BY DAVID JAMES HEISS
Banning school board member Mayra Anguiano believes she is the target of retaliation by its superintendent Natasha Baker, along with the majority of her colleagues on the board of trustees who wholeheartedly support Baker.
During a few board meetings, Anguiano has asked generic questions related to having a public survey conducted into the conduct of Baker, in order to get an official pulse on the community’s satisfaction with their superintendent’s service.
Last summer Anguiano began receiving cease and desist letters from the superintendent’s legal counsel.
She received another letter earlier this month from the district’s attorney informing her that she is not to communicate directly with the superintendent; that only the board’s president and the board’s secretary may be addressed in regards to official matters.
The preceding board president Jason Smith regularly refused to add a survey as an item to his board’s agendas.
As recently as the Dec. 8, 2021 meeting Anguiano requested a survey from the community be considered as a future agenda item for the board to discuss, prompting Baker to summon the district’s attorney at the end of the board meeting to warn the board against discussing personnel matters that should be privy to the board only, in public, even though the superintendent’s contract, labor agreement and employee evaluation were not what Anguiano was referring to.
Asking questions, and seeming to stand up to a superintendent who appears to micromanage her employees and moving them to other roles or offices if they stand up to her, and regularly seems to ignore questions from those involved in the education community according to several people — including former employees who were interviewed leading up to this story — lead Baker’s supporters on the board to censure Anguiano.
And, according to Anguiano, Baker has in the past yelled at her, and told the Record Gazette back in May that Baker “verbally assaulted me off-camera” on May 26.
On Jan. 8 in a closed session meeting, Anguiano was censured by the majority of her colleagues, with board member Laura Troutman voting against the measure.
In a memorandum circulated internally by the Banning Teachers Association, the organization aired “a lot of grievances with Dr. Baker,” from taking issue with her reported disinterest in not letting anyone “give our input on anything,” to how she “ignored” the BTA’s warnings about getting rid of permanent substitute teachers, to a downsizing of the district’s alternative education program, to its concerns regarding the district’s reliance on replacing administrators with consultants to her “professional conduct”; the memo also addresses Anguiano’s censure, noting “This is an extreme measure taken by the board. (California Teachers Association) believes that this is an illegal abuse of power and the entire process was handled illegally. BTA and CTA have sent legal inquiries to the district and will continue to pursue this to make sure that board members are free to represent their constituents and not threatened into silence by superintendents or fellow school board members.”
School board member Lucia Martinez-Lara participated at the Jan. 8 closed session meeting virtually, which preceded a special board meeting in which trustees received governance training.
Ironic since, according to Anguiano, board president Leslie Sattler would allegedly not allow Anguiano, who is a mother of elementary school-aged children, to participate in a Dec. 15, 2021 special closed session meeting virtually.
Sattler read from the resolution regarding Mayra Anguiano’s alleged “improper and unprofessional conduct” that resulted in the board’s discussion of potential litigation and related claims pertaining to confidentiality of personnel matters.
“As public officials, as representatives of our community, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct and set the example for this district” Sattler read from the board’s report.
Sattler’s reading of the resolution pointed to the board’s assertion of Anguiano bringing up the possibility of a superintendent’s evaluation; since it was not on the agenda when Anguiano brought it up, the majority of the board translated that as a violation of the Brown Act and the superintendent’s privacy rights, and alleged a “material breach of the employment agreement with the superintendent.”
Further, the resolution alleges that Anguiano shared information discussed in a closed session meeting with a third party who was not authorized to receive that information, exposing the district to exposure to liability.
Anguiano has repeatedly brought up a mere possibility of a publicly conducted community survey, which has been done without controversy in other school districts.
The majority of the board alleges that during the open session of the Dec. 8, 2021 school board meeting Anguiano violated the Brown Act with her request regarding “a confidential personnel matter expressly reserved for closed session,” since it was not on their agenda as it pertained to the superintendent’s evaluation and the methods for conducting it; and for violating the superintendent’s right to privacy. Further, the resolution alleges that Anguiano “violated the district’s bylaws regarding regulations and policies governing employee privacy and confidentiality of employment matters when she discussed the evaluation.”
Reading from the resolution, Sattler also references a July meeting in which Anguiano is alleged to have shared confidential material regarding the superintendent with someone not on the school board, resulting in the superintendent finding it necessary to seek personal legal counsel.
According to California School Boards Association Chief Information Officer Troy Flint, a member of a school board can motion to place the censure of a colleague on an agenda if they believe the recipient has demonstrated a transgression from state or regional statutes, or the board's own written policies, protocols and governance standards.
"A factual description has to be submitted in writing as to how the person to be censured has violated the statutes in question," Flint says.
The person subject to censure then must be given an opportunity to respond to the censure with an explanation of their view, an apology, or an acknowledgement that they will comply with what is outlined in their censure resolution.
Censuring Anguiano has not been her only roadblock in representing her District 2’s more than 5,000 constituents.
At the Jan. 29 special school board meeting involving the board’s evaluation of the superintendent, Anguiano was barred from attending the closed session portion of the meeting, and Sattler threatened to call authorities if Anguiano attempted to appear in that closed session portion of the meeting.
Anguiano insists that, while the resolution censuring her prevents her from providing input at that meeting, it did not prohibit her from merely attending.
Sattler and Anguiano both responded to requests for comments by the Record Gazette.
Sattler explained that “It is the school district’s policy to not comment on matters involving pending or anticipated litigation,” adding “As board president, I have to preserve the integrity of the board of trustees and the confidentiality of closed session” meetings “as stipulated by California’s Brown Act,” and invited this paper to focus on the district’s academic acceleration and other points of pride being pursued by the district on behalf of “our outstanding staff, awesome students and dedicated parents and community.”
Members of the school district community point out the fact that there is no currently approved board bylaws or policy regarding censure protocols, as of this report.
Anguiano insists that it was her public duty to participate in the superintendent’s evaluation that she was denied from participating in.
She is cautious in speaking to the press, since she believes the censure action restricts a lot of what she can say.
“The board presented allegations of me leaking confidential information from closed session. I have not been given any documentation or proof of wrongdoing,” Anguiano says. “They mentioned the district’s attorney claim against me as well, but no charges have been filed.”
Trustee Troutman is also cautious in responding to the press, since she has no desire to stir derision among the board.
“My priority has and always will be with the students’ success,” Troutman says. “Though I don’t speak for the board, I felt there was no merit in censuring Mayra. She was simply doing her job in asking questions, which is the job of the board. If there’s something we don’t understand, then it is our duty to get clarification from our one and only employee,” referring to the superintendent, “so we may proceed properly and with all the information, and I don’t understand why that is a problem.”