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  • Monday, September 25, 2006


    SPECIAL REPORT: Orange Unified Schools DIGEST

    OUSD: Censorship to Censure

    The September 14th meeting started off as normal as any Orange Unified School Board meeting gets these days. After seating the new high school SACBE student board members, Board President Kim Nichols in her President’s Report tried to clarify remarks that she made at the August 24th Board meeting regarding a credentialing issue of Villa Park High School T.V. Media Class teacher Dr. Linda Bartom. Nichols regretted any misunderstanding from her statements at the August 24th Board meeting regarding Bartom being a credentialed teacher. Nichols then reported on what credential Bartom currently has and how Bartom is currently applying with the state for a Petition of Certification to teach the Media TV Class as a “fine arts section” (yes this was a personnel matter) . Trustee Steve Rocco asked some clarifying questions regarding the on going Villa Park principal situation and stated he wanted to speak further about the matter. Nichols told him he would have to wait until the Board Comment item at the end of the agenda.

    Under the next agenda item, Board Recognition of Students, Staff and Community, among other things Trustee Kathy Moffat “acknowledged” the parents in Villa Park concerning the “issues” at Villa Park H.S. Trustee Steve Rocco interrupted with an objection stating that he was told he could not allowed to speak about the Villa Park H.S. item until later and stated that now both Nichols and Moffat have done so. Nichols and Rocco quibbled over what the agenda item allowed members to speak about. Rocco objected that most of the audience would be gone by time he spoke.

    After the approval of the Consent Agenda at the end of the agenda, after a fairly typical meeting lasting a little over an hour, the meeting became the most disruptive meeting since masked protestors showed up in 2003. The public broadcast of the end of the meeting was censored, reportedly on order of OUSD Superintendent Godley (the public cable broadcast of the Board Meeting ends with the Consent Item approval).

    Rocco was recognized to speak under the agenda’s Board Comments. He started speaking about former Villa Park High School Principal Ben Rich (now principal at Richland Continuation School). Rocco objected to Rich being reassigned stating that it is “a tough sell” to get rid of administrators. Rocco said that sending Rich from Villa Park H.S. to Richland “does a disservice to the students”. He then stated that he has never voted to fire anyone “but I’d fire Ben Rich”. Rocco stated that the consequences for administrators that don’t do a good job is “you just get transferred”. Rocco restated he’d vote to fire Ben Rich and further stated if Rich showed up at a Board meeting “I’d ask him why aren’t you fired yet?” No one on the Board on in the Administration objected, tried to interrupt, or otherwise called Rocco out of order. That 1 minute beginning portion of a ten minute Rocco rant is now the subject of a vote at the September 28th Board Meeting for a Public Hearing at the October 12th meeting to officially censure Rocco.

    The Rocco statement that he’d vote to “fire Ben Rich” is the subject of Kim Nichols and Trustee Wes Poutsma (Poutsma was ill and did not attend the Censored September 14th Meeting) Agenda Item 12 A on the September 28th OUSD Board Agenda (page 2). It is a vote to approve a public hearing for the October 12th Board meeting to discuss censuring Rocco for his statement he would fire Ben Rich. The agenda item includes the Proposed Resolution which accuses Rocco of violating Rich’s privacy and not keeping “confidential matters confidential”. Long time community leaders say that if saying Rich’s name was truly offensive and wrong, Board President Nichols (who publicly discussed personnel matters earlier in the same meeting) should have called Rocco out of order. Also, if that was the basis for the censorship of the entire last part of the meeting, Rich’s name could have been easily bleeped out. Many of the community leaders agree what happened in the rest of the meeting is why the September 14th meeting was censored from the public during an election year and why Rocco now faces censure in an election year.

    The Rich matter was just the beginning of Rocco’s ten minute rant. Rocco then started discussing nepotism in the district. He stated he requested information on how many OUSD administrators had relatives working in OUSD. He stated he was told that 16 administrators have relatives working for the district. Rocco went on to “wonder out loud” if the relatives of the top district administrators would ever receive a bad review from their supervisors who know they are related to top administrators. Rocco’s next subject of his rant was the public call for his resignation by community activist Fred Smoller. Rocco presented a number of newspapers on Smoller in an unorganized rambling rant.
    (CLICK ON: ).

