2017-11-16 / Front Page

School board violated open meetings law, attorney says

By MATT JOHNSON
Sports/Education Editor


Dave Wise of Natural Environments was honored, along with other employees, for work done on the new weight room which is nearly finished at MCHS. Wise and his crew have donated much of their time. “It’s been a pleasure to work with Dave,” said Superintendent Robin Hopper. Wise said “we’ve been happy to do this.” 
Photo by Matt Johnson Dave Wise of Natural Environments was honored, along with other employees, for work done on the new weight room which is nearly finished at MCHS. Wise and his crew have donated much of their time. “It’s been a pleasure to work with Dave,” said Superintendent Robin Hopper. Wise said “we’ve been happy to do this.” Photo by Matt Johnson A legal expert says the Mariposa County Unified School District violated the state’s open meetings law.

Nikki Moore, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association, said based on the circumstances, it appears the district violated the Brown Act. The Brown Act requires certain agenda items of meetings held by public entities to be discussed in public.

At issue is the fact the school district discussed an agenda item in closed session relating to hiring a new position to oversee its facilities and maintenance projects as the district moves forward with spending its Measure L bond monies.

Measure L is the $24 million facility improvement bond which was passed by local voters last November.

The school board discussed and made decisions regarding the position during closed session on Oct. 12, with no members of the public present.

Moore said it was “wholly inappropriate to discuss creating a new position” in closed session.

“That should be done in the open session,” Moore said. “Yes, I think they did violate the Brown Act by having this discussion in closed session in October.”

Moore said by discussing the agenda item in closed session, “it deprived the public of knowing about this, hearing this discussion and having an attempt to weigh in.”

Moore said she still is “not sure they fully remedied the violation” even after the district attempted to remedy the violation by revisiting the item last week in its open session meeting.

At last week’s meeting, Superintendent Robin Hopper explained the error

“It was on my error that we put this as a closed session item,” Hopper said. “This is being brought back for your review.”

After Hopper’s explanation, the board voted to pass the item, without any discussion relating to why the new position was necessary.

That didn’t sit well with Vicki Bustos, executive assistant to the superintendent.

“What has just happened on this item is really inappropriate,” said Bustos. “The purpose of having it on the open session agenda is so that members of the public can understand the board’s rationale and can hear the discussion that takes place about the decision.”

“You made a statement that this was discussed in closed session,” Bustos continued. “That discussion needs to be held in open session so that members of the public can hear it.”

Hopper responded, saying “a majority of the information that was discussed (in closed session) was here (provided) on the agenda (of the Nov. 9 meeting).”

“It is appropriate that we have a discussion, but I want the public to understand that we did not violate anything now, either,” Hopper said. “This is all here in the public now, on the agenda item.”

Hopper pointed out there was also a study session held previously in open session about the item.

“I’m not 100 percent in agreement with Vicki and what she just stated,” Hopper said. “We had a study session on the facilities and the fact we mentioned we needed a facilities director.”

The board then decided to hold a discussion about the item before officially passing it.

The main reason the district wanted to add the new facilities/maintenance position was to reconfigure the Maintenance, Operations,

Transportation, Facility and Warehouse (MOTFW) Department by creating the Director of Facilities and Maintenance position.

Entering Thursday’s meeting, the MOTFW Department was being overseen by MOTFW Coordinator Charlotte Kelsey.

Board chairperson Judy Eppler said Kelsey’s current responsibilities are “humanly impossible.”

“We’ve stretched everyone’s capacity to the maximum,” said board member Wayne Forsythe.

Forsythe said the new facilities and maintenance director responsibilities are “a lot of responsibility someone is going to have to carry.”

“This is not an overnight deal,” Forsythe said. “It’ll be happening for years.”

The item was passed unanimously, and the recruitment process will now begin.

Kelsey’s responsibilities, now that she won’t be directing the bond facilities and the district’s maintenance needs, are still being shaped, but she will focus primarily on transportation needs across the district.

The new facilities/maintenance position will be partially funded with Measure L dollars.

Sixty percent of the salary, the facilities portion, ($43,115) will be paid through the bond, while 40 percent ($28,743) will come from the district’s general fund.

The projected cost for this position is $118,594, including statutory and health/ welfare benefits. The salary for this position will be offset by not filling a vacant dispatcher position, creating a savings of approximately $46,737, thus reducing the cost to $71,858.

Years from now, when bond funds run out, the district will need to make a decision of what to do with the position.

In other school board news...

• The executive assistant to Superintendent Hopper has accepted another job. Vicki Bustos has taken a job in Dublin, Calif.

“She continues to be an incredible support,” said Hopper. “I don’t know what we’re going to do without her.”

• Mariposa County High School drama teacher Bryan Starchman and some of his students made the board aware of the upcoming Rock N Write production, to be held Dec. 1-2.

Starchman told the board he has another production in the works, a musical which will take place in March. The musical will be about the Detwiler Fire, from the perspective of the animals who were affected and evacuated during the fire.

The artwork for the production will be created by MCHS art teacher Pete Bothwell and his students, using charcoal collected from the fire.

• The district found someone to fill an athletic preparation position.

At its Aug. 10 meeting, the board approved a position which will be dedicated to athletic preparation, which includes field preparation. The new position is a temporary position.

Billy Shipman was recently selected and cleared to help with the athletic preparation position at MCHS. He received some training a few weeks ago.

Matt Johnson is Sports and Education Editor of the Mariposa Gazette and can be reached at matt@mariposagazette.com.

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