Parent Accuses County Board of Education of Violating the Brown Act

County school board officials broke open meeting laws by coming to a decision on school boundaries through emails instead of a public discussion, according to one angry parent.

Andrea Szabo wrote a letter to the Santa Clara County Board of Education alleging it violated the Brown Act. The complaint says that boardmembers exchanged private emails about a decision last November to deny her exemption request, which would have spared her neighborhood from a vote to re-assign it from one school district to another. Szabo, a resident of rural Santa Cruz County, has a history of complaints. She made news a few months ago for decrying the board’s decision to redraw the boundary lines of two school districts.

“The decision to deny the request for waiver was in violation of the Brown Act due to a series of email discussions known as serial meetings … among the superintendent and members of the board,” writes Szabo, a mother of four who lives in the Lakeside School District.

Szabo says Superintendent Xavier De La Torre sent an email to board members asking their position on the waiver before placing it on the next public meeting agenda.

“The board has not expressed any interest in waiving the Education Code to limit the election area; instead, a district-wide election will take place as required by law,” she alleges he wrote. Later in the complaint, Szabo says that De La Torre wrote: “If I have misinterpreted the board’s interests, please let President [Joseph] Di Salvo know by Thursday, Nov. 1, so that we can discuss this issue.”

Szabo infers that previous conversations occurred leading up to the statement asking the board’s position on the matter.

“This assumption could be derived from his request for clarification of his potential misinterpretation of the collective board member’s opinions,” she writes. “It also appears the superintendent acted in conflict with the board bylaws which allow only the board secretary and president to confer on setting board meeting agendas, not through discussions or opinions of the entire board.”

Szabo also notes that Trustee Darcie Green’s vote may have been null and void since the District Attorney challenged the legality of her appointment. That’s one of several legal matters that will be discussed in closed session, along with the botched condo loan given to former Superintendent Charles Weis.

The letter ends with a request that boardmembers be barred from using their personal email accounts to conduct county business and threatens to sue the county office over the legality of that November vote.

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Education agenda for February 6, 2013:

Trustee Leon Beauchman requested a realignment study to look into possible reorganizations of the county’s 31 school districts. The survey will offer five possibilities and examine ways to up state funding by repositioning boundaries.

• Technology makes it easier for students and school staff to engage in unethical behavior, like bullying, cheating or playing online poker during class. The board will hear a presentation from Assistant Superintendent Kelly Calhoun, who’s head of a technology policies consulting service called ON[the]LINE. Calhoun will lead a discussion about how to update office of education policies to keep pace with evolving technologies, to prevent abuses and enhance education.

• The board will consider paying off or refinancing bond debt that paid for an administration building and a daycare. Two debts are up for consideration: $15.9 million refinanced in 2002 and another $5 million issued in 1997. Locking in one or both of the loans at today’s lower market rates would save $1.2 million a year, minus a $200,000 up-front refinance cost. Or it could opt for a 100-percent payoff with the coming fiscal year’s unrestricted general fund.

• The county office is on track to meet its financial obligations for the coming three years, according to the first interim budget update going before the board. Overall, revenues rose and expenditures dropped, the report says.

WHAT: Santa Clara County Board of Education meets
WHEN: 5pm Wednesday
WHERE: County Office of Education, 1290 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

One Comment

  1. All of Ms. Szabo’s points seem to be well-taken.  I hope she can follow up in a timely way since the board would probably rather ignore her.

    The Brown Act violation could be a consequence of hiring a Superintendent from out of state.  It might be ok for an executive of a private corporation or non-profit to poll board members between meetings, but for a government board, that’s been against California’s open meeting law for most of our lifetimes.  Has he gotten any AB1234 training?  He and the legal counsel could take it together.

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