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Comments at Special Meeting for Censure – April 6, 2023

I have not updated this website in some time, nor posted on the blog. But I prepared and read a statement at our special meeting today in support of a censure of a colleague, and wanted to get it on the record.


  • The annual training conference for school board members in California is always held in late November or early December, before any elections are officially certified or brand new board members are sworn in. This year’s conference was in San Diego, and while all board members are encouraged to attend, not all choose to take four or five days out of their personal schedule without compensation, even though direct expenses are reimbursed. The conference consists mostly of training sessions, including an extra day to help brand new board members figure out what their job is.
  • Evening social events, like the one where this incident arose, are by design a trust building environment. They encourage casual social mixing and frequent one on one discussions between board members or senior employees about issues in the district that will have to be addressed in the year ahead.
  • When new people come onboard an organization, there is a double moral obligation. If an experienced employee takes a new employee aside and gives background, such as where hidden controversies may be, the experienced employee who does this has stuck his neck out a bit. He’s done a favor and the new employee is supposed to return a favor by withholding judgment and not intentionally embarrassing the one who shared. That’s the informal deal. When this doesn’t happen, the new employee is more apt to make mistakes and embarrass themselves or the group. Picture the newest person in *your* organization. Would you want to help the newbie or snicker when he falls down?
  • There is a complicating factor for school board members. We elected officials have a public base of supporters. But the professional staff are often the ones with the most experience and perspective. They are *not* elected, and they can’t run political campaigns or draw a roomful of charged citizens to give comments at public meetings. If a staff member takes a new board member aside to fill them in, that staff member is especially vulnerable.
  • When I was new, my first conference was in San Francisco. I was grateful for those who were willing to share their view of things, even when I privately did not respect everything they were sharing. I received this generous treatment from David, from Jonathan, from Bethany, from Joan, from Judi, and from almost all of my new peers and support people.
  • So this is the setting. There’s an environment designed to build trust, and there is an emerging trust between individuals, off the clock, so to speak, who know they will be spending lots of time during the subsequent year in formal meetings.
  • And then there is a colossal blunder, which is the reason we’re here today.
  • Given that background, here is my position. For an elected official to secretly record a conversation with an employee at a social event in order to share it with friends shows a stunning lack of judgment. I hope nobody disagrees with that. I’ll say it again: For an elected official to secretly record a conversation with an employee at a social event in order to score points with political friends shows a profound lack of judgment.
  • This is not what we want from any of our elected officials. I doubt there is a politician in California who would disagree. This negative behavior was noticed far and wide.
  •  Then there is the behavior afterwards. If I have made a mistake that brings embarrassment to my colleagues, which I inadvertently did at our last board meeting, please let me know and give me a chance to apologize and make it right. I didn’t see that attitude or behavior following these events in San Diego. If there had been, I doubt this censure would be before us.
  •  It hurts to see the school board become a political battlefield over the basics of trust and cooperation. If we all assume bad faith from each other, the system will break down or at least become seriously dysfunctional. Do we really want to become like San Francisco city politics? Ask any former board member. We give large amounts of discretionary personal time and usually wind up with great respect from each other, even when we disagree with each other’s votes or comments.
  • But to seriously and intentionally degrade that trust environment is offensive to me personally, and a disservice to the entire community. Considering all of these circumstances, I will vote to support the censure.


Board self-evaluation comments 5/26/22 – “When we have problems …”

At our annual self-evaluation meeting yesterday, I made these comments, which I had prepared as a statement. They were part of my “one positive thing, one negative thing” comments. This was the negative part.

“When we have problems, I think often it traces back to the fact that not all board members are willing to commit to work together and follow our basic procedures. If you examine some of our most important documents, you will see that not all members were willing to sign them.

“I think there’s a feeling that, “Well, the voters in my area elected me, and my only responsibility is to those voters, as well as the people who helped with my campaign. I have no other allegiance.”

“When I was new to the board, I had a similar attitude. But I learned that I also have an allegiance to the current and former members of the governing board, because they are the ones who spent countless hours of uncompensated time creating and shaping the structure we work under. I also have an allegiance to all of the administrators, whom we have indirectly selected for their dedicated service and who are working for far more than just a paycheck. And not just administrators, but other staff and teachers throughout the district, who have given a portion of their lives to this effort, to work together to benefit these 20,000 students. It’s absurd to think we all agree on all of the details. We don’t, but we’ve learned when to debate and disagree, and when to come together to support the best that we collectively can come up with. And we avoid, at all costs, sabotaging or undermining parts that we don’t like.

