Mike McMahon AUSD
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Qualities of Effective School Board Members

  • They develop a clear understanding of the roles of the superintendent, board president and board members.
    One of the hardest challenges for a school board is making an interim appointment to fill board vacancy. For this school board, selecting some with with experience over the will of the community proved problematic. If you rush it can be invalidated by the County Office. But in the end, sometimes you get it right.
  • They become familiar with the integral components of their school system.
  • They develop and practice skills for conducting, managing and participation in productive meetings. This Superintendent did not believe Board members were not acting properly so he wrote a memo to them. This Board member threatened to "boycott" Board meeetings.
  • They conduct open meetings in full compliance with the law.
  • They practice consistency and impartiality in all dealings with personnel, constituents, and issues.
  • They maintain a high level of visibility in the schools, community and district.
  • They seek opportunities to grow through specially planned workshops, seminars and conventions.
  • They let employees know that they are appreciated and valued.
  • They periodically evaluate themselves and the board as a whole.
  • They perform objective evaluations of the superintendent in accordance with goals and objectives, which are confidential.
  • Their agenda includes: Trustworthiness, clear communication, problem solving, tolerance, and professionalism as the basis of their boardmanship.
    It does not look good when Board members file complaints against one another alleging improper behavior. Or accuse the Board President of discrimination.
  • Children first and sound management permeates their thinking, planning, and voting.

Effective School Board Members

  • Recognize their responsibility is not to run to schools, to see that they are well run.
  • Work through the properly appointed administrative officers according to the organization as planned. Though sometimes, the management team reporting to the administration can have issues.
  • Function as a part of a policy-forming and control board rather than as a part of an administrative board.
  • Familiarize themselves in a broad and non-technical manner with the problems of the school board.
  • Refer, as far as possible, all complaints and requests to the appropriate administrative officer.
  • Try to interpret to the school staff the attitudes, wishes, and needs of the people of the district, and try to interpret to the people the needs, problems, and progress of the schools. This sometimes means challenging state law.
  • Voice opinions frankly in board meetings and vote for what seems best for the children of the district.
         The challenge is when the Board has voted on a matter and an individual Board member does not agree. Governance principles would indicate the Board member should acknowledge the Board position and move forward. However, this is not always the case. In one case, the Board attempted to limit an individual Board member's ability to participate in a district oversight committee.
  • Follow their state's open meeting law to insure full and open disclosure of all board actions. See California's Brown Act.
  • Recognize fully that the appropriate administrative officer is entirely responsible for carrying out a particular policy in accordance with state law and local regulations.
    Explusions are usually routine matters at the end of Board meetings. However, explusion of several high school students involved in off campus melee has led to the start of a long legal battle.
  • Help to frame policies and plans only after considering the recommendations of the appropriate administrative officer, together with his reasons for making such recommendations. In rare instances, a grand jury will sit in when policies are not administered properly. Sometimes, the grand jury is very blunt
  • Requires oral and written reports for the purpose of keeping the board properly informed on school matters.
  • Give all school officials authority in keeping with their responsibilities.
  • Vote only for the best-trained technical and professional employees who have been properly recommended by the appropriate administrative officer. However, this Board member crossed the line when an EMail sent to a candidate caused the candidate to withdraw his acceptance. The Board member action led to censure by the rest of the School board.
  • Maintain harmonious relations (or not) with other board members when harmonious relations are consistent with their obligations to the schools.
    It is not advisable to get too close to student Board members, as charges of impropriety could arise, leading to calls for resignation.
  • Visit the schools to gain clearer understanding of school problems, but not to interfere in the day-by-day administration of the schools.
  • Attend all board meetings and be visible and access to the community. Of course, if you are finishing a term in prison before being sworn in then you may have a good excuse.
  • Establish criteria for evaluating the efficiency of the administrative officers.
  • Present personal criticisms of school employees only to the appropriate administrative officer. Taking on personnel matters in Closed Session based on a Board member request is bound to lead to legal problems.
    Avoiding confronting employees during negotiations or face the consequences.
  • Support and protect school officials in the performance of their duties. Here is a story that tests the boundaries of supporting a local principal.
  • Give friendly counsel and advice to the administrative officers.

When a school board fails in a number of areas, they can receive a scathing report from their county Grand Jury that prompts resources being spent on a response. If the response is inadequate, the Grand Jury can request another response. All of the activity led to a Superintendent dismissal, who turned around and sue for wrongful termination. If the community is not happy with the actions of school board member they can initiate recall proceedings.

