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Local Currents: Brown (Act) vs Board of Education

“A law to prohibit secret meetings of official bodies, save under the most exceptional circumstances, should not be necessary. Public officers above all other persons should be imbued with the truth that their business is the public’s business and they should be the last to tolerate any attempt to keep the people from being fully informed as to what is going on in official agencies. Unfortunately, however, that is not always the case. Instances are many in which officials have contrived, deliberately and shamefully, to operate in a vacuum of secrecy.The Sacramento Bee, 1952.

 

col local currents David Vanderveen by Gabe Sullivan-2968This year will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Brown Act, the California act that is supposed to guarantee public notifications and access to government meetings. Unfortunately, our local school board continues to avoid public participation either by design or gross negligence. Neither is appropriate.

Last week the Indy reported parent outrage over the school board’s change of the school calendar. School will start before Labor Day rather than after it. Sparking the indignation is the vacuum of communication and public discourse over the change.

Most parents and students do not want a school board and superintendent making decisions for them without their input. Avoiding that input misses the entire spirit of public service.

As an example of the district’s failure to communicate, minutes of the school board’s meetings have not been posted on its website since November. Apparently “the dog ate my homework” excuse works at the board level too.

What a fabulous example for our students.

Nor are school board meetings available as webcasts. A simple solution might be to ask one of the students in the high school communications department to record and post the meetings on YouTube and create a channel for the school board. It would take little time and generate little cost. (A podcast of the Jan. 22 meeting was added to the website in recent days.)

Of course, you’d actually have to want to make the meetings public.

When parents filled the chairs at the last joint meeting between the city and the school board to protest the change, Theresa O’Hare made a snappy response over her shoulder to parents in attendance claiming that the change was “agendized” and it was “too bad that no one showed up.”

The agenda item to discuss the calendar change for the Jan. 22 meeting was listed as, “School Calendar, Mr. Vlasic.” That description in no way signals a proposed end to Labor Day vacations or any change at all. And you would have had to drive to the district office to find the piece of paper to read the agenda.

At last week’s meeting, Superintendent Sherine Smith presented a survey of teachers and parents about their interest in starting school before Labor Day weekend. This was the entirety of the presentation:  75% of the teachers and only 43% of parents responded. The superintendent did not provide the actual results of those surveyed, but somehow it inferred to her that we all want to end summer early.

People get fired for showing up at business presentations with no data on critical surveys that have significant impact. Fortunately, being prepared isn’t a job requirement for our superintendent.

Feigning ignorance is fine.

My guess is that the real issue is managing truancy prior to the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday and Friday when school is out.

I’m guessing, though, because the basics of solution selling are not apparent in the school board presentation. So far, there is little engagement or planning with public involvement.

It’s just insiders talking to insiders about what insiders want.

It’s easy to say you want public input, but design signals intent. The lack of transparency on agendas, presentations and solutions show no design to include, communicate or receive public input about school board decision-making.

Our school board either needs a wholesale change in the way they are engaging the public or they need to be recalled. No public official has the right to this behavior in our state.

 

David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected]

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