“I think it’s shortsighted and ultimately destructive for any one of us to conclude, ‘Well, it doesn’t make sense to me, and I didn’t vote for it, so I don’t have to follow it. I’ll do whatever gets me excited, whether or not it aligns with previous decisions or current protocols. If they don’t like it, they can vote me out.’

“I suspect that attitude, and behaviors extending from it, accounts for a good deal of the friction that we encounter as a board. And not only is the community watching, our own employees are watching, to measure how much confidence they will have in this operation. When our employees observe us ignoring norms and undermining the program, I think they lose some respect for their part in the system as well. I think some of them conclude, ‘Well, the board is not united in what they do, so I better not care too much about what I do. I better look out for number one.’

“I think that’s sad. I don’t want to accuse anyone, because I don’t know your motives or what’s in your mind. But if you see yourself in any of these problem attitudes, I hope you’ll consider the effect of your behaviors and look for a way to adjust, for the good of the entire district.”

Update – April 27, 2022 – Fall Campaign Planning

I’m going to start planning for a fall campaign, including updates to this website, which has seen little change since the last campaign in 2018.

My prompt was the teacher’s union. They (FSUTA Organizing Committee) contacted me a few weeks ago to schedule a candidate interview for a potential endorsement. The remove interview happened Saturday.

The filing deadline is August 12th, and I haven’t made a final decision on whether to seek election to another term, but I may as well start thinking about it and preparing. I’m inclined to run again, so at least I can organize myself in that direction.

I really have no idea who reads this, but I’ll see if I can put more time into it. The idealist part of me would like to create some kind of record, accessible to the public.

I’m sure to make mistakes and revisions as I get to know this software.


Campaign signs for 2022 underway …

I got an artist in Vallejo to design my campaign signs and just paid the invoice (attached).

Hope to also get my signs printed within the next month. Maybe I’ll get my website re-done by then.

Comments at Censure Meeting – May 19, 2021

Wednesday we had a special meeting of the board to consider a censure resolution of a fellow board member. The nine members of the public were unanimous in speaking against it. The board was unanimous in voting for it. Obviously there’s a gap there, probably in understanding.

After the public spoke, we each took a turn (although some of the public had left by that time; a mid-day meeting isn’t friendly to any of us). I wanted to get “on the record” the comments I’d prepared, which I’ve included below. My actual comments varied a bit (I added some in response to other board members’ comments), and you can see the entire meeting on Youtube, but this is what I prepared and read from:

“I’d like to speak in favor of the motion.

“I perceive this action as a formal disavowal of reckless and irresponsible actions by Trustee Petero. The resolution is intended to shield the board and the district from legal and financial liability for those actions. The actions described in the resolution do not need elaboration. The document speaks for itself.

“We had a clear warning in our self-evaluation last week; renegade actions by zealous board members can have serious financial consequences for districts. The example we heard about involved over four million dollars in damages paid out, and it didn’t sound like that was a rare thing. It’s difficult to balance our obligations as elected officials with the need for oversight and accountability to the community, but it’s a fine line we must learn to walk. If we enter schools and speak with school employees as if we’re the boss, we’re doing it wrong. We’ve collectively chosen the superintendent to be the boss, and we’ve agreed not to undermine that. Work environments become toxic when it’s not clear who the real boss is. That’s why we have placed limits on ourselves and empowered the superintendent to monitor us in keeping within those limits.

“Perhaps this action will have no ultimate effect. If Trustee Petero from here forward abides by the proper limits of the office she has been elected to, then there will be no consequences aside from a bit of shame for having behaved enthusiastically but carelessly. But if the behaviors don’t change and legal claims arise, then I would expect this resolution to matter greatly. It would constitute a defense against our responsibility if employees, for instance, are subjected to unlawful harassment or intimidation. This resolution would be a major part of our defense.

“My hope is that will have no effect, because the behaviors would change.

“In speaking for the motion, I would also like to also respond to those in the community who have criticized the formal tone of our discussions, who say that our careful language looks artificial, and that we’re avoiding addressing this head on. Perhaps they are hoping for the drama of a personal battle.

“The reason we choose to address behaviors (rather than personalities) is to keep ourselves focused on our mission: to shape an environment where students’ needs come first, and not to descend into personal conflicts. We choose to focus on problem-solving because our district is faced with many legitimate challenges and needs, and should not be distracted by matters like this. That is why I support the motion. Thank you.”

