told the auditors that they were distressed by the behavior of the board members, calling it unprofessional and unproductive. Parents described board meetings as "an absolute circus where nothing gets done," and school staff have since shied away from attending board meetings. One teacher told auditors that she would like to bring students to a board meeting to learn about local governance, but decided it really didn't serve as a good example, considering the actions and behaviors of board members.

"When debates about any issue arise, they often descend into prolonged arguments that ultimately arrive at no consensus," the report states.

Throughout 2015, the board had been focused squarely on school construction and management of bond funds, which the report cited as an issue. Rather than address the district's systemic academic issues that are holding back students learning English and students with disabilities, the report states that the board has instead opted to pour most of its energy into construction planning and the possibility of a new school at Slater Elementary.

"The consistent lack of board leadership and focus on improving student achievement for all students is proving detrimental to the culture of the district and reinforces low expectations for learning."

In the months leading to the audit, the school board grappled with costly school designs for the shared Castro and Mistral Elementary campus, which at one point ballooned to over $50 million before a series of cut backs brought it down to $43 million. At some meetings, the board would labor over school designs for hours, with board members Steve Nelson and Greg Coladonato often disagreeing with staff recommendations in favor of a leaner project.

And despite the narrow focus, the district is on anything but an expedited building schedule. The report notes that delays on the part of the board have caused construction costs to go well over budget. District staff estimates that $220,000 in "opportunity costs" were lost for every week that the district failed to invest the remaining Measure G bond money.

Less obvious to the public are the problems between board members and district staff that occur behind the scenes. District personnel often find themselves stuck mediating between board members and the community, and spend a great deal of time responding to "arbitrary requests" by board members, according to the report.

In 2014, former Superintendent Craig Goldman told the Voice that Nelson would frequently make large requests for information that would take significant staff time to put together.

Academic problems

While the school board has been locked up in lengthy debates, the report notes that several pressing issues have gone unaddressed. Pointing to the state test results from last year, the report found that underlying problems within the district office have caused English-language learners and students with disabilities to perform well below their peers.

The English-language learner program in the district, for example, is described as "ineffective, inconsistent and, in many ways, counterproductive," with a "clear gap between the district's intention of what should happen through the English-language learner program and what is actually happening in schools."

The report also pointed to the massive differences in test scores from one school to another as a sign that the district's quality of education fluctuates from one campus to another. Huff Elementary had 88 percent of its students pass the state standards for English-language arts last year, with Stevenson Elementary not far behind at 86 percent. By contrast, only 28 percent of students at Theuerkauf Elementary were able to meet the standards, and a dismal 19 percent met standards at Castro Elementary.

Demographics are heavily skewed in some of Mountain View's schools, with mostly low-income and minority students at Castro and Theuerkauf, but the report does not mention this as a excuse for the poor test scores. Instead, the report urges the district to "create a plan to raise the level of achievement in all schools so there is not such a wide range in the levels of success on state assessments from school to school."

The board was originally scheduled to discuss the results of the audit at the December board meeting, but the auditing company was slow to get the report to district staff. The district revealed last month that a donation from Google paid for the audit's $275,000 tab.

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Comments

13 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jan 7, 2016 at 1:51 pm

How about we stop leaning on Google. We did better as a community without the likes of them.


10 people like this
Posted by Matt
a resident of Gemello
on Jan 7, 2016 at 2:19 pm

@Parent: Can you please elaborate a bit?


27 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2016 at 2:22 pm

In other words, school staff don't like being questioned, and they hired a consultant to say so.

I'm sure it is easier for everyone when the school board acts as a rubber stamp for the staff reports. But that isn't their job.


24 people like this
Posted by Incentive
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jan 7, 2016 at 2:23 pm

Rather than blast MVWSD, let's give the district a few years to respond and improve. I'm sure the district wasn't expecting an "A" and took a bold step to be measured. If the public response is one completely negative and accusatory, what incentive would districts have to conduct such an audit.

The key is that the next audit must show substantial improvement.

PS - I would've liked to see more commentary on the day-to-day on campuses...after all, that's where the rubber meets the road. The Board, which could change significantly in an upcoming election, received too much "play". We didn't need a $275K audit to tell us about the Board.


