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More Allegations of Brown Act Violations Thrown at School District

The new accusations stem from a meeting the board of trustees held last month to address previous accusations that it had violated the state's opening-meeting law.

At a special meeting to address accusations that it violated the state’s open-meeting law, the ’s board of trustees may have committed further violations, one man is alleging.

Jim Reardon, the San Juan Capistrano man whose lawsuit spurred the meeting, last week sent another letter to the school board, giving it 30 days to admit members violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, which requires that publicly elected officials conduct most of their business in public. The letter is a precursor to a lawsuit.

Reardon is also asking that the board seek training in how to avoid violating the Brown Act and that it rescind earlier votes making various concessions to district employee groups.

Reardon said he's speaking up on behalf of all the parents in the district who are too timid to raise the concerns themselves. “They're scared to death to speak up."

School district unions poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the , which saw the recall of two board members and the ousting of a third, all members of the so-called "reform board." 

The latest complaints arise out of a special meeting the board scheduled March 16 to address earlier complaints Reardon made about how the trustees went about  that were to be furlough days and .

“The meeting of March 16 cured and corrected any possible Brown Act violations surrounding the restoration of instructional days for our students and salaries to our teachers," district spokesman Marcus Walton wrote in an e-mail. "The public had another opportunity to speak to the bargaining unit contracts, and the Board voted in a properly noticed public meeting to reaffirm its votes on furlough days and pay.”

to the non-teaching–or classified–employees. All together, the district has spent about $9 million on the restorations. At the same time, the district is facing an  and a worst-case scenario of a .

Reardon says two specific Brown Act violations arose out of the March 16 meeting:

  • That the board’s motion to “reaffirm previously considered restoration of furlough days and pay for four employee organizations” and the staff report accompanying that agenda item contradict Superintendent Joseph Farley’s assertions during the meeting that only teachers received a partial restoration of salaries.
  • That the board did not vote for a recess when it took a five-minute break, then proceeded to huddle together in conversation that the public was not able to hear.

The district’s attorney, San Diego-based Jack M. Sleeth Jr., has said the trustees did not violate the Brown Act in their earlier decisions to give employee concessions. However, he recommended that the March 16 meeting be held to “fully cure any perception that there might have been a Brown Act violation,” he said in a March 11 letter to Reardon’s lawyer, Wayne Tate of Laguna Hills.

 noted the contradiction between the staff documents, which showed all employee groups receiving restored furlough days and pay. Tables attached to the agenda item showed the concessions totaling $9.5 million. When asked about the discrepancy, Walton said those tables “should have never seen the light of day.”

Instead, they were to demonstrate how much it could cost the district to make all restorations to employee groups that agreed to certain cuts when negotiating their contracts last year, Walton said at the time.

During the meeting, Farley told the trustees: “We have not restored salaries for Teamsters, for [Capistrano Unified Management Association] or for CSEA [California School Employees Association]. The other associations received an increase in salary as it relates to two furlough days.”

In other words, Reardon’s lawyer Tate wrote in his demand letter, Farley stated that the board's action was different from what the agenda item, the motion and the supporting documents said.

Furthermore, the past decisions the board was voting to reaffirm March 16, according to the agenda, were the three existing contracts with the employee groups and the Jan. 11 action to return the two instructional furlough days to the academic calendar. However, at the January meeting, Farley said that the calendar was only a housekeeping-type item and that the board had already decided to restore the furlough days in a previous closed session, Tate wrote.

The March 16 special meeting was a “show meeting that was arranged by their attorney to provide a semblance of a process without any substance,” said Reardon, who was in attendance that evening.

The five-minute recess, Reardon’s second complaint alleges, occurred after Trustee John Alpay had made a motion to breach the contract with the various employee groups. Although members of the audience laughed, Alpay later declined to call his motion a joke or characterize it in any way.

Alpay’s exact motion: “I move that this board affirmatively elect to disregard the rule of law, subject the school district to unfair labor practices by the teachers union, incur additional, unnecessary legal expenses and needlessly waste taxpayer dollars on attorneys and needless litigation, throw this district back into turmoil, causing further erosion of home values spanning from San Clemente to Aliso Viejo, from Dana Point to Rancho Santa Margarita, and therefore move we affirmatively breech  the contract with CUEA [Capistrano Unified Education Association, the teachers union]. Is there a second?”

After a brief silence, President Jack Brick, who does not run the meetings, seconded the motion. Alpay then quickly asked for a five-minute recess. After conferring with each other and upon return to the meeting, Brick rescinded his second.

“There is no way to sugar coat it, the impromptu meeting of the board at the end of the dais outside the hearing range of the public was an open and obvious Brown Act violation,” Tate wrote.

Tate told Patch that if the district does not respond to his letter, he’s likely to amend to include the new allegations. That lawsuit’s first in-court conference is scheduled for Aug. 22.

In addition, an attorney with the Orange County district attorney’s office has also been .

Capo has had a long history of accusations that trustees have violated the Brown Act. Just last week, of a lower court finding that the previous board violated the Brown Act in 2008. The teachers union filed that suit. And in October 2007,  a 60-page report that  District Attorney Tony Ruckaukas released spelled out 13 Brown Act violations. However, none was considered for criminal prosecution.

M April 20, 2011 at 11:56 PM
The district is applying to the state of California for a waiver to increase class size in grades 4 -8.  Right now, the average is 29 per class room (taking ALL classrooms into consideration), and legally, can't go above 29 unless the state approves. (In 9-12, there is no limit!). So there will be more teacher lay offs meanwhile our kids will be a little more crowded in their classrooms.
Capo Parent Too April 21, 2011 at 07:52 PM
Two trustees speaking to each other is not a Brown Act violation though, it has to be a Board Majority, it is obvious that Alpay was telling Brick that he was not serious about his stupid motion. Talk about making mountains from molehills. Like we don't have bigger things to worry about.
Capo Parent April 21, 2011 at 08:27 PM
Capo Parent Too Another failed attempt at rewriting the facts. Are you on the CUSD payroll? Unless you're blind to the facts and the truth, all five trustees were huddled together behind the dais. That's why it's a Brown Act violation. Of course you also ignore the fact that Pritchard granted a recess with a motion pending without a vote of the board to take a recess. We do agree on one thing, Alpay's motion was stupid, very stupid and immature. One expectd better from the only attorney on the board. Of course you're right, after 2, 3, 4, etc. Brown Act violations another one or two is no big deal. By the way, why is Pritchard running every meeting when Brick is the president. What is the union friendly board majority hiding from the public about Brick?
Capo Parent Too April 21, 2011 at 11:21 PM
NO, I am not on the payroll, I am just really tired of our district being run through the mud. We're you at the meeting because in the past you've said you wern't and according to this it was just Alpay and Brick who talked to each other. After a brief silence, President Jack Brick, who does not run the meetings, seconded the motion. Alpay then quickly asked for a five-minute recess. After conferring with each other and upon return to the meeting, Brick rescinded his second. So that's where I got that only two people spoke at the dais, it doesn't take genius to make that conclusion. I don't get everything from the Patch on what happens in the district, I talk to other people, I pay attention at what happens at board meetings and I speak to as many people involved. It is only a very few people who are seeing brown act violations and supporting these frivolous lawsuits. When the Register says a Union contract is unbreakable, you know you just might be on the wrong side of the issue. Get a clue.
Penny Arévalo April 21, 2011 at 11:46 PM
I should have been more clear because I attended that meeting. The entire board present (five members because Ellen Addonizio and Sue Palazzo had already recused themselves by this time) conferred together behind the dais during the recess, which was not put to a vote.

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