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Editorial: Baten Caswell for Santa Clara County Board of Education

Original post made on Oct 12, 2020

Melissa Baten Caswell's long history of working for a strong public education system will serve north county well on the Santa Clara County Board of Education.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, October 12, 2020, 9:26 AM

Comments (27)

Posted by Bobby O
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 12, 2020 at 10:38 am

Bobby O is a registered user.

I'm surprised at your endorsement of Baten Caswell.
It is widely agreed that the other candidate, Grace Mah is highly skilled and has done well for our community.

Have you read the very specific, detailed reasons why Palo Alto Daily News wrote that incumbent Baten Caswell should not be reelected to *their* school board?

The article is shocking: Web Link

"our school district has not by any measure been well-governed or well-led over the last four years, and ... [Baten Caswell] ... must bear much of the responsibility."

"lack of transparency ... inclination to retreat into closed sessions, often with shaky legal justification, has repeatedly turned important issues deserving of public discussion into tangled and largely avoidable controversies."

"... mishandling of the board's greatest fiduciary responsibility: sound fiscal management. "

"...negotiated and agreed to a costly three-year union contract without informing the public until it was already a done deal..."

" funds were available for investing in the numerous program improvements that the board had just spent months discussing with the community, a process that misled the public into believing that robust financial resources could fund programs such as foreign-language instruction in elementary schools, class size reductions, a new school and new classroom innovations. At the very time these were under discussion publicly, the board was negotiating raises behind closed doors that would consume all our new revenue, and more."

Posted by Bobby O
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 12, 2020 at 10:44 am

Bobby O is a registered user.

Correction: the article arguing against re-electing Baten Caswell to the Palo Alto School Board was from Palo Alto Weekly (not Palo Alto Daily News).

Editorial: Collins, DiBrienza for Palo Alto school board
Read the Weekly's endorsements in the 2016 Board of Education race
by Palo Alto Weekly editorial board / Palo Alto Weekly
Uploaded: Fri, Oct 14, 2016, 7:40 am
Original Article: Web Link

Posted by No more Mah
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 12, 2020 at 11:07 am

No more Mah is a registered user.

It's time for a change at the County level. Grace Mah receiving over $100,000 in outside pro-charter PACs screams of the desperation she and her charter-loving outsiders feel. Mah is deep in their pockets and no school district is safe with her on the County Board of Education.

Posted by Let's Get All the Facts
a resident of Castro City
on Oct 12, 2020 at 11:14 am

Let's Get All the Facts is a registered user.

Melissa Caswell has received most of her contributions from wealthy Los Altos anti-charter people with deep pockets and the teachers’ unions before even announcing her candidacy three months ago. In fact, the San Jose teachers’ unions have made large $30K donations to Melissa as well as other candidates in SCC BoE districts just last week (Oct. 7~9) which they received from the California Teachers’ Union. Most charter schools are NON UNION, which is why the teacher's UNION are opposing them despite the fact that charters are a minor part of what the Santa Clara County Board of Education does. Meanwhile Grace Mah has received donations from well over 200 people in Santa Clara County who do not have deep pockets. It is clear that Melissa is in the pocket of the anti-charter people and the teachers’ unions and cannot be trusted to be independent. While charter schools are a small part of the responsibilities of the county board of education, it is an important one, particularly for low income families in traditional unionized public schools. A good detailed analysis can be found at [Post edited at poster's request]

Posted by Barry Austin
a resident of The Crossings
on Oct 12, 2020 at 11:56 am

Barry Austin is a registered user.

It's very relevant that Mr. Sangeeth Peruri and friends, based in LASD, are running the challenger's campaign. This group has well known motives and history.

For many years they have campaigned to stir up hate in the community to marginalize BCS, using the most unseemly methods.

BCS and all charters challenge the turf and political power of the current education Establishment, and the Establishment is fighting back. The Establishment cares more about hobbling and killing charters than in providing a quality education to ALL children from ALL backgrounds.

The record is clear to any who care to look.

Posted by Tamara Logan
a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2020 at 2:39 pm

Tamara Logan is a registered user.

