Capistrano Unified – Corruption Galore

There is a path to follow in this series regarding the mess here in South Orange County and the Capistrano Unified School Districts Board of Trustees.  The big picture needed to be outlined in one diary, to show how this board was working against the teachers and the bargaining process.  It was merely a snapshot, the picture is bigger and it has been going on for years.

The second piece of the puzzle has to do with Education Alliance, a Political Action Committee in Tustin, CA and a number of other political entities hell bent on dismantling public education (And opposing other important political issues such as health care reform and climate change legislation) so that they can privatize and funnel money into charter schools.

The argument of the Charter school people is that Capistrano Unified isn’t working, even though it is ranked as 137th in the State out of 870 school districts and it’s the highest ranked school if you consider it’s size by number of students.  Capo also has an amazing graduation rate with over 95% of their students graduating high school with the State average at 79%.

The district is working, the teachers are the reason why our schools are competitive and the students are high achievers as well as passionately involved parents.  Pacific Research Institute would like you to think otherwise, that communities like Capo are dysfunctional.  PRI has been touting their documentary, Not as Good as You Think: The Myth of the Middle Class School which attempts to paint this as an issue of public education, which it is not.  It’s an issue of corrupt and ineffective board of trustees.  And they were corrupt, it’s why so many parents wanted them gone, so beginning in 2006, recall candidates started to replace the corrupt board and replace it with new slate of “reform” candidates who would restore out district to sanity and transparency, or so we thought.

And the story to be told here is about another Board of Trustees that has replaced the last bunch by taking advantage of angry, hurt parents in a unimaginable situation.  This is about the current board of Trustees and it’s not pretty.

“We have been engaged in this battle for many years and it just came to a point where it made sense to end this litigation,” said plaintiff Tony Beall, a Rancho Santa Margarita city councilman and a leader of Capistrano Unified’s “reform” movement.

The settlement agreements were authorized by Capistrano’s “reform”-minded school board, the same group many of the families in the lawsuits helped elect. Indeed, the leaders of the politically popular “reform” movement – including Beall and Tom Russell – will receive some of the $653,350 settlement money.

Trustee Ken Maddox defended the board’s decision to award money to some of the parents who helped get him and his colleagues elected, saying it was “silly” to suggest a conflict of interest.

OC Register

Emphasis added by me

Silly?  Really, you think that’s silly?

I don’t think it’s silly, I think it’s a valid point, that Tony Beall, Republican Mayor of Rancho Santa Margarita and political backer of Winsten received settlement money from the board of Trustees just months after he was sworn in.

Capistrano Dispatch 12/12/08 – Winsten was sworn in by reform committee leader Tony Beall (Beall was a donor to Winsten’s campaign and a recipient of settlement funds). Capistrano Dispatch 12/12/08 – Winsten was sworn in by reform committee leader Tony Beall (Beall was a donor to Winsten’s campaign and a recipient of settlement funds).

Source

Then the recall itself cost almost $700,000 because they couldn’t wait for the general election in November, which would have meant a lot more turn out.  But what about saving the district some much needed money?

The school board on Monday authorized paying the Orange County Registrar of Voters Office $677,603 for the full cost of administering the special election.

Opponents of the recall say the special election was pointless and a waste of money, as the two recalled trustees would have been up for re-election in November anyway, less than five months after the June recall election.

And then began the broken promises as soon as the votes had come in.

The night they were elected, Lopez-Maddox made promises, lots of them but this is the one that many hoped would stick.

Cost cutting: Maddox said one of the first things he will do is direct administrators to analyze all of the district’s outside service contracts to determine how much the district is paying and whether there are opportunities for cost cutting. Unlike when Bryson and others have asked for similar analyses, the new board majority will ensure district staff completes the tasks they are assigned, Maddox said.

“We had a group of recalcitrant trustees who refused to yield on any issue where they may be determined to be wrong,” Maddox said.

OC Register

Now, rather than reinventing the wheel, I’m going to source two amazingly well researched sites,Capo Recall 2010 and Capistrano Unified Children First for the following information.  I want to thank those who came before me to gather information and keep track of the  current board and their repeated abuse of tax payer funds when our School District can least afford it (When can school districts afford blatant abuse of funds?)

One of the promises of this board was local control, Capistrano Unified is a huge district and a huge piece of reform that would keep influential money out of the system would be voting “by trustee area”.   This would mean candidates from the local cities representing areas from Aliso Viejo for their schools to San Clemente for their local schools.  Rather than it costing a candidate over a $100,000 to run for a seat, they could spend less than $20,000 and rely on the donations of parents rather than special interest groups!

All the Board of Trustees had to do was to request a waiver from having to vote on this issue and the problem is solved.  But they refused to do so, five to one.   So not only will it cost the district more money, they are attempting to make it seem like other entities are trying to waste money in “forcing this election”.

Then there is the Superintendent issue that’s been a tough one for many to swallow since there hasn’t been a new one in place for a little over a year now.   The former Superintendent had a three year contract for almost a million dollars but as it stands, we’re paying an interim superintendent almost a thousand dollars a day who doesn’t have the kind of experience with this sized school district.    How is this helping things?

SPECIAL CUSD BOARD MEETING AT THE LAGUNA CLIFFS MARRIOTT ON APRIL 26, 2010.  The agenda is available is online.    The question is this, why are they meeting at a local Marriott hotel when they have a perfectly good, 38 million dollar District office to meet at?

