Kick The Can Or Protecting The Children?

556920_497264096977712_385366256_nTalk about kicking a hornets nest . . .

I write a couple of times about the School Board and next thing you know, some people start saddling up to me to convey, in hushed tones, their displeasure with the district.  Others come onto the blog sphere to attack my writing style or, perhaps, to insinuate that I am insensitive to the needs of our more fragile students.  My favorite response comes from a local gadfly who accuses me of being inflammatory for using the word “modest.”  Which is just choice.

OK, so there is a mix of opinions regarding everything “Simi Valley Unified School District.”  Perhaps that is a good thing.

You will see in today’s Simi Valley Acorn, page three (3), that my name is listed along with others in support of the group Citizens for Simi Valley Schools.

My feeling is always, if closer scrutiny helps bring transparency to the School Board, then anything the local citizens can do, up to and including a recall election, is a good thing.  Others can tout the whys and how to’s of the process.  I am more concerned with why the School Board gives the impression of “playing hide the facts” at every opportunity on even the most routine of issues.

Like hiding the fact that the Board was going to give its district counsel a 20% raise.  Or why the Board is proposing a $265,000 bathroom remodel without having plans or proposals in place, and yet one trustee even commented to the effect that she didn’t think that price was astronomical.  Or, more shockingly, why the Board President goes on at meetings about how great things are at the district, when the County is saying that the district is using borrowed money to make ends meet and that it is projecting losses in the next few years.  Just hunky dorky if you ask me . . .

One little issue that may or may not be coming from Board, and so far I can’t find any information about it, involves the matter of former SVUSD teacher Malia Brooks, she with the propensity for romantic excursions with at least one of her students, or as the Ventura County Star puts it, she who “replied “yes” to being guilty of three counts of lewd acts with a minor under 14 years old . . .”

It does seem that Ms. Brooks plead guilty to such nefarious deeds on or about June 12, 2013 in the Ventura County Superior Court, and it now looks like she will be receiving her sentencing on September 27, 2013 in Department 12 at 11:00 a.m.

What does not compute is that I do not see anywhere that a claim has been submitted against the district on behalf of the child.

The news release from the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office dated June 14, 2013, Release No. 13-036, states that “(t)he charged incidents occurred between January 15, 2013 and February 16, 2013.”  Which means that even if the family relied on the legal fiction of the “continuing violation doctrine” as recognized in harassment litigation, wherein if the claim is submitted within time for the last act, all prior acts are included, then the time has come and gone for a claim to be filed.  Or has it?

Alternatively, the cause of action accrues against the district when the victim realizes that an injury had been committed.  A case on point would be K.J. v. Arcadia Unified School District (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 1229.

In K.J., the student had an affair with her teacher and later on decides to sue the school district for negligent supervision of the instructor.  The California Supreme Court held that the date of accrual of the cause of action against the school district was when K.J. realized, through therapy (and some time after the arrest of the perp, whom she believed she was in love with) that she had been taken advantage of, i.e., abused.

So, it would seem that if there was an injury to the child in the Malia Brooks case, a claim would be submitted to the district at least within 6 months of the date of the last “incident,” which per the District Attorney’s Office occurred on or about February 16, 2013 (flash forward 6 months, August 16, 2013) or alternatively, when the child (or child’s representatives) came to realize that he had been injured as a result of his contact with the teacher.

So why no news about a claim being filed against the district?  Was a claim filed or not (I’m betting at least one attorney has provided counsel to the family).  If a claim was filed, was it timely?  Was there request to file a late claim?  If so, what was the district’s response?

Going over old agendas for the district is of no help.  On the agenda for the September 10, 2013 meeting, there is an entry found under Section E, Consent Calendar, Item No. 5-8, entitled “Notice of Action on Application for Late Claim Relief,” with no further information.  Then again, there is also an entry for the August 6, 2013 agenda, found under Section E, Consent Calendar, Item No. 5-5, entitled “Reject Legal Claims.”  Other than that, I don’t see much.

I am concerned that at the time of her sentencing, comments attributed to Malia Brooks’ attorney, Ron Bamieh,  were “that school administrators knew Brooks was exhibiting “erratic behavior, but lacked the courage” to do something about it; that “Teachers and administrators knew,” Bamieh said.  “They might have been able to prevent this from happening if the administrators spoke up.  Which is what they are supposed to do – protect the children.”

