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Civics for kids Carlos R. Davalos | Sat, Jan 18 2014 12:00 PM

If the Sweetwater Union High School District governing board — what’s left of it anyway — really wants to educate students and prepare them for the real world, they ought to require juniors to attend a minimum of two board meetings. Only then will they get a glimpse of what lies in store for them should they choose to become engaged in civic affairs.

They’ll experience firsthand the messiness that is democracy as board members, superintendents and stakeholders verbally spar over which policies should be passed and how the public’s business is compromised in a room of diverging opinions and agendas.

Perhaps most importantly, juniors will live one of life’s greatest quandaries when they realize you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Take, for example, what happened during a special board meeting this week where the topic of discussion was how to fill a vacancy.

In December former board member Arlie Ricasa resigned her position after she pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge in a corruption case brought by the district attorney in 2012.

On Tuesday the public and the board were told by the school district’s attorney they had 60 days to appoint someone to serve the rest of Ricasa’s term this year. Sixty days from the time of Ricasa’s departure, meaning a new board member had to be appointed by Feb. 17.

But the problem is that the school board has a credibility issue. Three of the five members are under indictment in that same corruption case that felled Ricasa. Because the public trusts them about as much as they do a starving rat in a cheese case, there’s skepticism that a favorite candidate or two haven’t already been discussed and would be ushered into position.

Of course another option, one that is usually ideal, is to let the public decide who will serve on the school board for the remainder of the year. Take the power away from an allegedly corrupt board and vote. The sticking point is, however, a special election could cost the district as much as $1.5 million to elect someone who would, theoretically, only be on the job for a few months (unless of course that newbie is allowed to run as an incumbent).

Critics of that option say the district can’t afford to spend that kind of money on a special election. And they’re probably right, given reports of the district’s deficit.

But what do you do? Spend money to make the decision yourself or have people you don’t trust and who don’t trust each other make the decision for you?

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s a life lesson brough to us by the men and women who are running the world kids call home. Have fun with that, kids.

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anniej Says:

Sun, Jan 19 2014 07:15 PM

At Tuesdays board meeting a young man who holds an ASB office at one of the high schools came up to me and stated 'this is embarrassing, how can these people make decisions regarding my education when they are on trial for corruption? Why don't they resign and let other people who care about us sit up there?"- out of the mouths of babes.

It is sad when the youth of this community see their school board as corrupt. We, the adults, should be their protectors. Month after month they come and watch our school politicians at work - month after month they leave shaking their heads.

Our superintendent is paid $250k a year and that does not include his benefit package, mileage or vacation time. What are we paying for?

Our students deserve better - remember what has happened to SUHSD in Novemer - vote OUT Jim Cartmill and John McCann; vote in persons who have integrity and credibility!

sosocal Says:

Sun, Jan 19 2014 06:36 PM

Yes, it is a conundrum, but it is not impossible. Involve the community in the process. Work with the County Board of Education.

Find people who are educated, independent thinkers and not tied by debts of friendship or favors, who are capable of actual rational thought.

I know such people exist, and they exist within the boundaries of Sweetwater. Not all who live here are as easily manipulated as some of the current members of the board.

But that is the problem. Mr. Brand prefers to have impaired board members, because that leaves him with more power.

It is insidious, wrong, and needs to come to an end.

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