Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ed Brand says he's going to review legal fees in Sweetwater

Channel 6 reports: "Over the next 30 to 60 days, Dr. Brand said he will conduct a review of all recent administrative appointments and district legal fees to address board and community concerns."

Brand used to be on the committee that oversaw lawyers at SDCOE. He didn't worry much about ethics then. And the Sweetwater Union High School District board has stuck with lawyer Bonifacio Garcia despite widespread criticism over the years. BUt if they see it's in their interest, I'm sure both Brand and the board will be willing to pull the plug on their old pal.

Sweetwater District Board of Trustees Appoints Dr. Ed Brand as Acting Superintendent
Channel 6 San Diego

The Sweetwater Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to appoint Dr. Ed Brand the acting district superintendent.

Dr. Ed Brand spent most of his education career in the Sweetwater District before serving as superintendent from 1995 until 2005. He will fill the post for one year or until a permanent replacement is found for Dr. Jesus Gandara, who was separated from the District on Tuesday...

With Gandara gone, attorney could be next

By Jeff McDonald and Ashly McGlone
June 29, 2011

The Sweetwater school board terminated its superintendent last week over a number of ethical concerns, and some community members are now pushing for removal of the district’s lawyer.

The attorney, Bonifacio Garcia, signed off on some of the matters that shook community confidence in the ousted superintendent, Jesus Gandara.

For instance, public-relations bills whose veracity is under criminal investigation were signed off by Garcia and submitted to the district for payment. Some participants listed on the bills told The Watchdog meetings didn’t happen or did not pertain to district business.

Garcia’s district contract calls for his firm to be paid a monthly retainer of $83,000 and allows him to bill for outside consultants on his own or at the direction of the superintendent, with no board oversight.

Ed Brand, the former Sweetwater Union High School District superintendent who came out of retirement to serve in the interim, hired Garcia in the mid-1990s during his previous stint.

Brand said on Wednesday that he has asked for an outside review of Sweetwater’s legal costs, conducted by the county Office of Education, to see if they are in line with comparable districts.

According to an analysis presented to the school board last week, Sweetwater pays a lower proportion of legal fees than other large California districts.

For example, San Francisco Unified paid almost $3 million in legal fees in 2009-10 — 0.58 percent of its $510 million budget. Sacramento City schools spent $1.8 million or 0.45 percent of its $397 million budget that year and Sweetwater spent $1.25 million, or 0.38 percent of its $332 million budget in 2009-10, according to the analysis.

Brand said that analysis may have been skewed by the districts selected, and he has asked county education officials to do an independent review.

“The answer may be that we are getting a great value for the amount of work being done, or that we have the opportunity to improve not only the quality but the price,” Brand said. “We are going to let the chips fall where they may.”

Garcia, a 1981 graduate of Harvard Law School, declined to be interviewed.

Yuri Calderon, managing partner of Garcia Calderon Ruiz, issued a statement saying, “Our attorneys are from the top law schools in the country and provide the highest quality legal service to our public clients, including the Sweetwater district. GCR, LLP and its attorneys maintain the highest ethical standards in the legal representation of clients.”

Community pressure to terminate the contract with the Los Angeles-based law firm has surfaced before. At his final meeting as a Sweetwater schools trustee, Greg Sandoval moved to terminate the agreement.

“I felt frustrated with their performance and with their fees, the amount they were charging and I no longer had confidence in their ability to protect the district’s interests,” Sandoval said.

His motion in November got support from one other trustee, Bertha Lopez, who says her top priority at the district is now removal of Garcia.

Alex Anguiano, high school science teacher and Sweetwater Education Association president, said, “It’s time to look at our district, how we function with human resources and that includes our relationship with our attorneys. Perhaps we need to do a little more house cleaning than just our superintendent.”

Amid community concern last week, trustees unanimously tabled an item which would have authorized Garcia to obtain outside legal and investigative services for the coming school year.

Garcia’s firm also has worked for San Ysidro schools, Southwestern College, Otay Water District and a number of agencies outside San Diego County. The firm dropped the Otay district this year in a dispute over conflicting loyalties with Sweetwater.

“They did a great job in the one matter they handled for us,” said Tim Nader, the Southwestern College board president. “The investigation they handled very competently, very thoroughly and it was helpful to the district in guarding against future misuse of taxpayer funds.”

Manuel Paul, the San Ysidro superintendent, said GCR attorney Marie Mendoza has done a terrific job and was a product of the schools he now runs.

“She is a very good attorney and we are very satisfied with her services,” he said.

At Sweetwater, GCR prevailed in a lawsuit filed by former district administrator Karen Janney over vacation time after her demotion and resignation. The firm also helped the district win $13,913 in attorney fees from Janney earlier this month.

Garcia has not always been on the side of open meetings and open records, a favorite cause of The Watchdog.

Gandara expanded a district contract for a company offering online courses in March, seeking board approval by email rather than at a public meeting — an action Garcia signed off on.

Also, when The Watchdog sought records of the P.R. billings by former Councilman Scott Alevy, the law firm declined, even though taxpayers were footing the bill.

Garcia’s contract “basically gives him carte blanche to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants and there are no checks and balances,” said Kathleen Cheers, whose grandchildren are Sweetwater students. “I don’t think anyone should have this kind of power. It’s wrong.”

Garcia’s firm has been the subject of billing questions by other public agencies.

In the city of Rosemead, GCR billed $276,000 in 2008 for nine months work. The City Council had budgeted $162,000 for the year.

“It is just too high, and there is no excuse for it as far as I’m concerned,” then-Councilman Gary Taylor told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Garcia resigned as Rosemead city attorney in 2009.

In 2007, the grand jury in Kern County cited Garcia for billing the tiny city of Wasco about $83,000 for four months of legal work. The jury recommended training for council members “as soon as possible” on the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state open-meeting law, because officials under Garcia’s advice limited public input and did business behind closed doors.

Garcia also is active politically. He helped organize the Citizens for Good Government in South Bay political action committee that last year donated $5,000 to school board member Jim Cartmill.

Garcia’s wife, Laura Martinez, gave $5,000 to Cartmill and $5,000 to trustee Arlie Ricasa last year, records show. She gave Lopez $1,000 in 2009 and $900 to board president John McCann this year.

In an interview last week, McCann said the district should give the acting superintendent time to assess the situation.

“What we want to do is allow Dr. Brand to do his analysis and we want him to come in and give an independent perspective on it,” McCann said. “I think we want to give the superintendent the opportunity to look at this.”

A Battle Over Charter School Freedoms

A Battle Over Charter School Freedoms
Jun 28, 2011.
by Emily Alpert

...Charter schools aren't bound by the rules that restrict other public schools. They get public money but are run independently by their ow boards, with limited oversight from school districts. They are free to choose their own school rules and educational methods. Most hire and fire employees as they wish.

They include some of the brightest stars among San Diego schools — and some of the dimmest.

The tradeoff for that freedom is that charters are supposed to be more accountable. If a charter school mismanages its money, falters academically or runs afoul of its own rules, it can be shut down.

