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Lessons Learned



Relative Calm

In the last two weeks, volunteers have submitted another 75 signatures on petitions with completed affidavits. These signatures bring our total count of signatures received to 2,382 for 34% of our 7,000 signature goal.

As before, community interest in the message of an Altadena Unified School District and in getting the LA County Office of Education study to verify the feasibility of an AUSD as required by CA law prior to presentation to voters remains high. Petition circulator productivity remains strong at an average of 1 signature for every 6 minutes of volunteer time. Regeneration of our volunteer base via new volunteer sign ups at signature events also remains strong, indicating that we have the ability to sustain a strong volunteer base for scalability purposes as volunteers naturally flow in and out of the effort according to their availability. Our roll of available volunteers is holding steady at approximately 85 individuals.

With all this good news, it also appears that we have entered a period of relative calm and of unknown duration due to limitations on the availability of event leaders to reach out to our volunteers and to get signature events staffed. While we do have a handful of experienced individuals who are confirming their event dates and times, this role is our one role on the critical path at this time. All other resources are in place and ready to go. Consequently, we have asked our experienced petition circulators, all of whom abide by our few simple rules for respecting our fellow volunteers and fellow Altadenans (all signatures submitted to the Chief Petitioners at the close of each event on petitions with completed circulator affidavits; all press inquiries forwarded to Shirlee Smith; no history of hostility towards any current or past volunteer) to consider stepping up to help us get any of our planned events staffed - or any other signature event they may have in mind that is similarly respectful of our volunteer’s time.

Lessons Learned

As we enter this period of relative calm, it may be useful to record a few lessons learned so far. Due to ongoing volunteer concerns late last year regarding the repetition of inflated signature counts and exaggerated press statements, we recognized the need to sustain the utmost integrity with the citizens of Altadena and decided to bring those two issues and the website domain under Chief Petitioner stewardship. Had the half dozen or so volunteers who owned those aspects of this effort proved capable of delivering the 7,000 signatures we need without the efforts of anyone else or without concern for other volunteer's sensibilities, we might have gladly spared ourselves the additional work and given alternative approaches greater consideration.

Unfortunately our simple requests proved unacceptable to the half dozen, who included several volunteers who never collected a single signature. More unfortunate however is the fact that some of these same individuals are sustaining lawsuits (either themselves or via proxy) against another dozen or so volunteers for issues that are totally separate from and that pre-exist AUSD. And so all of these eighteen or so volunteers, both plaintiffs and defendants, and sadly including many signature event leaders, have been tied down by that issue, making them unwilling to work together on AUSD. And yes, our efforts to bridge the sensibilities of all parties has transferred some of the wrath the few has towards those being sued to the AUSD petition leadership.

So in retrospect, it would have been nice to have seen a higher degree of mutual respect prevail among all of our volunteers, just as it would have been nice if the Chief Petitioners had been secured back at the beginning with a more realistic expectation than the one they were given, which was that they need not do anything but sign the completed petitions at the end of the process. It might also have been good had circumstances allowed the Chief Petitioners to allocate the time necessary to own key operational issues as they emerged. But as is so often the case in these efforts, events very rarely occur to everyone's complete satisfaction.

Going forward, our success will be defined by our ability to put down our spears and show the mutual respect that any collaborative effort needs to succeed. We also know by what path we will generate a new base of volunteers unaligned with legacy community animosities. Time will tell if we are successful in our continued navigation of a path to the finish line.

Another Way

Thanks to the generous efforts of our many volunteers past and present, this effort has been able to move ahead with very modest cash requirements. As always, the potential exists for a few generous individuals to step forward with the resources to either supplement or complete this effort with the slightly more controversial approach of deploying paid petition circulators.

The cost model of paid petition circulators is different from that of volunteer circulators. Instead of measuring signatures per hour of volunteer effort, the benchmark with contracted circulators is $$ per signature. Some very well funded petition efforts have paid as much as $8-10 per signature recently, but such need seems rather unlikely for our situation. $3-5 per signature seems more likely for our effort. Please know that in the absence of offers to fund a complement of contract circulators, we have no plans for doing so.

In Summary

This effort, and the speed with which it proceeds, is now largely dependent on a handful of event leaders. We know that with a new generation of administrators and board members assuming their roles at PUSD, who just like those who preceded them, have absolutely no experience or documented capability for closing the academic achievement gap, our urgent concern for correcting our public school student's chronically very low academic proficiencies which languish among California's bottom third remains unchanged.

Will we continue to find sufficient quantities of new volunteers unencumbered by provincial Altadena disagreements to carry us to the finish line, or will what some have called the “key civil rights challenge of our age” wait to be solved by a different generation of Altadenans? Only time and our current volunteers will tell. That question is in our combined AUSD team's collective and very capable hands.



Official website of Altadenans For Quality Education (AFQE, AUSD Now!)