Does anyone else see a potential “stuff” storm on the horizon?  As in, criminal defense attorney attributes client’s bad conduct as preventable if only the district did “what they are supposed to do – protect the children?”

And where is the district in all this?  What is the potential exposure to the taxpayers?  Did the administration keep quiet and try to sweep the events under the rug as they transpired?  Is this the result of a possible tradition of keeping things quiet, don’t rock the boat, everyone protect their paycheck?

Did the school administrators really know what was going on but lacked the courage to do something?

Or is protecting the status quo more important than protecting the children?

Have a great weekend Simi Valley.

[Disclosures: Ron Bamieh represents the Ventura County Star on 1st Amendment issues; And next week I’m moving to 2655 First Street, Ste 250, Simi Valley, the same building as Dan White, Kevin Underwood, Ted Mackel and a couple of hundred other fine people.  Make of it what you will!]

Simi Valley School District Financial Crisis

It’s been easy to gather information related to the financial concerns of the Simi Valley Unified School District because quite a bit of it is available online. For material that isn’t online, simply asking for it seems to do the trick. There is quite a bit of data to wade through to fully understand what is inspiring the proposed Simi Valley school board recall, and I feel like I’m just scratching the surface.

To get a full understanding of the financial concerns, reviewing some of the documented materials is critical. Click here to read a letter from the Ventura County Office of Education to the School District dated April 11th, 2013. Some critical text on the first page (last paragraph) is important:

In January of 2013, the district board of education approved and submitted a qualified 1st Interim report. The report projected deficit spending in the current and subsequent years and projected a negative ending fund balance (insolvency) in fiscal year 2014-2015. After meeting with the representatives from the district governing board and administration, it became clear that the projections used in the 1st Interim report included expenditure reductions in the subsequent fiscal years that could not be unilaterally implemented. In addition, the report was prepared prior to the release of the Governor’s Local Control Funding Formula proposal and therefore included revenue assumptions that did not align with how the proposal would specifically affect the district. When these factors were taken into account with the high level of deficit spending projected for the current year, the financial outlook for the first subsequent fiscal year (2013-2014) changed dramatically.

Depending on your own experience and background, you might interpret that in a number of ways. When I read this, it sounds like the VCOE is telling the district that they are ending each year in the red exponentially and their list or proposed plan to get back in the black is impossible to implement. In short, you’re running out of money and not doing anything about it.

In this memo that you can view by clicking here, Michael Clear, Assistant Superintendent, informs Superintendent Scroggin about the meeting January meeting referenced in the text snippet above. The memo is dated January 18, 2013. He recaps the subject matter and attendees, among other details, concluding with:

Based on this information the County stated that the District must make significant cuts to be able to sustain financial solvency. If the District does not act soon, the State will need to get involved and make cuts they determine are necessary.

There will be a discussion with the Board regarding budget in the near future.

Now, jump forward to August 15, 2013, when the VCOE follows up with the letter I referenced yesterday. Again, click here to view this letter in its entirety. Noteworthy points in the letter are as follows:

  • “The level of deficit spending is not sustainable and as a result, we are concerned that the district’s fiscal solvency is at risk.”
  • “The district has been experiencing declining enrollment for over a decade. Future years’ enrollment projections as shown in the 2013-14 adopted budget, indicate this trend is continuing. Declining enrollment results in less revenue. Expenditures must be reduced proportionate to the lower level of expected revenues.”
  • “The district must continue to reduce expenditures proportionate to its lost revenues due to continuous declining enrollment, and closely monitor its fiscal activity in order to maintain fiscal solvency. Absent these measures, prolonged deficit spending will lead to insolvency.”
  • “Within the Adopted Budget, the district projected a negative ending fund balance in fiscal years 2013-14 and 2014-15.”
  • “It is imperative the district reduces its expenditures proportionate to declines in enrollment.”

The VCOE is essentially saying, “Hey! You under-reported expenses by $14 million in your 1st Interim budget, and you’re running out of money and not doing anything about it. Fix it!”

