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Millan Accuses Union Of Strong-Arm Tactics. Teachers Want Say In New Superintendent

Yes, there is turnover in the Beverly Hills Unified School District.

It’s not uncommon in a state  which isn’t paying teachers or administrators what they are paid in states like Texas, which is taking dramatic steps to recruit California’s teachers in times of budget crunches.

So when Superintendent Kari McVeigh announced she was leaving BHUSD after only two years, the Board of Education was faced with not only recruiting a replacement and a search firm, but also re-evaluating the interview process.

Traditionally, it’s closed. If you call a search firm asking if “John Smith” was a candidate they won’t tell you. Candidates are kept confidential and Board of Educa-tion members are the only people allowed to interview.

That’s how it was done when the board interviewed McVeigh.

But Beverly Hills is looking at possibly changing this process. School boardmembers Brian Gold-berg and Steven Fenton are advocating implanting an interview panel which would consist of community and school stakeholders, including teachers.

“I value and respect the employees of our school district,” said Fenton. “They are family and the idea of giving them a ‘seat at the table’ is one that I support without question.”

In a search for a superintendent that started Monday, board members interviewed four search firms. Two of them were more open to the idea of instituting the panel.  

The California School Board Association said it would be possible to create a committee of parents, students and teachers —it’s up to the board’s discretion.

Another search firm interiewed on Monday,  four administrators, okayed outsiders, but emphasized the importance for confidentially during the process.

The thought of being involved excited teachers throughout the school district. Many of whom had previously vocalized their dislike for McVeigh’s management style in multiple interviews with The Courier last year.

 “I believe all major stakeholders should have a direct role in seeing candidates and asking questions to offer an unvarnished assessment of candidates so the five board members can make the best decision,” said teachers’ union (Beverly Hills Education Association) President, Chris Bushee.

Bushee strongly supports community involvement for two reasons.

“One, I believe fundamentally for our small school district that the superintendent is the superintendent for our community,” Bushee said.

“We are a close-knit community with active and involved parents. Our education foundation goes above and beyond all other foundations in existence,” Bush-ee stated. “Our business community prides itself on the educational community. (Thus) the superintendent is a community position. We all have a stake in ensuring the next superintendent reflects values that we all believe in.”

The second reason he said is “track record.”

“The closed process the board used last time, I don’t believe worked. I believe that no one in the community had felt they had buy-in with Superintendent McVeigh. I hope she finds success (at New Haven), but it did not work out here,” he said.

“This community, from the teachers to the parents to the community at large, must de-mand a more active direct role so we can all feel we have direct buy-in.”

Dozens of teachers joined the union president at the Nov. 18 board of education meeting to support his statements, asking the board to allow teachers to be involved in the interview process.

Recently, the teachers’ union started doing their own unofficial surveys about who teachers felt the next superintendent should be.

The first questionnaire surveyed 315 teachers asking, “would you support Ilene Straus (assistant superintendent of education services) as the next superintendent?”

The survey found 295 teachers said no, and 19 said yes. One teacher abstained.

BHEA has been criticized by some residents for holding these surveys. At Tuesday’s standing-room-only school board meeting in the high school’s media center, former school board president John Millan addressed the issue.

“What I think is remarkable is that all of these votes are just shy of unanimous,” said Millan.  “It reminds me of votes in the ’60s and ’70s for the Communist Party in the Soviet Union.  Is that a sign of intimidation and strong-arm tactics in the teacher’s union?  I could believe 55-45, but 99-1?  Come on!”

Millan was booed by people in the audience after the accusation.

“Millan accused teachers of using strong-arm tactics against our own members in an effort to influence the outcome of a recent survey that we conducted, and I strongly disagree with his accusations,” said Bushee.

“The process that was used in the last survey was done by secret ballots where each member who responded to the survey printed and signed his or her name to the survey and the surveys were put into a locked ballot box.

Those boxes were not opened until the conclusion of the process when surveys counted were witnessed by no less than 20 people,” Bushee said.

“I don’t believe he had the facts available to him, and I would invite him to come to the BHEA office if he would like to inspect ballots or sign-in sheets.”

Later in his address, Millan went on to say that the teachers’ survey is as valid as the site, ratemyteacher.com, where students can anonymously write a review about any teacher.

He read negative reviews posted by students, that criticized Bushee and other teachers in the union – relating these types of anonymous surveys them to the union’s survey about Straus.  

“Are these comments fair?  Probably not; they are most likely rantings from unsuccessful and unmotivated students. See the parallel?  How does that feel?”

Teachers did not react favorably to Millan’s statement.

“This is precisely the type of vituperative treatment that teachers have come to expect,” said Joanie Garratt, a 16-year veteran of BHUSD.

“Once upon a time I worked for a district that genuinely respected its teachers, where salaries were above or commensurate with other local school districts, where communication and collaboration with the district and school board were welcome, frequent and productive. Morale was high and the longevity of staff and administration was taken for granted.

“Now and then we had problems, but in general there was an effort to find common ground and collectively work together.”

Bushee added that the  BHEA is encouraged by the thought of having a more open process when choosing the new superintendent.

“Robust discussion is vitally important for public education and we believe these discussions and debates can take place without attacking individuals personally and without impugning the reputation and characters of people who are working so hard to have a voice in public education.”

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