October 21, 2013 :: An expert in school board governance says that a censure vote is rare and has the potential to fracture a board even beyond its existing rifts.
Christopher Maricle, a policy program officer and governance consultant for the California School Board Association, says the effort to publicly condemn LA Unified Board President Richard Vladovic would be an extremely divisive episode for the board — one that Maricle said would be difficult to overcome.
Vladovic has been accused of verbal and sexual harassment by former co-workers, leading to an official investigation into the charges, his public apology for raising his voice at times – he has denied all other charges — and, last week, a resolution from board member Tamar Galatzan to censure him. A vote could come as soon as the Nov. 12 board meeting.
Censure is the board’s only self-disciplinary tool. Elected officials, including school board members, cannot be removed by a panel vote; nor does a censure carry punitive weight, aside from removal from responsibilities, like a presidency. Even so, Galatzan’s resolution was the first of its kind in the district’s history, board secretary Jefferson Crain told the Los Angeles Daily News.
“It’s basically a public wrist slap,” Maricle told LA School Report. “That’s why it tends to erode existing tensions on a board even further.”
“I’ve only seen it make a bad situation worse,” he added. “Don’t forget these people are not hired or appointed. They’re elected.”
In the case of LA Unified, school board meetings are often rife with contentious disagreement. Since Vladovic took the helm and former teacher Monica Ratliff won election to the board this year, most controversial votes are split 5-2, with Monica Garcia, the former board president, and Galatzan as the dissenting voices.
“The question of censure is a balancing act for the board,” Maricle said. “They have to weigh the impact it’ll have on their ability to have a meeting and work with each other in the future because [the community] still needs them to have productive conversations.”
As destructive as it may be, though, in the end the board might find that voting for censure is an undesirable but necessary act. One person’s behavior may be so egregious that the board decides it must distance itself from the alleged guilty party, he said. Or it may come down to self-preservation.
Still, Maricle said, “No one wins in a censure.”
In the last four months, three California school board members have been censured.
Saugus Union School Board member Stephen Winkler was censured in July for making racist remarks on social media. He was removed from the board over charges he didn’t live within the district.
Last month, the Hacienda La Puente school board voted to censure Joseph Chang, who was accused of accepting trips to China from a private company. His colleagues also alleged Chang pressured school administrators to accept unqualified international students. It was the first time such a procedural slap has occurred in the district’s 43 years, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
And just two weeks ago, Steven Nelson, a Mountain View Whisman School District trustee, was censured for raising his voice and using profanity in the district office after a meeting with the district’s superintendent.