The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District school board has another embarrassment on its hands.
This time its the March 20 resignation of Joan Chu Reese, vice chair of the district’s Financial Oversight Committee. Reese has charged that a faction on the school board was intent on replacing three FOC incumbents "whom they deem to be too active, outspoken or independent relative to the board’s own point of view.”
Members of the FOC are approved by the school board and charged with providing independent, citizen financial oversight of SMMUSD’s fiscal affairs for the board. Reese, David Vukadinovich and Cynthia Torres are the three FOC incumbents being considered for replacement.
Normally, the various district advisory committees put up their own nominees or incumbents who are reappointed. This year, school board members had three new applicants interviewed for the FOC — a move widely viewed as “politically motivated.”
Observers said that some FOC members in jeopardy had questioned a controversial policy that switched responsibility for fundraising for school programs from parent groups such as PTAs to the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation (SMMEF).
At a Nov. 17 school board meeting, Torres had read a statement on behalf of the FOC asking the board to put the brakes on implementing the new district-wide policy. Other questions concerned Education Foundation, its accountability and its competency to fulfill the new broader mandate to raise substantial donations for the entire district. Still, the new policy was adopted.
In her resignation letter, Reese praised board members Ben Allen, Laurie Lieberman and Nimish Patel who “forcefully argued that the attempt to replace the FOC’s nominees, put forward by the FOC itself, is wrongheaded, and to Ralph Mechur who had the integrity to recuse himself from the debate, given his conflict of interest.”
Mechur is romantically linked with SMMEF head Linda Gross and according to my sources, Mechur had rarely, if ever, recused himself when SMEFF decisions were before the board in the past.
That leaves Jose “No way” Escarce and Maria Leon-Vazquez — both up for re-election this fall and Oscar de la Torre who my sources say is mulling a run at City Council even though he has two years left on his school board term.
In her letter, Reese writes, "Liberties are being taken to pressure individual FOC members to take board-friendly positions … and to sway same members to a board-member centric opinion on their perceived failings of members such as myself.
“I see attempts to add criteria that would gradually eliminate large swaths of the tax-paying population of the city from membership in a group that by design of the City Council is supposed to remain independent and open to all citizens of the cities of Malibu and Santa Monica. This is very dangerous."
I agree. Reese and her supporters are right on.
Certain members of the school board need to stop protecting their own behinds and start being more open, honest and transparent. Once that happens, maybe the SMMUSD will begin to overcome 15 years of bad public relations and win back public confidence in its governance.
Playing politics with the FOC is a step in the wrong direction.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.