LAUSD Board Delays Vote on Cutting Public Speaking Time

The time has come for a new era of transparency and accountability. For too long, parents, students, and taxpayers have been kept in the dark about what’s going on in District headquarters
- Nick Melvoin (2017)

As of Monday night, the agenda for the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Special Board Meeting listed a motion to approve changes to the Board rules that had been recommended by Nick Melvoin’s Rules “Committee.” Included in these proposed new rules was a reduction in the time allotted for public comment from three to two minutes per person. Much like the selection of Superintendent Austin Beutner, the proposed changes had been made behind closed doors and without public input.

This is the line to get into the Board meeting two hours before the start time.

After arriving two hours before the start of the Tuesday afternoon meeting and securing my place as the 46th person in line, I was able to sign up for public comment about the item. However, I was notified just minutes before the start of the meeting that the item was probably not going to be heard. This was confirmed by Monica Garcia as the meeting started and she announced that she was using her prerogative as the Board President to postpone the item until a meeting in June.

While no reason was given for the sudden change of plans, it is likely that Garcia and Melvoin had calculated that they did not have the four votes that were needed to force these rule changes. If this determination was made as a result of behind the scenes deliberations, the conditions were in place for a violation of the Brown Act. Under this California law, which ensures that deliberations of a public body occur in full view of the public, any time members of the LAUSD School Board have a meeting with enough members to constitute a quorum (four), they would have to provide public notice and post an agenda in advance. This would apply even if the meeting was informal or if they met serially, which is defined as “a series of separate communications that ultimately involves a majority of a legislative body”.

Board District 5’s empty seat

As a result of Garcia’s maneuver, the public was not able to weigh in on the proposed changes at this meeting. Under the rules that were in place when Steve Zimmer was president of the Board, the public could have used the general public comment period to make their views known. However, when Garcia took control she declared that comments unrelated to items on the agenda are not allowed during “special meetings.” Therefore, the public was effectively silenced on this subject.

When the proposed “Board Meeting Accessibility to the Public” was presented to the LAUSD Board during the March Committee of the Whole meeting, Scott Schmerelson, Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, the three Board members who did not leave early, all recognized that changes needed to be made to the way Board meetings are conducted. Gonez gave voice to many parents when she said that “it is essential to have this conversation.” Unfortunately, Melvoin’s committee has taken the opposite approach by having these discussions in private and proposing changes that will do the opposite of expanding opportunities for public participation. So much for the transparency that Melvoin promised during his campaign.

Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.