Thursday, December 5, 2019
[Marin County] Editorial: Marin Civil Grand Jury has a right to investigate Sausalito-Marin City schools
Blog note: a follow-on opinion piece in the dispute between the 2019-20 Marin County Grand Jury and the California Attorney General.
The 2019-20 Marin County Civil Grand Jury is right to want to take a hard look at the controversy surrounding the Sausalito Marin City School District and troubling disparities in funding between its traditional school in Marin City and its charter school, Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito.
The disparities led to an investigation and ruling by state Attorney General Xavier Beccera and a settlement agreement for short- and long-term changes between his office and the district’s school board.
Now Beccera is trying to stop the grand jury from obtaining information needed in its investigation into the controversy.
The grand jury is an independent panel of citizens, appointed by the court each year to take a look at local civic issues, both good and troublesome. Sometimes, its work leads to a public report.
Lucy Dilworth, jury foreperson, makes a good point; that “hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars” are local taxpayers’ dollars and the grand jury has a right and responsibility to look into how that money was spent and how those decisions were reached.
The grand jury’s investigations are routinely done in secrecy; only its reports are public. But the attorney general’s motion to quash the subpoenas the grand jury delivered to several people involved in settlement talks opened the door on the matter.
It also reopened the door on the closed-door process that Beccera led in reaching the settlement with the district. The public was left far outside of the loop when it seems obvious that community support for that settlement is going to be critical in fulfilling the goal that all of the district’s students — today’s and in the future — have fair and equal access to the best possible public education.
Beccera ruled that the district’s budgetary decisions underwrote a funding disparity that benefited the larger charter school, while hurting the educational opportunities for children attending the Bayside-Martin Luther King Jr. campus, where the student body is mostly African American children from Marin City.
Beccera’s investigation ruled that the district has promoted years of systematic racial discrimination and segregation.
The grand jury, which has investigated the district before, wants to look for itself on how that happened. It also wants important information from district officials involved the closed-door settlement talks.
The state AG says that information is private and off-limits.
Even after a settlement has already been made public? What needs to be hidden? The public deserves to know what happened behind closed doors.
The spending of taxpayer dollars and the performance of our public schools are the public’s business.
We would prefer that Beccera come down on the side of the public’s right to know. At least the grand jury appears to be headed in that direction.
After all, some of the trustees involved in the decisions that helped lead to the AG’s investigation, ruling and settlement are still serving on the school board.
Neither those trustees nor Beccera’s lawyers should be beyond cooperating with the grand jury and the civic-minded, court-appointed panel doing its job of watching out for the public’s interests.
November 23, 2019
Marin Independent Journal
By Marin IJ Editorial Board