I attended the August 27th SDEA Board meeting yesterday with fellow teacher Emily Neidhart and here is what we saw:
The Headlines (Full Details Below)
- For the first time in SDEA’s history, the SDEA President has appointed a “Parliamentarian” to prevent members from “yelling out” at meetings and “keep order.”
- The SDEA Board voted to endorse John Lee Evans, who has voted for more than 3,000 layoffs over the past three years, and was the lead Board cheerleader during the current round of teacher concessions.
- The Board heavily redacted content from the Board minutes for their last two meetings, further limiting members’ access to important information about the decision-making process of our union leadership.
- Early Childhood Educators continue to be left out in the cold, with 1/3 of those laid off this spring yet to be recalled.
- The Board conducted a “First Reading” of the SDEA budget, which now includes money for CTA Professional Development for guided reading and small group instruction.
- The Board conducted a so-called “First Reading” of proposed changes to the SDEA Governance Documents, but the Board members were not actually given a copy of the Bylaws to “first read,” and were instead told they were forthcoming.
- Non-Board Members waited for another hour-plus Executive Session to conclude when only two items were on the agenda.
Scott Mullin Named Parliamentarian
Before the meeting began, SDEA President Bill Freeman announced that Board member Scott Mullin (Language Academy) was now the Parliamentarian for all future SDEA Board meetings and at Rep Council. Bill said that Scott would be there to prevent members from yelling out during the meetings and help keep order. SDEA has never had an official “Parliamentarian” in the past. But apparently, one of the group of men who yelled in my face , tried to pull papers out of my hands, and eventually devolved into physically pushing me with his body before the May 2012 Rep Council, will now be in charge of regulating the behavior of ARs and CRs at Rep Council. And Bill Freeman, our union President that stood nearby, saw Scott Mullin do these things, put Scott in charge. I could only laugh.
Endorsing John Lee Evans
The SDEA Board meeting was preceded by a short meeting with the title:
SAN DIEGO EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, CTA/NEA
Political Action Committee CALLED BUSINESS MEETING AGENDA
It had two items on the agenda:
0.1 Recommend endorsement for SDUSD Board District A
President Bill Freeman explained to everyone that while he was not a huge fan of John Lee Evans, that he was a bigger fan of Evans than of his opponent. He went on to say that Mark Powell is supported by San Diegans for Great Schools, believes that teachers need a new evaluation system, and that Powell is a Tea Partier. He stated that our union had spent half a million dollars to help elect Richard Barrera and Evans and that the community would not support a teacher strike right now because of the economy. He wants our union to endorse Evans in the coming election. The motion passed with one abstention and will be brought to Rep Council for a vote on Wednesday.
I think SDEA members should scrutinize both candidates and find out where they stand on the issues that affect us most. Over the last six months, I think we’ve all seen where John Lee Evans and Richard Barrera stand on issues that affect us. I don’t really think we SDEA members got our “money’s worth” from money we apparently spent to help them get elected. Normally before the SDEA Board votes to endorse a candidate, the Political Involvement Committee (PIC) interviews all candidates that are seeking an endorsement from SDEA. Candidates are questioned and scrutinized by a panel of SDEA members who then make recommendations. But that didn’t happen for John Lee Evans. Apparently, Evans got a pass on having to answer to the membership and Bill Freeman is asking us to endorse him. Personally, I think we should stay true to our process and make any candidate seeking our endorsement sit and answer to our PIC panel.
Meeting Minutes Heavily Redacted
The SDEA Board main meeting began with approval of the minutes from August 10th and 17th. This is where things got creepy. I’ve sat on many different types of boards and sat through many reading/approval of the minutes. In all my life, I have never seen a board so adamant about deleting details from the minutes and so mad that details were included in the minutes to begin with. I have also never seen people be so rude or hostile to the Secretary about the minutes.
Melissa Roy Wood (La Jolla Elementary) started the conversation by saying that she knows people are concerned about a lack of accountability and transparency in the union, then proceeded to attack the level of detail in the minutes as excessive. She referenced the “directive” the SDEA Board had given SDEA Secretary Michelle Sanchez (Garfield) during the last Board meeting and read it aloud from that meeting’s minutes, “Board necessitates minutes will be reformatted and details will be omitted.” Michelle said that she had gone back through and redone the minutes based on their comments. (Note: The SDEA Board does not have the legal authority to issue directives to fellow elected Board members.)
Erin Kole (Marshall MS) then spent almost fifteen minutes going through the minutes, telling Michelle to change or delete many different parts. New SDEA Board member Kristin Brown (Silvergate Elementary) spoke up in an apparent effort to stop the nit-picking and asked, “Is what she has incorrect?” Erin ignored Kristin’s question and continued through her marked-up copy of the meeting minutes directing Michelle to make each change. By the time she was done, Erin Kole’s deletions included the removal of entire paragraphs. Some of the information she had Michelle delete included a bulleted list detailing the proposed changes to be made to the Governance Documents, the paragraphs describing the information about possible future benefits changes shared in a VEBA presentation to the SDEA Board, and the paragraphs describing their conversation regarding the meeting minutes during the previous Board meeting. After this, as other Board members made suggestions regarding the minutes, it repeatedly happened that they were trying to adjust sentences that had been part of a deleted paragraph.
