GROSSMONT BOARD RESOLVES TO RESTRICT MEMBERS’ RIGHTS; LEAVES QUESTION OF ALPINE HIGH SCHOOL UNANSWERED

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By Sharon Penny

February 15, 2014 (El Cajon)--At the February 13 Grossmont Union High School District  (GUHSD) meeting, the Governing Board provided some recent positive outcomes in the district (see side story: Grossmont District Schools Shine Academically), but took a step back for democracy.

By a vote of 4-1, the Board adopted a resolution: “In Recognition of the Citizens’ Board Oversight Committee (CBOC) and Their Service to the Grossmont Union High School District.”  It  praises the District’s bond oversight committee-- but also aims to muzzle school board members from giving testimony to the oversight comittee.

The CBOC serves as the taxpayers’ oversight to the district’s actions in accordance with bond expenditures. Recognizing the volunteer community members of the committee for the work they do, for the public good, is well deserved. However, buried in the resolution was language that discourages any Governing Board member from exercising his or her civil rights as a citizen by attending CBOC meetings.

Board member Priscilla Schreiber told ECM that when she first opened her board agenda and saw the original resolution, she was extremely disappointed that the board leadership would employ such tactics.  The resolution represents the first mention that there were any concerns arising out of Schreiber’s visits to the CBOC.  Schreiber viewed this as another attempt in the board’s ongoing efforts to try to silence her. 

Schreiber had attended CBOC meetings to either follow up on questions she had asked of the CBOC chair at previous board meetings, and to encourage the committee to seriously consider reviewing the Grand Jury Report and the Board Majority’s Response. Schreiber has voiced concerns about the CBOC not having all the facts, information, and the differing perspectives needed for historical understanding of the issues surrounding the Alpine/Blossom Valley high school bond project.

Last week, ECM reported on the matter of Schreiber’s rights being trampled and got a legal opinion from Californians Aware general counsel Terry Francke that the resolution was legally unenforceable, violating First Amendment Rights and California law.  After our story ran, the Board posted a revised resolution with the following language:

“That although Members of the Governing Board retain all of their individual rights that cannot be limited by this board, they will individually commit to voluntarily refrain from attending CBOC meetings unless specifically invited by the chairperson.”

Per Board President Robert Shield, the intent of the language was to affirm and emphasize to the CBOC that they are to act independently, without undue influence of board members.

“Some CBOC members have come to the erroneous conclusion that when board members attend their meeting, it somehow communicates for the board and carries more weight than a regular citizen,” he said.

But Schreiber, who often disagrees with the other board members, said the language was directed at her as an unofficial gag order.

“The CBOC’s only information is from the District. Unless members seek outside information, attend board meetings, or review board meeting videos for a greater understanding of all perspectives on an issue, they are making judgments and recommendations relying on filtered information from the District only,” she said. “That in no way serves the CBOC’s purpose as an independent oversight committee.”

Schreiber’s main concern has been the lack of discussion and momentum on building the district’s 12th high school in Alpine. The Governing Board refuses to act on that, or even clearly articulate its intention, and she feels that members of the CBOC are not knowledgeable of all the facts because of this.  Specifically, CBOC members were never led in a discussion of the Grand Jury report from last May that reprimanded the GUHSD for not addressing the Alpine issue. (At the Feb. 13 meeting, Liz Higgins, the Vice Chairperson of the CBOC, did state that the CBOC members would be picking up the discussion regarding the Grand Jury Report over the next few meetings and that all members have now read the report.)

Michael Waterman, a long time attorney, stated at the meeting that by adopting this resolution, the Governing Board of GUHSD has the potential to be sued for civil rights violations with possible ACLU involvement. Other legal experts have also questioned the enforceability of this restriction (http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/14906).

Schreiber was the only board member to vote against the resolution.

Alpine High School Background

Voters passed two propositions, H and U, in 2004 and 2008 respectively, in order to fund repairs of aging schools in the district and to build a high school for the citizens of Alpine and Blossom Valley. The school was originally planned to open by 2013 (link:  New High School #12 Governing Board Workshop Presentation (11 09 2010). As of today, there is only vacant land, after eminent domain was declared and residents evicted (photo, right).

In May of 2013, the Grand Jury issued a report addressing the GUHSD’s lack of progress and its intent to build the school. The report, titled Grossmont Union High School District—Fool Us Once, Fool Us Twice, blasted the district for repeatedly axing plans to build a 12th high school (http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/13274).

The report directed the district to "declare unconditionally, by December 31, 2013, if they are or are not going to build the 12th high school using funds from Propositions H and U. If the GUHSD opts to build the high school, it should pass a formal resolution in support, including a credible time line and construction start date, as well as funds placed in an escrow account to assure the work will be done.  If the Grossmont District decides not to build the high school, it must then ‘cooperate with the Alpine Union School District in support of the ongoing Alpine community effort to become a unified school district (K-12)’."

On December 13, the district offered a vague response, stating “It is the intent of the Grossmont Union High School District Board of Trustees to give serious consideration to construct the 12th high school,” (http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/14562).

At the Feb. 13 district meeting, attorney Waterman spoke during the public comments prior to discussion of an action item to amend the approved list of projects being funded by Bonds H and U. He noted that two of the proposed construction projects at current high schools should be put on hold in order to fund the Alpine high school.

“Two of the major projects are ill advised, as they would take half of what is needed to fund Alpine,” he said. “The community of Alpine wouldn’t want Valhalla and Granite Hills to cut in. Build Alpine. We paid for this school.”

Board Member Jim Stieringer said that discussing the Alpine school was a moot point because it would require three votes from the board. 

"We are ignoring the elephant in the room. The question of Alpine is a political question. It requires three votes of this board, which does not exist. We must face reality. Until one of my colleagues changes his mind...I would have said 'his or her' but 'her' is not.” Schreiber is the only female on the five-member board.

Currently, Alpine parents (Colin Campbell, Al Haven, and Angela Carrillo) have submitted final signatures to the County Office of Education for unification of the Alpine Union School District (AUSD). The goal is to expand the AUSD to include high school students. They would thus leave the GUHSD and build their own high school. If successful, a settlement would then need to be reached with GUHSD for funds earmarked for the 12th high school (http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/14859)