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  • Saturday, October 07, 2006


    SPECIAL REPORT: Orange Unified Schools DIGEST

    OUSD Trustee Steve Rocco defiantly declares:
    “I will speak, I will talk, I will tell the people…”

    Rocco Ride Warning: Hold on tight. lots of twists and turns
    While clearly ignoring the unpredictable Orange Unified School District Trustee Steve Rocco (as they have for much of the last two years) would have saved the OUSD Board the month long “embarrassment” as OUSD Board President Kim Nichols (who is currently running for re-election) referred to her Rocco Censure Attempt, the Rocco Censure Rollercoaster continued its rapid roll across the Greater Orange Communities as a divided OUSD School Board voted 4-3 at their September 28th meeting in favor of holding a Public Hearing at their October 12th meeting to formally censure Trustee Rocco for comments he made at the September 14th meeting that he would of voted to fire former Villa Park High School Principal, now Principal on Special Assignment at Richland Continuation High School (but…not Principal of Richland High School) Ben Rich. Are you still holding on? The Rocco Censure Rollercoaster is coming back around.

    OUSD replaces "3 R's" with "3 C’s”:
    Censorship, Censure and the Constitution

    As many of the candidates challenging four of the OUSD Trustees in November sat in the audience watching along with the Principals and Vice Principals from most of the OUSD schools, the September 28th Orange School Board Meeting started with OUSD Superintendent Dr. Thomas Godley trying to explain why he authorized the censorship of the September 14th meeting broadcast to the community (Godley cut out the last part of the meeting where Rocco spoke of firing Ben Rich and Trustee Ortega faced off against Rocco: CLICK ON Godley stated that the censorship was aimed at protecting the district from “the risk of liability” because of remarks Rocco made during open session. Godley further stated that the “official” unaltered record was available from his office.

    Also in the audience was First Amendment scholar and President of Californians Aware, Richard McKee ( Speaking under Communications to the Board, McKee reviewed the free speech rights community members and Trustees have to speak at school board meetings as limited public forums in California. McKee reminded the board they had no right to restrain speech. He also contradicted Dr. Godley’s contention that the school district could be held liable for Rocco’s statements. McKee reminded the Board that the school district cannot be held liable for what individuals say at Board meetings. He also explained that the law identifies specific procedures and times when redaction of public records can take place. McKee also explained that the Board had no authority to protect individual “privacy rights” that that only the employee owns those rights.

    During comments on the agenda item to approve the October 10th Public Hearing on Censure, McKee spoke again. He took no position on the merits of the censure, but noted that the Resolution of Censure had legal problems. He again noted the employer does not act on behalf of an employee’s right of privacy and stated the Resolution appears to misinterpret the Brown Act. McKee noted that the Brown Act does not mandate Closed Sessions, the act just restricts what can be legally be discussed in a session closed to the public if a public body wanted to use a closed session. Rocco has steadfastly refused to attend OUSD’s Closed Session because he feels all public business should be conducted in public. McKee’s explanation of the Brown Act (which many consider him an authority on) seemed to vindicate Rocco’s minority opinion that closed sessions do not have to take place at all and that all work of any elected body could take place in public regardless of how uncomfortable that may be in areas of personnel and litigation, or as in the case of school districts, students.

    As the discussion turned to the agenda item for a vote to hold a public hearing at the October 12th Board Meeting, Nichols began reading a written statement explaining why she was pursuing the censure regardless of how distracting and “distasteful” it was for the community. In light of the information on the First Amendment expert McKee had just told the Board, Nichols prepared text made her appear oddly unprepared despite her statement that she had researched the censure. In her statement Nichols continually referenced Brown Act violations of Rocco despite McKee’s clarification of the law. The local OUSD watchdog group, the Greater Orange Communities Group in a released statement commented:

    “…after what Richard McKee told the Board, and the fact that Rocco refuses to attend any Closed Sessions that are under the Brown Act, Nichols again appeared to be searching for a reason for her actions instead of acting reasonably.”

