Escondido Union School District Board: ‘Another Embarrassment Parts I-II’

Another Escondido Embarrassment, Part II (Dec. 15)

Jose Fragozo had to phone it in again last night, but the connection was much better. Even though he was given very short notice to obtain a room, with ADA accessibility, he was able to do so at the NCLA office at 370 Mulberry Drive, San Marcos.

After the Pledge of Allegiance, the next relevant item on the agenda was the approval of the agenda. Which was passed before Fragozo was able to ask public comments be moved before the election of officers on the agenda.

Paulette Donnellon

Paulette Donnellon

President Paulette Donnellon then moved forward with that election, by asking that the Board reaffirm the election that had been held at the December 10th meeting that had been adjourned. Her suggestion was quickly moved by Zesty Harper, and seconded.

The four members present in the room voted for the slate: Joan Gardner President, Zesty Harper Vice President, Gary Altenburg Clerk, and Superintendent Luis Ibarra as Secretary.

Fragozo announced that a member of the public wished to address the Board concerning the election. Rick Paul asserted that the change of procedure, the rotation of officers that would have made Fragozo President of the Board, should be delayed until after this Friday’s hearing regarding the restraining order. Gardner said that this was not possible due to California law regarding the organizational procedures for school boards.

Fragozo noted that the election of officers on the EUSD Board of Education had been a matter of rotation for the last twenty years. The Board had made the change behind closed doors. There had been no transparency. It was not fair. It was not done correctly. The rotation had been a democratic process. He thought that the invalidation of Brown Act violation would mean that the officers would be elected in the same manner as at the December 10th meeting.

Ibarra was asked if the reaffirmation of officers was okay. He basically said yes. Fragozo asked are you sure? Evidently they were. The slate was once again placed in nomination and approved, with four yea votes, and, this time, Fragozo’s nay vote.

Joan Gardner

Joan Gardner

Gardner then took over the meeting. The next item was public comment. Chris Nava was the first to speak. She was very saddened by the decision to go in this direction. Had the Superintendent ever bothered to file a police report? Had there been any effort of reconciliation or mediation?

Gardner again noted that she had known Fragozo for a long time. The idea that he would be violent or in any way a danger to students was unthinkable. Was he passionate? Yes. Was he in your face? Yes. Were his views on education not in harmony with theirs? Yes.

Was that a reason for a Temporary Restraining Order? No. No. No.  This would send a message to others who might question the status quo, and make them afraid to stand up to the status quo, afraid of a restraining order.

Mark Evilsizer, vice president of the Palomar Community College District Governing Board, spoke next from Fragozo’s location. He had known Jose Fragozo for many years, and knew him to be a good husband and father who would never harm anyone. None of his actions warranted a TRO. Fragozo had been elected to represent English language learners, and change the curriculum to improve their outcome, and demand that change. The Board should find a way to move forward to that goal.

Shannon Lienhart, Professor at Palomar followed Evilsizer from the remote site. She said she preferred to be at Jose’s site, because she felt safer than at the Board’s site. This was a poisonous activity unacceptable in a democratic society. Shame on you, she ended.

John Halcon, Member of the Palomar Board, and Professor of Multilingual/multicultural Education at CSUSM, also spoke from Fragozso’s site. He avowed the Fragozo had been duly elected and questioned that the moment before he, the only elected Latino on the Board, was to become President of the Board, he was suddenly moved out because of an accusation that he was a danger. Ludicrous.

Under your leadership, Halcon told the Board, there had been a failure of leadership to protect the safety of students and teachers. It had taken 14 minutes to call 911 because of the lack of leadership.

He was, of course, referring to the Oakhill incident. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/sep/07/escondido-police-gunman-policy-oak-hill/

John Valdez, Professor Emeritus of Multicultural Studies at Palomar, also in the room with Fragozo, said he had lived in Escondido since 1973. He reminded the Board that the EUSD had never had a Latino board member before Fragozo, and Fragozo’s voice was vital to Latino students. He advised the Board to find a better way to resolve the issue. His parents had taught him to speak up for justice, and he begged the Board to put aside their differences, everyone needed to work together.