24 people like this
Posted by Steven A.
a resident of North Bayshore
on Jan 7, 2016 at 2:27 pm

$50 million for a school? Let's hope they're teaching kids how to spin straw into gold.


41 people like this
Posted by Otto Maddox
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jan 7, 2016 at 2:28 pm

$275,000 to find out what we already knew?!?!?

Non-english and special needs kids have a harder time learning things??!??!

No kidding.. didn't need a report to tell me that.

Also didn't need a report to tell me the Board is dysfunctional. Attend a couple meetings and you'll see it for yourself.

Interesting how the company picked by the Superintendent, a company he has used in the past, gives the Superintendent good scores.

What a waste of $275,000.

We, the people who pay for this, are so stupid. When will we learn?


27 people like this
Posted by Ron
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 7, 2016 at 2:57 pm

@parent. So.... The article is about an audit that finds issue with the school board and all you take from it is that you hate Google? All righty then.


25 people like this
Posted by Ron
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 7, 2016 at 3:04 pm

@Otto. If you are going to complain, Goolge donated the money. "We the people " did not pay a dime for it.

"We the people " are paying millions of or dollars for the mis-management however.


101 people like this
Posted by Concerned
a resident of North Whisman
on Jan 7, 2016 at 3:23 pm

Can we be honest? It is not the staff or the whole board that is creating problems. Two board members- Nelson and Coladonato- are way more invested in their own arrogance and "got cha" attitudes than in what is best for children or this community. Pure and simple, they are both unprofessional and self centered. Those two need to go. Now.


13 people like this
Posted by @ Anon
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 7, 2016 at 7:27 pm

And how many School Board meetings have you been to?

This Board (at least 2 members of it) makes Congress look functional!


15 people like this
Posted by Resign, Nelson!
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 7, 2016 at 7:32 pm

Who knows, @ Anon -- maybe the poster known as Anon is Steve Nelson in disguise.


20 people like this
Posted by Achievement Gap
a resident of another community
on Jan 7, 2016 at 8:15 pm

If you look at the performance of the few low income students in LASD, it's substantially the same as the many low income students in MVWSD. Why do we neglect concern for those in LASD while blaming a dysfunctional school board for those in MVWSD? Which one lucked out?


46 people like this
Posted by JTF
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 8, 2016 at 9:48 am

We should combine all three local districts into one k-12 unit.

All students go on to high school now. It's not the 1920's any more, we don't need k-8 school districts. Besides saving money ( duplication of services) combing districts could put a better, more professional group (MVLA) in charge, and lead to a more coherent educational plan for all students.

The LASD Board is not far behind MVWSD. Both or our k-8 boards are more concerned with facilities than the actual education of students. A single k-12 District could return the focus to students learning in classrooms. I know there was a Grand Jury/Educational Task Force report that recommended this a few years back. I can see few drawbacks, why not try it?


19 people like this
Posted by Right on
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jan 8, 2016 at 12:55 pm

@JTF

I totally agree with you. When we moved here it was so strange and confusing to learn there were 3 different school districts covering such a small area. Really feels like we could have one (or possibly two) but having two K-8 is just silly. If a merger put more money toward the schools and in the classrooms, and less money wasted on bureaucracy that would be good for all the kids. However, I suspect our neighbors in Los Altos will find some excuse as to why that idea wouldn't be good, when really we all know why they don't want it. Unfortunately I suspect money will talk louder than reason.


19 people like this
Posted by Lets be dishonest
a resident of Jackson Park
on Jan 8, 2016 at 2:08 pm

@Concerned and others who dislike Coladonato and Nelson

"Can we be honest? It is not the staff or the whole board that is creating problems. Two board members- Nelson and Coladonato- are way more invested in their own arrogance and "got cha" attitudes than in what is best for children or this community. Pure and simple, they are both unprofessional and self centered. Those two need to go. Now."

Yes , lets be honest. While these two members may be disliked by many parents, they still represent a minority of the board members. What are the other three doing? Nothing. They are completely dysfunctional if they don't know how to make motions and form a coalition to make good decisions. Even if these two resigned, i doubt the remaining three could get anything done. They are as much to blame for the lack of moving forward and solving problems.