The most interesting part comes with no documentation, unfortunately. The Superintendent’s office submitted a budget in December of 2012 that assumed concessions from the unions. These concessions were never discussed with either the unions or the School Board, and included:

  • 10 furlough days
  • Increased class sizes (from 24 to 30 per class)
  • 6% reduction in salaries for 2013-2014

The 1st Interim budget given to the School Board to review in December did not include these concessions. Why is the Superintendent’s office providing different versions of the facts to different parties? Again, depending on your background and understanding of these issues, you may interpret things differently. But I see a severe problem, mismanagement of the facts, and a complete failure to act on severely urgent matters. There is no way the district can continue to operate this way. This is a serious problem for Simi Valley schools.

I have a lot more material to get through and I intend to document it all here. If you’re following along and you feel I’m getting something wrong or I’m missing something, please feel free to let me know.

Letter from Dan White

This is an open letter from Simi Valley School Board Trustee Dan White published several hours ago:

I personally want to thank all of the teachers who have signed up to support our mission for better leadership in Simi Valley Schools. Given the circumstances you face as an SVUSD employee, I am deeply moved by your commitment to support a new direction that goes against what your labor representatives are instructing you to do.

While teaching is already a tough enough job, it takes a great deal of courage to stand up to the people who purport to be representing your best interests. While you have pledged your support to build a better education system, many of your peers are afraid of retribution from the very leadership that says they are here to protect you. It is very disappointing to see how many teachers have said to me that they are afraid of their union.

As we begin this effort to change Simi Valley public schools for the better, I thought it would be helpful to provide some background information regarding the role of the SEA leadership during the past year.

Last year, the SEA interview committee came together to choose who they would endorse as their school board candidates. To the surprise of most on the SEA interview committee, the interviews were only set up to select one candidate. The other two positions were selected by SEA leadership well before the first meeting of the interview committee.

So while Collins, Sandland, and myself were all endorsed by the SEA, I was the only candidate selected by the teachers. Collins and Sandland were selected by President Dayle Gillick and CTA Rep Ginny Jannotto.

During my interview, I was up-front with the committee in explaining that we needed better leadership in our school district. I cited declining enrollment, and mismanagement of funds, and a lack of strategy. Early on in the process, it was very clear that essentially all of the mid-level and senior SEA leaders believed that
we were in desperate need of better leadership.

Over time, I learned the sad truth about the union endorsements for Collins and Sandland. While Ginny and Dayle do not believe these two are qualified, they still decided to endorse them because they didn’t know anyone else and as incumbents they were both the path of least resistance and also “known quantities”.

Between December and August, I have enjoyed my interactions with Dayle and Ginny. Like me, Dayle is a math major, and Ginny was a math teacher. I still believe we share the same vision for a better SVUSD. We feel strongly that that SVUSD needs new leadership.

In February, all SEA members were asked to give input on what they thought of our current Superintendent. The SEA presented a scathing indictment of Scroggin. One slide was titled “The District Created this Mess” calling the budget crisis “Outrageous and Inexcusable!”. The presentation went on with “The District needs
to Get Their Act Together and Fast.” The SEA pointed out that “Simi Lost 160 Teachers in the Last 5 Years”. “Simi lost 2,000 Students in 5 Years”. The SEA asked “Where is the district urgency to save students?”

Over 80% of the SEA members approved a vote of “No Confidence” for Dr. Scroggin. Clearly, the vast majority of SEA members agreed with their senior leaders, and they were frustrated with Dr. Scroggin.

In February, I asked Board President Collins to take action so that we could select a new Superintendent. Despite my request which was applauded by hundreds of SEA and CSEA members, Collins and Sandland ignored your voice and heaped unwavering praise on Scroggin.

On August 28th, I met with Dayle and Ginny in my office to tell them that I was launching a an effort to recall Sandland and Collins. There, I showed them the recall petitions and I explained my reasoning for launching a recall. They asked several questions and we had a lengthy discussion lasting more than two hours regarding leadership. I explained that I felt it was critical that SVUSD had smart board members. In that meeting and in several meetings before, Ginny and Dayle expressed their frustrations to me regarding Collins’ and Sandland’s inability understand important issues.

