By Bennett Kayser Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Daily News | http://bit.ly/17rhf2Q
6/05/2013 04:27:00 PM PDT :: The members of the Board of Education of the Los Angeles Unified School District need to work harder and be more available to the public. I know this because I am a member of the board.
Since 2006, board members have had the option of assuming the job as a fulltime, paid position, albeit for a pittance compared to other local elected officials. Unfortunately, over the last six years, the Board of Education's schedule has been whittled down to just one monthly public meeting of the full seven member board.
Traditionally, meetings are a forum where the community and the board come to learn, to share information, to advocate and to contribute to the governance of the district. As it is, the meetings are held downtown in the middle of the day when most parents, students and employees cannot participate. Ultimately this behavior pattern leads to decisions made in a vacuum, isolation from reality and the rubberstamping of pre-determined outcomes.
Mind you, I do not favor meetings for meetings' sake. I do believe however that there is a purpose and a value to open dialogue, regular communication with constituents, input from outsiders, and yes, even to our being criticized. That is my job and I want to do it.
In 2011, as the newest member of the board, I fought successfully to reinstate some of our committee structure to allow for more focused conversations, though limited to three members so as not to violate the Brown Act. It is not enough!
A quick survey of other local governing boards finds that the Los Angeles City Council meets three times a week, the County Board of Supervisors convenes weekly and the Los Angeles Community College District, with just nine campuses, meets twice a month. Among the cities in my Board District 5, South Gate, Bell, Maywood, and Vernon all meet twice a month. The LAUSD consists of over 1,000 school sites, a budget of over $6 billion, has 660,000-plus students and covers over 700 square miles. Surely we school board members should be no less available to the community than a council member with 30,000 constituents.
The consequences of meeting once a month are many. On an individual level, students are forced to wait unnecessarily for board approval of their reinstatement while others linger, awaiting expulsion. Teachers on the dismissal list receive additional time and compensation while those qualifying for reinstatement must wait. On the operations front, lawsuits and settlements await, contracts are not let, positions go unfilled, deadlines are jeopardized, legislation goes unsupported, et cetera.
On the good-government side of the ledger, once-a-month meetings encourage board members, myself included, to skirt our standard that calls for motions to be presented at one meeting then voted on at the next, thus allowing for a full public vetting. For expedience sake we sometimes find ourselves noticing the motion on the morning's abbreviated, non-televised, closed session agenda then voting on it in the afternoon's open session, again circumventing the public.
Obviously in a district this large, the volume of issues builds over a month, so we wind-up with extraordinarily long agendas that mandate haste, allow minimal input and limits questions from board members. The last closed session binder was 1,700 pages, never-mind the afternoon's regular session materials!
My constituents expect more of me and this board. Timeliness, transparency, deliberation and relevancy should be a mandatory minimum. Consequently, I seek to expand, rather than reduce the number of publically accessible board meetings of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Getting the board president to schedule a second meeting this month to delve into the district's $6 billion budget was been like pulling teeth, molars to be exact. The good news is that times are changing!
From what I can tell, the incoming board member, Monica Ratliff, is a hard worker. I hope that with our new board member and new board leadership, we will reinvigorate what has become a flaccid and moribund governing body. It is time to rebuild, restore and revitalize LAUSD!
- Bennett Kayser represents District 5 on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education