Screened’ Questions Would Have Flown in the Face of Democratic Process

Dear Editor,
I would like to take this opportunity to respond to comments in
the article,

Sour Feelings Follow Trustee Choice

and two letters to the editor from Mr. Bob Heisey and Mrs.
Denise Apuzzo regarding the provisional appointment of a new board
member on Monday. My comments do not represent the entire board,
but rather my perspective of the situation.
Dear Editor,

I would like to take this opportunity to respond to comments in the article, “Sour Feelings Follow Trustee Choice” and two letters to the editor from Mr. Bob Heisey and Mrs. Denise Apuzzo regarding the provisional appointment of a new board member on Monday. My comments do not represent the entire board, but rather my perspective of the situation. I would also like to encourage interested citizens to ask for a tape of the proceedings at district office and make your own decision regarding the selection process.

Both Mr. Heisey and Mrs. Apuzzo commented in their letters that somehow questions should have been “screened” by Superintendent Edwin Diaz and myself. I would like to remind them that this was a formal, agendized meeting of the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Education, and the part of such a meeting that we were addressing was “public communication.”

We do not “screen” or censor questions that are submitted at this time and to do so would fly in the face of the democratic process that is dictated to us by Education Code of the state of California. Had this been an independent forum, sponsored by a group within the community, such screening could have happened. Three of our current board members – Mr. Tom Bundros, Mrs. Rhoda Bress, and Mr. Jaime Rosso – spent hours on the process that we would use; this process was discussed during two open sessions of regularly scheduled board meetings; the process was agreed to by all board members; and we never agreed to “screening the questions and discarding those that were offensive or of no value.” In whose eyes?

I recall that one board member had concerns about “taking questions from the public” during this process and expressed the concern that questions can be used to make a candidate look more favorable or less favorable. This factor notwithstanding, we knew that allowing open questioning is maintaining fidelity to the process used by boards of education.

In my role as facilitator of the meeting, I was focused on maintaining the process the board had agreed upon, keeping the meeting moving according to the established timeline, and providing the candidates the opportunity to clearly present themselves in a respectful manner. In my opening comments, I had asked the audience to demonstrate respect for the candidates because participating in a public forum can be very difficult. In addition to the above tasks, I needed to hear what each candidate had to say, take notes, and gather my thoughts.

I would like Mrs. Apuzzo to know that I was unaware of disrespectful comments being made in the audience. A board member should certainly be able to cast his/her vote or attempt to help with a translation without such verbal commentary and derision. Had I heard these comments, I would have stopped the meeting and asked the parties to either behave respectfully or leave the meeting.

As stated in my comments when I cast my vote for Mr. Javier Aguirre, it was a difficult decision that required due diligence from each board member. Although one member of the community commented that our objective was to have an Hispanic fill the vacant seat, that factor had little to do with my ultimate decision. I, too, felt that I approached the process and read through the applications with an open mind. The composition of the board is extremely important because we are essentially taking seven individuals with very different backgrounds, philosophies and experiences and trying to meld each one’s attributes into a group that can make the best decisions possible for our students and our community.

At this time, I feel that selecting a 32-year old who epitomizes academic excellence is the right choice for our board. How often does a local school board have a graduate of its own system, Stanford University and Loyola University come before its members and express an interest in being a board member for the district that gave him his foundation?

Admittedly, GUSD has graduated many students who are contributing to their communities and excelling in their chosen field of work, but we rarely hear about it. And, we hardly ever have the chance to have that critical discussion with them regarding what made the difference for them. Good parenting? Good teachers? Good counselors at the secondary level? A sound, basic curriculum? A sense of tenacity within themselves? Can such a voice on the board help us with the many difficult decisions ahead of us?

I do think he can lend a point of view, regardless of ethnicity, that can be critical to our work. I also sensed in Mr. Aguirre’s written and verbal responses an ability to see GUSD in relation to the city and county. How can we interact for the benefit of our students? We need that bigger picture approach in our analyses and subsequent actions.

I am proud of the process that the board put into practice during this session.

Patricia Midtgaard, GUSD Board Member

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