On Tuesday of last week, word of the recall reached the public. That afternoon, Dayle sent a letter to her lieutenants in the SEA. “It has just come to my attention today that Dan White intends to launch a recall effort.” As I read the fabricated nonsense in her letter, I could see that someone had gotten to Dayle. Despite everything she believes, someone told her she needed to oppose the recall.

Why?

Let me share a bit of public information with you: Dayle is the President of the Simi Educators Association and serves as a “TOSA” or “Teacher on Special Assignment”. Each pay period, her salary is paid by the district. Once a year, the district invoices the SEA for 50% of her costs. Some have argued that the 50% paid by the district is a “gift of public funds” to the union. This discussion came up earlier this year. At one point, the district invoiced the SEA for several years reimbursements at 100% on a retroactive basis. This triggered an intense debate between the SEA and the SVUSD. If Dr. Scroggin teamed up with three board members who wanted to eliminate the TOSA position, then in 10 minutes or less, Dayle would no longer be a TOSA. What would she do then? Go back into the classroom? Which teacher would be laid off when she reported for duty?

Therefore, supporting the recall would likely adversely affect Dayle Gillick’s personal movements, freedom, and/or personal finances.

Likewise, the SEA supporting the recall could trigger a retroactive invoice to the local chapter of the SEA.

And that may be two big reasons why the SEA is telling you — before they hear your opinion via the Rep Council meeting on Wednesday — that they “cannot support a recall.” They don’t care what your opinion is — they have already decided. This was yet another example of a recurring theme around here: It is called a “Conflict of Interest”.

At the upcoming regular board meeting on October 8th, Dr. Scroggin’s contract extension will be on the agenda. The four other board members have signaled that they are willing to approve the contract extension.

Your SEA leaders are taking the side that wants more years of Scroggin’s leadership.

I am taking the same side that you did in February when 80% of your members said “No more Scroggin.”

I didn’t change my position. I am just following through on what I said when I started this whole thing: “Change Begins with Leadership”

But your SEA leadership has flip-flopped on this one.

When SEA wants more of the same leadership that has led to 160 teacher layoffs in 5 years, it is worth asking the question: Is SEA representing your interests ?

School Board Trustees Lock-in Superintendent

I’ve been trying to do my homework regarding the proposed SVUSD School Board Trustee recall and found an interesting historical reference related to contracts for SVUSD superintendents. This is old news by now, but it was publicized that Superintendent Scroggin’s contract was modified to require a “super majority” vote. This means that if the board wants to terminate Scroggin for any reason, a 4 to 1 majority vote would be required as opposed to the standard majority vote (3 to 2). Per the article I read in the Acorn:

“We take that step to delegate authority to the superintendent, but at the same time, we have not given her the district,” White said. “If the board feels like it needs to make a change in our district in all other aspects, we run with a simple majority vote. Why did we need to provide a (super majority) provision to Dr. Scroggin in her contract?”

Dan White was elected after the contract was approved and he clearly doesn’t agree with how it was modified. Trustee Collins had a different opinion:

Collins said the super majority vote was written into Scroggin’s contract to show solidarity among board members and to recognize her track record as an employee.

“We tend to work together as a board and we’ve always had unanimous agreements on our contracts,” Collins said. “We have special board meetings to discuss her performance and come up with decisions together.

“I’ve always felt it’s good to reward people who’ve done a good job and give them a bit of job security.”

Flashback to 1995 during a time when our school district was suffering from limited budgets — here’s a story about a divided school board deciding whether or not to keep a superintendent.

Board member Debbie Sandland said she refused to sign Wolford’s evaluation and is requesting a review of the process.

“I don’t feel that she has provided us with satisfactory leadership,” Sandland said. “Her priorities are clearly not in line with my priorities. Mine are with the students, and hers are what’s happening in the district office.”

But others praised Wolford for supporting the same programs her critics slam, saying they are innovative ways to stretch district funds in trying budgetary times.

Trustee Norman Walker said the superintendent should not be punished because the school board is not unified on several issues regarding the district’s future.

“I don’t think there’s a superintendent in the country that could work with this board. We are divided,” Walker said. “We need to work on ourselves. We can’t just continue to replace superintendents.”

In 1995, Superintendent Wolford’s contract was extended by a 3 to 2 majority vote. Read it all here.

