San Dieguito board to re-do officer election due to alleged Brown Act violation

The San Dieguito Union High School District board at the December meeting.
(Karen Billing)

With last month’s election of the new trustees to leadership positions, the San Dieguito Union High School District board had hoped for a fresh start after the drama of the last few years. The new year is off to a rocky start as the board’s first action of 2023 will be a re-do of the officer election.

A special meeting is set for Jan. 10 to repeat the election of officers in order to “cure and correct” any alleged Brown Act violations related to holding the organizational meeting before public comments.

Last year, the board had to “cure and correct” several alleged Brown Act violations related to the redistricting process and the trustee area maps.

Per California Education Code, school boards were required to hold annual organizational meetings on a date between Dec. 9 and Dec. 23 of 2022. The purpose of the organizational meeting is to conduct the oath of office for newly elected board members, elect officers, appoint board members to committees and set the meeting calendar for the following year.

At its meeting on Dec. 13, the board selected newly elected trustees Rimga Viskanta as president, Jane Lea Smith as vice president and Phan Anderson as clerk. The agenda item had been moved up to the beginning of the meeting.

With SDUHSD President Mo Muir’s term expiring in November, Michael Allman led the meeting as vice president and set the agenda. The election of officers was scheduled as the last item on the open session agenda at the Dec. 13 meeting, a meeting that including closed sessions lasted nearly eight hours.

Allman said he recognized it was unusual to put the organizational meeting at the end but choose to do so as there were three new board members being sworn in that night and it might be “awkward” to put a new member without experience on the spot to run the meeting.

At the start of the meeting, Viskanta proposed to move the organizational meeting up and was backed by Smith and Katrina Young—Anderson said she did not have a preference. In her comments, Young said dating back to 2006 the election of officers had always been done at the very beginning of the meeting, as do most school district boards.

Following the meeting, a complaint was lodged by community member Janice Holowka and the board held a closed session on Dec. 29 to discuss it. Holowka alleged that not allowing public comments “felt like a deliberate action to ‘mute’ criticism by Asian community members who have opposing views and to prevent their voices being heard.”

Those views included criticism of Young and the San Dieguito Faculty Association and support for Allman and Anderson. She alleged that the board’s actions violated the Brown Act, board bylaws and the rights of the members of the public who wished to make comment prior to the election of officers.

At the Jan. 10 meeting, during closed session the board will also discuss allegations of an additional Brown Act violation, made by two separate community members, Matt Wheeler and Marci Strange. The alleged violation was made during the board’s discussion of an amendment to the teacher contracts that increased the health care credit. The community members contend that a document by Allman was circulated among the board prior to the meeting but not made available to the public or allowed to be shown at Allman’s request during the meeting.