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Santa Clara Education Desk: July 17, 2013

Nit-Picking Over CBSA Conference Costs

Last week’s Santa Clara Unified School Board meeting illustrated Parkinson’s Law of Committees: The amount of time spent by a committee on an agenda item is inversely proportional to the cost of the item. In this case it was the California School Boards Association (CSBA) annual conference, held this year in December in San Diego.

The agenda item was approving registration and travel expenses for Trustee Albert Gonzalez, the district’s delegate to the CSBA, to attend the three-day conference – under $2,000.

This provoked about 40 minutes of discussion initiated by Trustee Ina Bendis about, first, whether the district should pay the expenses for all board members to go, and second, whether the hotel cost too much.

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Rooms in the hotel where the conference is being held, the San Diego Marriott Marquis, are $300 a night. Bendis ended up voting “no” on a motion to approve Gonzalez’s expenses, saying that “more input” was needed about hotel prices and suggesting that staff research it.

Leaving aside the question of hotel prices, Bendis lobbied for the board to send any trustee that was interested in going. “We do have two positions that relate to the CSBA,” she said. “Our delegate Albert and our representative Dr. Koltermann ought to go…and Mr. Stampolis also [as an alternate]…I think we should encourage trustees to attend.”

Trustee Andy Ratermann proposed a compromise that would cover other board members’ registration fees for the conference but not their travel expenses. “When we’re telling our employees they can’t travel, I don’t think this [sending the entire board] is appropriate,” he said. District staff has been under a no-travel policy for several years.

Both Ratermann and Trustee Michele Ryan pointed out that trustees have a $393 per month stipend that could be used to cover expenses they incur in the course of carrying out their responsibilities.

Bendis noted that the board’s stipend was cut in 2007. “In my first year we cut board members’ stipend 10 percent…$40 a month. The board has never been made whole.”

Ratermann’s compromise ended up being tabled for the next meeting.

SCUSD Developer Fee Increase Approved

While there was plenty of discussion about $300 hotel rooms, there was little discussion about raising fees paid by developers to cover the costs of serving additional students in the district – either at last week’s meeting or the June 27 meeting where the increase was first announced.

The top amount of the fee is set by the state, and is currently $3.20 per square foot for new residential construction. The board unanimously approved an increase from $2.97 per square foot to the state standard of $3.20.

Board President Christine Koltermann asked if the district could qualify for what are called Level Two fees, which are intended to cover the cost of building new schools, and are $5.12 per square foot of new residential construction.

The district doesn’t meet the qualifications for levying Level Two fees, explained SCI Consulting Group Senior Planning Consultant Blair Aas, most notably because the district has school facilities that it’s leasing out and not using. The full developer fee study can be found in the June 27 board agenda packet at www.santaclarausd.org/documents.cfm?id=1232.22566.

Policy Updates Continue to Move Forward

The job of updating the district’s thousands of pages of out-of-date policies continues to slog forward.

In April, the board approved the district’s non-instructional, business policies (section 3000). Last week the board approved new versions of its 0000 – philosophy, vision statement, goals, objectives, and comprehensive plans; 1000 – education and leadership on educational issues; 2000 – district administration and lines of authority, and 4000 – personnel – series policies.

One item out of the hundreds covered in the revised policies drew Bendis’ particular attention, and that was one that wasn’t even under discussion: Section 3515.2, the district’s civility policy, which “promotes mutual respect, civility and orderly conduct among District employees, parents and the public.”

During her tenure on the board, Bendis has consistently opposed official standards of conduct. However, last week she was lobbying to move them to another place. “Very few districts have a civility policy,” she began, “but the CSBA recommends it be placed in the 1000 policies.”

You can find the district policies by going to www.santaclarausd.org/overview.cfm?subpage=145139 and selecting “Board Policies” from the left side menu.

SCUSD Attorney Has No Confidence in Legality of “No Confidence” Agenda Request

Last month, some district parents asked the board to place two items on its agenda. One was a petition calling for “a Vote of No Confidence…in our current school Board leadership. “The second request called for information about how the board “plans to retain talented staff and educators to ensure a stable environment for students to learn.” Koltermann asked the district’s legal counsel Richard Noack to provide an opinion on these two questions.

“It is my opinion that the first requested agenda item asking for consideration of a ‘no confidence’ petition for four Board members is not within the subject matter jurisdiction of the Board,” wrote Noack. “Nothing in the Education Code, Elections Code, or the Government Code authorizes school district governing boards by their own action to remove from office a duly elected board member.”

Concerning the question about staff retention, Noack said that it should be “referred to the Superintendent and the District administration to consider the validity of the underlying premise and, if valid, to develop and present to the Board recommendations for future action.”

However, he cautioned that because employment terms and conditions “are mandatory subjects of bargaining under the Educational Employment Relations Act,” discussing “subjects of bargaining in a public session may be an unfair practice.”

The next SCUSD board meeting is August 22, at 6:30 p.m., in the Mission City Center for Performing Arts (3250 Monroe St., Santa Clara, 95051). Agendas are available at least 72 hours before meetings at www.santaclarausd.org/overview.cfm?subpage=145153.

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