A Good School Board Member Avoids These Practices

Boards often create their own problems. When the problems become persistent, complaints are directed to a County Grand Jury. The Grand Jury then examine District operations and issue their findings. Experience has shown that board members lose effectiveness to the degree that they:

  • Interfere with the day-by-day routine details of school administration and supervision. Here is an example when a Board member makes ill-advised suggestion on student discipline.  Though sometimes it is the Superintendent who can act inappropriate by criticizng a Board member via Email. Which can lead to termination of the Superintendent and a lawsuit by the Superintendent.
  • Refuse to support worthwhile school programs because of personal reasons.
  • Show favoritism to relatives or friends. Otherwise, an official probe could be launched which led to an indictment and a request to pay for legal fees.
  • Make promises and commitments before the questions are fully discussed in the board meetings.
    For example, an EMail between Board members making promises can led to investigation by the Distict Attorney.
  • Join a clique to control board action.
  • Use board membership for political or business advancement for themselves, their families, their relatives, or other friends. Here is an example that lead censure by a school board and an investigation of a school board member.
  • Indulge in petty criticism of the administration of their schools.
  • Divulge confidential information.
  • Assume authority in school matters when the board is not in session.
  • Accept gifts from school suppliers or contractors, or make personal purchases through the schools to gain advantage of the school discount. Is it ethical to accept campaign contributions when a Board member runs unopposed? Here is an Los Angeles Times article about a Board member that raised over $300,000 and ended up running unopposed.

What to look for in a school board candidate?

California School Board Association Overview of School Board Leadership

How To Tell a First Rate Board

Every community needs to ask these questions:

  • Does the school board have first-rate people, and are those people broadly representative of the community? Cities are examining the need for electing school board members by area rather than at large. Here is an article about a lawsuit and subsequent settlement in the Central Valley.
  • Does it have open lines of communications to the entire community and to the school administration? Here is an example when a Board and Superintendent have communications difficulties. Naming a school can be fought with tension unless the Board establishes an open process.
  • Is it getting the information it needs to be able to make responsible decisions, for both the short- and long-range future? Of course, even when a Board acts responsibly, they can encounter difficulty.
  • Does it have close, effective liaisons with allied community programs: the departments of health and welfare, housing, private industry, and total city planning?
  • Is it really doing what a board should do-setting the policy for a strong administrator responsible to it-or is it wasting time dabbling in administrative details?


School board tempers flare after teacher's resignation

By Anna Tong, San Jose Mercury, August 10, 2006

Perplexed and upset students of a popular Monta Vista High School teacher want the school board to investigate the events leading to the teacher's resignation in June.

Teacher Tim Krieger's resignation has sparked a battle on the Fremont Union High School District school board, with president Avie Katz saying other members are using the incident to get him off the board.

Krieger, 31, quit after he was asked to make amends with school counselor Cathy Katz, who is married to Avie Katz, about problems Krieger had with their daughter seven years ago.

Krieger taught advanced placement biology at Monta Vista for seven years. He also advised the school's leadership class and coached the cross-country team. Students and parents say he was a crowd-pleaser -- at a July 11 board meeting, one student called him ``the Mozart of teachers.'' Monta Vista was recently identified as the top large-size high school in the world for advanced placement biology by the College Board.

``If you can think of anything cliche about the best teachers, he had that trait,'' said Monta Vista alumnus Jeffrey Shiau, 19, a junior at the University of California-San Diego. ``Some students had heavy problems and they would stay after class until 5 or 6 to talk to him. Sometimes he would organize a class trip to Laser Quest -- he could be a kid, but he was professional as well.''

District board members, however, divided in their opinions of Krieger, didn't conceal their animosity toward each other at a July 25 board meeting.

Two board members, Nancy Newton and Barbara Nunes, staunchly support launching an investigation to determine whether Avie Katz overstepped his role as board president when he questioned the superintendent about Krieger's qualification to become a school counselor.

(Fallout: The superintendent ended up mistakenly sending an email to all Board members regarding Katz' actions which led to his firing.)

Avie Katz said that this situation transpired because ``somebody would like to get me off the board.''

The debate started in May, when Krieger applied for a one-year position as a guidance resource teacher. The high school's principal, April Scott, unofficially hired him, and Krieger started to rearrange his schedule for the 2006-2007 school year.

But a conversation with Deputy Superintendent Polly Bove changed his direction. Bove asked him to make amends with Cathy Katz, with whom he would have worked in his new job. During Krieger's first year teaching, he had problems with Katz's daughter, who was in one of his classes. Krieger had never worked directly with Cathy Katz and he didn't expect any animosity.

But Bove, she said in an e-mail to the Cupertino Courier, ``suggested to Tim that he consider apologizing to his colleague, as a possible way to mitigate the issue that existed between them.'' In an interview, she said it is part of her job to try to head off such potential personnel problems.

Krieger said the conversation left him ``devastated.'' He planned to eventually apply for an assistant principal position, but instead he resigned, as did Melanie Walczak, a dance teacher with whom he co-taught the leadership class. ``I feel like I did my job for students and put a lot of hard work into them,'' he said. ``To be brought into these politics was extremely saddening. I didn't want to play that game.''

Krieger said he had long considered relocating and the conversation was the catalyst. Krieger and Walczak have both moved to the Seattle area and plan to teach high school there.

``My family is in Seattle, and housing prices are so high here,'' he said. ``One of the misconceptions is that I'm leaving strictly in protest. What happened just made me think maybe now's the time for me to move on.''