The California Charter Schools Association has argued that the best way to keep charters in check is to beef up rules for shutting bad ones down. It has championed a bill that would ban school districts from letting charters with stagnant scores stay open unless the charters make a case to the state.

But some lawmakers want to seek more regulations to stop problems before schools must be shut down. Labor unions and traditional school groups such as the California School Boards Association have backed many of those bills, arguing that schools that get public money must be regulated more closely. They contend that classroom innovations can continue with the added rules, true to the charter dream.

"They may be laboratories of innovation, but that doesn't mean that employee rights have to stop," said Jim Groth, a California teachers union board member from Chula Vista.

Seven different bills have landed on watch lists for charter schools wary of losing their freedoms. Some are ideas that have been shot down before, vetoed under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But new Gov. Jerry Brown is a wild card for both sides, a Democrat who helped start up charter schools but has been dubious that they're a panacea...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

You gotta be kidding me--Ed Brand is the replacement for Sweetwater HSD's Jesus Gandara

Has Sweetwater Union High School District gone from the frying pan into the fire and then back again? It looks to me like the SUHSD board wasn't acting on principles, but on politics, when it got rid of Superintendent Jesus Gandara and replaced him with the highly questionable Ed Brand.

In the past I criticized Ed Brand's stewardship of the legal committee for San Diego County Office of Education--Joint Powers Authority:

A culture of secrecy is not appropriate for a public entity.

Superintendents like Ed Brand should not oversee SDCOE lawyers.

We are putting the fox in charge of the hen house at SDCOE. The taxpayers have to keep paying and paying, while Ed Brand Tom Anthony ignore the law.

Ed Brand's secret strategies for avoiding compliance with legal requirements for spending taxpayer dollars were revealed in the Mary Anne Weegar Case.

See Jesus Gandara posts.

Brand pushed college prep at Sweetwater
By Aaron Burgin
June 23, 2011

The Sweetwater Union High School District turned to a trusted hand to replace ousted leader Jesus Gandara — Ed Brand, the very man Gandara replaced five years ago.

The Watchdog set out to review Brand’s record and found a career full of triumphs, notably in pushing for college preparation at the Sweetwater district and forging a clear path for students to San Diego State University.

Brand was named superintendent of the year by three organizations as Sweetwater’s chief from 1995 to 2005.

He also had his problems — one of them reminiscent of Gandara, who was fired Tuesday after months of revelations by The Watchdog. Brand took heat at the end of his tenure for his spending on a district credit card.

Bonita Vista High’s student newspaper, The Crusader, reported in 2005 that Brand racked up nearly $60,000 over five years, at restaurants such as Bob’s on the Bay, La Costa Azul, Peohe’s and Benihana. In one case, he charged $600 in smoothies.

The Watchdog uncovered similar spending by Gandara on the district’s card, even though he was paid an $800 monthly allowance for such expenses.

School board members — and Brand himself — said spending was more free for all school district back then. They say such spending would be inappropriate now, and the terms of his $20,000 monthly contract are strict.

“No expense account, no car allowance,” board President John McCann said. “It’s basically no frills. We have canceled all the credit cards in the entire district.”

Brand said, “Did I have a credit card? Yes. Did I use it? Absolutely. But as I told the board, ‘You are going to pay me a salary, I am paying for (my expenses) out of my salary. Nothing is going to be hidden from the public.’”

Sweetwater trustees unanimously selected Brand on Wednesday to serve as interim superintendent during a search for a permanent replacement. Gandara was hired in 2006 after Brand left Sweetwater to take the lead at San Marcos Unified.

In addition to the credit cards, Brand’s tenure at Sweetwater had other controversies.

A school assistant principal criticized Brand in 2002 for a districtwide contract with a class-ring vendor that was not the lowest bidder.

The county grand jury in 2003 faulted Sweetwater for not being able to complete renovations promised in a $187 million bond measure. The group questioned why the district built gyms before renovating classrooms at two high schools.

“Anytime you are a superintendent of a large urban or suburban district, you have lots of opportunity to make friends, but you also make decisions that will cause certain people angst,” Brand said. “And those people might develop feelings of anger and distrust at times. It isn’t a question of if it will happen, but of when.”

Brand, 57, lives in Escondido and had retired. He is a former Sweetwater science teacher and coach. The district during his tenure increased the number of Advanced Placement courses and several schools achieved major academic gains.

Brand’s hallmark achievement was the Compact for Success. The pact between Sweetwater and San Diego State, which began in 2001, was hailed as a bold way to increase the flagging college enrollment of Sweetwater graduates. More than 1,280 students were admitted to San Diego State under the program from its launch in 2006 through fall 2010.

“It has proven to be a very successful program,” said Lou Murillo, the program’s director.

Brand started a similar program at San Marcos Unified with Cal State San Marcos.

Brand left Sweetwater on his own terms in 2005, and resigned after a little more than a year at San Marcos.

Former San Marcos board member Mary Borevitz, one of three members to accept Brand’s resignation, said he was not a good fit...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jesus Gandara of Sweetwater High School District fired

See Jesus Gandara posts.
See attorney Bonifacio "Bonny" Garcia posts.

Gandara’s ouster deal solidifies pension
Sweetwater contract calls for 18 months severance; superintendent wasn’t fired for cause
By Ashly McGlone
June 21, 2011

The terms of Superintendent Jesus Gandara’s severance from the Sweetwater Union High School District on will allow him to vest in his pension, a benefit he would not have received had he been fired outright.

Gandara, 54, will use accumulated sick and vacation days, plus administrative leave, to keep him on the payroll through Sept. 1, when he will achieve five years of service with the district.

He will also receive 18 months of severance pay, an amount district officials placed at $376,380, plus $40,295 in vacation and sick-leave payout -- for a total of $416,675.

Gandara’s $750-a-month auto allowance and his $800-a-month district expense allowance will halt immediately, according to a news release.

The district’s contract with Gandara says he can be fired for cause for “any act of dishonesty, fraud, misrepresentation, or other acts of moral turpitude.”

Instead of invoking that clause, the school board early Tuesday morning terminated him “at will,” a process that requires the 18 months pay by contract.

The district’s outside lawyer, Bonifacio Garcia, said, “The separation is effective Sept. 1. He is going to be using up his vacation pay and he will be on administrative leave until Sept. 1 to the extent that he is entitled under his current contract. The current agreement is 18 months plus whatever his vacation pay is, and the net effect is he gets the same even though his employment will terminate on Sept. 1.”

The value of Gandara’s health benefits will be deducted from his severance pay, according to the news release.

Details of Gandara’s pension were not immediately available. However, previous reporting by The Watchdog indicates that a pension for a five-year employee leaving at age 55 would be 7 percent of salary.

The Watchdog has contacted district officials and the California State Teachers Retirement System to seek a more solid number.

In response to the deal, teacher’s union president Alex Anguiano said, “I do believe that it was time for him to go. What it appears was that the district was moving to ensure he was vested in STRS. At that point in time he will be vested and he will be receiving a retirement package that really in my opinion was undeserved. He has really only been our state four and a half years. It essentially amounts to the plundering of our retirement system.