Ah yes, it’s the Superintendent that they are attempting to hire since currently paying the current one almost $1,000 a day doesn’t seem fiscally sound.  I know.  But this board likes to spend money on things like attorney’s fees.

Rather than retaining in house council as they promised, they’ve retained the services of 11 law firms and a PR firm called Communications Resources for Schools in December 2009,  and have spent 2.3 million dollars of our tax dollars on outside Attorney fees.

And they don’t understand Brown Act laws either.

Judge finds Capistrano Board of Education
Violated “Brown Act” Open Meeting Law

Ruling confirms CUSD Board solicited assistance from attorney with known history of open-meeting violations

CUEA News Release

ALISO VIEJO – ‘This entire school board ran on a campaign dedicated to restoring ‘honesty, integrity, and accountability’ to public education,” said Capistrano Unified Education Association President Vicki Soderberg, “but if their action in this case is their definition of these qualities, I want no part of it, and thankfully, neither do the courts.”

In a writ of mandate issued March 16, 2010 stemming from a lawsuit initiated by CUEA against the Capistrano Unified Board of Education on November 3, 2008, Orange County Superior Court Judge David T. McEachen found that the CUSD board did violate California’s Brown Act open meeting law when it met in an illegal closed session meeting on August 11, 2008. The ruling specifically states that the school board “. . . did not adequately set forth closed session topics and is in violation of the Brown Act as to the unnoticed attendance of Spencer Covert and the proposed disciplinary action against Superintendent Carter.”

Beyond the Blackboard

What’s so upsetting about all of this is that I have only scratched the surface.  There are videos of parents being ignored and belittled by this board during BOT meetings.  There is a lot of evidence of downright hubris by the board for completely turning their back on their promises documented on the blog, Beyond the Blackboard another amazing resource for parents in Capo.  It’s all out there, one just has to dig.  The problem is this, it goes so deep, you feel you might just bury yourself in this mess.

Some very well done videos to pull all this together.

YouTube Preview Image

And a video about the endless spending by this Board.  Millions of dollars.  It will make your stomach turn, it did mine.

YouTube Preview Image

Why keep supporting a corrupt board?  I don’t know, but here  Tony Beall at Red County keeps supporting his friends when the teachers chose to strike and used the BoT’s talking points that have nothing to do with the issue at hand, that the teachers are willing to take the pay cuts they just don’t want them to be permanent.  That’s it.

But he continues to bloviate about the busted promises of this board, this GOP Backed board.

The seven conservative republican trustees serving on the Capistrano Unified Board of Trustees are under attack by the powerful California Teachers Association – and they need the immediate support of all conservatives who are sick and tired of the abuses and undue influence exerted by this powerful union.

The seven Republican Reform Trustees in CUSD have proven they’ve got that political courage and resolve to change the status quo!  Under their leadership, test scores across the district have soared to their highest levels.  They have:

Stopped years of deficit spending;
Successfully balanced the budget;
Increased financial reserves;
Enacted strong anti-nepotism and conflict of interest policies;
Completed a district-wide facilities assessment;
Saved millions by cutting and streamlining the bloated bureaucracy; and
Demanded the union accept a 10% cut in their contract.

CUEA has accepted the ten percent pay cut,  that’s the only honest statement here because even with the cut to teacher’s pay and benefits, the Board of Trustees still have a budget deficit to contend with.

And of course, a lot of teachers and parents want to know what the board has to do with “soaring test scores”.  Teachers are what make schools great.  Teachers are the ones who do the teaching, not Trustees, not bloggers, pundits or textbooks.

It’s about the teachers not a Board of Trustees that has broken it’s promises and spends my tax dollars to line the pockets of lawyers and their political allies while firing those in the District that are working who may not support their agenda.   This is about a Board of Trustees that has an agenda that goes beyond merely pay cuts and class size.

Heather Pritchard

I'm new to political blogging but have been writing most of my life about different things. I campaigned for President Clinton when he was just Governor Clinton in Orange County. I graduated from Smith College with a BA in English and a minor in Film. I work full time, have a lovely four year old daughter named Charlotte, my husband teaches full time at Cerritos College in Norwalk in the Music Department. Gary has a Ph.D in Ethnomusicology from UCI. I hope to go back to school in some form or another, maybe sociology or economics. I've even thought of Law school. Our newest edition to the household is our Weimaraner Sophie. 

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  4 comments for “Capistrano Unified – Corruption Galore

  1. C Yamada
    April 26, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    Iam curious, does the author of the article have a student in the school? I do. I had two go to stoneybrook private, Their education level was beyond high school by 6th grade. I have the third in public, At private school, teachers ger oaid less, we buy the materials, but the class size is smaller, the teacher has more freedom to teach. Who cares where the school district is within the state,

    2006-2007 Smartest State Award
    ALPHA ORDER RANK ORDER
    RANK STATE SMART RATING
    California ranks 47th, i being highest…….

    When a child is getting a low final grade in a subject, best tested high during state standardized tests, he is no allowed to attend summer school. However when it comes to 12th grade graduation, if his over all GPA is not way up there, thus he goes to community college.

  2. April 27, 2010 at 6:44 am

    Yes I do, I have a first grader at Oak Grove, she is doing very well and loves her teachers. I believe in public education, I myself am a product of it and I think it works. I also believe there should be choice but I don’t believe that tax dollars should be used to fund private education.

  3. docmomi
    June 8, 2010 at 12:45 am

    Help with the vote for the new Trustee member. Out of the three candidates Sellman, Parker and Miller…any thoughts???

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