If the Hesperia Unified school board has a collective bed time, it's around 10 p.m. Even otherwise amicable meetings tend to go off the rails as the little hand moves toward 10 on the clock.
At the March 5 meeting, board members attempted to shout each other down and hurled insults shortly before 10 p.m.
The issue was a seemingly innocuous one: Board member Hardy Black objected to the board publicly approving a personnel report.
The approvals of these reports — which include listings of promotions, job substitutions, resignations and the like — are normally a routine vote at each meeting. On March 5, though, Black objected to the report being approved in an open meeting, rather than in the closed-doors session earlier in the day. In accordance with California's open meetings law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, the "closed session" portion of government meetings is reserved for certain types of personnel matters and meeting with counsel on various matters of ongoing or expected litigation.
In recent years, the reports had been handled in closed session. Board president Chris Bentley, who had run in part on a platform of more transparent governance, has been attacked by Black in letters to the editor for the board conducting too much of its business behind closed doors. Bentley has long-maintained that many of the things the board has conducted in closed session since 2006 were done illegally.
"I'm in disagreement in doing this in open session, and I think we're borderline on invasion of privacy," Black said. "We're listing people's names and their salaries. ... I know you run the district, Mr. Bentley, but the last time that I checked ..."
"Hardy, you're an idiot," Bentley interjected. "Nobody is running this school district."
"... last time I checked," Black continued.
"Hardy, stop right now, if you're going to start spewing lies. Stop," Bentley said. "You can go online and check every single other school district does it this way. There's no invasion of privacy; talk to the lawyers. You violated the Brown Act for years — for years. ... This is open governance, which is where it's supposed to be."
"The last time I checked, this was a board meeting, and I don't believe that the board was ever consulted" on the change, Black continued.
"And you need to consult the board policies that you wrote, with (former board member Robert Kirk) and (board member Anthony Riley) behind closed doors," Bentley replied.
Black spent four years in the board majority, when Kirk was on the board. For the past two years, Black and Riley have been in a two-person minority on the HUSD board.
"You're just shouting me down," Black said.
"You're a doddering old fool and demonstrating it, Mr. Black."
According to Black, other area school districts have handled personnel reports behind closed doors in the past.
"You can go on (Snowline Unified School District's) website right now and pull their (reports)," Bentley said. "This is how it's done."
"You just" made the change to board procedure, Black told Bentley.
"I did not 'just do it.' You're flat-out lying, Mr. Black. ... Read the board policy that you wrote."
The personnel report was approved by a 3-1 vote. (Riley was absent due to illness.)
Despite the acrimony, the board did get through their full agenda and did discuss several major items:
• Representatives of Mirus Charter School made their case to have their charter renewed for another five years. The board will vote on the issue in an upcoming meeting.
• Assistant Superintendent David McLaughlin told the board there is a "strong possibility" that the state will pay the district $370 less per student next year.
• The district is predicting 1 percent growth in the 2013-14 school year, after years of flat enrollment.
Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.