It didn’t take long for Anaheim City School District’s trustees to snub Orange County Superior Court Judge Andrew Banks’ July 16 ruling that the district had unlawfully rejected the reform effort, supported by almost 67 percent of Palm Lane Elementary School’s parents, to restart the chronically underperforming school.
Not only had Judge Banks issued the decisive ruling finding the district had engaged in arbitrary, unfair and capricious actions obstructing parents’ rights under the Parent Empowerment Act, he expressed “astonishment” with the extent of the district’s actions. In upholding parents’ rights, Judge Banks ordered the district to reverse its erroneous rejection in February of parents’ Parent Trigger petition and commence the parents’ process of soliciting proposals to operate their envisioned independent charter school.
It was nothing less than a smackdown of a California school district’s obstructionist actions against its own parents.
Judge Banks ordered the parties to return to court July 23, but on the eve of the court hearing, trustees assembled in a closed session and unanimously voted to appeal the ruling. They then removed public discussion of the ruling from the board’s agenda, thus denying the public the right to hear any discussion of why Judge Banks ruled against the Anaheim City School District.
The district has resorted to bullying tactics. Score one for secrecy in government and the trustees, who sued their own parents to prevent them from using the law.
“They are fighting us, but in reality, they are fighting our children,” commented Cecilia Ochoa, one of the parent leaders.
In the same meeting in which they prevented public discussion of the Palm Lane ruling, trusties preserved agenda approval of boosting the contract of the law firm they retained to fight parents from $305,000 annually to $678,000 annually – a $373,000 increase.
How many new teachers could that have hired? How many new computers or tutoring services for students might it have generated? Shamefully, while the district hastily dispatched taxpayer-funded lawyers to fight not only its own parents, but now the judge as well, not one of the trustees actually bothered to attend one day of the trial.
Trustees, beholden to teachers and other employee unions opposed to the parent reform efforts, never agendized a public discussion with the Palm Lane parents to learn why they launched the school reform movement. Instead, robocalls derisively labeling parents as “outsiders” were made by the district the morning after Judge Banks’ ruling.
Undoubtedly, the district prefers doing business behind closed doors and letting its generously compensated administrators do the dirty work.
Anaheim City Superintendent Linda Karen Wagner’s salary and benefits were not immediately available on Transparent California, a statewide database that tracks compensation packages. However, she collected a total of $250,887.16 a year in compensations at her previous position in Monrovia Unified, and likely received a raise when recruited to Anaheim. Assistant Superintendent Mary Grace, who along with the superintendent helped oversee the obstructionist actions against parents, collected a total of $181,121 in 2014.
Anaheim City School District has not demonstrated good government. The trustees need to stop conducting business in secret. They should immediately abandon their appeal of Judge Banks’ ruling and show respect for their own constituents, who dared to act on behalf of their children.
About the Author: Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, is an education reformer who served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission.