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School Board to Reaffirm Controversial Vote

Three items on Wednesday's special meeting involve recent restoration of two instructional days and partial restoration of teacher pay.

In response to threats of a lawsuit, the Capistrano Unified School District’s board of trustees is set to discuss Wednesday action it has already taken to reinstate two days to the academic calendar and a partial restoration of teachers’ salaries.

Wednesday’s special-meeting agenda includes three items related to the restoration. The first will discuss how the binding contracts with various employee groups—including the teachers'—"automatically triggered" the restoration of the and .

The second item will address when it approved restoration of the days and salaries. A lawyer hired by the district says there were no such violations.

The third item is to vote to reaffirm previous action to restore the days and salaries.

The restoration has attracted criticism and prompted residents to threaten the board with lawsuits, especially in light of a recent vote to notify for the 2011-12 year. In addition, the district is  from this year's budget to repay its rainy-day reserve fund. 

The first item gives a chronology of the events that led up to the days and salary restorations, which were enacted behind closed doors but not reported to the public afterward, as required under state law:  

  • The board entered into contracts with the various employee groups between May and September 2010, which included language that allowed for the future restoration of two furlough days and salaries (the management’s agreement was only for the furlough days).
  • The Oct. 8, 2010, budget the state Legislature passed included an increase in funding for the school district.
  • On Dec. 7, the newly seated board decided it would not breach the contracts with the employee groups.
  • On Jan. 11, the board took action to revise the calendar to reinstate the instructional days to the academic calendar.

A Jan. 11 memo to the board from staffers stated that the board actually voted to restore the furlough days at its Dec. 13 meeting. But district officials have since said that was an error, although there’s been no formal correction of that error.

Local San Juan Capistrano activist Jim Reardon has challenged the school district by saying that any action taken in closed session should have been properly placed on the agenda, reported afterward and included in the minutes. In a Feb. 28 letter from his attorney, Reardon gave the district 30 days to correct what he sees are violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act.

Separately, the Orange County district attorney’s office is  whether the school board violated the open-meetings law.

Wednesday’s second item includes a letter from an attorney the district hired to look into the alleged Brown Act violations. San Diego-based Jack M. Sleeth Jr. said he does not believe there were any violations of the Brown Act at the Dec. 7 or Jan. 11 meetings.

Despite his finding, Sleeth recommended the board provide the public an opportunity to speak on the issue at a special meeting.

“These actions will fully cure any perception that there might have been a Brown Act violation in this matter,” Sleeth wrote in a letter to Reardon’s lawyer, Wayne Tate.

The third item to address the restorations is a “reaffirmation” of an earlier vote concerning restoration. The items to be reaffirmed are the agreements between the district and the employee groups, and the Jan. 11 agenda item that added the two restored furlough days to the academic calendar.

At the Jan. 11 meeting, Farley presented the calendar as a housekeeping item and said the vote had already been taken.

“The furlough days—that action has already been taken to reinstate these days. There was extensive discussion on their cost in closed session, as you all recall,” Farley told trustees.

In a separate demand, Reardon is asking that the board reconsider its restoration of the days and pay cuts because the restoration’s own language does not support the “trigger” of the concessions at this time. Reardon gave the district until noon Monday, March 14, to respond, or else he'd file a. 
He asked that the board reconsider the restoration at a future, open meeting.

Tate said he does not believe Wednesday’s meeting will meet his client’s demands.

“Nobody’s contending that contracts are invalid. Nobody’s stating the contracts aren’t in effect. The question is: Has the restoration been triggered? What vote are they affirming? Why are they wasting everybody’s time?” he asked.

But Sleeth believes Wednesday’s agenda items should resolve all of the issues.

“If there were some technical violations, the actions were in substantial compliance with the Brown Act, but nevertheless, the board intends to revisit the issue, to permit the public comment and understand the issues and actions of the board so that the district meets the requirement of the spirit and purpose of the Brown Act,” Sleeth wrote in a memo to the board.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a lawyer hired by the Capistrano Unified School District has not said why no Brown Act violations occurred.

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rick lyons March 14, 2011 at 03:07 PM
Interesting. The School Boards attorney, does not believe there were any Brown Act Violations, but the School Board is going to reaffirm the vote in a public forum. Thank you for spending your time on money on this Mr. Reardon and bringing this to our attention.
rick lyons March 14, 2011 at 03:09 PM
Penny, thank you for the excellent reporting and staying on top of this. I appreciate the time that you spend researching both sides. Again, thank you.
Capo Parent Too March 17, 2011 at 12:13 AM
“Nobody’s contending that contracts are invalid. Nobody’s stating the contracts aren’t in effect. The question is: Has the restoration been triggered? What vote are they affirming? Why are they wasting everybody’s time?” he asked. ------------------------------------------ How is this a waste of time if they wanted this out in the open? I thought this was about the Brown Act violation, now it's not? From another article this is what Reardon said:http://alisoviejo.patch.com/articles/san-juan-watchdog-says-school-district-broke-open-meeting-law “These trustees have the obligation to run the district responsibly,” said Reardon, a longtime city and school district watchdog. “They need to be accountable in front of the public for the decisions they make.” ... Although Reardon has asked the district to rescind the restoration of the school days and teachers’ salaries, the school board could choose to put those items on an agenda and take a vote. “They have every right to do it—just do it in public,” Reardon said. ------------------------------------------ So now which is it Reardon? Now that they are going to do it in public it is a waste of our time? Seriously? Sure, there is no political agenda here. I love how the Patch is keeping close track of what the district is doing, but not track of what Reardon and the Bealls, etc. are doing to our district. You guys are getting played.

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