TUSD Board Democracy

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Art/Photo by Samantha Takeda

Following a TUSD board meeting discussing the full reopening of Torrance campuses, disdain from teachers and students for the district’s decision-making process grows louder.

Alexssa Takeda, Staff Writer

   On April 26th, a Special TUSD Board meeting was called to debate on changing the current hybrid schedule this year. The Torrance Unified School District’s (TUSD) Board of Education came to the consensus with a three to two vote, that since the pre-existing model was shown to be effective, they would stick with it. 

   They made the decision in favor of many high school teachers and staff, prioritizing safety above all else. This decision, however, does not mean that the process in which the choice was viewed as entirely fair by all. Many teachers continue to question whether or not they are receiving adequate representation from the school board.  

   There are a few issues that arise concerning how the current board was elected. While Torrance voters did vote them in, they aren’t necessarily who the board represents. Many Torrance teachers don’t live in the district. Thus, they aren’t eligible to vote for upcoming board candidates and aren’t able to choose a representative for teachers. 

   Students are also heavily affected by decisions made by the board. There are over 23,000 students in TUSD, most of whom can’t vote due to the legal voting age. This leaves 79.4% of Torrance residents that are eligible to vote. While that is a large percentage of eligible voters, not all people choose to. In addition, compare the election margin of each candidate (the amount of “no” votes that a candidate receives to their “yes” votes). For instance, 2021-2024 TUSD board member Ms. Park only garnered 28.16% votes during her election in November 2020. This leaves some to question, how well do these individuals really represent the residents of TUSD?

   Even though some teachers can’t vote for their representatives, there are other options for teacher involvement. Senior Director of Secondary Schools Dr. Egan explained that before the pandemic, there weren’t typically many large decisions that required input from all stakeholders in TUSD. But to gather teacher input, the district will often reach out to representative leaders in the Torrance Teachers Association, or gather teacher recommendations from the schools’ principals to begin the discussion. 

   One forum for communication that has maintained the same throughout the year is bi-monthly board meetings for speakers to discuss their opinions on issues such as the reopening of schools. Teacher-involvement in these discussions is not without its own complications. 

   Some teachers are simply unable to make it, whether that be because of outside responsibilities such as caring for their own families or taking care of themselves after a long day of teaching amidst a pandemic. In the recent special school board meeting, “over 1,000” participants representing all stakeholders attended, with many having disconnected by the end of the five-hour-long Zoom webinar. 

   Ms. Vorhis, director of the West High Dance Department, is involved with a group of teachers on campus dedicated to spreading awareness and information about the nature of district-wide policies and events like these. She does appreciate these online meetings and suggested that they should be continued during a normal year as it would give those unable to physically attend a chance to “get up to the podium via Zoom.”

   West High English teacher Mr. Welch pointed out that teachers may not believe partaking in a discussion will make a difference: “there’s a perception amongst the teachers that the decisions are made in advance.” There is the persisting concern that, despite all those voices speaking on the issue, the board has no obligation to listen, playing into what can be referred to as “political theater.”      

    If there are teachers unhappy with the current system, what options are left? “Perhaps the whole idea of what the school board is for and who can be on it could be rethought to make the entire institution better,” Mr. Welch stated. This might mean that instead of having all of Torrance vote for the elected members, teachers and students vote for respective halves of the board to ensure that they are being well-represented, considering they must experience the changes made to the schools’ standards or curriculum. Or this could mean having students, parents, teachers, and staff vote directly on an issue and concluding based on the majority. 

   Dr. Egan doesn’t entirely agree with this idea because he expressed that it is more helpful to hear “more detailed input from a collection of folks” as opposed to a direct vote from the general stakeholder population which “often does not allow for any complexity or insight in a person’s response.” He explained that the board has spent countless hours reading and responding to emails regardless of the issue and that arriving at a solution that pleases everyone is incredibly difficult. He later stated that “the board has made it a consistent priority to take the time to hear from everyone, and do their best to make decisions that are in the best interest of all students in TUSD.” 

   Although the board is open to hearing input from their constituents, ultimately the decision is made by five individuals. Total satisfaction of an entire district is impossible, but that doesn’t mean gradual improvement to the system is impractical.