Thank you to the Embarcadero Media Editorial Board and Mountain View Voice staff for endorsing the Santa Clara County School Board candidate who will work closely with local school boards and teachers to make sure all of our schools have coordinated and fair plans during the COVID crisis. Grace Mah has done some good things on the SCCBOE, but, as you say, it is time for a member who is not beholden to the big-money, Charter School PACs.
As of early this week, donations to Mah included: Charter Public Schools PAC, $83,012.33 (big donors Jim and Alice Walton, Reed Hastings and Michael Bloomberg); Champions for Education PAC, $30,000 (could not find the big donors in the PAC maze, but supports charters); Santa Clara Charter Advocates for Great Public Schools (an arm of the California Charter Schools Association), $15,000; Lincoln Club of Northern California PAC, $1250 ( Charles Munger, Jr. on the board);
Baten Caswell is supported by teachers and 90% of fellow school board members, not right wing mega-donors.

Posted by Laura Blakely
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 12, 2020 at 3:55 pm

Laura Blakely is a registered user.

I’ve served on the MVWSD school board for the past four years and am one of the 27 local school board members who has endorsed Melissa Baten Caswell and donated to her campaign. I am not aligned with or against any charter school, but aim to serve all of the public school students in MVWSD to my best ability, and I try to look out for and support the best interests of all public school students in our broader community. In stark contrast to Mah, Melissa Baten Caswell in her work with the School Boards Association has regularly reached out to check in about our school district and share ideas. Owing to Brown Act constraints, it can be helpful to have “board buddies” on neighboring school boards to brainstorm with about issues of mutual interest. Melissa has been a valued colleague who is both very informed about any number of issues and generous with her time. I concur with the Voice’s editorial board that the school districts in Area 1 will be much better represented on the County Board of Election if we elect Melissa Baten Caswell to represent us.

Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 13, 2020 at 10:41 am

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

@Laura Blakely - I sure hope that you have NOT been getting your advice about 'transparency' of board operations from this candidate! She is not well known for avoiding OPACITY, and you seem to share her disconnect.

MVWSD Trustee Ellen Wheeler - who does know and consult with Mah on a regular basis (Trustee Blakely - just read her reports in the public Minutes of the MVWSD) publicly endorses Mah.

This is Clearly a Big Money Battle - both sides, of Public Charter Schools vs. regular public school districts & unions. That's ALL!

I prefer a well managed Public Choice system, and Grace Mah has helped vastly tighten up Public Charter oversight during her terms on the County Board.

Posted by kehlar
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2020 at 3:02 pm

kehlar is a registered user.

Bobby O: the article your referred to is 4 years old. The Palo Alto Weekly now endorses Caswell for County BoE: Web Link

Caswell is endorsed by every school board trustee in Area 1 except for two. Mah is bankrolled by pro-charter school organizations. It's pretty clear who to vote for if you value public school education.

Posted by Melissa Baten Caswell will serve Santa Clara County families
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2020 at 3:06 pm

Melissa Baten Caswell will serve Santa Clara County families is a registered user.

Thank you to the Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Weekly for your well-reasoned endorsements of Melissa Baten Caswell. Thank you @Laura Blakely for letting us know how well Baten Caswell has operated among her Board member peers, and that you endorse her and expect MVWSD to get good support from Baten Caswell.

We need a change at the SCCBOE! Let’s vote Baten Caswell to get somebody who will make good use of the position to deliver help to districts that have to manage the costs and challenges of coronavirus. Mah has been in the position for 13 years, yet few trustees know her or have gotten help from her, and the districts need help now more than ever.

We also need true oversight of charters throughout the county and especially of BCS locally. Mah has taken over $100K from charter-affiliated donors and PACs this election cycle alone, so it’s no surprise that she does the charter industry’s bidding. (MBC’s funding comes largely from parents and teachers: our educational ecosystem.) We can’t let charters bankrupt our regular public education system on which California students and the California economy depend. We need an end to the unlawful segregation of students by charters. Charters must begin paying their fair share of special education costs and facility costs.

Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2020 at 5:29 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

Melissa Baten Caswell is not an improvement to the county board of education. Screwing it up is not a change that we need. During her time on the PAUSD board the district was mired in multiple scandals, not just the one mentioned above. They fired numerous administrators and principals. They had financial problems owing to over estimating their revenue. This is a district which hauls in about $25,000 per ADA, so it's not that they are underfinanced.

Contrast this to the charter schools in the county. They mostly serve low income kids who are not doing well in the traditional schools. Many of the school districts have 50-80% low income populations. Their students do not do well. Those in charter schools have a better shot. It's shameful for a candidate with no experience with low income education talk about "change" which is a code for trying to illegally shut down charter schools in the county, of which there are currently 65.

Then look at who is orchestrating Melissa's campaign. Four very wealthy parents from LASD contributed $42,500. These rich folks have no understanding of what their fight against charter schools means or does. They have their total experience based on Bullis Charter school. They have sour grape attitudes because 50% of the families in LASD would prefer to attend that charter school, even if only 25$ of the district does fit into the limited space, constrained by LASD rulings. It just completely chaffes them that that charter school can do so much better at education than LASD, when LASD spends about $17K per student, and the charter school only gets about $11K of public money. Their whole argument is that state law which says charter schools must be allowed in ALL districts and must serve all economic levels. They want the LASD charter school to serve 100% low income kids even though the district is only around 5% low income.

It's also worth noting that any contributions to Grace Mah only serve to counter balance the $150K raised by these privileged rich people in their attack on charter education in the County of Santa Clara. Among the contributors is also over $30K from teacher unions. Many of those attacking Grace Mah are donating $2K or more to the Melissa campaign. Melissa's campaign pieces are long on vague promises about change and false claims about being able to increase school funding. She and her campaign just don't know what the county board of education does. She thinks it should be a social club for school board members in local districts.

Now truth be told, almost ALL the school districts outside Area 1 have significantly lower funding than LASD, MVWSD, MVLA or PAUSD, or Sunnyvale ESD. The districts are funded by local property tax revenues and their total revenue totally exceeds the LCFF amounts that are the staple of funding around $11K to the other school districts in the county. Their contributors attacking charters as a big bogeyman have no idea what life is like outside their elite rich person bubble.

Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2020 at 5:38 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

Look at the achievement gap in MVWSD between 40% low SES families and 60% well off families. MVWSD should be looking for solutions to that. Instead it's having its board members attack a county board member who has done a lot to improve education for all demographics. She's especially been involved in efforts to improve early childhood education. What is needed is universal Preschool and Pre-K in all schools. The rich districts don't like the idea because their rich families already buy Preschool. The state will increase LCFF amounts but that won't increase LASD or PAUSD funding because they already get way more than this. Does Melissa Baten Caswell even know about this issue? She seems to me to be out of touch with MOST of the students in the county. Those served by the 65 charter schools are more representative of the typical student than are the kids from PAUSD where her business sold consulting on admissions to elite colleges. Sorry, but elite college admissions help is not the need on most of Santa Clara county. Closing the achievement gap is important, and she offers not a word about that. It's a sore point to her supporters how poorly their districts do at this. Yet they oppose Universal Preschool.

Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2020 at 5:39 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

Grace Mah is the county board member who has especially done a lot regarding early childhood education. Melissa Baten Caswell, zip.

Posted by Pancho
a resident of Bailey Park
on Oct 15, 2020 at 12:04 am

Pancho is a registered user.

Long Winded is more like it!

People, funding, and educators in Area 1 support Caswell.

People, funding, and disrupters outside Area 1 support Mah.

Choose wisely

Posted by Trustee Mole?
a resident of Bailey Park
on Oct 15, 2020 at 8:13 pm

Trustee Mole? is a registered user.

Why is MV-Whisman trustee Ellen Wheeler allowed to be the election campaign treasurer for pro-charter pro-Bullis politician Grace Mah? Is Wheeler a charter booster like Mah? They're pulling in unbelievable amounts of campaign donations for Mah's campaign from charter school interests, it looks like Wheeler has exposed her real allegiances

Posted by Ellen Wheeler
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Oct 15, 2020 at 9:48 pm

Ellen Wheeler is a registered user.

