News

Editorial: Careless with facts, but not talking about it

 

In March, the Woodside Elementary School District board endorsed a "polling and communication strategy" for an effort to renew the district's parcel tax. That plan included the mailing of a "public education" brochure to be sent out in March or April.

The brochure that materialized was in large part a progress report on the district's spending of Measure D bond funds: It highlighted the completion of the $8.26 million Sellman Auditorium, and invited the community to the auditorium's reopening and to an April 26 meeting focusing on the next phase of bond revenue-funded construction.

On the surface, the brochure was what it claimed to be in the small type: a public service to provide information to the community. But there was one perplexing component of the mailer: The Sellman Auditorium, it said, was "upgraded" and seismically retrofitted, its leaky roof repaired. In reality, however, the auditorium had been completely demolished and replaced.

After an Almanac reporter noticed this odd discrepancy in the publicly funded brochure, she did what reporters do. She asked how this misinformation found its way into an informational mailer. Was it carelessness? A lapse in supervision of an outside party hired to create the brochure?

The question takes on a greater significance when one considers that the brochure was part of a campaign strategy designed to persuade voters to approve a parcel tax in November. In that light, the mailer's implicit message to potential voters becomes: See how responsibly we spend your bond money as an investment in our school? Now continue your investment by supporting the parcel tax.

There could be a simple answer to our reporter's question. Perhaps: "We messed up — we're sorry. We'll be more careful in the future." So was that the case? Unfortunately, we don't know. The superintendent and the school board — five elected officials who are supposed to be accountable to the public — have circled the wagons. They aren't talking to our reporter.

In our view, the puzzling rewriting of history that is included in the brochure — a misstatement of fact that many in the community might have noticed as well but shrugged off as a careless error — isn't the biggest problem to surface as we look for an explanation. The matter has evolved into an even more serious question: How do public school district officials justify refusing to talk to the public — in this case the local newspaper — about public business they are supposed to be conducting openly and transparently?

After a long delay and many attempts to get district officials to respond to our questions, Superintendent Beth Polito was apparently given the green light to contact the Almanac late last week, long after we published an article about the situation. She acknowledged that she signed off on the text for the brochure, which was produced by a political consultant hired by the district. But she wasn't willing to elaborate on details until one or more board members could join her to discuss the matter, she said.

Ms. Polito's bosses, the elected school board members, might want to consider how their silence on a matter the public has a right to be informed about undermines trust. They plan to ask voters later this year to continue taxing themselves as an investment in the school. In May or June, according to the strategic schedule they endorsed last month, the district will send out another mailer linked to the parcel tax renewal effort.

If the discrepancy in the first mailer isn't explained adequately, the public would be right to question the accuracy of future informational material connected with the parcel tax effort. It's a matter of accountability, and we hope the elected leaders of the district will take their responsibility to be accountable to the public seriously.

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Comments

10 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 7, 2016 at 3:25 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

Very strange. What is the big deal. Why did it take so long for a response, and why wasn't school board members available. Perhaps they really do not need any additional funds.


6 people like this
Posted by Get the Facts Straight
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on May 8, 2016 at 1:19 am

There seems to be a clear agenda from the Almanac's reporter who covers the local schools. In the article it states "The superintendent and the school board — five elected officials who are supposed to be accountable to the public — have circled the wagons. They aren't talking to our reporter."

Of course they aren't talking to her. The fact is that Barbara Wood has a clear agenda against this current School Board and the school's administration. If we are talking about transparency and getting facts straight, can somebody from the Almanac please explain why Barbara Wood has been allowed to continue to write about Woodside School? Can somebody please explain Barbara Wood's relationship with the mother of the teacher who the school tried to let go? It is common knowledge that the reporter is friends with that teacher's mother, yet she is allowed to cover the story? Since that teacher hearing last November, the articles from the Almanac about Woodside School have been completely out of line and bent towards creating controversy.

Case in point is the April article on the opening of the new Sellman Pavillion. Instead of focusing on the kids, the future, and what the facility can be for future generations, Barbara Wood decided to, yet again, focus on controversy and the supposed "naming rights" issue. Pictures of alumni are found in the online article and the print article. Where was the focus of the current students? How about the dozens of kids who performed in the Jazz Band or the choir? Instead, we get a photo of a bunch of alumni.