    Taking the Rich out of Richland

    The clear irony of the evening was that if Nichols real desire was to protect Ben Rich as an employee, or Godley’s intention really was to protect the district from litigation regarding Ben Rich, the strategy clearly backfired as Rocco’s comments about Rich would have quickly been forgotten if Nichols had not pursued censure. Even Godley mentioned Ben Rich by name during the evening when a citizen addressed the Board about Rich’s transfer to Richland. An apparently frustrated Godley commented after the citizen spoke that Rich was not the Principal of Richland as local media had reported (both the Orange City News and Orange Net News had reported Rich was now Principal of Richland. Orange Net News reported it had called Richland and when they asked the secretary who was the Richland Principal, she stated it was Ben Rich). Godley clarified that Rich was a “Principal on Special Assignment” at Richland, and not the Richland Principal.

    Board Split in 4-3 Vote on
    October 12th Censure Public Hearing

    Rocco began comments on the Nichols’ Censure Motion by asking staff who had done the legal work on the Resolution of Censure. Dr. Godley responded that it was done by Spencer Covert’s law firm, and billed at his hourly rate. When pressed by Rocco on the total cost, Dr. Godley stated he did not know “off hand” the total OUSD was billed for the legal work (in July 2006, a month after authorizing $225,000 to Parker and Covert, the OUSD Board authorized an additional $50,000 to Parker and Covert to cover a fee increased to $195 an hour CLICK ON: ).

    Rocco then went through a list of times when the Board, in particular Kim Nichols, spoke in open session about personnel matters. Rocco also referred to the infamous Santiago Revocation Report. That report released the Social Security number of Sarah Bench-Solario as well as personal telephone and email addresses of employees and parents. Numerous meetings dealing with the Santiago Affair involved numerous public discussions of personnel discussions involved in that case ( ).
    Rocco stated that if the OUSD Board censured him it would be like an honor because he sees it as retaliation from the Board for defying the majority. Rocco defiantly stated “I will speak, I will talk, I will tell the people.”

    Trustee Wes Poutsma used his discussion time to bash Rocco as the two again got into a tit for tat. As is customary, after his input about Rocco, Poutsma used the parliamentary rule “call for the question” in an attempt to cut off debate and discussion. That motion was defeated 5-2 with only Poutsma and an otherwise silent Trustee John Ortega voting yes.

    As the discussion continued after defeating Poutsma’s motion, Trustee Rick Ledesma explained why he would vote against censure. Ledesma stated while he does not condone the comments or actions of Rocco, the public should be the ultimate judge on the words and actions of elected officials. Ledesma later asked for a legal opinion on whether there is precedent for censured officials to undertake legal action. OUSD Attorney Spencer Covert stated there have been legal matters brought against elected bodies over censure, but he did not elaborate.

    In a similar statement, Melissa Smith too stated while many times she is appalled and dismayed at statements Rocco makes, she questioned whether a censure of Rocco would have its intended effects. Smith stated the public had other mechanisms to use and that if the Rocco issue is to be resolved, the “public is the place”. Both Ledesma and Smith were praised by the Greater Orange Communities Organization for “showing courage, leadership and intellectual insight into the full impact of their votes on the Greater Orange Communities in opposing this ill advised and costly Nichols inspired “embarrassment” and distraction to the focus on education entirely created by the OUSD Trustees themselves”. In addition, the group noted “Ledesma and Smith in an election year could have easily voted for censure, instead both again showed integrity and genuine leadership by voting for the good of the whole community”.

    Moffat, who in her year as OUSD Board President tried to control Rocco with threats of legal consequences for disrupting a public meeting (which appears illegal on Moffat’s part as a prior restraint on speech) used her customary rhetorical questioning style to illicit input from staff to support her position that censure was to send a message and provide guidance to Rocco.

    Only Trustee John Ortega made no statement. In fact all evening Ortega only spoke to vote as many in the community saw his face-off with Rocco (CLICK ON: at the Censored September 14th meeting as the real issue behind both the Godley censorship and the Nichols censure move.

    Rocco requested a roll call vote. The vote to hold a public hearing at the October 12th meeting was 4-3. Ledesma, Smith and Rocco voted “No”. Nichols, Poutsma, Ortega and Moffat voted “Yes”. At the October 12th Public Hearing it will take a two-thirds vote to pass the Nichols Resolution of Censure.

    “Gains not significant enough”

    Overshadowed by the Board’s early evening preoccupation with the Nichols Censure motion, for the first time in the era of standardized testing, the OUSD Administration finally faced the reality of the OUSD State Test scores. While for years the OUSD Administration had been pointing to “increasing scores” and spent millions on the Focus on Results program, Godley in a prepared video appears to have embraced his own Good to Great policy of “Confronting the Brutal Facts” and reported that the test score gains that OUSD had been boasting about for years, (even as recently as September 1st, 2006 CLICK ON: ) fall far short of the goals needed to meet the growing demands of federal No Child Left Behind mandates. The conformation of what the Greater Orange Communities Organization had been warning about did not bring a swift “We told you so” from the watchdog group, but instead a call to “Focus on the Problems” .The long time watchdog critic of the millions spent of Focus on Results has warned since the approval of the controversial Focus on Results the district was not addressing the real problems in the district as the OUSD Administration used “increasing” test scores ( barely comparable to statewide test increases despite the millions OUSD spent on Focus on Results) to justify the controversial program. The groups statement in part stated:

    “Godley is correct in his statement that OUSD’s much touted test score gains are not significant enough for the NCLB requirements and the gaps in the subgroups have not improved in four years. The one-size fits all approach of Cohen’s Focus on Results mandates have not addressed the issues of the gaps in learning that OUSD has long ignored and Godley has now finally acknowledged. The administration has long known they are required to address those gaps under federal law. Instead, the OUSD Board has rubber stamped a feel-good two million dollar boondoggle that Cohen compared to “marriage encounter training”. Perhaps now, the district will “divorce” itself of the worthless “marriage encounter training” and the whole community can move forward to improve OUSD and Focus on the Real Problems.”

    Even as the watchdog group was giving Godley rare praise of finally being candid with the Board and public on OUSD’s testing scores and subgroup gaps, it again criticized OUSD Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Cohen for her latest support of OUSD’s Focus on Results. In the same video report as Godley’s candid report and his calling for a need to increase scores “at a greater rate”, Cohen (who in her last presentation before the OUSD Board on Focus on Results compared the program to “marriage encounter training”) now called the controversial program (in a classic Cohen morph): “a highly qualified sustained professional development program that exposes current administrators and teachers to current research and best practices”. Cohen failed to mention that “exposure” provided is to merely read a recent educational article at the expensive monthly meetings. For a good part of the OUSD Focus on Results program those articles were pirated works from educational magazines copied without permission of the author or publication. The copyrighted works were photocopied and the Focus on Results logo was placed on them (CLICK ON: ) as they were handed out freely.

    Also during Godley’s Test Report video Cohen speaks of another controversial aspect of the Focus on Results program, the “Structured Walk-Thru”. The “walk-thru”, with no research supporting it, has been criticized for being nothing more than an expensive “bulletin board” check as groups of high paid administrators walk into classrooms for a few minutes and look at student’s posted work and what is written on the chalkboard. In a moment of irony on the tape (almost funny if it wasn’t that the waste of millions of educational tax dollars is so tragic), Cohen is explaining in the video about the Focus on Results “walk-thru” as the “walk-thru” person seen in the video as Cohen talks is shown in a classroom walking up to check….THE BULLETIN BOARD! To see the result of what a day’s work of high priced administrators produces in an OUSD Focus on Results “walk-thu”: CLICK ON .

    The first meeting in December will be the official start of any newly elected Board member from the November election. However, in a strangely worded Agenda Item on the October 12 Board Agenda (page 7), any new members maybe two weeks late.

    In Item 12 C, the OUSD Administration is recommending two meetings be moved in December, yet only one is now scheduled. Item 12 C recommends the Dec 7th meeting be moved to December 14th. It also recommends that a December 6th meeting, which is not currently publicly scheduled, be moved to December 13th. While a loss of all four incumbents in the November election is unlikely, it is within the realm of reality and the meeting move would keep any loosing Trustee in place for two weeks longer.