16 people like this
Posted by Resign, Nelson!
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 8, 2016 at 2:14 pm

@Lets be dishonest -- Ever been in a group with a couple of members that made impossible to get anything done? Ever?

If you had, you would know what kind of damage Nelson and Coladonato are doing to the board. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of those "impossible" people...


12 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 8, 2016 at 2:52 pm

Here is a fascinating (if lengthy) explanation of where MVWSD is in academic achievement relative to other districts in CA and in this county. It is worth reading to gain perspective. I'd suggest that the Voice also looks at this to gain perspective. It is from a couple of years ago, but extremely instructional nonetheless. Let's look at this whole thing with a larger view.

Web Link


21 people like this
Posted by los altan
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2016 at 3:11 pm

I agree it is time to make one k-12 district -- palo alto does it and it works there. LASD schools could use improvement -- everything is aimed at the middle group. The schools are so, so -- parents pay for tons of tutoring.


20 people like this
Posted by MVWSD and MVLA parent
a resident of Gemello
on Jan 8, 2016 at 5:05 pm

I'm all for a unified school district that combines MVLA, MVWSD, and LASD, but I don't think the leadership or education at MVLA is any better. My children got a better education and more respect from MVWSD than MVLA.

Be wary of the green grass on the other side of the fence, it's probably just the extra manure.


3 people like this
Posted by OldMV
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 8, 2016 at 5:11 pm

I have long felt that any school board must include an elected accountant and also an elected lawyer. Why? Ex-teachers aren't the brightest bulbs on the tree (hence they became teachers and not "doers"). Also, ex-teachers will concentrate too much on the interests of students and teachers, and not enough upon taking the difficult measures necessary to ensure educational excellence, fiscal stability and legal actions necessary to guarantee the long-term success of the school district.

As for ex-teachers? Their priorities are all messed up. They concentrate far too much upon "English-language learners and students with disabilities" who never will amount to much, and not enough upon average and superior students who have no problems with learning and English. We're pouring far too much money into inferior students at the expense of qualified students.


18 people like this
Posted by Resign, Nelson!
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 8, 2016 at 5:17 pm

"As for ex-teachers? Their priorities are all messed up. They concentrate far too much upon "English-language learners and students with disabilities" who never will amount to much, and not enough upon average and superior students who have no problems with learning and English. We're pouring far too much money into inferior students at the expense of qualified students."

Wow. Really? Really?

What kind of human being are you?

Maybe it's time for you to stop with this neo-Darwinist hogwash you peddle here.


19 people like this
Posted by Old MV Parent
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 8, 2016 at 9:33 pm

I think it's fishy that the Supt. picked a firm that he used to work for.... And that they praised him and trashed the Board.

Although not required for this type of contract work, it would have been more transparent to go through thie RFP process, and select the firm in open session.

Did everyone know this supt. worked for this firm before the Voice article? Full disclosure would have been good.

I think this Supt. had undue influence in the findings, and that the firm gave him what he wanted: a public flogging of the Board so they would stop asking questions.

Very disturbing.


16 people like this
Posted by @OldMV
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2016 at 11:21 pm

According to the article it says "the company he's worked with," not a company he has previously worked for. There is a difference in the meaning. [Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


27 people like this
Posted by Ed
a resident of Castro City
on Jan 9, 2016 at 8:06 am

I agree with other comments that what stands out awkwardly and immediately in the above reporting is the heaps of praise the audit gives the new superintendent who had been on the job only 4 months at the time the audit was conducted!?!

I also agree that any chance of a conflict of interest between the superintendent and Cambridge Education should be investigated. A simple and free Google search will show that Rudolph and Cambridge Education have a traveling roadshow relationship (they worked together in both 2008 in NY and 2014 in NC): where Rudolph lands, Cambridge Education is close behind. Was this relationship fully disclosed to the board? And why the secrecy initially over funding? Why was secrecy required?
Regardless if Google footed the bill, the audit still tells us nothing more than what can be gotten from The Voice reporting over the last few years or from conversation with parents, teachers and school leaders (i.e., the community).

Lastly, I must have missed all the frequent meetings that the district and board have held with parents, particularly in light of the companion article this week of how Castro parents have been caught off guard by the lack of communication regarding the district's recommended and significant changes to the school construction without ample notice to the community. If one of Rudolph's first steps was to hire a communications officer, how could this have happened?