Avie Katz acknowledges that he spoke to the superintendent about Krieger's appointment, but said the academic altercation with his daughter ``absolutely'' has nothing to do with his concern that Krieger might not be qualified for the counseling position. Katz said he will abstain from voting on the investigation at an Aug. 22 meeting about whether to launch a probe.

``Guidance involves a huge responsibility,'' he said. ``Why was this teacher selected to fill in a spot when there are a lot of people who are qualified? I'm trying to find the most qualified personnel -- that's what a board member does.''

Bove said Krieger was qualified for the guidance post.

Katz said he believes that Newton and Nunes are pushing for the investigation because they don't want him on the board, and the conversation between Bove and Krieger could have been a ``ploy'' to prompt Krieger to quit.

Krieger said he's not interested in the politics of the board, only in teaching.

Newton, who proposed an investigation on July 11, said that the goal of the probe would be to determine if it is appropriate for board members to give input on hiring decisions.

``We need to figure out where it's proper for the board as a whole to participate, and where it's not appropriate for a single board member to influence the hiring process,'' she said.

Several students are calling for an investigation. Shiau and others have created an online petition at www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction /676415718 where people can express their support. Other teachers also have expressed concern.

``What happened is a board member meddled in a personnel affair, and board members are supposed to set and oversee policy, and not let personal biases get in the way,'' said Tom Avvakumovits, president of the Fremont Education Association. ``If this could happen to a teacher like Tim Krieger, this could happen to any of us.''

Meanwhile, students mourn that Krieger and Walczak left. One student, who dedicated an entry in her online diary to Krieger, wrote ``[Krieger and Walczak] -- your legacy at [Monta Vista] will last indefinitely. Thanks for truly being our superheroes.''


Misfired e-mail exposes district's political brawl

By Dana Hull, San Jose Mercury, August 24, 2006

A letter mistakenly sent by Rowley to the school board Two months ago, the Fremont Union High School District superintendent inadvertently sent a private e-mail slamming the school board president to the whole board -- including the president.

On Tuesday, the superintendent was fired.

The 3-2 decision to sack Stephen R. Rowley, who had led the high-achieving district since July 2002, came after a hot summer of controversy over the e-mail and the political infighting that lay behind it.

Fremont Union serves nearly 10,000 students at five high schools in Cupertino, Sunnyvale and San Jose. Over the summer, students and parents had called for an investigation into why a popular teacher resigned and why district trustees became involved in personnel decisions -- questions that intertwined with the private e-mail Rowley had mistakenly sent to the entire school board.

The district's five trustees met as planned Tuesday evening. They voted unanimously to investigate the resignation of Tim Krieger, a beloved Monta Vista High School biology teacher who advised the school's leadership class and coached the cross-country team.

But in the closed session part of their meeting, the split board voted to fire Rowley and appoint Polly Bove, his former deputy, as acting superintendent. That move upstaged the decision about the biology teacher and made it clear that any investigation will probe the complex relationships among the teacher, the trustees and district officials.

Rowley's ouster may have been under discussion for a few weeks. In any case, the tensions go way back.

Seven years ago, Tim Krieger reportedly had problems with the daughter of the school board president, Avie Katz, and his wife, Cathy Katz, who is a counselor at Monta Vista.

More recently, Krieger expressed interest in becoming a Guidance Resource teacher at the school, and was asked by Bove to make amends with Cathy Katz. Krieger resigned, as did dance teacher Melanie Walczak, who co-taught leadership classes with him. Both have reportedly moved to the Seattle area and could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

``Polly, I think you got the e-mail about Krieger and Melanie resigning,'' wrote Rowley in a June 23 e-mail that was inadvertently sent to the entire board. ``They are, hopefully, writing a scorcher fingering Avie and Cathy as a primary reason for resigning.''

The e-mail, which Rowley followed up an hour later with an apology, further stressed an already tense relationship with some board members. A front page Wall Street Journal article last fall about white flight from the increasingly Asian-American district created tension between Rowley and many Asian-American parents.

As the summer rolled on, scores of Monta Vista students and alumni rallied to Krieger's cause, signing an online petition of support and urging trustees to conduct an independent investigation into why he left the district.

Any investigation would have to determine if Avie Katz overstepped his role as board president when he discussed Krieger's qualifications to become a counselor with district administrators.

School trustees and the district's attorney declined to comment Wednesday.

In the middle of the night, the district released a statement, including comments from trustees, but not stating a specific reason for the firing. ``I am sensitive to the depth of what we have raised here by the Board's action, but I think it is in the best interest of the community that we did do this action,'' Katz said in the statement released at 1:39 a.m.

Trustee Nancy Newton, who has served on the board for 19 years and voted against the decision, was quoted in the statement as saying, ``I am stunned tonight by this action and deeply regret it.''

Trustees Katz, Kathryn Ho and Homer Tong voted in favor of termination; Newton and trustee Barbara Nunes voted against it. The board has often split along similar 3-2 lines.

