ETUSD Trustees Open Debate on Priorities

Written by Patric Hedlund with reporting by Kelly Franti

A new practice by some members of the El Tejon Unified School District Board of Trustees continued at the May 9 board meeting. The board met in public session just six days after members of the community came together May 3 to brainstorm about ways to enrich the educational opportunities for children in the Mountain Communities. Previously, the trustees had been reluctant to speak in public about the need to make intelligent choices about downsizing.

Now some trustees are beginning to seek more substantive discussion in public session and to ask for better data from district staff about issues of urgent importance to the community.

Appointed interim trustee Stephen Kiouses asked that his comments from the April 11 meeting be added to the minutes being placed before the board for adoption. These minutes form an official history of the board’s transactions, and he did not feel his true concerns had been adequately recorded by staff.

Kiouses specifically reviewed his comments from the April meeting, in which he’d expressed concern that the district cannot responsibly meet financial obligations laid out in a new contract with Superintendent Katie Kleier.

Three trustees (Paula Regan, Ken Hurst and Anita Anderson) voted in April to provide escalating raises to the superintendent, with no clause requiring reevaluation of salary based on changing circumstances, declining enrollment and declining personnel in the district.

District enrollment has continued to decline. Two trustees, Kiouses and John Fleming, said on April 11 that they felt it was irresponsible for trustees to agree to a commitment for a three year salary package of about $383,507 (plus a district vehicle and reimbursement for gasoline) in such uncertain times. The 3-2 split vote was accompanied by comments from Hurst and Anderson about a need for "stable leadership" in the district.

At the same meeting, the rank and file employees learned that another 21 of them would be receiving pink slips, possibly bringing the support staff down from 70 employees three years ago to just about half of that next year if the layoffs go through (according to union representative Angela Witham).

Meanwhile, half of the teachers at the high school were among 9 teachers who received pink slips as well. Kiouses said he wants to be sure his request for better information from the district on layoffs also be part of the permanent record.

A prominent item before the board on May 9 was a May 7 order from an administrative court judge sustaining an appeal by four high school teachers. The judge said the layoffs are not legal.

Kleier, who has not served previously as a superintendent, said there were inaccuracies in the judge’s ruling. She originally asked that the board agree to her full layoff proposal.

The board voted to reinstate three of the teachers and to let the layoff of English teacher Shannon Norris stand, because of seniority ranking.

This is part of the May 18, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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