A personal letter to a colleague …

In our most recent board meeting, during the annual board self-evaluation, a board member Ana Petero mentioned a personal letter I had written her more than a month earlier. I interpreted her remarks to mean the letter was not helpful to her, that my use of the word “clique” had a negative effect. I told her I hoped she made the letter public so others could could judge for themselves.

The other day (May 15th, 2021) in an email she gave me permission to make it public. Here is a transcript (it was handwritten). (Here is a link to the original handwritten version, with highlighting and circles added by the recipient.)

–beginning of transcript–

“3/26/21 Fairfield

“Ana, I felt bad when we left last night after the meeting. It felt like you were angry at me for being angry at you. I didn’t mean for it to be like that. I apologize for not communicating well. Let me try a different way.

“I wanted to talk to you because it sounded like you were not accepting directions given by the board president. That’s a problem, and it will end worse for you than for him.

“I remember I went through some painful times learning this myself, when I was brand new and David Isom was the board president. (Don’t ask about the time I had to apologize to Martha for saying, “Fuck this” right after a meeting!) Gayla would affirm – there were several meetings when I came home upset and in turmoil after feeling like I had not been treated right in a meeting or in an email. It’s not what I was expecting.

“It felt like there was a little clique that was marginalizing Joan and myself, trying to shut us up. I’ve since learned that it’s very much like a clique, but a focused, purpose-driven clique working darned hard to bring about good conditions for the students. And Kris is a key part of that.

“We’re sensitive to anyone who does not accept that. I learned it pretty quickly (though painfully). (The CSBA Masters in Governance trainings were part of that. I have a few more to finish – I can’t wait until they start up again in person. I’d love to go together.) I’m not sure Joan really learned that. (You should ask her.) The clique won’t respect you until they feel you respect them, and that takes time to accept the way they do things until you get to know them, and they get to know you. Then you can start to influence them, slowly. That’s the advice I got from Dave Gaut before I got elected, to just watch and follow for at least six months (I’d say a year) before taking a strong position on things. It takes that long for the other members to learn what you’re about and learn to trust you. There’s a lot of reciprocation, subtle but important. I bet all political offices (at least multi-member boards, councils or commissions) are like that. (You could ask Monica Brown about that.)

“The full-frontal approach doesn’t work for a new member, and just causes lots of pain all around (but more for you than for them). I don’t want you to experience more pain that you have to. We need you as a member of the team – you obviously have loads to contribute – but we need to learn to trust you first.

“I hope you’ll consider talking to Jonathan, making sure he’s comfortable with the way you use our time in public. We chose him to run our meetings and represent us, and as long as he has the support of the majority of the board, he has an awful lot of discretion on what to permit.

“Please don’t get angry or discouraged. Hopefully you can put your emotion to good use, by driving you to stay up to date, gathering information and asking questions privately, without unnecessary public confrontation. Again, I went through a lot of this. It takes time to earn respect from a group, and it takes time to gain respect for a group. (I started out with very little respect for the group.)

“I’m hoping you’ll find a way through this. Feel free to call me.


Some comments I recently made … May 2021

I’ve stopped summarizing or linking to meetings, but the most recent meeting contained some prepared comments that I wanted to get “on the record.” Here they are.

In our annual board self-evaluation meeting May 13, 2021, I spoke of a “serious problem we have,” and “an elephant in the room” that we’re avoiding. I then read a version of these comments I’d prepared:

(begin comments:) “Since this is a board self-evaluation, I think our board would function better if we had some safeguards in place. They relate to recent conditions. I think we need a new protocol for board member contacts with staff. May I describe it?

“Since we have selected the superintendent to oversee all district business, and …

“Since the overwhelming majority of this board has developed extraordinary confidence in the current Superintendent’s abilities and judgment, and …

“Since we are operating at a time of intense concern, ranging from Covid to staff turnover, and …

“Since board member activity outside of formal meetings can have a powerful positive or negative effect on employee morale and performance, and when acting outside of professional norms could result in significant legal and financial liability to the district …

“Therefore, I propose we empower the Superintendent to more closely supervise and limit board member contacts with employees. These are the specifics of what I propose:

“No board member will meet with district employees without the Superintendent’s authorization.
If a meeting or visit with District staff is authorized, the superintendent may require the presence of legal counsel to assure that information requests and discussions are appropriate and in compliance with personnel policies and protect the district against possible legal claims.