“I do think it is time to move forward and at the same time I think is it time for a good house cleaning.”

Gandara's 18-month severance will be calculated based on his $250,000 salary, spokeswoman Lillian Leopold said. He was paid $245,000 in the current fiscal year, because of furloughs. But, Leopold said, "There are no furloughs for management" in the fiscal year that starts July 1, so his severance will be calculated based on the higher amount.

Gandara was fired by a 5-0 vote of the school board early Tuesday morning.

Gandara came under fire after a series of Watchdog reports in The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The newspaper revealed Gandara’s charging of hundreds of meals to a district credit card, even though he is paid the $800 a month allowance for such expenses. The credit card was canceled in response to the report.

Another report revealed that Gandara invited district contractors and employees to his daughter’s bridal shower, complete with a “money tree” for contributions. He defended the invitations as evidence of his personal management style.

Discrepancies involving a public-relations firm, also exposed by the newspaper, are being investigated by the District Attorney’s Office. The P.R. professional, Scott Alevy, says that people disputing the bills he submitted to the district had to deny the meetings happened because of confidentiality concerns, a claim they deny.

The Watchdog also reported that the district’s plan to borrow $58 million against bond money, for operating expenses, was a possible violation of the state Constitution, which requires bonds to be spent for the purposes voters approve. The borrowing was canceled.

More recently, the paper revealed issues with grade changing and alleged forgery by principals who have been promoted to be top administrators at the district. The district says the alleged forgery was a simple mistake in using a boilerplate letter, and the grade changes were a matter of using the wrong form to record credit-recovery classes.

Last week, the newspaper reported that the district’s food-service director markets brands from her outside company at campus food courts. The administrator, Nancy Stewart, said she takes no money for the district’s use of the brands.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Letter: To Survive, the Teachers Union Must Stay United

I don't think it's in the best interest of the teachers union to try to silence members who disagree with the actions of union officials. The demand for perpetual unity is authoritarian and unhealthy for a democracy. It actually reminds me a lot of San Diegans 4 Better Schools, which is also endeavoring to weaken the role of democracy in schools. If more teachers were to speak out, it might actually result in better decision-making by union officials--and administrators! Sadly, most teachers live in a bubble of silence.

Letter: To Survive, the Teachers Union Must Stay United

June 15, 2011
Jenny Rivera

I think SDUSD was quite successful with Ms. Mathy ("Teacher Implores Union to Renegotiate").

She has now pitted herself against more senior teachers, believing that the union is either for or against senior or junior teachers. She is representative of the effort to divide the union membership to fight against itself. This is the very thing that the union membership needs to vigilantly guard against, if we are to survive the continued underlying efforts to bust the union, destroy our professionalism and create teachers a disposable commodity.

I wonder if Ms. Mathy would feel differently if the layoff notices only went to the five-year mark. Would she be willing to disregard the fairly negotiated contract and take more concessions to her livelihood?

The union's point is that the district has stated that the layoffs could be rescinded, if we would only allow them to renegotiate, yet again. If the ability is there to rescind, then DO IT! Opening the contract would not only address the few issues stated in the press, but would open the entire contract to renegotiations. That is not an acceptable situation for our membership.

Jenny Rivera is a third grade teacher (24 years) at San Diego Unified. She lives in La Mesa.

Chatter: Teacher Hiring, Firing and Layoffs

Please click on title to go to original article with lots of links:
Chatter: Teacher Hiring, Firing and Layoffs
June 17, 2011
Morgan Stinson

Here's a quick roundup expanding on some recent tweets of voiceofs education reporter Emily Alpert:

• Principals in the L.A. Unified School District should be allowed to hire any teacher of their choice, says a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). Displaced tenured teachers who aren't rehired elsewhere sh be permanently dismissed, it says, and principals should have be allowed to hire any qualified applicant, including teachers from outside the school system.

[See Maura Larkins post on this.]

The recommendations would cut guaranteed jobs for "must-place teachers," which are those fired for poor performance, conflict with an administrator, declining enrollment, or budget cuts.

[Maura Larkins' comment: We seem to have a mix-up in this sentence. Obviously, fired teachers would not appear on a "must place list." The writer probably meant to say that these teachers were pushed out of their schools for these reasons, and are looking for new schools.]

"Three-quarters of principals surveyed also said that teachers on the must-place list are rarely if ever a good fit for their school," the report says.

• "Seniority based layoffs hurt good teachers," according to another report, this one from Education Trust-West.

"The harm of a single layoff can be multiplied, as a cascading process of 'bumping' begins. The system is quite insane," a one of the report's authors told the New York Times in March. Bumping is when a junior school employee's job is given to someone who has seniority. Once a teacher receives tenure, they are able to bump junior teachers from their classrooms.

Last year at a discussion of "Waiting for Superman," a film about teaching and education in the United States, Bill Freeman told the audience teacher tenure, a toxic topic, doesn't exist. To those who use the term, however, teacher tenure is when "permanent teachers get warnings and time to improve before being fired, can take their case to a panel and appeal it higher if they disagree with a ruling."

• This year schools sent out thousands of layoff notices to employees but the layoffs weren't based on the effectiveness of school employees or the needs of school communities — the primary factor was lack of seniority, which can leave poor schools, where junior teachers tend to work, understaffed.

A proposed solution is California State Bill 1285, Protect Our Schools from Devastating Layoffs. The bill gives school districts tools to manage budget-based layoffs, to help ensure struggling schools don't take the brunt of cuts that leave children without teachers. It does not change teachers' right to collective bargaining.

Morgan Stinson is a junior at High Tech High and an intern at She can be reached at

Bill Gates researchers suggest firing good teachers while keeping bad ones

Bill Gates' researchers are suggesting that teachers be let go if their school needs fewer teachers and they can't find an empty spot to fill at another school. Hey, Bill Gates, how about letting go incompetent teachers to make a spot at another school for good teachers?

Report says L.A. principals should have more authority i hiring teachers
June 07, 2011
By Howard Blume
Los Angeles Times

School principals should be able to hire any teacher of their choosing, and displaced tenured teachers who aren't rehired elsewhere within the system should be permanently dismissed, according to a controversial new report on the Los Angeles Unified School District. The report will be presented Tuesday to the Board of Education.

The research, paid for largely by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, offers a roadmap for improving the quality of teaching in the nation's second-largest school system, with recommendations strongly backed by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The report gave L.A. Unified credit for improvement in some areas, noting, for example, that more teachers are being fired for poor performance, a sign of better quality control, said researchers from the Washington, D.C.-based National Council on Teacher Quality.

In 2008, the district dismissed seven tenured teachers. The number for the current year, through April, was 94; 105 others have resigned to avoid dismissal.

...The report also concluded that teacher evaluations must be stepped up: 40% of tenured teachers and 70% of non-tenured teachers are evaluated annually.

Duffy and Deasy agreed that such scarce supervision failed to help teachers improve.

Another of the report's recommendations was that the earning of tenure be more demanding and take longer, but that those who get it receive a significant pay increase.

