School Board’s Sloppy, Secretive Management
The July 16 School Board meeting was a battle between the public, who demands to be heard, and a school board that seemingly wants to shut them down and do their business in secret. Over 26 people attended, including two revered kindergarten teachers, Ms. Neeve and Ms. Crumley, most holding signs, showing support for School Board member Dee Perry. Perry has filed in Federal Court to fight the board’s formation of a subcommittee excluding her, most probably violating the Brown Act.
Every speaker spoke against the board’s actions trying to marginalize Perry. After one eloquent speaker, the audience clapped. Visibly upset by this show of solidarity, Board president Jan Vickers told the audience that they had spoken for 20 minutes and she was closing public comment. The crowd booed. After conferring with other board members, Vickers reconsidered and let speakers continue. Vickers’ attempt to limit and close public comment is sloppy management and counter to the spirit of the Brown Act standards of openness.
But there’s more incompetent management. You do not have to give your name to speak. A young man declined to give his name on the speaker card, and Vickers was not going to call the blank name card for public comment, requesting his name before he could speak. An audience member called this out as a potential Brown Act infraction, and Vickers eventually allowed him to speak without identifying himself.
But the biggest sloppiness in management, shirking their fiduciary responsibility and further evidence of what seems to be a desire to “rule in darkness,” was with the consent calendar. There were 11 items on the consent calendar which they were hoping to slide by without board or public comment. When an audience member requested that all “consent” items be pulled for discussion, Vickers only allowed one to be separated—approval of minutes of the previous three meetings. When Perry requested that minutes reflect her as “Absent” as opposed to “Vacation” (as has been the case for every previous member’s absence). Vickers insisted it say “Vacation,” even saying it was she who put it there. The vote was 4-1 and now reflects “Absent.”
Amazingly, the minutes of the June 25 meeting showed that they raced through the thick agenda in 34 minutes—no discussion and no questions on 11 consent items, and no questions and no discussion on 11 action items. Are they doing their job? That’s 1.5 minutes per item. One of these items was the superintendent’s pay raise—they voted on this 8.1 percent pay raise without discussion. Curious that the superintendent runs just four schools in Laguna, yet the superintendent for the Orange School District with 40 schools makes less money. They discussed his pay raise the following Thursday, meaning they gave him the raise and then discussed it after. Great governance, more sloppy work.
Back to the consent calendar. Items B-K were voted on as one item. Ten items, and each speaker got only 3 minutes to comment on all of them lumped together? City Council allows public comment on each item. No discussion and no questions on almost half a million dollars of expenditures, including $12,800 for the board to go to a conference in San Diego.
With Vickers’ experience, is this “self-selected” three-times-in-a-row president (who refused to let Perry be president because, in Board member Peggy Wolff’s words, “She isn’t presidential material”) doing her job? Shouldn’t the board be discussing items, looking into what the staff is doing and spending our money on? Running sloppy meetings in a dictatorial fashion, possible Brown Act violations, shutting down the public—this is what 32 years of experience gets us?
I’ve reported this to the Orange County Department of Education. It won’t matter. The School Board rules supreme. The only way to change this toxic environment is to vote new people in next year.
Michèle Monda has lived in Laguna Beach for 15 years with her husband, Emil, and three sons. She is secretary of Laguna Beach Republicans and treasurer of Laguna Beach Sister Cities.