Capistrano Unified School District officials initially strategized to "minimize publicity" of a decision to restore teacher salaries, a tactic that irked at least one trustee and which a spokesman later called a mistake.
That strategy, spokesman Marcus Walton explained to Patch, was intended to keep communication positive about the district, and was a “mistake." But “that was the direction I was given,” he said. He would not reveal from whom.
Copies of e-mail communications obtained pursuant to a Public Records Act request filed by Patch show that the district prepared a press release Feb. 1. However, it originally was going to be made available to members of the media only if they asked for the release.
When the action—taken behind closed doors—was eventually announced, it drew criticism. Some critics said they didn't agree with restoration because the state has yet to give the district the $4.6 million it needs to cover the costs. One in an effort to declare the restorations “null and void,” because he believes the restorations were not made in accordance with the union's contract.
"As we can see from the aftermath, [Superintendent Joseph] Farley’s concerns about this issue were correct,” Walton said, referring to the controversy and lawsuit that ensued once the district's action came to light.
The short chain of e-mails begins with an e-mail Walton wrote to the school board Feb. 2.
“Just a clarification,” he wrote. “To minimize publicity, the news release is being sent only to members of the media who inquire about possible changes to employee salaries.”
Trustee Ellen Addonizio replied 2½ hours after Walton sent his e-mail that she disagreed with the district's approach.
“A confidential, obfuscating press release?" Addonizio wrote. "The community I represent deserves better than what appears to be happening here,” she added. “I do not approve of the press release or the methods used in this issue. I strongly recommend reconsideration of this item.”
In response to Addonizio’s e-mail, Farley wrote a half-hour later: “I have never heard of a confidential news release. We will distribute the news release to the general media. We are trying very hard to keep the publicity about CUSD positive.”
Trustee John Alpay said he was not familiar with the concept of a confidential news release, adding “?!” in the parenthetical. None of the other trustees contributed to the e-mail thread.
Walton ended the thread by saying, “There is no such thing as a confidential news release.” The next day, he sent the release to the approximately 45 news media outlets on his media list.