By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor; Editor Miriam Raftery also contributed to this report
Photo: Board President Tamara Otero
June 11, 2019 (El Cajon) -- The high drama and hijinks which have been commonplace lately at Cajon Valley Union School District (CVUSD) board meetings continued at the May 28th session. At one point the meeting was adjourned during a fracas among individuals outside the board room, overshadowing reports on district accomplishments. The action of adjourning, then reconvening the meeting for subsequent discussion and voting on agenda items raises new legal concerns.
At the start of the meeting, with some audience members sporting "Support freedom of the press" buttons, ECM editor Miriam Raftery served notice to the full board during public comments regarding a cease and desist letter sent via e-mail May 16 from attorney Cory Briggs. Briggs’ letter advised that board members can be charged with misdemeanor crimes if they attend a meeting where they have reason to know that the public’s right to information will be denied. Briggs’ letter notes that the district’s efforts to force journalists to move to the back of the room and threats to arrest ECM contributing editor Paul Kruze violate the state’s Ralph M. Brown Act. Kruze. Kruze was threatened with arrest on May 11 by CVUSD Safety and Security Coordinator Ryan Love when Kruze refused to comply with Love’s order to move to the back, behind the audience. Kruze has reported on board transparency concerns by the board including a $665 million building contract awarded to Otero’s son. (The district has since sent a response to Briggs that while not admitting wrongdoing, pledges not to repeat the alleged violations and to place a compliance item on the June 11 agenda.)
Raftery also asked that the district provide board meeting recordings requested by Kruze and by CalAware on ECM's behalf. After her statement, board executive assistant Naomie Rodrigues stated that the recordings had been sent to CalAware. (CalAware lawyer Terry Francke has since confirmed receipt of all but one recording, and has forwarded them to ECM. Those include the Dec. 11, 2018 meeting recording which the district earlier claimed was destroyed.The board did not turn over an early March audio, claiming technical difficulties. The board has also refused to turn over CDs of meetings to board member Jill Barto. On June 6, executive assistant Naomie Rodrigues sent an email to Barto which states, “Recordings are available on CD for only 30 days after each Board Meeting.” This conflicts with the board’s vote on March 26 voted to retain audios for a full year and make them available on CD upon request, as ECM reported.)
Barto’s husband, Duane Barto, also spoke in the May 28 public comments period to defend his wife against speakers who have criticized her in prior meetings. His remarks were followed by more attacks leveled by the CVUSD’s webmaster Howard Shen and by California State Employees Association (CSEA) local president Mark Reagles.
Duane Barto, who works as a bus driver in the Santee Unified School District, defended his wife against what he regarded as targeted personal insults lobbed at her by Reagles at previous board meetings. Barto is a member of the CSEA.
Barto said of his wife, in part, “Jill Barto is working hard to bring about accountability and transparency from administrators. But certain individuals view this as an attack on our school district and administrators. I’m sorry that it gets perceived that way. When Jill tries to get information from the board or superintendent and they are blocking her from that information, that makes it difficult to pursue in private and must become public and is no reflection on the fine employees in this district.”
He noted that he and Reagles are members of the same union, but that he didn’t appreciate the attacks or “throwing my wife under the bus by not getting her side of the story and accusing her not being a friend of the union.” He referenced a California Public Records Acts (CPRA) request for communications between Jill Barto and journalist Paul Kruze made by Reagles and reportedly turned over to Superintendent David Miyashiro. “I don’t know what he expected to find, but there have been other communication between board members that may be added to the CPRA,” he said.
“It’s amazing, that when text messages are handed to the man who requested the information, he just hands it over to the district. It appears that the CSEA president didn’t want the information, but the superintendent wanted the information for himself and using the president of the CSEA as a lackey to get it,” Duane Barto continued. “Shame on the union president for selling out his union members.”
Reagles then came up to the podium and flatly denied threatening Jill Barto with a union-sponsored recall at the May 7 meeting. “I didn’t say I was recalling [you]. I didn’t know what I was going to do then,” he told the board on May 28.
