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    New School Year, New School Board, New Attitudes

    (September 5, 2006) -- Parents and taxpayers should welcome major positive developments at the Long Beach Unified School District, significant in substance and in atmosphere.

    As first flashed on's front page on August 22, LBUSD's governing board voted 5-0 to support an item advanced by newly elected Boardmembers Dr. David Barton (agendizer and motion-maker) and Michael Ellis (backer and second), directing the Superintendent to provide the Board with a report on at least three options for broadcasting School Board meetings on TV and the internet, including possible costs and ideas to offset any such costs.

    Boardmembers Barton and Ellis, victorious in the recent election cycle with backing by the Teachers Ass'n of LB, did a real public service with this item. It was a watershed moment, perhaps the first time since invention of television that the televising LB School Board meetings (done by a number of districts elsewhere) has finally been seriously pursued for parents and taxpayers in CA's third largest school district.

    Yes, the subject came up a few years ago in a School Board "workshop" when no action could be taken (and a now-former Superintendent seemed to treat the idea as blood poison). Yes, a respected Boardmember during this period was openly hostile to the idea. Yes, former School Board member/president, now 2nd district Councilwoman. Suja Lowenthal said nice things about televising board meetings but somehow nothing happened.

    But on Aug. 22, prior paralysis and posturing were blessedly absent, and past was prologue, in a 25-minute discussion marked by graciousness. Former School Board candidate and long-time taxpayer watchdog Jeannine McManigal-Ball (who for a time spent her own time and resources to try and videotape meetings but was stymied by technical and other hurdles) commended the new Boardmembers for advancing the item. And then she publicly credited LBUSD's changed management with a more open, businesslike attitude. This was right-on...and her graciousness was reciprocated by Boardmember Mary Stanton...who openly remarked on the positive tone set by her testimony.

    Yes, some Boardmembers were understandably agnostic in advancing the item. "This is a request for information," School Board president Jon Meyer accurately noted in running a businesslike meeting...and yes, the motion was limited to seeking a report on options from the Superintendent. That's fine...and the item is now set for discussion on the merits today (Sept. 5).

    It's premature to predict the outcome of this. We remain unabashedly evangelical about televising Board meetings and offer constructive suggestions regarding the Superintendent's report in a separate editorial posting shortly.

    And in another major step forward, the Superintendent's report on televising School Board meetings, and today's School Board agenda with all of its backup materials, are now accessible on demand 24/7 on LBUSD's website.

    Posting those materials addressed some (not all) of the substance of an August 22 item agendized by Boardmember Ellis (backed by Boardmember Barton) which called for online posting of agenda backup materials plus some public record school board litigation materials.

    On Aug. 22, the Superintendent noted that the Board's agenda had already been posted online for some time (without backup material) with plans to add backup materials in time for the now-starting school year...which was done.

    In response to Boardmember Ellis' agenda item, Boardmember Mary Stanton, a long-time incumbent, offered to post another item: Boardmembers' financial disclosure Form 700 (a basic public record conflict of interest disclosure routinely completed by public officials.

    The item hit a few bumps when Boardmember Ellis seemed unsure about what form Boardmember Stanton was proposing, and Boardmember Williams voiced reluctance to post litigation related materials (even public record) without input from LBUSD's counsel.

    Although Boardmember Ellis' item as proposed lost on a 3-2 vote (Yes: Barton, Ellis; No: Meyer, Williams, Stanton)...on today's Sept. 5 school board agenda, Boardmember Stanton seeks to revisit her own proposal to post Boardmembers' conflict of interest forms online.

    Boardmember Stanton's item proposes: "In the spirit of complete transparency for the members of the Board of Education and the public it serves, the Superintendent shall direct appropriate staff to prepare materials for publication on the district website pertaining to the necessary public documents relating to conflict of interest. Specifically, CA Form 700 from the Fair Political Practices Commission and any other public records documents to demonstrate the lack of conflict of interest on the part of Board Members where district business is concerned."

    Wow. We are witnessing a sea change here. There were multiple catalysts for this but the bottom line is, it's good...because openness and accessibility are good things in public institutions.

    They strengthen and humanize the unspoken contract between the governing and the governed. At LBUSD, they will display its striving for excellence as well as inevitable issues that will be openly resolved...and frequently unreported common decencies.

    At the August 22 Board meeting, we initially groaned on seeing a laundry list of retirees, many of whom were acknowledged individually by Boardmembers and given an opportunity to speak. Then we heard the presentations, each one a story of someone who'd devoted much of their life to LBUSD and its students (including some multiple generations)..

    We wish those stories had been on television...but there'll be more. With luck, stay tuned.

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