Jose Fragozo

Jose Fragozo

Kamillah Brown again noted her objection to the lack of professionalism shown by the Board’s mailing of the letter to parents and staff. One of the parents who had received the letter, was a pupil of hers in her volunteer work to help English language learners.

That parent had brought the letter to Brown for an explanation. Culturally, Brown stressed, many students were very under-represented. She encouraged everyone to rise to a higher state of professionalism. Her children were now in high school, and she had learned that the two districts (EUSD and EU High School District) did not work together.

Many students were not adequately prepared for high school courses. The situation with Fragozo was a distraction that took away attention to the needs of children.

Tania Bowman told the Board that she had known Fragozo for a while, and had many strong disagreements with him, but, never, in any of those heated discussions, did she ever feel threatened by Fragozo. Taking the matter to court should have been the last resort, even though, she as a lawyer, benefited from such use.

Addressing Donnellon, Bowman said that the letter she had sent out to parents and staff had false information since it said a restraining order had been served on Fragozo—nothing about it being a temporary order, and Donnellon had cherry picked what information to send in that letter. When did the Board decide to send the letter?  Was it in a closed session? Bowman asked.

Bowman noted that Fragozo had a strong disagreement with the other Board members over the recent report on the failure of the district to provide a strong curriculum for English language learners. Gardner, Bowman noted, had been on the Board for many years, and there had been no improvement of that curriculum.

Georgine Tomasi said she was saddened by what the Board had done to Fragozo. She had a passion for kids in common with Fragozo. Had she been elected to the Board, she might have a restraining order place against her. She too had heated discussions with Fragozo and never once felt threatened. She said the Board had created a three ring circus that was taking away from the work that should be done for the kids.

John Ward observed “This is a mess!” A mess the Board had a responsibility to clean up, because it was a huge embarrassment. Highly respected educators, both in this room and the other room, had voiced their support for Fragozo. The Board’s actions look like politics, he added. The situation had been totally mishandled, and to suggest to parents and staff that Fragozo might be a danger to children was a cheap shot.

Luis Rankins-Ibarra

Luis Rankins-Ibarra

Nina Deerfield summed up the Board’s behavior as tone policing. Harper, she noted, had referred to due process at Thursday’s meeting. It was evident that Harper had no understanding of due process since the word temporary was not used in the letter sent to parents and staff.

Fragozo’s son, John Fragozo, praised his father as a father. His father was being harassed by the Board. The only real threat to the Board and Cabinet was the threat of change. Had the Board considered the safety and wellbeing of an employee with 19 years’ experience? Had they thought about what his mother, a strong person and great teacher would experience?

Patricia Borchmann said that she too was disappointed and very saddened by the Board’s actions. They had used as their first choice what should have been their last choice, an extraordinary lapse of good judgement.

Carmen Miranda said she had to read her statement because she was so passionate she might otherwise make them feel threatened. As a survivor of domestic violence, she was offended that they would use a restraining order, it was obviously a political move, a slander of Fragozo, and a shameful misuse of taxes.

Miranda wondered why it took a week to send a letter to parents about the Oakhill incident, and that letter was sent by handing it out to the students, but a letter was sent immediately after the order was served, and sent by mail.

So, you may have noticed a pattern here. All the public comments had castigated the Board for their actions. The final speaker broke that pattern. Mary Ann Dijak, Manager of Youth Violence Prevention & Intervention, at the Escondido Education Compact, spoke next.

The Escondido Education Compact’s mission statement:

Since its inception, Education COMPACT is committed to providing innovative youth development and youth workforce development programs that remain consistent with our original motto: “Creating Opportunities, Making Partnerships and Connecting Teens.

 It is a non-profit organization created by the EUSD, the EUHSD, the Escondido Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Escondido. Dijak said that she recognized great people on both sides of the issue.

