The conference room was packed at El Tejon Unified School District's emergency board meeting Thursday, May 19. Parents, teachers, employees and students came in two waves to tell trustees why they need to reconsider the plan presented by Terri Geivet and Superintendent Katie Kleier for responding to budget problems. Parents said loss of sports programs and teacher's aides will drive parents to take their children out of the district's schools.
LEBEC (May 19, 2011 at 9 p.m.)–In two fiery and passionate rounds of meetings this evening, the El Tejon Unified School District Trustees heard the sentiment of parents, teachers and students from the community about district proposals to close down the sports programs and lay off teacher’s aides who help with the instructional objectives of the classrooms. By the end of the evening 19 classified staff had been laid off.
On Wednesday, May 18 the current principal of Frazier Mountain High School, Dan Penner, was put on paid administrative leave. Then, in a surprise move, at 4 p.m Superintendent Katie Kleier called an emergency meeting of the school board for today, Thursday, May 19. Kleier put on the agenda the hiring of a new principal, the laying off of classified support staff and proposals for negotiation with the two unions that represent district employees.
Kleier chose a night when El Tejon School was holding its art show and parents’ open house, a time when most teachers and parents had an obligation to be in the classroom rather than at a meeting. But at 6 p.m. there was a line at the district’s conference room front door, as nearly 50 people arrived to be heard under the rules of the Brown Act and California’s Open Meeting Law, which requires that trustees allow the public to step up to speak before the board goes into executive session, as they also have a right to do at the beginning of the public meeting. About 90 people attended the open session at 7 p.m.
Parents, students, teachers and employees gave a series of heartfelt pleas for the trustees to table the hiring of a new principal until the community can submit an alternate budget proposal to that presented by Financial Services Director Terri Geivet and Kleier.
The community plan appears centered around the proposal that administration be downsized, making sports and teacher’s aides in the classroom the top priority, rather than the hiring of a principal for $129,000 (salary and benefits), when the size of the student body is shrinking. About eight people spoke before the board adjourned to go into closed session.
When the trustees came back into open session at 7 p.m. even more people were waiting outside, an estimated 65 more poured into the conference room to fill the seats and to deliver another sustained volley of logical and heartfelt presentations about what the sports program means to the community, how important it is to the academic success of the students, and giving a warning that there will be an exodus of students from the high school if the board follows through to adopt the Kleier-Geivet budget proposals.
The board announced that the new principal-candidate selected by Kleier for board approval had withdrawn his candidacy.
Layoffs: It was also announced that the board had agreed to submit layoff notices to 19 classified employees. Resolution #11-15 Classified Employee Layoffs as of July 1, 2011. These positions have been discontinued: 1 administrative assistant to superintendent; 2 custodians; 2 groundskeepers; 11 instructionsal aides; 1 bilingual aide; 1 library instructional aid and 1 RSP aide. According to one aide, this terminates all the instructional aides from the classrooms.
Here are quick notes from comments made at the 7 p.m. meeting:
Mark Pilgram said, " I have a cost-saving proposal: we can eliminate the full-time superintendent position. Shelly Mason had 3 positions—principal, secretary and superintendent. We have lost 10-40 percent of our students, get rid of the superintendent."
Kathy Pilgram said that for kids to get into college they need not only their GPA but extracurricular activities such as ASB, clubs and sports. Her son was accepted at a four year college, "but he had the grades and sports," she said. She spoke of home prices going down if the school closes.
Thelma Stephenson, secretary for the Frazier Mountain High School Booster Club, parent and coach said, " Kids need a sports program. It helps make a well-rounded individual." She moved here five years ago and loves the community, the space and the sports program at the school. "Not all kids are academic achievers, so sports helps those who aren’t [stay focused and in school]. Kids are an asset to the community we need to remember."
Mike Oman said he appreciates everything the district and board are doing. He helps coach baseball and softball. He believes the school has a winning team and they should not dismiss what sports can bring to the table. "Sports brings in money. What would we do without it? There has to be a way to figure this out. You have some hard decisions to make."
Sharon Lemburg said these are times when we have to make difficult decisions. "Do you really hear what the people are saying? You haven’t walked the halls and heard the students. I always say, ‘Keep hope, keep working. Don’t give up. Set your goals high.’ Look at these people here tonight as support not opposition. These people want to help. Save the sports. We’re willing to work. Please send two board members to the meeting on Monday."
Larry Skiba: "I am not a parent but sports are an important part of creating a well-rounded person. I was instrumental in getting the weight room refurbished. Come on guys think outside the box. This board is not thinking outside the box. Maybe some other people should be sitting in these chairs. You better start to listen to this community."
Gus Pivetti said, "I think we all need to start getting better knowledge about the Booster Club. There is a big crowd here and they want to support sports, so let’s keep positive. Sports are part of the spirit of a school. We have to keep our pride and our spirit."
Dan Culver: "Thank you for your service. We should consider eliminating the superintendent position. We need to keep ASB as part of our curriculum. They run the rallies, the prom, imagine a school without a homecoming. I’d hate to see you guys make the wrong decision. I would like to see Dan Penner be able to see these kids graduate."
John Bever helped with Little League and was hired as a baseball coach. "We worked too hard and we don’t want to see this being taken away. We will work with the Booster Club."
Scott Crowe: "I’m a concerned parent. I am very involved and have been coaching. We have sports and that’s about it. [Extracurricular clubs have virtually disappeared from the high school campus since teaching ositions have been cut and the after school bus has been abolished to save money.] Sports promotes a healthy lifestyle and better grades. Do not get rid of the sports program, I beg of you."
Superintendent Katie Kleier spoke about how painful this was and the seriousness of this crisis. "It pains me to look at what is happening to our kids’ education. Please put the blame where it should be placed, not the board, not me. Look at your [state] representatives. We are willing and ready to support you and discuss our options. We support you. Call your reps and tell them how you feel. I am happy that everyone of you came. Lets take this to the next step. Put the pressure where it needs to go."
Trustee Ken Hurst told the crowd to "contact your representatives, Sharon Grove and Jean Fuller. Let them know how you feel. Send letters to the The Mountain Enterprise. We can only send two board members to the meeting on Monday because of the Brown Act."
Trustee Anita Anderson said, "You are our neighbors and family. We are all in this together. It’s about the education of our children."
Trustee Paula Regan said she was disappointed that no one came to Casino Night to support the Booster Club [ the Saturday, May 14 fundraiser].
In general, the community members left the conference room expressing relief that hiring a new principal did not take place this evening. They expressed dissatisfaction with what they were told in regard to "who to blame." They said that the decisions being made by the trustees have not shown the kind of leadership they expect to see from their local elected representatives.They also said that the biggest damage to the ETUSD budget is from students leaving the district, not the legislature’s budget cuts. They said they wish to see the elected trustees communicate more directly with the community, joining the "work together" campaign that has started in the community.
Please check back. This report will be updated. Pam Sturdevant, Patric Hedlund and Tony Levesque reported this event.
This is part of the May 20, 2011 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
Have an opinion on this matter? We'd like to hear from you.