Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Empire Strikes Back

At the Dec. 13 meeting the SCUSD board of trustees, the comrades of the politburo had to hear from critics. So Ina Bendis and Christine Koltermann are taking action to remedy what they are renaming a "civil rights violation" with a "process to improve access to board meetings."

(It's curious that this agenda memo was prepared on Sunday, but the special board meeting wasn't announced until Monday -- and less then 72 hours mandated by the Brown Act and without a majority of the board voting that it was an emergency. Plus, Koltermann and Bendis apparently wrote it together, which sounds like a serial meeting.)

Bendis and Koltermann also compained about the audience decorum, saying they would like to see "role models for conduct that supports [sic] decorum and affirmatively demonstrates respect for all."

Bendis should know, as has been faithfully reported at the Santa Clara Weekly. When it comes to affirmative demonstrations of respect for all, Bendis is the how-not-to-do-it exemplar.

At a July 30, 2012 meeting she remarked, "I'd be thrilled to know which of the many groups that were solicted widely was the group in which Pat Flot was the only person who decided she wanted to serve!"

At the same meeting she also told acting chair Albert Gonzalez -- the sole Latino on the board -- that "maybe the chair [Gonzalez] would like to go out and get himself a copy of Robert's Rules,"adding that reading it required no more than a tenth grade reading level.

In March 2012 Bendis accused trustee Elise DeYoung of perjury and/or stupidity - take your pick. "She unwittingly allowed herself to be manipulated by city officials," said Bendis. "Ms. DeYoung signed two letters she knew would be conveyed with false information," and further accused the board of "secretly colluding with an adversarial party" -- i.e. the City of Santa Clara.

In 2009 she was reportedly overheard at a public event telling a congressional aid that "A mentally challenged 9th grader could do your job better."

And that's not even talking about employee harassment complaints that were filed against the district because of her and the ensuing censure by her colleagues.

Still, board meetings ought to be conducted in rooms where everyone can fit. But until recently, SCUSD's board meetings rarely drew standing room-only audiences -- something that no doubt worked to Bendis' benefit. Now that she has the spotlight, she may soon be pining for the good old days.

Here's the entire memo:

TO: Dr. Bobbie Plough, Superintendent
FROM: Dr. Christine E. Koltermann, SCUSD Board President
PREPARED BY: Dr. Christine E. Koltermann, SCUSD Board President
                               Dr. Ina K. Bendis, SCUSD Trustee

SUBMITTED: December 16, 2012
MEETING DATE: December 18, 2012 (Special Meeting) 

TITLE: Approval for the SCUSD Board of Education to initiate a process
to improve access to Board Meetings by all members of the public.

The Board President has received complaints that the December 13, 2012
Regular Meeting of the SCUSD Board of Education was not equally
accessible to members of the public, including members of protected
classes. The following is a non-exhaustive list of the kinds of
complaints received.

[1] Seating in the district Board room was almost exclusively reserved
by staff for other staff members, forcing parents and other community
members to stand in the lobby and the hall.

[2] The volume and clarity of the sound system available in the lobby
and hall was insufficient to enable mew~ers of the public who could not
enter the Board room to hear the proceedings;
[3] The background noise level in the lobby and hall due to private
conversations precluded even members of the public who stood within
what normally would have been hearing distance of the speakers, to hear
the proceedings;

[4] Disabled members of the public who could not stand for long periods
of time due to their disabilities, were unable to remain long enough to
listen to the Board's discussion and exercise their right to address
the Board on matters of interest to them, because they did not have
access to the seating they required due to their disabilities;

[5] Latino members of the public who lack proficiency in English, and
whose "protected class" ethnicity comprises more than 30% of District
residents, could not understand the proceedings or contribute their
input to the Board, regardless of whether they were among the fortunate
few non-employees to achieve seating within the Board room.
[6] The repeated outbreaks of applause, hand waving and spontaneous
oral outbreaks by District employees who'd obtained preferential access
to seating in the boardroom compared to members of the public who'd
been excluded from the boardroom due to "Reserved" signs on seats,
denied the physically-excluded individuals equal access to similarly
communicate their own support for views expressed by others, outside of
the time reserved for public comment and, in addition, may have
violated Govt. Code 54957.9 and SCUSD Policy 7370. In addition to this
specific civil rights concern, the refusal of those engaging in this
conduct to cease it when requested by the Board President also
subverted the purpose of Board Policies designed to encourage parent
and community participation at Board meetings; enable the Board's
access to all points of view without minority view-holders' fear of
intimidation or embarrassment; and provide students with Employee role
models for conduct that supports decorum and affirmatively demonstrates
respect for all.

The board will take action to initiate a process through which SCUSD
will ensure equal access to all individuals who wish to attend our
Board meetings, with particular attention to ensuring the civil rights
of all Constitutionally-protected classes, to creating an atmosphere of
decorum conducive to the Board carrying out its business as efficiently
as possible; and to proactively avoid an atmosphere that would tend to
suppress expression of minority views. Unless the Board chooses an
alternative approach, the President will appoint a three-Trustee task
force charged with researching the constitutional issues in play;
inviting/receiving input from parents, community members, employees,
bargaining units, and other stakeholders; and formulating an action
plan to ensure civil rights protection, for presentation to the Board
at a later meeting.

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