The Rancho Santa Fe Post

Restoring Trust

This op-ed is meant to address concerns that some in the community have expressed to me so that we can move forward together as a unified community.

During the height of the Cold War, President Reagan made an old Russian proverb famous in American culture: “Trust, but verify." Trust can be broken either by the actions themselves or how those actions are perceived. Whether right or wrong, recent events in the Rancho Santa Fe School District have shown that there is not full trust in the R. Roger Rowe School Board. Changes to the process of how the Board makes decisions and takes actions must be made to regain that trust. With greater transparency and honesty, trust will be verified and the Board's connection with the wider community will be mended.

Why the lack of trust? In talking to residents, the reasons are varied. But whether it's because there's a sense the Board is pushing a specific agenda without resident input/support, or the reasons behind the recall vote, the end result is the same – a growing lack of trust. Whatever the argument, I have no interest in pointing fingers at anyone, just finding solutions. I'm reminded of the parable of the blind men and the elephant, whereby the men come to blows after they touch the creature and each one of them has a different description of what the animal is. In our District, residents may all observe the same action, but each person will interpret the motivation behind that action differently. This is only natural, as humans have a tendency to project their partial experiences as the whole truth while negating others. A person's understanding may indeed be partially right, but most of the time they do not have the full picture and therefore could, in part, be wrong too.

Again, I firmly believe that solutions will not come from proving one side or the other right, but changing the process of how Board actions are made. The requisite components of this process must be unabashed honesty and full transparency. Rebuilding trust is critical -- our children's development and academic future is at stake. A lack of trust will eat away at the school's support and cost our kids and our community dearly.

If I am elected to the School Board, I have three plans of action to restore the trust:

1) Communication: This involves two-way communication. In my years, I have learned to be quick to listen and slow to speak. You can only hear the other person when you are not trying to immediately formulate a response. I also believe that when my neighbors take an hour out of their day to come to a Board Meeting, it is because they are passionate about what they feel. As a Board Member, I would engage them in conversation to find out more details about what they want to see happen. We all want and deserve to be heard. The Board is elected to represent the community, not themselves. If the majority of the community is communicating one idea, that is the idea that the Board should take. If the Board disagrees, then read on to point #3 below.

2) Commitment: Every person that I have talked to understands that the Board has the legal authority to appoint members. However, the problem is in the perception of the timing of Board members' resignations, which either lead to costly elections or an appointment by the Board. Elections consider the voice of the people. Appointments bypass the voice of the community and reflect the individual desires of the Board members, who place someone in a position to easily win future elections, using the power of incumbency. All you have to do is look at the school Board's historic chronology of the resignation, appointment, and election process to see how incumbents become the shoo-in victor.

Transparency in this area is easy. Before the November’s ballot cut-off date (which is in August), I would put a line item on the agenda for Board Members to commit to serving on the Board for the next 12 months. Their responses (including mine) will be on the record and in the local media. This ensures that every Board Member is committed to serving, and if not, then we can have an election to fill the seat.

I am committed to having elections decide the direction of the Board -- not appointments.

3) Clearly defined goals: Why has the gym become such a controversial topic? Because many in our community understand the concept of return on investment. What is the goal of a new (or modernized) gym with a price tag ranging from $12M to $25M? The Board has only defined some marginal benefits that can be worked out with the current gym anyway. Having a nice, new gym sounds great, but does it justify the price tag? Albeit anecdotal, I have not met one person (outside of some current Board Members) who is sold on this effort. To rebuild trust with the community, it’s time abandon talk of a new gym.

For any future programs or facilities, going to the community and clearly laying out the goals, along with an accurate price tag, is the way to build trust in the Board’s efforts. If the Board wins the community over, that’s a win. If the community rejects the Board’s efforts, that’s also a win, because we are all a team and should work together to direct the future for our children.

Rebuilding trust is never easy, and sometimes it takes a clean slate to do so. On April 24, we have the opportunity to put a new voice in the vacated seat. This voice should be the one that has the trust of our whole community. A trust that can be verified.

My name is Jee Manghani. I am a candidate for the RSF School Board, and I ask for your vote. Please visit my campaign website and my YouTube video, both of which describe who I am and what my positions are in greater detail: