OUSD January 19, 2023 Board Meeting Credit: OUSD YouTube

In a recent editorial, Dr. Barry Resnick cited the abrupt and unconscionable firing of the Orange Unified School District Superintendent and the forced leave of the Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services. He wrote that the actions of the new board majority have begun to dismantle the district.

The warning was prescient.

School Board Trustees who work for the benefit of teaching and learning, who respect the leadership of the qualified teachers and administrators they have hired, and who work to set a positive tone and climate across the district are invaluable. Trustees who wield their power to further personal agendas do incalculable harm.

OUSD Trustees, Rick Ledesma, President; John Ortega, Vice President; Angie Rumsey, Clerk; and newly-elected Madison Miner—the new board majority—voted to remove Superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen, and suspend Assistant Superintendent, Cathleen Corella on January 5, 2023, three weeks into the board’s new term, without cause or due process, and triggering an expensive buyout.

In July Dr. Hansen’s contract was unanimously approved by the board following a positive review.

Further, these cavalier actions took place at a special meeting called by Ledesma during winter break, in the absence of both Hansen and Corella, and with only a 24-hour notice. Such actions in the middle of the school year create a climate of uncertainty and distrust.  But there’s more.

At the same “special” meeting, the majority hired Edward Velazquez, a retiree living in Idaho, as interim superintendent, and Canyon High School Principal, Craig Abercrombie, as acting Assistant Superintendent, replacing Corella. The vote was 4-2 with Kris Erickson abstaining due to insufficient information. 

In an interview with the Orange County Register Ledesma said the firings were not political. He insisted, “This was a business decision for the future of the district and the students.”

A business decision?  At a potential cost of more than a million dollars?

Two weeks later, at the regularly scheduled January 19, Board Meeting the majority approved the contract for the interim superintendent. Velasquez will receive $1350 a day. A successful motion by Erickson capped his expense reimbursement—for out-of-state living expenses—at $1000 a week.

Trustee Ortega has had an acknowledged business connection with Mr. Velasquez. Ortega characterized public comments which questioned this relationship, as “character assassination.” He further stated,

“I know a tremendous amount of people in this state…”

youtube ousd board meeting January 19, 2023-3:10-3:12

From December 2020 to December 2022, students, parents and teachers enjoyed the benefits of a Board majority who placed teaching and learning first and led with integrity thanks to current trustees Kris Erickson, Ana Page, Andrea Yamasaki and former trustee Kathy Moffat who served over two decades. Moffat lost her seat to Miner by a margin of 221 votes in November.

During the tenure of the former majority, OUSD established itself as an Orange County leader, among the first to return students to their classrooms full-time during Covid. Four high schools gained state-of-the-art Science Education Centers, thanks to the completion of Phase 1 of Measure S, the multi-million-dollar bond passed by voters. Phase II is beginning.

In addition, district enrollment is above projections. OUSD is attracting new enrollees, something few neighboring districts can claim. Families are attracted to schools with stable, professional leadership and the credit rating for Orange Unified School District has gone up in the past four years.

Those triumphs are now overshadowed by the actions of the new majority.   For me, a retired educator and OUSD resident of more than three decades, the sense of loss is palpable. And there’s more to lament and question:

In a January 29 Message to Parents, Superintendent Velasquez announced that Sora, the district’s digital library app for students and teachers, would be suspended effective January 30.  The reason: “to investigate concerns that have been brought to my attention regarding content that the app has available.” Concerns?  By whom?  How many?  What items? 

Suspension of Sora disrupted instruction and learning across the district.

At the February 2 Board meeting, Velasquez announced that Sora would become available on Monday, February 6. The harm had been done.

Velasquez has been charged with conducting what has been referred to variously, as a “curriculum audit,”  “education audit,” and “assessment audit.” Despite several questions from parents at the January 19 meeting, the board president offered no explanation. Ledesma was more forthcoming with the press:

“Programs that include sex education, equity issues, and ethnic studies are of major concerns.”

Sex education? Equity issues? Ethnic studies? The board president’s bias is obvious. What remains hidden are the components of the audit, who will conduct it, and how.

All of this in less than a month. What might Ledesma, Ortega, Rumsey, and Miner do next?

Perhaps Velasquez wondered the same.  He submitted his resignation today, effective February 16, just 42 days after accepting the interim position.  The turmoil continues. 

Credit: OUSD Communications’s public newsletters

Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.  Two more years of irresponsible actions without regard to teaching and learning is untenable.  

I urge everyone who values teaching and learning, everyone who believes in public education to speak up, sign up, be heard. Stay informed.  Do not allow the personal agendas of four OUSD board members dictate your children’s education, nor the education of your neighbors’ children. 

A recall of the current majority is not only necessary; it is imperative.

Keni Brayton Cox, Ph.D., is a retired public school educator with 45 years of experience as a teacher, administrator, and professor of educational leadership at Cal State, Fullerton. She and her husband have lived in Anaheim Hills for 35 years and have 13 grandchildren.

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