Last Thursday, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Board of Education restored the District Advisory Committee (DAC) policy language it had deleted at its January 5 meeting. The deletion had been criticized by a number of people in the community. The Board decision to restore the original language came after it heard from several residents. Tricia Crane, chair of the Special Education District Advisory Committee, said, “As I shared with you at the last Board meeting, the members of the Special Education DAC voted unanimously to request that you retain the original wording established in 1994 – wording that seems to have caused no problems of any kind prior to this point in time. We hope that during this evening’s meeting you will talk openly about the reasons for this change in language and what specific problems or issues you are trying to address.“Without an open discussion of these issues the change appears to have been agreed upon outside the public purview for reasons unknown to the public, which you are sworn to serve. This creates a climate of suspicion and distrust, something that is antithetical to the entire purpose of DACs and is not the kind of atmosphere any of us wants to create in the Santa Monica-Malibu School District.”Irene Zivi is a member of the Childcare and Development DAC, but she said she was speaking for herself, not the DAC. “The change was totally unnecessary and created a lot of negative feelings on the part of those that are serving as DAC members. When you make such a change in important language, it sends a message that the District doesn’t want advocates for important District programs but would rather have rubber stamps for the Board and administration. If it was not your intent to change the charges of DACs then retain the original language and the hard feelings will disappear. The whole issue makes me feel disrespected and not valued by the Board or the administration.”Board Vice President Kathy Wisnicki responded during the Board discussion, “When I asked for the language [‘to assist in the overall planning of the educational program and of budget resources’] to be removed, it was to clear up that sense of frustration that I hear with respect to specific charges for the DACS and to try to really be specific when we ask our volunteers what we’re asking them for…[but the change] did actually inadvertently create more confusion.” She then suggested that the deleted language be restored.“We cannot afford the perception that the Board wants to curtail public participation in the policy process,” said Board member Oscar De la Torre. “More important than restoring the language is restoring the trust … making sure that we send a message that’s loud and clear and we clarify that we do value the public’s input in regards to program and in regards to budget especially in an advisory role.”Board member Maria Leon-Vasquez said, “I’m sorry it came to this point where there was confusion created by the Board. I will take responsibility. There was no discussion in terms of the change and elimination of this particular item in the policy. There was never any confusion prior to us eliminating this piece.”Board member Jose Escarce said, “You can’t really clarify things very often by deleting. The deletion sent an incorrect and inaccurate message.” Board President Julia Brownley expressed her agreement with her colleagues by suggesting they “restore the language and get back to work…I certainly think the Board understands their roles and responsibilities and the members of the DACs understand their roles and responsibilities as well.” She added that a formal vote on restoring the language would not occur until the next Board meeting because it had been agendized as a discussion item rather than an action item. The role of DACs, as defined by the Board in 1994, is to “advise the Board on school problems, needs and issues from a balanced, logical, and analytic perspective, as the need arises. It is not the intention that advisory committees become policy-making bodies or that they manage or direct staff.”
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