The City Council passed a motion that would restore $530,000 to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s proposed $750,000 annual increase from City funds. The funds had been withheld until the Council was able to hear input on the practice of parents of Special Education students signing confidentiality agreements.
The agreements have been a regular and voluntary practice of the District. Advocates maintain that it saves money because lawsuits by parents would lead to high attorney fees for the District. Opponents have argued that parents who sign the agreements do so in order to receive more money for their children’s IEPs (Independent Education Plans), while those who don’t sign are deprived of the extra money.
School Superintendent Dianne Talarico and School Board president Kathy Wisnicki urged the Council to approve the full allotment. Talarico said that due to concerns about transparency and accountability, the Board had directed that there be a review of District practices by outside consultants.
The Council approved of the review, but members Bob Holbrook, Herb Katz and Bobby Shriver were all concerned about the confidentiality agreements continuing during the review process.
These Councilmembers had asked that former District Chief Financial Officer Winston Braham appear before the Council to answer questions regarding the confidentiality agreement that he signed last fall when he resigned his position because of disagreements with the District on the budget impacts of the teachers’ contract.
Braham did appear at the meeting. He explained his financial policies and maintained that his concern during his tenure as CFO was to “obtain a viable District.” Of the confidentiality clause, he said, “I don’t think that it was appropriate.” But he had signed it anyway because when he left, he had “no intention of speaking about District issues in public.” A loosening of the agreement by the District enabled him to speak at the Council meeting.
When Shriver asked Braham if similar “gag orders” were in use anywhere else in the District, he replied, “I am not aware of any others.”
During the public input session, some speakers supported the agreements, others were in opposition, but everyone agreed that the District needs money to function. Many felt that the allocation should go through now, with the independent review coming later.
Mayor Richard Bloom introduced a motion to this effect but Katz, Holbrook and Shriver were opposed to it and offered an alternative motion with a moratorium on the use of confidentiality agreements by SMMUSD until the review is finished. Since the Council vote would be divided 3-3 because Kevin McKeown, who works for the District, had recused himself, Ken Genser cast the deciding vote in favor of the allocation and moratorium.
In other news, the landmark designation for the Teriton Apartments was upheld. For more information, go to smmirror.com.