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Less Transparent Government Not an Option for School Boards

Despite news reports saying otherwise, school boards are exempt from new rules giving cities, counties and other public agencies permission to ignore California's open-meeting laws.

Although city councils and other elected bodies now have permission to be less transparent without breaking state open-meeting laws, school boards do not.

Officials at the said nothing has changed for them.

It’s been widely reported, both at Patch and other mainstream media outlets, that a last-minute addition to the state’s 2012-13 budget allows cities and counties to skip Brown Act requirements that they post meeting agendas 72 hours in advance. In addition, the new rules allow local boards and councils to forgo publicly disclosing actions taken during closed-session meetings.

However, school boards and governing bodies for community college districts do not have that option.  

“Obligations under the Brown Act remain fully in effect for school districts and colleges,” according to School Services of California, a consultant hired by school districts throughout the state, including Capo Unified. “Open meeting and ‘sunshine’ requirements come not only from the Brown Act but also from the education code, the California constitution, board policy and other sources.”

At Wednesday’s CUSD Board of Trustees meeting, Trustee John Alpay noted that the board’s own policy requires the district to follow the Brown Act.

“All agendas must be posted at least 72 hours prior to a meeting occurring so, regardless of what the law may be, board policy does dictate 72 hours,” he said.

The Legislature gave cities, counties, water boards and other public agencies the ability to opt out of the Brown Act’s requirements because the state no longer reimburses those agencies for the additional costs associated with posting the agendas.

In California, state mandates placed on local jurisdictions must be funded by the state. With Brown Act subsidies running nearly $100 million a year by some estimates, the state decided to suspend the mandates.

Nevertheless, most local agencies in South Orange County .

Unlike those agencies, school districts still have the ability to seek reimbursement, according to School Services.

Capo Unified has come under fire a number of times over alleged Brown Act violations. In addition to private citizens filing lawsuits claiming the law was broken (), the district attorney has investigated CUSD twice in the last five years for possible Brown Act violations.

In 2007, the D.A. wrote a 60-page report saying the then-school board inappropriately discussed anything under the sun under the guise of a superintendent evaluation. It concluded the district violated the Brown Act 13 times. However, none was considered for criminal prosecution. The report concluded with the assurance that, “Henceforth the Capistrano Unified School Board will diligently guard against Brown Act violations.”

Last year, the D.A. investigated the school district again. when they voted to in 2010-11. But Superintendent Joseph and interview the trustees.

Months later, in September, the D.A. released a final report saying it because they offered so many different versions of what happened behind closed doors.

Still, the report took the district to task for the “appearance” of Brown Act violations and an overall “toxic atmosphere” in which “meaningful discussion was replaced by facetious motions and political theatre.”

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