By Emily Sorensen
Kimberley Beatty says her first five months on the Poway Unified School District board have been riddled with unexpected frustrations and obstacles due to what she called the “culture of conformity.”
“It hurts to be treated like I’m not a good person because I’m trying to do what is the right thing,” said Beatty. “I wasn’t expected to be treated that way.”
Beatty was one on three candidates, and the only challenger, running in the November election. She was the top vote getter, collecting nearly 39 percent of the ballots cast. Incumbent Andy Patapow was re-elected to the school board while 14-year member and president Linda Vanderveen was ousted. Beatty is a Sabre Springs resident, an attorney and a longtime PTA legislative advocate.
Entering the board during the public backlash against the $1 billion capital appreciation bonds was an immediate source of tension, according to Beatty. “It created tension as soon as I came in,” said Beatty. “I wanted to come in and start repairing [the damage the CABs caused].”
On Tuesday, board president Marc Davis acknowledged that there was general tension on the school board. “You know, there is some tension. I think that is to be expected,” said Davis, adding, “being on a school board is like being in an arranged marriage with five different people.” Davis also said, “Kimberley has brought a new passion to the board for statewide advocacy of educational issues and a desire for greater transparency in all we do. This is great.”
As soon as she was elected, Beatty said she faced the expectation from her fellow board members that she would side with them and present a unified front to the public.
“The board was, ‘You’re either with us or against us,’” said Beatty. “They wanted me to come to their defense (over the CABs) and be like-minded that they did the right thing.”
Beatty said she encountered a “culture of conformity” in the board that is considered a tradition. “The board speaks as one voice,” said Beatty. “There are certain traditional things. It’s important [to the board] to project itself as a unified board. It’s important to project a positive image, that the board speaks as one.”
Beatty said her unwillingness to conform to Poway board traditions has led to further tension. “I didn’t anticipate backlash that was orders of magnitude greater than my actions in response [to not conforming],” said Beatty. “It’s very stressful.”
Davis on Tuesday replied, “The board absolutely tries to reach unanimous decisions on major issues within the district. We don’t, however, do this through pressuring conformance, but through rigorous debate and honest discussion.”
Also causing initial resentment, according to Beatty, was her refusal to apologize to the board for mailers sent out on her behalf by PUSD classified employees, denouncing the board’s actions regarding the CABs. “There was anger and resentment over the mailers,” said Beatty, who refused to apologize for something she wasn’t involved in.
Davis said that there was some anger toward Beatty over the mailers during the school board elections last November, but nothing since. “We have been working together closely for six months now,” said Davis. “To my knowledge, no one on the board has raised this issue with her since the election.”
Tensions simmered below the surface, Beatty said, until the investigative report on the board’s conduct during the CABs was released in January.
“It was my opportunity to learn,” said Beatty. “I wanted to find out who in the financial team was looking out for the district’s interests, who has fiduciary responsibility.” According to Beatty, the investigator, Robert Price from ESI International, Inc., was not well prepared to answer her questions, despite having them for two weeks ahead of the Feb. 4 board meeting. “I didn’t get the information I wanted,” said Beatty.
Beatty said she found that an independent report on the board’s conduct during the CABs, put together by a private committee headed by former board member Jeff Mangum, to be more informative. “There’s no question that Mangum did a better job than [ESI International, Inc.],” said Beatty. “I felt that there were areas of expertise [in the Mangum report] that the [report by ESI International, Inc.] was lacking. There were some financial and legal questions that [Price] didn’t answer correctly.”
Beatty said she was left without the answers she was looking for after the questioning of Price. “I didn’t learn what I wanted, as to who was looking out for district interests. It looked as if no one was,” said Beatty.
Beatty said the tension of her non-conformity continues, surfacing at the April 22 board meeting, where she cast a dissenting nay vote against a bond measure. After receiving what she termed a “document dump” of over 1,000 pages of legal and financial documents three days before the meeting, Beatty said she felt unprepared to vote through the new bond measure for School 39, the soon-to-be-built K-8 school. “If it’s something I don’t agree with, and I don’t have adequate information, I won’t approve it,” said Beatty.
“I asked for a 14-day continuance to study the material, and separate council for the board,” said Beatty. “The response was that everyone else seemed comfortable [voting yes]. I was made to feel as if [her wanting more time] were my own shortcomings.”
Davis said that he personally had spent the weekend reading, and taken Monday off from work to further review the documents in preparation for the April 22 board meeting.
“Recognizing the hundreds of pages of documents that needed to be reviewed, each board member has to set their own study schedule in order to be ready to vote.” Davis added, “if new information or problems arise with a board agenda item, votes can be tabled or postponed, but simply postponing a vote because one member needs more study time on an issue is not an option.”
A two-page letter from McFarlin and Anderson, LLP, included in the document dump Beatty received was a catalyst for her nay vote. “The letter said the board could not rely on lawyers and advisors to make informed decisions, and will be legally liable for decisions made,” said Beatty. “This just seemed like a wake-up call.
McFarlin and Anderson are lawyers hired as disclosure counsel for bond issuances and are part of the district’s financial team.
“I may be perceived as a troublemaker,” said Beatty. “I really try to be what you see is what you get. I believe that it’s the right thing to do, to be honest and forthright.”
Beatty said she has also been trying to get more training on bond issues and the legal issues surrounding the board’s decisions. “I’ve been on the board for five months,” said Beatty. “I should have been trained on this stuff. There are serious legal ramifications personally, and district wide. I don’t know why we haven’t been thoroughly trained on these issues.”
With three-and-a-half years to go in her position, Beatty said she would continue being the dissenting vote, and didn’t see much opportunity for change until the November 2014 elections. “I’m not going to change,” said Beatty. Instead, Beatty said she is focusing on the positives, and her work improving things in the district, including trying to craft policies to improve mental health services in the district for students, and trying to reinstate public transport, especially for those going to district schools in the city of San Diego. “I’m really excited about pursuing those [issues],” said Beatty.