Everybody should go to at least one, if not more, school board meeting. School board meetings have on display the best the school district has to offer when students, teachers, and parents are honored for their achievements. It is inspiring to hear highlights of successful programs and efforts at district schools. At the same time, school board meetings can draw out raw emotion. Education is a very personal issue for adults, and it is an opportunity to see politics in action at such a gut level.
The good, the bad, and the ugly were all on display at this week’s Sweetwater High School Unified School District board meeting.
Highlights included the Eastlake High School students who were recognized as the Academic Decathlon and Academic League winners for the State; Otay Ranch High wrestlers Eddie Estevez and Tommy Espinoza were recognized after becoming only 2 of 10 wrestlers in the history of the Sweetwater District to place at the CA wrestling championships, and the contributions of Jerry Rindone and the Battelle Foundation.
Then there was the raw emotion and frustration of district employees and parents as they grappled with the issues of education, probable budget cuts, and the lack of accountability by the school board in reaction to the misuse of the credit card by their Superintendent. This and other missteps recently (the Alevy scandal) have been well documented in the media.
At this week’s meeting, a strong sense of frustration with the school board and administration was expressed by district employees. They remonstrated the school board for a lack of accountability, transparency, and fairness. If a teacher had violated rules or abused privileges as the superintendent has done, the administration would have acted swiftly and decisively with a suspension. Although Superintendent Gandara has made several financial missteps, there has been little – if any – action by the board. This lack of fairness frustrates district employees to no end.
This frustration and anger was manifested in the acrimony and disrespectful words directed to the school board during public comments. Some of the antics would have rivaled any reality show on television today! Thankfully, because of the late hour at which some public comments were roundly insulting board members and the superintendent, the students had gone home and did not bear witness to the adults’ scathing remarks.
What is getting buried in all the anger and overshadowed by the credit card fiasco is that students’ test scores are rising and achievement is improving. However, district employees have accused Gandara of promoting “teaching to the test,” manipulating numbers and testing pools, and not focusing on competitively preparing SUHSD students for college. We cannot speculate on what is really going on at SUHSD. But we can suggest that the board inject a bit of fairness into the equation and hold all district employees to the same standards and consequences.
At the same time it would be unfair to say that the board has done nothing in regards to the credit card issue. The board has taken back that privilege from the superintendent and has launched an independent investigation. We will await the outcome of the investigation before we call for the firing of Superintendent Gandara as many in the audience were asking the board to do at this meeting.
Finally, we hope that the SUHSD board and administration take some cues from Governor Jerry Brown. Governor Brown has been relentless in canceling state employee perks: cell phones, excessive travel, tchotchkes – those meaniningless giveaways like imprinted water bottles and memo pads – in various state agencies, commissions meetings budgets, etc. We applaud Governor Brown’s determined effort to reduce state government to essential services and his actions to skim the fat out of various agency budgets.
A school board meeting it is well worth attending. And when the public expresses its distaste for wasteful and irresponsible spending, sometimes elected officials actually listen.