CUSD softens grand jury response

Sure, it was a response to the grand jury, but where was the love?

Realizing that a draft document might have come off as a little snippy, the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees decided at its Sept. 21 meeting to take another stab at its official response to the 2004-05 Butte County Grand Jury.

Board President Rick Anderson suggested a couple of trustees could get together and make the tone of the legally required response “better reflect our values.”

To that end, Trustees Scott Huber and Jann Reed met with CUSD attorney Greg Einhorn and Assistant Superintendent Kelly Staley for a total of 14 hours, Huber said, and came up with a version that was scheduled to go before the board at its Oct. 5 meeting, after the News & Review’s press time.

“[We wanted] to make the wording sound like we were speaking respectfully with someone rather than speaking harshly to someone,” Huber said.

Reed agreed that the language, while appropriate in a legal sense, “didn’t reflect the board, none of which is an attorney.”

The new version doesn’t sound nearly as defensive as the one penned by district staff, and it concedes a few more key points, too. And it says “please.”

If accepted, the response would acknowledge not just that there was confusion about gym uniforms, but that the confusion was “created by District written materials.”

Similarly, the response would state that students and parents weren’t solely to blame for mistakenly believing money they were paying toward school-related pursuits were required fees rather than donations.

The new version still takes issue with a few matters of law, including standing by the practice of requesting and sometimes requiring fee waivers for fees allowed under the state Educational Code. (The grand jury had called waivers an illegal invasion of privacy.)

The district would “respectfully” refuse to take some of the grand jury’s suggestions because they are “not warranted.” (One example: having all donations taken on campus going directly to the district comptroller.)

And as for Jeff Sloan…

The response avoids the issue of the popular, demoted former Marsh Junior High School principal altogether, by writing only that the district is determined to remedy accounting practices that “need improvement.”

While Huber and Reed both feel an apology should be proffered to Sloan, they agreed that was a matter to bring up for discussion with the entire board.

“The board’s intent was to change [the draft] tonally,” Huber said. “It was pretty clear we were not to ‘go there.'”