The Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) Board of Directors will consider a resolution to publically censure Board Member Charles Ulmschneider for violating the Brown Act in his efforts to get the board to add a third language option for students, with his preference being German. The resolution to censure is expected to be on the agenda of the December 9 board meeting.
“Our board president directed me to get together a resolution to publically censure Board Member Ulmschneider for Violating the Brown Act,” said Craig Wheaton, VUSD Superintendant. “I’m going to put it on the agenda because they’re going to need to discuss it. I’m working with legal counsel to make sure that whatever they do stands up.
“This isn’t about someone who disagrees with an issue, because we often disagree,” he added. “This is about how we do business and making sure we do it at a public meeting.
“I’m sure that other board members would agree that German would be a great language to offer,” continued Wheaton. “The concern we have is he’s calling other board members, meeting with other board members and doing it in a systematic way to distribute information to all the board members. They’ve never seen a board member do this. If a board member is struggling with a topic, they may call another board member. That’s legal to do because they’re only two of you, but you have to constantly remind each other that we can’t each take it to another member.”
The Brown Act states: “A majority of the members of a legislative body shall not, outside an authorized meeting, use a series of communications of any kind, directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate or take action on any item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.” With seven board members, any behind-the-scenes discussion of an issue by four or more members would violate the Brown Act.
“Mr. Ulmschneider is extremely interested in having German be added,” said Wheaton, who added that Ulmschneider delivered packets of information and “talked to some members” about that issue.
“We’re just trying to encourage him to follow the Brown Act,” said VUSD Board President Jim Qualls. “He’s quoted the Brown Act on other occasions. He wanted the school district to be transparent.
“He’s a board member,” he added. “He has to follow certain rules. So far, he’s chosen to ignore us and that puts us in a dilemma. This is all we can do. We don’t intend to violate the Brown Act.” The decision to draft a resolution to censure is “because he won’t take no for an answer. He’s fully chosen to push the situation.
“I’m not here to bully him, it just can’t be tolerated,” Qualls continued. “As a board member, it hurts us when a board member chooses to act this way.”
In response to a question about whether Ulmschneider is being treated differently as a result of previous disagreements with other board members, Qualls said, “I would have done it to any other board member. We work hard to maintain trust and we don’t want to lose it over this issue.”
At the November 18 board meeting, Qualls cited phone calls from Ulmschneider that were received by himself and other board members to discuss the issue of foreign languages. The remaining five members reported receiving an information packet from Ulmschneider, but most of them did not open it. Three reported having meetings with Ulmschneider where the issue was discussed.
“I believe the board members were not aware of Mr. Ulmschneider’s actions by discussing foreign languages and are not at fault of the violation of the Brown Act, since Mr. Ulmschneider did not state that he had spoken to other board members, except me,” said Qualls. “I was aware that he had spoken to Mr. (William) Fulmer and Mr. (John) Crabtree.”
Qualls then directed Wheaton to draft a resolution to censure Ulmschneider.
“My name was pilloried quite a bit here,” said Ulmschneider, when called upon for a response. “That information is public. I gave them a packet tonight. It’s all from the Internet, outside the district but from the California Department of Education, the U.S. Census. Please take that information, and I’m going to give Dr. Wheaton also exactly what I gave to you. The biggest task was to make sure that you all had that same public information that I had, which was putting things in perspective.
“There’s no secret that I’d like to see our next language be a non-romance, which looks to the east, but German, but there are lots of languages on there that I had done an analysis of,” he continued. “Don’t be afraid of information. Information is good. It is public. I want people to see it to know. Just about all of it, except for some comments that I had made with my professional judgment of 40-some-plus years of working with and learning foreign languages, would help us in arriving at our decision. I did not persuade anybody. I simply gave information and that was it.
“I did look at the Brown Act. I do not see where there’s any violation,” Ulmschneider added. “The Brown Act is your law against closed meetings. There’s open meetings. It’s designed to make sure everything is public. Tonight I gave everybody here a packet and I’m willing to discuss it but it takes time because it’s a very complicated subject.
“The intent was not to circumvent anything but to make things transparent, which is what the Brown Act is all about,” said Ulmschneider.