Micro-news for CT 4601, Altadena, CA

What is PEF?

posted by Jeremiah 2/18/2007 07:54:00 PM

On Wednesday, I invited the pasadenaschools.info email list to surf over to my BOE opinions on this blog. Readers will recall that in my summary of current BOE election leanings, I alluded to at least two of the three seats having candidates with close affiliations to PEF.

Drawing this correlation, elicited comments from "neal" (no last name provided) and sparked a thread on pasadenaschools.info.

Both discussions are highly recommended reading.

Tip: Yahoo Groups threads can be traversed chronologically by clicking "next message" and "prev message" at the top and bottom of each post, or you may use the thread "tree" at the bottom of each message to hop around.

In particular, I want to thank Peter Dreier for taking the time to articulate his perspective on PEF. In his first contribution to the thread (titled "Everything you always wanted to know about the Pasadena Educational Foundation"), Mr. Dreier states that he is one of 30 members of the PEF Board.

My point is, I am very encouraged to see someone from "inside" PEF taking the time to participate in public Web discussions. Last year I had the pleasure of sitting at the same table with Maureen Carlson at a function. She was appreciative of what Isaac Garcia and I had set out to do with pasadenaschools.info. I told her that a huge part of what we were after was a way to give community groups a voice on the Web. She mentioned something about a PEF website being static, and out of date.

I never found a specific PEF website (Google it for yourself), but they have plenty of space inside the PUSD website. Perhaps that is what Ms. Carlson meant. This is a huge (and solvable) problem for PEF. They have so far been left in the dust on the Web. It is so easy to participate in the conversation on the Web, but it requires one vitally important ingredient: understanding the Web.

As far as I can tell, until Isaac and I threw our hats in the ring last year with pasadenaschools.info, there was basically a single voice that controlled the PUSD political conversation online. That voice is most likely still the most prolific, probably out-posting pasadenaschools.info by orders of magnitude to this day, although I wouldn't know first hand, as I was kicked off that list, and non-members cannot browse the discussions. Sequestering themselves is their loss, arguably proving that the list owner doesn't really "get it" either, and leaving plenty of room for far less ambitious (compulsive?) voices to be heard.

Before starting pasadenaschools.info with Isaac, I made overtures towards helping PEN upgrade their Web presence. At least they already had a website, albeit (at the time) a bit primitive, so it didn't seem as far as a stretch for them. PEN CEO, Chris Brandow, was very much interested in creating an interactive web presence, and we worked together on a plan, but to my (and I think Chris') disappointment, the concept was rejected by the PEN Board. PEN has since made some strides in using the Web for top-down dissemination, but in my opinion, PEN does not understand the Web any better than PEF.

Yes, PEN knows they can use it for efficient and inexpensive publishing. Granted, this is miles ahead of groups like Invest In PUSD Kids (as I believe they are officially called these days), and so many others who, like PEF, literally have almost zero web presence.

But having a Web site is not all it takes. The trick is to be comfortable with the fact that the Web can not be controlled. This is why it is hard for traditionally organized groups to "get it". PEN is a prime example of a group who insists on exerting top-down control on the Web. It's the pessimistic approach to using the Web. Keep a firewall between the publishers and the readers, because, if you let the readers become contributors, they might say something off-message. Yeah. They might.

But if rational things are being said, even (or especially) if they are counter to your assumptions, then might you not want to know that? There is big danger in discouraging dissent. Before long, no-one is willing to point out that the Emperor has no clothes. This is not to say that I don't understand why private organizations like PEF and PEN are afraid of what is being said online. The problem is a chicken or egg conundrum:
The online discussions of us are generally negative, based on false assumptions; we don't want to legitimize false negative rhetoric, therefore we will not acknowledge; the online communities erroneously read a hidden agenda into our silence, letting false negative perceptions echo with no counterpoint...
...and so on. Lucky for anyone who wants it, the field is still basically wide open for public PUSD discussion, and nobody really has to worry about which came first, the false or the negative. Other than pasadenaschools.info, I don't know of any other completely public forum for discussion of general issues relating to PUSD politics. All that is required is participation.

And the good news? PEF has at least one member who seems to "get it." I don't think it can be overstated how beneficial it is for PEF to have an informed, "insider" who is willing and able to discuss what exactly it is that PEF does and is in a completely public, "Googleable" forum like pasadenaschools.info.

Peter Dreier has jumped the most important hurdle, one that the PEN Board literally voted not to jump last year. Mr. Dreier, as a member of PEF, has stepped into an wide open public Web arena, and stated his opinion and views about PEF, engaging in civil debate, open to the public, on the Web. All other groups I have observed in PUSD politics, are only willing to hold such debates in small "in person" groups. In a Web-enabled age, this at best gives the impression of being hidebound, and at worst gives the impression of having something to hide.

