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Will charter school politics — and money — influence the local Santa Clara County school board race?

Original post made on Oct 19, 2020

With Election Day less than three weeks away, outside money is pouring into the Santa Clara County Board of Education Area 1 race, with charter school proponents making large contributions to incumbent Grace Mah.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, October 19, 2020, 10:01 AM

Comments (10)

Posted by Melissa Baten Caswell for Santa Clara Co Board of Education
a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2020 at 2:42 pm

Melissa Baten Caswell for Santa Clara Co Board of Education is a registered user.

Melissa Baten Caswell will serve all of the students in the county and is backed by 27 out of 30 school board members in our trustee area. Incumbent Mah has been in the position for over a decade and has not reached out to local school board members to see what the county can do for them. Baten Caswell has a plan to help local school districts deal with the operational challenges and huge costs of coronavirus — let’s get positive change for our kids!! Mah’s charter industry backing (and everybody knew they would bring lots of money because they give millions of $ to candidates for statewide races of governor and superintendent of instruction) biases her toward charters, the area where she has spent her time and energy as trustee. Baten Caswell’s support by teachers and neighborhood school parents who care about public instruction of their kids is in no way equivalent to the special interest of the charter industry backing Mah. Teachers and families are what true public education is all about. Vote Baten Caswell!!


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2020 at 5:00 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

I think it is noteworthy that just 4 individuals in Los Altos have contributed $42,500 to Melissa's campaign. That is an outsize contribution for a few rich Los Altos residents to make. It's interesting that in Palo Alto where Melissa was on the board for 12 years during a period with more than one scandal in the district, there aren't former board members willing to give $10K. When you look at all of Melissa's contributions there are way more than $50K, i.e. more than $60K) coming from just a view rabidly anti-BCS people in Los Altos. Contributions of $5K and $2K add up fast. Still, it's a lot of money coming from just a few wealthy people in the city of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

As for the imbalance, I think it's noteworthy that Melissa' campaign manager has chosen to spend over $100K on a campaign consultant. Grace Mah seems to be running her own campaign. I find the Melissa public communications to be trite and unbelievable. She has kids in ads on Youtube. I have a feeling that this is not really a very good strategy in this race. I think the campaign manager may have outsmarted himself by paying $100K for expert ad placement advice. So perhaps the real store is not that Grace has more funds, but that Melissa's campaign is wasting what they have on silly things..... In any event, the campaign not speaking from the heart is Melissa's. Grace's add all have substance. So far they have not mentioned the many negative things that can be said about Melissa. Will that continue?


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2020 at 5:22 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

The way I see it is that in a largely negative whisper campaign against a dedicated public servant, Grace Mah, a group of privileged elite local residents sought to unjustly condemn her despite her excellent work They raised $90K over 2 months when the contributions first had to be reported on July 1, with most of the money coming from people giving $2K or more. Subsequent filing show that this continued with another $50K being raised after July 1 and reported Sept 19th. Seeing what had happened and how it was done, a group of others sought to even the scale, and they did so. These donations were immediately reported and available for all to see, owing to the extra time it took for them to materialize, unlike the ones made before July 1. The charter school interests are only contributing because of these attacks on Grace Mah owing to her non-discrimination against Charter school petitions that come before the SCCOOE. They don't want her to suffer because of the political climate fostered by the teacher unions.

There are 65 charter schools in Santa Clara county and they have all been approved according to law. They all operate with less or certainly no more funding per students, compared to the entrenched set of local school districts. Most of these districts that are operating traditional schools have a terrible achievement gap between the low Socio Economic Status students and the others. The local school district bureaucracies resent the better job done by the charter schools, but they really should not. That's why these bogus attacks on Grace Mah are so reprehensible.

As for BCS, it attracts 25% of the elementary school students in the LASD area. It uses only 15% of the total public funding for LASD. BCS is HELPING the funding for the traditional schools in LASD! The 75% of students have 85% of the funding for the traditional schools, as well as really fancy 10 acre school sites with huge playgrounds. BCS has shacks in a corner of each junior high.


Posted by Here's your answer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 19, 2020 at 7:52 pm

Here's your answer is a registered user.

If your question is, "Will charter school politics — and money — influence the local Santa Clara County school board race?"

The answer is Yes!

The incumbent is owned by wealthy charter interests, and the challenger is backed by opponents of the incumbent, largely due to her longtime alignment with charter interest.

So the answer is a resounding Yes!


Posted by Barry Austin
a resident of The Crossings
on Oct 19, 2020 at 9:21 pm

Barry Austin is a registered user.

We are witnessing a massive power play by the anti-charter Establishment. The dollars and political levers in play are astronomical for what has until now been a smallish local race.

Why would the Establishment do this? Why spend all this money and mobilize a political army and attack with a smear and disinformation campaign unless it's worth it to them? What would they get out of this?

Sadly that's how important killing charters is to the education Establishment. This is a perversion of progressivism, using the power of The Man to protect what is now the Establishment.


Posted by Jim Burnham
a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2020 at 9:43 pm

Jim Burnham is a registered user.

Did anyone notice that the article is filled with quotes from anti-charter people without any fact checking? Steve Brown - a fierce charter opponent - claims BCS is "not serving" disadvantaged communities despite the fact that BCS admission is determined by lottery and is open to everyone. Shouldn't that statement have been checked? And they also quote Sangeeth Peruri's claim that Melissa has "no intention of shutting down BCS" when he and most of her supporters have spent years trying to shut down BCS. Why not investigate that statement?
The author also uses misleading statements that favor Melissa (i.e. teacher's unions are "perceived" as being anti-charter, when they have spent tens of millions of dollars electing anti-charter politicians, and Grace's flyer was "misleading" without explaining the circumstances). Those "special interest" pro-charter people referred to derisively include people like me that have kids in BCS and have seen up-close the fantastic job they do. The choice in this election couldn't be any clearer: the interests of our kids vs. the interests of the education establishment.


Posted by Yes of course
a resident of Jackson Park
on Oct 19, 2020 at 11:15 pm

Yes of course is a registered user.

Yes of course, you can tell this race is a “massive power play by the anti-charter Establishment” because the pro-charter incumbent has double the budget of her challenger, thanks to her billionaire patrons


Posted by Let's Get All the Facts
a resident of Castro City
on Oct 20, 2020 at 4:42 am

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

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 SRB
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Oct 20, 2020 at 8:13 am

SRB is a registered user.

To answer the article's headline, Yes, it's certainly the intent. That's also not new, Charter Schools lobbies have poured money in Santa Clara County Board of Education races for the past decade or so. It certainly has paid off for their industry.

Reading the comments it's quite the spin to see the out of town Charter School lobby Goliath painted as a David in the District 1 contest.


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2020 at 1:57 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

The industry of the public schools in California is huge, but shrinking simply do to population drop-off at the K-12 ages. The entrenched local school districts and the teachers there depend on this industry for their livelihood. Like the state's Prison Guard union, the CTA is a massive political influence in the state. Anything that a group of non profit Charter schools can do in the state is up against long odds of success.

What must be helping Charter Schools is just the fact that they have to do a better job. No one is "Assigned" to a particular charter school. Only those who WANT to attend a charter school do so. The offer underserved students a chance at a better education. The competition they cause helps improve the traditional schools. It's a win win. The CTA is nervous because of the population drop off, and the fact that kids are still interested in charter schools. There has been a shortage of capacity in the charter schools that mean many kids don't have a choice, but as the population drops off, more kids are able to find a space in a charter school. So that causes this agitation against charter schools.


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