Sixty-six percent of surveyed principals admitted advising "an underperforming teacher to voluntarily transfer" to another school.

"Sending a problem to another school is the very last thing we should be doing," Deasy said....

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lawyer who was called incompetent sues for defamation; he's having trouble serving all 75 defendants

Rakofsky v. The Internet
Citizen Media Legal Project (CMLP)

Date: 05/11/2011
Location: New York
Disposition: Lawsuit Filed
Legal Claims: Defamation; Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress; Tortious Interference...
Legal Counsel
For plaintiff: Richard Borzouye, Esq.
For defendants: Eric Turkewitz, also a defendant, and Marc J. Randazza (for at least 14 individuals comprising 30 named defendants); David Brickman (for Maxwell S. Kennerly, Jameson Koehler, and Mirriam Seddiq)

In March 2011, Joseph Rakofsky represented a defendant in a murder trial in Washington, D.C. According to court filings, on April 1 he withdrew as counsel, leading to a mistrial, at which time the presiding judge made a number of unflattering statements about Mr. Rakofsky's performance at trial. The Washington Post originally reported on the mistrial; other publications, like the Washington City Paper, soon followed. From there, Mr. Rakofsky's story spread throughout the legal blogosphere, drawing comment from dozens of bloggers.

On May 11, Mr. Rakofsky filed suit in New York state court against the Post, the City Paper, and many bloggers who had written about him. At issue is the way Mr. Rakofsky's removal from the murder trial has been characterized: In his complaint, Mr. Rakofsky maintains that he left the murder trial by his own motion. Media coverage, like the Post article, focused on the judge's comments about Mr. Rakofsky's command of legal procedures, the fact that Mr. Rakofsky stated in court that he had never before tried a case, and an alleged email from Mr. Rakofsky to an investigator. The Post quotes the judge as telling Mr. Rakofsky that his trial performance was "below what any reasonable person would expect in a murder trial." A transcript of the judge's comments is now available. The bloggers sued by Mr. Rakofsky generally describe him as "too incompetent to handle the case," or otherwise suggest that the mistrial was due to Mr. Rakofsky's "inexperience."

Mr. Rakofsky initially sued 74 parties; the complaint often names both individual bloggers and their associated businesses. (For example, the complaint names both "The Law Offices of Michael T. Doudna" and "Michael T. Doudna, individually.")

The initial complaint contains two causes of action: (1) defamation, and (2) violations of sections 50 and 51 of the New York Civil Rights Law, alleging that defendants used Mr. Rakofsky's name and picture for commercial purposes without his consent.

On May 16, Mr. Rakofsky amended his complaint to add a count of intentional infliction of emotional distress and a count of interference with Mr. Rakofsky's contracts with other clients. The number of defendant parties also rose to 75.

As of June 1, 2011, some defendants apparently had not yet been served...

On June 4, New York attorney David Brickman, representing defendants Maxwell Kennerly and Mr. Kennerly's law firm The Beasley Firm, filed a motion to dismiss. The accompanying memorandum argues that Mr. Kennerly's blog post is a combination of opinion and fair reporting of court proceedings; thus, according to the memo, the case should be dismissed.

One June 13, Mr. Brickman, also representing Mirriam Seddiq and Jameson Koehler, filed two more motions to dismiss. The motions are mostly identical to Mr. Kennerly's motion.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Does the San Diego teachers union help senior members at the expense of junior members?

Don't you love this teacher's name?

Teacher Implores Union to Renegotiate
Jun 14, 2011.
by Emily Alpert

The big battle in San Diego Unified right now is whether to tear up pink slips for teachers and other school workers. The school board has pressed its unions to take more unpaid leave and put off promised raises, saying it could then afford to spare some jobs in the long-term.

The teachers union turned down that proposal last week, arguing it was an unnecessary concession that tried to pit teachers against one another. Almost all teachers that I've heard from loathe the idea, saying that San Diego Unified can just cancel the layoffs now that state financial projections have improved.

So I was intrigued to get this email from Sarah Mathy, a pink-slipped teacher who says the union is protecting senior members at the expense of junior ones. It's a letter that she sent earlier this month to Bill Freeman, the president of the San Diego Education Association. (That's abbreviated in the letter as SDEA.)

We often hear this debate between politicians. But how does this debate play out between teachers? I've asked Freeman to write back and he said he planned to do so. I'll post his letter when we get it.

Dear Mr. Freeman -

In early March, I emailed you to discuss my feelings about how the union could best act during this layoff process. You generously came to my school to meet with many of us on the day we received our first layoff notice. I appreciate your time and interest in our school and in us.

In March, I was asking you to negotiate with SDUSD so that many (all?) of the layoffs could be avoided. I called for things such as extra furlough days and opening the health benefits package negotiation. I wanted our union to get creative about the endless possibilities for solving this problem so that jobs are saved and kids are served.

But so far, all I have received are layoff notices #1 and #2 from SDUSD, and emails from SDEA calling me to more action and more rallies.

This is not what I want.

And the unspoken but clear message being sent to me from SDEA is that you are a union that wants to prioritize the interests of the senior, not junior, members. That when SDEA is not "winning" the battles with SDUSD, it will put the junior members out in the name of protecting the senior.

All along, it has seemed like a very logical fix to me to negotiate with SDUSD so that the weight of this budget crises is distributed on the shoulders of all SDEA teachers, not just on a few hundred. That is solidarity. That is "together we are stronger." I feel instead like SDEA's hostage and not SDUSD's (as you mentioned in a recent SDEA email blast).

So the questions become: "WHO is SDEA working for?" and "WHAT is SDEA working for?" Unfortunately for my situation, the WHO seems to be the senior members, and the WHAT is status quo for salary and benefits for those who will remain.

That will not work in this current fiscal crisis. You need to negotiate with SDUSD and launch a campaign to convince SDEA members that this is the best option.

I don't think you will have as much opposition to a contract re-negotiation as you may think. Many of my SDEA colleagues unaffected by layoff notices believe in some form of contract modifications so that we all can have our jobs. It will then be your work to collaborate with SDUSD and SDEA teachers to find a compromise that works for everyone. It is not black and white. There are gray areas of the contract where you can slide the scale and still have people satisfied with their level of pay and benefits, and pleased with their lowered class sizes and staff stability at work, and, as taxpayers, happy that the students are getting what they deserve.

We work in a dynamic profession with multi-faceted students, and I want my union to mirror that. With some salary or benefits alterations, we can all keep the jobs we love to do, live comfortably and take care of our families, and make sure that students get the most of everything. This has to be an AND situation, not EITHER/OR.

So I trust that with the same confidence and care with which you engaged my concerns in March, that you move SDEA into a new chapter where we can feel more like brothers and sisters, instead of the haves and have-nots.

Thank you for your continued work.

Teacher for 6 years at Central Elementary


Michael Dunn:

Unfortunately, this is typical in most unions. The unions say, "well, it is the district's right under Ed Code to layoff teachers when budgets are tight." Apparently, they feel there is nothing they can do since it is not a contractual violation. (In the name of transparency, I am a union organizer and leg rep and have sat in on several layoff hearings for colleagues).

