Culver City Observer -

By Lynne Bronstein
Observer Reporter 

Angry Resident Jolts School Board Meeting


September 15, 2011

The new school year is upon us and the first meeting of the culver city School Board got off with a bang—in the form of some angry words from a resident.

Superintendent Patricia Jaffe had praise for the School District in her report, saying the first day of school had gone smoothly as she visited all the school sites. “We are fortunate to have such dedicated teachers, classified staff, and students,” she noted.

But a presentation about Special Education compliance brought protest from a woman who signed up for public comment as a “Culver City resident.”

Jonathan Read, of the law firm of Fagen, Friedman, and Fulfrost, explained the laws governing Special Education. He went over the basic law, IDEA 2004 (Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act) and the federal and state laws and regulations that issue from this act.

The laws are designed to create a “least restrictive environment” for Special Education students, said Read. This means that children who are disabled are not isolated from those who are not disabled. Removal from the least restrictive environment will only occur if the disorder is so severe that education in regular classes cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

Read then gave an overview of the process by which parents (and in some cases school districts) can implement hearings regarding lack of compliance to the laws and regulations.

When it came time for public comment however, a woman spoke out against Read’s presentation, calling it a “dog and pony show” that had been created to “snow” the public into thinking the School Board cared about Special Ed students and that the Board was “withholding” information.

Assistant Superintendent Ali Delawalla presented the 2010-2011 Unaudited Actuals.

Reviewing the year, Delawalla said it was notable that the State passed the budget this year prior to June 30, which it had not done for the last three years. (The fact that the State Controller threatened the legislators with not receiving their paychecks undoubtedly had an affect).

The budget was passed with “trigger language” which will allow the Department of Finance to reduce K-12 funding if the State revenue falls $2.0 billion from the projection. That would mean a K-12 reduction of $261.00 per ADA.

The unaudited year-ending balances for 2009-2010 showed $8,895,149 in estimated actuals (undesignated) for June 22 and $10.412,866 in unaudited actuals for September 14. There was a “positive change” of $1,517,717.

The “positive” comes from revenue enhancements, among these being increased final ADA counts; prior year adjustments; increase in lottery revenue; interest income; and contribution savings.

Delawalla reminded the Board the District had borrowed money via tax revenue anticipation notes and the three million payment for that will be due in December 2011. Otherwise, in cash flow, there will be a cash deferral of $7.9 million for 2010-2011 and if mid-year reductions are implemented, there would be additional deferrals of approximately $2 million.

Federation of Teachers president David Mielke commented that if money had been saved from six furlough days during the last school year, that money being included in assumptions, it would be nice to give that money back to the schools “to put more kids back in the classrooms.” Board member Steven Gourley jumped in to say “it would have to be negotiated.”

Also on the agenda was a discussion on “The Brown Act,” as it pertains to regulations of school board meetings and freedom of speech.

Board president Scott Zeidman explained that he had asked for this item to be agendized because of a growing perception that Board policy is not right regarding a rule that a member of the public cannot criticize a Board member during public comment. This rule, he added, had been implemented in 1999 to prevent Board members from public embarrassment.

“However, a person has the right to speak on any item,” Zeidman continued. He wanted the Board to review this and other policies that might be prohibiting free speech and might even be unconstitutional.

Former City Council member Gary Silbiger spoke in favor of the Board revisiting the Brown Act speech policies and gave suggestions that included Brown Act training for Board members and administrators, exercises in free speech for students, and having the Board talk with the school district attorney.

The woman who had spoken earlier in public comment about special education had filled out a card to speak on this issue also. She approved of Silbiger’s suggestions but took the opportunity to air additional grievances against the Board for what she perceived to be wrongdoing in regard to Special Education.

Ironically, Zeidman, in the middle of a discussion on free speech, had to silence the woman as she continued to shout from her seat after her three minutes of public comment were done.


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