    It was during this part of the Rocco rant that Trustee John Ortega (who sits next to Rocco) stated aloud that he was leaving. Rocco replied to Ortega “That’s fine if your bored…”. As Ortega stands to leave, Rocco adds “Some day tell us about your brother who was employed here”. At that point, Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Cohen gasps loudly and covers her mouth as Ortega turns and hovers above Rocco. Ortega standing over Rocco tells him he should be quiet as the room is transfixed on the scene playing out. Rocco refuses to yield and replies “No I don’t think I need to…”. The exchange continues with Ortega hovering and leaning in above the seated Rocco as Ortega tells Rocco “Your not here for the children…” and accuses Rocco of personalizing “it” by now mentioning employee names. Ortega continues as Rocco now leaning back in his seat stares up at the angry Ortega who continues “you’re talking about a brother of mine who passed away”. At that point Rocco replied to Ortega “Wasn’t it of drugs? Wasn’t it of drugs?”

    Up to that point Nichols had sat mesmerized watching the exchange between the two trustees take place as Godley seated next to her calmly looked on. Smith (who had earlier turned away to avoid watching Ortega and Rocco) now made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Stammering, Nichols barely found the words to explain the motion had no debate. The vote for the motion carried 5 yes to Rocco’s one no. As Nichols adjourned the meeting, Rocco yelled out that the Board is “dysfunctional” as Godley gets up to quickly move between Ortega and Rocco. As Godley approaches, Ortega loudly tells Godley to call the District Attorney. In the Board Room parking lot the controversy continued as Rocco was confronted by an OUSD Administrator who tells Rocco he can pick on him, but to leave his wife out of it.

    Community Reaction to Censorship
    The community watchdog group the Greater Orange Communities Organization released a community editorial over the weekend calling the OUSD September 14th Meeting Censorship “ an attack on the democratic institutions that the basic rights of a free and informed society are dependent on” and further stated that “the censorship shows clear evidence of hypocrisy on the part of the current OUSD Administration” (CLICK ON: ). In a community email, the watchdog group, while not supporting the eccentric Rocco, reacted harshly to Kim Nichols and Wes Poutsma’s sponsorship of the motion of censure characterizing the Nichols move as “political posturing in an election year that is full of hypocrisy considering at the beginning of the same meeting she publicly discussed personnel matters regarding Dr. Linda Bartom”. The groups email went on to state:
    “While Rocco’s statements towards Ortega were ugly and indefensible, two wrongs do not make a right. Rocco has been on the Board for two years, to move now during an election cycle to deal with his unusual behavior on a weak charge, that will span three Board meetings, plus using expensive staff time and legal counsel time for personal revenge is not following the Board’s own Ten Top Core Values. Number two of that Core Value list states: All available resources will be used to ensure student success. While OUSD just had two more schools identified as Improvement Schools by the state, OUSD is focusing on petty name calling. This is not how this Board and Administration will lead this district from Good to Great. Clearly the publicity from this month long process will lead the district once again from Good to Embarrassed

    The political ramifications appear to be coming quickly with a report on the OC BLOG posted by Education Alliance founder Mark Bucher that Richard McKee who successfully brought a Brown Act violation against the OUSD Board has filed a public records act request. The post also states that the censorship could possibly be a criminal act of altering public records. (CLICK ON:

    Meanwhile….Ben Rich to get a pay hike…sort of….
    At the Censored September 14th Meeting, Trustee Rocco inquired about former Villa Park H.S. Principal Ben Rich being made Richland Continuation High School Principal. He was told by OUSD Superintendent Dr. Godley that a decision had not been made yet. Since that meeting, Rich has indeed been made Principal of Richland H.S.

    On page 75 of the September 28th Board Agenda, Consent Agenda Item 14L (these items are automatically approved unless pulled for a separate vote and discussion by a trustee) increases the Richland principal’s pay. The item “Alternative Programs Reorganization” proposes to change the pay scale of the Principal of Richland High School by changing the position from Principal, Continuation School, to Principal, Alternative Schools to reflect “increased responsibilities which are to include the development and expansion of areas of alternative education”.

    The four regular OUSD High School Principals (including Villa Park H.S.) are at OUSD Leadership pay range 118 which is approximately $94,600 – $119,000 a year. The current OUSD pay range 111 for the Principal, Continuation School is approximately $90,700 to $114,000. The new position of Principal, Alternative Schools will be at OUSD pay range 114 which is $92,388 to $116,232. The agenda item states the staff recommends to the Board authorize the position and pay changes and “the assignment of the incumbent to the position of Principal, Alternative Schools. Richland H.S. was called on Monday September 25, and the secretary who answered the telephone was asked who the principal of Richland H.S. was? Her answer was, “Ben Rich”.

    The next Orange Unified School Board Meeting: September 28, 2006Closed Session will begin at 6:30 pm, Regular Session remains at 7:30 pm
    To view the ENTIRE September 28, 2006 Agenda CLICK ON:

    Orange Unified Schools Digest is an independent news service of
    “Independent, Local, UNCENSORED News and Viewpoints”

    This further goes to show that the board has completely lost control.
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