Parents, newly-elected trustees and lame-duck board talk school closing

  • John Fleming, Vickie Mullen, Lark Shillig and Scott Robinson are the newly-elected ETUSD Board members. Fleming is elected to his second 4-year term. He will continue to serve with Anita Anderson. [photos by Gunnar Kuepper, Gary Meyer and Patric Hedlund]

    John Fleming, Vickie Mullen, Lark Shillig and Scott Robinson are the newly-elected ETUSD Board members. Fleming is elected to his second 4-year term. He will continue to serve with Anita Anderson. [photos by Gunnar Kuepper, Gary Meyer and Patric Hedlund]

By Patric Hedlund with Pam Sturdevant

Four newly-elected members of the El Tejon Unified School District Board of Trustees agree with parents who rose at public hearings October 27 and November 7 to oppose closing El Tejon School as a cost-cutting measure. Just before and just after the election, parents and candidates appeared unified.

“We want to go on record ‘in the paper’ that there has to be an alternative to closing the school and we don’t want El Tejon closed,” said parent and trustee-elect Scott Robinson in a written statement this week.

Robinson is part of the new majority that won seats on the five-member ETUSD board November 6. The new members take office in December.

At both hearings, the lame-duck board was asked by the public to table the vote to close El Tejon School. But Superintendent Katherine Kleier has lobbied to accelerate voting on the issue. She has had a lock-step 3-2 voting bloc from the outgoing board this year.

The question of closing the school, plus the hiring of a new fiscal manager for the district, were on the board’s agenda for action Wednesday, Nov. 14 as this paper goes to press.

The agenda item for the publice session reads: “Consideration of and possible action on the status of the El Tejon School for 2013-14. Options are to close the school, maintain operation of the school as is, or refer the question back to the Superintendent for further study.”

Another item, the hiring of a new financial manager for the troubled school district, was on the closed session agenda to be heard in executive session as a personnel matter.

Supt. Kleier has asked the board to allow her to expand the job of the current director of maintenance, operations and transportation (MOT) to include serving as a part-time director of fiscal services, along with two part-time clerks “to do the paperwork.” The MOT is Fernando Nieto, who does not have credentials as a fiscal services director, an accountant or a bookkeeper.

Kleier suggested Nieto could enroll in a class that would lead after a year to a credential for handling school finances. She said that her proposal to expand Nieto’s job is a way to limit the district expenditures. She proposed offering him a $20,000 raise to take on the additional tasks. The job would begin this month.

See for Breaking News reports about the board’s votes on these issues.

Meanwhile, for unexplained reasons, Superintendent Kleier has taken the full month of November away from her job through December 10. Two interim superintendents will serve during this time. The first, Bud Burrows, will serve until November 16. Kleier said she was on medical leave and that “she and her family wish privacy regarding their medical issues,” Burrows reports.

Members of the new board majority (John Fleming, Vickie Mullen, Lark Shillig and Scott Robinson) say they wish to require more detailed financial projections about school closure than have been provided by the superintendent to the lame duck board.

Interim Superintendent Burrows said in an interview that no legal procedure is mandated before a school can be closed: “I’ve spoken to divisions at the State Department of Education; I’ve talked with a few attorneys at Schools Legal Service,” he said.

“The Department of Education has a ‘best practices’ outline, but there are no statutory requirements…as an obligation of law. It is left to the discretion of each individual school board to make these decisions. If they were to consider selling or leasing the property, then there are other obligations of law they would have to follow,” Burrows added. So, to close El Tejon School, “[ETUSD board members] are left to a unilateral decision once they gather public input,” he concluded.

The two public hearings mentioned above are considered adequate public input.

The state’s ‘best practices’ manual suggests establishing a community advisory board representing all stakeholders to study the closing of a school campus, and then to take the facts to the community. Kleier and the current board decided not to follow those guidelines. Instead, at Kleier’s request, the lame-duck board voted 3-2 to hire a consultant from Sacramento for $14,500 to do a ‘facilities review.’

Burrows said Gary Rice, retired from Greenfield School District, will be the interim Superintendent for two weeks following Thanksgiving, through Friday, Dec. 7. The new board members are slated to take their positions on Wednesday, Dec. 12.

This is part of the November 16, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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