– LAUSD Board Member Nick Melvoin
When Nick Melvoin’s proposed rule changes were last placed on an agenda for a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board meeting they included a controversial reduction in the amount of time allocated to each public speaker to two minutes. However, just before the May 7th meeting was called to order, this item was pulled from the agenda, apparently in an attempt to prevent the board from seeming anything less than harmonious ahead of the vote on Measure EE. This maneuver also prevented the public from weighing in on the subject.
In the time since that meeting, Melvoin’s committee has still not held a publicly noticed meeting under California’s Brown Act. Still, changes were made to the new rules document that included restoring the three minutes of time allotted to each speaker. As the discussion about this item began at the June 11 board meeting, Jackie Goldberg expressed concern that she had not been given enough time to review the most recent changes. The recently seated board member also made it clear that she wanted the opportunity to give her input into the rules that she would operate under. As a result, the board agreed to once again to postpone the vote on the resolution.
Unfortunately, along with the opportunity for the board to further refine this document, Board President Garcia attempted to block any public input on the subject. When I pointed out to the Board Secretariat’s staff that public comment had not been taken for the item, they immediately contacted Jefferson Crain at the dais and he said that he would bring up the subject with Garcia. Her response was that since the item had been postponed, no public comment would be taken. Under the previous rules of the Board, which did conform with the Brown Act, the subject could have been addressed during the general public comment period. However, since Garcia had declared that “special” board meetings no longer include general public comment, this opportunity was not available. She did, however, shift the schedule of the meeting to meet the needs of a charter school parent who wanted to address the board but had to leave before the subject that interested her was scheduled to be addressed.
When made aware of the situation, Board Member Scott Schmerelson asked Garcia to permit me to make my comments. While her initial response was that I would have to return when the Board took up the resolution at a future meeting, Schmerelson would not relent. Eventually, Garcia was forced to allow my comments:
I’d like to thank you for making the exception. This is actually the second time that I have come to speak on this item and had it postponed.
Last week there was an overwhelming loss on Measure EE. I think what you guys have to look at is the overwhelming amount of mistrust that the public has for the district. I think that was the contributing factor of why it failed.
We keep on hearing about Nick’s Secret Rules Committee, but it is not being held with any public input. As a matter of fact, I presented to the board at a Committee of the Whole a proposed resolution to make board meetings more acceptable to the public. I was told that “we’re going to consider it during these rule changes.” Then the only rule change to come about was to reduce the speaking time from three minutes to two minutes.
I’m glad to see that the cut in speaking time has been taken away, but again it was done in secret, behind closed doors. If you are going to have committees I think that they should be public and open and accessible to the public.
Scott’s right, there were a lot of important subjects that were being handled by committees, special ed being one of them. In the last two years, they just disappeared. It is a sign to the public that you don’t care about the input of the stakeholders that you represent. I think that has to change. Then maybe then you’ll have success next time you bring a measure that needs the support of the public.
For anyone who doesn’t have a copy of the proposed resolution, I will leave it here.
While neither Melvoin or Garcia committed to having the rules committee operate in a transparent manner going forward, it is hard to see how they could get any additional board input without flagrantly violating the Brown Act. Under these rules, four or more members cannot meet together without declaring a publicly noticed meeting. If non-participating members are passing along their thoughts through participants in the meeting, then they must also be included in the count under the definition of serial meetings.
Nick Melvoin ran for office on the promise of transparency. He has also stated that he wants to make it easier for parents, students, and teachers to participate in board meetings. He could deliver on both by bringing his committee from behind closed doors and giving stakeholders a say in the rules that the board will operate under.
Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.