As we recently reported, the voters of Temecula replaced all three incumbent school board members with the candidates we endorsed.
On November 18, two weeks after election night, the school board held its final meeting with the three lame duck members. A piece of business they unanimously approved was a (roughly) one million dollar contract extension for Superintendent Timothy Ritter, even though nearly two years remained on the current contract, along with contract extensions for his two assistant superintendents, Jodi McClay and Lori Ordway-Peck, (who has been accused of misrepresenting budget projections by the Temecula Valley Educators Association). The combined compensation packages that were approved total nearly two and a half million dollars, paid by the same citizens who voted the board members out of office.
This appears to be a curious overreach. The voting public demanded that each board member whose terms were expiring stop working with the children in Temecula’s public schools, including two board members who first came to their positions two decades ago. Yet they, along with board members Kristi Rutz-Robbins and Allen Pulsipher (who will have their chance to hear from the voters in 2016) ignored the clear message that the voters expected major change, starting at the top. Instead, they decided to spend millions of our tax dollars to reward poor performance and bad behavior, flipping off the voters.
Ritter authorized Operation Glass House, which placed undercover police officers on three TVUSD high school campuses.
Voters approved Measure Y, giving permission for TVUSD to spend up to $165 million for various projects.
Police raided three TVUSD campuses, as part of Operation Glass House, arresting 22 students, including our son, Jesse, who has autism. Nine of the entrapped students were special education students, and the majority were minorities, from a population that is nearly two-thirds caucasian.
Ritter received gifts from Stone & Youngberg LLC, an investment banking company who was fined for its involvement in the Bernie Madoff scandal. Ritter failed to disclose these gifts, as required by law.
Stone & Youngberg LLC was hired by TVUSD to handle the sale of $40 million in Measure Y general obligation bonds. Stone & Youngberg LLC received a 1.1 percent fee as underwriter.
A criminal judge threw out the criminal charges against Jesse, but TVUSD decided to move forward with his expulsion. We filed for a due process hearing to stop the expulsion.
March 8, 2013
Judge Marian S. Tulley issued a scathing decision against TVUSD, ordering Jesse’s immediate return to school.
March 13, 2013
48 hours before Jesse’s return to school, Ritter attended a 7:00 a.m. emergency school board session behind closed doors, in which they voted to file an appeal of Judge Tulley’s ruling, which would end up costing thousands of taxpayer dollars. The remedy sought in the appeal was to expel Jesse. However, the appeal process is such that it would not have even been heard by a judge until well after Jesse was set to graduate.
Members of the Temecula City Council received a strongly worded letter from an attorney representing TVUSD. At issue was a regularly scheduled event by a special education parent support group which would give free advice to parents. The organizers, who were independent of the city council, wanted parents to be able to speak freely without TVUSD administrators listening in to their conversations.
The letter said Superintendent Tim Ritter had asked City Manager Aaron Adams if district officials could participate in the event and was told they could not. Sutherland urged city officials to reverse their decision “such that further legal action will be unnecessary.”
The city did not respond to the letter and the May 29 event went on as planned. Adams said that any member of the public, including district officials, were welcome to attend.
Julia Rogoff, the director and founder of Lilly’s House, said district officials did attend the May workshop, but it was awkward because there was nothing for them to do. Their presence made some of the parents uncomfortable, she said.
“They felt like they were being watched,” she said.
Ritter has consistently refused to publicly answer questions from parents over the undercover operation, dismissing them as “the autism group, and the IEP group.” reinforcing his local reputation among many who see him as antagonistic towards the special education community. In August of 2013, we organized a public forum, which was demanded in a petition that obtained 7,670 signatures. We sent courteous invitations to Ritter, every member of the school board, plus other TVUSD administrators. We offered them an equal block of time to discuss any topic of their choice. We did not hear any response until the day before the hearing though, in a personal email from Ritter, a portion of which is reprinted below.
Dear Mr. Snodgrass
The District is dedicated to the success of all of its students and is interested in participating in forums that promote quality educational programs and services within the District, as well as a mutual understanding between District staff/administration, parents and students about them. The forum you have created and advertised does not appear to be designed for that purpose, or likely to promote better educational programs and mutual understandings between stakeholders. The information provided to the District, including your email below, suggests the forum is designed to criticize the District and chastise administration with inaccurate information, and create further division and disputes. Also, the issues to be addressed are already being addressed in another, more appropriate forum for disputes like this. For all these reasons, the District is declining your invitation to participate in this forum.
We find a few things odd about his response.
– His decision was based, at least in part, on his belief that – if he were to attend – he might receive criticism.
– The superintendent appears to be deciding that nobody from the district will attend, including the school board members, to whom he reports.
– We are still standing by for the “more appropriate forum” that he referenced.
We filed a lawsuit, on Jesse’s behalf, against TVUSD.
The Los Angeles Times published an Op-Ed titled, “Drug enforcement gone wrong“, which was critical of Operation Glass House.
VICE released a documentary about Operation Glass house titled, “The War on Kids“. Afterward, they posted it on YouTube, and it received 1 million views in the first three weeks.
At a school board candidates forum, Ritter was sitting directly in front of us, our attorney and some other parents. We were discussing something privately with each other, not speaking to or about Ritter, and Ritter turned to us, and angrily attempted to shut us up.
Ritter was fined by the State of California Fair Political Practices Commission as part of a large-scale investigation that found he did not disclose gifts he received from Stone & Youngberg LLC, the underwriter of the $40 million Measure Y general obligation bonds.
For background on our family’s story…
Rolling Stone magazine: The Entrapment of Jesse Snodgrass.
VICE: The War on Kids.