Sunday Commentary: Board Misses Chance to Forge Consensus on GATE/AIM

Board President Alan Fernandes in July
Board President Alan Fernandes in July

On Thursday, Board President Alan Fernandes pitched the idea of forming a board subcommittee that might be able to hash out an agreement on AIM that could create a 5-0 consensus. However, three members of the board, all favoring reform to the AIM program, spoke out against the proposal and Board President Fernandes withdrew his proposal without a vote.

Each of them argued that this was a significant issue and that all five need to be involved in crafting the policy. As Susan Lovenburg put it, “I think you create an unnecessary tension when you ask two board members to represent five perspectives.”

While the issue of GATE/AIM is one of the more contentious issues in the district, it is far from the only critical issue the board needs to grapple with. The administration, however, spent an inordinate amount of time this summer on that issue and that issue alone.

The problem I see is that the reformers clearly have three votes to change GATE/AIM. While Alan Fernandes joined Barbara Archer and Tom Adams in supporting Susan Lovenburg’s June 4, 2015, motion, it remains to be seen whether he will vote to support the changes that the administration recommends and the three board members agree to.

While Susan Lovenburg says she crafted the June 4 motion attempting to get a 5-0, it seems that the two sides are fairly far apart in terms of what they would agree to. Having spoken to numerous people, I do not believe the differences are insurmountable, but I do believe that a 3-2 or 4-1 vote does not put an end to this issue. It becomes “THE ISSUE” for November 2016.

From my perspective, that is not in the best interest of the district. The voters will be asked to support an extension of the parcel tax at some point. There are a lot of key issues that need to be addressed, but there will be a looming elephant in the room that is as polarizing as any issue the school district has seen.

From my perspective, the best alternative would have been to put Madhavi Sunder (the staunchest defender of self-contained GATE) in a room with one of the three strongest advocates for change. In my conversations with Ms. Sunder, I believe there are spaces for consensus and agreement.

By having a subcommittee, they can negotiate and hash out the details where they have common ground.

I understand that this is not a perfect solution. But it is one often attempted in politics where negotiation and compromise in public session might be more difficult to achieve. There are time considerations and the messiness inherently involved in a log-rolling situation that makes it more conducive for a one-on-one meeting, with administrative staff present to work on the technical details.

In the old days of the two-thirds budget, the governor would meet often and negotiate key terms of the budget with the “Big 5.” That was the governor and leaders from both parties in both houses of the legislature. It was a flawed system that didn’t work well because of the size of the chamber and the distinct interests of members of both parties.

A subcommittee might have worked similarly here. But the assumption would be that the board majority would have a similar enough view on AIM that one member could represent the views of all three. The other assumption would be that whatever agreement they came up with would be acceptable to all five members. There would probably still need to be tweaks and compromise.

I firmly believe that the best chance we had to get a 5-0 vote on AIM would have been this approach. It might be that they couldn’t reach a consensus on certain issues. For example, I think all five board members agree with the ending of private testing (already implemented in the June 4 vote). I think all five board members probably see the flaws in the TONI (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence) and would be agreeable to finding an alternative testing method.

There is probably space to maneuver on when to use the OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test) and when to use alternative testing. On the other hand, it might be that, while one side sees the need for self-contained only when the students are under-achieving in the mainstream classroom, another side sees the need for self-contained opportunities for a broader range of students.

The subcommittee idea was certainly neither foolproof nor certain to work. But, as Madhavi Sunder argued, “It’s not just that there’s no risk to having it, I worry there’s a risk to not having a subcommittee when we’re talking about an issue like AIM. We heard throughout the summer, folks from the public saying they feel like they’re being shut out of the process – that there doesn’t seem to be that there’s any longer an active GATE advisory committee.”

It may be that the board majority on this issue believes that however they approach it there will be pain. And therefore, the least painful way is to simply rip off the band aid as quickly and easily as possible, deal with the pain and hope you can forge consensus to move on.

There is one more alternative and that is to take a number of different cuts as the reform. The board could start with the “easy” issues and take a bunch of small steps where there is 5-0 support. Then have the administration work toward refining the more controversial proposals and, in the end, they might have to take a 3-2 or 4-1 vote on those issues, but only after they did a series of consensus changes.

This is a tough issue any way you slice it, and my belief is that a negotiation to get to a consensus through the subcommittee process was the best way to go. We’ll have to see what the board has in mind now that they rejected that setup out of hand.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Greg Brucker

    I do not believe the differences are insurmountable, but I do believe that a 3-2 or 4-1 vote does not put an end to this issue. It becomes “THE ISSUE” for November 2016.From my perspective, that is not in the best interest of the district. The voters will be asked to support an extension of the parcel tax at some point. There are a lot of key issues that need to be addressed, but there will be a looming elephant in the room that is as polarizing as any issue the school district has seen

    David, with all due respect, this comes across as a direct threat against the Parcel Tax  (and all students in Davis) by you and the hardcore pro-gate/aim community (as you seem to be speaking for them), essentially stating, that if the pro-gate/aim people don’t get their way, that they’ll hold all  students of Davis hostage to their needs and wants through their actively making it into an issue connected to the Parcel Tax next Fall, as you seem to be doing in this opinion piece now by referring to it in that way, and as has been seen in other works of yours and other contributors recently, as well as in comments.

    I hope that this isn’t the truth, and that this comment and connection was unintended, nor will become the continued path that the Vanguard will take going forward. I always have believed and seen that the Vanguard works to support all students at all ends of the spectrum having done a great job of that in the past, and I strongly encourage the Vanguard to continue to take that position for the betterment of our community and our schools.

