The Star-News

Attorney wants people to be nicer

Sat, Mar 16 2013 12:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampité-montecalvo

The beginning of a Sweetwater Union High School District board meeting turned into a lesson on civility when school district attorney Dan Shinoff presented the topic to the public and trustees Monday.

The 45-minute presentation was in response to a bond oversight committee meeting held last month when an administrator felt verbally attacked by one of its members.

Two weeks following a Feb. 6 Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee meeting, chair Nick Marinovich received an email from Shinoff regarding his “conduct.”

“…We request that all future communication by you at the district’s board meetings and/or communications with the district staff be conducted in a professional manner. Please note that the district will take all appropriate steps to insure that civility is maintained and its employees are protected,” Shinoff stated.

Marinovich said the incident was sparked by the frustration that a specific request was not met.

“Our committee requested that the consultant review the iPad acquisition,” Marinovich said.

The district sent executive director of curriculum and instruction Maria Castilleja to answer questions surrounding the issue of the iPads, even though the committee expected, based on its request, to receive written rationale for bond spending on them, according to Marinovich.

“The committee wanted a presentation on how the iPad decision was made and she went over the good points and how the iPad initiative was functioning,” Marinovich said. “I was getting really frustrated. I was more forceful than my normal personality is.”

Following the meeting, Marinovich apologized to Castilleja after she called him saying her feelings were hurt. He also sent an apologetic email.

Then Marinovich received two Feb. 21 letters.

“I was surprised and I was shocked by the allegations that I was uncivil,” he said. “So what I did was I checked with my colleagues and after listening to the tape and conferring with my colleagues I found that I was not uncivil.”

Marinovich said despite the issue, he wants to focus on continuing his work.

“I don’t want to let this letter be a distraction from my mission as chair and my commitment to the bond but also I’m not going to be intimidated by this and not speak out,” he said.

Shinoff outlined goals focusing on respect and listening to different viewpoints, reducing unproductive arguing and being role models to students.

He also discussed the importance of a safe, stress-free work environment in order to minimize the potential for post-traumatic stress syndrome.

“Stress becomes cumulative and it really begins to impact morale,” he said. “I can tell you that when Mrs. (assistant superintendent of human resources Sandra) Huezo begins to hear from employees that this is a difficult place to work, that it begins to affect their health … that’s what post traumatic stress is and it isn’t fair.”

Committee member Kevin O’Neill sent an email to Shinoff, copying superintendent Dr. Ed Brand, on March 4 calling the correspondence a “slap letter.”

“You were either duped or compliant in the superintendent’s heavy-handed attempts to silence any criticism from the BOC,” O’Neill wrote.

“More than one committee member expressed frustration with a seemingly headless program with no mechanism in place to judge its effectiveness. Perception became reality and this episode smacks of a ham-handed attempt to stifle and limit this group in the performance of our mandate.”

The Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee was created to monitor the $644 million Proposition O bond expenditure, approved by voters in November 2006.

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