“Access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state”
- California Government Code
When LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King first disappeared from the halls of the Beaudry Building “some insiders said she injured herself in an accident while on vacation with her family.” In October, “a district spokeswoman downplayed the effect of the medical issue” saying that she would return the following Monday, but that did not happen and the medical leave was made indefinite. A District spokesman then announced that “the superintendent planned to return January 22.” This was proven incorrect when four months into her leave King announced that she will not “return to her position and plans to retire later this year”. She “also ended months of speculation by announcing the condition that prompted her medical leave: she has been receiving treatment for cancer.”
Under ordinary circumstances, the fact that King’s health issues were kept from the public would have little consequence to the stakeholders of the District. However, the ongoing legal battle faced by Board Member Ref Rodriguez has removed the resemblance of any type of normalcy from the LAUSD. If the common assumption holds that Rodriguez will eventually be forced to leave his office, the timing of his departure now holds real meaning to how the District will be led. If he manages to hold on through the selection of a new Superintendent, the majority bought and paid for by the charter lobby can force the selection of a Superintendent in the mold of John Deasy, or perhaps given the funds donated by the former Superintendent, perhaps Deasy himself. If Rodriguez is forced from office before the selection is made, the Board will be evenly split and forced to find a consensus candidate. In either case, the residents of District Five have been robbed of the opportunity to be represented in this decision by a leader selected in an election not tainted by alleged fraud.
This situation could have been avoided if Rodriguez had resigned at the time of his indictment. Instead, his allies on the Board urged him "to take a leave of absence from the Board." If they took this action knowing that King’s health situation was worse than was being reported, then they clearly violated the spirit of openness and removed any opportunity for a special election to be held before the process for choosing a new Superintendent begins.
Unfortunately, the past actions of the District suggest that openness is not a priority in their operations. As an example, a request that they provide a “report to [the LAUSD School] Board that was generated by [Charter School Division employee] Alex Gomez...as referenced in [an] email from Alex Gomez to [Granada Hills Charter High School’s Executive Director,] Brian Bauer” was denied on the basis that “‘Board Informatives,’ are confidential communications subject to the Deliberative Process Privilege exemption pursuant to Gov. Code §6255”. This was a peculiar claim given the fact that no publicly noticed deliberations have ever been scheduled regarding this subject.
The issuance of this informative was a direct result of my public comment before the Board on June 13, 2017, detailing the ways that Granada Hills Charter High School’s enrollment practices violate their charter. While that incarnation of the Board showed an interest in ensuring that oversight was being provided, the takeover of the Board by charter supporters has ensured that the issue has not received a public hearing and that the facts in the informative remain out of view of the public with the excuse that they are “inextricably intertwined with the deliberative material.” It is important to note that the confidentiality claimed by the District is not mandated by law, but given as an option in cases of actual deliberation. Therefore, a government entity interested in complying with the spirit of the law could choose to release the entire document. The LAUSD has chosen a different path and once again kept its stakeholders in the dark.