The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board of education delayed approving a proposed school district anti-sweatshop policy after board members deadlocked over funding concerns.
Board member Shane McLoud left the Thursday, April 21st, board meeting before the policy agenda item was discussed.
Of the six board members present, three members wanted to keep the policy as written, while three members wanted policy language changed to address funding concerns.
Concerns about funding stemmed from language in the policy that “requires” independent monitoring of vendors who receive contracts from the district.
Independent monitoring to ensure that vendors pay their employees fair wages and provide adequate work space would be too expensive for the school district, said half of the board members.
“I don’t think we should have a regulation that can be interpreted as requiring independent monitoring,” said board member Jose Escarce.
Board president Emily Bloomfield and board member Kathy Wisnicki agreed with Escarce.
The three board members wanted to change the policy’s language to require independent monitoring only when the school district has the funding available for monitoring.
Board vice president Julia Brownley and board members Maria Leon-Vazquez and Oscar de la Torre did not favor changes to the policy.
“I respect the difference of opinion, but the independent monitoring piece is the teeth of the whole policy,” Brownley said.
Under discussion was a policy that before entering into a purchasing agreement, the school district would require its bidders and contractors to adhere to the provisions of the “Sweat-Free Procurement Policy.”
The policy includes “principles and requirements” such as safe and healthy working conditions, prohibition of child labor, disclosure of manufacturing plant locations, and verification and enforcement mechanisms including independent moni- toring.
A Los Angeles Unified School District anti-sweatshop policy uses the same language, said Laurel Schmidt, director of pupil services for Santa Monica-Malibu Unified.
Schmidt said the Los Angeles Unified district does not independently monitor vendors if funding in any given year is unavailable.
The Los Angeles Unified district estimates that hiring independent monitors would cost the Los Angeles district $100,000 to $300,000 per year, Schmidt said.
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified does not know the cost of independent monitoring in its district — which is smaller than the Los Angeles Unified district — or who the independent monitors would be.
Michael Matthews, assistant superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified district, said the cost of hiring independent monitors would depend on how many vendors do business with the school district.
“We would be binding ourselves to something that could cause trouble for us down the road,” Wisnicki said.
“We don’t have any idea what independent monitoring costs,” she said. “But if it is in the policy, then it looks like we are required to do it.”
Harry Keiley, president of the Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers Association teachers union, also agreed with changing the policy’s language.
“I don’t think any of us philosophically disagrees with this policy nor do we want to prevent this from being adopted,” Keiley said.
“We would be ill-advised to move forward at this time as the policy is written, given the current economic conditions of our district,” he said.
Brownley said keeping the policy as written would help the school district build a strong alliance with other surrounding school districts that have the same anti-sweatshop policy.
She said an alliance with other school districts would lower the cost of independent monitoring for each district in the alliance.
Board members deadlocked on an amendment to modify the policy’s language, then deadlocked on an amendment to strike the word “requirement” and only use “principles.”
Approval of the policy will be rescheduled for a board meeting in which all seven board members would be present.
The board of education had adopted a resolution in January that the school district would not purchase products made in sweatshop working conditions.
“Many school boards in the state are not as committed as we are to social and economic justice,” de la Torre said.
“If we take the lead on a policy like this, maybe there will be a ripple effect throughout the state,” he said. “Other school boards and legislators would take action.”