@trustee mole - I am amazed at your comment. If you watched our board meetings last year where our board successfully kept Bullis from coming to MVWSD you would know that I was not a fan of BMV. As to Grace Mah, she carefully examines the applications of charter schools that come up to the county board on appeal. She has voted to oppose some and voted to approve some. She actually voted to oppose Bullis when its first appeal came to the county board. As an engineer (Cal Tech and UC Berkeley), I like the way she thinks.

Posted by ted allen
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Oct 15, 2020 at 11:38 pm

ted allen is a registered user.

I bet you’re not as amazed as MV voters who learn you’ve taken a quarter million dollars from charter PACs. and don’t try to launder this by citing my alma mater, it’s irrelevant

Posted by omv librarian
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 16, 2020 at 2:39 pm

omv librarian is a registered user.

I live in Mountain View and I fully support Grace Mah.

Charter schools are a small part of what a trustee does - and are strongly regulated by state law. The county board only judges those charter schools that appeal after being denied by a local school board and then has to follow state law. Grace Mah did not vote to create Bullis - that was done before her tenure. She did vote against them at one point during a review and I know that she worked to try and resolve the differences between Bullis and Los Altos. The entire charter school issue has been way overblown in my opinion. Yes, Grace Mah has supported Charter Schools. Grace Mah supports every child getting the school they need. Some, like her opponent, are able to afford private schools to make sure that their child gets the kind of support they need that they can’t find in the public schools. While Grace worked hard to make sure her own children got the appropriate support in 'regular’ public schools, taking advantage of choice programs like Mandarin Immersion in Palo Alto and the Middle College options in the Mountain View/Los Altos/Palo Alto High Schools, she has also worked hard to make sure those students without access to programs like these or access to private schools have access to the alternative programs that charter schools can offer. Grace has also worked hard with those charter schools to make sure they deliver on the the vision they started with, and when appropriate voted to close those that didn’t.

The other areas the county board addresses are so much more important. Her work on universal preschool is awesome and it is so needed! I was lucky to be able to pay for preschool for my child, but again, not everyone can do that and yet we all recognize how important that early exposure to learning is.

Regarding funding and where it came from, I couldn't afford to send her $10,000 - though I wish I could have! Her opponent started the race with over $90,000 in her campaign - ready to go when she announced to run in a race that in past years has never cost both opponents more than $20,000 together.

Posted by No Mah!
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 16, 2020 at 3:18 pm

No Mah! is a registered user.

Just THIS WEEK, charter school PACs gave Grace Mah ANOTHER $125K.

You can thank REED HASTINGS for funding their war chest, by the way.

Don't try to portray Grace as even-handed on charters, she is a HUGE ASSET for the charter industry.

The big money charter industry loves her, but the citizens and elected education officials of Area 1 have spoken clearly:


Posted by Sanity please
a resident of Gemello
on Oct 16, 2020 at 8:09 pm

Sanity please is a registered user.

This is so ridiculous, let's review what we know: Grace Mah antagonized the Palo Alto school board for years, was appointed to fill an open seat on the county schools board, has overseen north county districts for 13 years, is clearly a darling of out of town charter school forces, and is not liked at all by almost all of the district trustees she oversees. Caswell was elected to the Palo Alto school board 13 years ago and has had ups and downs overseeing a phenomenal K-12 district. Caswell is clearly preferred by the locals in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and Sunnyvale judging from her donations, and almost all the other trustees in this service area overwhelmingly prefer Caswell over Mah. Go vote to correct the 13-year error in your county board representation.

Posted by SRB
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Oct 16, 2020 at 9:22 pm

SRB is a registered user.

Agree with that endorsement.

For those still undecided, a simple question: Melissa Caswell is proudly listing her endorsement by the Santa Clara County Democratic Party. Why isn't Grace Mah listing her endorsement by the Silicon Valley GOP?

Posted by omv librarian
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 16, 2020 at 9:59 pm

omv librarian is a registered user.


