A raucous meeting of the Orange Unified School District Board of Education opened with a standard vote to re-organize and continued long, long past midnight because dozens of speakers wanted to be heard regarding a petition from a proposed charter school, Orange County Classical Academy.
Just before 1:30 a.m. the morning after the meeting started, the board voted 4-3 to approve the charter despite a staff report that recommended denial. Supporters were quite happy.
Opponents… chanted “remember in November,” a threat to vote out Board members who are up for re-election in 2020 and who voted to approve the charter.
- John Ortega, President, Trustee Area 2, term: 2016-2020 — aye
- Kathryn A. Moffat, Vice President, Trustee Area 4, term: 2018-2022 — nay
- Alexia Deligianni-Brydges, immediate past president, Trustee Area 3, term: 2018-2022 — aye
- Rick Ledesma, member, Trustee Area 7, term: 2018-2022 — aye
- Kris Erickson, member, Trustee Area 6, term: 2018-2022 — nay
- Andrea Yamasaki, member, Trustee Area 1, term: 2018-2022 — nay
- Brenda Lebsack, member, Trustee Area 6, term: 2016-2020 — aye
The debate over Orange County Classical Academy
Many, many, many, people spoke.
Fifty speaker’s cards were turned in before the meeting began. As speakers stepped up to the podium, others would trickle up to the dais to submit their own speaker’s card. Eventually, the Board ruled to cut off any further submissions.
To best appreciate the long, long, long convoy of speakers, you must add a soundtrack — supporters and opponents yelling, waving signs, and clapping (or pumping fists). Despite Board President Ortega cautioning more than once against outbursts, audience members agitated right through the final vote — although the fellow who accused charter school supporters of trying to bust the teacher’s union failed to generate as much outspoken support as he no doubt expected when he marched away from the podium with a clenched fist held high.
Opponents claimed that the charter petition wildly exaggerated the projected number of first-year students (360), which fed into questions about the accuracy of the school’s budget. Other budget concerns centered on teacher salaries (too low, according to opponents, which would lead to low-quality teachers and high turnover) and how subtracting 360 students would dent Orange Unified’s budget (a lot of the students would come from outside the District, according to supporters).
Speakers opposing the charter petition repeatedly characterized supporters as coming from “far and wide” outside the District, implying that their support should be disregarded. Yet these speakers were also ignored as implicit proof that not all students for OCCA would be “cherry-picked” from current OUSD enrollment, thus softening the hit on OUSD revenue.
Opponents held up OUSD schools as models of academic excellence and diversity, claiming that the classical curriculum proposed for OCCA was far inferior in rigor and breadth. It was also suggested that a classical-curriculum academy could be fit into OUSD itself without grafting on a chancy charter school.
Supporters were accused of hiding a “religious, parochial” school curriculum behind a proposed course of study stripped of religious references. Sections of the U.S. Constitution, the California State Constitution, and the State Education Code were quoted to show that public money could not be spent on sectarian education.
But, supporters responded, a classical curriculum need not teach religion as dogma, and current OUSD curriculum covers comparative religions.
Dueling veiled accusations of corruption stemming from campaign contributions mostly cancelled each other out.
When the pile of dozens and dozens of speaker’s cards was exhausted (along with the audience), a motion was made to approve the petition and was seconded. Boardmember Kris Erickson immediately offered an amended motion for conditional approval that would bring the petition back after changes were made to correct the flaws described in the staff report that recommended denial.
The suggestion for conditional approval looked for a time as though it might pry a fourth vote away from the block of Boardmembers who appeared from the floor to be willing to defy the staff report. In particular, Boardmember Brenda Lebsack asked for clarification on the proposal for conditional approval.
And that’s when Superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen overplayed her hand. The Board legal advisor, at the podium, began reading a detailed motion for conditional approval that could not have been drafted hurriedly and in the moment.
Boardmembers and audience members alike became suspicious that, so to speak, the fix was in and that the vote was being manipulated.
Superintendent Hansen tried to save the situation by claiming that she was just “over-prepared” — but Board President John Ortega rightly pointed out that the elaborate proposed alternate resolution for conditional approval should have been included in the Board’s packet so that each Boardmember could read and review it prior to the meeting.
Some sharp-edged remarks were made from both the dais and the audience, but in a (relatively) short time, the substitute motion from Boardmember Erickson was voted down 4-3, and the original motion to approve the petition was agreed to by a similar vote.
Now supporters of Orange County Classical Academy have to show everyone that approval of their petition was not a mistake.
I would like to thank the Orange Unified Employee Association member sitting next to me for his offer of a piece of See’s candy some time past midnight. Everybody by that time was tired and hungry, and I had muttered that I could chew on my shoe. His offer of a candy (which was being generally shared from a big box of assorted chocolates) was regretfully turned down, as I am gluten-intolerant and would have to check the ingredients. An earlier offer of pizza from OCCA supporters had also been turned down.