The investigation into Krieger's departure now is expected to include Rowley's firing, because the two issues are intertwined. The costs could include hiring an outside investigator, arbitration fees and possible lawsuits.

``There is going to be an economic consequence to this move, which was poorly thought out,'' said Greg McCoy, a Danville attorney who is representing Rowley.

Rowley was in his office Tuesday evening when Katz arrived and told him in person that his contract had been terminated. Trustees have not given a reason for the firing. Rowley then left the building, and Fremont Union has removed Rowley's photograph from its Web site.

Rowley, a former principal in the Redwood City School District, was superintendent of the Bainbridge Island school district in Washington state before coming to Fremont Union. His contract as superintendent was to expire June 30, 2008, which means that Fremont Union may ultimately be held responsible for paying for 18 months of his salary. Rowley's annual salary was $221,587.


Fired schools chief sues


By Becky Bartindale, San Jose Mercury, November 6, 2006

Former Superintendent Stephen Rowley, who was dismissed after a misfired e-mail, has sued the Fremont Union High School District, saying his firing broke the law and violated his employment contract.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Alameda County Superior Court, gives the former superintendent's first public account of why he was fired. It also marks the latest twist in a political maelstrom, started by the resignation of a popular teacher this summer, that has overtaken a hotly contested school board race, putting two incumbents who voted to fire Rowley on the defensive.

Officials in the high-achieving South Bay district had not seen the complaint and were unable to comment, said Cindy McArthur, communications manager.

The lawsuit claims that school board President Avie Katz threatened Rowley's job when the superintendent wouldn't go along with Katz's attempt to block the appointment of popular biology teacher Tim Krieger to a counseling post because of a past family dispute.

``This lawsuit is a last-minute tactic by my opponents to try to hurt me in this election, as they have been trying to do throughout,'' Katz said in a statement. ``This is the latest attempt, and it is just as ridiculous as the other assertions. I have said all along, and I will say to you again, that I have done nothing but inquire about the hiring process of our district, and that is entirely appropriate.''

Katz disputed making statements that are attributed to him in the complaint. He also took issue with what he considers its ``inappropriate'' breach of his daughter's privacy.

According to the lawsuit, Katz confronted Rowley in early June, saying he was ``furious'' that Krieger would be assigned to a guidance counselor position at Monta Vista High School, where Katz's wife, Cathy Katz, works as a counselor. The suit says Krieger had accused the couple's daughter of cheating seven or eight years before.

The issue came to a head June 20, the lawsuit says, when Katz told Rowley he had enough votes on the board to block Krieger's appointment. Rowley says he and Katz disagreed over whether the appointment required a board vote, and Katz asserted that the board has the right to approve all personnel moves.

Katz told Rowley that if Krieger's reassignment went forward, there would be ``a consequence'' directly affecting Rowley's employment with the district, the lawsuit states. Katz also allegedly said he had three of five board votes ``with respect to'' Rowley's job status.

Krieger and dance teacher Melanie Walczak resigned three days later. The same day, Rowley sent his e-mail, which was meant for Assistant Superintendent Polly Bove but went to the board. ``Polly, I think you got the email about Krieger and Melanie resigning,'' Rowley wrote. ``They are, hopefully, writing a scorcher fingering Avie and Cathy as a primary reason for resigning.''

Krieger and Walczak, who co-taught a leadership class, have since moved to Seattle.

Rowley, who had an employment contract through June 30, 2008, was fired Aug. 22 on a 3-2 vote, with Katz, Kathryn Ho and Homer Tong voting for the dismissal. Katz and Ho are standing for re-election Tuesday.

The lawsuit, which names the district and up to 30 unidentified individuals as defendants, alleges breach of contract, wrongful termination, infliction of emotional distress, and privacy violation. It does not specify an amount of money, but asks for damages for lost pay and retirement benefits under Rowley's contract, attorney's fees and the costs of the lawsuit. It also seeks an order compelling arbitration to determine whether there was legal cause for Rowley's dismissal. The superintendent's annual salary was $221,587.

In a related development, district trustees at a meeting Thursday released an independent investigator's timeline of events surrounding Krieger's reassignment and resignation, leading up to Rowley's dismissal. Key parts of the timeline were blacked out or rewritten.

Tong said board members, meeting in closed session, blacked out or changed information only if it was unclear or there were conflicting accounts.

The redactions and modifications left some board and community members frustrated that it was not a full public accounting.

Trustee Nancy Newton, one of two board members who voted to retain Rowley, objected to the blackouts, particularly those involving the events of June 20.

The June 20 entry on the timeline says, ``Board President Katz meets with Dr. Rowley. Dr. Rowley is still confirming whether the governing board would be involved in Krieger's hiring.'' Three lines are then blacked-out.

Newton said the redactions conceal information she had reported from a conversation she overheard June 20. Two other people attested to hearing the same thing, she said Thursday, ``yet I was told tonight that it was in dispute and therefore needed to be crossed out.''

