San Juan Capistrano resident Jim Reardon filed a lawsuit this week against the Capistrano Unified School District, seeking to halt the board of trustees' recent restoration of two furlough days and employee salaries.
In late February, Reardon’s attorney, Wayne Tate of Laguna Hills, to “correct and cure” what he said were violations of the state’s open-meeting law. to address the issue March 16, but Tate called it a “sham.”
“It was nothing but an ill-disguised, dog-and-pony show,” he said.
He said his client decided his only resort was to pursue a lawsuit, which Tate filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court.
The lawsuit seeks to declare the restoration of two furlough days to the academic calendar—one of which has already passed—and salary bumps for teachers “null and void.”
School district officials declined to comment. “We don’t comment on pending litigation or litigation,” said spokesman Marcus Walton.
The district has 30 days to formally respond to the lawsuit, then a legal conference will be scheduled.
At issue is the restoration language included in the contract with teachers the trustees approved to end the three-day teachers’ strike a year ago. At the time, the teachers agreed to take five unpaid furlough days and a 10.1 percent pay cut.
But in December, the school district announced it would . In early February it announced so that their pay cut this year amounts to a 6.49 percent decrease over last year’s pay.
In his lawsuit, Reardon alleges wrongdoing on two fronts: One, that the board took action in closed sessions when it should have been done out in the open; and two, that the conditions of the restoration language do not exist to justify pulling the “trigger.”
In an as-yet publicly disclosed accusation, Tate said the vote to reinstate the furlough days and salaries may have actually taken place at the Dec. 13 meeting.
A Jan. 11 memo to the school board said the vote did take place Dec. 13, but district officials now say that report was in error. There was no correction of the report when it was presented to the board at its Jan. 11 meeting.
In a letter to the district’s contracted lawyer, Jack M. Sleeth Jr. of San Diego, Tate wrote, “I have confirmed that items not listed on the Dec. 13, 2010 special meeting were discussed [by] the [board] at that meeting, and that the [board] most likely voted on items not listed on the agenda.”
Tate told Patch that nobody has illegally disclosed the content of the closed-session discussion and/or votes. “The only information I’ve been provided is that items were discussed that weren’t on the agenda. I don’t know what it was.”
In the one and only response Tate received from his Feb. 28 demand letter, Sleeth did not mention the Dec. 13 meeting at all.
No matter which day the board approved the restorations, Tate said it should have been done in front of the public. “None of the exceptions to an open meeting (which are strictly construed) apply,” the lawsuit states.
Superintendent Joseph Farley has said the board had . The topic fell under the protected category of labor negotiations.
Tate told Sleeth that explanation is a “farce.” The contract was already board-approved and a public document. Board “discussions regarding whether or not certain terms in the [contract] have been triggered are required to be conducted in an open session and in the public’s eye.”
Besides reversing the restorations, Reardon is calling for the board to tape-record closed sessions for three years. The board used to tape its closed sessions in compliance with a 60-page report District Attorney Tony Ruckaukas released in October 2007, citing many violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state's open-meeting law.
As for the actual restoration, Reardon contends the the return of two school days and a partial reinstatement of teacher salaries. The trigger can happen, according to the agreed-upon language, “following the adoption of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 state budgets, CUSD’s actual funded base revenue limit increases from the governor’s January 2010 proposed budget proposal."
Reardon said the word “and” means the governor needs to sign off on both years’ budgets, and approval of the 2011-12 budget is still pending.
Reardon’s lawsuit also says the increased revenues need to be “actual funding that is received by CUSD, i.e. in the possession of CUSD.” Because the additional monies promised to school districts in the Oct. 8, 2010, passing of the budget is to be deferred until the 2011-12 year, the school district cannot claim that condition has been met, the lawsuit states.
School officials both within and outside the school district have said that the law allows school districts to consider , even if they have to draw from their rainy-day reserve fund or take out bridge financing to address the cash-flow issues created by deferred payments.