4 people like this
Posted by MVWSD Parent
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jan 9, 2016 at 6:22 pm

@John of "Old Mountain View"

The report you referred to analyzes results from 2014-2015 school year. So it is only a few months old


13 people like this
Posted by Old Mtn View Parent
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 10, 2016 at 12:47 pm

@Ed

Well written overview of concerns.

Conflict of interest appears to be the case.

What confidence can anyone have in this "audit"?

I'm wondering if the Board can see through this tactic played on them.

I hope this report doesn't stop Board members from asking questions. Yes, they need to follow protocols, but they they should not be rubber stamps.


37 people like this
Posted by Just another parents
a resident of another community
on Jan 10, 2016 at 4:42 pm

I have attended almost every board meeting in the last 12 months.

The issue isn't the board asking questions. The issue is the board belittling the District staff and community members. The issue is the board spending time at every meeting arguing about how much time should be spent on items. The issue is the board spending so much time discussing construction and asking for more analysis, and totally ignoring the analysis done by committees last year, that the costs just keep going up.

Asking intelligent questions would be a valuable contribution to the process. What is currently happening is far from that.


12 people like this
Posted by Jenny
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jan 10, 2016 at 10:17 pm

@ Just another parents

I strongly second your comment. After attending many board meetings in the past year, I truly wish I could see a respectful, intelligent, insightful discussion among the board members and district staff about any agenda item. Maybe hearing reality called out by a relatively neutral group - ie, not teachers, not parents, not anyone associated with Mountain View - will get the board members to truly reconsider their behavior ...


9 people like this
Posted by Frustrated
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2016 at 10:27 pm

Nelson does not seem inclined to resign. Can we recall him? We should not be stuck with this.


9 people like this
Posted by Otto Maddox
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jan 11, 2016 at 2:51 pm

I love how so much attention is focused on one board member.

Why is he getting so much attention? He is ONE VOTE out of FIVE. You all are giving his vote way too much weight.

How about you just ignore him? He can't make unilateral decisions.

Just a thought.


29 people like this
Posted by @ Otto Maddox
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Jan 11, 2016 at 3:15 pm

It is not that just Steve Nelson's vote that is problematic. it is that his behavior during meeting makes it impossible to move forward. One example I can think of is, when schools presented their School Plans. The board spend a good 10-15 minutes discussing if it were possible to amend a motion while in the middle, because Steve Nelson wanted it on record that he did not FULLY support the passage. EVENTUALLY, he was out voted, but the board entertained this conversation for way too long.

Likewise, I don't think Steve Nelson is the only current board member who uses obstructionist tactics in order to prolong, postpone, and otherwise stall action. I think it is an asset to have someone who is willing to question choices, but I think Steve Nelson method is ultimately damaging to the education of students.


3 people like this
Posted by Rule of Order?
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 11, 2016 at 4:34 pm

Per the wishes of the last three Presidents of the Board, there are no written rules of order for this board. The ridiculous waste of time mentioned just above, was because the Chair (President) was unwilling to just simply record a NO vote on an otherwise "consent-like" item of several items. The new Mayors of MV (as Council Chair) quickly learn how to pull off this simple time-saving maneuver of a legislative body leader.

Otto's right. I (Trustee Nelson) have only one vote.

PS
Day-to-Day, If you look at the individual school reports (SQRs posted) and the majority of the DQR, you will see the day-to-day problems with the non-Board part of the schools & district.
[ midway down the link ] Web Link


23 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jan 11, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Until Trustee Nelson, the Board Bylaws and well established informal practices seemed to serve pretty well. The facts that our community elected him and he seems intent on turning good order on its head for his own sake are both somewhat tragic. Fortunately, we also have the opportunity to limit his damage to one term. We'll have one chance to renew the parcel tax in May of 2017 before in expires June 30, 2017 if we wait for a new board to be elected in November. Given all the delays, arguing, and settlement costs, I hope the folks who voted for Trustee Nelson believe they have gotten value in some sort of open government way. Personally I'd rather more school work was under construction, and the parting of Mr. Goldman had been handled differently. However, as Trustee Nelson likes to remind folks, he did get elected, where others did not.