Dijak then presented a hypothetical that is still difficult for me to get my mind around. What if, she suggested, similar accusations had been made against Gardner? Would those in the audience come to Gardner’s defense?  She had served a brief time on the EUSD Board, with Gardner, and, even though she and Gardner had opposite political views they had respected each other and worked together.

Dijak then suggested that the argument that Ibarra had failed in his duty in the Oakhill incident was a contradiction to his pursuance of a restraining order to protect the students from Fragozo.

Gardner explained to the audience that she had allowed Dijak to run over her allotted time, because she felt her comments were so different from the others.

 This is one of the most unlikely hypothetical questions I’ve ever heard. Joan Gardner represents the white, Protestant establishment that have been running things since the city was established in the 19th century. She is not a particularly large woman. She does have a way of imposing her views on others, however.

And, in my imagination, it is delightful to think of her suffering the same treatment by a EUSD Board that truly represented the 70% of students, as Fragozo has suffered from the four other Anglo members of the Board. But that’s a pipe dream.

Now, it is apparent that Fragozo’s passionate dedication to Latino students has made him anathema to the Anglo board. They hired Ibarra to appear as though they were concerned about Latinos. Ibarra understands who he works for. He is not about to upset the majority of the Board. Much easier to try to remove the thorn in his side with a monkey wrench. How much better we’d all be if he had used a pair of tweezers.

Another Escondido Embarrassment, Part I (Dec. 11)

Tonight’s EUSD Board meeting was unprecedented in many ways. One of the members, Jose Fragozo, had to literally phone it in. If you’re not familiar with Fragozo’s problems, the long story short is that the President of the EUSD Board, Paulette Donnellon, has served Fragozo with a temporary restraining order, which means he is not allowed on any EUSD Property

He has been accused by the superintendent, and two assistant superintendents of being “hostile”, and that they are afraid of injury. Their assertions are not supported by any accompanying documents.

Zesty Harper

Zesty Harper

The meeting began with some fumbling with the microphone that allowed Jose to hear and respond. Then, always effervescent member, Zesty Harper, moved that agenda item I, 1. Member’s report, be moved up to just after the approval of the minutes, item B 6. Fragozo questioned this action. Harper responded that she just felt the public ought to be able to hear from the members before everybody left. The change was approved.

Fragozo questioned the minutes. He questioned why the comments of Robroy Fawcett were given a full paragraph, while the comments of those opposing the approval of the Epiphany Charter School were given little space. He also objected to description of his comments as not reflecting what really happened. Superintendent Luis Rankins-Ibarra said that the minutes were only intended to capture the essence of the meeting.

Donnellon did not buy into this argument and she suggested that the approval of the minutes be postponed to a future date, and amended to better reflect what actually transpired. And so, the approval of the minutes was tabled.

So, the audience, getting a bit restless, next heard the member’s reports. Harper spoke first. She avowed that she supported the Cabinet’s (whatever that is?) and the Superintendent’s actions. (Referring to the Temporary Restraining Order [TRO] on Fragozo, actually filed by Donnellon.) To her, the top priority was safety.

Harper then went on to a degree of discomfort for those in attendance, to outline her activities as a board member. She ended her remarks with a thank you to Donnellon for her work as President of the Board for the last year.

Dr. Gary Altenburg

Dr. Gary Altenburg

My representative on the Board, Dr. Gary M. Altenburg (dentist), echoed Harper’s views about the TPO, as well as her thanks to Donnellon. I don’t so much have a representative on the Board as an echo to the other four majority members.

Interestingly, member Joan Gardner did not deign to talk about the TRO, instead outlining her activities for the board.

Fragozo thanked the people he could hear that had come out to support him. The allegations made for the TRO were completely false. The 17,000 letters sent to parents, and 2,000 sent to employees was a matter of harassment.

Donnellon spoke of her activities, then said she supported the action (she had) taken, commenting that the EUSD would not tolerate harassment.

The Board then proceeded to the election of the officers for 2016. Fragozo was able to question the board’s change of procedure from a rotation of offices that, after three years, would have made him President of the Board. The change he added, to an open election, was made in closed session.

