RECALL IS REAL

I’ve heard rumblings for some time from a group of parents here, apparently growing in size and discontent, who say they are fed up with what they consider the imperious attitudes and methods of a school district administration and School Board who marginalize dissent and behave more paternalistically than even our City Council has.

They told me they feel the Board, who sets school policy and hires the superintendent and top administrators, has become an impediment rather than an aid to the excellent education for which our city has become known, and are detrimental to a timely, safe return to opening the schools. They launched their website today to recall them.

recallsmmusd.org

At this moment it is password protected but members tell me it will be open very soon to anyone, perhaps by the time you read this. They said they’ve been waiting on their flyers to be printed, which they will distribute on social media and at an Open Up March, this Saturday morning at 10:30, moving up Pico from Belmar Park, across from Samohi, ending at Virginia Park at Cloverfield. It commemorates one year of being closed.

The reason I am not quoting some spokesperson is because, I was told, the group decided to do it that way. “We are working together as a group of concerned parents, with everyone contributing what their skills and experience have to offer.” All who were  contacted said there are no titles, no leadership positions, intentionally.

THE FLYER

I have just received a copy of the group’s flyer, and it says, in part:

“SMMUSD School Board is failing our children and our community.”

And then the flyer lists five areas of alleged failure:

“FAILED to follow state and federal recommendations to re-open schools;

FAILED in providing student equity;

FAILED in transparent communication with stakeholders;

FAILED in financial stewardship;

FAILED ethically with numerous conflicts of interest.

“This incompetence spans decades, as does the misuse of tax dollars at the expense of our children’s education.

“We can stop it!”

Because this information all became available so close to deadline, we have not yet had an opportunity to contact leaders of the district or the School Board for comment. However, knowledge of the group’s existence and plans for a recall have been known for a while.

WHY?

Would anyone want to be elected to the School Board anyway? It’s an awful lot of work, you’re paid peanuts but expected to know everything from restroom maintenance to teaching philosophies to construction. And between parents, teachers, students, unions and newspaper columnists, it seems you can’t make anyone happy. When they had a chance to fill a seat recently, they did not give it to the person who got the next highest number of votes in the last election. That raised a stink.

$1,000.000,000 + That’s a pretty hefty bank account, from the voters, from school bond measures, to build what you choose. You usually can’t use school bond money to pay for more teachers or learning materials, uniforms or field trips; it generally goes for infrastructure. Shiny new buildings, even when they are not really needed, raise surrounding property values. Who’s happy about that, that further gentrification? Some people and corporations, for sure.

Just two years ago in Santa Monica, we voted the district nearly a half billion dollars more and they’ve pretty much run through that, but with so many unfinished construction projects they will likely have to ask for another. School bond measures almost always pass; you wouldn’t deny money for the children, would you? But the last one encountered some opposition, and I have heard many local voters already saying they will not vote for another one similar, anytime soon.

A lot of unions and construction firms are really happy to get those fat contracts. If you are on the School Board, you just might wind up approving big contracts to companies that pay a consulting fee to someone in your family. Unknowingly, of course, because those School Board agenda documents are so thick, who has time to read them?

Another reason to run for School Board: some springboard to higher office. And then there are those rare ones who just want to see our kids get the best education possible. Imagine. All sorts of reasons.

DISTRUST

Do I personally back this movement to recall the School Board? I could fill my next three columns entirely with instances that have brought me to this point of distrust with the district and School Board actions. I did write a column in January about my disagreement with how the plans came about to remake our high school, in particular to demolish the iconic History Building. For a lot of people, that seems to have been the last straw.

The school district keeps telling us this has been in the works for many years, it’s public information and everyone knows about it. But I have had so many people, particularly Samohi alumni, tell me they hadn’t heard a word about it until they read it in my column. That’s no accident, oversight or exception. It is a method of operating that needs to change.

We have a high school in Malibu that has, for more than a decade, had known soil contamination, poisoned with PCBs likely causing thyroid cancer. For that and other reasons, Malibu and Santa Monica are negotiating to split the school district. Goodbye the Malibu piggy bank.

ENOUGH ALREADY!

It seems when it comes to a School Board that’s about as transparent as a chalkboard, the bell is about to ring. This recall group seems very much aware that this is not the best time, with the enormous task of trying to get our schools open safely during a pandemic. They are completely behind rfe-opening, they say, but when is a good time to remove Board members?

“There are only 2 logical conclusions that can be made from the complete inaction of the SMMUSD School Board,” it accuses on their website.

“A: Corruption/Collusion or B: Gross Incompetence

“Either way, it’s time for new leadership.  Our kids and our teachers deserve better.”

Reconstituting the School Board with members who are open, honest, and willing to make known their decisions and defend them to the community, rather than digging in and declaring, you’re too late! — why weren’t you at that meeting in Malibu on a Thursday night 10 years ago? It was on our website! — is exactly what we need now. A new tradition. An example of good governance for our kids. In times that call for us to do almost everything differently, thi is a good step, I believe.