What's the No. 1 problem afflicting schools? According to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, it's elected school boards.
"The fundamental problem with school districts is not their fault," Hastings told 3,000 people at the California Charter Schools Association conference last week. "It's that they don't get to control their board."
It's not necessarily the quality of the board members, he argued, it's that flip-flopping governance prohibits long-term planning and improvement.
Never mind that most local school district trustees don't have term limits, and many have served long enough to fossilize. Fickle voters create too much churn. You know, the darn democracy thing. So uncontrollable.
Many who endure hours-long school board meetings, and sometimes meddling trustees, might agree. So what solution does Hastings, former president of the state Board of Education, under Arnold Schwarzenegger, propose?
Create self-perpetuating boards. As examples that promote evolution and progress, he cited nonprofits, the military, the Catholic Church, universities and political parties.
Let's see. A San Jose Unified board modeled after the Democratic Central Committee? An East Side Union board run like the Navy?
He does concede the public kind of likes the election thing. So he suggests the charter school movement just keep expanding. With charters educating 90 percent of students in New Orleans, he noted, California has a lot of catching up to do.
At least Hastings has been constant in his criticism. In 2010, he told the same group that "we have so many great educators trapped in our current school districts with these publicly elected boards."
Mysterious dropout of one well-funded candidate
The crowded field running for office in San Jose is already thinning out a bit -- and that includes the mysterious dropout of a well-funded candidate.
At the March 7 deadline to file nomination papers in hopes of making the June 3 primary ballot, 35 residents submitted documents to run for mayor or City Council. By Tuesday, five of them were disqualified after county officials rejected their nomination papers, which must include 50 signatures of verified registered voters and a $25 filing fee.
Among the rejected candidates were two unknowns running to replace termed-out Mayor Chuck Reed. That leaves a final field of eight candidates, though only five are waging serious campaigns: Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, council members Sam Liccardo, Pierluigi Oliverio and Rose Herrera, and Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen.
Three other residents who turned in nomination forms were also disqualified last week in their pursuit to replace the termed-out Nguyen in the central San Jose District 7 City Council race, although none of them had reported any campaign activity yet.
Then there's the puzzling case of one more potential District 7 candidate, Claudia Avila-Martin. She had already raised more than $14,000 in the first weeks of the campaign in December -- placing her second in the early cash race. She even had 49ers legend Ronnie Lott join her for a fundraiser.
But for some reason Avila-Martin failed to turn in her nomination papers on time Friday, making her ineligible for the ballot, the city clerk's office said. It's unclear if she showed up late or not at all. Avila-Martin did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment.
Just four candidates remain in the District 7 race, including three school board members: Buu Thai and Maya Esparza of the Franklin-McKinley School District and Van Le of the East Side Union High School District. Attorney Tam Nguyen also made the ballot. Thai, the school board president, has the outgoing vice mayor's endorsement, while Le raised more cash than the other three challengers combined early on.
Elsewhere on the ballot, the busiest races will be in District 1 (where all seven candidates who filed papers in hopes of replacing termed-out Pete Constant were verified for the ballot) and District 3 (where all six potential challengers made the ballot in the race to replace the termed-out Liccardo). Xavier Campos and Don Rocha are also running for re-election in districts 5 and 9, respectively.
A polite step aside in a now-uncontested judicial race
Deputy Attorney General Ralph Sivilla abruptly dropped out of the race for an open seat on the Santa Clara County Superior Court on the eve of the qualifying deadline. So rival candidate Deputy District Attorney Stuart Scott has already won the race for Judge Gil Brown's seat.
Sivilla left us a polite but somewhat vague message about why he pulled out.
Scott was at a fundraiser in Gilroy on Friday night with city's police union that he said turned into a party after Sivilla called him with the news.
"Ralph is a really nice guy," Scott said. "I think we just had too much of a lead on him."
Back in mid-January, we predicted Scott had the race for a six-year term sewed up. Right out of the gate, he'd secured Brown's blessing, as well as endorsements from nearly 30 other judges and most local police unions.
Public servants reported playing with toy trains
Each member of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors walked away from last week's meeting with a prize that young children across the state may envy -- a toy train.
Brad Johns, the first person to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting, said he drove from his Central Valley home to deliver the small, steel locomotives to each member of the board as a symbol of his belief in the San Francisco to Los Angeles rail line's merits.
"I want you to know that I support what you're doing," said Johns, a tomato farmer who lives north of Hanford, a small town where state officials are planning to lay a stretch of the rail line's tracks.
But construction of the rail line hasn't begun in earnest because of legal setbacks that threaten the $68 billion bullet train's future.
Another Hanford farmer and a homeowner filed a lawsuit that, so far, has blocked the state's use of bond money needed to construct the project. Gov. Jerry Brown is fighting in court to get those restrictions lifted.
At the meeting, Johns implored Board Chairman Dan Richard to give one toy train to Brown -- high-speed rail's biggest supporter in California -- because they're "made of steel" and "built to last," just like the lasting impact he believes the bullet train will have on California.
Richard was leery of allowing board members to accept the trains because of strict state rules on when state officials can accept gifts. But Johns said not to worry -- the toys only cost him $1.98 each.
Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at local and state politics. This week's items were written by Sharon Noguchi, Mike Rosenberg, Tracey Kaplan, Jessica Calefati and Paul Rogers. Send tips to email@example.com, or call 408-920-5782.
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