By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
About 20 community members waved signs reading “We stand with Dee Perry!” and “democracy includes everyone” in front of the Laguna Beach Unified School District office on Tuesday to protest the Board of Education’s creation of a confidential affairs subcommittee that excludes board member Dee Perry.
Earlier this year, Perry publicly shared a letter from school district attorney Mark Bresee, which Bresee said included a confidential legal opinion. The retired teacher’s fellow School Board members later admonished her and created a controversial subcommittee during the last meeting to discuss the matter in private. Board member Carol Normandin said Tuesday that the subcommittee hasn’t met yet.
The School District recently received a letter from Perry’s lawyer Kathleen Loyer stating that Perry plans to seek a restraining order reversing the School Board’s decision to exclude her from the subcommittee.
The School Board planned to discuss the matter in closed session Tuesday with Bresee, but Board president Jan Vickers decided to pull the matter from the agenda after Perry indicated she wouldn’t recuse herself from the discussion.
“Legal opinions from the California Attorney General and the Fair Political Practices Commission confirm that when a member of a board or counsel is also a claimant or plaintiff in litigation seeking damages against the entity that employs them, that member has a conflict of interest and cannot participate in decisions related to the claim or litigation,” Vickers said.
Laguna Beach resident Karen Nelson was one of about a dozen residents who spoke during public comment in support of Perry.
“This is a really good person who has done a ton of good for kids and wants to continue to do more,” she said.
Jennifer Keiner, the mother of two Laguna Beach students, said she was disappointed in the school board for changing its governance policies, namely its decision last December to reappoint Vickers as chair rather than promote Perry from clerk to chair.
“It saddens me that you’re excluding her voice because it makes me think you don’t care about the children as much as she does,” she said.
Despite the disagreement over the confidential letter, the board members signaled they want to repair their fractured relationship.
Aspen Group International, a consultant team specializing in public and nonprofit governance, met with the school board at an April public meeting to train them on board governance and protocols.
Perry said she had a sidebar with one of the Aspen Group trainers, who advised she “should listen to a lawyer” about the repercussions of sharing the confidential letter.
“I assumed that all of you had talked to her…and decided you were going ahead with all your actions against me, and I took that seriously,” Perry said.
Vickers said that the confidential letter wasn’t part of the discussion at the April training session.
Three board members requested that the consultants come back for more in-depth governance training on topics including governance culture, board-superintendent relations, and developing an annual work plan for the school board. Five non-consecutive training days would cost the district $50,000, not including reimbursement for the consultants’ travel, hotel lodging, and meals.
“I’m positive and want to do the training and engage and commit to learning and working and being better about procedures and protocols,” Board member Peggy Wolff said
However, Wolff and Vickers were concerned about spending so much money on governance training. Vickers added that the training should be put on hold until Perry’s grievances are addressed.
“Until we can resolve what’s on the table as far as pending litigation, I think we look to the future,” she said.