School board keeps Teach but kills public comment
February 20, 2013
The San Luis Coastal Unified School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously to temporarily continue the operation of Teach Elementary School during an emotional meeting Tuesday evening in which the board squelched public comment.
Despite a recommendation from Superintendent Eric Prater to place a one-year moratorium on 4th grade enrollment at the popular accelerated learning elementary school, the board chose to accept another 4th grade class while establishing a superintendent’s task force to propose a plan for the future of the school.
Although many parents, students and community members desired to speak about Teach during public comment, the board terminated public comment after about 20 minutes. At that point, San Luis Obispo attorney Saro Rizzo approached the lectern and said the board had violated the Brown Act by not allowing members of the public to speak.
“I think there is a serious Brown Act Violation right here,” Rizzo said. “The California Government Code says in a public meeting you may make reasonable accommodations so everybody can be heard.”
While Rizzo continued to speak, the microphone shut off. Board President Walt Millar walked away and called for recess after Rizzo told him, “You’re not the only attorney in the room.”
After the meeting, Millar told CalCoastNews that it is board protocol to limit public comment to 20 minutes per item. Millar said the board chose to wave the time limit at the two previous hearings on a possible Teach closure to allow for multiple hours of public testimony.
Trustees Chris Ungar and Jim Quesenberry defended Millar’s decision.
“I think the board clearly heard from the public,” Ungar said.
Quesenberry said the board had other important matters to deal wth, like program cuts and continuations.
“All we’re really required to do is give time and allow time for public comment.”
Upon returning from recess, Trustee Kathryn Eisendrath-Rogers, who has clashed with other members of the board over transparency issues involving action on Teach, apologized to the pubic for the squelching of public comment.
“I have not known the board to limit public comment to 20 minutes,” Eisendrath-Rogers said. “I apologize to the people who are not being able to express their thoughts tonight.”
Prior to public comment and the chaos that ensued, Prater also apologized to the public for using namecalling tactics against Teach parents.
“I want to apologize to you if I offended you,” Prater said.
Prater now has the responsibility for creating a one-year measure to address overcrowding at Teach as well as to form a task force that will generate the “great conversation” he desires on the style of learning at the school and the future of accelerated learning in the district. Prater expects the task force to present its findings to the board in September.
Of all the trustees, only Eisendrath-Rogers expressed support for finding a long-term solution to keep Teach in operation. Others expressed philosophical disagreements with the Teach model, especially Trustee Marilyn Rodger.
“I am still not entirely convinced that the segregated program for 4th through 6th grade students has a demonstrable, beneficial effect,” Rodger said.
Both Rodger and Millar said it is unfair that underprivileged students receive less attention from the district than Teach students do.
Rodger said there are 480 homeless students in the district and that they deserve as impassioned of a discussion. Millar said Teach’s blue ribbon status is misleading because very few impoverished students attend the school.
“The advantage Teach has is they don’t have many subgroup students,” Millar said.