``I feel that three people reporting something is sufficient to be in the timeline,'' Newton said. ``And I know what I heard.

``It is very pertinent and I regret that it does not appear in this report.''

Colleen Medeiros, executive assistant to the superintendent, confirmed she also overhead the same June 20 conversation and reported it.

The timeline documents that Tong and Katz had raised concerns with district officials about Krieger, for different reasons. In a resignation letter, Krieger cited their involvement as among the reasons he decided to leave.

The four-page timeline was prepared by Fresno attorney Thomas Sharpe, whose law firm has billed more than $13,000 to conduct the investigation.

Sharpe, who joined Thursday's meeting by telephone, said he had interviewed 17 or 18 people, some of whom were represented by attorneys and would respond to questions only in writing. Interviewing people in writing, he acknowledged, has limitations.


Trustees clash as school starts up

Police respond to report of shoulder-bumping altercation

Staff report, Salinas Californian, August 24, 2006

A Salinas Union High School District trustee may file for worker's compensation after announcing during Tuesday's board meeting that she'd been struck by another trustee, board chairman Art Gilbert confirmed.

Salinas police responded after the meeting to a report of an earlier altercation, in which trustee Kathryn Ramirez said fellow trustee Margaret Serna-Bonetti struck her with her shoulder.

"There was nothing intentional on my part," Serna-Bonetti said late Tuesday. "There's personality conflicts on the board, but my primary focus is on the students."

Ramirez declined to comment to a reporter, as did police officers at the scene. Cmdr. Al Ruiz said he hadn't seen a report on the incident.

Trustee Lila Cann said she had no idea whether something happened between the two. "I don't believe in airing dirty laundry, even if there was," Cann said.

The board has seen tension and verbal sparring in the past, including eruptions of racial charges that came to a head during officer elections in 2004. Many of the trustees involved in that dispute remain on the board today.

Ramirez complained in 2005 about harassment from trustee Jim Reavis' supporters.

Serna-Bonetti was elected in November 2005, ousting incumbent Sandra Villarreal-Ocampo on a platform that called for an end to the board's "petty bickering."

After the meeting, Gilbert said the board will continue with business as usual.

"We're all looking forward for school to open tomorrow," he said.

Serna-Bonetti said her intention is to work with everybody on the board to address their responsibilities in the district.

"It's very important that we conduct ourselves in a professional manner and work with each other regardless of personal opinions," she said, "because we are role models for students and it impacts the whole district. I would hope we can have some board retreats and conflict resolution training in the future."


Schools chief files claim after board fires him


By Dana Hull, San Jose Mercury, September 2, 2006

The fired superintendent of the Fremont Union High School District filed a claim against the district Wednesday, alleging violation of privacy rights, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The claim, if not settled within 45 days, will probably lead to a lawsuit.

Fremont Union trustees voted 3-2 on Aug. 22 to terminate Stephen Rowley's contract, which was not to expire until 2008. The vote, which has thrown the high-achieving district into turmoil, followed months of political infighting.

Fremont Union serves nearly 10,000 students at five high schools in Cupertino, Sunnyvale and San Jose.

Over the summer, students and parents called for an investigation into why Tim Krieger, a popular teacher, resigned after seeking a guidance counselor position and why district trustees became involved in personnel decisions. The sniping got worse after Rowley mistakenly fired off a private e-mail to the entire school board that blamed board President Avie Katz for Krieger's resignation.

``The true and correct reason for Mr. Katz's interference with Mr. Krieger's potential appointment to the position of guidance teacher was that Mr. Katz and his wife were upset with Mr. Krieger as a result of an incident involving Mr. and Mrs. Katz's daughter who had been a student of Mr. Krieger several years before,'' says the claim, made available to the Mercury News on Wednesday.

Rowley seeks unpaid salary and accrued vacation, as well as damages for ``intentional infliction of emotional distress.'' Rowley's annual salary was $221,587.

Cindy McArthur, the district's communications manager, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.


School chief: Board 'out of control'

By Brian Eckhouse, North County Times, September 19, 2006

PERRIS -- Saying he has "grave concerns for the lack of control of our recent board meetings," Superintendent Dennis Murray has sent a letter to high school district trustees chastising them for conducting unsolicited dialogue with the public during meetings.

In a memo to the five Perris Union High School District trustees, Murray complained that their last meeting was continually disrupted by exchanges between board members and the public, suggesting that some were even text-messaging members of the public from the dais.

"This interaction is typically indicative of a structure beginning to lose the foundation needed for success and as shown (Aug. 16), reflects the opinions and perceptions of a small group of individuals who ... have never said much positive about any administrator, program or district official," Murray wrote in a two-page document to the five trustees.

In an interview Monday, Murray said he wants trustees to hold each speaker during the public comment period to the mandated three-minute limit, and to defer all nonagendized questions to administrators instead of addressing them immediately in public.

Murray in his letter described the meeting as "one of the most out-of-control board meetings I have attended in the past 10 years."

