A Lesson in Local Politics
Last week, I learned from a group in Pacific Grove called PG Lives that the Pacific Grove School Board was meeting on August 3. Why did that matter? One of the agenda items was a small payment to the Monterey County of Office of Education for a training for teachers on “Implementing Equitable Grading in the Classroom staff training.” It’s item N in the linked agenda, on page 62.
So I started reading on-line articles on equitable grading, saw enough that I was concerned about, and decided to show up to give a 3-minute comment. The link to the YouTube video of the meeting is here.
There were 5 board members. Four of them showed up in person and one of them, Laura Ottmar, probed Sean Roach, middle school principal, about what equitable grading entails. I thought she did a great job, asking a number of questions that I would have asked. Her probing and his responses go from about 32:25 to about 53:40. Notice how Ottmar sticks to her guns at the 51:30 point, noting that the proposal is about implementation, not just about examining the policy. Her point was that if the plan were to be implemented, it would violate one of the Board’s policies.
Then at 54:00, the chair opened it to the public, which included a lot of teachers. All 5 members of the public who were not employees of the Pacific Grove schools and who commented, including me, criticized the proposal. Some of the critics stated their concern that this involved race. They might be right and might have read more about it than I had. In my reading, I didn’t see this and so I spoke about what I knew. I had some uncertainty at the end of my 3-minute comment about what the book at issue, Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman, said about ethics and so I hedged appropriately. My comment goes from about 1:03:40 to about 1:06:40.
If you look at nothing else, go to the 1:09:22 point and check the short comment of Lito Garcia, the principal of Pacific Grove High School. As he came to the microphone, I got a close look at his face and he seemed angry. Listen to what he says and his tone at about the 1:10:10 point. Does it sound as if he was trying to intimidate the school board? Later, board member Brian Swanson, at 1:23:04, commends the staff and teachers for their input. Notice whom he leaves out.
This is public choice in action. There were approximately 15 staff members and teachers present and about 5 members of the public. The staff members and teachers are the concentrated interest group. We, the Pacific Grove citizens who pay the taxes, and some of whom have kids in school, are not. It seemed, from Lito Garcia’s tone and from Brian Swanson’s comment, that we, the great unwashed, were party crashers who were not welcome.
My one disappointment with Laura Ottmar is at the 1:25:35 point where she says that she doesn’t want to “hinder what’s happening here” because she can “hear the passion.” So she will vote yes. At least she sticks to her guns about full implementation (at the 1:27:40 point.)
In a note to her, I congratulated her on asking tough questions. I also noted that when all that’s required for a measure to pass is a majority, a 4-1 vote doesn’t hinder anything. On the other hand, a 5-0 vote will tell members of the public who are paying only a little attention that everything is fine.
The whole segment on the proposal ends at 1:31:18.