I was enthusiastic when PUSD BOE Trustees Ed Honowitz and later Scott Phelps joined the conversation on pasadenaschools.info, but they are elected officials, so while extremely helpful, it can almost be expected for them to weigh in on a public forum. It's part of their job to talk to the voters, and anyway, they're subject to the rules of the Brown Act, and therefore already do most of their business in public.

A group like PEF, however, has no particular obligation to talk openly on the Web or otherwise about what they do. To the contrary, it is easy to understand why a private non-profit group might actively shun the big scary Web, full of angry, prolific naysayers. And yet, I passionately believe that to avoid participating on the Web, uncontrollable as it is, is far worse than jumping in and taking your licks.

Peter, you are to be congratulated for "getting it" [and hello to Maureen as well].


At 2/19/2007 7:57 AM, Blogger Isaac Garcia said...

I can't agree more with your blog post Jeremiah. While I don't agree with everything Peter Drier wrote in our email exchange - I WAS and AM very grateful for his participation.

Open, public debate on the web is helpful to everyone and, if conducted in a civil manner, can be one of the most powerful means of communication that people can leverage.

I hope Mr. Drier's emails are only the beginning of a larger groundswell of Pasadena participants on this and other public forums.


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Some BOE feedback

posted by Jeremiah 2/14/2007 11:48:00 PM

Some people are shy. Some people may have conflicts of interest. Whatever the reason, here are some worthwhile comments from people who emailed me but requested anonymity:
Anon: Why is being a current PUSD parent more important than being a public school parent, in general. Just being a PUSD parent doesn’t make you qualified to be on the Board. I think that you need a solid understanding of the education field, otherwise, you just become another bureaucrat telling teachers how they should teach. Don’t you think that it’s beneficial to have a background in education, as well as thorough understanding of the complicated social issues in Pasadena?
Me: True being a current PUSD parent in and of itself is not enough, but still it's a heavy plus for me. Proves a commitment to these schools and this community. Especially Harrison whose last 2 kids of 5 are almost through with high school.
Anon: Do you know the specifics about what these candidates want to do about Noyes?
Me: Not a clue.
Anon: I think you guys should look at Milena Albert for seat 4. She comes from a background of working with Head Start and understands how important parent involvement is. She came from Russia and had to learn the language here which gives her another perspective as well.
Me: I like a lot of what I see about Albert, but I just think she's going for a really tough seat. Bibb and Bob are going to make it really hard for her to make a dent.
Anon: Do you guys know anything about Renata Cooper?
Me: Nope.
Anon: I really think it is time to see Bibb go - I can't point to anything that he has done in the last four years that would make me want to give him another four. And simply disagreeing with people isn't very productive - I don't see him as being able to persuade anyone that his dissenting opinion is worthwhile.
Me: Well, I have to agree with this one. That's what I argued over lunch Monday.


At 2/15/2007 9:05 PM, Blogger catherineaanderson said...

Hi Jeremiah,

Passed you so quickly this morning, I didn't have time to give you my opinion.

I went to the PTA Council Candidate Forum at Marshall and heard from the candidates on some pretty tough questions, with a focus on secondary schools.

We have committed our vote to Bob Harrison for Seat 4. We've known the Harrison's for years through good and rough times at PUSD schools. His listening skills, business sense, and humor will be a welcome change to the board.

I was impressed with the depth of knowledge that some of the candidates had about the most critical issues facing the PUSD.

I am thinking of voting for Renatta Cooper and Roberta Martinez for the other seats. Not for the only reason that they are educated women, but that is on my list.

One comment that Ms. Cooper made about the BOE needing to have a Board Workshop on the Brown Act sold me.

I've had conversations with Roberta and she addresses a number of my concerns with secondary schools in her campaign talking points.

There is another forum at the Altadena Community Center on February 24. This forum should be appropriate to address the pertinent issues of PUSD and the Altadena Community.

I was elated to find out that there is a choice of willing and qualified candidates. This district has been on quite a ride over the last five years, and it is time for some to get off.

There was a $9M budget deficit when talk of closing schools started. Four elementary schools were closed for a budget savings of $1M. There is a $6M deficit projected over the next three school years. The question is...where are those budget cuts going to come from?


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Debating BOE over lunch with Isaac

posted by Jeremiah 2/13/2007 11:32:00 PM

So Isaac Garcia, Steve Gerow and I went to lunch on Yesterday and compared notes. Here are our early returns:

Seat 2: Mastromatteo (very involved PUSD parent)
Seat 4: Bibbiani (incumbent; often a dissenting voice)
Sear 6: Martinez (community leader with a diverse perspective)

Seat 2: Mastromatteo (very involved PUSD parent)
Seat 4: Harrison (very involved PUSD parent; associated with PEF)
Sear 6: Martinez (community leader with a diverse perspective)


Capsule summary of discussion:
We all agreed that being an active and current PUSD parent is a big plus. Generally agree that diversity is important. All agree that debate and dissent is healthy. Generally agree that having a majority of trustees backed by a single private organization (Pasadena Education Foundation) could lead to an imbalance of power.

