By Alex Thomsen
On March 10, the Harwood Unified Union School District Board voted to rescind its original February 17 vote to eliminate a team of teachers at Harwood Middle School. The March 10 vote was not on the warned agenda. Instead, a motion was made by Kelley Hackett, Waterbury, to add an action item to the agenda to consider rescinding the initial vote. This vote passed with support from 56.5% of the board. Later in the meeting, a motion was made to postpone the vote until the following meeting so as to allow for proper warning and community input. The superintendent confirmed to the board that there was no pressing need to vote on the topic and that the vote could wait. The same group of board members then proceeded to vote down the motion to wait a meeting, and went on to vote to rescind the board’s properly warned February 17 decision.
Regardless of how people feel about the decision to reduce teachers at Harwood, the board’s behavior was wrong at best and intentionally deceptive at worst. The secretary of state’s handbook on Open Meeting Law states. “We recommend that last-minute agenda items, especially those requiring board action, be added at a meeting only in an emergency. In other situations, a better practice is to handle items that were not included on the posted agenda at the next regular meeting, or if necessary, to call a special meeting so the public gets notice of the item and has an opportunity to attend and participate.”
What makes the actions of this board particularly egregious is that the returning board members who voted to add the topic to the March 10 agenda are the same board members who have been the quickest to argue for the importance of transparency and making sure the public has the opportunity to engage, especially when the board is voting on a topic with which they disagree, such as school closures or mergers.
We have examples in our national politics of people using fundamentals of democracy such as voting rights and the reliability of our electoral process to further their political gains. We have politicians who claim that the national election was “rigged” and yet who say the politicians from their own party who were elected at the state level were fairly elected. We have seen the damage that this does to our democracy.
At our local government level, transparency and community engagement should not be used to further a political agenda and then ignored when it suits the board members. The Open Meeting Law exists to ensure a level of neutrality and fairness in governance. Our elected officials owe it to the community to follow the appropriate procedures, whether it furthers their agenda or not. Trust in our school board and elected officials begins with believing that they value community input and transparency and will prioritize them, regardless of how it impacts their chance of passing a vote.
The board owes it to the community to rescind its vote, properly warn the topic on the agenda, debate the topic and provide opportunity for public comment consistent with the Open Meeting Law. As community members, we should demand this of the officials we elected to represent us regardless of how we feel about the outcome of the vote.
Thomsen, Waterbury, is a former member of the HUUSD Board.