32 people like this
Posted by @ rule of order
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 11, 2016 at 8:45 pm

As Old Steve mentions above, it is odd how no rules of order were ever needed by this board until you came on to it. That's because other members are able to conduct themselves In a civil and respectful manner unlike you.

And, again you are passing the blame on to everyone except yourself. Yes, there are areas that need improvement in the district, but the board sets the tone. If YOU actually read the DQR, you would see that the board members are responsible for many of the issues. Grow up and take some responsilbity for your own actions!


21 people like this
Posted by @ Otto Maddox
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Jan 12, 2016 at 8:18 am

Rules of Order (Steve Nelson), maybe I watched a different recording, but the debate started because after the motion was seconded you started a debate requesting that the debate be amended to approve all plans but Graham. A prolonged discussion was had about if you could do that according to bylaws. There was talk about needing to vote on current motion before trying to change a motion. Eventually, the motion passed with you dissenting, but rather than just having the vote, an unnecessary amount of time was spent discussing it. This is one of many times the board has been side tracked by simple things. I don't want to pin this all on you Steve, but I think you should also recognize that YOUR behavior is a contribution to the turmoil board.

There should be a way for you to voice your dissenting opinion, but it shouldn't be at the expense of making decisions that actually affect the students ability to learn. You have said it before, its not the building that matters, its the teaching... Why, then have you let the board spend SO much time discussing the buildings? Why has so much time been spent discussing opening a new school, without discussing the factors that make a quality school? I have read the posts here, that we will bring students back to public school if we just open the neighborhood school down the street. Do we REALLY think that opening a school is simply going to bring kids to the school?


13 people like this
Posted by Resign, Nelson!
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 12, 2016 at 3:00 pm

I believe that this (edited) speech, by Oliver Cromwell, is appropriate for the Whisman board, but for Nelson in particular:

"It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money...

"...Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.

"In the name of God, go!"


26 people like this
Posted by Has Anyone Noticed?
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 13, 2016 at 8:05 am

Has anyone else noticed that the Board has pulled the report on the District Quality Review off the agenda twice now? It would seem that they don't want to hear how dysfunctional they are and how much of a negative impact they are having on the education of the students in this district. They need to get their heads out of the sand, face reality, and then change their focus to the students in this district and not their own egos.


18 people like this
Posted by PACT parent
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jan 13, 2016 at 11:42 am

@Has Anyone Noticed? of Cuesta Park

Perhaps you might consider walking over to your local neighbor Steve Nelson and ask him about it?

"Has anyone else noticed that the Board has pulled the report on the District Quality Review off the agenda twice now?"

Has anyone noticed the Board ALSO pulled the agenda item of the Board "Self-Review" process. It was on the agenda but when the time for the item came up, they just all agreed to push it to some undecided date in the future. I read all the sample questions for the Board self-review process and it seem like it was asking all the questions our Board does NOT want to anwser about their own behavior.

"It would seem that they don't want to hear how dysfunctional they are and how much of a negative impact they are having on the education of the students in this district. They need to get their heads out of the sand, face reality, and then change their focus to the students in this district and not their own egos."

I think "sand" is not where their heads are at, but I agree they need to pull their heads out and start doing the job the fooled voters elected them to do.

But, like Nelson resigning, or recalling Nelson and Coladonato, or getting Wheeler to change her mind about anything or getting any of them to state they wont run for re-election, or getting Lambert to engage in the discussion more, etc. none of those things are going to happen.

But, don't let that discourage people from expressing those wishes. Venting has value.


3 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 15, 2016 at 8:08 am

@Otto Maddox of Rex Manor, Thank you Otto. I have noticed over the years that you try to post you opinions with precision and depth-of-thought. I will go over that video (and one previous one) and see how I can improve the clarity of my work.

Trustee Steven Nelson


3 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 15, 2016 at 8:13 am

opps - O.M. of Rengstorff Park neighborhood.


3 people like this
Posted by @ Otto Maddox
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Jan 19, 2016 at 9:44 am

@Steve Nelson,

For clarification purposes, @Otto Maddox is not actually Otto Maddox. I was originally responding to Otto, but then I also responded to your comments. The rules of the voice discussion board have it such that you can only use one username per discussion topic. Next time, I will use more forethought.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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