“All board member requests for information will be made through the Superintendent. Any requests that would, in the superintendent’s opinion, unduly divert staff from primary-mission concerns, will require majority board approval, to the Superintendent’s satisfaction.

“These procedures, which supersede those in the Governance Handbook, would be in force for six months after adoption. At that time, they will be reviewed for possible continuance or modification.

“These procedures may be modified by a majority vote of the board at any time. A version of these procedures will be incorporated into the Board Bylaws as soon as practical.

“I think our board would function better if we had these safeguards in place. I propose we take steps to implement them at our next board meeting.” (End comments – see meeting record on Youtube for exact record.)

At a later point in the meeting (after the annual board self-evaluation had ended, and near the beginning of our regular meeting, I made a motion which I’d prepared ahead of time:

“I move we adopt the agenda but with a change. I move that we remove all opportunities for board member questions or comments, except to make motions or speak in favor or against any motion. I’ll share my reasons during debate on this motion.”

Speaking in favor (debate):
“I propose we follow strict rules of order just for this meeting as a test run, to see how it goes and evaluate it. If we like it, we can later incorporate this into our written protocols. This would address a problem we’ve had recently. Let me explain.

“I was unhappy with our last two meetings, when some of our time and attention were distracted by what I thought of as either intentional disrupting or at least grandstanding, which I define as gratuitously speaking to the public as opposed to the board. So I’d like to see if a meeting without board comments and questions functions well and meets most of our needs while avoiding those pitfalls.

“This would focus us on the purpose of these regular business meetings, which is to formally approve or disapprove proposed actions. That’s the primary rationale for why we meet.

“Here are some additional reasons I think this would help us.

  1. Proper rules of order do not provide for discussing issues except for debating motions. If you study Roberts Rules, which our rules or order are based on, you will come to that conclusion.
  2. We have been distracted and perhaps even bullied in the recent past by speeches that either did not relate to the immediate business at hand or were repetitive and abusive of the privilege.
  3. This may well make our meeting more time-efficient.
  4. Our handbook specifies on four different pages (5, 6, 8, and 15), that we are to ask questions and collect information outside (and ahead of) our business meetings. In addition, all action items come up in two separate meetings; the first time as information, and the second time for final action after debate.
  5. As public officials, we have more than enough opportunity to ask questions, express opinions, seek clarification or make statements. We can post on social media, we can issue press releases, or we can do any of activities that contributed to us getting elected.”

Big decision on reopening schools after Covid – February 11th, 2021

One reason the latest meeting was difficult for all of us is because public opinion was so divided and even our individual positions varied so much. Each of us had put so much personal time into studying (and listening), yet we were forced to compromise and choose something few of us would have chosen first. It was multaneosly painful and gratifying to finally settle on one of four four choices.

One thing I was surprised by was that my personal choice would change because of the public comments. I like to think of myself as immune to emotional appeals or political winds. But I found myself changing as I saw how any why people in the community view the issues.

Anyway, I can’t adequately describe all of my thoughts on this issue, but at least I can get my comments “on the record” with this blog entry. These are the comments I read during the meeting (which I had been revising and shaping for days, including right up to just minutes before the vote).

“First, I would like to acknowledge all of the people who took time to express their opinion and feelings about this issue. Although I rarely respond personally, I always listen to or read every comment. Almost all of them are deeply honest and sincere. We’re not counting for and against. We’re listening. This isn’t just some political campaign. These are life stories.To each of you, thank you for taking the time.

“Of the four options: 1.) re-open as soon as possible; 2.) re-open after we reach red status; 3.) re-open after orange status, or 4.) not re-open this year, I’m not comfortable choosing option 1, (opening now while we’re in the purple tier). I’m also not comfortable with option 4 (no re-opening this school year). I favor option 2, reopening when the county reaches the red tier, though I could support option 3.

“Why re-open this year? We haven’t eliminated the risk, but we have good knowledge on how to manage that risk. Over the last ten/eleven months, we’ve watched schools around us and around the country that opened and seen what happened. Yes, there are new variant strains of the virus to be concerned about, but the consensus remains that carefully using protective equipment can keep the risk of infection low enough to re-open. The state has indicated they will support us in re-opening if we choose that, but we need to keep the pressure on the state to accelerate vaccinations so that all school staff have access to them.