Board members frequently have responded to remarks or questions from audience members on matters not included on meeting agendas, occasionally prompting dialogues. Murray believes such activity violates board protocol.

Murray declined Monday to specify which board member ---- or members ---- he suspects has text-messaged while on the dais.

"I'm not making accusations," he said.

In a recent interview, Trustee Joe Daugherty alleged that Trustee Carolyn Twyman and her husband, Fred, had messaged each other during meetings. Fred Twyman, a Menifee Union School District trustee who teaches at Paloma Valley High in Menifee, was in the audience Aug. 16.

"This (text-messaging) has been pointed out by several different individuals and it is my opinion that this is certainly inappropriate behavior for any elected official," Murray wrote.

He urged the trustees to consider "the potential personal liabilities" from actions that could prompt litigation. Murray said in the interview he is concerned that trustees text-messaging during a board meeting could be "influenced by outside factors."

Carolyn Twyman didn't deny sending text messages from her mobile phone in the August meeting, but contended Monday that she and her husband did not correspond with each other. She said her children tried contacting her, so she responded by sending text messages.

"I didn't realize it (would cause) such a fuss," she said.

But reflecting back on her 10 months as a trustee, Twyman said she isn't surprised.

>"I guess they're always suspicious of what I'm doing," she said.

Daugherty, in a recent interview, labeled the board as "dysfunctional."

"We're not giving direction to the (administration)," he said. "All they (other trustees) know is about their personal little agendas and pet projects. That's not the way to run a school district."

Twyman disagrees with Daugherty's assessment.

"It's easy to point fingers when you don't like what's happening," Twyman said. "I don't think we're dysfunctional; we're just responding differently than the previous board."

Trustee Bill Hulstrom said he was so angered by Murray's memorandum that he sent a missive back to Murray.

"I don't think I was out of control," Hulstrom said. "And (the meeting) didn't seem to be out of control."


School board in crisis mode

Principals' Document Made Public

By Sharon Noguchi, San Jose Mecury News, October 3, 2006

Palo Alto schools trustees are scrambling to respond to discontented principals and managers, who are talking about unionizing or forming some other alliance to press the district administration for better working conditions.

The board has called a special closed session Sunday morning to discuss how to handle the concerns of the management team, which includes 48 principals, vice-principals and midlevel managers. The board met earlier this month after receiving a document outlining management concerns.

The document, which some say was a working draft not intended to be shared, began with a scathing criticism of Superintendent Mary Frances Callan and her top administrators, according to those who have seen it.

It cited poor communication, a lack of trust and a climate of fear in the district.

The management team met Thursday and Friday afternoons to respond to the leak of the document to a local newspaper. Callan showed up at the Friday meeting but was asked to leave, board President Mandy Lowell said.

Callan could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

Several people, including principals, were surprised and angry after portions of the document were published. ``By putting it forward into a public arena, there was a controversy created that was unnecessary,'' said John Lents, principal of Addison Elementary School.

While he acknowledged concerns about communication and trust with the district administration, ``we have a system in place that had been working well'' to deal with those issues, he said.

Trustees cleared calendars and canceled vacations -- the district has a four-day weekend -- to deal with management concerns. ``There is an urgency to act,'' said trustee Dana Tom. Trustee Gail Price will be calling in from Vancouver, Canada.

``It is very important that we acknowledge how much we value, trust and respect the management team and that we address their needs,'' Lowell said.

Among the issues concerning managers, according to trustees, are pay, leaves of absence, retirement benefits and vacation. But some also are unhappy with the leadership of Callan, who joined the district five years ago after serving as superintendent in Pleasanton and Milpitas.

``They need to encourage a safe environment as they can for administrators to come and speak to them,'' said David Charleson, a parent who heard about the document.

Trustees expressed concern about claims of a climate of fear. ``A healthy organization thrives when people feel comfortable expressing different point of view,'' said trustee Barb Mitchell.


Chino Valley Unified slapped with $3,500 fine

By Monica Rodriguez, Chino Daily Bulletin, October 25, 2006

CHINO -- The state Fair Political Practices Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to fine the Chino Valley Unified School District in relation to the mailing of a newsletter earlier this year.

The commission, which met in Sacramento, approved a stipulation and approved the $3,500 fine, said Jon Matthews, spokesman for the state commission.

Under the agreement the district would pay the fine and voluntarily waived its rights to participate in an administrative hearing process. The fine stems from a newsletter dated June 1 that the district mailed out. According to FPPC documents, the newsletter contained the names and signatures of the five school board members and was sent to 50,000 district residents at a cost of $8,612.20.

In sending out the newsletter the district violated a section of the Political Reform Act prohibiting mass mailings at the public expense.

School Board President Bobby Grizzle said "we're hoping we learn from the mistake," adding that was all he wished to comment on.

FPPC documents said four criteria must be met for someone to be in violation of section 89001 of the Political Reform Act.