Donnellon then said that the board had reviewed their polices and decided to make the election of board officers more “”democratic”, and elect the officers each year. So followed with a four to one vote (Fragozo voting nay) the election of Gardner as President, Harper as Vice President, and Altenburg clerk. Ibarra was elected as Secretary with a unanimous vote.

Then began the public commentary. Zoe Carpenter seemed to represent the side of those that produced the TRO. She noted that bullying was a matter of using power to embarrass or humiliate, and was a matter of repetition. Three more speakers expressed their dissatisfaction with board policies.

Kamillah Brown said people said that she only came to meetings that drew lots of people. She affirmed that she came to meetings that drew the passion of the public. She said she had no side in this issue, but found the issue of a letter to 17,000 parents grossly unprofessional.

There were always, Brown said, two sides to on story, and it was important to listen to all sides. Joanne Tenney said she supported Jose Fragozo, and hoped the case would be resolved amicably.

Mary Ann Drinan, professor emeritus at Palomar College, recited Fragozo’s laudatory volunteer history, He is a true representative of the Latino community. He had voted his conscious. He had voted against the salary increases of the parties who had been included in the TRO. She spoke of the incidence at Oak Hill, when an armed man had crossed the school property and it took 14 minutes to report the incident because of school policy. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/sep/07/escondido-police-gunman-policy-oak-hill/

Patrick Drinan spoke of his educational credentials, noting that he had been a Dean of an elementary education department, said he understood that the school administration usually had support of the school board and staff. He understood how boards were captivated by superintendents.

Drink understood that it would be upsetting for that board and their staff to be upset by a board member that challenged the status quo. School administration, he said, could not be composed of fragile egos, it required thick skins. This board was succumbing to a bureaucratic pathology that blamed the messenger. He advised the board to “get their act together” and not to hide behind legal games.

Shannon Lienhart, Palomar professor, noted that TRO noted no evidence of immediate threat of violence. A person who claimed such a threat, when there was no such treat, was the true bully in the situation, she added.

Chris Nava said she was disheartened and in disbelief at the allegation that had been made. She had known Fragozo for many years and had never known him to be violent, he was not capable of such. The idea that he posed a threat to students was unthinkable.

There had been faults on both sides, Nava said. Yes, Fragozo raised his voice, but were the police ever called? The disrespect of Fragozo by the other board members, talking behind his back, and facial expression had been noted.

John Ward, noting the Fox 5 camera, said that whenever he saw such a camera he feared there had been a wreck. We’re now in a wreck he concluded. It should never have reached such a point. There were much better ways to solve this problem.

If raising your voice in opposition, and entering another’s personal space were a reason for a TRO, Ward said, the Founding Fathers would all have been subject to a TRO. To send out a letter to parents and faculty members with incorrect information would incur irreparable damage to the EUSD.

The evening climaxed in an unusual way. Don Greene spoke as a representative of the Escondido Taxpayers Association. He said that this board meeting was in violation of the Brown Act, because the public had not been given proper 72-hour notice of the location of Jose Fragozo for the meeting. He advised the board to immediately adjourn their meeting.

Gardner responded that she had driven by Fragozo’s home on Maple Street, and that his door had been open.  Green repeated, that his location was not in compliance with the ADA act, and had not been given 72 hours of notice. Fragozo, was able to state that he had asked for a room with ADA clearance, but Donnellon and the board’s attorney had denied his request.

Ybarra said Fragozo had been advised to send notice of his location at 3:00 pm yesterday. Gardner avowed that therefore, it had been Fragozo’s responsibility to inform the public of his location. Her comments did not go over well with the audience.

There was an impromptu discussion of the board and staff. Then Gardner announced a recess, while they could consult their legal advisors. Shortly thereafter the meeting was adjourned. Not before many members of the audience said that the board should hear their concerns before the adjournment.

Gardner told them they could thank their friend Jose Fragozo for that.

It did not go over well.

(Margaret McCown Liles started blogging about the Escondido City Council  following the demise of the North County Times as a public resource. Story is reprinted by permission. Her blog is at http://ablueviewescondido.com.)

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