What unions can do (but are generally unwilling to do) is take a much more aggressive position in defense of all their members, including the threat of striking to defend jobs, salaries, class sizes and educational programs.

By the way, they are not just throwing the younger teachers under the bus. UTLA's continued willingness to give up furlough days in exchange for reduced layoffs, forces all teachers to accept a pay cut and still throws some teachers under the bus.

I also think that unions have become so obsessed with playing politics and maintaining a seat at the table, that they have lost sight of their main function: organizing, educating and agitating their members. Veteran teachers are much more likely to already have an appreciation for their union. The younger teachers do not necessarily. They need to be listened to , supported, and encouraged to participate by the union reps, something that is shamefully rare these days.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I'm shocked! Did attorney Mark Bresee give bad legal advice to the Rio School District board? The District Attorney seems to suspect so

DA says Rio board may have broken open-meetings law
By Cheri Carlson
June 10, 2011

The Rio School District board appears to have broken state law that prohibits trustees from discussing or taking action on issues outside of a meeting, the District Attorney's Office said this week.

Special Assistant District Attorney Michael Schwartz said his office received a complaint that the board held a serial meeting to hire its legal counsel. Such an action would violate the state's open-meetings law — called the Brown Act.

But in another letter this week, the DA's Office dismissed a list of other allegations against the Rio board. The allegations, which included charges of bribery and conflict of interest, were brought by two board members against the three-member board majority.

The violation appears to have taken place before the Rio board's Feb. 10 closed-session meeting, according to a letter Schwartz sent to trustees this week.

Attorney Mark Bresee appeared to have acted as an intermediary by getting a consensus from three trustees that he advise them about Superintendent Sherianne Cotterell's termination, the letter states. Bresee has since been hired as the board's general counsel.

"The District Attorney has the authority to bring a civil lawsuit to stop or prevent threatened violations of the Brown Act," Schwartz wrote. He asked the district to respond to the concerns, so the DA's Office can determine if it needs to bring such an action.

Board President Eleanor Torres said Friday that Bresee is expected to provide additional information to the DA's Office soon. She expects that information will clear up any concerns.

However, if it is determined that a violation occurred, the board will make sure the issue is properly addressed and remedied, Torres said.

Bresee declined to comment while the matter is still under review.

Under the Brown Act, a majority of a board members cannot discuss or take action on board business outside of a meeting. That's the case if trustees speak directly to each other or through an intermediary, the DA's Office said.

In this case, Torres had contacted Bresee to discuss issues regarding Cotterell and asked him to come to the Feb. 10 meeting, which he did. Bresee was not the board's attorney at the time, but another lawyer at his firm worked for the district on other issues and referred Torres to him.

Bresee appears to have then confirmed with Trustees Henrietta Macias and Ramon Rodriguez that they also wanted him at the Feb. 10 meeting to discuss the superintendent's contract, officials said.

The Rio board did not take action at a public meeting to hire Bresee as its general counsel until the end of March.

At a March 2 special meeting, Macias, Torres and Rodriguez voted to terminate Cotterell's contract without cause.

Trustee Tim Blaylock voted against the move. And Trustee Mike Barber, who also supported Cotterell, was unable to attend the meeting because of a prior commitment.

Blaylock and Barber brought their concerns to the DA's Office.

In the separate letter to trustees this week, Schwartz addressed eight other allegations the two trustees had brought forward, saying that "no violations have been established that would warrant action by the District Attorney's Office."

On Friday, Torres said that none of the allegations were warranted. "They (Blaylock and Barber) are wasting so much time and effort on a whole lot of different agencies' parts," she said.

Blaylock, who said he wants to make sure the board governs properly, said he appreciated that the DA's Office looked into the concerns. "I think he (Schwartz) took his time. He investigated, and he did a thorough job," Blaylock said.

Blaylock, however, said he continues to have concerns. Other cases could be reopened should more information become available, he said.

Torres said she hopes the board will be able to move forward and work together. "It just comes to a point when it has to stop," she said. "Let's go forward."

"It's quite clear that there are differing opinions of members of the board," Schwartz said Friday.

The DA's Office isn't taking any position on issues such as what trustees should vote for or vote against, who they should hire or fire, he said. "Our concern is that the process be done correctly, and the right for the public to participate be honored."


Here is a case in which Mark Bresee gave advice to Chula Vista Elementary School District.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Researchers answer my question, "Why do nice people, like, say, schoolteachers, lie under oath?"

Nice teachers lie under oath. I've long wondered how Chula Vista Elementary School District, and, I'm sure, every other school district in the country, is able to get employees to lie under oath. But here's something I learned when I was deposing teachers: after they've told several lies, they will compensate by telling the truth a few times. I thought it was guilt that caused the switch, but new research indicates I may have been wrong.

Maybe their self-control was depleted.

They wanted to please their employer and their guilty friends. They really did. But it's hard for nice people to tell lies. They have to force themselves to do it. And after a while, some of them simply get fatigued, and what do you know, out pops a little piece of the truth.

"...Exerting self-control...immpaired self-control on subsequent tasks: Consumers became more susceptible to tempting products; chronic dieters overate; people were more likely to lie for monetary gain."

Why Can’t More Poor People Escape Poverty?
A radical new explanation from psychologists.
Jamie Holmes
The New Republic
June 6, 2011

...In the 1990s, social psychologists developed a theory of “depletable” self-control. The idea was that an individual’s capacity for exerting willpower was finite—that exerting willpower in one area makes us less able to exert it in other areas. In 1998, researchers at Case Western Reserve University published some of the young movement’s first returns. Roy Baumeister, Ellen Bratslavsky, Mark Muraven, and Dianne Tice set up a simple experiment. They had food-deprived subjects sit at a table with two types of food on it: cookies and chocolates; and radishes. Some of the subjects were instructed to eat radishes and resist the sweets, and afterwards all were put to work on unsolvable geometric puzzles. Resisting the sweets, independent of mood, made participants give up more than twice as quickly on the geometric puzzles. Resisting temptation, the researchers found, seemed to have “produced a ‘psychic cost.’”

Over the intervening 13 years, these results have been corroborated in more than 100 experiments. Researchers have found that exerting self-control on an initial task impaired self-control on subsequent tasks: Consumers became more susceptible to tempting products; chronic dieters overate; people were more likely to lie for monetary gain; and so on. As Baumeister told Teaching of Psychology in 2008, “After you exert self-control in any sphere at all, like resisting dessert, you have less self-control at the next task.”

In addition, researchers have expanded the theory to cover tradeoff decisions, not just self-control decisions. That is, any decision that requires tradeoffs seems to deplete our ability to muster willpower for future decisions. Tradeoff decisions, like choosing between more money and more leisure time, require the same conflict resolution as self-control decisions (although our impulses appear to play a smaller role). In both cases, willpower can be understood as the capacity to resolve conflicts among choices as rationally as possible, and to make the best decision in light of one’s personal goals. And, in both cases, willpower seems to be a depletable resource...