The item, be it a document, a videotape, a record or a button, must be sent to a resident's home, place of work or post office box; cost of the item and its distribution must be paid from public funds; more than 200 similar copies must have been sent out in a calendar month, excluding those sent out in response to an unsolicited request; and the item must "feature" an elected official connected with the organization sending the item out. According to the documents, "an item features an elected officer when the item includes, among other things, the elected officer's signature."

"There is certainly a thin line between informing the public and campaigning," said Kareem Crayton, assistant professor of law and political science at USC.

By including the names and signatures of school board members "it seems like they are personally owning the achievements versus the institution," Crayton said.

Crayton, an expert in election law, said if a newsletter is sent out close to election season, that can also play a part in the FPPC decision.

FPPC documents said the district had engaged in similar behavior before.

The district "was the subject of a previous enforcement action, which also involved the same type of mass mailing violation that is the subject of this stipulation. The previous matter was resolved with the issuance of an advisory letter in March 2001," documents said.


School board member is charged with perjury

Staff Report, Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2006

SAN BERNARDINO - Chino Valley school board member Bobby Grizzle pleaded not guilty Wednesday to three charges of perjury and one count of violating the state's conflict of interest code, at his arraignment in San Bernardino County Superior Court. All four charges are felonies.

According to the charges, district documents show Grizzle participated in purchasing office supplies for the Chino Valley Unified School District while also working for Boise Cascade, an office supply company that did business with the district.

The conflict of interest charge stems from alleged violations that began on March 6, 2002, the date he met with CVUSD staff to discuss the purchase of office supplies.

Government Code 1090 bars elected officials from having financial interest in companies with which the district conducts business.

The perjury charges result from the accusation that Grizzle failed to list all his income on his annual conflict of interest statements, required of all elected officials.

If convicted on all charges, Grizzle could face up to 12 years in prison, fines and be disqualified from holding elected office.

Judge Michael M. Dest granted the release of evidence documents requested by prosecuting Deputy District Attorney John Goritz. He also set a trial scheduling hearing for March 28.

Grizzle retained Grover L. Porter, a San Bernardino-based attorney, to represent him in the case. On Wednesday, he was represented by attorney Victor Marshall because Porter was busy in another trial.

"Mr. Porter is the main attorney on the case," Marshall said. "But there's a 99 percent chance it will be me representing Mr. Grizzle in March."

After a 3-1 vote made by board members during a special meeting Jan. 17, the CVUSD board agreed to pay for a criminal defense attorney of Grizzle's choice.

Grizzle has said he sought advice in 2000 from Jimmy Gutierrez, the district's general counsel, on whether a conflict of interest could result if he served on the school board while continuing employment with Boise Cascade.

Gutierrez explained in a letter he wrote that because Grizzle's employment qualified as remote interest, the district could continue with purchasing supplies from Boise Cascade as long as Grizzle disclosed his interest and refrained from voting on the purchasing matters.

CVUSD Board President Fred Youngblood said he voted for the district to pay for Grizzle's criminal attorney fees because of the information presented by several attorneys during the Jan. 17 meeting.


O.C. school leaders largely off hook

Decisions that Capistrano Unified officials made were 'imprudent' but didn't amount to wrongdoing, a probe concludes

By Seema Mehta and Yvonne Villarreal, Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2007

A report released late Monday regarding controversies afflicting a South County school district found "ill-advised" and "imprudent" decisions that could appear improper but stopped short of actual wrongdoing.

The investigation, paid for by the Capistrano Unified School District, called on the district's leaders to consider the appearance of their actions and perhaps hold conflict-of-interest seminars.

"The conduct I have investigated points only to a lack of good judgment in various degrees by some district persons," said the 50-page report, dated Dec. 28, by retired Superior Court Judge Stuart Waldrip.

Waldrip was paid $400 an hour for his five-month look into allegations of conflicts of interest and other wrongdoing that have plagued the 50,000-student district for more than two years.

Although many of Capistrano's 56 schools are ranked among the state's best, controversies have included allegations that the board routinely violated state open-meetings law, the resignation of its longtime superintendent after accusations that he kept an "enemies list," as well as disputes over attendance boundaries, a new high school's location, portable classrooms and a costly administration center.

Angry parents unsuccessfully tried to recall all seven school trustees in 2005, but candidates they supported claimed three seats on the board in the November election.

The Waldrip report is one of several investigations into the district and its trustees. The district attorney's office raided Capistrano Unified headquarters last year, and the county grand jury has subpoenaed trustees and administrators. A spokeswoman for county prosecutors declined to comment Monday on the nature of that probe and whether it continues. Mission Viejo city officials have also called for an audit of the district's construction funding.

Waldrip's investigation was limited in scope and largely centered on the "enemies list," the employment of district leaders' relatives by district contractors and whether employees destroyed or removed documents.

Waldrip saved his harshest words for retired Supt. James Fleming and the "enemies list." According to the report, Fleming actually ordered the creation of two lists: one with the names of people who received e-mails from recall supporters and a second with the names of those who gathered signatures supporting the recall.

Both included personal information such as the schools attended by the children of recall supporters.

"No apparent nefarious use of this list was made.

