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