‘Divided and dysfunctional’ Fairfax school board should remove current president: grand jury

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The Fairfax School District Board of Trustees has become “divided and dysfunctional,” the Kern County Grand Jury found in a scathing report released Thursday that recommends the board president should be removed by June 30.

The board has failed to allow public comment during meetings, violated its bylaws and ethics law and failed to take action regarding allegations of abusive behavior by the current board president, the grand jury found.

The report details numerous issues that led to recall papers being served earlier this month to three board members. Unprofessional conduct and the stifling of public comment were among the problems found.

“The board should immediately cease and desist bullying during meetings, allow for discussion and questions prior to the vote, and stop the practice of forcing members to vote without having complete information, the report says.

The board has come under increased scrutiny after current President Palmer Moland was accused last year of harassing district employees.

An independent investigator hired by the district found Moland monitored employees at work, followed school buses, videotaped or photographed employees and reported employees’ alleged tardiness to supervisors. There was substantial evidence Moland engaged in abusive conduct toward district employees, according to a resolution to formally censure Moland that failed to pass in December.

Moland later called a special board meeting to hire an outside law firm “for purposes of assistance regarding unique censure motion, and related issues… .” The board approved the hiring 3 to 2, with no discussion allowed from board members or the public, the report says.

The law firm had billed the district for more than $10,000 by the end of February, according to the grand jury. The firm was hired despite the district having a $47,000 annual contact with Schools Legal.

Among other grand jury recommendations are the following:

  • The board should provide extensive training and hire a conflict resolution specialist to build communication skills, and consult Schools Legal regarding The Brown Act, ethics training and conflicts of interest.
  • The board should immediately work on methods for conducting meetings that allow for easier public access, and the public should be allowed adequate time to express concerns in open session at all board meetings.
  • The board should verify that members are current residents within district boundaries and ensure each member’s contact information is available to the public.

Interim Superintendent Lora Brown also released a statement addressing the Grand Jury report.

“Because the contents of the report relate specifically to the district’s publicly elected board of trustees, it would be inappropriate for me to comment one way or the other whether I agree with the findings,” she said. “I will of course do what the community and board feel is best for students. What I can say is that my focus and commitment is on ensuring that the district is meeting the needs of our students and their families.”

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