July 10-July 16, 2014 Page 5

A schoo| d|str|ct |o
oeed oI s0o||ght
By Jonathan Prince
guestcolumn
TO THE MEMBERS OF THE BOARD
OF EDUCATION:
I can’t pretend to imagine what it feels
like to sit in your chairs. To serve as an
elected official in our education commu-
nity.
To suffer the slings and arrows, to
receive the plaudits, and to bear the respon-
sibility of acting as the temporary stewards
of our school district.
I can’t imagine what it feels like. But I
assume it’s very uncomfortable.
How else can you explain Monday’s
unprecedented use of a public resource
– the PACE email – for purely political
purposes? How else can you explain the
time and money spent with counsel to
fabricate an official response to an op/ed
piece written by a mere civilian in a local
weekly paper?
Yes, I assume it’s uncomfortable up
there and I don’t envy your position.
But I do have a few questions.
First, as a parent in the BHUSD, I trust
that when I get a PACE email it will be
important information about my child’s
experience at school. It will be about edu-
cation. Or security and safety. Or about
teachers and teaching. But yesterday, for
the first time, this educational and infor-
mational tool was abused by the Board and
our Superintendent. It was used to respond
to Steven Fenton’s opinion column in
Beverly Hills Weekly. Not to respond to
a law suit. Not to respond to action taken
against our board or our district. But in
response to a few column inches in a local
paper. Why? Why abuse this tool in order
to defend yourselves?
Second, we’ve been waiting for months
– five and counting – to get the results
of the investigation into the board leaks
to the LA Times and to the Beverly Hills
Courier, leaks which are ongoing as even
more closed session information continues
to find its way into those papers. We’ve
been told that such actions take time, that
there is due process, and that counsel must
play a role in such decisions. Time, as in
nearly six months to respond to the leak.
And now we hear that our community may
never hear the results of that investigation.
Yet, you managed to be ridiculously fleet
of foot in your response to Mr. Fenton’s
op/ed piece. We’ve never seen this board
move so quickly. In only one business
day, you managed to respond – I imagine,
as a writer, myself – after multiple drafts
and after counsel was consulted. Which
leads me to ask why certain transparencies
take so very long to come to light, but this
defensive cloaked retort came about in
only one day?
Third, why did you choose to respond
in the first place? Mr. Fenton is a commu-
nity member, a civilian, with an opinion.
Even if you took umbrage at his tone, why
respond? Even if you disagreed with his
interpretation of the facts, why respond?
In point of fact, even if Mr. Fenton’s
interpretation of the facts was flawed or
biased, would he be the first member of
this community to write a personal edito-
rial in a local paper based on less-than-
perfect facts? Indeed, would he even be the
first reporter from a local paper to do so?
And, to be honest, would he even be the
first elected official or even school board
member to make public statements or judg-
ments or even take action, based on less
than entirely honest or realistic appraisals
of events? In responding so quickly and
publicly to Mr. Fenton’s criticisms, you’ve
done nothing more than give him credibil-
ity. They say that “nothing seduces like a
denial.” Well, we are seduced. Which leads
me to my final question.
Although you cleared up a few terms of
art – and administrator wasn’t “fired,” her
contract merely “expired.” Another admin-
istrator wasn’t “fired” – she “resigned.”
A principal wasn’t “fired” – he was “pro-
moted.” But your clever use of terminology
continues to obfuscate the reasons behind
such moves. Did the
administrators want
to stay? Or were they
asked to resign? Did
they want such promo-
tions? I understand you
feel that Mr. Fenton
may not have gotten
all of his terminology
right, nor his facts in
the way that you see
them, but he did ask
important questions.
Questions that deserve
a response which is
honest and real. This
board – notably two
of you in your sec-
ond terms – has made
transparency your call-
ing card. You have
loudly claimed that
you want nothing more
than honest and open
conversations, clean
processes, and – as the
famed Supreme Court
Justice said – “a little
sunlight.”
I ask you: is the
PACE email we all
received an example of
such transparency? Or
is it continued obfus-
cation? Is it an hon-
est and open examination of the issues
brought forth by Mr. Fenton, or a defensive
response that uses clever legal loopholes
and verbal gymnastics in order to explain
away such criticisms? Is it sunlight? Or just
cloud cover?
Either way, I ask you to stop. On behalf
of all of those parents and families you
emailed on Monday, please stop. Stop
suing and being sued. Stop attacking and
defending. Stop acting as a board run
by personal and official legal counsel.
Stop treating professional educators as
employees who “report” to the board.
Stop stooping to such lows as responding
to a personal letter in a local newspaper
using the privileged tool of our families’
private email addresses. Stop listening to
rumors and innuendo. More importantly,
stop spreading them.
Stop all of it. And start doing what I hope
you really wanted to do when you first ran
for office. Act as a Board of Education.
Hire excellent teach-
ers and give them
a safe and creative
environment in which
they can teach. Hire
superb administra-
tors and staff, and let
them run the schools
without micro-man-
aging and invasive
personal issues.
Build and rebuild our
school buildings, as
well as the programs
inside of them - both
in the educational
curriculum and in
the important athletic
and extra-curricular
areas that are vital to
the experience of our
students. Live up to
the claim you make
in your response, that
you are “working dil-
igently to make our
district the envy of
the nation,” instead
of the punch-line to
some stale joke.
No, I don’t know
what it feels like to
be sitting in your
chairs, but I imagine
if you get back to
acting with integrity as the temporary stew-
ards of an 80-year-old district, if you get
back to thinking about the students first, if
you get back to the transparency and hon-
esty that you say are your calling cards, if
you remember that the Superintendent may
indeed report to you, but that you report to
us – the people of this community – then
those seats will be a lot more comfortable.
Jonathan Prince is the immediate past
president of the BHEF
“If you get back to
acting with integrity
as the temporary
stewards of an 80-year-
old district, if you
get back to thinking
about the students
first, if you get back to
the transparency and
honesty that you say
are your calling cards,
if you remember that
the Superintendent
may indeed report to
you, but that you report
to us – the people of
this community – then
those seats will be a lot
more comfortable”
to attend all meetings six months prior to
the start of their term.
The recommendations will be formally
adopted at the July 29 City Council meet-
ing.
BHBA Barristers hosts free
monthly legal clinics
The Beverly Hills Bar Association
Barristers is continuing their free monthly
legal clinics on July 12 at the Redwood
Room at Roxbury Park from 10:00 a.m.
to noon.
Volunteer BHBA Barristers attorneys
will be available to answer basic legal
questions about consumer law, landlord-
tenant law, small claims, business dis-
putes, wills and trusts, and other legal
issues.
The next free legal clinics will be on
August 2 and September 6, and are held
on the first Saturday of each month, or
the second Saturday if the first weekend
is a holiday.
Visit www.bhba.org or call (310) 601-
2422 for additional information.
Government Affairs
Committee to host Allen
and Fluke
The Government Affairs Committee
will host
Ca l i f o r n i a
State Senate
candi dat es
Ben Allen
and Sandra
Fluke on July
17 from 8:00
a.m. to 9:15
a.m.
Attendees
will have the
opportunity
to meet both
candidates and hear their qualifications
and their vision to represent Beverly Hills
in the state
senate.
The event
will be
held in the
Chamber of
Comme r c e
Boar dr oom
on 9400
South Santa
M o n i c a
Bo u l e v a r d
and two
hours of free
parking will be available in the Beverly-
Briefs cont. on page 9
briefs cont. from page 4
Ben Allen
Sandra Fluke

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