Got facts on School Board...if you want ‘em

As if accurate news reports and a diverse cross section of citizens calling for School Board compliance with its own rules was the cause of the latest episode of seemingly substandard School Board performance, local civic leader Marshall Ininns writes that annual election of the Board’s presiding officers,

“…is a majority decision, just like City Council’s appointment of Mayor...seems to me Dee Perry not being chosen to be board chair has to do with her personal feelings and nothing to do with policy or students...” (Stu News Laguna, March 1).

Marshall is an admired neighbor and friend. But that statement is just so wrong it cries out for rectification.

The significant difference between City Council and School Board is that the Council never adopted an ordinance institutionalizing its tradition of sequenced rotation of members willing to serve as Mayor Pro Tem followed by a year as Mayor. 

In contrast, our School Board exercised its authority under state law to adopt a binding local rule creating a presumption of sequenced rotation for all members willing to serve in the presiding officer roles of Clerk and President.

As long as local rules do not prevent the election of a presiding officer by majority vote, the state education code authorizes the School Board to adopt binding rules governing annual succession of members in leadership roles.  If the School Board wants to end its institutionalized practice of sequenced rotation all it needs to do is act by majority vote to repeal the rotation rule it adopted by majority rule in the Board Bylaws.

It is as much about integrity and fairness as the binding nature of Board rules. Instead of honoring its binding commitment equally for all members the Board chose to enforce the rotation bylaw selectively when deemed to serve political interests of the majority.

Dee Perry did not seek special rights, but rather equal rights. To attribute her decision to stand up and speak out for the right to be treated equally according to the Board’s own rules to “personal feelings…nothing to do with policy or students” trivializes and seems to disdain equal civic rights for a woman seeking the same rights other Board members have to represent voters and constituents. 

Dee Perry was a teacher in local schools for 35 years and now has been elected to the School Board twice. She knows each Board member serving as President for a year brings forward different priorities reflecting the diversity of our community. This ensures pluralism so a full spectrum of voices are heard in managing the Board agenda, chairing meetings, and performing other duties under state law and local rules.

Perry knows sequenced rotation promotes transparency, fairness, and respectful dialogue that enhances the Board’s decision-making on policies that directly impact the quality of classroom learning for students. 

The President serves subject not to collective action by all five members but rather majority vote by any three individual members. 

Asserting sequenced rotation has “nothing to do with policy or students” ignores a nonpartisan model allowing majority vote alliances to shift based on merits of policy and budget issues impacting efficacy of curriculum and quality of classroom experience.   

We also are told Verna Rollinger behaved herself and there was “no uprising” when the City Council suspended its rotation tradition and she was passed over. If there was a city ordinance creating a presumption of rotation would she have surrendered to exclusionary treatment? 

Maybe so, but in 2014 when a motion was made to pass over Jan Vickers she threatened not only an uprising but retribution if the Board deviated from the rotation bylaw.

That was Vickers’ adamant position when it was her equal rights in jeopardy.  Vickers flip flopped in 2017 when Dee Perry was given no choice by the majority except being passed over. The majority allowed Perry to remain as Clerk to hold her place in the rotation sequence until after she stood for re-election in 2018.

That created comparative disadvantage in seeking re-election, but voters who want Perry’s courteous, experienced and independent voice heard more not less judged her qualified for all duties as an equal Board member. Instead the Board acted against its own rules to disqualify and silence her, essentially nullifying the results of the 2018 election because the majority didn’t like the outcome.

Denied her turn as President under the bylaws a second time after being re-elected in 2018, all Dee Perry asked was that the Board follow its rule or act by majority rule to change it. Instead the Board decided to retain the rule, discriminate against Perry, it seems, and without authorization under its own binding rules improperly install Vickers for a third consecutive term.  Many believe that was precisely the kind of politically manipulated scenario the rotation bylaw was intended to prevent.

In the view of the increasing number of citizens taking time to follow School District affairs, for daring to speak up Perry is being harassed and bullied by the Board and Superintendent. 

So far Perry has been too professional and circumspect to seek redress of unproven public accusations dropped without investigation but not retracted, selective belligerence targeting Perry in meetings, and administrative red tape protocols not applied to other Board members.

In the meantime, repealing the rotation bylaw after it was breached arguably confirms the Board acted contrary to its rules. That matters because modeling fairness among adults in civic affairs is also one important way we put education of students first.

Howard Hills

Laguna Beach