School Board Struggles to Move Past Politics

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By Amy Orr | LB Indy

“Communication, trust, respect, collaboration, and teamwork strengthen the relationship among board members and between the board and superintendent, and contribute to the effectiveness of the governance team.”

This statement comes from policies adopted by the Laguna Beach Unified School District Board on March 27, 2018.

Months later, a deviation from traditional board procedure created a rift in the relationship among board members. Board Clerk Dee Perry expected to be nominated for president during the school board’s Dec. 11 annual organizational meeting, but was passed over by her colleagues.

“I was surprised we did not follow our own bylaws, and especially surprised by board member Normandin nominating President Vickers again,” Perry said. “I had talked with Carol [Normandin] about the possibility of being co-presidents to give her a chance to be president…when she nominated President Vickers, I felt like I was punched in the stomach.”

At the time of the December organizational meeting, the board’s bylaw on organization, BB 9100, contained the following paragraph: “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.”

At last week’s March 12 board meeting, this paragraph was officially removed from the bylaws. Perry was the lone dissenting vote.

During February and March board meetings, community members have continually stepped to the podium to voice frustration over the situation. Resident Howard Hills expressed concern that the board ignored its own reorganization protocol. He argued that if the organization bylaw needed to be changed, it should have been changed prior to the annual organizational meeting.

Hills also noted that the controversial Dec. 11 meeting was neither live streamed nor recorded. Superintendent Jason Viloria has said that technical difficulties were to blame for the lack of footage from Dec. 11.

Another Laguna resident, Emil Monda, spoke at multiple meetings and shared additional thoughts in a subsequent interview. In Monda’s opinion, the board prizes unanimity and “groupthink.”

“They want everyone to go forward together,” Monda said. “They don’t want discussion, even though discussion is important. Dee broke that mold and came in with her own ideas, like video streaming the board meetings. She is a contrarian, but they didn’t want a contrarian, so they changed their own rules to keep her from becoming president.”

Monda also expressed concern over the fact that the board allows the superintendent to set the meeting agendas. In his opinion, the board has given up checks and balances and “surrendered power to the superintendent.”

During a phone interview about Perry, retired board member and former president Ketta Brown described the board presidency as “a figurehead position.” The board president’s role, she said, is to facilitate and make sure that meetings run smoothly and that business gets done in a timely manner.

Brown described Perry’s questions as time-consuming and based on old-school concepts.

“She doesn’t adhere to protocol…she goes off the reservation,” Brown said about Perry. “As a board member, you need to be supportive of the administration.”

Perry said she’s not breaking protocols, as some of her colleagues suggest. She’s merely utilizing her First Amendment right.

“I am chastised for doing research and meeting with parents, students, neighbors and community members, which I believe is my job,” Perry said. “I am very careful to state that I am expressing my own opinions and not speaking for the board.”

An emailed response from President Jan Vickers stressed the importance of the board functioning as a whole. Vickers said that per board bylaw 9220 Limit of Board Authority, board members have no individual authority.

“We all come from different backgrounds, but we must share a common objective of making sure the school district meets the educational needs of all students,” Vickers said. “I believe that we have a strong board majority who is capable of putting the organization as a priority over individual desires.”

Board member James Kelly shared his wish to move past the controversy.

“The elected democratic process always produces challenges, resulting in winners and losers,” Kelly said. “Once an election is over, it is time to heal and move on to accomplish the vital work of overseeing the wonderful work of the district.”

Kelly also expressed confidence in all of his board colleagues.

“I believe that everyone on the board is dedicated to helping our students move forward positively, and that we will work together in a collegial and professional manner,” Kelly said. “Each individual has a different perspective…I value this diversity of thought and believe it leads to a good governance process.”

Despite the difficulties, Perry voiced similar optimism.

“My hope is that we can work together and appreciate the differences instead of squelching them,” she said.

The board will gather for its next regular meeting on Tuesday, March 26.

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  1. Really sad that the pouting of one board member is a news story. As a parent and PTA member, I see so many wonderful things going on, and this takes away from the good work our teachers and students are engaged in.

  2. So because teachers and students are doing good work we should not be vigilant about fairness and integrity in our civic process for school governance? How does a debate in the School Board about due process take away from work by teachers and students? We have been hearing that for 20 years and it simply makes no sense. It is what nameless people write, then selectively let the people they want to please and appease know they wrote it. There is a bitter unforgiving quality to how people relate in LBUSD that is palpable and sad to see. It wasn’t always this way, and the good work teachers and students are doing could be enriched and more real and sustainable if the School Board culture wars had not gotten so out of control over the last decade. The idea that you can have good classroom experience in an unhealthy governance environment is naive. Everyone is out for themselves at the expense of a truly nurturing, disciplined and just academic and social order, instead of the “get mine” ethics of the college admissions scandal that show up at every grade level and every area of achievement. It even shows up on the School Board. I don’t see anyone pouting, I see people standing up for equal rights and fairness, which is good for teachers and students who are thinking critically instead of pandering for favor or trying to seek advantage at the expense of others. I am not enmeshed in this syndrome, my children are grown, but I hope the current regime of civic illiteracy and confused ideas about public school values is corrected by the time my grandkids matriculate here again. We are in it for the long term not just to get mine.

  3. The tyranny of mob rule is something that should be avoided at all costs.

    I find it a painful irony that members who pride themselves in belonging to the political party that says it is all about diversity and tolerance, cannot tolerate a diversity of opinions.

    Such are the Orwellian times in which we live.


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