But the core of the breakthrough is that resolving conflicts among choices is expensive at a cognitive level and can be unpleasant. It causes mental fatigue.

Nowhere is this revelation more important than in our efforts to understand poverty. Taking this model of willpower into the real world, psychologists and economists have been exploring one particular source of stress on the mind: finances. The level at which the poor have to exert financial self-control, they have suggested, is far lower than the level at which the well-off have to do so. Purchasing decisions that the wealthy can base entirely on preference, like buying dinner, require rigorous tradeoff calculations for the poor. As Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir formulated the point in a recent talk, for the poor, “almost everything they do requires tradeoff thinking. It’s distracting, it’s depleting … and it leads to error.” The poor have to make financial tradeoff decisions, as Shafir put it, “on anything above a muffin.”

Last December, Princeton economist Dean Spears published a series of experiments that each revealed how “poverty appears to have made economic decision-making more consuming of cognitive control for poorer people than for richer people.” In one experiment, poor participants in India performed far less well on a self-control task after simply having to first decide whether to purchase body soap. As Spears found, “Choosing first was depleting only for the poorer participants.” Again, if you have enough money, deciding whether to buy the soap only requires considering whether you want it, not what you might have to give up to get it. Many of the tradeoff decisions that the poor have to make every day are onerous and depressing: whether to pay rent or buy food; to buy medicine or winter clothes; to pay for school materials or loan money to a relative. These choices are weighty, and just thinking about them seems to exact a mental cost...

Some promising approaches have already been tried. Starting in 2002, economists Nava Ashraf, Dean Karlan, and Wesley Yin created and analyzed a unique type of savings account at a small rural bank on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. The Green Bank of Caraga’s SEED accounts (Save, Earn, Enjoy Deposits) let clients place restrictions on when they could access their money. SEED clients could set either a date before which or a minimum savings amount below which they couldn’t access their own funds. Twenty-eight percent of existing bank clients who were offered the accounts enrolled in them, and, after one year, the economists found, customers saved over 300 percent more with SEED accounts than they would have without them. The accounts offered an opportunity to circumvent self-control failure, in the same way Ulysses bound himself to the mast to resist the Sirens’ call...

The developed world offers numerous such “commitment products”: certificates of deposit, pension plans, government savings bonds, and education savings accounts, to name a few. But, in the developing world, institutional supports for flagging willpower are far fewer...


Michael Dunn said...

Blame the poor. They have bad will power. They have bad genes. They have too many babies. Analyze, medicate and castrate them. It doesn't matter. There will continue to be poor people (primarily the children of other poor people).

Poor people cannot escape their poverty because privileged people are unwilling to share their privilege, and they enact laws and unleash state power to protect their privilege (e.g., union busting, poor houses, bankruptcy "reform," and outright slaughter, as we are seeing in the Middle East).

Furthermore, privileged people inherit the wealth and privilege of their parents, directly through inheritance and indirectly through growing up with financial and social advantages. Poor children, for example, are much more likely to be born with low birth weight, suffer iron deficiency anemia, lead poisoning, malnutrition and numerous other problems that can impair cognitive development and cause learning disabilities. Poor children are read to far less often than middle class children, resulting in an academic achievement gap by the time they are 3. Poor people suffer far more stress than privileged people because of economic uncertainty and because they tend to have low status jobs and little or no control in the workplace. This chronic stress causes the overproduction of cortisol, which impairs memory and learning and increases risk of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and cancer. Thus, there is a linear relationship between wealth and health.

The only solution to poverty (and the achievement gap, which is due almost entirely to social class differences) is to end poverty by ensuring that all members of society have material security. That can only happen if the privileged make do with less.

Blogger Maura Larkins said...

This article is not saying that the poor have less will-power and self-control. It's saying that MORE self-control is required of them by their circumstances. The circumstances, not the people themselves, perpetuate poverty.

The article also notes that in wealthy countries, people get outside help to force them to save. Money is taken out of their paychecks for pension plans, insurance premiums, etc., basically taking decisions out of their hands.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

San Diego County Office of Education board votes itself a raise

Susan Hartley says she's practically a volunteer. Hmmm. See how her former fellow-SDCOE board member Bob Watkins defined volunteerism.
See all SDCOE posts.

County ed board votes itself a raise
The 5 percent increase comes amid cuts across the state
By Jeff McDonald and Hailey Persinger
May 31, 2011

John Witt:
Sharon Jones:
Mark Anderson:
Susan Hartley:

Jerry Rindone:

Members of the county Board of Education have voted themselves a raise.

On July 1, the five school board members will start receiving the 5 percent increase, boosting their monthly compensation by $22.05 each, to just over $463.

The pay hike, approved on a 4-1 vote at the regular May meeting of the Board of Education, will cost about $1,300 a year.

Still, board president Susan Hartley said she knew some members of the public might criticize the board’s May 11 action. She said the job takes 25 to 30 hours a month, and the pay remains modest.

“We have a lot of expenses as trustees and we are one of the lowest paid public officials in the state,” she said. “We only have the opportunity to (consider raises) once a year by law and it’s only 5 percent, so we figured with the expenses incurred we should take advantage.”

County school board members oversee a budget of more than $550 million. Most of that revenue comes from state and federal government programs that the office passes along to smaller districts.

The county schools office is not immune to the budget dilemma confronting public educators up and down California. The 2011-12 budget plan eliminates seven support staff positions and one management job.

The state Education Code allows county boards of education to set the salaries it pays to elected members. The same law provides a yearly review and a maximum upward adjustment of 5 percent.

The board also raised its salary by 5 percent in July 2010.

Taxpayer advocate Richard Rider said school-board members should know better than to award themselves a bump in salary when districts are facing unprecedented cuts.

“It’s just astonishing,” he said. “Obviously it’s not the dollars, it’s the message: You guys need to cut back, but we want a raise.”

The lone vote against accepting the pay raise was cast by Trustee Jerry Rindone, who said he would not accept the extra $22.05 per month.

“Clearly in these challenging economic times the board of trustees needs to share in the sacrifices,” he said. “This means cutbacks should be from the top to the bottom, including board compensation.”

The state budget will determine how much local schools will have to cut from programs and staffs. The state spending plan is supposed to be adopted by June 15 but lawmakers have missed that deadline for years.

Hartley said being a county schools trustee is close to a volunteer job and no one serves for the compensation.

Tri-City Hospital and Bonnie Dumanis fail in felony attempt against Kathleen Sterling

This case is interesting because it involves several of the same lawyers and law firms that misuse the courts for political or financial gain in San Diego County schools. Greg Moser is one such attorney.

See all posts on Tri-City Healthcare.
VISTA: Judge dismisses felony charge against Tri-City director Sterling
North County Times--Californian
June 1, 2011

After a two-day preliminary hearing, a Vista Superior Court judge on dismissed a felony vote-trading charge against Tri-City Healthcare District Director Kathleen Sterling.

The ruling by Judge K. Michael Kirkman frees Sterling from the most serious charge she faced ---- a felony count of bribe solicitation.

