Thursday, September 24, 2009

FREE SPEECH AMONG LAUSD CUTS – Board of Ed cuts back on public input

LA Daily News Editorial

Sept 24 -- To say "Shame on the school board," is very tempting.

The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education has decided to eliminate all special committee meetings and limit the number of speakers from the public allowed to talk during the remaining meetings.

The board voted 5-2 for this new approach to conducting the public's business. Board members said it was a cost-cutting measure.

"We are in a crisis," said board president Monica Garcia, who proposed this plan. "And with this budget, we are not only challenged to do less ... we must do things differently."

This plan is too different.

Garcia said her idea was partially drawn to address a 30 percent reduction in money for the district's office of the board secretariat. The board secretariat coordinates all the district's meetings and produces all meeting-related material.

The special committees, by the way, meet to handle such things as the curriculum, school safety and charter schools.

The man in charge of the Board Secretariat Office, Jefferson Crain, told the board that with a 30 percent cut in money, his office can handle only 24 hours of meetings a month.

And that prompted Garcia's novel plan.

In addition, the board decided to shorten the remaining meetings by limiting to seven the number of speakers allowed to address the board on topics the trustees will vote on, and 15 speakers maximum at each meeting with public discussion of general education issues. No. 16 is out of luck, even if its a parent with a legitimate gripe who traveled by bus to attend the meeting.

The board does intend to offset the eliminated special committee meetings with an increase of full board meetings. In the past the board met twice a month, and now it plans to meet every week.

It's a bad idea in a good cause.

Everyone can agree that cutting costs is necessary, and everyone can agree that making those cuts work is difficult; but it seems the board is using money woes as an excuse to cut short the weary complaints from an increasingly dissatisfied public.

Yes, the number of meetings a board trustee must attend is onerous. And listening to some of our citizens borders on verbal abuse. And some of the speakers do abuse the right of free speech. Enduring it meeting after meeting does suck the joy out of public service.

However, the trustees were all consenting adults when they elbowed their way to the front and volunteered for this job and the annual salary.

Eliminating committee meetings will save money. Shortening the length of the meetings will save money.

But we don't think we can afford the cost that comes from cutting the public's right to speak.

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