Kudos to Terence Lyons for his ironic description in the Police Blotter of the arrests of a prostitute and two men engaging in a hand-to-hand narcotics exchange. Might as well be contemptuous at the naive attempt to save our city by humiliation and wasting police, court, jail, money and time to not solve a problem. Well, better to laugh than cry–too many other issues to cry about.
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Even though it takes very few words to speak it, the Board of Education continues to operate as if we can’t handle the truth. On April 6, the Board of Education routinely passed, without discussion, their consent agenda. That’s how the public learned for the first time how much the superintendent search firm of Hazard, Young, and Attea will be paid: $35,000.
The next day – when teachers, staff and families were concentrating on the beginning of a two-week spring break, the first invitations soliciting “invaluable input” were sent out to employees and site governance reps by the search firm. Could they have picked a worse day to communicate such an important event that asks for public participation then the Tuesday after vacation? Adding insult to injury, there’s been no press release announcing the scheduled April 25 Open Forums for community input in Santa Monica and Malibu. The Board calls this “transparency.”
During the past five years, the Board of Education, relying on a broad – and I believe – an incorrect interpretation of the Brown Act, has made policy decisions and acted on compensation packages behind closed doors without first soliciting public direction. In 2001, during salary negotiations with the departing superintendent, the Board – absent any public input – established a number of firsts in his contract: a $75,000 relocation allowance, a temporary $1500 per month housing allowance (that was quietly made permanent a year later), a 10 percent performance bonus option, and the choice to select a fully-paid, family Blue Cross preferred medical plan. John Deasy’s million-dollar package over five years “set the table” for negotiations with all the members of the Senior cabinet that followed.
Consider the following spate of activity over the past ten months:
Last June the Board approved the appointment of Dr. Donna Muncey as the first Classified administrator to head Educational Services since she does not hold valid California certificated credentials. For her services, Dr. Muncey received a $120,000 beginning salary; a $5,000 tax-deferred 403(b) district contribution, and a $300 per month transportation allowance.
The following month, on July 28, the Board approved a new 3-year contract with Winston Braham, Assistant Superintendent – Business and Fiscal Services, raising his salary from $120,000 to $121,200 and adding a $5,000 stipend for medical reimbursements and a $500 per month transportation allowance.
At that same meeting, the Board adjusted their initial six-month old contract with Tim Walker, Assistant Superintendent – Special Education by maintaining a $122,500 salary, a performance-based 2% bonus option, a fully-paid PERS Choice family medical plan, a $500 per month transportation allowance, extending his contract 17 months, and setting a $7,000 amount to his stipend for medical reimbursements. Four months later, the Board agreed to increase Dr. Walker’s salary by $2,000 and to delete his transportation allowance and medical reimbursement stipend replacing them with a $13,000 tax-deferred 403(b) district contribution.
Lastly, in December the Board presented Mike Matthews, Assistant Superintendent Personnel/Chief of Staff, with the first ever new three-year “contract-in-waiting” since it doesn’t begin until July 1, 2006. On that date his base salary will increase $2,500 to $122,500 and continue his $5,000 tax-deferred 403(b) and $500 per month transportation allowance. As Interim Superintendent, Dr. Matthews receives a $150,000 base salary and a $1,200 per month contribution to his 403(b). All of these actions were decided in closed sessions by the Board without a word of public discussion.
Like pro sports, the management team concept has given way to a bunch of free agents seeking the best individual deal. What message does this disproportionate, two-tiered system send to the certificated teachers and classified support staff concerned with the same rising costs for housing, transportation, medical coverage and savings?
It isn’t a question of whether or not these compensations packages are commensurate with what’s being offered in similar districts; it’s a question of whether or not the public has a right to timely review of public documents and to be heard before policy decisions are made. And I believe the Brown Act demands it, considering the following in its opening declaration: “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they created.”
The news is filled with too many stories about war and disasters, disease and famine, and, of course, corporate and community crime. But I believe the biggest “killers” of all are government secrecy and the apathy that allows it to happen. Speak out, or be left out!