A member of the Orange County Board of Education has asked Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackaukas to investigate whether two other trustees violated California's open-meeting law.
Trustee David Boyd says he suspects his fellow board members, president Robert Hammond and Dr. Ken Williams, violated the Ralph M. Brown Act by seeking outside counsel to sue the state of California over the implementation of Common Core standards without the knowledge or support of a majority of the five-member board–and then trying to cover up it up.
"To date, I estimate at least $15,000 of taxpayer money has been spent in connection with Trustee Williams' efforts to block the release of certain e-mails under the provisions of the public records act," Boyd tells the Weekly.
"… I'm shocked and disappointed that President Hammond would take this action without board approval," Boyd also said. "Why he thinks that he can retain an attorney at $400 per hour to prevent the public from seeing the email communications of one board member, Dr. Williams, is beyond me."
Common Core is a set of academic standards in mathematics, English language and arts literacy that each public school student is expected to know at the end of each grade. The standards are controversial, most especially among social conservatives, because the curriculum is imposed uniformly nationwide as opposed to at the discretion of each local school district.
The Orange County flap happened because Barry Resnick, a Costa Mesa resident and Rancho Santiago Community College District faculty union president, used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to receive the correspondence between Hammond and Williams, who had previously expressed their opposition to Common Core publicly. Resnick's reasons had to do with the pair of trustees' boasted political philosophies.
"They have proposed that the Orange County Board of Education actually sue the federal government and break California law by refusing to adopt the Common Core standards," Resnick tells the Weekly of Hammond and Williams. "They are also among the leading opponents of any rights for the gay community. … Needless to say their views are inconsistent with many of their constituents including myself."
Resnick says correspondence he received via FOIA showed the two trustees had retained Cota Cole LLP, a Roseville-based boutique law firm that specializes in municipal law, to deflect his scrutiny of the pair's stands on Common Core.
"To date Williams has caused five attorneys to get involved, three at taxpayer expense," Resnick tells the Weekly. "I personally don't believe that the taxpayers should be financially backing the cover-up. Just as important and the big question is, what is Dr. Williams hiding that he would go to such efforts at his and taxpayers' expense?"
The Weekly tried to get an answer to that question, but Williams has not yet responded to our request. We'll update this post should he choose to comment.
Resnick provided us with an "engagement" letter signed by Daniel A. King of Cota Cole stating that the firm agrees to represent members of the school district for $350 an hour, capped at $5,000 for any single issue:
The faculty association president also shared a letter of acceptance of those terms signed by Hammond:
Hammond and Ian Hanigan, the Orange County Department of Education communications officer who told the Weekly he was responding on behalf of Superintendent Al Mijares, each said they have no comment on Boyd's letter to the district attorney.
Here is Boyd's letter to the DA:
Boyd claims Hammond is proposing to take the board into closed session on Nov. 4 to discuss Resnick's document request.
"I personally believe that under the Brown Act it would be illegal and if the board actually takes this step I may refuse to participate," Boyd said.
Keeping the Resnick discussion secret may be a goal but Hammond and Williams have been quite public about their opposition to Common Core, as most recently demonstrated in a joint letter to the Orange County Register. In it, they accused outgoing U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan of having broken three federal laws in promoting Common Core.
"The new pedagogies and education paradigm imposed on our children under Common Core promote social emotional learning over knowledge and facts," Hammond and Williams write. "When they speak of college and career readiness, they refer to the shaping of attitudes and dispositions of students to produce a generation of skilled workers for the type of society described in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 rather than a society of free moral agency and individual liberties and freedom.
"Parents want their children to have successful careers, but they do not want their schools turned into workforce training centers as envisioned by elitists like Duncan. We don't want our children engaging in activities that condition them as members of a collective. Rather, we want our children to view and express themselves as individual human beings."