Friday, May 8, 2015

Leave the TUSD Board Call-and-Response Policy As Is

Posted By on Fri, May 8, 2015 at 2:00 PM

This looks to me like one of those "Democracy is messy" issues, where some people claim they want to clean up the mess a bit. The problem is, proposed solutions often subvert the democratic process, which is messy by design. That's what's wrong with the latest policy revision suggested for the TUSD board.

Here's the basic story. Right now, TUSD board meetings begin with a call to the audience where people can stand up and say what they want to say, praising or condemning TUSD policies and people, making suggestions for district changes or, in some cases, blathering incoherently. After the audience members are finished having their say, board members can respond to what's been said. The change, proposed by board president Adelita Grijalva, is to keep the call to the audience as is, but eliminate the responses from board members. It's a wrong-headed idea. If it comes up for a vote, the board should vote it down.

[Full disclosure: I hate meetings, at least meetings with large groups of people and formal agendas. I'm less an agoraphobe than an agenda-phobe. Having to sit through the endless noodling, pontificating, extemporizing and self-aggrandizing makes me crazy. That's why I only show up at board meetings when there's something going on I'm really interested in. I know some people enjoy these things. Not me. So I only occasionally witness what goes on at the meetings first hand.]

[Worth noting: Approximately 3,000 teachers and 4,000 support staff in TUSD don't give a damn whether the board members talk or don't talk after the call to the audience. They're out there where the rubber meets the road, in the classrooms, the buildings, the grounds and the buses, going about the district's day-to-day business of teaching and supporting kids. Issues like this one make the news and are chewed over endlessly by me and others, and they can have lasting consequences, but they're not directly related to the good, often great, work going on in the schools every day.]

The Star article about the proposal mentions two rationales for removing the board members' responses: first, board members sometimes talk about non-agenda items during their responses, which is a possible violation of open meeting laws; and second, the often caustic board responses spotlight dissension among board members which furthers the image of a divided board. My response to both rationales is: Those are problems, why exactly? If board members wander into violations of open meeting laws, the president's job is to stop them. It can create tension, sure, but that's no reason to end the board responses. And let's face it, the board is divided, almost dysfunctionally so. Pretending that's not so by having everyone smile and make nice on the dais is ridiculous.

I tend to agree with the decisions of the current board majority and Superintendent Sanchez—not always, but in the majority of cases. So the best way for me to understand a proposal like this is to imagine how I would feel if the board majority shifted and I disagreed with much of what they believed and proposed. How would I feel if, say, the Mexican American Studies battles were raging like they were a few years ago, and an anti-MAS board majority member proposed the change Adelita Grijalva has suggested? I'm guessing I would think it was an attempt to suppress dissent, and I'm guessing people on my side of the argument would be using terms like "gag order" to describe the move. So if I think I would object to the move if I were in agreement with the board minority, I should oppose it for exactly the same reason when I tend to agree with the majority.

Frankly, Grijalva's proposal sounds more political than procedural. Since it's a way of stopping board members from talking, it looks very much like a way of taking away some of the ability of the two board minority members, Mark Stegeman and Michael Hicks, to air their viewpoints. If that's not true, if it fact Grijalva believes that a 15 year old policy which has existed for her entire 12 year tenure is no longer tolerable and needs to be corrected right now, well, that's sure not the way it looks from here.

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