Grossmont school board discusses members' rights

Tension among Grossmont Union High School District trustees was evident Thursday when the board passed a resolution to limit trustees' influence if attending meetings of the district's Bond Oversight Committee.

The resolution, brought up by trustees Dick Hoy and Robert Shield, came in response to a visit last month to a bond oversight committee meeting by Trustee Priscilla Schreiber. There, she spoke about a Grand Jury report from May of last year that details the district’s failure to follow through on a promised high school in Alpine.

The board in July responded to the Grand Jury report, refuting the findings and saying "After careful analysis, we have concluded that some of the facts as listed are inaccurate or incomplete, resulting in some erroneous recommendations." It shared its own analysis in a 20-page report.

Schreiber has spoken out many times in favor of a high school for Alpine, citing two voter-passed bond measures, Propositions H and U -- both of which the oversight committee looks after -- that can be used to build the school. District officials have said repeatedly that enrollment numbers that would trigger the construction have not been met. A citizens group in Alpine says it has been able to collect enough registered voter signatures to start the process of converting the K-8 Alpine Union School District into a K-12 district.

The resolution, which passed 4-1 with only Schreiber dissenting, reiterates a bylaw that states "No individual Board member shall make public statements in the name of the Board" and "When Board members express their opinions outside the Board meeting, it is their responsibility to respect the democratic nature of Board decision-making and always identify personal viewpoints as such."

An earlier version of the resolution had originally read, "Members of the Governing Board will commit from attending CBOC meetings unless specifically invited by the Chairperson of the CBOC, based upon a request from a majority of the CBOC members, or directed by the Board in its entirety."

It was augmented to read: "...although Members of the Governing Board retain all of their individual rights that cannot be limited by this Board, they will individually commit to voluntarily refrain from attending CBOC meetings unless specifically invited by the Chairperson of the CBOC, based upon a request from a majority of the CBOC members, or directed by the Board in its entirety."

The resolution also notes that although individual members of the Grossmont board "retain their rights as citizens allowing them to attend CBOC meetings as private citizens, the board recognizes that the attendance of individual board members at CBOC meetings may impact the degree to which the CBOC conducts its business independent from board influence.”

Schreiber several times said she felt that the resolution was a personal attack on her and was in essence a "gag order." She called the Grossmont board "dysfunctional" and explained that her Jan. 29 visit to the oversight committee was to provide some history of the Alpine situation.

Michael Waterman, an attorney who spoke during public comment portion of the meeting, told the board before they voted on the resolution that "if this were adopted, I see potentially the ACLU suing the district on First Amendment rights. It's also a federal civil rights violation. Any of you has the right to appear before CBOC anytime you want and to say whatever you want, including criticizing the CBOC." He later said that Alpine should get a high school because "the people of Alpine... paid for this school," and also recommended it be called Ronald Reagan High School.

The resolution's language also thanks the 11-member group for volunteering time and expertise in keeping an eye on the district's money on behalf of taxpayers.

The meeting also included a CBOC report on the state of some of the projects the bond money is paying for or has paid for, including an improved automotive shop at Grossmont High, new or improved gymnasiums at El Cajon Valley, El Capitan and Granite Hills high schools, the modernization of a building at Valhalla High and new wood floors at the district office.

About the CBOC members Hoy said "they work very hard and do a public service and we need to show appreciation for that," then added, "My belief is we should not attend (their meetings) unless invited or board directed. Yes, I have a right to go and speak anytime I want but I recognize that there could be undue influence on an independent oversight committee. But if you want me to come, give me an invitation."

Trustee Jim Kelly several times said Schreiber "attacked" the oversight committee volunteers and said "the worst thing I could do is attack someone publicly."

"There are rights that every one of us has," Kelly said. "I have a right to start singing 'Three Blind Mice' right now."

Schreiber has insisted she didn't attack any of the oversight committee members, and reiterated her assertion that she spoke at the meeting as a member of the public who wanted them to understand the Grand Jury report's findings.

Nick Marinovich, a member of the bond oversight committee and a member of the San Diego County Taxpayers' Association, spoke to the board as well.

He said that to stifle an individual citizen "is stifling our ability to do our job, report to the taxpayers." Marinovich said he didn't like "this kind of aura" that made certain individuals feel unwelcome at their meetings.

Shield said the intent behind the resolution is "to clearly communicate to the CBOC that they are, in fact, independent" and would not be influenced by board members. He also said the resolution "is unenforceable and does not have any punishment imbedded in it," if a board member should attend a meeting.

Shield said the oversight committee members "represent taxpayers, not staff, not board members" and that the resolution looks to "affirm (the group's) independence when political pressure is put on (them)."

Later in the meeting, Trustee Jim Stieringer said, "We are ignoring the elephant in the room. The question of Alpine (getting a high school) is a political question. It requires three votes of this board, which does not exist. We must face reality. Until one of my colleagues changes his mind..."

He looked at Schreiber to his right and said, "I'd said 'his or her' but 'her' is not (going to change her mind)."