Focused, Factual School Board Wrestles Big Issues

  • Clockwise from top left: An overflow crowd filled the ETUSD school board meeting July 8. They were concerned about high school athletics, Josh Arreola, Trustees Anita Anderson and John Fleming who were asking tough questions.

    Clockwise from top left: An overflow crowd filled the ETUSD school board meeting July 8. They were concerned about high school athletics, Josh Arreola, Trustees Anita Anderson and John Fleming who were asking tough questions.

By Patric Hedlund

Mark Fulmer conducted a marathon Wednesday, July 8. The El Tejon Unified School District Interim Superintendent and the board of trustees tackled critical issues long postponed— from the looming need for boundary adjustment negotiations with Arvin Union and Maricopa Unified School Districts, to informing Kern County how proposed commercial development along the Interstate 5 may impact the district’s mission and student health.

Fulmer started with an overdue meeting of the still-languishing citizen’s bond oversight committee, then at 7 p.m. hosted the public to an architect’s report about cost-cutting for the $12 million building project at El Tejon and Frazier Park Schools.

Trustees John Fleming and Anita Anderson gave preliminary reports about accounting irregularities at the high school that caused $10,000 in ASB funds to go missing. And that was just the warm-up.

Board President Ken Hurst proposed that the district file an official notice of intent to develop a wind turbine farm that may save hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs plus generate revenue for the cash-strapped schools. Trustee Paula Regan objected, but the forward motion by the rest of the board gained momentum. Trustee Cathy Wallace, who has missed several recent meetings, was absent.

Anne Weber stood to urge the board to complete an agreement with the Frazier Mountain Boys & Girls Club to operate youth programs at Frazier Park School. “Positive talks began with Superintendent Shelly Mason, but we have to get this moving again,” Weber said. She told the board that a $500 monthly rent had been tripled by the owners of Church of Christ building where the club began operating three years ago. “We can’t afford that,” Weber said, reminding the board that the club provides vital services to community children. She said talks had stopped just as the district was about to set a price for use of school facilities after school hours. Such use is a common practice throughout the state, negotiated on a district by district basis. Weber said she would like the talks to resume for the fall.

Parents, Students Speak

Parents and students stood to tell trustees their concerns about the high school sports programs. Some said that students who were part of the champion girls basketball and track teams at El Tejon School were disappointed at the lack of a strong program at the high school. They praised the professional work of El Tejon’s Athletic Director Charles Stewart, then expressed concern about what they described to be a lack of respect and spirit at the high school for sports other than football.

Parent Kathy Pilgrim rose to say she wants to help continue assets of the middle school’s program into the high school. She said students could be enlisted to help with videotaping sports and trained to keep statistics and place them on the MaxPreps California High School Sports internet boards (so athletes can maintain their competitive visibility in the league). She said she “would like kids to get community service credit for working with the teams.”

El Tejon Coach Chuck Mullen rose to speak about his wish to help with the high school’s program. Chuck and Vickie Mullen nurtured a strong athletics program at the middle school. In the past he has expressed hopes that he would be able to take the youth he coached to three champion years at the middle school into excellence in high school. He told the board he was not asked to coach, and spoke of “cronyism and poor decisions” regarding the high school athletic program.

Vickie Mullen and parents spoke about Mullen’s teams meeting “at the crack of dawn to practice before school.” Others told about motivated athletes dropping out of sports in their first year of high school, disappointed with the lack of seriousness in most of the sports programs there.

Honors student Josh Arreola, who plays basketball, rose to say “We want to give 110 percent. I love sports; I want to go to college with my sports. We need a full program.” He urged that students be supported in their desire to be more involved.

More Sports Concerns

Although District Fiscal Services Manager Terri Geivet told parents that sports programs were not on the agenda, after most parents left, two items that impact sports and after-school programs came up. Geivet’s proposal to eliminate a part-time driver for the late bus was approved by the board. Then, Geivet explained, “we are asking the board to prioritize cost-cutting options.” In order, those are: not replacing a retiring teacher, eliminating the late bus, dropping a half-time science teacher (grades 7-8); reassigning the FMHS counselor; dropping a half-time special ed teacher; and eliminating stipends for sports, coaches, yearbook, drama, music and cheerleading. “The board agreed with our prioritization,” Geivet said in an interview. Trustee Anderson asked how students would be able to participate in after-school athletics and clubs without the late bus, but its loss could trim $70,300 from operational costs. The level of funding cuts required by the final state budget will determine which of the measures will be adopted.

ASB Funds

Geivet replied to trustees’ reports regarding the high school’s ASB accounting irregularities by saying, “I beg to differ….” She said that perhaps the systems in place were not being followed and said she is willing “to look into it.” Anita Anderson said transaction sheets didn’t make sense and that “John [Fleming] and I are following up to see ways the system can be improved for 2009-10.” It is still unclear whether the student accounts are owed money, and if so, how much of the $10,000 in question may be owed to ASB.

Metsch, Sweeney and Moore Architects reported the firm had found $913,000 in savings in a cost-cutting effort.

“We are $83,000 under budget with these cuts,” he said. Many of the cuts were from exterior features “such as cast concrete benches and planters,” and landscaping. “We saved $43,000 by taking out half of the solar tubes,” but “tried to keep them in the classrooms, to bring natural light in.”

The district hopes to sell relocatable classroom buildings that are being replaced by permanent structures. “Selling them will save the district money,” trustees were told, especially if a deal can be made to have the purchaser remove the structures from the school grounds.

And more…

Fulmer provided trustees detailed information about state law and procedures in regard to school district boundary adjustments. He also provided a report about the financial challenges posed by the state’s issue of IOUs and the rapid devaluation of California’s credit rating. The meeting did not adjourn until about 10:30 p.m.

Reporting about this meeting will be continued next week.

This is part of the July 17, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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