This race is supposed to be nonpartisan. What party either candidate is in doesn't matter - but what they bring to the job does. I am a Democrat - but I will be voting for Grace Mah.

Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 17, 2020 at 6:54 am

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

REED HASTINGS. - pretty smart guy don't you think? (ever hear of Netflix?). I know Reed's backstory pretty well - he and I both shared an experience, after undergraduate school - of being STEM Peace Corps volunteer teachers in Africa. Thereafter he came back - got Math grad schooling at Stanford (local guy now) and started Netflix! The rest - they say is Silicon Valley-type history. (leading disruptive technology)

As President of the State of California School Board (that's Sacramento-speak) he seems to have only broaden his understanding of WHY CALIFORNIA NEEDED to "think different" (ah - Apple influence?).

So, I understand why he and Grace and I and others 'sometimes' support the "think different" approach of PUBLIC charter schools.

Grace Mah is a well rounded individual in a place of Public Policy responsibility who has a plethora of areas of interest. Her work of OVERSIGHT of public charter schools in the county has resulted in a County Office of Education (County Superintendent) administrative division just for that purpose. Link below to the Charter Schools Department

Web Link

BTW - Mah has also helped a pooly functioning county board more responsibly Oversee their chief administrator. The County Superintendent's office has become Much More Stable since Mah assumed office and OVERSIGHT responsibility! ( I leave this herstory research up to U)

Posted by ted allen
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Oct 17, 2020 at 9:32 am

ted allen is a registered user.

so much appropriation, a sad testament

Posted by Ellen Wheeler
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Oct 20, 2020 at 8:53 am

Ellen Wheeler is a registered user.

Sharing from another poster from another Voice story (Thank you to that original poster!)

Grace Mah has been endorsed by the San Jose Mercury News.

From the San Jose Mercury News Editorial (Oct. 20, 2020):
"Mah has been been on the county board since 2007, representing an area that covers Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and parts of Sunnyvale. She is a strong advocate for early childhood programs and has a well-deserved reputation for being smart and hard-working. Voters shouldn't buy into the message that she is blindly pro-charter. Her 13-year track record shows she approves or rejects charter school applications based on merit. In fact, she opposed the controversial Bullis School charter renewal in 2013.
Her opponent, Melissa Baten Caswell, has served the maximum three terms on the Palo Alto Unified board. She has the backing of the California Teachers Association and has received five-figure donations from Los Altos board members who oppose charters. Caswell is bright and knowledgeable on the issues, but the CTA and anti-charter backers don't give that kind of money without expecting something in return. Mah is the better choice, given her proven record of evaluating charters on the strength of their applications."

Posted by MVP
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2020 at 8:43 pm

MVP is a registered user.

Grace Mah received:
79% ($242,000) from Out-of-County PACs, mostly for pro-charter groups.


Only 14% from locals.

At the end of the day, who do YOU think Mah will be beholden to? Take a wild guess.

We don't want Bullis and their lawsuits taking over the whole county.

Vote Mah and her charter PAC money OUT while you have the chance! 13 years of Mah is enough!!!

Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2020 at 2:05 am

LongResident is a registered user.

The interesting thing is to consider what could the added funds have been used for on one side or the other? I found the ads for Melissa Baten Caswell to be devoid of content and to only assert that change is needed. On the other hand Grace Mah had some useful ideas like favoring Universal preschool. I hope if Melissa Baten Caswell does get in, that she realizes the idea of Universal preschool is a good one. The race always seemed very close to me, because Melissa's backers were strictly anti-charter activists with no other agenda. Sad for sure. Charter schools are reasonably defined in the California Ed Code, and they are a good idea. However, that is not the main job of the SCCBOE. Melissa Baten Caswell seems to think the job is to coordinate between the various elected school board members, and that is not part of the job of SCCBOE AT ALL.

Poeple should realize that there are over 20,000 kids in charter schools in Santa Clara County and that these schools are needed. The entrenched school districts all have a serious achievement gap between the haves and the have nots. One way to address this is public funding for universal preschool.

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