I can’t help but to see the super majority clause in Scroggin’s contract as a preemptive measure to avoid what may have been anticipated as a divided board. During a time when the districts financial solvency is in question, why would you want to make it difficult to transfer authority to a new superintendent, should it be determined that it’s necessary? Are we focused on education and governing the district, or protecting our allies? I wonder what Trustee Sandland’s thoughts would have been on this topic in 1995.

Special Edition: Special Assignment

556920_497264096977712_385366256_n
I spoke with Dan White today who confirms that he is working to recruit quality people, such as Randy Nemecek, to run for the school board. Dan feels that Randy is exactly the type of person needed on the school board and that Randy’s financial skills could be put to good for the City’s largest public agency where his skills could have a big impact in the serious financial issues facing the board. (This issue came up in another forum where Randy claimed that Dan had attempted to recruit him to run for the school board).

As for the cost of an election, it seems that every time I turn around the number goes up another $50K. At first I was seeing numbers in the $100-150K range. Then others cite $200K. And today I read that someone is claiming a recall would cost $250K! Yet, if a special election is run at the same time as, say, the primaries next June, then the cost should come in around $40k to $50k. (I am informed that in the last board election, the district’s shared cost with the County was $42K). And that’s still cheaper than a “modest” $265,000 bathroom remodel.

On another note, is not Dayle Gillick, the president of the Simi Educators Association, on “special assignment” with the school district to be . . ., get this . . ., the union president for the Simi Educator’s Association?

So her job with the school district is to be the union president? Where in such capacity she is now claiming Trustee White is pursuing “a personal agenda?” And is not having a job with the school district where your only duties are to represent the teacher’s union also “a personal agenda” when you make requests that benefit the district rather than the teachers? (Which begs the question: If she supported the special election would she lose her “special assignment” status and have to perform her union duties before work, during breaks, and after work, just like every other shop steward I am aware of? Or, actually have to work as a teacher for her paycheck rather than as a district compensated union president?)

So, when Dayle, in her capacity as teachers union president, is urging the community not to sign a recall petition, who is she making that request on behalf of? The union, or the district?

The Simi Valley School Board Recall

It seems a recall of two elected School Board trustees is imminent, or at least the attempt to recall them is.  School Board Trustee Dan White issued a statement the other day regarding the recall effort and asked for the support of voters. The official name of this effort is Citizens for Simi Valley Schools.

While I am one of a core group of supporters and proponents working hard to launch this recall effort, this issue is not about me, and this issue is not about any candidate that would serve as a successor. This issue is about our kids — yours and mine. We are working on expanding a group of community members who want to see change in Simi Valley schools. The face of this effort is called “Citizens for Simi Valley Schools”.

In comments regarding the statement, a reference to a letter from the Ventura County Office of Education was made (click here to read the letter).  In that letter, the VC Office of Education expresses concern that the Simi Valley Unified School District’s financial solvency is at risk.  Additionally, the Office of Education also points out the declining enrollment which will inevitably force the district to continue a deficit spending pattern due to declining enrollment.

That alone is alarming. My understanding is that I don’t yet have all the details inspiring this recall attempt. I need to get more details. Voters probably do, too.

In order to have this recall attempt validated by the County Clerk, Citizens for Simi Valley Schools will need to collect approximately 10,000 signatures, which represents 15% of the registered voters in Simi Valley. Of the approximately 76,000 registered voters in Simi Valley, only a fraction of them actually come to the polls (even fewer during non-presidential elections). 10,000 voters represents a significant portion of the “active” registered voters. To summarize my point, I believe collecting the required signatures will be difficult. Key to the success of this recall will be informing the registered voters of the details of the problem and the potential impact. One of the challenges of the recall will be to justify the cost, a cost that will ultimately be covered by the district’s general fund at great expense if a special election takes place.

So far, I have few details beyond what I shared.

Halloween Party for Simi Valley Education

The Simi Valley Education Foundation is throwing an Adults Only Halloween Party, and the proceeds benefit the Simi Valley schools. They are expecting a large turn out of approximately 350 – 450 people and it’s believed that tickets will sell out quickly. The official flyer is below, so check it out and sign up! To purchase your tickets online, simply click the flyer below or go to http://www.svef.org/halloween.php.

SV Halloween Bash 2013