Anti-recall Site Changes its Mind

UPDATE BELOW

The anti-recall site that opted to personally attack a private citizen who wrote several letters to the editor criticizing the school board has had a change of heart. They’ve decided that’s a bad move and have removed the attack content from their website. I’ve decided to memorialize the attack on this site as a historical reference. Here’s a screenshot. Click it to enlarge it.

Anti-Recall Attack Page

Attorney and blog author extraordinaire Mitch Green attended a public meeting last night about the recall, hosted by the Democratic Club with guest School Board Trustee Rob Collins. Regarding the meeting, and specifically the anti-recall website, Mitch Green said this:

… I can confirm that while Diane Collins was speaking at the Democratic Club on Wens, Oct 16, she mentioned she wanted to discuss the website. She then said, “Arleigh (speaking to Board Trustee Arleigh Kidd, present in the audience), do you want to mention it?” District Board President Rob Collins immediately cut off his wife and said, “Well, let me mention it, Arleigh really has nothing to do with it,” and then Rob abruptly changed the topic away from Arleigh’s involvement with the anonymous website and turning to Wayne Evans, also in the audience, gloated that Wayne may want to check out the website, because he, Wayne, was featured on the site.

Dave Goodwin, another attendee, had similar remarks:

At the Democratic club meeting, there was discussion about the anti-recall website, and a question about it came up. Rob Collin’s wife turned to Arleigh and directed the question to him for guidance. Rob Collins quickly stepped in and started stammering that Arleigh has nothing to do with the website. It was very, very obvious that he was lying. So much for transparency.

If it sounds like people are making assumptions, it’s because they are. No one has chosen to claim ownership of the website. People in the know regarding the site simply don’t answer when asked who is responsible for it.  With sleazy maneuvers like this, who can blame them? I hope for the sake of their cause that they can get it together.

UPDATE: As of 10/18/2013, the idiotic series of conspiracy themed “links” of named recall supporters to various elected officials through donation history has been removed. Evidently, the elected school board trustees who wish to remain nameless and anonymous have decided that character assassination isn’t the best strategy for making their point — but the damage is already done.

D.A. Letter to SVUSD Re Brown Act Violations

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The embargo time has come and gone re the news I referenced last Friday. In fact, shortly after I posted, the news popped up on the Star regarding the District Attorney’s determination re alleged Brown Act violations on the part of the SVUSD Board and Trustee White.

The District Attorney ruled that the Board was in violation of the Brown Act, the Board was Ordered to Cease and Desist from the issues it was found to be in violation.  And, the District Attorney ruled there was insufficient information and insufficient case law to determine that Trustee White had violated the Brown Act.

In other words, the Board was in violation, White was not.

Below you will find the link to the District Attorney’s letter dated October 9, 2013.

BrownAct-Cease_and_desist_letter_100913

A Modest Update

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Like any proud father would, I have to share a photo of my son, Private E2 Greg Green, taken today on his fifth day of Army active duty at Fort Jackson, SC, the very same place that I went through Army basic combat training starting in October, 1976. That would be, what . . .? 37 years ago? Whoa! Time does file! But he looks so much better in uniform than I ever did!

PV2 Green

Updates as this story develops.

I have some rather interesting news regarding the Simi Valley Unified School District, but I’ve been asked to embargo until Monday. So I will. I imagine there will be a story coming out rather soon regarding a decision made that makes perfect sense. At least, it makes perfect sense to those who understand the law rather than to those who try to sneak around the law. I’m reminded of an old adage along the lines of, “They will smile at you, spit in your face, and argue instead that it is raining.”

Oh, yes, the district says its raining, and the final word from the referees are, no, “you are spitting in their face.” [Note:  OK, the spitting in the face thing is me, but when you hear the news, you may agree it is a most appropriate visual]

And as to the most recent district board meeting, that was clearly some doozy. Perhaps I’m speaking out of school (ugh! couldn’t resist), but I’m having a hard time recalling when I’ve seen a more arrogant governmental assembly with the leader, President Rob Collins, going out of his way to insult the gathered constituents. Mr. Collins started the meeting by referencing a comment someone made on Facebook about gathering a lynch mob for the meeting (and which comment the original poster subsequently retracted as being inappropriate), and yet Mr. Collins continued to refer to those assembled at the meeting as a “lynch mob.”

Way to go Mr. Collins! Not to mention the implied, or was that overt, insults he directed to Wood Ranch parents!

My personal favorite moment came during Trustee Davis’ comments, where she looked directly at me and made statements along the lines of, “you just sit there and smirk” and “you think this is funny.” Perhaps it made Trustee Davis feel better to stare down her nose at me while she uttered snide comments at . . ., who really knows, but I could care less. I’m one of those who had his own plaque on the principle’s bench and yet I still managed to pull off a graduate degree (Juris Doctor, no less).

And yes, Trustee Davis, I am entertained.

Just a short Howdy tonight Simi Valley.

More tidbits when I’m allowed to shake off the leash.

Have a great weekend!

