Friday, December 16, 2011

Around Town: Who will be in, who will be out?

The election is over, but the campaign has just begun. La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board members Susan Boyd, Scott Tracy and Joel Peterson face the following assignment: What will they do with newly-elected members Ellen Multari and Andrew Blumenfeld? Will we see a 3-2 split in votes? Can Scott Tracy hold a coalition together?

The first test was on Tuesday night, when the board scheduled a closed session to consider disciplinary action against Gabrielle Leko. Due to employment privacy rights, employee discipline is confidential.

The second test will be how the new board handles the fallout from the Leko issue. Whether or not the allegations were true, they deserved a swift resolution, not a six-month debacle. Will the new board recognize the community’s concerns with the accountability process? Time will tell.

The third test is more difficult. The subject is prejudice. How will the new board address this emotional subject?

School boosters drop the ball when they complain of “political correctness.” There’s no better way to damage La Cañada’s reputation than to dismiss the alleged victims as “overly sensitive.”

Women and men of courage learn to respect other people’s sensitivities.

Case in point: the U.S. Marine Corps. The Marines were the last service branch to accept African-American troops. Their integration began with a segregated unit. Today, instead of dodging the issue of prejudice, the USMC has openly addressed it. Last fall, the commandant issued a video message about the Montford Point Marines, an early segregated unit. By openly discussing the elephant in the room, the Marines have moved forward. This applies to other areas, as well. Today, while other branches of the military struggle with the abolition of “Don't ask, don't tell,” the Marine Corps recruiters have consistently led the way.

Case in point: the United States Naval Academy. In 1976, the first women were admitted. It was rough going. Today, the USNA openly displays the documentary history of the difficult gender issues of the late 1970s and early 1980s. And, as part of their leadership training, plebes tour the National Holocaust Museum. Respect and open discussion have moved everyone forward.

Institutions that openly confront the issue of prejudice will achieve greater success.

The final test will be multiple choice. Whereas the incumbent board was perceived as pro status quo, Multari and Blumenfeld each ran on reformist platforms.

On her website, Multari stated, “As a member of the LCUSD Governing Board, I will employ the breadth and depth of my experience to maintain our legacy of academic excellence as well as to improve upon the challenges that face our schools.”

On his website, Blumenfeld said that he “supports education policies that serve the primary goal of promoting student achievement. Student interests must always come first.” His primary goals are “improving teacher quality,” and “greater accountability,” with better use of data sources and better “board accessibility,” and with “more avenues for communication with the community.”

The dilemma will be how to provide greater accountability, given the district's convoluted complaint process, declining local enrollment and a strong union. Couple that with the state's regulations, and it's a fine pickle.

Will we see the development of new board alliances? Will Multari emerge as the leader? Will there be a 3-2 split of old versus new? Or, to paraphrase pop cult icon Heidi Klum, who will be in and who will be out?

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at

Around Town: Who will be in, who will be out?

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