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MUSD Board Leadership: A Train Wreck Waiting to Happen Print E-mail
News - Opinion
Written by Jack W Porter, Jr.   
Wednesday, 07 January 2015 23:54

EDITORIAL - I don't think the term "Train Wreck" is strong enough to describe how far off course the Madera Unified School District Board of Trustees are heading this year. The leadership on the board is inexperienced or worse, a puppet for fellow board member Robert Garibay.

This week board president Maria Velarde-Garcia called a special meeting for two items, new attorneys for the school district and an item approving training for the staff at Madera High School. The second item passed with very little fanfare, the first was proof that our current board president is in way over her head.

The agenda for this special meeting was posted around 5:15pm Tuesday evening, just 24 hours and 15 minutes prior to the start of Wednesday's meeting. According to five out of the seven board members, they did not know what the special meeting was even about until the agenda was released to the general public.

Board members Ed McIntyre and Ricardo Arredondo questioned whether these items warranted a special meeting. Even Madera Tribune reporter Bill Coate spoke up during the public comment portion of the meeting as to why these items couldn't wait until the regularly scheduled meeting later this month.

Velarde-Garcia called for this special meeting because she met one of the partners of the law firm Garcia, Hernandez, Sawhney and Bermudez at a state-wide school board conference. The firm is located in Glendale, California. Our board president thought it would be a good idea to hire the firm to conduct a workshop for the board on the California Brown Act.

The contract the board was asked to vote for Wednesday night was for a general legal service retainer hiring the firm at $230 to $295 an hour which according to board member Ray Siebert is around $100 a hour more than the law firm the district now uses. The contract is for more than just putting on a workshop. The contract is a retainer for a full service law firm.

Board members Siebert, McIntyre and Arredondo reminded board president Velarde-Garcia that the by-laws of the board called for such expeditors to require a bid process where each firm applying would all go through a vetting process.

Velarde-Garcia wanted the board to suspend that requirement, but the board never voted on that. The board only voted to approve the hiring of the new law firm for the Brown Act training, even though the contract calls for "most of the day-to-day legal issues the district may face, such as most labor and employment matters, student/special education issues, management issues, school law research and letter opinions, Brown Act, Board governance and attendance at Board meetings".

During the meeting Velarde-Garcia forgot several times to call for public comment, forgot how to call for a vote, interrupted board members with snarky comments and even called out audience members who chuckled at all of her parliamentary mistakes.

At times it was hard to tell who was running the meeting. When Velarde-Garcia would stumble, board clerk Robert Garibay would whisper in her left ear. Some of us who have been following the MUSD board of trustees for a while might remember Garibay's first puppet on the board, Lisa Frausto. The only time Garibay and Frausto disagreed on an item was when Frausto called for an end to prayer before the school board meetings. Even Garibay was smart enough not to go against the All Mighty.

Garibay has gotten better at his puppetering because this time with Velarde-Garcia, you can hardly see his lips move when she speaks and I don't think he is using strings to control her movement. There was one obvious conclusion you could come to if you were watching this meeting, Velarde-Garcia was not in control and attacked anyone who questioned what her real motivations were for calling the special meeting.

After the meeting Velarde-Garcia tried to explain that she was new to this entire process, but in fact she has served a full term on the MUSD board of trustees. Before coming to Madera Unified she worked for the Madera County Department of Education, she's on the Madera County School Boards Association (MCSBA) Executive Board. She even ran for Superintendent of the Madera County Department of Education. It wasn't like this was her first meeting. She has been on the board for the last four years and she was still obviously overwhelmed, flustered and frustrated.

I am sure at some point after I publish this editorial Velarde-Garcia's white knight will ride back into Madera from Bakersfield and make outlandish accusations about me and my publication, accuse me of being a smut-peddler or whatever new word Mr. Lynn Cogdill has learned this week. But the proof is in the pudding. There is a link at the bottom of this editorial were you, the reader, can listen to the Wednesday board meeting for yourself and make your own conclusion.

In my opinion, the Madera Unified Board of Trustees needs to hold that leadership vote again and pick someone to be president that has a basic knowledge of how to follow procedure. Ms. Velarde-Garcia is not that person.



Last night the board of trustees for the Madera Unified School District went into closed session about 7:00pm and didn't come out until after 11:00pm. The new attorney the district hired to put on a Brown Act Workshop was brought into the meeting and acted as the district's attorney. The only items on the agenda for closed session were to review Superintendent Ed Gonzales employment performance evaluation and a discipline hearing. That discipline hearing was for Superintendent Ed Gonzales.

When Trustee Ray Siebert said in last nights open meeting he smelled a rat on the hiring of this new law firm without vetting them first, he was right. Board President Maria Velarde-Garcia called this whole special meeting with the sole intent of firing Superintendent Ed Gonzales. Anyone standing in the hallway of the district offices last night could hear the yelling from Velarde-Garcia in the closed session meeting. Just wish I had my tape recorder. What is at question now is did Maria and Bob Garibay call other board members before the meeting to lock up the votes? Probably not since they failed to do anything but waste a lot of people time.

Is Maria trying to get even with Mr. Gonzales for his informing the board of former Trustee Lynn Cogdill's attacks on him one week prior to the election? Readers might remember a story we did where Cogdill and Velarde-Garcia would accused of manipulating the vote to hire a superintendent out of Kerman Unified. There was a private investigator hired which led to a Madera County District Attorney's investigation. Cogdill's comments also led to a major law suit against the district by a former elementary school principal.

Last night was a COUP D'ETAT with a couple board members trying to oust the superintendent. They failed but their cards are now on the table. What are they trying to accomplish by throwing the school district into a tail spin like they did four years ago when Maria was first elected and the new board forced former Superintendent John Stafford to resign? Is history repeating itself?

For those keeping track, this new attorney cost the district at least $1770 (not counting travel time) for last nights special meeting and failed COUP D'ETAT. Now is not the time to turn your back on the MUSD Board of Trustees. It's just getting interesting.


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