I was correctly quoted by Internal Affairs in the Sunday Merc as saying “we did look like clowns.” I probably should have said our Nov. 17 SCC Office of Education Board meeting was more like bad Kubuki theater, a little dance and a lot of misplaced drama.
The preparation, energy and passion that should be poured into our governance work for students and teachers was wasted on a meeting topic that did not have to be on the agenda on that day.
I have a cathartic need to tell the story. If Study Action Item 9A dealing with the extension of the Superintendent’s contract was not on the agenda, Trustee Howard’s and Trustee Ho’s last meeting would have been uneventful. Their recognition for service not tainted by discord. But that was not to be.
The Superintendent’s contract was in full force until June 30, 2012. Therefore many of us saw no urgency to call for a vote during this last meeting of this constituted Board. After all, we just concluded an election on Nov. 2, two new members were being sworn into office in a few weeks, and they both had respectfully submitted letters to us requesting our delay of any action to a date when they would have an informed voice.
Former Mayor of Cupertino Michael Chang, newly elected in Member Ho’s trustee area, wrote to all members of the governing board: “Given our shared responsibility and in the public’s best interest, it will be a mistake of the board if it does not provide the two new duly elected board colleagues with the information about the evaluation process for the Superintendent, as well as an opportunity to share in the responsibility of his contract extension. The inclusion of the new board members is clearly necessary since the Superintendent’s current contract does not end until 2012.”
Board Member-Elect Julia Hover-Smoot wrote: “…I am concerned with the timing of this matter. Dr. Chang and I are due to join the board on December 8. In the materials presented to me, there appears to be no cause for rushing a decision on extending Dr. Weis’ employment contract before we join.”
Prior to roll call and immediately after the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance the packed chamber listened to a hornets nest of legal wranglings, necessitated by the belief that Beauchman, Ho, Howard, and Ma were going to vote to extend the contract not allowing our new members to have a voice in one of the most important functions of a Board of Education. In fact, that is what Sharon Nogouchi had concluded in a column she wrote for the Mercury a few days prior to the meeting.
First with County Counsel present we dealt with whether Member Beauchman could participate legally by teleconference from a hotel in Waikiki, HI. Whether or not the agenda was posted correctly and within the proper timeframe (72 hours prior to meeting) according to the Brown Act was the first issue addressed prior to roll call. After what seemed like an eternity it was decided for the time being that the evidence presented was inconclusive to rule that Member Beauchman could not participate.
Next we dealt with a report by the Merc earlier in the week that Member Ho was no longer residing legally in his trustee area. After a statement by Member Ho about his residency explaining that his wife had moved to Southern California and he would follow once his term was up a series of questions from County Counsel, Member Mann, Member Song, and me ensued. It appeared obvious to many that under the legal definition presented by County Counsel, Member Ho was not residing legally in his trustee area since end of September or early October.
In one exchange I implored him to be truthful with us so we would not be faced with a huge set of legal bills adjudicating the legality of his vote six or more months from now. Shortly thereafter Ho elected to leave the meeting after his recognition and not participate in the remainder of the meeting or any subsequent votes. He left to a standing ovation for the recognition of his 16 years of service to the county.
Then around 6:30, one and one half hours after the 5pm gavel, Member Ma left to attend a dual immersion Mandarin orientation meeting in Palo Alto. The drama continues…that left four of us eligible to vote on matters still before us. When it came to the public comment item on the beginning of the agenda we heard impassioned pleas from SCCOE managers, retired Superintendent Manny Barbera, non-profit leaders and others exhorting us to do the right thing and extend Weis’ employment contract. When I got home at around 10 that evening one of the SCCOE managers had written on FaceBook that the Board looked like idiots.
I think the four remaining Board members, President Song, Member Howard, Member Mann and I did the right thing by voting unanimously in favor of my motion to postpone the vote until the first board meeting in April 2011. Shortly after that final vote Member Howard left her seat as a Board member for the last time. She also received a standing ovation from all present for her many years of dedicated service to the staff and students of the SCCOE.
As one of my former JLS Middle School parents, Ze’ve Wurman, said to me in an email the board “should defer the contract extension while acknowledging that it does so for reasons of good civic process and not due to any specific misgivings about the superintendent.” By President Song’s last gavel to end the meeting good civic process triumphed. Those who spoke making us look like “clowns” for not voting to extend the contract that evening should reconsider their words. There is no doubt in my mind that we did the right thing last Wednesday. To Be Continued…