No More Money For The Unaccountable

by Susan Rush, April 18, 2012

Recently, I received the initiative from the California Democratic Party which I believe is spearheaded by Governor Brown. The initiative is called, “The Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012.” It raises revenues to fund education, protect public safety and balance the budget.” Governor Brown states, “This is the ONLY plan that will prevent further cuts to schools and public safety.” The way the plan is to succeed is to “raise income tax on the wealthiest (those taxpayers earning over $250,000) Californians, not the middle class or the poor.

The initiative states it “bars use of funds for administrative cost, but provides local school governing boards discretion to decide, in open meetings and subject to annual audit, how funds are to be spent.” The word “discretion” means “the power to decide or act according to one’s own judgment.” I’m only informing you of the meaning of the word because our “governing board” here in Point Arena obviously doesn’t know what it means. I would like to tell you how the Point Arena “governing board” has used their discretion in the past six years:

Matthew Murray was hired as Elementary School principal to be the “change agent” in the ever failing elementary school. Mr. Murray was part of a “team” which changed a failing school in the Orange County School District so quickly they not only received a national award but it was presented to them by President Clinton. A movie was also made of their success in turning the schools around so drastically in the district. The superintendent of this Orange Count district stated, “We couldn’t have achieved this goal without Mr. Murray being a vital part of the team.” However, at the DISCRETION of our “governing board” they terminated his contact a year and a half later because of vague complaints from disgruntled teachers even though the “governing board” received over 400 signatures from parents and community members requesting that he be retained.

Mr. Murray achieved the goals he was hired to attain. This was not contested. Unfortunately, following his departure, the elementary school nosedived back into failing standards set forth by the State and Federal Government. For the past three years they have been in “Program Improvement” and because of their failures our high school is now suffering the repercussions — last year the high school also failed to meet their required guidelines.

An ex-board member (who lead the pack in the termination of Mr. Murray) was later hired by then Superintendent Iacuaniello to be the Spanish Director, teaching at the high school (a hefty salary went with it). At the DISCRETION of the “governing board” they authorized the hire but this man had no credentials to even set foot in a classroom. Oh, yes, what he did have was a waiver signed by Superintendents Iacuaniello and Tichinin. After the “governing board” discovered this they were “outraged” but the man continued to be in the classroom teaching at the high school at the DISCRETION of the “governing board.”

Let’s look at the “open meeting” part of this initiative. Yes, the public is invited to comment at open “governing board” meetings. However, the public — at the DISCRETION of the “governing board” — is NOT permitted to ask any questions. At the DISCRETION of the “governing board” the date and time was changed to Wednesday at 4:30pm which was not done at a regular “open meeting.” This means any community member gainfully employed virtually could not attend an “open meeting” (to sit there and not ask any questions)! At the DISCRETION of the “governing board” motions are made in direct violation of Brown Act Law. These motions are approved along with inaccurate minutes that do not properly reflect what transpired at their “open meetings.” Even the “governing board” meetings have violated Brown Act Law when they combined a retreat and put action items on the agenda.

Finally, let’s look at a fiscally responsible “governing board.” In the middle of a financial crisis at the DISCRETION of the “governing board” they authorized an art teacher to be hired earning approximately $49k (not including benefits). She was there a little over a year before, at the DISCRETION of the “governing board,” she was given her walking papers because of the budget crisis. Let’s also look at the current Measure E Bond Issue for the Point Arena School District: The “governing board” authorized $1,848,250 to be “returned to the taxpayers.” Yet this is NOT the amount that was returned to the taxpayers. Instead of the “governing board” looking into the discrepancy, what the DISCRETION of the “governing board” did was to approve a motion to accept an incorrect audit in spite of the inaccuracies.

I know some of you are probably saying, “Please stop” — so I will. I realize I should not make generalizations regarding “governing boards” in entire the State of California. However, I have learned that no person with any authority in the governmental system will hold a “governing board” to task for what they do. Somehow they are exempt of wrongdoing. You and I are not exempt if we knowingly break a law even if it is a speeding violation, but “governing boards” are. I realize they volunteer but that should not exempt them from breaking laws they took an oath to uphold. Recently, the president of our Point Arena “governing board” admitted he was not fully aware of Brown Act Laws! Mind you, he is the PRESIDENT of our “governing board”!

I believe the success and/or failure really begins and ends at the “governing board.” I only listed a few examples of the many failures of our “governing board” in the Point Arena School District. One of the largest failures is the failure in the education of the students because they are the ones who have final authorization of the curriculum; they have final authorization in the hiring/firing of teachers and superintendent and, finally, they establish and authorize the budget and they do so at their DISCRETION.

This is why I believe this latest initiative will do nothing to help in the education of our students if it is left up to “governing boards” like the one in Point Arena. If this is the ONLY plan Governor Brown has, our educational system is in grave danger because his plan is only plugging a huge gaping hole with a band-aid when the educational system needs a complete overall starting with “governing boards” (like that in Point Arena) and appointing someone in authority to hold them more accountable for the failings of our students receiving an education.

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