The official Sweetwater Union High School District calendar says the next board meeting will be held on January 28 at 6:00, the usual time board meetings are held. However, over the January 19–20 weekend, an enthusiastic blogger on the Reader website informed the community that the meeting would be changed to much earlier — 1 p.m.
Shortly after that, Star News reporter Allison Sampite tweeted that Sweetwater’s public spokesman, Manny Rubio, said it was his understanding that the Monday closed session of the board meeting would begin at 1:00 and the regular session at 2:30.
Indignation rippled through the South Bay at this seemingly arbitrary change in meeting time. Community members began to call the district and the Chula Vista mayor’s office to complain.
Then, on January 23, the Sweetwater Education Association put out a communiqué that contained a letter from member Helen Farias. The letter announced Brand’s intention to change the start time of the board meetings henceforth.
Farias responds: “This move is clearly intended to prevent district stakeholders from scrutinizing Board decisions, and will, in essence, silence students, parents, and community members. Not only will they be unable to personally speak to the board regarding school and student issues, teachers will not be able to represent [the Sweetwater Education Association] in large numbers regarding critical board actions.”
Finally, late Friday evening, January 25, the agenda for Monday’s board meeting was posted. Though the meeting will commence at the regular time, the agenda verifies that Brand has proposed changing the bylaws so that regular board meeting closed session will begin at 2:00, open session at 3:30, and “public communication will be held immediately following the open session or at 6:00, whichever comes first.”
Changing the time to earlier in the day (as the City of Chula Vista did last year) creates a host of problems: it changes the pool of candidates for elected seats; a person who has a full-time day job that requires his or her consistent presence would be excluded.
Sweetwater trustee Bertha Lopez is a kindergarten teacher. Lopez said in a January 25 interview that kindergarteners rely on consistency and that it will be disruptive for her classes if she attends all board-related functions.
After the agenda was released, Farias made additional comments via email: “Consider that during closed session critical items are decided: superintendent's evaluation, employee discipline matters, teacher releases (non-rehires), student expulsions, and LITIGATION issues. A 2 pm start time for closed session completely silences us [classified and certificated employees] in these matters. Imagine what would have happened if we had not been able to voice our concerns about [former, now-indicted, superintendent Jesus] Gandara, if we had not been able to completely fill Southwest High and demand board action.”
Another email is circulating from a group of parents that organized around overcrowding and Mello-Roos issues. The memo, addressed to “concerned neighbors and taxpayers,” notes that “Most of the general public won’t be able to attend the meeting at 3:30 to speak about the agenda items…if the district wants to be more transparent, why would they move their meetings to a time when most of us can’t attend?”
Board president Jim Cartmill did not return multiple phone calls.