A Sweetwater Union High School District board meeting was scheduled for March 17. The trustees were to consider several contentious issues: the annual evaluation of superintendent Ed Brand (which is months overdue); negotiations with the teachers (who have voted to strike and are close to doing so); and putting up district property for sale to buy a new building (even though the district property is already listed for sale.)
But, late March 16, the Sweetwater Education Association put out this notice: “This evening we received word that the tomorrow's SUHSD Board meeting has been cancelled. The District claims that this is because [trustee] Mr. Cartmill is ill. He may well be incapacitated, but that is not a legitimate reason to call of this meeting. Even with Mr. Cartmill out, there is still a quorum, still a majority to conduct District business…” (Three boardmembers constitute a quorum, according to board bylaws.)
But on the evening of the 16th, if the general public clicked on the district website, they would have seen that the board meeting was still planned. The district did not make a website announcement until mid-morning the next day.
Though the district said the meeting was canceled due to Jim Cartmill’s “pending surgery” and labor negotiations, several people reported seeing Cartmill at work on March 17 and later sitting down in a smoothie joint.
Many — including trustee Bertha Lopez — considered the reasons for cancellation spurious. As the day went on and the district rolled the “Meeting Cancelled” notice on the marquee, word went around the community that there would be a board meeting.
So, at 4:00, teachers showed up to picket, setting up chairs in the parking lot with the names of the missing trustees and conducting a mock meeting. An impersonator of Brand was also there to participate in the non-meeting. Every news outfit in town also showed up.
Outside the boardroom, Lopez told the Reader that it was ridiculous for the meeting to be postponed. She said she had received legal counsel that the trustees could hold a meeting. She also stated, “We need this meeting to settle these negotiations. If there is a strike, 150 kids at each school site will be herded into an auditorium — that’s not education and that’s not what my students deserve.”
She said she had an email from trustee John McCann stating he would really like to see the meeting take place, which led her to believe McCann would show.
Meanwhile, trustee Pearl Quiñones waited in the parking lot behind the district office on the chance that a meeting would begin and her presence would be needed.
Lopez took her place on the dais, ultimately Quiñones left, and sometime after 6:00, McCann showed up. He told NBC7 that he was not there for the board meeting as he had been advised that it would be a Brown Act violation for three members to be together after the meeting had been cancelled.
The Sweetwater Education Association summarized its view in the March 16 email:
“The truth is that Ed Brand and Co. are scared that with Mr. Cartmill absent, there will not be enough votes to secure the purchase of a new district office building, $1.3 million in iPads, and a stellar evaluation for the Superintendent himself.”
Cartmill has been a strong supporter of Brand and his initiatives. But one more reason surfaced that might have put the kibosh on the board meeting.
The district’s agenda states, “As part of the district Asset Utilization Plan, the property located at 435 Third Avenue, Chula Vista, CA, will be sold in order to fund the lease/purchase of new District Offices and Corporate Yard.
But Marc Litchman, CEO of Plan Nine, a trust that holds the title to some Sweetwater property, said maybe the meeting couldn’t go forward because of the letter Plan Nine’s attorney sent the district on March 15.
Here is a partial excerpt from that letter: “This letter is to put the District on notice that the Third Avenue Property is one of the properties covered by the Exchange Agreement between the District and Plan Nine. Under the terms of the Exchange Agreement, any proceeds from the development or sale of the Third Avenue Property are contractually committed to be used to pay down the Bonds. Note the Exchange Agreement is still in full force and effect and has not been modified or amended.”
New development: Wendy Fry of NBC7 reported on March 18 at midday that Pearl Quiñones pleaded guilty to a felony and a misdemeanor. She will be stepping down from the board.