    The Parcel Tax supports all students in Davis in some fashion. To put the needs of the pro-gate/aim community over what’s best for all students in the district I would hope is something that no one would actively choose to do, because the gate/aim kids would be as impacted in a negative way as everyone else if the Parcel Tax fails due to this, and the non-gate kids would then have to suffer because a small minority (yes, it is a small minority) in town decided to force the issue as leverage.

    I appreciate your continued interest in working toward what is best for all students, and hope to see the Vanguard continue to ride that path as it has for so long.






    1. wdf1

      We have a community that likes to have vigorous and heated debates about our public schools.  Division on certain school issues doesn’t necessarily mean that the Davis voting public is divided about supporting public schools.  I remind Greewald that you could go back to prior school parcel tax elections and have said similar things related to the closure of Valley Oak Elementary or the firing of Jeff Christian,  which each seemed to be substantially threatening to the passage of critical school parcel taxes at the time, but still the measures passed.

      To assume that a substantial number of folks will vote against a school parcel tax based mostly on not getting one’s way on the issue AIM/GATE is to assume that those voters are evaluating in one dimension — did I get my way on AIM/GATE or not.  I think most Davis voters look at more dimensions than that.

      1. lotaspark

        It is amazing how those who say that the AIM community would be wrong in not supporting parcel taxes because they are important for their kids are the same people not supporting the AIM program and other people’s children! If you think that we should give more money to the district to serve the community, then stop throwing kids from that same community under the bus! I have never even considered asking the district to take away anything that can be used to help a child reach their potential. Yet somehow it is acceptable for other people to be doing that now and getting angry when we don’t want to pay even more money to the district for less services. We need to stop looking at it as “my” kids versus “their” kids and realize that all children suffer when programs and educational options are taken away. Cause trust me, it may be the AIM program now, but it will soon be Montessori, Spanish immersion, and special education next!


    1. David Greenwald

      My sense is that there is something – two somethings. First, they are not Brown Act partners. Second, my impression is that Susan would not go for it.

        1. hpierce

          David… on any given issue, any two members can talk (as long as there are not serial discussions with other members).  Scary if Fernandes and Sunder are “partners” as they were the two on the 3-2 vote.  ‘Joined at the hip’?.  Not a way to forge an agreement.  The minority coming up with a ‘plan’ to sell to the full board?  I think NOT!

        2. ryankelly

          And a formation of a subcommittee is what they came up with?   We haven’t heard any ideas from Sunder on how to address some of the problems with AIM, other than “slow down” or “stop.”   She needs to step up here and provide us with some idea of what she would bring to a subcommittee, so it doesn’t look like another delay tactic.  She was heavily promoted as someone who could forge consensus on the Board.  Let’s see what she can do.

  2. Anon

    Why not just wait and see what the recommendation will be?  Once an actual recommendation is front and center, then it can be determined the best way to proceed.  Perhaps at the time the recommendation comes to the public’s attention, it will be appropriate to form a subcommittee.  Or it is possible the recommendation will be so well received by the public, that nothing will be necessary other than for the DJUSD Board to vote on it.  But until the recommendation actually comes out and can be viewed by the public, it is useless to wring hands and wish something else had been done in the past.

    1. wdf1

      I agree here.  It may not have been Trustee Fernandes’ intention to have a board sub-committee approved last Thursday.  He probably had a hunch in advance how the vote would line up.  I think in this context he was floating the idea for future consideration.

      I don’t think a board subcommittee would be productive unless it could get clear direction from the board.  And I don’t think clear direction from the board is possible on this issue until the administrative staff puts forth its suggested plan and the board can evaluate it in public.

      Politics, especially when it involves negotiation and consensus, can be a slow motion conversation.  David Greenwald in this commentary seems to want the issue resolved already.

        1. hpierce

          Then, don’t “stir the pot” as much as you have.  Your repeated “stories” and “reporting” have done more to create an atmosphere of divisiveness and confusion, than I could have concocted if that was my goal.  Physician, heal thyself.

        2. Napoleon Pig IV

          hpierce, since when is reporting facts and providing analysis “stirring the pot?” The “confusion” was created by the school board and the district administration (remember that stupid lottery?), and as for divisiveness – you should expect that anytime an identifiable minority is subject to blatant discrimination, as at least 3 of 5 school board members appear eager to do with respect to AIM students.

          David is doing a fine job. If a few sheep awake from their oblivious slumber, more power to him. Oink!

      1. wdf1

        Greenwald:  I want the issue to be more or less resolved as soon as possible.

        Running through scenarios in my head, I don’t think this issue will feel resolved until a workable plan goes into effect, and it has at least a couple of years in which most parents feel satisfied and gain confidence.  At best a plan could be in place for fall 2016, and if things work out, then you’d be looking at 2018.

          1. David Greenwald

            Although that approach is kind of like rolling an inside straight. They would have to either defeat Susan Lovenburg is she seeks reelection and get Alan Fernandes to join them, or defeat the two.

        1. wdf1

          Don Shor:  And, of course, anything passed with a 3 – 2 vote can be reversed by a 3 – 2 vote after the 2016 elections.

          …which might extend resolution to a further future time. The point for me is that I don’t think this is an issue which will be resolved all that soon, as much as it might be nice to dream of it.

        2. wdf1

          I think it depends on where you see the starting point for developing consensus.  I think a board majority has the expectation that the starting point is with administrative recommendations.  It seems that others don’t.

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