Respect in the public square cannot be passive. Actions speak louder than words. You know it when you see it.
Viewing respect as requiring positive action on our part makes us more responsive to other’s needs. This is a lesson the CCUSD Board must embrace and deploy. Presently, the Board appears oblivious to main stakeholders — parents and students.
When people start demanding respect from the Board, there’s a problem. All kinds of people are demanding it — students, parents, teachers, staff, residents, people appointed by the Board to assist them.
Here are recent examples where improvement in active respect can be implemented.
ITEM: Packing the Board agendas with so many closed and open agenda items that carve out time for public comment is either curtailed or pushed late into the evening.
SOLUTION: Respect the public. The Board can have more frequent meetings, to allow time for both public comment and completion of Board business before midnight or beyond. Alternatively, the Board can put their closed session items on at the end of the meeting, to not inconvenience the public.
ITEM: Making few or zero comments when the public raises serious issues in Items Not on the Agenda.
SOLUTION: Respect the public. The Brown Act does not require the Board to sit mute. Watch a City Council meeting, where Councilmembers will frequently ask if there is consensus to bring an item forward on a future agenda and/or direct staff to make brief comment on the issue. It shows active listening.
ITEM: Using tactics to throttle, intimidate or silence public comment.
SOLUTION: Respect the public. Avoid these actions. Do not send emails during a meeting to a person who made public comment, attaching a Board policy on CAMPUS decorum and violation sanctions. The public has 1st Amendment speech rights and as government officials, the Board must not violate it. Do not read from a guidebook for School Board members that states the obvious, that the primary reason for public meetings is to get Board business done. This has a huge dampening effect, making the public feel their presence is unwelcome, a distraction. Comments from the public can serve to validate or question Board actions and both types of comments must be welcomed.
ITEM: Changing the language of the Measure K parcel tax measure on a Board resolution, AFTER the public voted it on.
SOLUTION: Respect the public. This is likely illegal. Educational professionals have noted that special education (ballot language) and at risk (post election language) are not one and the same. People voted on the language that directed how the parcel tax dollars are to be spent. The Board cannot just change this by fiat.
ITEM: Delaying release of the school calendar for the 2023-24 academic year.
SOLUTION: Respect the public. It’s late March and the calendar has still not been released. Other districts adopted calendars months ago. In lieu of an adopted calendar, the District recently sent out a survey. Surveys can be useful if designed correctly. This survey was not. It had bad methodology and so many errors one questions how it could have been released by District staff that holds a doctorate.
There are many serious issues facing the School District. Most of them fall under the three categories of school safety, high school curriculum, and management (financial, communication, and contract management.) Successfully navigating even one or two of these three would be challenging to a School Board. Doing so without an active respect of the public, a public who is hyper engaged in investigating issues on all three of these fronts, is a recipe for failure.
Stakeholder feedback is essential for organizations to grow and improve. Even negative feedback can be helpful. Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft Corporation, said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” It can be difficult to hear criticism, but try to view it as an opportunity to learn and do better.
Crystal Czarnecki Alexander