“When we do re-open, it won’t be all grade levels or all classes equally. It will be phased in by priority, and even then only for 2-½ hours in the morning for elementary students. Middle and high schools would remain in distance learning in the morning but will be allowed to come in the afternoon.

“Parents will be able to choose their comfort level. If they want their students to remain home in distance learning, they can make that choice and keep their students in the same class.

“School employees, however, will not be able to “choose their comfort level.” School employees are classified as essential workers. The work won’t be pain-free, and it won’t be risk-free, just as with other essential workers.

“Teachers will have to carefully follow unpleasant safety practices using uncomfortable safety equipment. It won’t be a return to normal, and we can’t take for granted the close teaching and learning environments we’ve had in previous years. But it will be there for those students who choose it.

“There will still be many unknowns. There will be more surprises and infections and disruptions to people’s lives. Even with schools closed to in-person attendance the last ten months, many children and families have contracted Covid and been seriously affected.

“If we are waiting until there is no more anxiety, we will be waiting for a long time. We shouldn’t ignore that anxiety, but we can look for solid information on what preventative steps will reduce risk.

“I have sympathy for those who are deeply uncomfortable with this. The district is going to great lengths to provide safety equipment, but teachers will need to go to great lengths in their classrooms to keep the risk of infection as low as possible. It’s a huge burden for employees, from top to bottom. We only choose it because of our responsibility to students and to the community.

“If the county, state or federal government advises us to close again, we’ll do so. We can halt at any time if the recommendations change. But in the meantime, I will vote to re-open when we reach the red tier, which is option 2.”

The other issue of the evening that drew interest was extending the superintendent’s contract. I hadn’t prepared remarks for that, and I’m sure what came out was garbled, but I spoke in strong support of her performance and service.

I said there was a misunderstanding in the community (one that I used to share) about her role; it was more us using and dictating to her than the other way around. It’s a finely-tuned process of balancing voices between the board and administration, and not a good place to scrimp on dollars spent. I said we could hire a replacement for half her rate but we’d wind up being sorry real fast if we did. There is so much we count on her and her team to get right.

-Craig Wilson, February 12, 2021

November board meetings

The “meat” of our regular business meetings is usually either staff slideshow presentation or “action” items. This latest (November 12th) was no exception.

We had a slideshow about “Supports for Students in Distance Learning,” which was basically an update on how distance learning is going. (Various strengths and weaknesses.) You can see the slideshow on the board agenda platform under item 4B.

Among the “Action Items” was proposal to offer the former Falls Elementary School for sale/auction to the highest bidder.

Public comments centered on whether and when to re-open schools to in-person instruction. We’ve previously committed to consider this at our first board meeting of the new year.

Except for Covid-related issues, most of our regular business meetings consist of routine items. Someday I’ll list and describe the routine issues that come up during a typical year.

We also held a special meeting Tuesday to approve waiving our usual no-bid contract provisions. We’ll need to quickly purchase large amounts of personal protective equipment for Covid. We want to be prepared to re-open even before the risk of infection is zero.

In December we’ll be attending (online) the annual education conference put on by our state association, the California School Boards Association (CSBA). It’s a big deal. If not for Covid, we’d have travelled to Anaheim for this. I’ll give you an update next month.

Annual Report on English Learners Positive

The regular school board meeting last night had no unusual items (although distance learning remains a deep concern for people on both sides), but three items stood out to me as marks of progress. The first is about English Language Learners.

Director Howard Kurnblum presented an annual report which showed our school district to be exceeding the statewide average in several measures of program effectiveness, showing that our district is well on its way to becoming “a beacon EL (English Learner) program in Northern California,” as Mr. Kornbloom said. You can view the slideshow here.

The second presentation was about the Special Education Local Plan Area (“SELPA”) to which our district belongs. The information was given by assistant superintendent to the SELPA Andrew Ownby, who was the director of special education in FSUSD before moving to the SELPA.

Ownby gave an overview and history of the SELPA, as well as a link to the agency’s website, where all of their information is disclosed. The link is here.

The third presentation that caught my eye was about a national “Principal Pipeline” program that our district is participating in, sponsored and paid for by the Wallace Foundation. Assistant Superintendent Sheila McCabe told about our involvement with the program and described the benefits we are receiving.

There were several other items on the agenda, as well as a series of public comments (I counted 12) on the need to re-open schools in spite of the Coronavirus epidemic.

You can view school board meetings at this YouTube Channel, and you can see all agendas and support materials (including presentations) starting at this link.