However, Kirkman let stand a misdemeanor count of wrongful influence against Sterling that is now set to move forward. If Sterling is convicted on that charge, she would be bounced from Tri-City's board under state elections law.

Standing in the hallway after the felony charge was dismissed, Sterling read from a prepared statement. "I will continue to perform my duties in a quality manner," she said, listing those duties as oversight of hospital management, ensuring fiscal solvency and assuring "optimum quality care for all of the residents of Tri-City."

Assistant District Attorney Leon Schorr said outside the courtroom that he wasn't disappointed in Kirkman's ruling.

"We respect his decision," Schorr said. "We had to put on the witnesses, have them testify, and let a judge decide. That's part of the process."

The felony charge stemmed from a May 26, 2010, dinner meeting at a Carlsbad steakhouse attended by hospital Directors Sterling, George Coulter, and RoseMarie Reno, as well as Tri-City Chief Operating Officer Casey Fatch.

The meeting, which participants testified was an attempt to "mend fences and build bridges" among board members who had not been getting along, resulted in Coulter and Reno accusing Sterling of offering a bribe.

The two testified that, during the meeting, Sterling offered future votes on unspecified board business if her fellow board members would make her vice chair of the hospital board, make her chair of a hospital subcommittee and rescind two censures against her passed in 2000 and 2001.

Though she did not testify on her own behalf at the hearing, Sterling said during a previous hospital board meeting that all of the accusations were fabricated.

During the hearing, Sterling's attorney, public defender Sherry Stone, successfully argued that nothing of value ever changed hands. She noted that no additional money or benefits were attached to leadership positions on the hospital board and also that no deal ever went beyond a few heated words at a restaurant.

Schorr tried to convince the judge that a felony solicitation charge was warranted because the law does not require that a bribe be consummated, or that it have a monetary value, in order for it to be illegal. He said it was solicitation of a bribe "as long as she (Sterling) finds that there is value in the things that she is asking for and as long as she has a belief that it has some value to her."

But Kirkman said that the value question was not his central concern. The judge noted that it was not Sterling who set up the dinner meeting and said that he did not believe she offered the exchange with any "corrupt intent" to exchange her votes for specific concessions.

"These were emotional comments made off the cuff in response to what was being said by others," Kirkman said.

He likened the dinner meeting comment to an exchange between Sterling and Reno at a April 28, 2010, hospital board meeting. At that meeting, Reno told Sterling: "It's unfortunate that you may have paid Judge Mills off beforehand."

The comment referred to Judge Richard E. Mills' decision to deny six restraining orders that hospital board members and Tri-City employees requested against Sterling.

"I don't believe that she (Sterling) had that intent (to trade votes) any more than I believe that Mrs. Reno truly meant what she said about Judge Mills," Kirkman said...

Legal tab against Tri-City trustee tops $100,000
District’s effort against board member is many-pronged
By Aaron Burgin
June 3, 2011

Oceanside — The Tri-City Healthcare District since March has spent more than $105,000 and employed nearly a dozen attorneys from three law firms in legal actions against one of its elected board members.

A judge in April denied the district’s request for a restraining order against the board member, Kathleen Sterling, who they say assaulted several hospital security guards at a Feb. 24 board meeting. The district is appealing.

Officials are suing Sterling for $100,000, alleging that her disruptive behavior has damaged the district’s reputation and embarrassed employees.

Sterling has filed counter actions, including a claim that the district is suing to silence her, and a suit to recoup her legal fees.

Legal and political experts said that while numbers are not out of the ordinary for the number and complexity of the litigation, the fact that a public district has taken these measures against an elected board member is extremely rare.

“In my 40 years in observing government, I haven’t seen anything like this,” said Bob Stern, the president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies and a longtime political observer. “Then again, the behavior that is alleged is unprecedented for an elected official.”

Sterling, a three-term board member who was re-elected in 2008, has frequently clashed with fellow board members, hospital administrators and staff. The district has censured her eight times for what officials call a pattern of disruptive behavior, including calling fellow board members “Nazis” and attempting to tape record closed-session meetings.

As part of her censures, Sterling has forfeited her $100 meeting stipend and must attend board meetings from a separate conference room via teleconference.

By seeking a restraining order, the hospital hopes to make Sterling stay at least 100 yards away from her colleagues and be banned from hospital property except in a medical emergency. She would have to attend meetings from another building, not just another room.

District officials said they have had to hire outside legal firms because of the number of issues they face with Sterling. They said they expect the tab to rise, but said it’s worth it to restore order to the board and keep the public safe.

“You can’t put a price on the public’s safety,” said board member Charlene Anderson, who compared Sterling to Jared Loughner, who seriously injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a Jan. 8 mass shooting in Arizona. “Those people (in Arizona) would’ve gladly given $70,000 to stop him. I am that afraid something like that could come up with Sterling.”

Sterling said such allegations are ridiculous, part of ongoing district efforts to ostracize her for not being a rubber-stamp vote for CEO Larry Anderson.

“I feel I’ve been targeted because I ask questions and request supporting documents before I make an informed voting decision,” Sterling said. “But they are taking the district’s limited resources and shifting it into the lawyers to use the legal system as a bully pulpit and doing it taxpayers expense.”

Sterling’s attorney, Scott McMillan, called the district’s spending on the actions frivolous.

“What an abysmal use of taxpayer money,” McMillan said. “And for what? How much money are they going to spend before someone says enough is enough?”

McMillan said the spending is questionable because district voters have a mechanism to oust Sterling — a recall election — which no one has attempted. A recall election would cost the district $270,000 for a mail-in ballot or $860,000 for a precinct election. The district could not sponsor such an election, but district voters could.

“If they have a problem with Kathleen Sterling, they need to bring it to voters, not bring it to a judge,” McMillan said.

According to invoices provided from Procopio, the district’s contract legal firm, the firm billed the district $68,445 between March 1 and April 30, including more than $54,000 in attorneys fees for 166 hours of work and $14,000 in legal-related expenses. This does not include costs incurred during May, when the district filed its appeal. Five attorneys, who bill at $335 an hour, a clerk and a paralegal have worked on the restraining order for the firm.

The district hired Michael Curran of Encinitas-based Curran & Curran for the lawsuit. Curran billed the district $3,060 for work from Feb. 28 to March 3, but the district is expecting another bill in coming days. Curran bills at $360 an hour.

Sterling has filed a countermotion against the district that claims that the district legal actions are a “strategic lawsuit against public participation.”

Tri-City on April 21 hired a third firm to assist Curran on Sterling’s claim and other aspects of the dispute. Encino-based Horvitz and Levy has billed the district $33,559 for work performed from April 21 to May 30, Tri-City legal counsel Allison Borkheim said. Four attorneys have worked on the Sterling case, who bill the district from $290 to $460 an hour...

New employer of former SDUSD general counsel Mark Bresee is sued for Brown Act violations

Rio school board sued over alleged Brown Act violations
By Cheri Carlson
Ventura County Star
June 3, 2011

Attorney William Grimm has filed suit in Ventura County Superior Court, alleging the Rio School District board broke state law in several closed-door meetings leading up to Sherianne Cotterell's removal as superintendent.