But a recording of the May 7 Board Workshop proves otherwise. On May 7, Reagles stated in his public comments, “I can mount a recall issue. I’ve already talked to the CAC [California Apprenticeship Council]. I’ve already been in contact with my association.” In his view this was about protecting his “members’ integrity.” (Listen to May 7 audio of Reagles.)
Though walking back off the recall threat in his May 28 remarks, Reagles doubled down with a new threat to help remove Jill Barto from office. Directing his comments specifically at her, he stated, “There’s 33,000 members [of the CSEA] in your trustee area. You won with 3,000 votes. Right here is a list of all of my CSEA members in your area. I turn it over to Central Labor Council, I got it OK’d by my field office. We were trying to find someone to run against you. There was not enough time. But damned we will there will be enough time next time. I have two thousand members in your area.”
Before he left the microphone, Reagles said loudly and directly to Barto, “Stop harassing me. Do not call my phone. Don’t send your cronies to my work. Don’t send me any information. I filed a CPRA. I had my attorney fill it out. I filed it with the district.” (Following instructions given in the CPRA from Reagles, Barto has told ECM she sought clarification of several of the requests. She denies any harassment.)
Then Reagles yelled at Barto, “Quit trying to give it to me. Follow the damn protocol. I did not serve you. I serve this district. All of the information goes to them. When they receive it, they’ll hand it to me. What I do with it is my business. As you know, I’m an independent organization that operates within this district,” Reagles continued. “CSEA has nothing to do in cahoots with this district. As you heard, I have to collaborate and build relationships to make things to work." He accused Barto, "You brought this sh*t show here" and called her a "clown."
Duane Barto, who was sitting in the audience, said, “You’re a sellout, Mark. You’re a sell out,” to which Reagles then yelled into the audience, “Bullsh**.”
At no time did Board President Otero stop Reagles from using the abusive language, despite children in the audience including music students awaiting presentation of awards.
Labor leader Margie Strike spoke in defense of Reagles, praising his efforts to help classified employees and having a “huge impact and a positive impact,” adding, “It’s all about the service to the membership.” Several other union members also rose to praise Reagles.
More fireworks were set off by Howard Shen, the district’s webmaster. He opened his remarks by noting accomplishments of the district. “When I see these things, I’m know that I’m at the right place and I’m doing the right work,” Shen said. He noted past articles in Forbes and the San Diego Union-Tribune praising district programs. (Note: ECM has also run positive stories on CVUSD programs in the past.) He then slammed Barto as “vindictive” for exercising her right to speak with the media about her concerns over board members’ actions, including some actions that two attorneys have indicated violated state law.
While whistleblower laws specifically protect such actions by public officials, Shen stated, “Jill Barto and her blogging partners drag us through the mud,” then stated, “The rotten apple, posting misinformation and spouting information about the union I believe in. That’s not leadership. Everyday, we, I bust my butt not to serve the board but serving the students who put their trust in us. I’m immensely proud of my work. I’m immensely proud of the work of the people I work with and I’m immensely proud of the people I work for.”
To Barto, Shen state that he finds her behavior “deplorable, shameful, divisive and not fit to serve,” adding, “I hope there is enough sense in you for you to understand what I’m saying. We don’t want you here.”
Upon those words Duane Barto followed Shen outside of the board room, where the two exchanged words in a heated manner.
As Superintendent David Miyashiro began speaking about a conference he attended, an announcement was made stating, “We’re gonna adjourn the meeting” followed by a request for board members to step out, and all left the room. Hear audio of adjournment.
An earlier version of this article stated that Otero, who was chairing the meeting, announced the adjournment. However Otero has since stated that the voice heard on the tape adjourning the meeting was executive assistant Naomie Rodrigues, which this video taken by East County Community connection confirms: https://www.facebook.com/1904786039626653/videos/1668563229954349/ . Asked why Rodrigues, who is not an elected member of the board, would announce an adjournment, Otero told ECM that Rodrigues was "intervening."
Led to believe that the meeting was over, several people left the board room. In an apparent violation of the Brown Act, Otero, some 10-15 minutes later, reconvened the meeting. The board then discussed previously scheduled agenda items and voted on several, incuding significant spending items.
