The lingering effects of Berkeley’s hotly contested school board battle spilled over into the reorganization meeting of the newly-re-elected board Wednesday night, as members held a brief but emotional public battle over the board vice-presidency.
In the end, Joaquin Rivera withdrew his candidacy moments before the board elected Terry Doran on a 3-2 voice vote, with Rivera and Shirley Issel voting against him.
Before the vote, a defiant Doran accused fellow board members of “stooping to personal politics, pure and simple” and “acting out of spite,” but after the meeting he said he was “gratified” by his selection, and admitted that “had expected that there would be some fallout from the position I took during the November election.”
Traditionally, Berkeley Unified School District board officers are elected on a normally non-controversial rotating basis, with the presidency and vice-presidency going to the members who received the highest citywide votes in the previous elections.
That should have meant Nancy Riddle stepping up from the board vice-presidency to replace John Selawsky as president, and Doran moving into Riddle’s old position. And Riddle, in fact, was elected board president without opposition.
But some board members apparently held lingering bad feelings from the recent elections, where Doran had publicly supported the unsuccessful candidacies of challengers Karen Hemphill and Kalima Rose over incumbents Rivera and Selawsky. And so shortly after Selawsky nominated Doran for the vice-presidency, board member Shirley Issel nominated Rivera for the post.
Doran said after the meeting that he’d “heard there were some concerns about the election, and I was prepared to have no support for my election.” And during the debate—in which members sometimes talked directly to either Rivera or Doran with trembling voices—Riddle said, “I sort of saw this freight train coming since the night of the election” and apologized to viewers who “might be wondering why we’re having this uncomfortable discussion in public; the Brown Act prohibits us from working these things out behind the scenes.”
Selawsky summed up the board’s dilemma at having to decide between close colleagues, telling Doran and Rivera that “I consider either one of you worthy and competent to represent this board.” Then, almost apologizing to Rivera, Selawsky said that he had “not heard any overwhelming arguments not to vote for Terry Doran.” He added that he “understood the emotions of some board members coming out of the election. I’ve shared some of those privately with my wife. But I don’t want to do anything to push any board member away.”
But it was Issel who provided the most dramatic moments of the discussion, looking directly at Doran and telling him that “I don’t think you represent the views of the majority of the board. It’s disingenuous for you to campaign against board members and then think there won’t be consequences.” She added that Doran’s support against his board colleagues’ election was “unprecedented,” and told Doran that “you should take responsibility for your actions.”
For his part, Doran argued that he would be able to put aside his differences to work in a leadership role with the board, and denied charges that his support for Hemphill and Rose signified a lack of confidence in the direction the school board has been taking. “I didn’t disagree with the direction of the board,” Doran said. “I didn’t think it was moving in that direction rapidly enough. I thought the challengers would have done a better job at that.” Doran added that “the people who elected me [two years ago] expected me to have my chance to be the public face of the board.”
It was Riddle who apparently turned the tide. Saying that “I have a horrible feeling that I might be the swing vote—I’ve had that feeling since election night,” she said that she would “only vote to exclude any board member if he was completely out of the mainstream.” When that appeared to signal her vote for Doran—and Doran’s probable victory—Rivera immediately withdrew his name for consideration. Riddle called it “one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.”
Following the meeting, Doran said that “I think the discussion swayed some people.”
After the battle over the vice-presidency, the remainder of Wednesday’s board meeting could only be anticlimactic.
Following brief criticism from a few members, the board unanimously adopted Berkeley High School’s development goal site plan for the upcoming school year. Board member Riddle commented that the high school’s plan contained “no achievable, identifiable goals as we saw in the plans for the elementary sites,” but a school staff member said that “we just didn’t want to pull a number out of the air-like saying we could achieve 5 percent growth in test scores—that would be disingenuous. Give us another year to develop the state test score data, and we’ll be able to provide you with realistic goals.”
And at board member Issel’s request, Superintendent Michele Lawrence said that future BHS plans would include more detailed proposals for a high school literacy program and an upgraded effort to increase attendance.
The board also heard parent concerns that Berkeley High’s site plan’s funding favored small school participants over students in the academic choice “large school.” Superintendent Lawrence said the funding was more complicated than that, with monies earmarked for the small schools actually benefiting all of the high school’s students. Board members said they wanted to monitor BHS’ plan to make sure there was “some equity” in the funding.
The board also agreed—on the consent calendar and without discussion—a request by American Federation of Teachers Local 6192 (the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees) to reopen talks concerning the recently-signed three-year contract between BUSD and its classified employees.
Following the meeting, Superintendent Lawrence said such reopenings were “normal” for multi-year contracts as the parties attempt to adjust salary schedules and benefits to changing economic circumstances. “There’s no special significance to the opening up of the contract for renegotiation,” Lawrence said. “There may be some economic significance, however, depending on what happens when the actual talks get started. We just won’t know until we get into the negotiations.”
BCCE President Ann Graybeal agreed that contract reopenings are “fairly standard procedure.”
Among other things, BCCE is asking for some salary reclassifications and increased benefits for its represented workers. BCCE representatives did not make any presentations at Wednesday’s school board meeting.