The race for a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education pits 13-year incumbent Grace Mah against another school board veteran, Melissa Baten Caswell. Baten Caswell is finishing up her third term on the board of the Palo Alto Unified School District.
This year’s county board race is more interesting to us than it might have been in past years due to what seems to be unusually strong support from the Los Altos schools community – for the challenger. The list of campaign contributors and endorsers reads like a who’s-who of known Bullis Charter School opponents. On the other hand, Mah’s campaign contributors include many charter school proponents.
Mah and Baten Caswell are vying for the Area 1 seat, which includes Los Altos and Palo Alto. Most of the county office functions – support for early-childhood (preschool) learning and helping vulnerable populations – impact children mostly outside Area 1 in less affluent communities. That leaves BCS as our local focus, as the county board renews and approves the school’s charter.
Baten Caswell said it’s “inaccurate” to assume LASD support means she’s an anti-charter school candidate. We agree with her stance that charter renewals should be scrutinized and not “rubber-stamped.”
That said, we see no reason to supplant incumbent Mah, who combines diligent work on the board with a practical approach (she calls herself a “recovering engineer”) and a focus on improving education outcomes for all students.
Baten Caswell is a strong networker. She’s benefited from her position as president of the Santa Clara County School Boards Association to secure endorsements from 27 of the 30 school board members in Area 1. But political savvy isn’t necessarily what’s needed for this unglamorous position. And Baten Caswell’s heavy support from teachers’ unions indicates the priorities may go beyond serving students and parents.
We’re not convinced Mah has been giving BCS special treatment. In 2013, she opposed the charter’s renewal due to the school’s Los Altos Hills enrollment preference. She correctly reasoned that the attendance area no longer existed after Bullis-Purissima School closed.
Baten Caswell is a worthy candidate, but Mah has done a good job on the board. She’s fair-minded and has her priorities straight. She has our vote Nov. 3.