Michelle stated that she was concerned with the amount of information stricken from the meeting minutes. At this point, Bill turned to Scott Mullin, the new Parliamentarian, and asked him what Robert’s Rules of Order said about the minutes. Scott seemed extremely well prepared to answer this question and quickly read from the book: “In an ordinary society, the minutes should contain mainly a record of what was done at the meetings, not what was said by the members.” He then said that based on Robert’s Rules of Order (RONR), “None of the discussion should be included.”
Yet RONR also states that “Corrections, if any, and approval of the minutes are normally done by unanimous consent.” So why spend 30 minutes going over every detail? We found this very strange, indeed.
Michelle Sanchez reminded her fellow Board members that she had taken their previous criticisms seriously and that she had gone back and made the changes they requested. She told the Board that she had reviewed meeting minutes from the previous year, taken by now Vice President Lindsay Burningham, and that those minutes had included conversations that preceded Board actions, just like the minutes Michelle had taken.
And with that, after almost a half hour of discussion, the heavily redacted meeting minutes were approved.
Why should we care?
1) Robert’s Rules of Order do not dictate how meeting minutes are taken. Our Bylaws only state that we will use Robert’s Rules of Order to run our meetings. There are many, many things covered in Robert’s Rules of Orders, the vast majority of which do NOT apply to SDEA interactions, including how the Secretary takes minutes.
2) The position of SDEA Secretary is an elected position. The Secretary does not work for, report to, or answer to other Board Members. The Secretary is responsible to the membership and we, the members, should find it extremely disturbing that a large majority of the elected Board members do not want us to know what they discuss in Open Session. And that these same Board members think they can rewrite the minutes for the elected Secretary. Only corrections of factual errors should be suggested by the Board.
3) The sole purpose for the sudden and strict implementation of Robert’s Rules of Order seems to be for the purpose of controlling information and silencing dissenting opinions within our “democratic” union. Ideally, RONR would ensure that all voices can be heard in an orderly fashion within the context of a large, crowded meeting. So far, I’ve mostly seen it used to shutdown member participation and to advance the political agendas (by way of obviously pre-orchestrated Floor Plans) of the people running the meeting and enforcing the use of RONR.
4) Doesn’t the SDEA Board have more important work to be doing than nit-picking the meeting minutes and redacting information that is true and available to hear or see by anyone attending the SDEA Board Meetings?
Early Childhood Educator Update
Next came the Business portion of the agenda and Bill shared that he had appointed people to a Bargaining Team for E.C.E. teachers. I still don’t understand why SDEA has allowed this portion of our union to be segregated into its own subgroup. During the member issues Q&A I had asked what specific actions our union was taking to help recall the E.C.E. teachers and Bill said that SDEA was working with the District to help find the funding to recall the teachers since the funding that had been used previously to pay for the positions had disappeared. Since when is it our union’s job to find the money to pay our salaries? The District apparently had the money this summer to buy all the principals new iPads and accompanying 3G data plans for this next school year, but it didn’t have the money to pay for Early Childhood Education.
No Reading of Budget or Governance Documents During the “1st Reading”
Business item 4.1 was Approval of SDEA’s Budget & Governance Documents (1st Reading). As the budget was passed out, Bill told everyone that SDEA hasn’t finished bargaining yet with SDEA staff’s bargaining team (SDSO) and that they weren’t going to read it right then. Treasurer Manuel Gomez (Chollas Mead Elementary) said that mostly things had stayed the same, but that there was an increase in the area of “professional development”. Bill went on to explain that SDEA would be bring in CTA to do more PD in areas such as guided reading and small group lessons. Why, when our union is facing its worst time of crisis ever, is SDEA leadership choosing to start spending our money on doing the District’s job for them?
The Governance Documents were not distributed at all during their “1st Reading”. This was a red flag for me because these were the changes that Erin Kole had requested be redacted from the meeting minutes earlier. Bill said that he did not have the new Governance Documents and that he would put a copy in everyone’s box the next day. So why all the secrecy about the proposed changes? And when will the SDEA Board actually hold a first reading of the Governance Documents at their Board meeting?
Excessive Executive Session
At 6:00 p.m., the Board moved into Executive Session so Emily and I left. Executive Session only had two items on the agenda (5.1 SDSO Bargaining Update, and 5.2 Personnel Matter) so we figured it wouldn’t take very long before they called us back in for the Executive Reports part of the meeting. However, after waiting for over an hour it became clear that something was going on in Executive Session. And after watching Secretary Michelle Sanchez be attacked in Open Session, we began to worry about what the Board members were now saying to her behind closed doors. Our worries seemed to be confirmed when at one point, the noise of some kind of heated discussion could be heard echoing all the way down the hall.
To be clear, 5.16 of the SDEA Bylaws state:
The Board of Directors may conduct executive sessions during which discussions shall be exclusively limited to:
1) Hiring, firing and/or evaluation of Association staff;
2) Personnel cases or grievances involving members and the District;
3) Strategy and tactics related to bargaining; and
SDEA Board members should not be afforded any privacy regarding conversations that take place during Executive Session if the topics discussed do not pertain to any of the protected categories specifically listed in our Bylaws. How can union leadership expect to maintain its credibility in holding the District accountable, if it refuses to follow its own rules?
—Shane Parmely, Teacher