Given these shared opinions, seats two and six are pretty easy choices. Seat four leaves us split, with me coming down more on the side of the "PUSD parent" factor, and Isaac coming down more on the side of the "dissent is good" factor.

I'm sure I totally misrepresented Isaac, not to mention Steve, but hey, when you own the press... oh wait... this is a blog...


At 2/14/2007 9:30 PM, Anonymous Neal said...

I don't think it's fair to say "backed by PEF". The Pasadena Educational Foundation is a non-profit set up to support the school district with money (by soliciting grants that PUSD can't solicit) and additional expertise. People get involved in PEF because they want to support PUSD - though maybe they want to work in an environment that circumvents the bureaucracy, or contribute to an organization that will use their money more efficiently for the kids of PUSD instead of the administration.

So to say that because some one has volunteered for PEF they are "backed by a private organization" seems to give it a sinister flavor that seems unfair. PEF doesn't back anybody and in fact their board members are all over the map on who they are backing in the BOE races. For instance, a number of both Bibbiani's and Harrison's biggest supporters are advisors to or members of the PEF Board.

At 2/15/2007 12:18 AM, Blogger Jeremiah said...

Good point, Neal. I guess the fact that Harrison and Selinski both put former PEF president on their qualifications is enough to at least establish a close association.

As an anonymous neighbor emailed me today, "My concern with candidates who have mainly been involved with PEF or PTA is that their focus may have been more on the fund raising aspect of parent involvement and education. We need board members who can understand the educational issues we are dealing with and who can make good policy decisions. I wish more of the candidates had been involved in Site Councils in their schools."

The thing is, who demonstrates that they fit this requirement better than Harrison for instance? Bibb? Albert? Lewis? I think being a super involved parent gives a candidate valuable front lines exposure.

At 2/16/2007 8:54 AM, Anonymous neal said...

I agree that being an involved parent shows a level of commitment that is a prerequisite for the hard sloggin ahead for the Board. The fact that a candidate lists their work for PEF shows that they have a close association, but not necessarily a specific agenda, anymore than the fact that a candidate worked hard as a voluntter for their child's school, or the PTA necessarily demonstrates a particular point of view. I also think that the primary work of the Board is financial - budget decisions are going to predominate. Educational expertise should reside in the staff - teachers and administrators, all the way up to the superintendent - and not necessarily in the Board. They need to be able to direct and supervise the Superintendent, not micromanage the educational decisions. So I think that your neighbor's point is misdirected. that financial focus, and especially to the extent that is "got things done" is maybe just what we're looking for...


Picking three for PUSD BOE

posted by Jeremiah 2/11/2007 04:06:00 PM

So March 6th, Altadena, Sierra Madre and Pasadena vote for three new PUSD BOE memebers.

League of Women Voters lists the candidates for seats two, four, and six, although the candidate information is pretty sparse there.

PEN (Pasadena Education Network) has been collecting and publishing information for a month already, and despite their election info presentation being a bit crude, the information is very comprehensive, so worth suffering the mashup of pdfs and awkward html. (In fairness, their web site has come a long way in the last couple years and at least the Microsoft Word docs are all been published as pdfs these days).

Update, Tuesday, Feb 13: I just visited the PEN website, and they have created a nicely updated election info page. The old content is still there for now, but you can see the new content by visiting the homepage or going to www.penfamilies.org/election

PSN (Pasadena Star News) published their summary of the candidates today. Though the write-up is brief (and therefore a bit superficial), reporter Todd Ruiz, includes some interesting facts, including how much money each candidate has reported.

Of course all of these sources will do their best to be neutral.

With less than a month to go, I guess it's time for me to start deciding who to support and vote for. Over the next several days, I plan on creating purely subjective posts on the contests for each seat, with my own opinions of the candidates. As usual, your comments are welcomed here on this blog.

For starters, here is a digest of each candidate's war chest (or maybe more like battle chest, or squabble chest, considering the modest amounts in question) as reported by Pasadena Star News for each candidate "as of last month":

Seat Two:
Renatta Cooper $1,340
George Loew $492
Mark Mastromatteo $720

Seat Four:
Milena Albert $88
Bill Bibiani (not reported)
Bob Harrison >$13,000
George Lewis $0

Seat Six:
Tom Selinske $10,139
Roberta Martinez $1,275


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