Chang Will Lead SMUSD Board in 2020

C. Joseph Chang
C. Joseph Chang

The San Marino Unified School District Board of Education has quietly bucked informal tradition, selecting C. Joseph Chang as its president for 2020 instead of outgoing Vice President Chris Norgaard, as would have been customary.
Chang, who served as the board’s clerk this year and was otherwise positioned to become vice president, told the audience at last week’s meeting that the decision was unexpected for him and he did not have an agenda-setting speech planned, but did express a broad desire to get district stakeholders on the same page on key issues. The most pressing of these involves the forthcoming March election, in which voters will decide whether the district can borrow $200 million in bonds to fund building and maintenance projects.
“It’s a critical task we need to finish, but I think we are prepared,” he said.
Board member Shelley Ryan nominated Chang for the president’s seat, with Corey Barberie seconding the motion and the rest of the board — including Norgaard — unanimously approving. Chang in turn nominated Ryan for vice president and Ryan suggested Barberie for clerk, both votes also resulting in unanimous approval.
Although the board did not discuss the reasons or background for the decision, it probably didn’t have to. As audience member and PTAffiliates President Stephanie Duncan reminded the board last week, Norgaard had filed lawsuits against the SMUSD, school board and district administrators last year while embroiled in a district investigation based on claims he’d inappropriately contacted and kissed district employees.
“Anyone who has sued the district, who has sued the individual members of the board, to me, should not be serving as president,” Duncan told the board. “What kind of message does that send?”
As the investigations last year wrapped up and concluded that the allegations were substantiated but that there was no reason to believe Norgaard acted with ill intent, the longtime board member filed suit, alleging defamation for the public nature of the investigations, particularly in light of his being identified to media outlets inquiring about the matter. He later added a civil rights claim when the rest of the school board excluded him from evaluating then-Superintendent Alex Cherniss, who initiated the investigation and also was a defendant in the lawsuit.
A settlement ended the impasse without any damages paid, established new guidelines for board members visiting school campuses and essentially pushed the topic off the radar.
Outgoing President Lisa Link outlined accomplishments and stats for the past year, observing that there were 28 board meetings and seven town halls held by the panel this year. Additionally, the board hired Superintendent Jeff Wilson, cheered the renewal of the parcel tax and convened the Facilities Advisory Committee, whose recommendations led the board to propose the bond issue.
“I think we accomplished a lot this year,” Link said at the meeting last week. “There are so many people to thank who helped educate the board and made the difference in helping us make the right decisions as we focus on our responsibilities to our students.”
Wilson lauded Link for guiding the district through a variety of issues throughout the year, including tumultuous fiscal issues, and for her ability to effectively communicate with school district shareholders.
“Lisa has been a tremendous guide in that induction into San Marino,” Wilson said. “Winston Churchill once said, ‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.’ I just thought that was so apt for who Lisa is.”

Leave a Reply