November’s electoral outcomes at both the Anaheim City Council and Anaheim City School Board provide a potentially refreshing new start for transforming chronically underperforming city schools while simultaneously opening the door to a new era of respect for parents leading these efforts.

The potential arises because two long-serving ACSB members will no longer oversee responsibility for academic quality and outcomes of Anaheim’s elementary public school children. Both Board President Jose Moreno and Trustee James Vanderbilt ran for Anaheim City Council. Vanderbilt is expected to resign today when sworn in as a councilman.

While Moreno chose not to seek ACSB re-election, Vanderbilt departs midway through his term, creating a board vacancy.

Under its bylaws, ACSB has 60 days to either call a special election for a new trustee or fill the vacancy via a provisional appointment. If appointment is chosen, ACSB must advertise it is soliciting applications, vet applicants for eligibility via a two-member subcommittee, with the full board interviewing candidates deemed eligible at a public meeting. Given that only four members will be voting, it might be difficult to achieve a majority decision.

Some observers are concerned Moreno might lobby the board to appoint him to fill Vanderbilt’s seat. A spot on the school board could provide Moreno with a political foothold to launch a renewed bid for City Council in 2016.

Moreno did not return my call for comment.

Anaheim trustees should immediately – and publicly – reject any political merry-go-round reappointment plan, which would smack of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” political gamesmanship. Trustees’ actions must be devoid of any perception of cynical backroom deals and an honest, independent process to consider the vacancy should commence.

PARENT TRIGGER LAW BEING USED TO TAKE OVER FAILING SCHOOL

Their actions are particularly important as Anaheim Palm Lane Elementary parents are on the verge of successfully using California’s historic parent trigger law to transform a failing school. The mostly Latino parents have persevered despite facing opposition from Moreno, who actively demonstrated his opposition to the law and the parents’ organizing movement while in office. Rather than respecting his constituents’ rights to use the law, he demonstrated an overt lack of impartiality, straining his ability to fairly review the parent trigger petition when eventually submitted to the school board.

Indeed, questionable actions even prompted the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to send a letter to Moreno, reminding him of the need for the district to not obstruct the parents’ rights to lawfully seek school transformation.

Moreno’s opposition was viewed as stemming from his close ties to the teachers union, which opposed the law. Ironically, he had sued Anaheim in a redistricting lawsuit seeking greater Latino empowerment and even cited Anaheim’s failed schools.

His suit stated: “[Latinos] bear the effects of past discrimination in … education … which hinder their ability to participate effectively in the political process. … In Anaheim, there are significant disparities in the educational levels of Latino[s]. … Only 53 percent … have graduated from high school.” The lawsuit overlooks that he oversaw those schools for eight years.

Anaheim parent leader Jeanette Saldivar would oppose a Moreno reappointment. “We can’t go back,” Saldivar said. “Nineteen of the 24 district schools aren’t meeting state minimum performance requirements. Kids’ dreams have been destroyed; parents are attacked when we try to make changes. Our kids deserve better.”

Starting today, ACSB embarks on a new era. With parents poised to make history in leading Orange County’s first parent trigger school transformation effort, the trustees should begin by refusing to play political games. Now is the time for new – not recycled – representation and leadership.

About the Author:  Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

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