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Sunday, June 22, 2014
Ortega's choice: Leadership or Tragedy?
Viewpoints of Greater
OUSD's President John Ortega's choice:
Leadership or Tragedy?
-Viewpoint of the Greater
When Orange County Sheriff John Ortega was elected to the Orange Unified School Board in 2001 as part of the Citizen's Board takeover from the Orange Recall, he and the other Board Members elected moderate conservative Trustee Robert Viviano as OUSD Board President. Viviano had been marginalized by the radical Jacobson Majority of the Education Alliance slate that had taken over the OUSD Board.
Viviano quickly worked to bring sweeping changes to OUSD in just one year. Refusing to "buyout" the handpicked Jacobson Majority Superintendent, ...Viviano made a standing weekly Friday afternoon appointment with Superintendent Barbara Van Otterloo to meticulously go over her week's activities (local legend says that time was purposefully picked by Viviano because it interfered with a long standing golf tee time the Superintendent had). Within a year the Superintendent had retired with no buy-out of her contract at taxpayers expense. Vivano also ditched the political ally attorney firms of the defeated trustees and brought sweeping reforms to Board Policies. Those included: a second "public comment" section being added to the end of the OUSD Board Agenda; for the first time OUSD Board meetings were broadcast over the local cable stations; and Vivano's crowning achievement- a rotation system was established for all OUSD Board Officers so a majority slate could not hold unchecked power. Viviano started the "on-the road" Board Meetings rotating the meetings between the OUSD high schools and middle schools to connect to the community and build back trust in the OUSD Board. To re-build employee moral a yearly pancake breakfast was instituted with Van Otterloo and district administrators serving the employees.
The leadership and accomplishments of the OUSD Board under President Robert Viviano has never been equaled since-until this year.
A young John Ortega first rotated into the office of the OUSD President under the Recall Reform rules and by most accounts it was not a successful year. Years later, as the OUSD Board faced the prospect of Trustee Steve Rocco becoming an officer under the Recall Reforms (after a failed Rocco Recall attempt) , the Board Majority ditched the rotation of officers.
A lot has happened in the almost fifteen years since the Orange Recall for the OUSD Board and Ortega. Ortega left the Sheriff's department; Rocco, who several times during his years on the OUSD Board almost goaded Ortega to fisticuffs was re-districted out of his Trustee Area; Ortega who has never faced an election opponent was floated as a possible Congressional Candidate. And of course-two OUSD Bond measures were defeated.
After several years, Ortega split with most of the other Citizen Trustees that were elected in 2001 (only Kathy Moffat and Rick Ledesma also remain on the Board). In December of 2014, after two tumultuous years of Trustee Tim Surridge as OUSD President the new Board majority turned to a wiser and mature Ortega to lead the OUSD Board in 2014.
Ortega not only rose to the occasion, but in his first six months surpassed expectations and he appeared on the way to rival the accomplishments of Robert Viviano. Ortega brought respect back to the OUSD Board meetings ending derisive and demeaning interrupting comments from the chair. He gave everyone a chance to fully speak- and disagreeing or agreeing in a respectful manner after all others have spoken. He took a page from Viviano and instituted a highly successful "on the road" meeting series about the facilities plans at the four comprehensive OUSD high schools that even other trustees gushed about how successful they were. He tried to place the Peralta issue outside of the politics of 2014 by extending the operators lease (this failed when the operator called for different terms). But above all he has been about to do what so many other's have failed to do...lead the Greater Orange Communities into approving a facilities Bond.
However, like a Shakespeare tragedy, one issue appears to stand in between Ortega's legacy and a tragic ending .
The question Ortega faces in the drawn out process over Superintendent Michael Christensen's on-going evaluation (and the rumored innuendo's of malfeasance) appears to be two simple issues: "evidence and politics". Those two issues appear to stand between Ortega's legacy as great leader or being just another radical politician.
Unfortunately tragedies become clearly "tragic" only in the finale act-but the foreshadowing of the end comes well before the curtain falls with the choices the players make.
Ortega is a product of Orange Unified. He often boasts about his OUSD high school days at El Modena High School and his long community ties. No one has ever questioned Ortega's sincerity of his love for his community and his goal of world class schools.
But, now all eyes are on OUSD President John Ortgea and the road he takes- the road of great leadership for the good of his community, or the road that leads to personal and community tragedy.
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