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Confidential school board emails/reports from Superintendent to school trustees?

Original post made by Lou on May 28, 2012

Based on another thread from someone from Civic Square called uniformed talking about the Palo Alto district, I was looking at the Embarcadero Palo Alto Weekly and see that the publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly has an article called:

"Weekly calls for halt to confidential school board memos
Memos may be shaping public policy outside of public's eye" This article is available at the Palo Alto Weekly site at Web Link

The letter from the publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly, Bill Johnson, is here Web Link .

The letter says that educational policy and email and serial meetings are used behind the scenes and that is a violation of a law called the Brown Act. It says the Palo Alto Superintendent does this through regular Confidential memos and emails being sent out by the Superintendent to trustees.

Can the Pleasanton Weekly or Bill Johnson use a similar process in order to obtain copies of confidential school trustee memos and all emails from the Superintendent to board trustees in Pleasanton to see if this practice is occurring here?

I was wondering because when I attend city meetings, email correspondence from city internal managers to city council members or Questions and Answers asked from city council members posed to staff and answered are always available for viewing in the back of the room in a packet. I've never seen this in a packet at school board meetings. Can the Pleasanton Weekly get a copy of this type of correspondence for the last 6 months or do they not have email correspondence for the school trustees?

Comments (15)

Posted by Lou, a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on May 28, 2012 at 1:27 am

Here is another article regarding the practice of public administrators sharing "confidential" information with their elected bosses while keeping it from the public. The Palo Alto Weekly article describes the discovery of numerous incidents involving confidential emails and updates by Palo Alto schools Superintendent Kevin Skelly to the Board of Education members

Web Link

On Deadline: Citizen watchdogs dig out another 'confidentiality' secret — but such things go w-a-a-y back

I look forward to future Pleasanton Weekly articles delving into this area with the Pleasanton Superintendent and Board of Education.

Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on May 28, 2012 at 7:42 am

Lou, I'm not an attorney, so I cannot speak to why these confidential memos are suddenly being determined to be illegal. But they do exist in many (most?) districts. My understanding was they had to comply with the Brown Act; they can only be about those items allowed in closed session under the Act, and anything determined in closed session has to be reported out in a public meeting, including whether guidance was provided to staff. The memos often are how details about current or potential litigation are provided to the board prior to a posted meeting for example. There isn't sufficient time to read everything while in closed session.

There are weekly, non-confidential memos to board members as well. These cover events of the previous week and are available to the public; although the fact that they exist isn't broadly known or advertised. These communications were occurring when I was on the board in Pleasanton in 1990, and certainly those communications weren't even new then.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on May 28, 2012 at 8:17 am

Stacey is a registered user.

Here's a good summary of the California Public Records Act: Web Link Some records are exempt from disclosure and the agency is required to explain why if they withhold something. Having confidential memos themselves are not illegal as long as the content is exempt from disclosure.

The site also has a good summary of the Brown Act.

Posted by long time parent, a resident of Birdland
on May 28, 2012 at 10:49 am

The District did violate the Brown Act by not releasing the contract for the new Assistant Superintendent to the public before voting, it was only released to the board members. That was a public vote in public session, so the document was a public document.

Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on May 28, 2012 at 12:17 pm

LTP, I agree with you about the contract; once closed session was completed copies should have been made available to the public (hours before the item was actually voted on in public). The confidential memos though, as long as they follow Brown Act rules, should be allowable. Question is, how does the public know if the Brown Act is being followed?

Posted by long time parent, a resident of Birdland
on May 28, 2012 at 4:57 pm

I agree, it is hard for the public to know if the Brown Act has been violated since they do those things in secret plus the administration would completely deny it, instead of admitting they made a mistake. Which usually means the only thing that can be done after a violation is found is to sue the district. That takes time and money (for both parties). If the district admits to a mistake, confidence can be rebuilt and money saved.

I remember seeing a couple of times at the City when a resident brought up that the council violated the Brown Act. The City Manager and City Attorney agreed, and the vote for the item that violated the Brown Act was voided. It did not take any lawyers. The City knew it was right to do the right thing. If only the "Community of Character" actually meant something to the School District.

Posted by Lou, a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on May 28, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Reminds me of a very poignant Merlin story recited in city hall that was so effective it was reported in the newspapers. "The Necklace of Truth" is about a magic necklace that shortens to the point of choking the wearer when the truth is held back or the full story is not told.

Sounds like the entire board of education organization needs someone to go down there with the cameras rolling and do in depth read of the "The Necklace of Truth" like Martha did.

This may have to be done over several weeks because would be hard to get the point across in under 180 seconds. And presenting the chains/necklaces will take longer that that also.

Web Link

Posted by Huh, a resident of Amador Estates
on May 30, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Who is Martha and Bill Johnson?

Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on May 31, 2012 at 9:04 am

Here is Martha, from the web link provided: "Martha Evans, who also lives in Grey Eagle Estates, brought a 19th century book called 'The Necklace of Truth,' which she said was a story of a girl with a propensity to tell lies. When she told a lie, the necklace shortened."

Bill Johnson is: "Embarcadero Media President: William S. Johnson" . . . Palo Alto Weekly, Pleasanton Weekly, etc.

Asa an aside, here is how PAUSD is handling the requests for information. From the superintendent: Web Link Included is a link to the requests and the information provided so all interested parties can have access.

Posted by Huh, a resident of Amador Estates
on May 31, 2012 at 9:25 am

So from the article it is not a violation of the brown act

Posted by steve, a resident of Parkside
on May 31, 2012 at 9:34 am

The important thing is that we keep on talking ab0ut it. Hold their feet to the fire so the incompetants can't lie and shove unpopular edicks and hires down our throates.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on May 31, 2012 at 10:31 am

Stacey is a registered user.

It is much more important we keep our heads down, our mouths shut, and our wallets open so it is easier to rule over us.

Posted by steve, a resident of Parkside
on May 31, 2012 at 11:00 am

Thats you're best post ever STacey. They are totalitarian diversicrats who want to impose the low income housing look on all of us without getting community approvel. They rule over us with over the top teachers salaries, union officials pensions, and minority hirelings.

Posted by SoCal transplant, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Martha Evans is the Martha in Web Link

Presumably she was talking about Former Mayor TP, Former Planner DD, and all those Friends of the Lins.

The Necklaces of Truth could be a handy tool, but as residents of Pleasanton, because we are so used to being misled and lied to, most of us that move to the area soon develop in-built B.S.-O-Meter detection systems.

Posted by Lou, a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Jun 1, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I just saw this on the Yahoo home page -- see this video about what schools do that place children in dangerous situations that they then say are mere "mistakes" and then try to sweep it under the rug under "confidentiality." That is, until the media finds out about it and all of a sudden everyone in the world knows about it.

Click to view the video Web Link

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