What Will Capistrano Unified's Rogue Trustee Say Tonight?

As mentioned in last week's Weekly story about the Capistrano Unified School District, many of the loudest critics of the new "reform" board are concerned about the Education Alliance, a conservative group that helped get the board into power. Are the recall trustees hostile to public education? Do they want to destroy the unions? Implement prayer in schools? Replace subsidized lunches with communion wafers?!

The trustees and their backers all say "no" to those questions, but the contentious Jan. 12 school board meeting showed that not everyone takes them at their word. And you can understand why, given the unexplained suspension of teacher-friendly superintendent Woodrow Carter and, now, this OC Register story. Reporter Scott Martindale took some initiative and checked out the claim, circulated by board supporters, that Carter had negotiated a teachers union contract without board input. Turns out that some of the trustees either lied or were forgetful when they said that Carter hadn't kept them in the loop: He actually sent each of the trustees a copy of the contract and mentioned it in a memo to the board.

But! There's a big piece of evidence against the "evil-right-wing-agenda" theory, and its name is Anna Bryson (that's her picture up there)...

If there's anyone who should theoretically be pushing vouchers and pep-rally recitations of Leviticus, it's Bryson: She received money from the Education Alliance earlier and in larger quantities than any other CUSD candidate, was once a high-ranking official in the Orange County Republican Party according to LinkedIn,  and her own annabryson.com website consists solely of a 2005 Washington Post story profiling her love for George W. Bush. And yet, the red-haired trustee has disagreed with the rest of the "reform" trustees ever since her election to the board in 2006. Back in February 2008, she sided with the so-called "old guard" board members both in approving Carter's contract and in OKing a preliminary budget that increased class sizes. And, more recently and more tellingly, she was the only formal dissenter (more on the informal dissenter in a bit) in the vote to remove Carter from duty.

All of which is to say: It's hard to maintain that there's a secret conservative plan afoot if the most outspoken conservative isn't going along with it. And her oddball status on the school board hasn't gone unnoticed. Erin Kutnick,  who ran and lost for a trustee seat in November and is perhaps the most strident opponent of the new board, called for Bryson to be made board president at the Jan. 12 meeting. At a Jan. 21 special budget workshop, Bryson, decked out in a shiny tropical-colored blouse, elicited some audience eye-rolls when she repeatedly called attention to the fact that she works with Orange County Treasurer Chris Street. I spoke to CUSD recall leader Tony Beall a little while back about Bryson. "People have a reasonable expectation that someone who ran as a reform trustee ran in accordance with their reform principles," he said. "Trustee Bryson has differed a lot with the reform trustees, and I'd like to understand how she is seeing the same issue so differently."

Tonight, Bryson and Trustee Jack Brick (the trustee who says he meant to support Carter but accidentally voted to put him on paid administrative leave) will speak at an event in San Clemente called "Is it Really ALL About the Kids?" Sponsored by local PTAs, parents will be able to ask questions of the trustees. San Clemente Mayor Lori Donchak will be there too, which is an interesting twist because she wrote a letter to the board urging them to keep Carter. In conclusion: Show up if you want a chance to hear from Capistrano Unified's most vexing board member. It's at 7 p.m. at San Clemente High School. Refreshments will be served!


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