A group of impassioned Laguna Beach residents are calling for Laguna Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) board member Dee Perry to have her turn as president of the board—a position she was denied during a Dec. 11 meeting.
As it does after each election, the LBUSD board reorganized at its December meeting, choosing its president and clerk for the upcoming year. Incumbents Dee Perry and Carol Normandin were also sworn in during that meeting for a new term.
However, unlike the board’s past reorganization meetings, the Dec. 11 meeting was not recorded “due to technical difficulties,” according to LBUSD staff.
“The equipment didn’t record anything,” said Leisa Winston, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources & Public Communications. “The superintendent made an announcement at the beginning of the meeting that the video system was not working. We do not have any other record of the meeting other than the official minutes.”
During the reorganization portion of the meeting, Normandin nominated Jan Vickers to continue as board president for a third term, and board member Peggy Wolff seconded the motion, according to the minutes. Perry, who served as the board’s clerk the previous year, questioned why the board was voting against rotating her into the role.
According to the board’s current Bylaw 9100 Election of Officers, “The board shall each year elect one of its members to be clerk. After serving one year as clerk, the elected member may serve one year as president of the board. It is the intent of the board that all board members will rotate through the sequence of clerk and president.”
“I spoke up and asked about our bylaws, which indicate the clerk will move to the presidency and there will be a rotation,” Perry said later via email. “I thought we should follow our own bylaws. Their interpretation was the “may” become president did not mean “shall” and they were not obligated to vote for me. My interpretation was that “may” meant you may become president if you would like.”
Perry said Wolff stated during the discussion that she was not “presidential material,” and Normandin said she was under the impression that Perry did not want to be president.
“I told her I did,” Perry said. “She apologized publicly at the next board meeting for misunderstanding.”
Perry said she restated toward the end of the discussion on Dec. 11 that the board should follow its bylaw.
“I was told that they planned to change it,” she said. “Until it was changed, I thought it should be followed. They disagreed.”
Ultimately, the board voted 3-1-0, with Perry opposed and James Kelly absent, to reelect Vickers as board president.
Perry said Wolff later nominated herself for clerk. Perry then nominated Normandin, who was elected unanimously to serve in that role.
The minutes from the Dec. 11 meeting do not provide much detail on the debate, only that “discussion ensued and it was determined that review of the bylaws should be discussed in the next governance/protocol session.”
Revising the Rotation Policy
The board held a special meeting on the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 6, to “review and discuss LBUSD policies and bylaws.” The first reading of the board’s revisions took place at the regular Feb. 12 meeting. Superintendent Jason Viloria presented the item, which included revisions, additions and deletions to 32 of the board’s bylaws.
For board Bylaw 9100, staff has proposed that the aforementioned paragraph detailing a rotation from clerk to president be deleted. The board moved the item to a second reading with a 3-1-1 vote, Perry opposed and Normandin absent.
“To repeat, I think the rotation is really healthy,” Perry said. “I think that’s what the public expects. I think it was wrong to deviate from our policy and interpret it in a different way. So, I’m obviously not for this.”
Howard Hills, who ran as a write-in candidate for the board last fall, said during public comment that the board’s deviation from its own rules diminishes public confidence.
“You included a provision providing for a rotation, you disregarded your provision, and acted in a manner inconsistent with its presumption, and after you did that, you are now repealing it,” Hills said.
“I don’t quite see how you can sustain public trust when you’re conducting your business in that manner,” he continued.
Earlier in the meeting, resident Sheri Morgan asked the board to listen to diverse, minority voices.
“You need to listen to that and not start taking policies and stripping away the power that they’re intended to, which is to rotate the voice and power that it has,” Morgan said. “Because if you start silencing that, you’re showing our students that it’s okay to do that.”
Vickers later clarified during the discussion that the board president “basically…runs the meeting, calls for the question, [and] calls for the vote.”
“That’s it. There is no additional voice, vote, or authority in this position,” Vickers said. “This isn’t a power or authority position. Every board member has the same vote, the same voice. No one has more, no one has less. We’ve always operated that way.”
However, the board’s Bylaw 9322 does state that the “board president and the Superintendent, as secretary to the board, shall work together to develop the agenda for each regular and special meeting.” Thus, Perry wanted the position with the hope that she could agendize some topics that are important to her constituents.
Perry later said she was surprised to hear that Vickers does not place items on the agenda, but rather familiarizes herself with the superintendent’s agenda when they meet.
“I believe the board should have more input into the agenda,” she said. “Being able to place items on the agenda was the most important part of being president to me, as I have had trouble placing items on the agenda as a board member.”
Perry has been on the board since 2014. Having spent over 30 years working for LBUSD as a former elementary school teacher, special education teacher, and speech pathologist, she has seen the inner workings of all four Laguna schools.
Perry said if the altered board policy is passed, she believes it will leave less room for diversity and change.
“As a school board, I believe we should be setting an example of respectful listening to varying points of view. After all, our constituents hold many different opinions,” Perry said. “I also think we should work with each other to improve all of our skills, like in a good classroom. President Vickers is an excellent president and is far better than I would be in many ways. But I want every board member to have a chance to be president if that is his/her desire, just like we want every child to have a chance to succeed.”
A second reading of the board’s revised policies, including Bylaw 9100, will likely take place at the next LBUSD regular board meeting, which is set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 12, at the LBUSD Office Board Room, 550 Blumont Street in Laguna Beach.
For information or to view the agenda when it becomes available, visit www.lbusd.org