Mitch

How To Make Me Support the Recall

The Simi Valley School Board Trustees approved the contract extension for Superintendent Scroggin last night. I had a genuine belief that they would hear the opposition and at least delay the decision to discuss it more. Apparently, I am naive.

Currently, my kids are in private school, but after a very public problem with the Grace Brethren High School principal getting caught changing students’ grades and NOT being fired for it, we’re considering enrolling our kids in Santa Susana High School when they reach high school age. While talking to my wife about it, we considered these possibilities:

  • Either trust that my oldest son’s future school will eventually deal with their principal who cheated and hope we no longer have to worry about the perception of his eventual high school transcripts
  • Support the recall pending outstanding replacement candidates
  • Ignore the problem entirely and trust that it will all work out

The first and last options make me feel even more naive than I did last night. But the second option is also unpleasant. I’d like to see change and I’d like to see it now. But I honestly don’t care much for some of the talk I hear from the recall supporters. If we could emphasize the following instead of “secret back room deals” and various conspiracy theories, I could get behind a recall:

  • Focus on the risk of financial insolvency and the VCOE’s warnings
  • Focus on the lack of transparency from the current board and the fact that many of us know little about the VCOE’s concerns
  • Focus on declining enrollment and what appears to be the current board’s position to wait it out rather than proactively improve the situation
  • Focus on whether Dr. Scroggin is the best choice for Superintendent in the immediate future and whether or not the current board agrees

If we could do that and drop the drama, I could support a recall.

Proposed Contract Extension for Scroggin

On the heels of the bizarre retirement confusion of Dr. Scroggin as Superintendent of Simi Valley Schools (she’s retiring; she’s retiring but we’re not talking about it; okay she’s not retiring anymore; did someone violate the Brown Act?), the Simi Valley School Board is now considering a contract extension for Scroggin.  The School Board meeting this Tuesday, October 8th at 6:30pm at City Hall, will include the contract extension on the agenda where School Board Trustees are expected to vote on extending Scroggin’s contract to June of 2015. A high level summary of the contract highlights have been published by opponents of the extension:

1. Term now to be set to expire June 2015. The agreement will automatically renew unless the Board takes action to send a notice to the Superintendent within the proper notice period.

2. Two board members can force the district to keep the Superintendent in place even if a majority of board
members believe there has been gross negligence, violations of law, gross insubordination, and/or material harm to the district. Even if the Superintendent held up the operations of the school district and caused the district and the Board to break California and/or federal laws, the vote of four out of five board members would be required to remove the Superintendent from her position as “Chief Executive Officer”, secretary, district superintendent, and primary person responsible for execution of Board policy.

3. If 4 out of 5 Board Members vote to terminate the agreement without following the contract’s strict due process requirements to show material breach or neglect to perform duties, the district must then pay the Superintendent’s salary for the remainder of the term.

4. Salary: $213,319 + car allowance of $650/mo. 22 Vacation days per year.

5. Each Board member is REQUIRED to promptly refer all criticisms, complaints and suggestions called to his or her attention to the Superintendent for study and recommendation. This includes any criticisms, complaints, or allegations of misconduct regarding the Superintendent herself.

6. The district must pay for the Superintendent’s defense of any legal action (including criminal defense) related to incidents occurring within the Superintendent’s scope of employment.

Item #2 is interesting. Item #5 is odd. Overall, considering her initial intent to retire, entertaining any contract extension, even one that doesn’t so obviously serve to “circle the wagons”, seems like a strange idea.

The Superintendent wields a lot of power in the Simi Valley Unified School District. I’m not educated enough in standard school board policies to know whether or not that’s normal. Reviewing documents made available at simivalleyschools.org, it seems apparent to me that the Superintendent can make major financial decisions without requiring board oversight. If you look at page 143 of the very large document linked here which represents several significant C4 Bond funded project proposals marked “for board consideration,” you can compare this workshop agenda packet and see many of those same projects moving forward into a status of “In Design and Planning.” Without input from the Board, I’m assuming Dr. Scroggin herself moved these projects forward. There’s no board oversight for projects of this cost and significance?

I asked Dan White about the February workshop agenda asking if he challenged the fact that C4 funded projects move forward without a board discussion and he indicated that the workshop had been cancelled in favor of another board member’s Super Bowl party — I did not verify that. He also pointed me to a document that I had initially missed which represents his email requests for more details on how C4 Bond funds are spent (see it here). Though I have to admit that I’m not at all educated on school board operations and procedures, I share Dan White’s belief that the board should provide oversight on bond funded projects and that no one person should control those decisions.

When I really look at all of this, I get the impression that a majority of the School Board is content to defer to the Superintendent on critical financial issues, despite concerns from the VCOE that the district is running out of money. I also get the impression that they want to protect her job at all costs, locking her into the position in such a way that it is nearly impossible to dismiss her (see Board President Rob Collin’s remarks about “job security” by clicking here). Considering current district concerns along with the fact that Dr. Scroggin appears to have strongly considered retirement very recently, I’m not at all in support of a contract extension, at least not with the stipulations highlighted above. This feels to me like the board is handing the Superintendent way too much power and protection.

If my understanding of all of this is incorrect, I’d appreciate hearing from you.

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.