Grimm, who is married to Cotterell, wants the court to order trustees to follow California's open meetings law — the Brown Act. He also wants the court to declare null and void the split board's March 2 action to terminate Cotterell's contract without cause.

Cotterell was given 60 days' notice of the termination following the board's 3-1 vote that night.

The board majority has demonstrated a complete disregard for laws and policies, Grimm said this week in an email response to questions.

"They have done so because no one stands up to them," he said. "It is time they are held accountable. The court needs to send a message to the board majority that they are not above the law."

Rio officials disagreed. "The district denies that any violations of the Brown Act occurred, and we intend to vigorously contest the lawsuit," said attorney Mark Bresee, who represents the Rio board.

Discussions the board had in closed session were consistent with what was listed on the agendas, he said. "I obviously can't and won't discuss what the board discussed in closed session, because I'm legally bound to maintain the confidentiality of that."

Regarding the March 2 action, Bresee said "public employee discipline, dismissal, release" was listed on the agenda. People commented on the issue, the board took action to dismiss and release the superintendent, and reported that action after the closed session ended, as required by law, he said.

Under the Brown Act, trustees are allowed to meet behind closed doors to discuss a limited number of issues, including personnel. They must, however, disclose on the agenda what they generally will consider in the meeting and allow the public to comment.

Grimm said that didn't happen.

Agendas for closed sessions from Feb. 10 to March 2 included items for the superintendent's evaluation and employee discipline, dismissal or release. But those descriptions were inadequate and misleading, according to the suit.

Trustees did not disclose that they were considering potential litigation and should not have discussed compensation behind closed doors, according to Grimm's complaint.

The day after the Feb. 10 meeting, the board's attorney contacted Cotterell's representative and proposed terms for her to resign in return for about 10 months of salary, about $137,500, the suit states.

Under her contract, the maximum cash settlement for the board to end Cotterell's employment without cause likely would equal 18 months of pay, or about $247,500.

On Feb. 14, Cotterell gave the district a counter-proposal, including an explanation of her position and four potential claims she was considering filing against the district. The complaint did not provide details of that counter-proposal.

The board then met in closed session Feb. 17. According to the suit, the board discussed and rejected Cotterell's settlement offer and proposed compensation package.

The district also made a counter-offer, including a waiver to any claims the superintendent might bring against the district, the complaint states.

Bresee said there were several inaccuracies in the suit. He also disagreed that the board wrongly discussed compensation in closed session. There are times when a board may consider financial settlements in a closed session, he said.

Cotterell's contract specifically addresses the issue of a settlement if her contract is terminated without cause, he said.

To label something as potential litigation, the Brown Act requires a legal opinion that significant exposure to litigation exists, he said. He did not believe that existed at the time.

Bresee said the district will file a response to Grimm's court complaint within 30 days.

Rio trustees met again Feb. 24 and March 2, when trustees announced they had voted 3-1 to exercise the "no-cause" termination clause of Cotterell's contract. Trustee Tim Blaylock voted against the move, and Trustee Mike Barber, who also supported Cotterell, was absent.

Board President Eleanor Torres and trustees Henrietta Macias and Ramon Rodriguez voted in favor of the move. The vote came about three months after four new trustees were sworn in after being elected to the five-member board.

At a meeting last week, Blaylock told other trustees that he plans to bring forward proposals to increase public access regarding board business.

He, too, thinks violations have occurred in open and closed sessions over the past several months, including trustees taking action on issues in closed session that aren't adequately described on agendas, he said. Other trustees have disputed those claims.

It's not the first time a Rio school board has faced a lawsuit over alleged Brown Act violations after firing a superintendent. In 2003, Yolanda Benitez was fired in a 3-2 decision, with Macias as one of the majority votes.

Benitez later sued and won a large settlement from the district after courts ruled the board had broken the Brown Act.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Why are some animal trainers--and teachers--so aggressive and cruel when they teach?

These aren't exactly Sea World training methods being used on these elephants. Not a treat in sight.

More video evidence of movie elephant suffering released by ADI as elephant experts condemn abuse
Animal Defenders International
LOS ANGELES, May 11, 2011 -- Wildlife vet describes training at elephant suppliers for Water for elephants: “Nothing rivals the cruelty I have witnessed over the last few days.”

Animal Defenders International have released more shocking footage from Have Trunk Will Travel, where the elephant Tai used in the movies Water for Elephants, Zookeeper and Britney Spears’ circus video, was trained.

The first footage ADI released related specifically to what was shown in Water for Elephants. It showed how Tai was taught to perform tricks with electric shocks and bull hooks and not with love and marshmallows.

Dr Mel Richardson, captive wildlife vet: “As a veterinarian with 40 years of expertise caring for elephants and other captive wildlife, I can assure you these videos depict animal cruelty and unnecessary suffering. These people are tormenting their elephants. The aggressiveness and vengeance with which the handlers beat and punish the elephants is unconscionable. There appears to be no purpose other than to torment the elephants. As a veterinarian in 1982-84, I worked for an animal dealer who imported 44 baby African elephants to train for the performing animal industry. I have witnessed and treated the wounds of elephants traumatized by severe training techniques. And nothing rivals the cruelty I have witnessed over the last few days from the videos from Have Trunk Will Travel.”

Dr. Joyce Poole, world renown elephant biologist, Co-Director of Elephant Voices, lead author of The Elephant Charter, world-renowned elephant biologist, with 40 years studying elephants: "What we see is systematic abuse of fearful and terrorized elephants. The brutality and aggressive attitude demonstrated by the handlers leaves no doubt in my mind about the trauma that has been inflicted on these poor elephants. The roars of pain and squeaks of alarm heard in the footage all confirm the same - elephants forced with violence to do painful tricks that are unnatural and harmful to them."

Pat Derby former TV and movie animal trainer and founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society, Ark2000 elephant sanctuary: “The actions I viewed on this video could only be characterized as needless suffering and unnecessary cruelty. In the early 70s, when I was working with animals on film sets I hated the way elephants were trained. Elephants bring out a fury in many men as no other creature does, a rage to dominate and to hurt.

“Although Have Trunk Will Travel states that their elephants are trained with food reward and positive reinforcement, no treats are visible anywhere in this video, and the bull hooks and electricity are used aggressively and angrily."

“The elephant actor in Water For Elephants, and the other elephants at Have Trunk Will Travel, have paid a high price for a few mediocre moments of entertainment. If you care about elephants, skip this movie.”

Peter Stroud, former curator of elephants at Melbourne Zoo, has said there was little doubt Tai has been subjected to cruel training methods at some point:

’’Getting an elephant to do what it’s told really requires the elephant to be dominated. If you want to see an elephant behaving in the way this elephant probably does in this movie, where it’s in and around people and performing circus tricks, it’s a near certainty that it’s been trained using punishment, using pain, using very traditional methods that have been with us for a long time but are not at all elephant friendly. They’re basically cruel.’’...