Tonight’s EUSD Board meeting was unprecedented in many ways. One of the members, Jose Fragozo, had to literally phone it in. If you’re not familiar with Fragozo’s problems, the long story short is that the President of the EUSD Board, Paulette Donnellon, has served Fragozo with a temporary restraining order, which means he is not allowed on any EUSD Property. He has been accused by the superintendent, and two assistant superintendents of being “hostile”, and that they are afraid of injury. Their assertions are not supported by any accompanying documents. You can read the details at: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/dec/04/jose-fragozo-escondido-board-member/. And http://sandiegofreepress.org/2015/12/restraining-order-offers-glimpse-into-escondido-school-board-follies/ .
The meeting began with some fumbling with the microphone that allowed Jose to hear and respond. Then, always effervescent member, Zesty Harper, moved that agenda item I, 1. Member’s report, be moved up to just after the approval of the minutes, item B 6. Fragozo questioned this action. Harper responded that she just felt the public ought to be able to hear from the members before everybody left. The change was approved.
Fragozo did question the minutes. He questioned why the comments of Robroy Fawcett were given a full paragraph, while the comments of those opposing the approval of the Epiphany Charter School were given little space. He also objected to description of his comments as not reflecting what really happened. Superintendent Luis Rankins-Ibarra said that the minutes were only intended to capture the essence of the meeting. Donnellon did not buy into this argument and she suggested that the approval of the minutes be postponed to a future date, and amended to better reflect what actually transpired. And so, the approval of the minutes was tabled.
So, the audience, getting a bit restless, next heard the member’s reports. Harper spoke first. She avowed that she supported the Cabinet’s (whatever that is?) and the Superintendent’s actions. (Referring to the Temporary Restraining Order [TRO] on Fragozo, actually filed by Donnellon.) To her, the top priority was safety. She then went on to a degree of discomfort for those in attendance, to outline her activities as a board member. She ended her remarks with a thank you to Donnellon for her work as President of the Board for the last year.
My representative on the Board, Dr. Gary M. Altenburg (dentist), echoed Harper’s views about the TPO, as well as her thanks to Donnellon. I don’t so much have a representative on the Board as an echo to the other four majority members.
Interestingly, member Joan Gardner did not deign to talk about the TRO, instead outlining her activities for the board.
Fragozo thanked the people he could hear that had come out to support him. The allegations made for the TRO were completely false. The 17,000 letters sent to parents, and 2,000 sent to employees was a matter of harassment.
Donnellon spoke of her activities, then said she supported the action (she had) taken, commenting that the EUSD would not tolerate harassment.
The Board then proceeded to the election of the officers for 2016. Fragozo was able to question the board’s change of procedure from a rotation of offices that, after three years, would have made him President of the Board. The change he added, to an open election, was made in closed session. Donnellon then said that the board had reviewed their polices and decided to make the election of board officers more “”democratic”, and elect the officers each year. So followed with a four to one vote (Fragozo voting nay) the election of Gardner as President, Harper as Vice President, and Altenburg clerk. Ibarra was elected as Secretary with a unanimous vote.
Then began the public commentary. Zoe Carpenter seemed to represent the side of those that produced the TRO. She noted that bullying was a matter of using power to embarrass or humiliate, and was a matter of repetition. Three more speakers expressed their dissatisfaction with board policies.
Kamillah Brown said people said that she only came to meetings that drew lots of people. She affirmed that she came to meetings that drew the passion of the public. She said she had no side in this issue, but found the issue of a letter to 17,000 parents grossly unprofessional. There were always, she said, two sides to on story, and it was important to listen to all sides. Joanne Tenney said she supported Jose Fragozo, and hoped the case would be resolved amicably.
Mary Ann Drinan, Professor emeritus Palomar College, recited Fragozo’s laudatory volunteer history, He is a true representative of the Latino community. He had voted his conscious. He had voted against the salary increases of the parties who had been included in the TRO. She spoke of the incidence at Oak Hill, when an armed man had crossed the school property and it took 14 minutes to report the incident because of school policy. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/sep/07/escondido-police-gunman-policy-oak-hill/
Patrick Drinan spoke of his educational credentials, noting that he had been a Dean of an elementary education department, said he understood that the school administration usually had support of the school board and staff. He understood how boards were captivated by superintendents. He understood that it would be upsetting for that board and their staff to be upset by a board member that challenged the status quo. School administration, he said, could not be composed of fragile egos, it required thick skins. This board was succumbing to a bureaucratic pathology that blamed the messenger. He advised the board to “get their act together” and not to hide behind legal games.
Shannon Lienhart, Palomar professor, noted that TRO noted no evidence of immediate threat of violence. A person who claimed such a threat, when there was no such treat, was the true bully in the situation, she added.
Chris Nava said she was disheartened and in disbelief at the allegation that had been made. She had known Fragozo for many years and had never known him to be violent, he was not capable of such. The idea that he posed a threat to students was unthinkable. There had been faults on both sides. Yes Fragozo raised his voice, but were the police ever called? The disrespect of Fragozo by the other board members, talking behind his back, and facial expression had been noted.
John Ward, noting the Fox 5 camera, said that whenever he saw such a camera he feared there had been a wreck. We’re now in a wreck he concluded. It should never have reached such a point. There were much better ways to solve this problem. If raising your voice in opposition, and entering another’s personal space were a reason for a TRO, then the Founding Fathers would all have been subject to a TRO. To send out a letter to parents and faculty members with incorrect information would incur irreparable damage to the EUSD.
Then the evening climaxed in an unusual way. Don Greene spoke as a representative of the Escondido Taxpayers Association. He said that this board meeting was in violation of the Brown Act, because the public had not been given proper 72-hour notice of the location of Jose Fragozo for the meeting. He advised the board to immediately adjourn their meeting. Gardner responded that she had driven by Fragozo’s home on Maple Street, and that his door had been open. Green repeated, that his location was not in compliance with the ADA act, and had not been given 72 hours of notice. Fragozo, was able to state that he had asked for a room with ADA clearance, but Donnellon and the board’s attorney had denied his request. Ybarra than said that Fragozo had been advised to send notice of his location at 3:00 pm yesterday. Gardner avowed that therefore, it had been Fragozo’s responsibility to inform the public of his location. Her comments did not go over well with the audience. There was an impromptu discussion of the board and staff. Then Gardner announced a recess, while they could consult their legal advisors. Shortly thereafter the meeting was adjourned. Not before many members of the audience said that the board should hear their concerns before the adjournment. Gardner told them they could thank their friend Jose Fragozo for that. It did not go over well.
This sounds like the School Board Meetings are an absolute Zoo and it certainly does not instill confidence in the public. Somebody should video tape the meetings as I’m almost certain they would compete effectively with “Days of Our Lives” or “Guiding Light. Very unprofessional! We need to start over from scratch with an entirely new board.