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Evaluation discussion stays behind closed doors

Consideration of personnel issues mean meeting can't be public, superintendent says.

January 12, 2011|By Andrew Shortall, andrew.shortall@latimes.com

Despite the desire of one of its members to bring the teacher-evaluation process out into the open, the La Cañada school board discussed its ability to access and audit teacher files in a closed session Tuesday.

A request to schedule a discussion on the evaluation process was made by district board member Cindy Wilcox on Dec. 7.

Wilcox was unhappy the matter was considered behind closed doors.

"We talk way too much in closed session, in my opinion," Wilcox said. "When we talk about the process of something, it should be in open session."

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Supt. Jim Stratton said the item appeared in closed session because district attorneys were present to advise on the extent and parameters that Wilcox's request to audit teacher files could be pursued.

"It's appearing in closed session because it's occurring in tandem with the presence of legal counsel and because it's dealing with personnel issues," Stratton said.

Governing Board President Susan Boyd agreed with holding the discussion in closed session.

"It's about specific personnel issues, so we cannot talk about it in open session," she said.

Wilcox said having an attorney present isn't sufficient justification for conducting a conversation in closed session.

Items are eligible to be addressed in closed session if they deal with a public employee's appointment/employment, discipline/dismissal, student discipline or other student-related matters, and for negotiations with a labor or real-property lease negotiator, according to the closed-session agenda printed for every month's board meeting.

Wilcox's request for discussion fell under the category of a conference with a labor negotiator because it is related to teacher contracts. La Cañada Unified has been in negotiations with the La Cañada Teacher's Association for a new contract since the spring of 2009. Stratton said the district and teacher's association has just reached a tentative agreement on a new contract.

The agreement needs to be ratified by the association and agreed upon by the school board before it goes into effect, Stratton said.

"It feels like we've been in negotiations forever, but I don't anticipate the agreement facing any problems in ratification," said Rick Jordan, president of the La Cañada Teacher's Association.

The association has until Friday to ratify the tentative agreement. The contract probably will appear before the school board at its Feb. 8 meeting if it's ratified in time, Stratton said.

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