BESD board votes to acknowledge Grand Jury report

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BRAWLEY – At the last BESD board meeting, the findings for the Imperial County Grand Jury were discussed concerning the grand jury report on the controversial firing and then re-hiring of Superintendent Ron Garcia.

Each year, 19 citizens of this county, from many walks in life, dedicate their personal time with the object of being as the official watchdogs of the county. Investigations have included prisons, Juvenile facilities, transportation, water treatment plants, school boards, well digging permits and the Mid-Winter Fair and Fiesta. Several requests had to be turned down because they were out of the Civil Grand Jury jurisdiction, but all requests were carefully considered and discussed.

 

The Civil Grand Jury (CGJ) is authorized to investigate complaints against public agencies within Imperial County per California state law. The Brawley Elementary School District Governing Board (BESD) is among those agencies.

 

 The Civil Grand Jury received five written complaints against the BESD alleging improper termination of Superintendent Ron Garcia’s employment without cause on June 14, 2011. In the

complaints, and Imperial Valley Press stories, accusations were made that Mr. Garcia did not support Myron D. Witter Principal Irene Salazar in school personnel issues.

 

Salazar is the sister of Armando Padilla, one of the three board members who voted to fire Mr. Garcia.

 

Several of the complainants cited violation of the Brown Act because the Board members ended the open session of the meeting and went into closed session voting to “non-reelect the Superintendent as a probationary employee.” They returned to the open meeting session and reported their actions.

 

A committee of the CGJ interviewed multiple witnesses and learned the following. The BESD Governing Board voted 3-2 to fire Garcia before July 1, 2011 because his contract would continue until June 30, 2012 if he was not released before the end of the fiscal year. Garcia was released at the June 14, 2011 School Board meeting.

 

When Garcia was hired as superintendent, an Assistant Superintendent was already in place. That individual was cited by a board member as being dissatisfied with the working relationship with Mr. Garcia. The same board member also stated that another board member was not happy with Mr. Garcia’s demeanor and interaction with some administrative staff. An additional board member stated that the Director of Building Maintenance faulted the lack of a clear chain of command from the Superintendent.

 

At one BESD meeting, boisterous protests broke out in support of Garcia demanding his reinstatement. Garcia’s supporters filed lawsuits demanding the former superintendent’s reinstatement. Approximately 800 signatures were collected on a petition demanding Garcia be rehired.

 

A vote of no confidence was presented and read by the Brawley Elementary Teachers Association against Salazar at a Board meeting during the public comments session. The majority of teachers (28 out of 33) at Myron D Witter Elementary School signed the vote of no confidence sometime between November 2010 and January 2011.

 

Salazar filed 2 harassment lawsuits against Garcia. According to a board member, the lawsuits were found to be having no basis by an outside firm hired to investigate the allegations.

Salazar was reassigned by interim Superintendent Roberto Moreno to the Learning Center to work on curriculum. Special Education teachers filed a complaint against Salazar. A recommendation was made that Salazar could not enter the Witter school grounds. Salazar has since retired.

 

The Assistant Superintendent to Garcia was assigned as a mentor to Salazar, and has resigned from BESD effective June 30, 2011, receiving full pay from July 1, 2011 to December 2011. In addition, she was given a $500 monthly car allowance, and paid health benefits were paid until age 65.

 

Ron Garcia was paid the balance of his contract of $130,000 per year while not working for the district. The School Board rehired Garcia by a 5-0 vote extending his contract to June 30, 2013. He was given an increase to $135,000 per year. Garcia was also given $30,000 in a settlement for the lawsuit he filed to get his job back.

 

Two of the three BESD Governing Board members who voted to dismiss Garcia were not reelected to the Board. The third Board member has another year left in his term.

 

The Grand Jury found that the Government Code Section 87103 provides that a public official has a “financial interest” in a governmental decision if it is reasonably foreseeable that the decision will have a material financial effect, distinguishable from its effect on the public generally, on the official, a member of his or her immediate family, or on any of the official’s economic interests. Government Code Section 82029 defines “immediate family” as the official’s “spouse and dependent children.” An adult sibling is not included in the definition of an “immediate family member.”

 

Based on the information obtained by the CGJ, there did not appear to be violations of the Brown Act, which was one of the allegations.

 

 It appeared to the Civil Grand Jury that the previous BESD Governing Board voted on a personnel issue that could have been resolved differently. It was the CGJ’s observation that the

present BESD Governing Board has since made changes to reverse the previous vote and bring back Garcia, at a greater cost to the school district.

 

The Civil Grand Jury found that one or more members of the BESD Governing Board voted on an issue where it was perceived to be a conflict of interest by the public. However, there was no legal requirement for any of the BESD Governing Board members to recuse themselves from the decision.

 

 

The grand jury recommended that Board members should take great care in voting on issues that could be handled differently, particularly when it may cost the school district more to resolve an issue.

 

 

They also recommended that in the interest of public confidence in the BESD Governing Board, members should explain to members of the public the legal requirements for conflict of interest recusals when acting on a matter that is perceived by the public as a conflict of interest by the member.

 

The board voted to acknowledge the grand jury’s findings and recommendations. 

 

To read the full Grand Jury report for 2011 2012 click here

http://www.imperial.courts.ca.gov/

 

1 COMMENT

  1. the only one i see that violated the brown act was gloria santillan. she spoke about closed session to the public as does mr. guzman all the time. the lies and deciet will catch up. karma baby!!!

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