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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Bonus Plan Was No Plus

What’s disturbing about the Capistrano Unified School District’s “secret bonus plan” is that it fuels speculation about what goes on behind closed doors in making school policy. It also raises questions about the politicization of principals.

So far, the district seems to be taking the attitude that it knew best when it passed the plan for principals before a controversial vote last year on new taxes to improve school facilities.

Although the district attorney’s office is investigating, the superintendent has challenged investigators to prove a case in court. Regardless of what happens to the case in the legal system, it suggests arrogance and secretiveness in the conduct of public business.

The district denies that it mobilized principals to encourage a yes vote for Measure A, a proposal to raise property taxes for new school construction that failed at the polls last year. And Supt. Jerome R. Thornsley says that working for the election was only one criterion among many others for bonus and salary-review purposes.

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But minutes from the school board’s closed sessions suggest otherwise and show that Thornsley recommended that the bonuses be canceled if the plan became public.

The superintendent’s explanation doesn’t add up. There’s a fine line between having district principals work to promote a turnout on a vote for new facilities and having them actually advocate a position.

And why keep such a bonus plan secret? The superintendent says it might have been used as a political weapon by opponents of the measure. But it’s not a superintendent’s place to decide what the public should know before voting.

Meanwhile, the district attorney’s office is examining whether the campaign effort violated a prohibition in the state education code against pegging compensation for school employees to advocating positions in elections.

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In the meantime, let’s not wait to get more of the district’s business conducted in the open--where it belongs.


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