Op-Ed: More Sunlight Needed for Santa Barbara County Board of Education
By Michelle de Werd, Los Olivos resident and Trustee of the Santa Barbara County Board of Education, District #4
The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis, introduced the phrase "Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant," in the early 20th century. He also penned the term in his book, "Other People's Money."
The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) regulates campaign financing, conflicts of interest, lobbying, and government ethics. Form 700 - Statement of Economic Interest, is one tool for holding school board members accountable to the public. As school board members, we must disclose financial interests that may be affected by our decisions and file our Form 700 every year in March. Form 700 filings are available to the public.
The Santa Barbara County Board of Education (SBCBOE) should be the shining example of transparency for all school boards and provide greater public access. Four months ago, I suggested that our school board meetings be video-recorded and posted on the Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) website. Many local school districts, city councils, other County Boards of Education, and the County Board of Supervisors live-stream board meetings in English and Spanish and are posted for later viewing.
Our local newspapers play an essential role in our democracy, keeping the public informed and our government accountable. There was a time when local newspaper reporters attended public school board meetings regularly and would report on board comments and decisions the following day, but tight budgets prevent this practice.
The SBCBOE holds its school board meetings on the first Thursday of the month at 2:00 p.m. at 4400 Cathedral Oaks Road, Santa Barbara. Who knows who we prevent from attending our meetings because of time and costs, especially working parents, parents of young children, and those who live long distances (Santa Maria, Guadalupe, Santa Ynez Valley, Cuyama, and Lompoc)?
The SBCBOE serves approximately 70,000 students countywide, 23 school districts, and oversees a $104 million annual budget (taxpayer dollars). We also set Board Policy, adjudicate Charter School appeals, and Interdistrict Attendance Transfer Appeals.
On May 5, 2022, at our Regular Meeting, the Board took action and voted "no" (5-2) on video-recording our school board meetings and archiving videos on the SBCEO website. The Board agreed to explore audio recordings at a future meeting.
During the board discussions, I took notes on board members' comments as to the reasoning behind the "no," which included: "We are very transparent," "You are looking for a solution where there is no problem," "We provide minutes," "The purpose is not a town hall meeting," "No members of the public are asking for this," "costs, staffing, and legal implications," "What we do is very transparent; there is a possibility of politicization, grandstanding," "In the past 20 years, there has never been a problem".
One board member quoted Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) from the Wall Street Journal article, “Sasse cites 'jackassery' in warning against cameras in Supreme Court.”
Public access to school board meetings is about inclusion. In this age of technology, I believe denying our community video-recorded meetings, especially regarding public education, will undercut the public's faith in us.
I do not speak on behalf of the Santa Barbara County Board of Education or the Santa Barbara County Education Office.
Op-Ed's are written by community members, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of edhat.
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