Who’s minding the store at the OC Department of Education?

Orange County Schools Superintendent Al Mijares does not have the keys to the nuclear codes, but he does oversee a $350+ million-dollar annual budget and almost 1,500 County employees.

Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG

The recent embroglio with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s unannounced absence wasn’t learned by the president until four days after Austin was driven to the hospital.  The public learned about his absence the next day.  Later, we learned his absence was due to complications from treatment for prostate cancer.

An extended version of this scenario is playing out right here in Orange County with Mijares’ conspicuous absence from Orange County School Board meetings.  If one were to watch or attend their board meetings over the past year, you would not have seen Superintendent Al Mijares in attendance.  A good question to ask is why?

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Austin was in the hospital for two weeks. Mijares has not attended an Orange County School Board meeting for over a year – not even via Zoom.

It is unclear why Mijares has been completely absent from his position for such a long time — there has been no public statement issued. However, like the US Defense Department, the Orange County education department is not a driverless car.  Who’s minding the shop? We suppose an unelected and unaccountable bureaucrat.  But how can we know for sure?

Mijares’ absence, like Austin’s, has raised issues about why a leader with that kind of responsibility hasn’t shown up.  Any other Department employee would have been fired.

Orange County taxpayers pay Mr. Mijares more than $330,000 dollars annually, plus benefits.  His salary is higher than every other county-wide elected official except the district attorney and higher than every statewide elected official, including Governor Gavin Newsom.

The superintendent’s office oversees the county department of education, including employment contracts, district budgets, and the department’s expenditures. The office also handles payroll, legal, and fiscal guidance for 28 school districts serving more than 600 schools and approximately 475,000 students, including oversight of the county’s continuation and charter schools.

In Orange County, the superintendent is elected and is on the ballot every four years. Mijares was appointed superintendent in 2012 and ran uncontested for the superintendent seat in 2014 and 2018. He won re-election in 2022 to the non-partisan position over challenger Stefan Bean, 55% to 45%, almost immediately after which he stopped attending public meetings.

That campaign pulled back the curtain on a tug of war between the separately elected board of education and Mijares over ultimate policy authority for the schools and programs administered by the district.  Parents groups, particularly those advocating for charter schools and others advocating against the teaching of critical race theory and for a return to in-classroom learning during COVID, received a tepid response from Mijares, who failed to take a stand for students on these and other issues.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

S.F. School Board Recall: Alison Collins, Gabriela López and Faauuga Moliga Ousted

San Francisco voters overwhelmingly supported the ouster of three school board members Tuesday in the city’s first recall election in nearly 40 years.

The landslide decision means board President Gabriela López and members Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga will officially be removed from office and replaced by mayoral appointments 10 days after the election is officially accepted by the Board of Supervisors.

The new board members are likely to take office in mid-March. The three were the only school board members who had served long enough to be eligible for a recall.

The recall divided the city for the past year, with a grassroots effort of frustrated parents and community members pushing for the trustees’ removal over the slow reopening of schools during the pandemic and the board’s focus on controversial issues like renaming 44 school sites and ending the merit-based admission system at Lowell High School.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen said she wasn’t surprised by the results.

“We faced the hardest time of our entire lives as parents and as students in public schools and this Board of Education focused on issues that weren’t about dealing with the immediate crisis of the day, and they didn’t show the leadership that that was necessary and that parents needed to hear, and that kids needed to hear,” said Ronen.

At least a hundred recall backers had gathered in the back room of Manny’s Cafe in the Mission District on Tuesday night.

“This is what happens when you try to rename the schools in the middle of a pandemic!” exclaimed David Thompson a.k.a “Gaybraham” Lincoln, an SFUSD parent dressed in head-to-toe rainbow drag and towering platform shoes, who described his persona as a form of protest. “We wanted to show the diversity of the community behind this recall. I knew they were going to say, ‘Oh isn’t it just a bunch of Republicans?’ and I’m like, do I look like a Republican?”

Within the next few weeks, Mayor London Breed is expected to appoint replacements to finish out the commissioners’ terms, which end in early January 2023. To remain in office, the replacements would have to run in the upcoming November election, but would have an edge as incumbents.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

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