    After the Orange Recall, the recalled Board remained in power for a month during which time they scheduled Special Meetings to try and protect their pet administrators with poison pill additions to their contracts. In addition, contract extensions and pay hikes were given to administrators including then Superintendent Barbara Van Otterloo. Former Trustee Bob Viviano took matters into his own hands by secretly swearing in the newly elected Board members and then calling a Special Meeting to undo everything the former Board had done.

    Local community leaders in emails have stated this newest election year change, in light of the past month of controversy, may be ill advised. In a community message, the Greater Orange Communities Organization stated the election year meeting musical chairs: “looks bad, feels bad, and smells bad from every angle you approach it. After censoring a public meeting broadcast, even the appearance of interfering with an election by the OUSD Administration for the non- emergency stated reasons in the agenda item is another category five public relations disaster waiting to swallow OUSD and the Greater Orange Communities. The item is not needed to help kids, it appears purely political as it is now written”.

    The next Orange Unified School Board Meeting: October 12, 2006
    Closed Session will begin at 6:30 pm, Regular Session remains at 7:30 pm
    To view the ENTIRE October 12, 2006 Agenda CLICK ON:

    Dear Editor,

    At its October 12th meeting, the Orange Unified School Board (OUSD) is slated to consider the censure of Trustee Steven Rocco. Censure is an "official expression of disapproval" which legislative bodies take to publicly acknowledge improper conduct by one of their members. The Board should take this action.

    Up until recently, Mr. Rocco has been viewed as a nuisance whose eccentric behavior could be isolated and tolerated. All that changed at the September 14th Board meeting, when Mr. Rocco said that a recently transferred principal should be "fired." He then made disparaging and inflammatory remarks about the deceased family member of another Board member. A motion to adjourn was quickly adopted. The videotape of this part of the meeting was subsequently edited by the superintendent because he said he feared the district could be successfully sued.

    The courts afford members of legislative bodies broad rights to express their views. This helps ensure we have robust and comprehensive debate on critical public issues. However, students, OUSD employees, and other Board members have rights too, including the right to privacy and due process.

    Trustee Rocco's failure to acknowledge these rights is a serious matter because, as a trustee, he is privy to employee personnel files and student records and sensitive district correspondence, including, among other things, allegations about individuals that may later prove to be false. Rocco's erratic public behavior undermines public trust and confidence in the Board. It also impairs the district's efforts to retain and attract talented administrators, teachers, and classified employees: who, after all, would want to work for a district where sensitive personnel issues are discussed in public, and where trustees make public pronouncements about who should be fired without having listened to, and carefully considered, all the facts?

    It may be for the courts to decide whether his behavior is illegal. But common sense tells us that it is unethical and unprofessional, and just plain wrong.

    One of the lessons of the Orange County Bankruptcy (and the current sex scandal involving Mark Foley) is that legislators have a responsibility to let the public know when one of their colleagues is behaving badly. By censoring Trustee Rocco, the Board will send a message to—Mr. Rocco, the community, and perhaps some future judge-- that they are doing all they can—given the constraints they face—to show that they will not condone and leave unpunished improper behavior by one of their own.

    Fred Smoller
    Smoller is obsessed with Rocco.
    With regards to your rant titled "OUSD replaces "3 R's" with "3 C’s”:Censorship, Censure and the Constitution" -
    The author and publisher of this article ignore the consequences of openly attacking an employee without notice to that employee. They ignore the established procedures of this and every other right-thinking school board to deal with personnel matters in closed session unless the employee requests open session. They ignore the clear legislative policy of the Brown Act which gives public agencies the right to handle such things in closed session unless the employee wishes otherwise. They ignore our by-laws providing for notice to our employees and requiring that board members keep confidential matters confidential. They misunderstand the obligations of an employer to not violate the privacy rights of its employees. And they ignore the obvious negative practical consequences of abusing the power of the position by attacking employees in public session without notice, including the chilling effect it would have on hiring and retaining quality personnel. Somebody needs to get the word out to these idiots that presenting a slanted obviously incomplete version of the issue like this does nothing to advance any legitimate interest, and only serves to cause us to question the motives of the author and publisher.
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