SMMUSD HDQTRS — Superintendent Tim Cuneo warned school board members in a confidential memo of possible trouble from three former Special Education Program Task Force members he predicted would “sabotage” district negotiations with City Hall concerning funding from Measures Y and YY, a half cent sales tax increase approved by voters in November.
The City Council moved to withhold $530,000 from the school district until problems with special education, identified in a 2008 independent audit, were addressed. The council gives the school district roughly $7 million annually as part of a joint-use agreement and could give $6 to $7 million more as part of Measures Y and YY.
To address the council’s concerns, the task force was formed to study reforms and report back to the superintendent.
In the memo, which the Daily Press received Monday, Cuneo named three former task force members — Tricia Crane, Claudia Landis and Lee Jones — as unsatisfied parents that were unhappy because the draft report did not “address specific concerns relating to their children.”
He predicted that the three would be “very vocal” about their objections to the report coming from the task force.
“Based on past experience,” he wrote, “I can anticipate that at least one of the three may attempt to sabotage the district’s efforts if they do not get their way.”
All three resigned from the task force Jan. 19, citing frustration with a lack of specific action relating to instruction in the task force report.
“The facts are these,” Crane wrote in an e-mail, “there is still no district-wide, research-based reading program. There is still no special education math program. And there is still no district-wide program for children on the autistic spectrum.”
Crane also protested Cuneo’s characterization of her as a disgruntled parent, noting that her son is 20 years old and hasn’t been in the district for the past five years.
According to the memo, the report in question was near completion in June 2010, but the three former task force members made substantive changes to it to reflect their beliefs.
E-mails sent by Chief Academic Officer Sally Chou show an ongoing effort to continue drafting the report with the help of Landis and Crane.
In one, dated June 14, 2010, Chou attempts to set a date in July to work on the report. Another, dated July 20, 2010, shows an ongoing exchange concerning the most recent draft of the report between Chou, Landis and Crane.
However, by the Jan. 19 meeting of the Task Force, Crane, Landis and Jones all submitted letters of resignation.
“There was never real support for this work by the superintendent or senior staff … ,” Jones wrote in her letter of resignation.
Not long after, Cuneo sent out the confidential memo.
Landis said that she found the content of the memo “chilling” and inappropriate as it referenced her own child’s need of what she felt was a confidential education plan.
“It took me by surprise, I got sick to my stomach,” Landis said. “It was the sharing of privileged information and the connection to my child that I found intimidating.”
The Board of Education received the memo three weeks ago, said board member Oscar de la Torre, who described the document as a “black list.”
“This behavior and culture of looking at parents as adversaries is endemic, and must change,” de la Torre said.
The board president or vice president must be prepared to address the existence of the memo, its contents and other issues involving Cuneo’s behavior publicly, he continued.
“If they don’t, them I’m prepared to lead that charge,” de la Torre said.
Board Vice President Ben Allen said that he disagreed with the content of the memo, but lamented the leak.
“I think the superintendent needs to feel comfortable expressing his unvarnished opinions to the board on a variety of difficult topics,” Allen said.
“I’m not going to defend what he wrote, but I’m certainly not pleased that one of my colleagues decided to breach his trust and one of the board’s trust,” he continued.
Cuneo refused to comment for this story, saying only that he would not discuss confidential communications between himself and his board.