On Tuesday September 1st the Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education will convene in a regularly scheduled meeting. The agenda packet for the board meetings is rather lengthy, in this case fifty-four pages.
Typical of these meetings is a closed session to deal with discipline issues for students and personnel in a closed meeting, and a rather large consent calendar. For those unfamiliar with committee meetings, commissions and boards, consent calendars are used to save time and allow for quickly passing measures and items that are routine and typically are not subject to any controversy. Items such as disbursements, credentions, procedures, approving contracts, are placed on the consent calendar and in that way the board can vote to approve many items at once instead of having ten, twenty, fifty...separate items read and voted upon.
Following the closed session and the consent calendar on Tuesday the LBUSD Board of Education will get to item 24. New Business. There are three very interesting items under new business, first is whether the Board will approve the renewal of the charter for Constellation Community Charter School which has had its difficulties abiding by its charter in the view of the Board. After the Constellation renewal vote the Board will have this item:
Resolution No. 090109-B, Declaring A Vacancy in the Office of Board of Education Member, District 3.
The entire resolution can be found on page 51 of the agenda. To recap for those not in the Long Beach area, or those who are but have been on a desert island, District 3 of the LBUSD has had as its elected representative one Michael Shane Ellis. His election was very controversial due to his lack of residency, though approved by City Attorney for the ballot despite not have established 30 day residence in the district, his only being on the ballot because of his relationship with now fired Executive Director of the Teachers' Association of Long Beach, Scott McVarish, and his complete lack of relationship with our community. Ellis' tenure on the school board brought more publicity to the board than ever before due not only to his election showing the attempt by TALB to take control of the school board, but subsequent reports of his being fired from a prior teaching job due to drinking in front of students, his multiple arrests for alcohol related incidents, the District's inability to prove his residency and finally his failure to show at scheduled school board meetings. In the middle of all this members of the community, led by the Greater Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, attempted to recall Ellis but the effort failed due to lack of the required number of signatures to put the recall on the ballot.
In August Ellis taped to the office doors of the other elected members of the Board of Education a letter of resignation effective September 1, 2009. While the members of the board have been doing research to determine how to vacate Ellis' 3rd District seat, the letter of resignation appears to have solved their problem, and that of the community--he finally is giving up a seat he had no interest in retaining once his mentor and puppet master McVarish was forced out at TALB.
Now the District has a big problem. Like many municipal bodies it is suffering from severe financial difficulties, overwhelmingly because of the State of California and its inability to properly budget the past decade. Because of the pending vacancy of the 3rd District Seat it must declare a special election to fill the seat. What makes this pill particularly hard to swallow is that the 3rd District seat comes up for regular election on April 13, 2010. Because of the City Charter if the Board of Education declares the seat vacant on Tuesday it must call a special election to fill the seat within 120 days of the seat being declared vacant--provided the regularly scheduled election is not within 120 days of the seat being vacant.
The special election will cost the District approximately $200,000. That pays for a couple of teachers plus benefits, or a lot of dry erase markers. That is too much money for a broke district to spend to fill a seat for four or five months.
It is my opinion that the current members of the Board of Education should look to use procedural rules to not accept Ellis' resignation; vote to postpone the vote on Resolution No. 090109-B or vote to reject it. What happens if the vote to declare the seat vacant fails? What happens if the board votes to hold over the declaration? The City Charter says the election must be within 120 days of the seat being declared vacant but what if such a declaration is never made?
The current members of the Board of Education, District 1 Member and President of the Board Mary Stanton, District 2 Member Felton Williams, District 4 Member Jon Meyer and District 5 Member David Barton, are smart and responsible officials. They work with an excellent staff at LBUSD led by Superintendent Chris Steinhauser. On this matter they have received briefings and advice from the district legal department on interpretations of the various rules regarding Ellis. At this point the board needs to take what may be a risk, but for $200,000 seems to have a pretty good return--postpone the vacancy of Ellis' seat until December. At that time the seat can be declared vacant and be filled during the regularly scheduled elections which will also see Stanton and Barton up for re-election.
But what of the people of Ellis' District 3? Do they not deserve representation? Sure they do, and they elected a representative who abandoned them. They failed to sign petitions to recall the representative they had despite the numerous reports on his short-comings as their representative. Because of their poor decisions regarding Ellis it is expected that the entire District suffer a loss of $200,000? Much of the money in the LBUSD goes into the 3rd District as it encompasses some of the poorest areas of the City. The schools within the 3rd District have more special needs programs and assistance than the other LBUSD schools and because of this the $200,000 cost of the special election might disproportionally affect the 3rd District--in essence it is in their best interest as well to keep the seat vacant until the regularly scheduled election on April 13, 2010.
School board members are often great community members who feel the need to help their communities and serve on the board. It is a mostly thankless task, it does not have any of the publicity of a City Council or other elected body. Go to any campus and ask parents dropping off kids who their School Board representative is and almost all of them will not be able to answer. Ask most of the teachers who represents their school and most will be unable to answer. Generally the members do not think in political terms or find ways to skirt the laws while not breaking the laws--something more polished politicians become rather adept at doing. They read the law and follow it.
In this case it is my hope that for the greater good of the students, teacher and administrators of the entire Long Beach Unified School District that the Board of Education reads the law from a different perspective, with the perspective of what if we do not make any declaration of vacancy?