In 2009, Calaware sent a cure and correct letter to the Helix Water District after its board similarly adjourned a meeting briefly, then reconvened to appoint a citizens advisory committee. Calaware’s letter to Helix made clear, “This maneuver deprived those who departed in reliance on the adjournment the opportunity to observe the discussion of that item and address the board on the matter if they had been so inclined.”
After the adjournment, to a half-empty room, the board reconvened presented awards to music students from Hillsdale Middle School, including Robbie Bustos, who received a national award and will be performing in Carnegie Hall. (photo, right)
Video presentations heaped praise on the district’s World of Work program, coding and computer science immersion classes to help fill a gap of 1 million jobs forecast by 2020. Innovative hands-on projects showcased included a robot built by students. (photo, left)
Video also showed Miyashiro meeting with Department of Education leaders and attending a Brookings Institute conference. The Superintendent said sitting in the front row at a leading education and policy research center and “hearing them talk about our programs makes me very proud.”
The El Cajon Collaborative Partnership is working with families in need in the district and has a new resources guide; ECCP also held a World of Wellness Resources Fair, according to yet another presentation. (photo above left)
Barto asked for corrections to minutes of a prior board meeting to comments made by her husband, objecting to a summary prepared by Rodrigues, but the board approved the minutes anyhow.
Next up the board approved consultant agreements despite concerns raised by Barto over being asked to approved another $50,000 for videography including a “flash mob” video as well as some retroactive payment for work not approved in advance by the board. “My concern is spending that amount of money when we need to have security for our schools,” she stated. Interestingly the December video the district originally claimed was destroyed but later provided to CalAware includes a presentation by a security consultant hired by the district who outlines numerous security concerns.
Board member Jim Miller indicated he also objected to being billed after the fact, though he praised the videographer. He voted for the funding, but made clear that in the future if a spending ceiling is hit, a measure needs to come back to the board to approve any additional funds. Superintendent Miyashiro defending investment in marketing and branding through videos as an “investment” that can help bring students to the district. Barto asked for numbers to document how many new students such efforts yield.
Member Jo Alegria praised a butterfly project at Montgomery school to memorialize children killed in the Holocaust. The board also heard reports on World of Work projects in schools ranging from baking cupcakes to trying out a police obstacle course.
Alegria also addressed concerns previously raised over eight schools failing to meet state academic standards as measured by Dashboard, speaking about the “diverse needs we had to meet” with many immigrants at the time. She added,”Our Dashboard does not measure metrics properly for Cajon Valley.”
Member Karen Clark Mejia spoke about a budget conference and a teacher meeting on leadership and mentoring.
Otero discussed a proposed $13 million bond state measure in 2020 and noted that some older schools have not been upgraded. Earlier in public comments, representatives from two schools raised concerns about disrepair on their campuses.
Otero also voiced optimism after an exchange with Governor Gavin Newsom that Newsom, a father of young children, may be more supportive of education spending on schools that former Governor Jerry Brown.
Barto reported the East County Transitional Living Center’s comedy show as a success and noted that the center helps 150 district students as their families transition out of homelessness. She also praised Montgomery Middle School students for articulating clear visions for their futures.
She then made a statement addressing criticisms. “I was elected because I want accountability and transparency. I will not back down. I will ask the tough questions, and I will expect the answers,” she said, adding, “The community is very important – and I have a lot of support behind me.”
At tonight's June 11 meeting, the agenda includes renewal of Superintendent Miyashiro's contract. Of note, the district has not turned over his prior contract requested over a month ago and has stalled, requesting additional time to fulfill our request for Miyashiro's travel and expense records which were requested over 10 days ago. The proposed new contract through 2023 can be viewed here. The referenced cabinet members' salaries can be viewed here.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that a proposed bond measure is for the district; in fact it is a state bond measure.
Follow Paul Kruze on Twitter and Facebook: @PaulKruzeNews
Listen to audio highlights from the 5-28-19 meeting and check back for the full meeting recording which will be loaded soon.