Why would the School Board or administration respond to a reporter's request when she clearly has an agenda? Please comment on Mrs. Wood's relationship with the mother of the former teacher. I am not a journalist, but I have a very difficult time reading Editorial's that continue to paint a negative view of the school and talk about being "careless with facts" when your supposed non-biased reporter continues to spin every story to her point of view.

Editor's note: See my response below. > Richard Hine


14 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 8, 2016 at 10:11 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

If they're not talking to the reporter are they talking to anyone else? If not, that's a problem. Has anyone in the district questioned the board regarding this?


3 people like this
Posted by Woodside Parent
a resident of Woodside School
on May 8, 2016 at 10:36 am

As a Woodside School parent and decades-long Woodside resident, I am disturbed by the ongoing attacks on the Woodside School board and administration. It appears that the Country Almanac has lost any objectivity and allowed their reporter to go rogue. The school board members are volunteers who are doing the best they can and we appreciate what they have done for our school. In my experience, they are open and always available to discuss any issues no matter how big or small. Please, Country Almanac, present both sides.


12 people like this
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 8, 2016 at 10:46 am

...present both sides..."

Perhaps you missed this part of the editorial:

"After a long delay and many attempts to get district officials to respond to our questions, Superintendent Beth Polito was apparently given the green light to contact the Almanac late last week, long after we published an article about the situation. She acknowledged that she signed off on the text for the brochure, which was produced by a political consultant hired by the district. But she wasn't willing to elaborate on details until one or more board members could join her to discuss the matter, she said.

Ms. Polito's bosses, the elected school board members, might want to consider how their silence on a matter the public has a right to be informed about undermines trust."

Perhaps the school board should be more responsive when asked a legitimate question.


1 person likes this
Posted by why I rarely read Almanac anymore
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on May 8, 2016 at 10:59 am

POGO, Perhaps you don't understand that employers are legally very limited in their ability to comment on personnel matter. The Superintendent was probably strongly advised by legal counsel to stay silent. She couldn't win either way. If she didn't comment, The Almanac would feed trolls in Town Square Forum to try to pump up its sagging readership. If she did comment, she'd be so constrained as to what she could legally say that the TSF trolls would then accuse her of not being "transparent", one of their favorite accusations of our public servants. The Almanac was once a very good paper with high journalistic standards. Not anymore.

Editor's note: The editorial doesn't deal with a personnel matter. It deals with a district mailer sent to district residents at public expense that contains false information regarding a major construction project at the school.


9 people like this
Posted by Richard Hine
editor of The Almanac
on May 8, 2016 at 11:12 am

Richard Hine is a registered user.

To: "Get the Facts Straight"

Barbara Wood is not "friends with" the mother of the teacher whom the Woodside School District attempted to dismiss. (The dismissal was overturned by a three-member hearing panel: Web Link ).

As a 30-year resident of Woodside, Barbara is acquainted with her as Barbara is with hundreds of other Woodside residents. Barbara has never been to her home and she has never been to Barbara's home. Barbara does not know her email address or her phone number or even where she lives.

When a school district spends tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars in an attempt to fire a teacher, and a public hearing is held on the matter, and the panel overturns the decision, we think this is an important story the public is entitled to know about. Teacher tenure and the difficulty in firing teachers is a huge issue, and the ability to actually report on a case, since the matters are usually kept private, is rare.

It's the job of elected officials, and a school superintendent, to answer to the public and the district taxpayers and it's the Almanac's job to report how they respond, and when they don't respond.

When a school district sends a mailer, at public expense, to district residents that contains false information about an important construction project, it's the Almanac's job to report what happened and to ask the superintendent and board members to explain what happened.


7 people like this
Posted by Concerned Wdse resident
a resident of Woodside School
on May 10, 2016 at 12:54 pm

Concerned Wdse resident is a registered user.

The reporting here cites 'careless with the facts', however the School is not the careless party. For a few months now the reporter has not only misrepresented facts, but even worse, using poorly veiled language attempted to conjure up controversy where none exists. This careless attempt at journalism is a failure and exhibits envy of a very cohesive, successful, and happily anonymous community. The reporter has alienated the Almanac from this community, and I suggest that the Almanac now re-engage in some real journalism, and start the process to heal its relationship with Woodside.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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